Awhile back I wrote four posts on the series Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ve recently decided to writer another post, and more may follow in the future. Therefore, I’ve decided to make an index page to get them all together in one place. Enjoy!
I’m a likely and yet improbable fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Having been born at the cusp of the Boomer Generation and Generation X, I’m in the target age group. As a male and a science fiction fan, I’m certainly in the target demographic. Despite this, it took me a long time to become an MST3K fan.
I remember running across it a few times in the early 90’s while looking for something to watch. I couldn’t figure out what it even was at first. After watching a few snatches of it, I originally thought it was something like What’s Up, Tiger Lily? This was an early movie by Woody Allen in which he took a standard-issue Japanese spy drama, and dubbed it in English with totally new dialogue that turned it into a farcical spoof about the search for a secret egg salad recipe. I had seen that as a kid and liked it; and when I first saw MST3K, I thought the voices of Joel and the bots were an overdub as in Tiger Lily.
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.
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.