“You Are With It!,” Will Stanton, 1961 — A man in the midst of his normal domestic routine leaves for work and is accosted by a man who declares himself “the host.” For the next ninety minutes, while the clock counts down, the protagonist will elude killers (with a little help from the television audience) for the chance to win glorious prizes. He’s immersed in what appears to be a combination of “adventure, supernatural, and audience participation” and “voodoo, black magic and witchcraft brought into every home through the marvels of modern communication. For the first time a member of the viewing audience will actually be able to take part in the violence and terror that have brought happiness to so many.”
At conclusion, after a chase, a murder, and the arrival of the police, Stanley finds a note in the pocket of a dead man. It’s a truncated version of the grocery and to do lists given to him by his wife earlier that morning, but the meaning of the note evades him. The host appears to tell them the show’s been canceled and the protaganist quickly kills him. A lieutenant says, “there is such a thing as the American Dream…and when someone threatens to destroy it–” Stanley finishes: “We do what has to be done.”
Comments: An early vision of reality tv. Generic crossover. The setting removes the orientation provided by the calendar [the host claims it’s “twenty-five hours past midnight on the thirty-first of November” (compare with Henry Kuttner’s “Year Day”)] and then barrels forth at full speed. The immersion in this environment seems to have weakened the protagonist’s sense of reality and identity. Read in A Century of Science Fiction. Damon Knight’s introduction lists others who have written about television before it came into existence: Gernsback, Sturgeon, John Campbell, Jr. (who said it would never be popular). Knight notes that after tv became popular, writers such as Bradbury “yelped disapproval” in works such as “The Pedestrian.” In contrast, Knight claims, Stanton doesn’t criticize those who stare glassy-eyed at the tv; he suggests that with a little refinement, it might become preferable to reality.