Bad Scary Place – The Philip Fairbanks Interview With Shane Watson

The following interview was conducted by freelance journalist and long-time Bad Scary Place fan Philip Fairbanks in 2004.

Philip Fairbanks: What was your inspiration for creating this? Don’t just tell me you liked Burroughs/Gysin cutups either. I’m talking about the elusive “theme,” which is quite well developed.

Shane Watson: The inspirations for the BSP are extremely varied. It began a few years back when my cousin Trey showed me a particularly surreal site on the internet. Trey has introduced me to lots of good things over the years, such as the bands Ween and Built To Spill, but I digress. He sat me down at a computer at my aunt’s house and said, “Here, check this out.” I started clicking. It was unlike anything I had seen on the internet, because up to that point, the sites I had dealt with were very straightforward and quite linear in nature. It made perfect sense to me, though.

In real life I can be a somewhat quirky, eclectic person. Although up to that point, my website hadn’t reflected that about me at all. While having *some* artistic flourishes and bizarre moments here and there, my site was pretty, well… normal. Whatever this odd site was, it got me thinking about what I hadn’t done with my site yet, and what parts of my ability to create hadn’t been unleashed on my site.

This soon mixed in with several other factors:

1. As a kid, I was a huge fan of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series, which you may or may not be familiar with. They give you options, and rather than being a linear (there we go with that word again) story, you come to certain pages where you get to make a choice. Based on which choice you select, you are instructed to turn to a particular page. Your choices then affect the outcome of the story.

2. While in high school, I picked up a CD called “Telecommunication Breakdown” by a losely-formed “band” (more of an art project, really) called EBN (“Emergency Broadcast Network”). The CD used a heavy amount of television samples within the music, including political speeches cut up and re-arranged in such a manner as to make it sound like people such as George Bush (Sr.) were saying things like “We will rock you.” The CD also came with some Quicktime movies that were quick-cut collages of all kinds of various TV broadcasts, movie clips, war footage, home shopping channels, self-help videos, etc. It was like a 200-channel assault of the emptiness of TV over an industrial music background. The album and the accompanying videos had a very big impact on me at the time. This group actually went on to produce the video walls for U2’s “Zoo TV” tour.

3. Other factors and influences may include game shows, the movie “Fight Club”, the movie “12 Monkeys”, Japanese pop culture, William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Las Vegas, televangelists, lucid dreaming, the constant bombardment of media from all directions, the evolution of people into consumers, psychedelia, advertising, cryptic shortwave radio broadcasts (“numbers stations”), police scanner transmissions, technology, disco balls, strobe lights, smoke machines, red wine, good beer, The “Mind’s Eye” animation series, conspiracy theories, abnormal psychology (that would be a big one), DADA, surrealism, M.C. Escher, Salvador Dali, and the music of Ween, Radiohead, David Sylvian, Holger Czukay, Robert Fripp, Trance Induction, Flaming Lips, Alice In Chains, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, Air, Bjork, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and COUNTLESS jazz and ambient music artists.

Anyway, these (and other) influences all eventually converged in my mind and led me to start what was the precursor to the BSP. While I DID have Silver Ladder Studios up on the internet at the time, I decided to make this a side project site, not affiliated with SLS. Therefore, I went and opened a cheesy little Geocities site, with pop-ups and all. The original version of the BSP wasn’t even called the Bad Scary Place, in fact it didn’t have a title. It didn’t get very big, maybe 20-25 pages deep, before I started slacking on it and quit making progress. However, not long after, the e-mail address I had listed on the Geocities site (accessed by site visitors via a picture of a bomb and the text “send me threats”) started getting hit with e-mails from people who somehow had run across the site. It was strange because I hadn’t advertised the site or submitted it to search engines or anything. But these people were e-mailing and saying how much they liked the site. Making a long story longer, I soon scrapped the Geocities site and put a re-direct link up on the Geocities page to send people to the new site within Silver Ladder Studios. I trashed all of the original pages (which I now sometimes wish I had held on to) and started from scratch.

