Listen to the entire soundtrack here and here (two parts). Perfect for scaring the trick-or-treaters next month (assuming any still come by in these helicopter parent times).
Watch the entire original series hosted by Robert Stack on YouTube here, or on Amazon Prime.
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Unsolved Mysteries debuted in the late 1980s, a vulnerable phase of the 15-year cultural excitement cycle. Its peak year for ratings was the '89-'90 season, and although it still did respectably into the '92-'93 season, it fell off a cliff afterward. This tracks the trend in the crime rate -- as crime rates plunged after their 1992 peak, audiences lost interest in a show based mainly on crime. Someone somewhere was apparently solving the crime problem, so why bother tuning in to a show that expected the audience to help solve outstanding crimes?
Then the show was miraculously revived on a different channel in 2001-'02 -- during the next vulnerable phase of the cycle. And wouldn't you know it? -- they're reviving it yet again! Perhaps to appear during the current vulnerable phase. The announcement of new episodes was made by Netflix in January 2019, so they'd better hurry and get it out by Halloween, because audiences will not be quite so interested in such a show during the 2020s, as the warm-up phase kicks in, and the backlash against victimhood culture will begin. At least they've re-released the original Robert Stack episodes, and the soundtrack / score, during the late 2010s vulnerable phase.
(The Dennis Farina episodes from the late 2000s were not new episodes, but repackaged ones from the original run, without the haunting persona of Stack's performance.)
The show was a product of the vulnerable or refractory phase, when people are so anti-excitable, so averse to social stimuli (which would be a sensory overload), that they develop a victimization complex for those 5 years of the cycle. Their energy levels are so low that they feel passive, and can only be acted upon -- and given how painful they will perceive stimulation during a refractory period, all actors would be perceived as wrongdoers, and everyone feels like a helpless victim.
In that mental and bodily state, they will naturally empathize with characters on a TV show who are victims of some kind or another.
Not coincidentally, America's Most Wanted also debuted during the late '80s vulnerable phase.
I have yet to write a comprehensive post on how the rise and fall of society-wide moral panics maps onto the excitement cycle. This review of the phases of feminism across the excitement cycle provides a guide, though. Exhibitionistic, invincible, sex-positive feminism peaks during the manic phase, followed by victimhood feminism during the vulnerable phase, followed by a return to normalcy or losing one's overly inhibited ways during the warm-up phase. For now, all that matters is that major moral panics erupt during the vulnerable phase.
In fairness, U.M. does not give free rein to the crazies of a moral panic, but does present "both sides" and ask the viewer to judge for themselves. Still, not something you would see in a phase where the panicking side is under a backlash by an increasingly skeptical populace.
I'm only halfway through the 1st season, and it's saturated with the moral panics of the late '80s. Foremost is the Satanic Panic -- it's so prevalent that it even makes its way into the Son of Sam episodes. Those murders took place during a warm-up phase (late '70s), when people are coming out of their shells, and nobody thought of a Satanic ritual angle at the time, nor during the succeeding manic phase (early '80s). It wasn't until 10 years later, when people were now in a panic mode owing to the vulnerable phase of the excitement cycle, that all sorts were willing to spread and believe theories that the Son of Sam murders were part of a broader Satanic cult committing ritual sacrifices.
But there's also a lesser known moral panic that most people have forgotten about by now -- alien abduction. Not just sightings of UFOs, or visits from aliens, but being victimized and violated by them -- abducted off to their ship, held captive in a clinical setting, typically naked, and probed and otherwise touched bodily and even sexually without consent by the callous perpetrators from beyond. It's no different from being kidnapped and sexually molested or raped, which people in a refractory state are hypersensitive toward, often to the point of paranoia (e.g., "being creepy in the DMs" is tantamount to rape, in the current #MeToo vulnerable phase).
In the U.M. episode, an expert says that women who claim to have been abducted often complain about problems to their reproductive system, and the man interviewed says he recovered a childhood memory of an "alien" man sitting on his bed, lifting up his shirt, and touching him. Those are clearly references to sexual molestation, whether the people want to project it onto aliens or not. So, alien abduction was part of the broader rape panic of the late '80s (including the "date rape" panic, childhood ritual sexual abuse, etc.). It was sci-fi rape.
"Anal probe" became a common phrase when talking or joking about UFOs, because it was so common to hear about such things from the purported witnesses -- they were made into victims, not just neutrally visited by the aliens. Come to think of it, that dismissive and pejorative phrase likely came from the warm-up phase of 1990-'94, when people no longer felt vulnerable and victimized by everything, and there was a backlash against overly credulous victimhood culture.
Not coincidentally, the Urtext on being victimized by alien abduction -- Communion by Whitley Strieber -- came out in 1987, hit #1 on the NYT Best Seller list, and was made into an indie movie starring Christopher Walken in '89.
Two posts to follow will look at Unsolved Mysteries' place in the crime-and-cocooning cycle, as well as the status-striving-and-inequality cycle. I didn't realize how many themes it touches on until watching again for the first time in 30 years.