Monday, April 02, 2012

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Blindness

Cultures around the world boast a surprising number of proverbs about blindness.  You can probably recite many from memory.  "Justice is blind."  "The blind leading the blind," etc.  Perhaps, then, it is no surprise that in the annals of cult-tv history, blindness has proven a crucial and oft-repeated trope.

Blindness, of course, is the total lack of sight, and so a number of programs over the years have featured episodes in which heroes must reckon with the loss of perhaps our most valuable and cherished sense.  Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) briefly (and unnecessarily...) experienced blindness in the first season Star Trek episode "Operation: Annihilate."  

Fortunately for him,Vulcans possess an "inner eyelid" and so his sight returned.

In the third season Trek episode, "Is There in Truth No Beauty?" a character named Dr. Miranda Jones (Diana Muldaur) visited the Enterprise.  She had overcome her blindness with the help of a "sensor web," and gone on to achieve tremendous success in her career, notably in mind-linking with a Medusan Ambassador.

The onset of blindness in cult television often exposes the true, hidden nature of a character.  

Colonel Wilma Deering (Erin Gray) goes blind in the Buck Rogers second season episode "The Guardians" and imagines herself an isolated, pitiable person...wandering the corridors of Searcher alone.  We learn from this experience how vulnerable Wilma feels, and that she can't stand the thought of being pitied, or an object of ridicule.  You'd imagine, however, that by the 25th century the blind would not be reduced to the sad fate Wilma imagines.

What else happens when a person loses his or her sight?  Cult television provides some...unique answers.  In Rod Serling's Night Gallery, the episode "Eyes" involves an avaricious, aristocratic character named Miss Menlo (Joan Crawford) who will do anything not to go blind...even steal the eyes of a less-fortunate human being.  

Fate and Con-Ed conspire to play a cruel trick on her, as you may recall.

Blind seers are another staple of cult television programming.  In The fifth season X-Files episode "Mind's Eye" an unfortunate blind woman, Marty (Lili Taylor) could see through the eyes of a killer...even though she didn't want to do so.  As it turned out, she had an unusual connection that particular criminal, a connection that explained their psychic link.

And in Smallville's "Hourglass," an old blind woman named, appropriately, Cassandra (Jackie Burroughs) could see into the futures of Clark Kent (Tom Welling) and Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum).  What she envisioned in Lex's future was a terrifying and apocalyptic vision.

The greatest blind character in cult-tv history, however, is likely Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), chief engineer aboard the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 - 1994).  

Equipped with his famous VISOR, the blind Geordi could not only see, he could see "more" than so-called normal human beings.  But -- as Geordi reckoned on at least one occasion -- "more" didn't necessarily mean "better."   When affected by the virus in "The Naked Now," Geordi longed for normal, flawed human vision in a tender moment with Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby).  But when he had the opportunity to see his visor exchanged for normal vision in "Hide and Q," Geordi chose to remain blind. 

Geordi was surely a representative of Gene Roddenberry's Utopian vision for "Technology Unchained," a human showcase revealing how high-tech devices could make man's existence much better, -- even a virtual paradise -- down to repairing or minimizing physical handicaps.  The great thing about Geordi was that he was ever much more than his blindness or handicap, and the Enterprise crew never saw him as less than an equal. Most TNG episodes didn't involve Geordi's blindness to any significant degree at all, but instead involved the essence of his human character, such as his discomfort around women ("Booby Trap.")

1 comment:

  1. Interesting treatise, John. It is ironic storytellers in books, TV, and film use blindness as a mechanism for others to see things. I always recalls Stephen King's use of Dinah Bellman from THE LANGOLIERS as the child medium in getting some answers to nightmare situation of those on surviving the redeye L.A. to Boston flight. Good stuff.