Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
It’s a rare rainy day here in droughtland, and my van is in the shop so I can’t work nor can I do the fence work I had planned. It’s a good time to write.
I knew that this new show created, written and executive-produced by Andy and Lana Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski was coming down the pike so as soon as I saw that it was available on Netflix I started watching it. I loved The Matrix, (not the sequels however) so I wanted to see what they had come up with. I’m a cord cutter and Netflix is my only form of TV. What is better than TV on demand with no commercials? Possibly flying cars, but I can’t confirm that.
It. is. weird. And I like that, but I had to sit through the first three episodes before I finally got a sense of what was going on. There are some normal narrative conventions that are exploded and it took a while for me to realize that things weren’t going to play out the way I expected them to. It was jarring at first, but I got used to it. I’m totally hooked and I’ve been binge watching.
The Wachowski brothers and Michael Straczynski have already done shows with psychic ability. The Matrix and Babylon 5 both featured psychic ability. Their sensitivity to this subject shows. Indeed, this is quite possibly the most culturally and socially sensitive action oriented TV show I have ever seen. There are several gay characters and one transgender, all shown without shying away one single bit from the affection that they show for one another. All of this is treated as normal to the point where even I got a bit overloaded at one point.
The different locations are all treated well to an extra ordinary degree. It’s one of the areas that this show really shines in that the people are products of their respective cultures, which are shown with some subtle aspects here and there that show that the producers took the time to understand some of the less well known quirks of the cultures they’re representing.
The psychic people, while accounting for the usual need jack up the drama, are portrayed fairly realistically. It’s established early that for the most part, that no matter where they live, they’re outsiders in their own worlds. They’re odd, different and a bit high strung. All of them are extremely talented at something (other than psychic ability) and they’re very creative and smart. They can all think outside the box and adjust rapidly to changing circumstances. These are psychic attributes. When they’re not in distress from an external event they’re happy around one another.
Where I think the portrayal falls a little flat is that the characters have this immense telepathic connection, but don’t seem to exhibit any other type of psychic ability at all. That’s a little weird. One would expect a certain amount of precognition, clairvoyance, mediumship, psychokinesis, etc. to be bleeding through if the ability is really that strong.
The psychic ability itself is portrayed extremely well if you account for some Hollywood type alterations to make it more interesting. The show is based around eight psychic people whose connection to one another is based on a grouping of eight. That’s strictly Hollywood. The characters also interact with one another by forming a telepathic connection so strong that it’s as if they are physically in the place where their counterparts are. So if one is in Chicago and the other is in Iceland they can easily flip between both places when they’re connected to one another, but no one else can see the one that is “traveling.” The one that’s “traveling” can take over the body of the one that’s “home” and use their own skills.
This is the basis for a lot of the action, as the person in trouble will have various other members of the group of eight take over their body and use their specific skills to help. That is not a realistic portrayal of psychic ability, but it’s really cool to watch, if perhaps a bit confusing. As an example, look at this still from the show:
The action takes place in San Francisco, but the asian woman in the blue shirt is actually in prison in South Korea. The cop in the background on the left is actually in Chicago. The only people who are really there are the two cops in the foreground and the woman with the sunglasses in the background who is actually the person kneeling between the two cops. The asian woman has temporarily taken over her body in order to do some serious ass kicking while sunglasses lady watches from outside her body and the not-quite-there-but-yeah-he-is background cop gives pointers. Got that? It’s easier to follow than it looks.
If this were real and they could all feel each others traumas as if they were experiencing it themselves they would all have PTSD and be on Zoloft by the third episode. Come to think of it, one of them does smoke pot, probably out of necessity.
What they do get right in the need-based aspect of psychic ability, which seems tailor made for story telling, as people aren’t likely to use their abilities at their peak capacities unless there is a real need.
So far, the groups are all composed of exactly eight people. (sense8, get it?) it is like Morphic Resonance on steroids. It’s a bit of a leap beyond reality, but hey, Hollywood. In real life the ordinary grouping seems to be between 150 and 250 people, -about the size of an indigenous tribe-, and has a lot of non psychic people in it. Perhaps on the show this is mimicking a large nuclear family unit? maybe. The law of Hollywood is that Every Damned Thing Can Be Explained. -unless the plot needs it to be a mystery.-
The antagonist is the Government, which is trying to quietly do away with these groups by lobotomizing any members they find. So, no shortage of clearly defined evil here. In real life, this would be an ineffective strategy because you could never find them fast enough and they’re sure not going to come forward and tell the world. The real problem for the government isn’t the existence of telepaths anyway. They only present a danger if they are believed. That’s because a properly trained telepath/clairvoyant/remote viewer can discover pretty much whatever secret they’re looking for, but for that source of information has to have any effect, it has to be believed by people with high social standing.
It’s much easier to simply discredit or at least create uncertainty around those who stand out publicly. A cosmic private Facebook group doesn’t present much of a threat. When members of the group aren’t being threatened, all they do is hang out and share with each other. They don’t seem at all interested in total world domination. So it makes no sense to pursue them.
Despite the fact that this is an action show with all the compromises necessary to make this watchable TV, it is still a touching and sensitive look at the lives of people who are psychic. They are not a freak show played for laughs nor are they super powered heroes in tights. To a certain extent, I feel like my identity is being represented. I guess that’s what I like about it.