I think I spelled that right.
Tonight, Lime and I were riffing on the theme songs of TV shows we watched as kids. She recognized far more of mine than I did of hers, which is only to be expected — English-language media got aired here more than Japanese or Korean shows got aired in Canada (with the notable exception of Astroboy, and, technically, Sailor Moon, though the latter came onto TV — or returned to TV, maybe? — only when I was too cool for cartoons).
Anyway, amid us singing the theme songs for the Smurfs, the Flintstones (“They were barbarians, right?” she said), and some Korean show titled Teu-li (or Tully, as one student I know spelled it when she remixed the song), I got swept away by delightful memories of being scared to death in front of the kitchen TV in broad daylight, and began singing this song:
When I was living in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, I was acutely aware of the fact that kids all over the world (er, okay, it was mostly kids in North America, maybe, but to me it seemed like the whole world except poor, poor me) was getting up at 6:00 am and watching a weekly six-hour marathon of cartoons on TV. There were hints of it everywhere… how old comic books taunted me with mentions of Menudo performing between two cartoons I’d never seen before, I think, were the biggest, but somehow, even in a place where so few kids actually did the Saturday morning cartoon thing, I knew about it, and I was desperately sad to be missing out on it.
On the one channel we had, the cartoons began not at six in the morning, but at closer to 10:30 or 11:00 am. And there was a very limited selection: at the height of the best year, things started with The Adventures of Mighty Hercules, which was one of the crappiest cartoons ever. That damned centaur (was his name Newton? am I recalling this right?) crying out “Suffering Psyche!” every got old only slightly less quickly than how at least 3 minutes of the same damn stock footage was used two or three times in a half-hour show — Daedalus stumbling, Toot playing his damned satyrical shepherds’ pipes, and of course, Hercules lifting his magic ring into the sky so Zeus could zap it with a lightning bolt and, deus ex orbis, Hercules was suddenly totally mighty enough to provide plot resolution to any damned mess at all.
That was followed by Spider Man, which was okay, but never my favorite. My favorite came after that: The Twilight Zone. I’m sure some kids would have been much more excited by the first-generation Star Trek reruns that followed Serling’s classic show, but for me, Twilight Zone was it. It blew my mind, all that weirdness. China dolls that somehow are actually killing people. People getting stuck in time-loops, or spontaneous traveling into the past, or people blessed (cursed, too) with eternal youth. Hell, all these years later, the concept of The Truman Show impressed me little, because, whaddaya know, Richard Matheson had done it in season 1 of The Twilight Zone. (Go on, see for yourself. If you’re like me, you’re not surprised.)
The wonderful half-hour a week I spent sitting there in the kitchen, in broad daylight, weirded out, or scared silly, or puzzled in a way that nothing else puzzled me, that was a saving grace for me in that small, cultureless, ugly, violent little town. It made me think more than school — which was geared solidly at occupying kids who’d grown up without books, not educating them — and enriched my life more than going to church ever did, even when I had the dubious, nerve-wracking “honour” of serving at the altar. For that half-hour of every week, I could count on Rod Serling or whomever he had hired to do the show to knock me out of reality, to crack open my assumptions, and take me somewhere else, somewhere damned far away.
Yes, escapist. Of course it was. Like most kids at the age I was — around ten or eleven — I had a lot to escape from. We throw around the word escapist like it’s dirty, but escape is something human beings need, something they crave on occasion. People who self-righteously sneer at SF movies (as I sometimes do) engage in escapism too, just they do it with a bottle or some other fashionable drug, or unusual sexual practices, or any other of many forms of widely accepted escapism.
Kids can’t drink, or get into bondage, or buy some pot from a local dealer. They get their escapism in books, and movies, and TV shows. In my youth, in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, The Twilight Zone was my great escape. It got me through the shock of moving to a new place; helped me deal with the nastiness (and the wanton violence) of so many of the kids I encountered in that town. It was a weekly oasis, and I had it when I needed it. But I’ve only just realized today that The Twilight Zone probably lay thr foundations for my interest in, let’s call it unrealist fiction, or what others used to (and still sometimes do) call “speculative fiction.”
All good things come to an end, and when all the reruns of The Twilight Zone had been aired, they switched to some kind of cowboy series that I didn’t care for in the slightest. I took to borrowing horror and SF comics from the tiny, one-room library in the town. You know, the kinds of comics where, in 28 or 30 pages, a man marries a young women, takes her home to an Everglades swamp marital home, and discovers that every night when she sleeps, she forgets everything she learned the day before. Or kids running races and winning by imagining that the devil is chasing them… until, one day, they lose the race and die of a heart attack before reaching the finish line. (Heck, of all things, the library had an illustrated script book for Terry Gilliam’s The Time Bandits that I’m sure I borrowed at least five times!). Rod Serling’s stories were goofy, probably predictable even when they first aired, but they planted in me the seed of a great love of imagined worlds, strangenesses and haunting surprises.
Even these many years later, despite all the pulpiness — which I’m much less into now — I love The Twilight Zone. I don’t try to write like Serling (or his hired writers) did — shock endings are rare for me, and explicit social commentary is, well, I hope it’s toned down as much as I think it is, with the obvious exceptions where I’m going the route of exaggeration and satire. But as for The Twilight Zone, old Serling’s show still gets me.
By the way, while I was poking around, I came across this:
By the way, the title of the post (환상특급) is, if I heard right and if Lime remembers right, what The Twilight Zone was titled when it was aired in Korea. (I’ve found Korean sites that mention it, like this one, but I’m not sure whether only the newer series, made in the 80s, was aired here, and the film, or whether the original series made it here too. All I can say is Lime recognized the black-and-white intro, so maybe it did! This Korean fansite also makes me suspect the older series might well have aired here…) Lime translated “Hwansang Teukgeup” roughly to “Fantasy Express” (express as in “Orient Express,” as in the kind of name you’d give a high-speed train to a fantastical world). I thought the title was horrible when I first heard it, but it seems now, after thinking it over, to fit pretty well. The show certainly was my express train to another world, and a welcome weekly ride it gave me.
And now, I have to go do some real work.