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Old 11-12-2013, 10:28 PM   #1
Talon87
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Ghostwriter


Ghostwriter is an American television program created by Liz Nealon and produced by the Children's Television Workshop (now known as Sesame Workshop) and BBC One. It began airing on PBS on October 4, 1992, and the final episode aired on February 13, 1995. The series revolves around a close knit circle of friends from Brooklyn who solve neighborhood crimes and mysteries as a team of young detectives with the help of an invisible ghost named Ghostwriter. Ghostwriter can communicate with the kids only by manipulating whatever text and letters he can find and using them to form words and sentences.

The series was designed to teach reading and writing skills to elementary and middle school children. Each mystery was presented as a case, covering four or five thirty-minute episodes; children were encouraged to follow each mystery, and use the reading and writing clues given to attempt to solve them just as the Ghostwriter team does in the show.

Ghostwriter was critically acclaimed and honored for presenting a realistic, racially diverse world in its two-hour mystery stories. By the end of its third season, Ghostwriter ranked in the top five of all children's shows on American television. The program was cancelled after the third season due to a lack of funding. Ghostwriter has been broadcast in 24 countries worldwide, and generated a number of foreign-language adaptations, including a dubbed-over version on Discovery Kids Latin America marketed as Fantasma Escrito.
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Old 11-12-2013, 10:29 PM   #2
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So, linking the opening in another thread coupled with a very late dinner resulted in me watching YouTube's first recommended episode, "To the Light, Part I". And I've gotta admit, I enjoyed it. The early 1990s cheese and camp of PBS's children's television was there in full force and man was it nostalgic. The children's acting was what you'd expect (rather poor ^^; ), the script too (fairly pointed and overly dramatic), but there were also some real surprises there, including their message about homeless Americans (they really didn't sugarcoat either side's arguments) and the plot twist they had in store at the end (mildly surprising even for some adults, I'm sure, but hugely surprising for little kids, I'll bet). I hate to admit it ... but I might watch the remainder of the series just to see how it all turns out. Especially since the first episode laid the groundwork (via the homeless man's past and Tina's family's cultural celebration) for an examination of the Vietnam War.

Coincidentally, the other day I was remarking to myself how crazy it was that I was now just as far away if not farther away from 1993 (twenty years ago) than I was, in 1993, away from the end of the Vietnam War (eighteen to twenty years prior, 1973 to 1975). Putting it another way: when I was a little boy, I remember people talking about the Vietnam War in this hard-to-describe "long ago but recent" way. I imagine that to a child, twenty years ago probably sounded much, much longer ago than it would to an adult. Indeed, while I grew up feeling completely disconnected from Vietnam -- it was the stuff I heard of only in hearsay and Hollywood -- I was about as close to Vietnam when Forrest Gump came out (1994, nineteen years) as I am today close to when the United States invaded Afghanistan (2001, twelve years; okay, maybe "about as close" is a bit of stretch still *shrug*). Blowing my mind further, I was almost exactly as close to the Vietnam War back then as I am today close to President Clinton's re-election that I remember so well (1996, seventeen years ago). Well, so well as one can remember events from when he was in the 6th grade some seventeen years ago. ^^; Anyway, I bring this up because I wanted to draw attention to the fact that Ghostwriter (filmed, in this particular episode's case, some time around 1994 or 1995) talked about a war that happened twenty years prior; and so it makes me wonder if, in only just a few years' time, we're going to have children's programming which talks about homeless war veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq. It's pretty crazy to think about -- Vietnam was built up to such fairy tale heights for my generation that I never was able to put Afghanistan or Iraq on the same footing as Vietnam (even if we all recognized that Afghanistan and later Iraq were "our Vietnam").

But enough about that. Back to Ghostwriter. Will I watch on? Probably at least one more episode. Should you? Well, that depends.
  • Were you five years old or older before the year 1997? Do you remember watching Ghostwriter as a kid on PBS or (in syndication) on CBS, ABC, or other networks? Then you should probably check the episode out. Give it at least five minutes of your time (not counting the opening credits) before you quit out of it. At least get a nice, bite-sized chunk of nostalgia.
  • For everybody else, I'd say it'll probably just be a boring waste of your time unless you're the type who gets a big laugh out of cheesy E/I kids shows of the 1980s and '90s. If that's you, then hop aboard!
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Old 11-12-2013, 10:32 PM   #3
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Man I remember this show. I always thought it was kind of a weird premise and looking back on it now it seems even stranger.
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Old 11-12-2013, 10:43 PM   #4
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Okay, so, this is pretty hilarious. If you go on YouTube and look at Ghostwriter videos, there are three kids people compliment on their good looks (to varying degrees of pedo creepiness): Gaby's actress, Tina's actress, and Alex's actor. Of those three, Alex's actor by far gets the most comments. Tons upon tons of people saying how cute he is, that they had a crush on him when they were kids, etc. Now, when first I read these comments, I'll admit that my mental image was of squeeing fangirls. But it didn't take long for me to realize, "Y'knoooooooooow -- there's nothing that says that some or even all of these people might not be gay guys. I wonder ..."

