Harlan Ellison's Watching...

Harlan Ellison

Let me direct your attention to this here. It's a newspaper clipping and it's dated February 16, 1952. And it is photographs of the people who founded the Cleveland Science Fiction Society in 1951-52. And if you'll notice on here on the right is a pencil neck geek reading Astounding Science Fiction . That pencil neck geek is myself at age 17. Now the guy who did the article, Jack Warfel, came to the clubhouse, and uh, in Cleveland, when I was just in high school. And he did this piece on Science Fiction. The article is called "They're All Ready to Visit the Man in the Moon". And it says, "At least 30 Clevelanders are ready to leave for the moon. Departure Date: Sometime within the next 5 to 10 years, according to Harlan Ellison. He established the deadline following a biweekly evening meeting of the space-headed, space-headed club members at 10217 St. Clair Avenue. Not all the members, including: industrial engineers, school teachers, house wives, physicians and college students, are essentially moon-minded". Moon-minded, d'ya like that? "Some have their sights set on Mars". This is 1952. People, like are gonna talk about Mars? They must be crazy, right? "Others are more enthusiastic about a quick trip to Venus or a more extended fling to the Milky Way and outer space. Conversation was at a jog/trot as I entered the place, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah". And he gets all the titles wrong. He doesn't know the difference between articles and stories. Then he comes down, he says "Steven Schotheiss of Warren, OH, the new club president, introduced me to several members and I waded into the lunar swim". There's nothing but, ah, hyperbole and disingenuous in all of this. The heading is "Flights of Fantasy". It says, quote, "'Interplanetary flights are in the immediate future unless there is a drastic change in world views', declared Ellison, 17 of East high school. 'The flights will surely be government sponsored". Now, let me stop for a moment. This is 1952, and I said we'd have space travel within the next 5 to 10 years, right? Five years later, on the button, October 4, 1957 Russia sent up Sputnik, the first successful launch of the first artificial Earth satellite. Five years on the dot. And 12 years later, only 12 years later we were walking on the moon. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo Saturn 11. July 20, 1969. We were right on. But here was this mook, this pin head, this imbecile, doing this routine - making people who were reading Science Fiction look like jerks, because he didn't know anything, because he was stupid, because he didn't have any information. It goes on and on and on like this. I want to tell you about this guy. This guy was such a jerk-a-zoid that 5 years later when Sputnik went up I came back from where I was, I think I was on leave from the army, and I came back to find this yutz so that I could point out to him - show him the article, which I still had, and show it to him and say, "How does this make you feel, you pin head?" But, unfortunately, he escaped my wrath because he died.

My wrath, however, is in full flight and full measure now because the Sci-Fi Channel has been showing a 1-hour "documentary", and I use the word "documentary" really loosely in this case, about the World Science Fiction convention that was held in Anaheim over Labor Day, 1996. And it is a terrible piece of work. It's a terrible piece of work because it does the same thing that these types of documentaries always do. The host is a guy named Sean Donellan, I don't know whether I'm pronouncing that right or not. Sean Donellan is an Adam Sandler wanna be. I mean, this is a guy who acts as if he has tapioca pudding for brains. He runs around holding up a piece of cloth, or you know, a wig, a fake wig screaming that it's Shatner's wig. And they think this is clever. Now, I talked to the people who produced this show, it was done by Triage Entertainment. They're nice people, they worked hard at this and I don't blame them. They were given 3, 4 days before they had to shoot it. They had to shoot an hour documentary. They didn't know who to talk to, they did not have an advisor. This show is an outsiders idea of primitive Science Fiction, the kind of crap that was being done by this reporter in 1952. Everyone knows about SF now. Why in the world - if you're going to be going to a Science Fiction... do you have conversations with Roger Corman about life on Mars? First of all, the life on Mars thing is just, you know, primitive bacteria , billions of years ago. There is no life on Mars. But here's Roger Corman say, "When I heard this, what I want to do is make a movie about life on Mars, HA, HA, HA". And he is making one, called "Mars Lives". This is crap. This is the kind of adolescent, childish stuff that should not be done. Now, nobody minds, nobody minds if it is 60/40 entertainment as opposed to content. There are ways of doing the content stuff so it's not boring, so it's not dull. There are impassioned people out there. Instead of using that hurkey, jerky, five second inter-cut, pseudo MTV, chaotic style, they should have done some serious filming. Make it look serious. But they didn't. No body had the scene in which A.E. Van Vogt, old A.E. Van Vogt, got his award, a great and touching moment when an entire auditorium of people stood up and applauded him. They didn't cover the wonderful conversation between Joe Straczynski and Ross Pavlac on is there God? Is there the existence of God? It's all over the net now. People are down loading it so they can exchange, exchange copies of it. None of it is covered, and when I talked to Triage they said, "Well, we did the best we could, we wanted to give a rounded feeling". You don't give a rounded feeling by doing the Origami Panel, and not doing the Hugos. There were just little snippets of the Hugos and very little of the Retro-Hugos. It was not, in fact, a proper kind of representation of the most important Science Fiction event of the year. What you have got to do is start treating the medium seriously, as it is treated by most everybody in the world. Everybody knows Science Fiction. You don't have to do these primary level kind of thing anymore. This is a disgraceful show, this World Con show. Everybody I know was furious about it, just pissed off about it. And they start calling me, "What are you going to do about it?" And I watched it, and I'm in it myself, and I look a jerk like everyone else. And I said, "I'll say something about it". Well, now I've said something about it. I don't know what's gonna happen. I have no idea whether the Sci-Fi Channel will get its act together or not, but ah, I said what I had to say. Thank you for listening.

From Sci-Fi Buzz, episode 157

Publishing Rights to 'Harlan Ellison's Watching' copyright 1996 the Killimanjaro Corporation.