Ridley Scott's Prophets of Science Fiction, "Philip K. Dick," Episode 2 (2012)

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The Science Channel (Which contains no science) was running a show called "Ridley Scott's Prophets of Science Fiction." I found it on Netflix streaming, and watched the episode on Jules Verne as I figured it was likely to be just entertaining enough to keep my mind from drifting, and just boring enough to put me to sleep. I was exactly right about that. I noted that Episode 2 was about Philip K. Dick. I watched it out of morbid curiosity.

Basically, as with all SC shows, it's trivia/filler. A combination of poorly-recreated scenes, talking heads giving random answers to unheard questions, Michio Kaku being a whore, and just lazy-assed journalism all around giving a sense of teaching you something, but really probably leaving you a little dumber than you were before. The premise is that tired old saw about SF predicting the future, which has NEVER been the genre's job nor goal, but obviously they're going into it lowbrow.

Seriously, as an SF writer myself, there is little that pisses me off more than people who claim it's our job to predict the future. Likwise, it is not the job of a fantasy writer to accurately predict the past. Or the present. They're just stories, people: any similarity to reality is coincidental.

Interstingly, this is the first "Documentary" (HEAVY emphasis on the quotes) that includes a person I actually know. I've been friends with Phil's ex-Wife Tessa Dick for years, and it was weird to see some extra playing her in one scene, and mentioning her by name. They talk about the incident with Phil's vision diagnosing an aliment their infant had, and rushing their child to the hospital. They also mention his dead twin sister, and the break-in safe incident and his breif work making jewelry. That's pretty much it for his biography.

The guy they have playing him in these 'reconstructions' looks in no way like Phil, and he has the most outrageously obviously fake beard. This might not be so bad if they didn't keep showing pictures of the REAL Phil - and the freakin' Phil Android! - but they do. They also have a weird scene of him playing as a kid in the late 30s with shoulder-length hair.

Yeah, that's the way kids looked in the 1930s. Sure.

They focused on "Do Androids Dream...", "We can remember it for you wholesale," "Minority Report," "A Scanner Darkly," and "The Man in the High Castle." They actually had no interest in these stories/books, they just used them as ways to segue into random asides about the development of androids, the development of virtual reality, the development of videogames, the development of modern police surveilance, and the development of modern string-theory physics, all of which they more-or-less drop on his lap as being responsible for. I never knew the man, but I assume he'd bust a gut laughing at that idea.

Most of their comments are pretty clearly based on the movie adaptations rather than the books. They've got clips from "Minority Report" and "Total Recall," but I think it's telling that in a show ostensibly hosted by Ridley Scott, there's not a single clip, not a single frame, from "Blade Runner."

They really don't mention Phil's social commentary, which I take to have been more important to him than gee-gosh-wow robots-and-aliens aspects of his stories. My own assuption was that the gee-gosh-wow stuff was sugar to make the social commentary and/or theological speculation go down easier. Basically, they claim he invented government surveilance paranoia (Which had been around since "1984" at least), Parallel Universes (Whcih had been around since Ward Moore's "Bring the Jubilee" in 1955, which I believe Phil actually mentioned reading), androids (Which have been around since like 1900 if not before), but they ignore all the really cool stuff he ACTUALLY did, which made these tropes his own. They pretty much sidestep everything except the most lurid aspects of his numinous experiences. They also ignore his half dozen or so straight books with no SF elements.

They also really make him out to be a real gloomy gus. They talk about his fascination with the decrepit, the deteriorated, the dark, all of which is obviously there, and part of his appeal, but they don't really mention that he's frequently funny as hell. They also don't give any sense of the quick wit and easy charm he obviously was swimming in. They don't mention his relentless work ethic, either. They throw the "Mentally Ill" diagnosis around quite a bit, too, but they don't qualify it in any way. They say several random diseases, including "Schizophrenic," for instance. Bull-SHIT! I know shizophrenics. Phil was most definitely not one of them. He may have had some difficulty integrating into society as a fully-functioning member (As do I), but he was FAR FROM a danger ot himself and others, and he WAS a functioning adult who was able to take care of himself.

Really the whole episode - the whole series, indeed the whole network - is just a pile of crap. This episode is wildly misrepresentative of one of my favorite writers of all time. And honestly, there's only one line in this twaddle that separates it from being flat-out insulting: Ridley Scott in the very end of the episode says, "Philip K. Dick was a troubled man, but aren't all prophets troubled?" He says it with some real respect in his voice, and that's the only thing that's any good in this whole thing.

Avoid avoid avoid!

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Kevin Long is a righteous dude. You should check out his official website and his books here at http://www.kevin-long.com

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