I plan to write a number of these, based on some of my feelings and insights from watching Penny Dreadful.
Some of the posts will discuss specific points and speeches in the scripts. So, if you are like me and are to a certain extent “binge watching” on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon, you may wish to wait to read these posts.
If you are not, and have no interest in doing so, let me give you a summary of the story in this first post. I will try to make sure in the next posts that I place any “spoilers” after the “read more” link.
The series is set in the latter part of the 19th century, approximately around 1890 or so. For the most part, this was a time when the metaphoric apple-cart was overthrown and a number of colonizing empires ruled the world, including Britain, France, Russia, Germany and the United States.
It was also a time when mankind understood that the world was so much more than just the land around them. The common man (as opposed to the rich and powerful) finally realized that there were so many other people around, and sadly often learned to treat those who were “other” with disdain, abuse and cast them as sub-human. You can’t completely blame them, because their assorted aristocracies had for centuries treated them as sub-human. It was the only way they knew how to act to someone different than themselves. It is far too easy to stand from our supposed “post-colonialism” era, and tell ourselves that we are better than they. Are we? Really? We still have much of the same attitudes about people who are “different” or somehow “other” than ourselves. We still are dealing with that broken and abusive superiority complex, as we decide that certain other groups are sub-human or inhuman at all, whether they are Native Americans, African Americans, Muslims, LGBTQ or any other label we want to set up as being the cause of all our misery and sorrow.
But, I digress.
The century in which we find Penny Dreadful set into is after the so-called “Age of Reason.” Science was becoming more respected, more understood and experimented upon and was paving the way for the Industrial Revolution. Since the Industrial Revolution, the world has been moving ever faster, as we build more and more things, striving to make them better than the one’s before.
It is no big surprise to me that in the course of just over 1oo years (OK, slightly more than that, given the date many historians give as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution is approximately 176o – so, 140 years), we’ve gone through so many different changes in our lives we’ve become inured to the idea that this is how it is meant to be. That our computers, phones or any other tech should have a built-in shelf life. To quote Scott McNealy, “Technology has the shelf life of a banana. By the time you buy it, implement it and train people on it, it’s obsolete.” †
When the assorted different versions of automobiles came out, they were (relatively) simple to work on. While you needed some specialized skills, they were comparatively fairly easy to switch parts. As cars have gotten more and more refined, fewer “at home” mechanics are possible. While there are still some who can maintenance their own vehicles, this group is dwindling fast.
But, less than 100 years ago, if something only lasted 2-3 years, and could not be fixed or updated in itself, it was rarely if ever bought. Things were expected to last a reasonable amount of time, with reasonable repairs.
But at the era when Penny Dreadful is set, the limits of the assorted technologies had not yet been found. It is not surprising that the original stories of the characters in the TV show (which include Dr. Frankenstein and his monster; Mina Harker, Dracula, seances and spiritualists, Dorian Grey, Dr Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and others) were written during this time period. If you think about it, similarly to the Johnny Depp “Sleepy Hollow” (even though it is set in 1799, rather than 100 years later), you see the superstition of older centuries given new life by trying to explain them via new technologies. And a few new horrors as well.
What attracts me the most about the series is that instead of focusing on the superstitions to move the story along, you are given a glimpse into the brains of the assorted characters involved. You see the emotional and religious struggles of Vanessa Ives; the internal workings of man versus beast in Ethan Chandler/Talbot (and the struggle to see which is the better or more ethical being); the deep psychosis that truly exists in the brain of Dr. Frankenstein, and more.
But, let’s leave it here for now. I want to cogitate on which set of speeches I want to delve into first.
† `Technology has a banana’s shelf life’ (n.d.). Retrieved August 25, 2016, from http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2007-05-18/news/28483672_1_open-source-linux-storage-technology ⇑