Essays On The Twilight Zone

The Twilight Zone

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The Twilight Zone

       Many truths can be thought of in relation with the segment of the Twilight Zone that we watched (The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street). Basically, people were paranoid with many stories that were told to them at this time. McCarthyism was abroad with the scare of the Communists. People were not sure what to think. This movie can best describe human nature. Another characteristic that humans have is to find a scapegoat of some kind. That can be readily seen in the movie.  
The paranoia of the aliens that apparently landed on the Earth and was suppose to have beings that would be apart of the life of Maple Street, taking the form of normal human features. With the story from the little boy, it seems that it comes from a childrens comic book, but later it changes everyone and they soon become paranoid of the sudden events that took place (power outage, no radio reception, and the cars are dead). With these modern conveniences at a loss, the whole street is in a panic. Life doesnt seem to be able to move on because we, as people, rely on technology for everyday life (and dont take it for granted). Paranoia filters throughout the street, as people seem to believe different stories. Those stories were produced and turned into horror scenes as people began to wonder what caused the outage of everything on the street. Paranoia strikes everybody and they get scared by certain people putting strange scary ideas in their heads (i.e. McCarthy Era and the horror story on the account of the boy in the movie). People dont feel safe and these dangers make people paranoid about everything. It destroys trust and a jump to an ideal society; a utopia may seem like a goal, but it will never happen.
Scapegoats are used in many ways (i.e. Salem Witch Trials and The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street) by people in need of blaming another for an event or action that took place. These instances are used by people in desperate need of saving their own skin and blaming an event or action on another person that could be perfectly innocent. The Salem Witch Trials was a prime example for the use of scapegoats. This practice was used when people accused of being witches, accused others of witchcraft that had nothing to do with it  blaming the innocent. The innocent victims would then blame others of witchcraft and it would end up a vicious cycle for all the people. This process would continue because people have the need of trying the get themselves free of really harsh punishment (such as hanging) if all they have to do is list some names of people that they thought were involved in witchcraft. This process formed a lot of blaming, and in cases such as in Massachusetts, there were hundreds of people in jail that got out of being hanged when they had a scapegoat and blamed someone else. The Governor deemed that practice unjust and that part of the past did not exceed into the present day. The idea of a scapegoat is still present today. Maybe not like Salem, but people use scapegoats to try and get themselves out of trouble. Many of the wars were caused by leaders using scapegoats  got the approval from their country and had a war.
These were the human traits and nature that was displayed in the movie segment The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street, a part of the Twilight Zone. It only brings the fact that humans do have their faults and that these traits are still visible today in our society. Paranoia and scapegoats are two main points from the movie that have to do with human nature and traits. Those two ideas formatted the monsters and basically made monsters out of themselves. They were fighting only themselves and not the real monsters.

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Salem witch trialsCrowd psychologyBullyingSocial psychologyMagicThe Monsters Are Due on Maple StreetParanoiaWitchcraftThe Twilight ZoneSalemMassachusettsBlameWitch-hunt

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I doubt there's anyone born in the age of television syndication who doesn't have a haunting, dream-intruding memory of a Twilight Zone episode. We all know them: ventriloquist dummies who talk on their own, gremlins on airplane wings, neighbors who are space aliens or -- worse still -- who accuse us of being aliens. The visuals of The Twilight Zone form a kind of collective generational nightmare.

The remarkable thing about the man who created many of these episodes from 1959 to 1964, Rod Serling, is that the writer-presenter learned his craft not in the visual era but in the age of radio drama. It has been observed that Serling, whose characters routinely launched into long (and often enrapturing) moralistic jeremiads, wrote more for the ear than the eye. And it was Serling's sense of moral outrage -- against conformity, scapegoating, war as a first resort, commercialism above quality -- that brought posterity to his scripts and stories, and that served to marry speculative writing and filmmaking, perhaps permanently, to some kind of ethical position-taking.

Serling's role as a supernatural moralist is on brilliant display in a biography recently -- and thankfully -- rescued from near-oblivion in a reissue by Cornell University Press, Serling: The Rise and Twilight of TV's Last Angry Man by Gordon F. Sander. A historical journalist and cultural writer, Sander deftly depicts Serling's struggle to live by a moral code as television drifted away from serious drama and as the artist himself -- who rose quickly to fame as the enigmatic host of The Twilight Zone -- embraced the financial compromise of serving as a pitchman for products from beer to socks to floor wax. There's no particular sin in that, as Sander notes, but Serling's readiness to place his name and image behind consumer products did chaff with his self-chosen role as a gadfly who swatted back at the hand of ad agencies and number crunchers who wanted television programming catered to their needs. "We're developing a new kind of citizenry," Serling said in 1957, "one that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won't be able to think."

Whatever his internal struggles, Serling's scripts resounded across generations, and not only in his writing for The Twilight Zone. He left a particular mark as the co-writer of the screenplay adaptation of Pierre Boulle's Planet of the Apes -- a movie too-little credited to Serling's genius and an enterprise unfortunately rushed past in Sander's otherwise meticulous account.

Consider the movie's iconic finale (a Serling master stroke), when Taylor the astronaut discovers the ruins of the Statue of Liberty sticking up from the sand, and realizes in horror that the real destructor is man himself. This was, in a sense, Serling's cumulative closing scene of The Twilight Zone, where the writer repeatedly tried to warn us that there really is a monster under the bed, and it's us.

Serling's parabolic lessons colored the tone of other science fiction classics, such as a crop of 1970s sci-fi dystopian vehicles including Logan's Run and Soylent Green where man adopts self-destruction, Serling style, as a sanctioned policy. The civics-in-space monologues delivered by Star Trek's William Shatner (a veteran Twilight Zone player) echo the tonality of Serling's heroes. And even the rebellion against interstellar fascism in Star Wars -- in which good is on the side of the freethinker Leia, the nonconformist Han Solo, and the idealist Luke -- was an indirect leaf from Serling.

Sander's biography not only reminds us of Serling's aims as an artist, but is particularly strong in tracking the rise and fall of the so-called "golden age" of television in the early 1950s, when dramatists such as Gore Vidal and Paddy Chayefsky - and Serling - turned out stirring and socially relevant teleplays. Sander describes the early days of television as a period in which the medium was still somewhat rarified and geared toward selected (and relatively few) TV owners, hence producers and writers could take chances. As audience numbers grew the race for mass appeal - a race to the bottom, as Serling saw it - displaced any ideals or pretensions to quality. While writing in 1992, Sander could have been forecasting the same decline that would overtake cable television in the early twenty-first century, as mass proliferation of cable spelled an end to most quality news, talk, and documentary programs, replaced by the lowest-denominator of reality shows.

Serling died of heart failure at age 50 in 1975 -- before the digital age was even prophesied by early computer programmers. But something in Serling's tone, in his concern over how people are eager to disparage one another without ever looking within, seemed to foresee the crisis of civility in today's online culture, where message boards, comments, and consumer reviews abound with spleen and sarcasm. "In almost everything I've written," Serling said in 1967, "there is a thread of this: man's seemingly palpable need to dislike someone other than himself."

Serling believed that a person should never be wholly comfortable with the age he lives in. Indeed, sometimes I'm moved to post a Serling comment on Twitter, but I can't. His best quotes are too long. I think that's just how the discomforted prophet would have wanted it.

Follow Mitch Horowitz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@MitchHorowitz

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