Saturday, September 22, 2007

MTV's Fear Series

It's surprising just how far behind I find myself when it comes to popular culture. Not having cable television constitutes a huge handicap, and I often discover things several years after they were first released. I suppose I prefer it that way, because I don't get sucked in by marketers bent on selling products to "my demographic". Instead of being force-fed entertainment, I generally make my own way around the mediasphere. So in some ways, YouTube was designed for me. It's a self-directed portal that accommodates serendipity. Last night I found myself sitting in front of the computer with a snack, aimlessly surfing, and I came across a video titled "Fear- West Virginia Penitentiary (Part 1/7)". Naturally I tuned in and discovered that it was an episode of a strange reality TV/game show that once aired on MTV. I had some vague memory of a friend of mine telling me that he once worked on such a series. Given the setting and the personal connection, I decided to give the show a try.

MTV's Fear series (2000) worked like this- the producers would choose six participants (generally from the X- Generation) and they'd send them to some creepy locale. The contestants would be expected to spend a couple nights at the place, and fulfill a series of challenges. If they stayed the entire time and completed their dares they would be awarded $3000 (a seemingly paltry reward, in retrospect). If, on the other hand, they chickened out- they had to leave with nothing at all for their time and efforts. The show was sold as a cross between an extreme sport and a scientific examination into paranormal activity. These kids would enter the site alone, with (allegedly) no cameramen or crew. They were outfitted with vests that included attached night-vision cameras with spotlights. Both the setting and their reactions to it were recorded.

The premise of the show was immediately appealing to me. Whether or not each (or any) spot lived up to its billing as a "haunted location", the idea of being compelled to stay in such a modern-day ruin does lend itself to chilling and foreboding feelings. Over the years I have sought out these types of settings and have explored them voluntarily, with no hope of recompense other than personal experience. But then again, I like those spooked out feelings. I'm not sure why and I don't feel any pressure to fret about that fact. For some reason I enjoy mysterious and/or scary phenomena. So not only was I a bit envious of the participants getting the opportunity to explore, I was also taking it for granted that watching the show wouldn't have much affect on me. That ended up being a mistake.

You see, I have toured the abandoned prison in Moundsville. I know firsthand just how oppressive its halls and rooms can be. There is certainly something that works on the darker parts of your psyche when you experience such a place. What I felt was obviously ameliorated by both having a guide and taking the tour in the daytime. I can only imagine what I could have projected onto the surroundings had I been alone and in the dark. Some of the tasks the contestants were asked to perform were especially frightening. One young guy had to walk through a series of pitch black chambers, and squeeze down a narrow passage, only to enter a barred room and have to remove a cover from a piece of furniture. Even on my computer monitor the prospect of touching that tarp was daunting. Similarly the fear elicited by having to spend 15 minutes in the deep darkness of a large graffiti-covered basement corridor (that was notorious for violent assaults) was palpable.

Observing these kids with their extreme psychological reactions to this environment actually induced tension. While it may have been easy to believe that I could have handled their challenges with stony composure, I likewise realized that it was easy to cultivate that attitude from the comfort of my own library. I'm not foolish enough to think that I could accurately predict how I would act in their situations. Part of the reason for this is that I have been in similar places, albeit often in the presence of friends who I could count on. Regardless there is not much scarier than the unknown... and if you have the slighest doubt about the existence of malevolent forces that may possess such abandoned and forlorn buildings... then a few hours in the presence of that doubt might prove enlightening.

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Anonymous jefg said...

Interesting. On one hand, I suspect that knowing that the show is not likely to subject you to physical danger (despite whatever waiver you may be required to sign), would lead me to believe I could get through whatever they throw at me. How long would I be able to sustain a 'Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger' feeling?. On the other hand, human nature would probably prevail and I'd be scared s___less. I think you'd be much better equipped to handle it than the vast majority, perhaps better than anyone I know.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

That was a component of my thinking too. There's no way the owners of MTV could get away with causing significant injury to one of the contestants- especially when the reward for winning is only $3000.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this show and am addicted to watching it You Tube. What was the true reason why it was cut? I am also trying to trace down complete season 2 - you tub doesn;t have all the episodes.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


I have no information as to why the show was canceled. I don't even know if they had just contracted it for a couple of seasons, believing that it would eventually play itself out...

8:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anyone who cares about fear the show will be back supposedly in February of next year according to

1:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh one other thing the reason it was cut was not ratings but how expensive it was to make each episode. The way technology of today should make this a lot easier to do now.

1:43 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Thanks for the update. It's probably something I'd watch if I had cable. Maybe I'll get a chance to see new episodes on YouTube eventually.

1:47 AM  

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