josh hadley | the shadows of pop culture | sept. 2017
MST3K has come a long way since its creation back in 1988.
Going from local Minnesota TV station KTMA to the Comedy Channel (which later became Comedy Central) to the Sci-Fi Channel and now a new season on Netflix, the show has had quite a ride. Besides the Mystery Science Theater 3000 series itself, there has been a theatrical movie and spin-offs such as The Film Crew, Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic.
The series has such a simple premise and yet is more complex than one might imagine ... a hapless dummy is trapped in space with his robot buddies and forced to watch "bad" movies, all the while making snarky comments over the films. The films range from classically bad to actually good movies that are unfairly maligned. The show itself has moved from being an earnest and heartfelt attempt to create something new and unique to being a slick, high-end program, fully aware of its audience.
That audience is rabid by the way. Mysties are devoted fans that devour the minutia of the series and of the movies showcased in the episodes and sometimes even to detrimental effect.
Viewers of Mystery Science Theater 3000 who did not catch the series in its original run seem to misunderstand the intentions and motivations of the show. To the modern viewer MST3K is about making fun of bad movies and therefore, a movie that appears on the show, by definition, must be awful, which is not the objective of the program at all. The creators of the show were hardly celebrating these films but they were, in their own way, showcasing and shining a light on movies that really were lost to time otherwise. Those who watched MST3K in its original run tended to understand this and the bulk of their viewership was made up of people who had most likely already encountered these movies in some native way on late night television or on home video. These were films which people sought out to enjoy and the smart-ass comments of the hosts were an added layer. Somewhere along the line this got clouded and over time the fans of MST3K began to see the episodes as a showcase of films that deserves mockery. Movies which were spotlighted are now seen, the world over, as bad movies simply for their inclusion in the program without regard to their merit as movies themselves. Far too often "This movie sucks, I saw it on MST3K" is uttered with complete seriousness. That is one of the issues that a show with this kind of fandom generates. A movie such as “Phase IV" is visionary and brilliant and yet is considered a joke to those who have only seen the movie on MST3K.
The current Netflix series is an extension of this attitude with the selection of movies having a few genuinely good films mixed in that are now, as of this year, making "Worst movies of all time" lists merely due to being on MST3K.
Thankfully when the traveling show came to Green Bay the movie being presented was the 1962 turd "Eegah," a film that deserves every bit of the critical drubbing it receives.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is also linked heavily to Wisconsin, (creator Joel Hodgson was born in Stevens Point and attended Ashwaubenon High School). Viewers of Mystery Science Theater 3000 know just how many references to Green Bay they regularly worked into the show. Even though it was not Green Bay, the series finale of Mystery Science Theater 3000 even has the boys crash land in Milwaukee and live in a basement apartment watching "The Crawling Eye" off of WTMJ.
The roots of the series are dug fairly deep here in the Green Bay area and following the Netflix season, Hodgson took the show on the road, which included a recent Weidner Center appearance on Aug. 6.
With Hodgson being not only a Green Bay native, but someone who really is down to earth, he made sure the live show at the Weidner was steeped in Green Bay references ... so much so that current star Jonah Ray had trouble pronouncing Ashwaubenon during the live show.
When Cinematic Titanic came through Green Bay in 2011 the theater they played in was the same theater where Joel Hodgson first saw "Star Wars" in back in 1977. He mentioned how much of a surreal experience that was.
Surreal is how one might describe the traveling "Watch Out For Snakes" tour as well. The show at the Weidner was filled to the brim with Mysties through and through – some came in elaborate costumes, bringing with them props and many were dressed in MST3K t-shirts.
The fandom of Mystery Science Theater 3000 is a devoted one and that proves just how much of a legacy the series truly has. Until the Netflix revival, there had not been a new episode of the main show for 18 years and yet the popularity of it has only gone up. Hodgson even noted in the Green Bay audience how some of the fans there that night were not even born when the series finale aired on the Sci-Fi Channel back in 1999. MST3K may seriously become a generational show.
The Green Bay show was fantastic to watch. The experience of having the actors there live on stage and interacting with the audience while the movie played on the screen behind them was a treasure to behold. As MST3K shows no signs of slowing, and new generations become Mysties themselves, should another traveling show come to town in the future, I wager it will be even larger.
A fiercely confrontational and arrogant critic whose stubborn nature makes him immanently readable and equally angering, Josh Hadley is a writer for magazines such as Hustler, Fangoria, Paracinema, Shadowland, Grindhouse Purgatory and Cashers du Cinemart, as well as a radio host on Jackalope Radio. Find more from him at 1201beyond.com, a website that only the most anti-social personalities would engage.