The name Bad Scary Place comes from the type of terminology that a child might use. The use of the words “bad” and “scary” (both being quite simple and somewhat similar) right after each other gives it this kind of wide-eyed innocent naive kind of sound. It’s really more of a reference to a closet with a monster in it or something frightening outside the window than it is an actual reference to the site being scary or something. It never really was intended to be flat-out scary or anything. Some people still fail to understand that. Even if it WAS scary, anything that is SUPPOSED to be frightening that refers to itself as such is just plain cheesy. Not my style. Little known fact: I have often entertained the idea of ditching the name Bad Scary Place and renaming the site “The Umbrella Graveyard.” However, now that the site has caught on so much and refers to itself in SO many places as the BSP, it’s a little too late now. Who knows though, the Umbrella Graveyard may very well become a subdimension of the BSP, just like Menthol Tunnels (ever been there?).

As far as the “theme,” well, you’re correct about there being an underlying “story” beneath the bizarre surface of the BSP. The story is first-person. YOU (whoever is clicking through the site) are the main character, though I never formally explain that because doing so would be tacky and clunky and corny. However, while you are the star, Morris the mailman is the catalyst. Morris the mailman was *originally* Morris the milkman, who came from an old 4-track song I did in high school. The song, “Charlie Jones” was on a little underground cassette release that I distributed within my school, and Charlie’s wife runs off with Morris the milkman in the song. Interestingly enough, the tape (“Underground Noise Museum” – referring to being PHYSICALLY underground, not referring to being “too cool” for the mainstream or some nonsense) had a liner-note booklet (on standard 8.5×11″ paper) that came with it… much of the artwork from those liner notes is now in the BSP (i.e. the black and white picture on this page, the picture of someone shooting up on this page, this image, which is the background for a BSP page, etc.). I can’t go too in-depth about the plot of the whole deal, but (as you may have discovered on a later page) it involves Morris slipping some kind of substance into your drink at a company party (held in a courtyard) and you waking up elsewhere. What else has happened in the mean time? What WILL happen coming up? That remains to be seen or may already be defined somewhere, somehow within the BSP. Some “chapters” of the story are much more literal than others. Some segments may be completely in metaphor and based in images rather than text.

Philip Fairbanks: How long have you been working on the BSP and what kind of changes has it/you undergone?

Shane Watson: How long has it been? That is a tough question, because I’m not positive about the answer. I think the site was created sometime back in 2000, which would make it about four years. The year 2000 sounds right. The core of it was cranked out rather quickly. I was extremely inspired, so the initial 100 pages or so of the site were created shortly after I came up with the idea. The rest has come over time, as I get re-inspired again. It’s weird, the things that inspire me to add on to the BSP can be as varied as an e-mail from someone who likes the site to a meal I ate to something I came up with during twilight sleep to a phrase that pops in my head to a receipt that I find on the ground. Sometimes I’ll sit down and tack a half dozen new pages on to the thing, coming up with a whole new themed section or offshoot. Other times, I may not even make a whole page, instead opting to just work on an image in Photoshop or some text to be used later.

The site has changed a lot over time. In many ways I feel I have really drifted away from the original idea and feel, but that’s fine. There are no rules. Although I have to admit I often entertain the idea of completely scrapping the whole thing and starting over again. What’s funny (and somewhat pathetic) is that I sometimes think it’s too disorganized, of all things. That’s amusing when I stop and think about it. Here’s this site that is completely schizophrenic and thrives off it’s own chaos and I’m worried about making it more organized. Who knows, maybe my own little neuroses have added to the content and flavor of the whole deal.

As far as it changing though, some of it I won’t touch. I won’t go back in and change a lot of it. A lot of it was created in a “moment” under a certain inspiration or influence, and isn’t that what art is really about anyway? Although I don’t know if the BSP is really art though. I don’t know what it is. Sometimes it can defy categorization. Some of it, however, I will go back in and tweak from time to time, and that makes it more interesting. It might be different the next time you see it, and that adds something to it. You never know what will be where. I sometimes go back in and change the hypertext and links, so you can’t necessarily predict what will lead to where. In that sense, the BSP is this living, growing, evolving organism of text and images.

