Creatures, cavegirls and kids

In a fit of nostalgia, I recently decided to hunt down copies of a particular TV show I remember from when I was a kid.

Those of you who know me will not be surprised by this.  I am, at the age of 32, just as much of a Doctor Who nut as I was 29 years previously.  I also have every episode of the Children’s ITV gameshow Knightmare on VHS.  Nostalgia and the completist, collectors instinct are a dangerous pairing.

My latest whim is the 1982 animated version of The Incredible Hulk.  No, not the dreadful Bill Bixby series of the same name, which it seems everyone but me remembers fondly.  I’m so bored of hearing producers talk about how the Hulk movies are failing because they lack a resemblance to the TV show.  I’m sometimes not wholly convinced that these people realise the Hulk is actually a comic book character.  Bill Bixby has, I fear, doomed all subsequent live action versions of the Hulk to emulate his version of the character, instead of Stan Lee’s.

But I digress.

One episode of The Incredible Hulk, titled The Creature and the Cavegirl, features Bruce Banner attempting to use a “time projector” to go back in time and prevent the gamma ray explosion which first turned him into the Hulk.  As you might expect, things go awry and the Hulk ends up travelling “a million years back in time”, where he rescues a woman – the eponymous cavegirl – from a bear-like monster and a marauding dinosaur.

This is the point at which I started getting frustrated. Dinosaurs and humans living together?  Who died and made Ken Ham the script editor?  Modern humans living one million years ago? Seriously? Come to that – dinosaurs living one million years ago! Really?! You’re going to put that in a kids TV show? Irresponsible much?

Then I took a step back.

Sure, this show is telling kids (albeit indirectly) that humans and dinosaurs lived together a million years ago. But it is also telling kids that getting caught in a nuclear blast with turn you into a green, quasi-Jekyll-and-Hyde monster in magic elastic pants.  And that it is possible to traverse the fourth dimension via a device called a time projector.

These things are just as crazy, but I don’t find them in the least bit objectionable.

Why not?

  1. #1 by w_nightshade on May 25, 2011 - 13:02

    Buckle up, Lit Major running on all 4 cylinders:

    All fictional narrative exists as a contract between author and reader. The author’s main job is to get you on board with that contract. They establish the world’s rules and you, as the reader (viewer/consumer/audience – that would have been a better word), agree to accept those rules on the author’s terms.

    In a show like The Incredible Hulk, it is pitched (as many TV shows like this are) as “just like OUR world, but with these changes…” It’s the first half of that contract that gets a lot of us. It is unspoken, but we assume that the history of the word of TIH is the same as ours, and the divergence happens quite recently. It is incumbent upon the STORY to establish that divergence up front, or the audience may experience the sort of disappointment you felt.

    WARNING: We cannot guarantee that this product is 100% free of made-up bullshit.

  2. #2 by Rob McDermott on May 25, 2011 - 13:18

    Personally I was never a huge fan of superheroes for the very reason that they just seem silly to me. I like Batman best because he’s just a rich martial artist with cool technology.

    That said, I think that the distinction here is that it’s possible to conceive of some future breakthrough that will change out understanding of science and make such far-fetched ideas as superwowers and time travel happen. They are pretty much impossible given our understanding of science, but fun to speculate on given how far science has already taken us. Such notions might inspire a kid to become a scientist and perhaps from there gain a rational view of the world.

    Human beings living with dinosaurs, however, is just wrong. We know it never happened from a variety of corroborating sources of evidence. Given the overwhelming evidence that this never happened, there’s no need to put it into a cartoon. You are not speculating on some fun technology, you’re just being wrong. The story could’ve been served equally well by Hulk rescuing the girl from a sabre-toothed tiger, which was actually alive at the same time as humans. As it stands, it just gives them an incorrect impression of pre-history.

  3. #3 by Sean on May 25, 2011 - 13:48

    Hello I’m afraid you are wrong, dinosaurs and humans did exist together.

    Have you never have seen the documentary, ‘One Million Years B.C.’? (1966)

  4. #4 by Marsh on May 25, 2011 - 13:53

    It’s all about the rules, really.

