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Monday, 25 February 2008 07:36

Losing Our Grip On Reality

Alex J Geairns confesses he prefers Star Trek to Coronation Street - but he doesn't dress in Federation uniform to do the dishes ...


We're lonely.

Go on. Admit it. We venture outside our cocoons to work or play, and we're surrounded by TV experts. Not experts with interests like our own, of course. These are the great viewing public... you know 'em well. They're employed in the same office as you. They frequent the local pub that you do. And they can tell you exactly what everyone should be watching.

They think they know us well. The stuff we watch is weird. Incomprehensible. Crazy. To appreciate the dumb stuff we do, you can guarantee we had an unhappy childhood. We`re social outcasts.

Why? Because watching this kookie sci-fi/action-adventure crap gives us no time to watch soap operas. My word - fancy not knowing who bit the bullet on last night`s Eastenders, which new ale has just been introduced at the Rover's Return, or who's having a new patio in Brookside Close; which rare disease the sheep have contracted in the Emmerdale neighbourhood, which bimbo is just about to make her exit from Neighbours, or what type of surf-board grease is "in-vogue" with the characters of Home and Away. Heaven help you if en-masse you can't say who's sleeping with who, or which personal crisis the luckless character of the week is presently smack-in-the-middle of.

Sound familiar? We've all been there. For some reason, we have to defend our interest in The X Files, Babylon 5, Star Trek, The Avengers, you name it. "What do we watch that crap for?". It's obvious, really - so pond slime can ridicule us ad infinitum.

Despite my own reservations about the decay these "slices-of-life" are causing in our culture, they are necessary evil. They cost little to produce (standing sets, no strange costumes, pedestrian writers), bring in high revenue from advertising for non-BBC establishments, and therefore assist in some small measure in offsetting high cost series that may be in our own area of interest.

What I cannot accept is the sanctimonious attitude the viewers of these detergent arias impart on nonconformists like you and I. How dare they make value judgments on programmes they have no knowledge of, have no interest in, and have only decided not to watch because their friends and colleagues don't. Perhaps it is time war was declared.




A subculture like our own can stay inert for only so long while the masses metaphorically kick our heads in with steel-capped bovver boots. We can follow the Trek edict of IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) to allow their existence, but do we really need to bleat Biblically inspired notions of forgiving these people for them not knowing what they do? I was once interviewed by a local newspaper reporter about my interest in TV fandom. Would I dress up in costume for the piece? After previous experiences, I'm affraid I told her to go to hell - rabidly! It took her by surprise, me having been so genial and articulate up until that point in our conversation. How come I was getting so worked up about it? Quite simply because such images were always manipulated by the media to prove that the likes of me were completely and utterly whacko. You've no doubt seen such slices of editorial inspiration - "Hey, everyone, look at these silly childish Star Trekkies... aren't they sad?"

That's why these pond slime think that it's compulsory to dress up at a convention - the only images in the media focus on such costumery. No people just having a good time in their "civvies." The camera crews seek out the costumes because, their words, it's the only way to make the story interesting.

Which just goes to prove the walnut-sized creativity of our media. It's almost like we're still living with the SF film attitude of the 1950s - if it's different from us, kill it. And just who's stupid if they get hoodwinked into letting themselves be manipulated like this? For instance, photos taken of you doing the dishes in Federation uniform. How exactly are they going to make that image respectable? If you let them, of course they'll paint you as cranks.

Wouldn't it be absolutely peachy if these soap viewers, the Sud-Sods, could accept that it's okay to watch other genres to the exclusion of soaps? They will not, though, and I'm with the military-minded on our next step in the call-to-arms: the best form of defence is attack. Just what exactly have they to be proud of? Allowing TV to replace real-life gossip between neighbours over the backyard fence? Well, that's terrific if you're into segregated communities, where we're not even sure who our neighbours are anymore. No wonder society's breaking down with so much crime, vandalism, and general all-round nastiness.

How about telling us Cult TV fans that we're lost our grip on reality? That's rich coming from people who at times lose the ability to distinguish between actor and character. Hey, guys and gals, soap characters aren't real either, and maybe we have swapped phasers for pint glasses, shuttlecraft for sierras, and teale spandex for grey suits, but it's all still fiction. Zoe Tate, Annalise Hartman, Jack Duckworth, Cindy Beale - you won't find these people in the phone book! Just like Ivanova, Picard, Riker, and Steed - they don't exist!

Cue scenes of ritual suicides, people jumping off high-rises, and others putting their heads in gas ovens. Nothing original, mind, bound to be inspired by something they've seen in a soap. Those who are in a state of shock will mutter something about their soaps being just like real life, not like our fantasies littered with silver suits and ray guns.