As I have changed over time, so has the site. There were some periods of pretty strong negativity that I went through, and portions of the BSP reflect that. I mean, not having a job and then having mono for four months and being completely depressed and lethargic will give you a certain slant on life. And then there have been the really high highs as well, and those are evident within the site as well. I think regardless of mood or momentary inspiration though, I try to have a certain level of surrealism running through all of it… “The Funk” I like to call it. No matter where I’m coming from on a particular page, it has to have “The Funk” to it, or it will be scrapped. There are numerous pages that have been scrapped. There are a handful that made it on the site even, but were later removed because they were just too forced… I wasn’t feeling it when I went back and looked at them later. You can’t force it. There’s no faking “The Funk.”

Philip Fairbanks: You said before that “it was like a 200-channel assault of the emptiness of TV over an industrial music background.” Okay, so the industrial movement was definite influence. Industrial, I feel, grew out of the situation which you explain quite aptly… the situation of being something like a replicant in “Blade Runner,” a corporeal entity with no purpose other than consumption. “Buy more. Buy more.” These art forms are often somewhat grim. Would you say that there is any message of hope in the BSP or is it merely a pained outcry of a human cog in the machinery of the postmodern world?

Shane Watson: Good call on the Blade Runner nod. However, a much bigger influence on the BSP was George Lucas’ first attempt at filmmaking: “THX-1138.” I can’t believe I forgot it in my list of BSP influences I mentioned before. THX-1138, a movie that bores 999 of 1000 people to tears, is something that I find riveting, in a rather slow-to-develop way. The stark white sets, the emotionless monotone voices droning on in the background about being sure to take your medication, the uniformity… it’s all beautiful in a sick, sterile way. The film obviously drew heavily from “Brave New World” and “1984” but managed to do its own thing at the same time. I find it fascinating. Most of all, I love the artificial, pre-recorded “deity” that they have “confessionals” with in those phone-booth type rooms. My favorite quote of the whole film (which is included in the BSP) is: “You are a true believer. Blessings of the state, blessings of the masses. Thou art a subject of the divine. Created in the image of man, by the masses, for the masses. Let us be thankful we have an occupation to fill. Work hard; increase production; prevent accidents, and be happy.” It ties in beautifully to the BSP, with the BSP’s mocking of the fact that commerce has become a god (little “g”) to so many in today’s society. Mentions of something similar are made in “12 Monkeys” (my favorite film of all time, God bless Terry Gilliam) and “Fight Club” to a lesser extent.

To answer your question, there IS hope in the BSP. Among the sea of pages of despair and plasticity, there are actually some (fairly well-hidden) messages of love and hope. Just like in life, you have to dig through the abundance of disposable images and artificial words to find something real, hopeful, and somewhat inspirational. The BSP would be a lie without a grain of hope somewhere in there. However, true to what it’s about, the majority of what is in there is cold and unfriendly. You have to flip through 246 channels of people trying to pimp you to buy their cheaply-manufactured products before you find that one channel where someone is being genuine. 30 seconds later, you lose the signal.

Philip Fairbanks: You also mentioned Japanese pop culture. The Japanese are on to something. You can see it in the anime. Are you familiar with Laine:serial experiments? It’s a crash course in cyberdelia and conspirinoia… everything from Rushkoff’s Gaian Mind Theory to Ted Nelson and his connection to MJ-12. Anyway, themes are being introduced in Japanese culture (ringu) that can’t even be fully put into words. Also, the Japanese seem almost more American than we are. Then there’s the fact that we all grew up with Japanimation one way or another. Most of those cartoons were animated by a fujiyama somewhere along the line. What is your take on the introduction of these memes through Japanese culture and what influence do you think Japanese culture has on American culture? It is synergy? the Japanese seem to copy our culture and, as i said, make it more American than Americans do.

