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Hollywood's Newest Bogeyman: The Internet

For those of us who use it every day (or even several times a week), the Internet is nothing to be afraid of. It's a tool—and a helpful one—to broadcast information to a worldwide audience. As a writer, I've found the web enormously helpful in research, and also in the instantaneous transmission (or uploading…) of files such as this column to the pertinent parties (editors, friends, et cetera.) But to good old Hollywood, the Internet represents something more interesting than a workaday tool. Simply put, it is the latest in a long line of "science gone awry" movie bogeyman.

You recognize the "science gone awry" cliché don't you? It's probably the guiding principle of the last 70 years of genre cinema. When America tested the atom bomb, many believed science had tampered in God's domain, and Hollywood responded with 1950s films like Them (concerning gigantic ants) or The Amazing Colossal Man (about a radiation-spawned giant). Each of these films (and many, many more…) suggested that man had opened Pandora's Box by splitting the atom.

In the 1970s and 1980s, other sciences went awry too. In particular, cloning has been a bugaboo since the 1970s, in films such as The Boys from Brazil (1978) and Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979). Genetic testing also informed the horror of Embryo (1977) and that heart-warming story of oversized rabbits on the loose Night of the Lepus (1972). And who can forget Larry Cohen's paean to science gone awry: It's Alive (1973)? That production concerned mutant babies—infants mutated by x-rays, pollution, disruptions in the ozone layer, the birth control pill, and a dozen other topical scientific horrors.

With a war on terrorism, a (still) contested presidential election and stock markets tanking left and right, you'd think that there are plenty of new bogeymen for Hollywood to exploit. With all these real-life "fears," it would seem unnecessary to rely on that tried and true villain, "science gone awry," but oddly, the Internet seems to be the latest manifestation of this old nemesis. In just one week, a demonic site called threatened the populace of the world on the season finale of the Yancy Butler series Witchblade on TNT, and another "evil" web domain,, became the "last known site" visited by several murder victims in the recent big-screen release Feardotcom.

So what's up? Do these productions represent our fear of out of control technology, or a dawning knowledge that the Internet has spread—virus-like—to the entire planet? And why is it that between a single Monday and a Friday, two major genre productions should very publicly exploit the same bogeyman? Coincidence?

An easy (and only half-serious) answer to these questions is that the Internet had it coming. Oh, and the fact that Hollywood always imitates itself. Back in 1995, Sandra Bullock exposed the world to the horrors of the worldwide web in the suspense-action film called The Net. In 1998, a little-seen syndicated series entitled Nightman (1997-1998) showcased a season long battle between a teched-up superhero and a villain named Keyes, who had invented something called "the Ultraweb." The villain's greatest accomplishment? Downloading the Grim Reaper - that's right, the bogeyman - into our unsuspecting reality. These two examples prove that the concept of "Internet as Bogeyman" isn't a new one by any means, but it is certainly an interesting synchronicity that Feardotcom and Witchblade both handled the same theme within five days of one another. It's an idea whose time has come, especially in a post September-11th America, where privacy is more at risk than ever in our history.

So, is the Internet inherently scary? Does it rate high on your "fear meter?" If truth be told, the Internet sends cold shivers down my spine if I think about it too closely. It discomforts me, not because I think Satan is moderating a chat room, but because of the manner in which some Net users are systematically lowering standards for discourse. After all, when you look at some sites, the first things noticeable are bad spelling and inaccurate punctuation. And when you get a nasty review for your work on the net, it never helps that it is invariably THIS BOOK SUCKS! In all-caps, of course.

And, I had a nasty experience over a year ago in which a rabid, obsessed TV series fan posted a scathing review of me on the Internet. Ostensibly the review was of one of my many books, and it was pretty smart—and made some good points—but the author's total and utter hatred for me, proved a dramatic point: the Internet is dangerous, and yes, scary, in the wrong hands. Here was someone who had never met me, yet writing terrible things about me. Jus then, in that instant of introspection, I understood what it must truly be like to be Freddie Prinze Jr, the whipping boy of every adolescent boy with a computer.

After some thought, I felt better about the site and the over-the-top nasty review because the same site trashed James Cameron and Ridley Scott. I'll take that company any time. Then I found a genre magazine from twenty years ago in which the same person was trashing someone else, only in print instead of online. How sad that is, not to change your tune in twenty years, spitting out the same venom again and again, never moving up in the profession. And worse, using the gift of communication only to tear others down.

Anyway, the experience of this "bashing" got me soul searching. Feardotcom and Witchblade have it all wrong. What's scary about the Internet is not the notion that it is a portal to evil domains. Instead, it's that this tool for communication and sharing is actually the newest avenue in which (sometimes…) to meet freaks, stalkers and losers. The planned remake of Play Misty for Me, a classic suspense yarn about an obsessed fan pursuing a d.j. (Clint Eastwood) might be wise to include this contemporary notion; that the Internet is a place not only of public sharing and shopping, but, under the right circumstances, public humiliation!

Anyhoo, I see that my idea isn't so original after all. I've just watched the previews for a Twentieth Century Fox release called SwimFan, about a chat room friend (or is it fiend?) hounding an innocent young man, ostensibly with the complicity of the net. That makes three "Internet as Bogeyman" stories on our screen in under a month!

Still, SwimFan should be chilling if it pulls off this premise. And just think of the possible ad-lines: Dial-up Death! A new domain of terror! Your link to horror! You've got (hate) mail!

I can't wait.


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