I'm on the Ghostwriter page on Wikipedia. I see the cast. I click on Alex's name. I'm automatically redirected to The Real World: Philadelphia's article. I look for Alex's actor there. And ...
Quote:
Willie is a writer/actor with a passion for the arts and performing who works part-time as a personal shopper. He left home at the age of 15 after conflicts with his religious parents who do not "accept his lifestyle."
Does this mean ...
Quote:
He and his straight twin brother
Are you serious? XD
Quote:
Willie meets Daniel, an old friend, at a gay festival, and they realize a mutual attraction. M.J. and Landon aren’t completely comfortable having a number of gay men in their house all at once. Willie laments that while he now closer to his father, his mother still disapproves of his sexuality. He and Daniel later snuggle in bed. He wants to take things slow, but is excited at reconnecting with Daniel. [...] Willie and Daniel make out in the shower before returning to bed, much to the others’ curiosity.
Willie, you ladykiller! XD Oh man. I cannot believe the number of girls-now-women on YouTube making some of these comments whose hearts would be crushed to discover that "Alex" isn't the least bit interested in what they have to offer.
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Old 11-13-2013, 10:54 PM   #5
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So, I may have watched all five parts (totaling a little over 2 hours). ¬¬;

What can I say? It was actually really exciting at parts. The end of Part II was such a cliffhanger I couldn't wait to start Part III. The end of that part too was really quite exciting, but it felt a good place to put the show on hold for the night. Then tonight, I watched Parts IV and V, finishing the story of Rob, Lisa, and Double T.

The show does a really good job with certain things. For one, it tackles some really daring and real issues for a children's television program. One part of the episode deals with the issue of a family matriarch (a widow for some years) falling in love again, and the show isn't afraid to show the negative thoughts people often have in these sorts of situations. ("Who is this ... this stranger my mother keeps having over? He's eating us out of house and home!", etc.) Another, larger focus in the episode is on homelessness. I know I mentioned it before, but the parents talk to their kids about it again and the script writers do a respectable job of (imo) giving a truly fair and balanced portrayal of the homeless. Here, I'll go back to one of the bits that really stood out to me and quote it word for word:
Mr. Fernandez: Who is Double T?
Alex: He's a friend of Rob's who's missing, and we're helping to find him.
Gabby: He's a homeless man, Papá. He sells poems on the corner, near Mr. Mayron's store.
Mr. Fernandez: Yeah, I know the one you mean. And you say you're helping Rob to find him?
Gabby: Uh huh. He's Rob's friend. And Rob's really worried about him.
Mr. Fernandez: Now how does Rob know Double T?
Alex: Well, Mrs. Louis invited Double T to the youth center to read his poems, and he met Rob and they became friends there, talking about poetry.
Mr. Fernandez: I see.
Gabby: I don't know. I think homeless people are scary. I'm not sure I should be looking for Double T.
Mr. Fernandez: And what do you think about that?
Alex: Well I think Double T's okay -- 'cause he's been friends with Rob for a while now. And he helped Rob work out problems with his father.
Mr. Fernandez: And Mrs. Louis wouldn't have invited him to the youth center if he weren't an okay person, right?
Gabby: That's true.
Mr. Fernandez: Well, I'm glad you told me about this. Now, there is always a possibility of danger when you're talking with strangers. If you need to find out how to go somewhere, for example, it is better to ask a store clerk or a bus driver, someone who has a reason to be there instead of a complete stranger. żComprende?
Alex: Si, Papá.
Mr. Fernandez: It is not safe to talk to homeless people that you do not know.
Alex: Never?
Mr. Fernandez: Well you just can't be sure, you know? So you just have to be careful. There are many homeless people who are very nice; and then there are many others who are deeply troubled and they are not safe to talk to.
It's that last bit which is what I'm referring to. I feel like a typical apologist program about the homeless would be completely vilifying portrayals of them as dangerous for children to mess with. And I feel like, on the other end of the spectrum, a typical child safety TV program of the 1980s or '90s would make all homeless people out to be scary nutjobs. But Ghostwriter was actually bold enough to make Double T an honest-to-God Vietnam War veteran with serious PTSD, so crippling it resulted in him a) being a little batty and b) becoming homeless, who at the same time c) is a really nice guy d) who treats the kid he befriends (Rob) with mutual respect, treats him the way he would want to be treated. And we see this balance in Mr. Fernandez's answer to his children. On the one hand, Ghostwriter (using his character as the mouthpiece for this message) is correctly teaching kids that you probably shouldn't be fraternizing with homeless people. But it's quick to point out that this isn't because most homeless people are bad: in fact, most aren't! It's simply because, as with any strangers, you simply don't know. And in the particular, non-sugarcoated case of the homeless, they do have a non-random tendency compared with the rest of society to be mentally ill.