Shane Watson: While I am unfamiliar with some of what you speak of, I must agree that the Japanese are “on to something.” And the synergy you speak of is unmistakable. We feed off each other. I’m sure we come across as quirky to them as they do to some Americans. Yet we thrive off of each other’s cultural kitsch. Look at them and their fascination with all things American 1950’s. Look at their love for blue jeans, greasers, rockabilly and Brian Setzer. Look at America’s obsession with their anime, technology, and general “randomness.” I’m sure we’d be just as quirky, looking out of their eyes. What disappoints me is the rate at which their formerly somewhat underground culture is being exploited in the mainstream here now. The moment that happens to something, it’s as good as dead. Any character it had to begin with gets tainted, at least in my opinion. There is a certain romance to something when you feel like you’re one of the exclusive few who appreciate it and are a part of it. You’d love to see your favorite underground band get the attention they deserve, but the moment they do, you’ll wish no one knew about them again.

Philip Fairbanks: You also listed “Fight Club” as an influence. Okay, everybody saw it. Just like “Pulp Fiction,” everybody saw it, few understood it. It’s about waking up from the consensus trance that branding and marketing tactics causes which is leading us into consumer fascism. But you already knew that (vide BSP). How many more movies like “Fight Club” before they (the masses) figure it out?

Shane Watson: “Fight Club” is one of those few movies (“The Doors,” “12 Monkeys,” “THX-1138,” etc.) that gets better with each viewing. The subtle things you pick up each time around make you realize just how much thought went into it. You don’t realize just how surreal, bizarre, and psychedelic marketing and advertising are until you step back from it all and take a really good look. You’ve seen commercials a million times. 999,999 of those times you just let it go by. That one time you really stop and think and look hard you realize just how strange (and potentially evil) it all is.

Philip Fairbanks: You mentioned “lucid dreaming” and “bombardment of media.” Oh yes, oh yes… It’s called hyperreality, and you have accurately portrayed some of the reality of it, through hypertext. Howard Bloom’s theory of transubstantiation posits that inventions affect us externally as well as spiritually, by altering the way we perceive and think about things, they alter everything down to our dreams. Yes, that is what’s happening, but most people haven’t had time in the past decade to figure that out. You mean in 1994 not everybody in the world had an email address and cellphone? Hey, maybe that’s when it started changing real real fast.

Shane Watson: In 1994 I did indeed have an e-mail address. The internet felt so much more underground and forbidden then. I remember gopher and archie. I remember feeling almost like I had hacked into something I wasn’t necessarily supposed to be seeing. I remember spending one summer night being up all night with my cousin Trey, listening to Ween’s “Chocolate and Cheese” album and getting on the internet for the first time. I have that very night locked away so perfectly in memory. It was surreal. I dig that mental postcard up sometimes. I actually had an e-mail address earlier than that, even. I ran a Commodore 64 BBS system here in Phoenix at age 14. Indeed, I was a geek before being a geek was cool. There are a couple old Commie 64 references in the BSP, including a nod to one of my favorite C64 games of all time.

Philip Fairbanks: Next BSP influence: conspiracy theories. Ok, don’t get me started, because I know them ALL, and believe none of them, because if you read enough conspiracy literature it’s obvious that no one KNOWS anything and that any fool can write a textbook as long as America looks like the good guys. Conspiracy theories abound now in the cyberculture scene. interest in them has swiftly risen. Tech TV has a regular series on them and there was a humorous program, “Conspiracy Zone,” that ran on TNN for a while. Of course, with the deconstruction of media and the exposure of scandal after scandal, lie after lie the search for something closer to the truth, plus all the X-Files related junk obviously has created a strange hunger for this sort of esoteric knowledge. What’s your take on conspiracy culture? What are the factors in this sudden rise and can anything be believed? Also what conspiracy theories do you subscribe to?

