Horror-author Stephen King is loath to grant interviews. Journalists who should really know better never fail to ask him the most asinine question: “Where do your get your ideas” The question implies that a writer can make withdrawals from the magical “idea bank” when the wellspring of his imagination runs dry. Believe it or not, for Stephen King, that may not be far from the truth. I’ve often wondered about the role of the collective unconscious in the creative process. Perhaps this could account for the apparently unintentional ability of some fiction writers to predict the future. The last few years must have King feeling like Nostradamus. I’ve written a number of articles referring back to predictions of sorts from King’s earliest work, particularly his novellas written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The Bachman books prove more prescient every year, as King’s dark vision of a future America has seemingly become a reality. In the late 60s, while King was still in high school, he wrote the shocking novella Rage, a story whose protagonist is a psychotic young man who shoots and kills his teachers and principal. After the string of school shootings in the 90s, King voluntarily took Rage out of distribution. But other early writings of King (Bachman) have proved even more prescient, perhaps none more so than the action-packed novella, The Running Man (1982). Here, King foretells of the coming “reality TV” craze, where human beings risk life and limb for a shot at a little money and a little fame. The protagonist of the Running Man is Benjamin Richards, an out of work breadwinner in a barren economy, forced to compete on a macabre game show where the losing contestants are murdered. Richards’ task is to elude capture for 30 days from law enforcement and a group of trackers called the Hunters. Citizens are told that Richards is a criminal (terrorist), and will receive cash rewards as “great citizens” (patriots) if they turn him in. If Richards remains free for 30 days, his prize is a billion dollars. If he gets caught, he will be executed in the most violent manner imaginable. The world of the Running Man is worse than an Orwellian nightmare. The media is run by a corporate-friendly State, and the free press is completely dead. Television is the dominant media, with the State providing all citizens with a free TV. Huge chemical companies (including the aptly named Raygon Chemical) have poisoned the atmosphere so severely that young children are dying of lung cancer. Only the wealthy can afford to breathe healthy air, provided by “nose filters” which run at several thousand dollars a pop (the secret is, nose filters can be made by anyone for a few dollars of cheap material.) The end of the Running Man features a chilling 9/11 synchronicity. Richards faces a choice of either joining the Network that poisons the air and broadcasts the Running Man, or he can die and kill a lot of his enemies. He hijacks a plane and flies it into the Network’s corporate headquarters, the tallest tower in downtown New York. The final paragraph of The Running Man brings unpleasant goose pimples to my arms: “Heeling over slightly, the Lockheed struck the Games Building dead on, three quarters of the way up. Its tanks were still better than a quarter full. Its speed was slightly over five hundred miles an hour. “The explosion was tremendous, lighting up the night like the wrath of God, and it rained fire twenty blocks away.” It seems as though every time I read the news, I see a story that was foretold in The Running Man. This morning, I came across this twisted headline on the Drudge Report: “OUTRAGE: NEWSPAPER LISTS ’52 FUNNIEST THINGS ABOUT THE UPCOMING DEATH OF THE POPE.” A few years ago, the idea of a newspaper openly mocking a sick and dying Pope might have seemed preposterous. But in the world of The Running Man, state-run news organizations viciously ridicule The Pope and everything he stands for. King wrote: “The Pope was a muttering old man of ninety-six whose driveling edicts concerning such current events were reported as the closing humorous items on the seven o’clock newsies.” The violence of the Running Man may have seemed far-fetched in 1982, but no longer. Last month, it was reported that on a British reality-TV show, a group of volunteers were locked up in cages and “sexually humiliated” as an experiment in torture.Viewers were also treated to photographs of people who have died as the result of torture. A spokesman for the station airing the show said that it was intended to “explore the use of torture by recreating conditions inside the Guantanamo Bay detention centre.” Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200502/s1300355.htm) Another King (Bachman) book to forewarn of the reality-TV craze was The Long Walk (1979). This is the tale of the USA’s most celebrated sport and pastimea grisly endurance event where the participants compete for their very lives. Young men VOLUNTARILY sign on for The Long Walk, a race to the death where 100 teenagers begin walking and do not stop until they get their respective “tickets.” Getting a “ticket” results from dropping below the minimum walking speed of four MPH a total of four times in less than one hour. But a “ticket” is not so much a “ticket” as a bullet to the brain. The race continues until one boy is left walking. This lucky young chap will receive a mysterious reward known only as The Prize. The boys who choose to compete in the Long Walk are celebrated as true “patriots.” They are “honored” to be gunned down by rifle-toting Army automatons in front of a national TV audience. The boys cry, plead, clutch cramped legs, and beg for mercy from the placid soldiers…all of whom carry out their “orders” with stoic efficiency. Do the reality shows of today match the sheer barbarism of The Running Man and The Long Walk Actually, one can argue that some of todays TV shows are WORSE, because the participants are UNWITTING and NON-CONSENTING. For instance, on the Sci-Fi channel’s Scare Tactics, jokesters set up their “friends” for extraordinarily ghoulish and realistic pranks. In a particularly grisly episode (Season 3), a group of young men out for a joy ride get pulled over by the cops. The young “mark” witnesses one of his friends flee from the “police,” only to be shot in the back by a remorseless officer. The “mark” says tearfully to the cop, “I can’t believe you just shot that kid!” The officer then directs the young man to “turn his back,” to which the boy replies, “You’re gonna shoot me, aren’t you” The officer then trains his gun directly on the boy and says, “I’m gonna do what I have to do.” Seconds later, he was given the delightful news, “You’re on SCARE TACTICS!” Har-de-har-har, indeed. We should all keep our fingers crossed that King’s prescience has finally run dry. You see, King’s most popular work to date, the apocalyptic masterpiece The Stand, tells of humanity’s decimation by a manmade disease. Keep in mind, he wrote this in 1978. I have to admit, I couldn’t help but think of Stephen King when I noticed the following headline on the Jeff Rense website: “Small Pox Test Subjects Wanted.” (Link: www.rense.com/general50/pox.htm) Perhaps we should all remember the words of Sci-Fi author Frank Herbert, who once said, “Sometimes, the function of science fiction is not to predict the future, but to prevent it.”
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