22 September 2018

Those pulp writers! they will be going on and on

Yesterday I read, on the Internet (I did not think to save the link, so salt to taste, sure) that Stephen King wrote that he preferred The Outer Limits to The Twilight Zone, because he found the latter too inclined to the Morality Tale.

No, wait . . . I have found the link, and King expresses himself with surprisingly liberal vitriol:
[...]“smarmy,” “simplistic,” or “almost painfully corny” moral tales that were “really sentimental riffs on old supernatural themes.”
One points out, considering that, yes, Rod Serling had a passion for addressing social issues, and since matters too socially relevant were anathema to the toothpaste and laundry detergent manufacturers who sponsored early television, why, yes indeed, part of the ethos of The Twilight Zone was to address social problems in the ‘theoretical’ realm of fantasy.

There is also the not inconsiderable matter of how, when Stephen KingStephen King, if you please—complains about any other writers on the planet ‘riffing,’ the ancient exhortation Know thyself springs to mind.

But, set that aside, and allow King his opinion, by all means.

What should I see last night, but an episode from season 1 of The Outer Limits, “The Chameleon” (with Robert Duvall—at least, when he’s not hidden in a B.E.M. [Bug-Eyed Monster] costume), an episode which is as bald a morality tale as any to have appeared on The Twilight Zone, and to which any smarmy, snobby genre-writer might object.  A fairly air-tight argument can be made that “The Chameleon” is a sentimental riff on an old theme.  Which does not at all interfere with my enjoying the story, and its execution.

My personal preference is for The Twilight Zone, as may be divined from the fact that I have watched through the original series twice (and I am alive to its flaws—its undeniable excellence is not unimpaired), where I have yet to make my way completely through the two seasons of The Outer Limits.  Preferring the one does not obligate me to denigrate the other;  I am indeed making my way through the rest of the latter series, and I greatly enjoy virtues which had, largely, escaped me whenever I watched it in younger days.

Another case of King basically grinding his own axe, and mistaking the whetstone for an Oracular pedestal, appears at the head of the linked article:
[...] for sheer hard-edged clarity of concept, The Twilight Zone could not match The Outer Limits [....]
Consider the following thesis:
For sheer hard-edged clarity of concept, The Outer Limits could not match See Spot Run.
Most critics, writers, and just-plain-Joe viewers, if asked, would likely cite the subtleties and ambiguities of The Twilight Zone as an artistic virtue, a point of especial interest, and not as any ‘failure to be clear’.

One has every expectation that the millions of fans of Stephen King, find his writing clear.  Clarity is a mode, not itself the prize.  Why, yes, there is also content to be considered.

In conclusion, my quarrel with the wealthy writer’s remarks is not a matter of his maintaining a position, an opinion, at variance with mine.  Perhaps I might worry, if King and I agreed on much.  My point is that he does not make a case for Girl With a Pearl Earring, by painting a mustache on La giaconda.

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