Shane Watson: I think there is a grain of truth to some “conspiracy” theories. I think some of them make far more sense than the “official” explanation. Then again, I think the remaining 95% of them are made up by people who just want attention. The theories are spreading like wildfire in the cyberculture era because ANYONE can be a publisher. No editor, no cleaning up of content, no checking of facts or sources. Click. Print. Publish. Done. In addition to that, people have become wary of the neatly pre-packaged, sanitized information given to them by the media at large. Even supposedly “counterculture” sources of information have their own agenda. Maybe what they’re telling you is different than what NBC, FOX, CNN, etc. are telling you, but that’s just because they’ve put their own personal slant/spin on it to best serve their personal agenda. No one tells the outright truth about anything. People tell just enough truth to best serve their own interests. I know that sounds incredibly jaded, but it’s true. I can say that and laugh. It’s human nature. Survival of the fittest. Conspiracy theories come across (at least on the surface) as a way to circumvent the standard media and the official story about everything. People see it as a backdoor to the truth. Ahh, yes… the Freemasons. Don’t even get me started.

Philip Fairbanks: You can’t go too in-depth about the plot of the whole BSP, but you’ve raised a few questions. One, do you know what happens? Two, is it open ended? Will every viewer have a different story? Three, will there ever be some sort of closure in this story, a “THE END” somewhere, or at least some point at which the mystery is somewhat unraveled?

Shane Watson: First, no, I don’t know what happens in the BSP, although I know what happenED (past tense). I know the “plot” that led up to where it is at this point. The thin thread of the story is in there somewhere, deeply embedded. To put it in its most basic terms, you (the reader, the first-person main character) were at a company party in a courtyard, and had something slipped into your drink (you think) by your mailman who also happened to be the former janitor for the company you work for. It all goes downhill from there. Actually, it goes downhill TO there before you even realize that much of the story here and here. The “plot” came well after the strangeness all developed. Second, yes, it is open-ended. The path you you take determines what the story is to you. Even if you end up at the same place, the way you took to get there alters your version of the story/experience/experiment. And finally, I am not sure about an “end.” I think “The End” (TM) will come when (and only when) I decide to burn the whole thing down and kill the site. Until then it will remain infinite… non-linear. You WILL be given bits and pieces of the puzzle along the way to start forming the picture, but you will likely never have the whole thing filled in. At least a dozen of the pieces fell between the couch cushions, were eaten by the dog, etc.

Philip Fairbanks: So you said you think the site was created sometime back in 2000. Wow, four years in progress. You’ve got quite a piece of work on your hands here. I believe one day you’ll receive some due respect for this work of genius. Four years in the works, that’s really amazing. How much longer do you plan to work on it?

Shane Watson: I’m not sure how much longer I plan to work on it. I create content (anti-content) for it when I feel inspired to. When I’m uninspired, I leave it alone. Sometimes I change existing pages. It’s not just expanding in the form of new pages, it’s morphing in the sense that the pages that already exist change sometimes. I never cease to be amazed at the amount of e-mail I get about it and the sheer number of people linked to it (which I can track through my admin/status page at Silver Ladder.)

Philip Fairbanks: But yes, the BSP is the scariest thing i’ve ever seen… much more frightening than any horror film, but I guess that’s because I spent so much time there (even before I walked in). But yeah, I’ll do my best to spread your name far and wide.

Shane Watson: The more and more I run into people who “get” the BSP, the more I am glad about having created it. I never made it for other people. I made it to satisfy my own desire for bizarre creations. The response was a byproduct. What a wonderful byproduct it is, though. You certainly seem to “get” the BSP far more than most. Whatever direction you get inspired to take this piece or whatever comes out of this dialogue… run with it. I could gauge your intentions quite well from the start, and I have no worries about what you’re about.

Philip Fairbanks is a freelance journalist whose published works have been included in New Dawn (AUS), Afterimage (SUNY journal), and Underground Focus (UK).



1 Comment

Leave Your Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *