Episode 133 – “Ring-a-Ding Girl”

We’ve noted that the title “The Twilight Zone is Serling’s name for the imagination, and that that the imagination is the faculty of the mind that constructs possible worlds, and that descriptions of those worlds are couched in terms of propositions which may not be true of the actual world, are possibly true, true in the possible world described. We also noted that a possible world is one where the set of propositions describing that world can all be true at the same time. Logicians call a set of propositions which can all be true together a consistent set of propositions. Several episodes, as we’ve seen, fail this consistency test, and thus don’t really represent possible worlds. They seem imaginable, and are presented as such, but that imaginability depends on the episode suppressing key claims that, if made explicit, would reveal the inconsistency of the narrative.

“Ring-a-Ding Girl” is such a story, and it’s impossibility is fairly explicit.  Bunny Blake, a famous movie start, returns to her hometown for a brief visit, and to attempt to protect the residents of the town from a plane crash that she predicts will occur during the annual town picnic held in the local park. She is successful in preventing the residents from attending the picnic. The plane crashes at the town park, but the residents are not there. They’ve all gone to a  special performance that Bunny Blake is putting on for them instead. So far, this is a consistent story, even though it involves Blake’s correct prediction of the crash.  But here’s the clincher: When the plane crashes, Bunny Blake is on it, and she dies in the crash.  The inconsistent propositions which make up this story include: (1) Bunny Blake, at time t, is visiting her sister in her home town, and (2) Bunny Blake, at time t, is on a plane bound for Rome, Italy.  Bunny is simultaneously in two places at the same time, which is not possible.

It is implausible that Bunny Blake would have a true belief that a plane will crash in her home town, though that she has such a belief is not inconsistent with other propositions which comprise the descriptions of what happens. It isn’t required that Bunny knows that the plane will crash, which would require that she has good reasons for her belief. Bunny’s certain is based on reasons that she possesses, though doesn’t share others, perhaps because they would not appear to be good reasons to anyone else. Bunny’s sense of certainty about the future plane crash is not unlike the certainty many people have about future events. Sometimes those premonitions are correct, and sometimes they are not.

We can also make perfectly good sense of why Bunny would want to divert the residents of her home town from the point of impact of the plane, and we can well imagine Bunny imagining the implementation of the diversionary tactic that is presented as the tactic used by Bunny on the ground in her home town. Thus there is a way of making the story both consistent and plausible. First, if Bunny anticipates the crash based on the instability of the plane and the pilot’s report to the passengers, and she knows the location of the plane at the time it begins its uncontrolled descent, then her prediction that the crash could kill many of her home town acquaintances and family is not just a premonition, but a justified belief.  Second, if the account of her presence on the ground is a representation of what Bunny merely imagines while she is in the final moments of her flight, then she is not in two places at once. She is at one place, imagining herself being in another place, and that is possible.  She is thinking: If I were in my home town, I would warn folks, or somehow prevent them from being at the spot where the plane will crash.

There are other ways of interpreting “Ring-a-Ding Girl” that could render it consistent, though this interpretation fits well with the representation of another aspect of the story, which has to do with the clash of cultures and traditional roles in the 1960s that took place when a woman asserted herself outside the home town and family, and took up a career. At least as she imagines it, her reunion with her townsfolk and family is complicated. She is clearly viewed with curiosity and even a bit of suspicion on her return.  If the reunion with the town is an imagined reunion, then what is represented is Bunny’s own insecurity about how she, as a successful career woman, is processed by others outside of Hollywood.

Further Reading:

Blackburn, Simon (1999), Think, Oxford University Press, Chapter 4, “The Self”, pp. 120-148.

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