MST 3K Fallout

by Erika Artukovic | 5/9/00 5:00am

A few years ago, the Earth was graced with the presence of a little TV show called Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST 3K). For those of you who are too cool for television, I'll provide some background. MST 3K is a show in which a human and his two robots crack jokes while watching painfully bad B-movies. This premise may sound a bit campy, but the show worked simply because the writers were comic geniuses, and each of their jokes was both intelligent and funny. This is a very important fact to keep in mind.

Although Mystery Science Theater 3000 benefits mankind in many ways, it has contributed to a disturbing and often dangerous trend sweeping the nation. I am of course speaking about the ubiquity of poor television etiquette. This problem is especially prevalent at Dartmouth, possibly because Dartmouth students feel they are bright and funny enough to amuse fellow TV watchers, or perhaps because most students studied so much in high school that they didn't have time to develop proper television-viewing skills. My friends and I believe that during freshman orientation, students should be required to take a class in television etiquette, so that others will not have to endure the litany of stupid comments hurled at television screens campus-wide. Students would, of course, have the opportunity to place out of this class.

However, until this class becomes a requirement, and until we get cable installed in our individual rooms, let us take a moment to review the Five Commandments of Television Etiquette.

I. Thou shalt not impersonate Sean Connery whenever he appears on screen. The next time you see a commercial for "Medicine Man" please refrain from repeating "I've found the cure for cancer, but now I've lost it" in what you consider to be a Scottish accent. Although attempting a Sean Connery impression is one of the most offensive sins against humanity and should therefore not be underestimated, this commandment can also be generalized to denounce less egregious sins. For example, Thou shalt not attempt a Minnesotan accent while watching "Fargo," etc.

II. Thou shalt think before thou asks a question. When you are two minutes into a TV show, and some mysterious character enters wearing a black ski mask, do not frantically turn to those around you and ask who this character is. Sometimes, TV shows like to use what those in the industry call suspense. If you find yourself feeling nervous and confused three seconds into a TV program, before you turn to other students and interrogate them with questions like, "Who is that? What is he doing? Whose shadow is that? What's in that suitcase?" simply repeat the following mantra to yourself: "We're not supposed to know yet, and I'm sure we will find out soon." This should help alleviate any anxiety.

III. Thou shalt engage in thy chatter only during commercial breaks. You might need to ask me some questions about our physics homework; you might want to know what I'm doing tonight; you might even be my friend, but is what you need to say so urgent that you can't wait five minutes until a commercial? Call me anal, but I enjoy watching television much more when I don't have to pretend that I am paying attention to what someone else is saying. Also, commercial breaks are an ideal point at which to ask questions about the plot which your television-illiterate mind might not have grasped during the show. Furthermore, if you feel compelled to discuss your feelings about the TV show (this is highly discouraged), please do so only during a commercial break. Bring pencil and paper if you are afraid that you might forget your insightful and thought-provoking comment while you wait for the commercials.

IV. Thou shalt not burst into hysterics at inappropriate times. Here is a good rule to remember: it is ok to entertain your friends in your room by laughing so hard that you throw up. It is not ok to jump up and down, tear, foam and spontaneously combust in a public lounge with strangers who aren't laughing and who just want to watch their damn show in peace.

V. Thou shalt not attempt "witty" retorts. This is the most important commandment of all. Let us return to our first point about the comedic talents possessed by MST 3K's writers. Those writers are very different than you in three important ways: 1) They are funny; 2) They get paid to come up with wacky and zany comments to say to the TV screen. And most importantly, 3) They write these comments for an audience THAT WANTS TO HEAR THEM. No matter how funny you think you are, please spare us all that unsolicited glimpse of your sense of humor (and I use that term loosely). There is a time and place to talk back to the TV. But that time and place is never around strangers in a TV lounge.

And in summary, the Golden Rule of Television Etiquette: do not speak while watching television in public.

Feel free to post these commandments next to your nearest public television.