Awhile back, I wrote a series on Mystery Science Theater 3000. My main focus was on what I saw as the archetypes of the Trickster and the Holy Fool that one could discern in the series. However, I also talked a little bit about how I came to be a fan of the show, and my thoughts on the two hosts, Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson. The previous seasons have been around long enough that I assume everyone has seen them by now, and I won’t be discussing them, anyway.
As MST3K fans are doubtless aware, in April of 2017, the show, after many years off the air, returned with much fanfare and popular acclaim, as well as with new cast. I watched the new season–the 11th–and enjoyed it. It occurred to me that having written previously on MST3K, I should post something about its newest iteration. However, alas, at that time, I had lapsed from regular blogging. Of late, I have got back to at least periodic writing here at the Chequer-Board. I decided, therefore, that it was high time that I should return to MST3K and to write about my thoughts on the revived show.
Spoiler Alert: There will be mild spoilers for Season 11 below.
I posed the question, “Could Joel or Mike on MST3K have been a chick?” (to be flip) over here, and answered, “No.” On the way to justifying that answer I looked at the archetypes of the Trickster and the Holy Fool. Now let’s bring it back to pop culture and apply it.
I think the host/captive on MST3K is really just a specific example of an archetype that occurs very commonly in pop culture. Two other exemplars are Pee Wee Herman and Weird Al Yankovic. There are others that spring to mind–for example, Rob Schneider, Chris Farley, and Ringo Starr have embodied aspects of the Trickster/Fool persona in movies and music–but the four I’m considering here are the best examples. They are all about the same age and were at their peaks at approximately the same time. More importantly, they all have embodied the archetypes more fully and consistently, and as a bigger part of their public persona, than the other actors and singers mentioned or for that matter than almost anyone else in pop culture. There are also interesting parallels in their careers that I want to look at.
As one important proviso, I want to point out that when I speak of these worthies, I am speaking of their public personas, not their private lives, unless otherwise specified. Thus, I’m not particularly interested in Paul Reubens or Joel Hodgson, but I’m very much interested in Pee Wee Herman and Joel Robinson, their on-screen characters. Mike Nelson and Weird Al used their real names, but I am equally interested in their personas, not in them as individuals.
In my last post, which deals with the archetype of the Trickster in pop culture, having been prompted by a discussion of who should host MST3K, I mentioned, in addition to the Trickster, the Holy Fool. I didn’t describe the Holy Fool beyond merely mentioning the term, so I’m using this post as a brief detour to discuss the Fool archetype.
The Holy Fool or Fool is in a sense the Trickster in a religious context. What one might call the spiritual-but-not-religious form of the Holy Fool is the Fool. We’ll distinguish the nuances soon. In any case, the Holy Fool emerges from the very definition of religion. Religion–from the Latin re-ligio, or “binding back” (to the Absolute)–ultimately seeks to connect us to the Absolute, however we may conceive of that (God, Brahman, the Universe, etc.). In short, it seeks to take us beyond the realm of day-to-day existence; it seeks, in short, transcendence. The question is, how does one describe transcendence in the language of the day-to-day world? Mystics–those who claim to have had experience of that transcendent level of reality–are in an even more difficult position. Having experienced the transcendent, how to you convey that experience to those who have not had it? It’s like trying to describe color to the blind or music to the deaf. It is like the man in the Plato’s cave who, having experienced the exterior world, is looked at as insane by his fellows still locked in darkness. Not surprisingly, the mystic is indeed often looked at as insane by larger society.
Some decade and half ago or so, I was having a conversation with a friend about Mystery Science Theater 3000. He was a big fan, and though I’d always avoided it in the past, he’d managed to get me into it, too (that’s a long story in itself, and for another time). We were discussing one of the big topics of MST3K fandom, namely Joel vs. Mike, and who might make a good third host should Mike leave and the show continue. This was in the Mary Jo Pehl days, when she had replaced Trace Beaulieu as the main nemesis, playing Pearl Forester, the ostensible mother of Beaulieu’s Clayton Forrester (I guess I should note here that parts of this post are going to be very much “inside baseball” and that non-fans may need to go Googling some of this stuff). My friend suggested the possibility of a female lead, putting forth Pehl as an example of the type of comedienne who could do so. I disagreed. I need to emphasize that I am all for equality and am proud to call myself a feminist. However, there are some differences, obvious (men don’t bear children) and subtle (women are better at verbal skills, on average, men at spacial perception). I didn’t have anything so exalted in mind here, though, and though I was adamant that it had to be a male in the lead role for MST3K, I couldn’t quite say why.
I thought about it on and off, and came up with some tentative thoughts on the matter, but never pursued them. I even saved the original template of this post, since I thought the subject would be interesting, but never could quite come up with a clear exposition. Finally, a few years ago I encountered the fascinating and excellent book The Trickster and the Paranormal, which had been suggested to me by Chris Knowles at the Secret Sun blog. The book revolutionized my views on several things. One of the less important, but still interesting, such things was the question of who should host MST3K. Specifically, I now could articulate clearly why I thought, against my feminist impulses, that the prisoner on the Satellite of Love would have to be a guy. The short answer, the unpacking of which will encompass the rest of this post, is that a girl would not fit the necessary Jungian archetype for the role.