Aaron

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The Twilight Zone

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Aaron

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When I was a kid my parents decided that, in lieu of satellite television, they would just load up on the VHS tapes. Among the many classics they ordered was "The Twilight Zone." Before I reached the double digits of age I was hooked! And I've been hooked ever since.

Does this blog entry have anything to do with BDSM and kinks? Yes, it has everything to do with them. As my essay below explains, The Twilight Zone broke new ground in television. It opened up new ways of thinking at a time when it was needed badly. Through using Sci-fi, Serling was able to get his important social commentary across. It was among the many pebbles in the pond that ushered in the era that we are in now. An era where it's safer to be different. The pride that we do have, and the more accepting society that we are in now, we owe it not just to Harvey Milk, or MLK, but to everyone else who helped push (and continue to push) the process along. The essay below is one that I wrote for a film theory class in college.

Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone

 

“The writer’s role is to menace the public’s conscience. He must have a position, a point of view. He must see the arts as a vehicle of social criticism and he must focus on the issues of his time.” -Rod Serling


 

The Twilight Zone was the result of a talented writer wishing to be heard amid the censorship imposed by the networks and sponsors at the time. The program was a success both when it was new, has transcended generations, and continues to have an impact today.

After returning home fighting in World War two, Serling enrolled in the physical education program at Antioch College, but soon changed his major to English literature and drama. During his senior year, he married his college sweetheart and won an award for a television script he had written. For the first few years of his career, he wrote mostly radio scripts. Continuing forward with his passion for writing teleplays, he was met with forty rejection slips. His first big break came to him in 1955 writing for the television program Patterns.  Throughout the 1950’s, he continued writing dramas about serious issues, finding critical claim and audience appraisal with his works. Among these works,  “This Town Has Turned to Dust”, a Playhouse 90 episode that also received the Peabody Award, and “Requiem for heavyweight”, are still considered some of the best writing ever done for television. But he quickly found that his voice was often silenced. Shortly after having his script for “This Town Has Turned to dust” changed to the point it was nearly unrecognizable from the original, Serling commented in a 1958 interview with Mike Wallace, “I have a lot of things I want to make comment on. First prejudice. Which I feel is the most innate evil in our society.  Ultimately all our evils grow from it.  But you just can’t deal with meaningful social issues on television.” In this same interview, Serling explained the many struggles he faced when trying to bring important issues such as race, fear and corruption front and center. He also discussed The Twilight Zone, which was still in various pre-production stages at the time. His reason for choosing writing for television as his career, and for creating The Twilight Zone, can be summed up in his statement. “I stay in television because I think it’s very possible to perform a function of providing adult, meaningful, exciting,  television drama without dealing with controversy. I think it’s criminal that we’re not permitted to make dramatic note of social evils as they exist. Drama should make a comment on those things that affect our daily lives and be able to take a stand.”  In 1960, The Twilight Zone premiered on CBS. This was his way of taking a stand on these social evils. By using science fiction, Serling’s plan was to get views across by almost bypassing the censorship restrictions. The network would see it in context of the story and not the views of them or their sponsors. His plan worked. Only one line out of the first 18 scripts was modified.

Ratings for The Twilight Zone were considered a mild success at the time. Luckily, the show sustained itself enough to get five seasons. During it’s run, it was nominated for eleven awards, eight of which were won. Serling once said that he wanted to be remembered as one thing: a writer. He died in 1975 at the young age of 50, with the knowledge that even after over a decade since The Twilight Zone’s cancellation, it’s popularity continued to grow and people were in fact remembering Serling not only as the host but also the writer of some of their most beloved stories. Anne Serling, in her biography about her father, “My dad, as I knew him, Rod Serling” said that her father didn’t think The Twilight Zone was going to have as lasting impact, that eventually, like many other television programs, it would fade from people’s memory over time. If only he lived longer he would have witnessed the timeless impact of his work.  To this day we use often use the words “Twilight Zone” to describe an eerie place, feeling or event we witness. And most everyone, young or old, recognizes the iconic opening narration: “You’re traveling through another dimension…..”

The Twilight Zone is without doubt Serling’s crowning achievement. The series has continued to touch viewers of all ages and backgrounds, and therefore continues to be profitable. It’s in syndication around the world, networks here in the U.S run it often and even do occasional marathons. A 1983 film based on the series has been made, two additional series has been produced by the same name in 1985-1989 and 2002-2003. The original series enjoyed a total of 156 episodes, with the additional productions together totalling 153 episodes. Clearly, the interest was and still is strong.

One can argue that “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” is the most significant of the original series. In this episode, the residents of a typical suburban neighborhood are suddenly thrown into chaos as the lights go out and cars stop running. A story told by a little boy about a possible alien invasion causes panic among the neighbors. Soon all small, insignificant differences among them are brought front and center as they accuse one another of being among the aliens in disguise attempting to take them over. At the end, the aliens are looking down, pleased with the fact that they don’t have to do a damn thing, they will allow the humans to destroy themselves. In his closing narration, Serling says, “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy. And a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all on it’s own, for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is, that these things cannot be confined to The Twilight Zone.”

Among the many places you can find this episode is in various elementary classrooms around the country. Lesson plans and discussion questions can be found online for teachers. Anne Serling, in her biography about her father, recalls sitting in on one of these sessions. It was a class of 5th grade students.  The teacher played the episode. A discussion about bullying and fear of differences took place after. At the end of the discussion, the teacher asked for the monsters to please stand.  Every student stood.

From an emotionally wounded World War 1 soldier, to a college student finding his way in the world, to a writer whose work has had a truly lasting impact.  The road to fame was not easy, but one that he paved himself through hard work, determination, and a voice screaming to be heard.

This is Rod Serling’s dimension of imagination. An area also known as The Twilight Zone.

 

 

 

 

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