But perhaps the most impressive thing to me of all with this special was how it respectfully introduced to children a minimal, minimal understanding of the Vietnam War. It expressed that war is bad, but it did not take a side on whether that particular war was better or worse, more just or less just than other wars. It introduced children to the idea of veterans suffering from PTSD without ever explaining exactly what it was that the soldiers saw or did over there that messed them up. (Not once does Double T ever mention that he took lives or saw others lose theirs, but reading between the lines it's easy for an adult to see that some of the letters he keeps are from fallen platoon mates of his -- mates he probably saw shot or blown up right before his very eyes -- and that this one particular thing which haunts him has probably got something to do with Vietnamese children and fox holes.) The show introduces children to the idea that some Vietnamese people came to America in the 1970s -- conveniently, Tina's parents among them! -- but it doesn't say who these people were, why they came to America, and whether what they were doing was right, wrong, good, bad, happy, sad, or all sorts of agonizing shades of gray. Some might consider this too sterile of a treatment of the topic of Vietnam, but to be honest, I think it was all done really, really well for a show whose target demographic was ages 6 to 12. I was in the 2nd grade when Ghostwriter debuted in October 1992, only eight years old; when this episode aired, I couldn't have been older than 10 or 11. Does a little boy in 4th or 5th grade, still learning about Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, really need to be learning about Viet Cong and Agent Orange? I don't think so. But at the same time, is it helpful to small children to tell them nothing about Vietnam? To not give them anything to work with as to why Uncle Peter is so sad? Or why Uncle Luther is a bit eccentric? Or why Mommy says Daddy keeps having nightmares? No, of course it's not. That's why I like that this show is willing to give kids enough credit to appreciate that the war was bad (in a non-politicized sense), that some people came home deeply disturbed by it, but that they're still good people who need our love and support. At the very end of the story, Rob's dad offers to get Double T hooked up with ... with what, exactly? The show is deliberately vague for kids, but every adult in the room watching would surely be able to read between the lines and see that the writers are alluding to Rob's dad getting this man an appointment with a VA clinic which might be able to help him out, via therapy or medication, with his PTSD.

Do I plan to watch more Ghostwriter? No, not right now. I think that's enough early '90s kids shows for me for the time being. But perhaps in the not-so-distant future? Sure, maybe. Do I regret having spent 2 hours watching these five episodes? No way, José. The show was honestly better than I thought it would be, and it perfectly illustrates why the PBS programs of the late '80s and early '90s really were wholesome, educational entertainment for kids. Kids will want to watch for the sleuthing -- I know I did! -- but parents will be glad to let their kids watch, knowing that they're being exposed to some pretty big issues in ways which are respectful both of children's intelligence and of their innocence.
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Old 12-16-2013, 04:16 AM   #6
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Ghostwriter was one of those PBS shows that you had to be on semi-illegal substances to understand. I was very young when it originally aired, so I never understood the complete plotlines of the series. It did spark my interest quite a bit (since it contained a special computer that could talk to Ghostwriter, and who doesn't like when a converted DOS machine did magical things). That being said, it was quite cool that it was shot in NYC. I would get a kick out of when Ghostwriter popped out of a crosswalk sign in Brooklyn in the intro.

It's too bad PBS never reran the show later (I don't count Noggin, since that was partially owned by CTW, not PBS), it would've still been relevant to watch nowadays, since it contained unique aspects that modern programs often miss.
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