    For a narrative to work convincingly, it needs to identify up front the rules of the fictional universe which differ from those of real life, and from then on play by real rules.

    Example – Bruce Banner lives in a universe where gamma rays turn him into a mutant who turns big when peeved. Fine. But if it got 100 episodes in and he suddenly was able to turn cars into rabbits by saying some magic words, you’d ask why this power wasn’t included in the initial rule-making time.

    Similarly – bloke from other planet has a time travelling device which looks like a phone box and allows him to knob his way around space and time. OK, fine. Same bloke has a magic wand which he can point at stuff and make it do increasingly pertinent things at any given moment, even if it’s never done those things before – not for me.

    Ideally, episode/issue 1 should come with a modified universe rulebook:

    “Hi everyone, thanks for purchasing this DVD box set of Jimmy’s Magic Bed Post. Jimmy’s Magic Bed Post is based around real-world physics, except for 2 rules:
    – Jimmy has a magic bed post which allows him to warm liquids by 5 degrees upon contact with it
    – Jimmy has 3 heads.

    Other than that, everything else is entirely naturalistic. Kthxbai”

    3 heads and the ability to raise liquid temperature by 5 degrees? I’d watch that.

  5. #5 by JackJL on May 25, 2011 - 13:59

    This post made me think of the green children fantastic fact from Sceptics with a C! (That credulous rubbish!)

    I feel angry (wouldn’t like me…) when a show has a real life pseudoscience, I think because it has real life harm. The 2nd season of Warehouse 13 featured the staff doctor using fucking acupressure- drove me crazy! This in a show with a timetravelling HG Wells, Tesla made stun guns and Posiedon’s very own trident. If it had been a magic healing device I wouldn’t have cared, but the fact that this could send someone with a real medical condition to a quack gets to me. (Or promotes 1 million years BC cavemen/dinosaurs, leading potentially to fundie churches)

    This doctor was played by the bionic woman, who, it turns out has several books on acupressure and meditation. Even if she is a 100% genuine believer, who would try to promote their own sideline as a guest character!

    This concludes my angry rant; I shall find my purple pants

  6. #6 by Sean on May 25, 2011 - 14:37

    Isn’t it just because you know dinosaurs and humans are real and at what points in time they exist, pretty much 100% as a fact. So any inconsistencies that are not adequately explained just don’t sit well.

    Whereas the Hulk and time travel are (probably) not real so you can’t really argue that anything to do with them is wrong because people are going to have their own ideas regarding them? And no one can really say for sure who is correct (except maybe Stan Lee?)

  7. #7 by Rob McDermott on May 25, 2011 - 15:08

    Actually what Nightshade and Marsh have said makes a lot of sense (despite the dig at sonic screwdrivers). As a kid I really enjoyed the flintstones despite the fact they they clearly lived with dinosaurs which I knew to be wrong even then. It was set up as a conceit of the show from the start and once you’ve accepted it you go with it.

    It’s when something comes along out of the blue that contradicts reality as we understand it to exist in the context of the story that it can jar.

    An example would be in the Dragon Age series of games where it was clearly established in the first game that even in a world of magic, teleportation was impossible. In the second game, enemy mages suddenly had the ability to disappear and reappear on another section of the battlefield, which really annoyed some people as it clearly contradicted the existing lore.

  8. #8 by Lisa Chalkley on May 25, 2011 - 21:43

    Sounds like busted suspension of disbelief. Evolution is an important thing to you…it would have been really cool if you’d got so angry that you started turning green!

  9. #9 by Michael on May 29, 2011 - 18:49

    Err…Wasn’t it Lou Ferringo who played the Hulk? And Bill Bixby played Bruce Banner. Just sayin’.

  10. #10 by Mike Hall on May 29, 2011 - 22:19

    Yes, it was. But it was Bixby’s portrayal of Banner – the fugitive/loner, on the run, on the road, keeping his head down – that the subsequent live action “Hulk” movies end up trying to emulate.

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