Of Satire and Pseudo-Reality

During the 1950s and 1960s, television producers gave us a string of speculative programming. The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and others, brought us stories that were often mysterious, sometimes whimsical, always odd.

Remember Rod Serling, with his unibrow and a voice that fell somewhere between Maxwell Smart and James Earl Jones? Every week, he’d say, “It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call [dramatic pause] the Twilight Zone.”

Or the unseen narrator of The Outer Limits, saying, “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to [dramatic pause] The Outer Limits.”

Then there was Alfred Hitchcock, a director known for his ability to build tension, to keep us riveted to the screen. And then we saw him opening his television program, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. How could anyone take this round, jolly man seriously as a maker of some of the most notorious films of horror and suspense in history? “Good Evening,” he would say, as “Funeral March of the Marionette” played in the background, followed by his moistly droll introduction of the subject of each short film.

We loved those shows. We loved them because they were a deviation from the many television stories of pseudo-real people, living pseudo-real lives, having pseudo-real conversations.

That’s why we love this month’s stories. That deviation from pseudo-reality.

In Damon Hoskins’ “Widdershins Mine,” the main character has discovered a deep and powerful magic within himself, but is he the only one? He’ll circumnavigate the globe three times to find out.

Loyalty. It’s a powerful thing. If you broke up with your significant other, who would get the cat? How about the television? What if the television could choose for itself? Catherine George’s “Ephemera” examines that question.

Our reprint this month, “Meet Me in Okhotsk” is just the thing for flat earthers. Where does all that water go when it drops off the edge?

Lastly, we have a sharply relevant satire, written by 18-year-old Aishah Ojibara, “How to Win a Pulitzer.” It made us feel perfectly uncomfortable in all the right ways. We loved Aisha’s story so much, we wanted an interview to find out more about her. You can read that interview here.