When we were kids, and our brains were soft and absorbent and didn't have to have know the difference between fracking and franking, we used to get put in front of the telly, sometimes for weeks at a time. And what with telly being the barely-restrained surrealist ideas-orgy that it is, often we'd end up with funny, skewed ideas about what was going on in those shows. For all we knew, children made of cloth really DID exist and probably WOULD exclusively hang out on a river barge, bothering their horse slave. For all we knew, Street Sharks really were… whatever that show was about.
I wasn't any different, but I WAS slightly more frightening. See, a lot of the time, I thought I was watching people die, live on telly. Like, *actually die.*
It wasn't as much of a stress as you might think, as I didn't 100% understand what I thought was happening, or have thoughts like “why would they show actual death on TV, that is totally bananas.” I just thought, more or less, “uhoh, a death. Better avoid that sort of situation if I don't want to also be dead.” I had a weird relationship with death as a concept, in that I knew that it was a thing without really grasping the implications. I knew it was bad, and permanent, and that the Granddad I'm named after had done it fairly recently and people were *bummed out*. Kids, at best, have zero or worse-than-zero empathy, which is why they're happy to systematically ruin each other's lives, and why I had real trouble with the following shows:
The Crystal Maze
These days, The Crystal Maze is remembered for colourful, shapeless jumpsuits and like-Styx-but-worse-somehow haircuts - and, of course, as the necessary stepping stone for Richard O'Brien to finally peak as the dad on Phineas and Ferb. Not by me, though. Not at all.
You know how they had to go in the small, expensive looking rooms and do puzzles? And if they did a good job they got a crystal, and if they did a bad job they got locked in the room? I never really twigged that that room ever got unlocked again. Just imagine: trapped in a 10'x10' prison because you failed to move a ball across a room using pullies within 2 minutes. Forever. Just you and the ants.
At least Fort Boyard had Melinda Messenger and the potential to get covered in scorpions.
If you don't know this one by name, you might remember it as that game show for kids with the talking lift. This one caused all sorts of problems; for one, there's a ghost teacher who I, obviously, assumed was an actual ghost. But that weren't no thang compared to the Dark Knight: a black-cloaked, black-helmeted horror straight out of Geiger's wackiest nightmares, who chased contestants around a board barking “Move!” in a voice like a tiger growling through a desk fan, and if he caught you he'd literally disintegrate you. What that meant, really, is that he'd shroud in his cloak while the SFX bods disappeared you with some green light, but try telling that to this poor traumatized pre-teen.
Not helping reduce the creepy factor is the occasional bonus round where the lift door randomly opened to reveal the Dark Knight COMING RIGHT FOR US, or the celebrity episode I watched while researching this which features a crazily gratuitous shot of Phillipa Forester's one-piece-clad bum. But it did cheer me to find out that the guy who played the Dark Knight went on to become Tinky Winky.
Growing up I had two major cultural Boogie Men, that I knew not to watch because they were scary, and exclusively for grown ups and, in some way, palpably evil. The first was The Exorcist, which I thought was a) haunted by a ghost who'd killed off cast and crew during filming and b) set in space(?).
The other was The X Files, which I thought was real. I never watched it, obviously, but there were playground tales, and when I was at boarding school the older kids were allowed to watch it, which blew my mind. All I could think is “there's an ANCIENT MONSTER who crawls out of WALLS and all you can do is sit there and WATCH?” Now that I'm older, wiser and undeniably worse, all I can think is “Ew, the guy playing that monster (Doug Hutchison) once offered Gillian Anderson full sex as a birthday present.”
Get Your Own Back
Gunge, man. What even is that? Like, tree sap and Angel Delight? Anyway, I used to get the same feeling watching dumb kids cover their well-meaning disciplinarian parents in colourful gunk as I got watching that guy get molten gold poured over his head in Game of Thrones. As far as I was concerned it was patri or matricide, and as such I still refuse to take part in Mad March, outrageous savings notwithstanding.
Incidentally, did anyone else ever wonder what happened when kids called in to GYOB because their parents had done something terrible? Would they go straight to the police, or was there a church confessional kind of deal going on?
Man O Man
Yeah, THAT Man O Man. The show that loosely combined the format of Take Me Out with the falling-in-the-water of Total Wipeout. Way ahead of its time. If it had waited until now to exist, as it should have, Tiny Duncan wouldn't have seen one episode on a TV in a Travelodge, and assumed, a propos of essentially nothing, that every time a man got pushed in the water he died. It was a massacre. One guy lived. And all the while, Chris Tarrant. Smiling that damn smile.
I might be wrong, but I'm fairly certain this happened in the same year that I was given a literal prize for being the cleverest kid in my class.