Monday, October 29, 2012


"A tide is coming in and the kingdom of books, with their white pages and endpapers, their promise of solitude and discovery, is in danger, after an existence of five hundred years, of being washed away."

"The physical possession of a book may become of little significance.  Access to it will be what matters, and when the book is closed, so to speak, it will disappear into the cyber.  It will be like the genie--summonable but unreal."

The quote is from noted author James Salter, in his introduction to Jacques Bonnet's Phantoms on the Bookshelves (2012).  That genie metaphor is worth taking to heart.

When I was kid, the children's story of Aladdin's Lamp was a part of the communal ocean of mythos in which we all bathed.  Barbara Eden's perkiness became a part of that ocean too.  Times changed, and that cultural ocean evolved.

Back then, the "I Dream of Jeannie" icon inspired such consumer products as Barbie Dolls and halloween customes, not so politically correct now.

But the concept of the genie is still with us, if somewhat altered.  Just the other day, I read Joe R. Lansdale's short story, "The Case of the Lighthouse Shambler," involving a modern genie, collected in Ghosts: Recent Hauntings (2012).  Before giving us the story of the Jenni, Lansdale's protagonist makes fun of the ghost hunting "reality" shows now on cable TV:

I find that kind of stuff silly and unbelievable, and mostly just annoying.  There are all those shows on TV about ghost hunters, and psychic kids, and so on, and they make me want to kick the set in.  I guess it's good business, making shows where it's all shadow and innuendo.  People saying that they hear this, or they hear that, or they see this, or they see that, and you don't actually see or hear jack.  You've just got to take their word for it.

Another thing, when they do have something, it's a blurry camera image or a weird sound on their recordings that they say is the ghost telling them to get out of the house, or some such.  I don't become more of a believer when they do that, I become less of one.  The sounds just sound like one of the investigators getting cute, and the images look a lot like my bad vacation photos.

Some reality.

Actually, this poohing of the supernormal has become a customary prelude to such a genie tale as Landsdale then delivers.  Check out Roger Ebert's review of the movie, Red Lights, at this link.  He liked the movie fine as long as it was debunking bunk, but when the plot turned into the uncanny, he was annoyed.

Just last night, we watched the 100th episode of The Mentalist in which the mentalist disavows the showmanship of the psychic, and all psychics, shortly before doing a trick with tarot cards which gives the unconsciousness of those around him more power than is observable by any scientific measure.  It is bunk in denial, or merely bunk pretending to laugh at itself for the sake of entertainment.

We like it fine and we'll applaud the act, even if we're not fooled by the trick.

No comments:

Post a Comment