Fourth Wall Revisited: Peeking At The “Script”


My favorite It’s Garry Shandling’s Show began with Garry being told by a psychic that somebody was going to get shot by the end of the episode. So he’s totally alarmed and wants to prevent this tragedy from happening.

What does he do? He gets a copy of the episode’s script and waits between scenes as they’re being filmed, ready to intervene in case the shooting happens. He’s going to proactively foil his own show’s story and save the day by attempting to alter the plot.

Watching this as a teenager, it made complete sense to me. It kinda still does.

This was also the conceit of 1979’s The Muppet Movie, in which Dr. Teeth gets ahold of the movie script and informs our protagonists as to what will happen next:

And in 2006’s Stranger Than Fiction, the story is literally being written neck-in-neck with the unfolding plot, with the “fictional” protagonist being highly invested in the proceedings.

I’ve written more in depth on this subject in the post, “Slamming Into The Fourth Wall,” in which I discuss author Philip K. Dick’s book VALISVALIS, which seems less and less like a book and more and more like a mystical project conducted partially in reality by Dick, using the fiction as a “medium.”

Dick claimed to have predicted in his books several events that would later happen to him in real life:

“In 1970 I wrote a novel called Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. One of the characters is a nineteen-year-old girl named Kathy. Her husband’s name is Jack. Kathy appears to work for the criminal underground, but later, as we read deeper into the novel, we discover that actually she is working for the police. She has a relationship going on with a police inspector. The character is pure fiction. Or at least I thought it was.

Anyhow, on Christmas Day of 1970, I met a girl named Kathy—this was after I had finished the novel, you understand. She was nineteen years old. Her boyfriend was named Jack. I soon learned that Kathy was a drug dealer. I spent months trying to get her to give up dealing drugs; I kept warning her again and again that she would get caught. Then, one evening as we were entering a restaurant together, Kathy stopped short and said, ‘I can’t go in.’ Seated in the restaurant was a police inspector whom I knew. ‘I have to tell you the truth,’ Kathy said. ‘I have a relationship with him.’

Certainly, these are odd coincidences. Perhaps I have precognition.”

If there is any truth to the idea that the future can be predicted at all, that must mean there is some sort of semi-stable “script” out there of “already happened” events that can be “seen.” A variation on this concept is the notion that there a number—some say, an infinite amount— of possible outcomes, and psychics/shamans/Dr. Teeth are just spotting one of the “probables.”

in the case of “Spaceballs,” it would be peeking at the VHS tape

But regardless of “how” such a thing might happen…the question is, why???

If there is a “set” future to take a peek at, who or what is allowing this possible undermining of its stability? Is not the simple act of knowing the future event enough to wreck the current timeline?

Or is the purpose even to change the event in question at all?

Is there a different reason some of us have had the opportunity to sneak glances behind the veil? And is that to shape “attitudes,” rather than to alter specific future events?

Anyway, these are the sorts of things I think about when I clip my toenails.