Friday, 20 March 2009

Saturday 21st - Friday 27th March

Super-Villain Exam, Multiple Choice Section. You've developed a revolutionary device which can confer superhuman strength and the ability to fly on any target. Do you (a) use it on yourself; (b) use it on all your henchmen, thus overrunning the city with super-powered miscreants; or (c) use it on Spider-Man?

Before we begin: a word or 774 on pedantry, geekery, and obsessive behaviour.

An obsessive mind can be a meddlesome thing (for a start, only an obsessive mind is driven to use words like "meddlesome", in much the same way that only Star Wars fans are driven to use the word "mindful"), but when it comes to comedy, a pedant's devotion to the truth can interfere with any joke, at any time, on any level. Of course, truth is a relative term. Mark Steel once said that an unimaginative mind is opposed to comedy by its very nature, because if you tell a joke that begins "a tyrannosaurus walks into a pub", then a listener with no imagination will immediately say "hang on, they didn't have pubs in those days". Whereas I'm quite happy to hear about an extinct prehistoric animal propping up the bar in a branch of Weatherspoon's, and yet… if the joke had begun, "a tyrannosaurus, a triceratops, and a brontosaurus walk into a pub", then I'd feel obliged to point out that the brontosaurus should be divided from the other two by around 75-million years of geological time. And that it should really be called an apatosaurus anyway.

In other words, pedantry is a matter of aesthetics, and has very little to do with logic. Likewise, the "real" Radio Times informs us that this week's Horne and Corden features a sketch in which "Superman gives Spider-Man some bad news". Leaving aside the obvious issue that gags about superheroes represent the second-lowest point of sub-Kenny-Everett sketch-wank (only horror movie parodies are lower), at least half of the people who regularly browse the Randomness Times will read that description and immediately, instinctively notice the problem. And at least half of them will follow up that initial reaction with the thought: "Except once, in a crossover in 1976." For the rest of you, who have no idea what we're talking about… no, never mind. You have to be born to it.

So. Obsessive minds insist on a specific version of The Facts, even when The Facts are entirely fictional. Perhaps the greatest indicator of this is the way in which sci-fi fans (and I mean this in a semi-derogatory sense, not to mean anyone who likes science fiction, but anyone who likes the specific form of science fiction that's generally used as schedule-fodder by Sky One) use the word "continuity". To most viewers, continuity is a light breeze which blows throughout all TV drama, quietly ensuring that the carnation in Mr Popplewick's buttonhole doesn't move from the right side of his waistcoast to the left side between shots. Yet in the sci-fi philosophy, Continuity is a vengeful and malevolent god, who demands that the Seven Laws of the Mangooskan Federation [established in episode 1.12] must be strictly upheld throughout the rest of the series [even in episode 3.05, which is technically set in a parallel universe, but one where the Treaty of Mangooska 6 is still in effect]. To be fair, this sort of thing isn't entirely the province of sci-fi: fans of The Archers have been making votive offerings to Continuity for over fifty years, even though most of them are too old to use the internet without falling off.

However, this means that the various everyday uses of the word "continuity" have different resonances for the average geek-about-town. Many programmes still list a "Continuity Girl" among the end credits, a phrase which sounds like an obsessive's perfect superheroine, a woman who received a papercut from a radioactive copy of Down and Safe: The Unofficial Guide to Blake's Seven and gained astonishing powers of ret-con as a result. Then there's the Continuity IRA. Oh, the Continuity IRA! Its founders must have thought that by taking on the mantle of Western Europe's most notorious terrorist organisation, they were invoking all the fear and rage of recent Irish history. They couldn't have guessed that whenever the name is spoken by a newscaster, thousands of geeks find themselves thinking: 'Yeah, I know what they mean. Whenever I watch that "Journey's End" episode of Doctor Who, the departure from the established version of Dalek history makes me want to blow things up, too.'

Through sheer chance, this edition of the Randomness Times features more concessions to the geek contingent than any other so far. So feel free to treat it as a form of drinking game, and take a shot every time you find yourself smirking at something that would only make sense to those who can't hear the phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" without imagining a big floating eyeball with tentacles.