Time for the thermide bomb. If real people, connected by bloodline, friendship, or direct geographical location, actually suffered the relentless tirade of relationship problems, accidents, personal tragedies and acts of God as are paraded through the on-going storylines of soaps, they'd need on-hand trauma teams from Social Services to mop up the despair and depression such chains of events inevitably cause. In the real world.

Yes, SF is all about worlds of fantasy, possible futures, alternate pasts and presents. Except we fans know the difference. We know it's not real. Listen to the debriefing in the office or pub the day after a major event in a soap. They gather in packs and relate the story to each other, trying to work out what will happen next. They lose themselves in it all, the line between fiction and reality finally being traversed.

The only way we can have such interchange is at conventions. And aren't we enthusiastic when finally we can meet people who know what we're talking about, and treat us as equals? But it's not just story and second-guessing further developments that is on the menu. We talk of good and bad performances by the actors. The continuity errors. The science that certain gizmos rely on. The quality of scripting and direction. The other acting work we have seen the stars take part in. The allegories within plots.

And the reason we can do this? Because we know it's only a TV show!


Saturday, 23 February 2008 09:01

Alex J Geairns (aka alex:g)

alex:g is the new host of ON THE EDGE, the flagship live Thursday night show from Edge Media (Sky channel 200). The format of the name comes from the 'Free Man on the Land' concept established under common law, but practically it came about because no one can say, let alone spell, Alex's surname (it's pronounced 'Gairns', by the way).  Presenting is something Alex has done for years - from being one of the interviewers at the Cult TV Festivals (1994-2007), to helming the backstage interviews filmed for The Alternative View conferences (AV3 and AV4 - the latter being available on their DVD releases); now he transfers that extremely long apprenticeship to television.

Alex J Geairns - Founder of Cult TV and CineologyAlex devised the term "Cult TV" in 1983, when looking for a name for the Student Union Society he was looking to set up at Wolverhampton University (then a Polytechnic). Within a year, it had over 300 members and was larger than all the political societies in the Union put together!

Since then, as part of his freelance writing and also as one of the presenters of the Cult TV Festival Weekender, he has quizzed over 100 celebrities about their lives and careers, including Patrick Stewart, William Shatner, Nicholas Lea and Mitch Pileggi from The X-Files, Catweazle's Geoffrey Bayldon, Claudia Christian, Mira Furlan and Jerry Doyle from Babylon 5, Dirk Benedict from The A-Team and Battlestar Galactica, The Prisoner actors Alexis Kanner and Mark Eden, plus George Sewell, Ed Bishop and Michael Billington from UFO, and Paul Darrow, Jacqueline Pearce and Gareth Thomas from Blake's 7. His favourite interviews have been with the producer Sylvia Anderson.


For ten years Alex wrote for "Satellite Times", contributing behind-the-scenes information and trivia on the Cult shows making their debut on terrestrial and satellite channels. He was also the TV Editor and Video Review Editor for lad-mag "FrOnt" during its first year, controversially taking his name off the credits after just a couple of issues, following editing he didn't approve.

As well as producing uncredited work for UK Gold and Sky TV Guide, Alex rewrote the English version of The Avengers Companion for Titan Books and American publisher Bay Books, revising the original French publication and amending the text to include newly unearthed material.


He was involved with and appeared in Sky One's review of all that's good in SF, Ultimate Sci-Fi Top Tens that was screened during the winter of 2004. He was also seen in Granada's The Story of ITV, a 50 year retrospective of the first established commercial broadcaster in the UK, talking about The Saint and The Sweeney amongst others.  And as we're talking about classic television, he appeared as part of the team 'Crackerjack!' in two episodes of the 1994 season of Telly Addicts - annoying Noel Edmonds, much to the delight of many a viewer!

He worked as a consultant and participant in the "Superfan" strand of UK TV Gold's pilot panel show Classic Comebacks (hosted by Les Dennis), which has since gone to series under the title TV Now and Then, making its debut in April 2007. He also performed a dozen radio interviews for Channel 4 DVD, promoting the release of Hill Street Blues.


Married to Sarah, who was also involved in the organisation of the Festival Weekender, during the event Alex took on the role of Festival Director, co-ordinating the various arenas and activities. He also fronted the Charity Auctions and the Cult TV Awards ceremony, as well as co-hosting the late night discussion forum, Handbags Before Dawn.

Alex has been instrumental in persuading various star guests to come along to the Cult TV Weekender, knowing they would have a great time with our attendees. The Festival raised over £50,000 for various good causes during its time.


Alex is now concentrating on presentation, scriptwriting and event management.  He has been approached to be the presenter of a live weekly satellite and internet television programme, is working on a film script that has producers twidding their thumbs in anticipation, and is working on a home studio for podcasts and video news bulletins.  He is also working on "Cineology - Facts in Fiction", which looks at where extraordinary TV and film unexpectedly has very strong roots in reality. Indeed, the truth really is stranger than fiction would make us imagine!

Alex is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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