Friday, May 28, 2010

Outer Limits: Them Ol' Post-Apocalyptic Blues Again


Post-apocalyptic and dystopian sci-fi was all the rage when I was a kid. A lot of it was inspired by the Cold War, but it was also a natural reaction to the malaise of the early stages of American de-industrialization.

After an idyllic post-war honeymoon, American workers were waking up to a cold water splash of aggressive foreign competition, particularly from East Asia. In some ways the sudden and violent reboot of an apocalypse was more comforting than the slow and protracted slide into downward mobility that the 70s were promising. 

Kind of like what we're dealing with now, right? There's no shortage of apocalyptic pant-pissing out there, but without a well-armed boogeyman like the Russkies it's not nearly as compelling. The alternatives -particularly the specter of a slow-motion Jihad - merely bring us back to where we began; inevitable decay.

Although this episode of The New Outer Limits serves up apocalypse, it aired in the halcyon days of 1998 when semi-serious people were proclaiming the end of all of our problems and the beginning of the Jetson Age (roughly). "Dow 30K" never showed, but neither did Y2K, so the Utopia/Dystopia grudge match seemed to be a draw.

Which is a long-winded way of saying the story here is more 1968 than 1998, but even so this is some of the most compelling sci-fi I've ever seen on TV. It has a nice twist ending and stars our old friend James "Cyclops" Marsden, whom we just discussed in the post on The Box. There's also an obvious undercurrent of fertility symbolism (and some brief nudity, so consider yourself advised).

I have to say that when it comes to alien encounter narratives, Outer Limits is probably my all-time favorite source. There's a powerfully numinous quality to the alien eps, an intimate logic that aligns quite nicely with the concept of Alien Dreaming. It's the idea of the Other, waiting out there for those whose consciousness is sufficiently deprogrammed (by whatever means) and whose perceptions are opened to more profound models of reality (see the McKenna quote in the sidebar). It's an understanding that revelation is a continuous process.

Some of you know exactly what I'm talking about, because you've been there. And when you read the more compelling narratives of extraordinary experience, you realize that the most profound cases seem to involve the fewest people. Not always, but usually. And whether those outside believe - or even understand - these revelations is irrelevant to those involved.

Real experience changes the experiencer, and part of that change is an existential disinterest in the opinions of the inexperienced.