by John W. Whitehead
developing a new citizenry.
will be very selective
cereals and automobiles,
be able to think."
Have you noticed
how much life increasingly feels like an episode of
Only instead of Rod Serling's imaginary,
"land of both shadow and substance, of things
...we're trapped in a topsy-turvy, all-too-real land of
corruption, brutality and lies, where freedom, justice and integrity
play second fiddle to political ambition, corporate greed, and
It's not merely
that life in
the American Police State is more brutal, or more
unjust, or even more corrupt. It's getting more idiotic, more
perverse, and more outlandish by the day.
Somewhere over the
course of the past 240-plus years,
democracy has given way to
representative government has given way to a
kleptocracy (a government ruled by thieves) and a
kakistocracy (a government run by unprincipled career
politicians, corporations and thieves that panders to the worst
vices in our nature and has little regard for the rights of American
political organizers posted a "Black Media Only" sign outside a
Baptist Church, barring white reporters from attending a meeting
about an upcoming mayoral election.
a SWAT team raided a family's home in the middle of the night on the
say-so of Child Protective Services, which sounded the alarm
after the parents determined that their 2-year-old - who had been
suffering a 100-degree fever - was feeling better and didn't need to
be admitted to the hospital.
landlords are requiring dog-owning tenants to submit their pets' DNA
to a database that will be
used to track down (and fine) owners who fail to clean up after
their dogs poop in public.
In Texas, a
police officer who allegedly gave a homeless man a sandwich with dog
feces won't be held accountable for his actions.
Chicago police used a battering ram and a sledgehammer to crash into
a family's home with weapons drawn,
terrorizing the young children gathered for a 4-year-old's birthday
party, only to find that they were at the wrong house.
a 61-year-old back man in the process of moving into his new house
found himself held at gunpoint and handcuffed by police, who
refused to believe he was a homeowner and not a burglar.
If you're starting
to notice a pattern here, it speaks to the fact that nearly 50 years
after Serling's creative brainchild, The Twilight Zone, premiered
on national television, we're still fumbling around in the dark,
trying to make sense of a world dominated by,
a host of other social maladies and spiritual evils.
Zone was an oasis in
a show that captured imaginations
moral hypocrisy and societal prejudices
inhumanity, racism, prejudice, the mechanization of human beings by
way of their technology, tyrants of all shapes and colors, a passive
populace, war, injustice, the surveillance state, corporate greed...
Fifty years later,
with so much having changed legally, technologically and
politically, so much still remains the same.
Fear is the same.
Prejudice is the same.
Ignorance is the same.
Hate and war and
tyranny are unchanged.
Police officers are still shooting unarmed
Bloated government agencies are still fleecing taxpayers.
Government technicians are still spying on our communications.
American citizens are still allowing themselves to be manipulated by
their fears and pitted one against the other.
All of these themes
can be found in The Twilight Zone...
truth-teller who pulled no punches when it came to calling out the
evils of his day, channeled his moral outrage into storytelling.
his daughter Anne explained,
"The Twilight Zone was more
than just the strangest show on TV, with the best theme song, but
back in the 50's
Rod Serling was serving up social commentary through science fiction."
commentary disguised as entertainment tackled some of the most
pressing issues of Serling's day.
"It dealt with human issues which
I guess is why it's lasted so long, because it dealt with racism and
mob mentality and scapegoating and things that are still
very, very prevalent and relevant today sadly," said
"We don't seem to be able to move ahead and change."
Serling would have
no shortage of material to draw from today, given the government's,
greed for money and power
its disregard for human life
corruption and graft
its pollution of the environment
on excessive force in order to ensure compliance
its illegal surveillance
its blatant disdain for
the rule of law...
"I can tell you [my
dad] would be
absolutely apoplectic about what's happening in the world today.
And deeply saddened," said his daughter Anne Serling.
moments that I'm glad he's not here to see."
It boggles the mind
how relevant The Twilight Zone and its unique brand of
truth-telling are to an age in which truth has become a convenient
fiction for those in power, what researchers refer to as "Truth
As a report from
the Rand Corporation explains,
Decay is defined as a set of
four related trends:
disagreement about facts and analytical interpretations of facts and
a blurring of the line between opinion and fact
in the relative volume, and resulting influence, of opinion and
personal experience over fact
declining trust in formerly
respected sources of factual information."
Serling would have
had a lot to say about the lies that masquerade as truth today.
I'm not sure that
Serling would have been surprised by current events, though.
all, this was the man who concluded that
people are alike all over:
that was the kernel of truth in one
of Serling's episodes about a pair of astronauts who journey to Mars
only to find that while they may have landed on an alien planet,
inhabited by alien creatures, the ignorance, fear and prejudice of
the "foreigner" was the same...
So many truths,
packaged in 156 episodes that aired from 1959 to 1964. Serling took pride
in the writing, penning 92 of the 156 episodes himself.
rest, he enlisted some of the best writers of the 20th century to
lend their talents to Zone episodes:
Ray Bradbury, Richard
Matheson, Charles Beaumont, Earl Hamner, to mention a few.
the Twilight Zone became the embodiment of great
If you want to
watch something that fuses time and space into reality by way of a
fictional setting, then I suggest that you tune into The
Peele has taken Serling's material out for
a new spin in a reboot airing on CBS All Access, but if you
haven't experienced the original series, do yourself a favor and
spend some time with them.
There are so many
to choose from, but the following are 12 of my personal favorites:
Enough at Last:
Mild-mannered Henry Bemis (Burgess Meredith), hen-pecked by his wife
and brow-beaten by his boss, sneaks into a bank vault on his lunch
hour to read.
He is knocked unconscious by a shockwave that turns
out to be a nuclear war. When Bemis regains consciousness, he
realizes that he is the last person on earth.
an Arrow into the Air:
Three astronauts survive a crash after their craft disappears from
the radar screen.
They find themselves on what they believe to be a
dry, lifeless asteroid. Only five gallons of water separate them
from dehydration and death.
And temperamental crew member Corey
(Dewey Martin) goes to great lengths to ensure his survival.
During a walking tour of Europe after World War I, David loses his
way and comes to a remote monastery.
He is turned away but passes
out, and the monks take him in. David regains consciousness and
hears a bizarre howling.
He eventually finds a man in a jail cell
who the monks say is the Devil himself, kept in his prison by the
"staff of truth."
Janet lies in a hospital bed, her face wrapped in bandages, hiding
the hideous face that has made her an outcast all her life.
her eleventh hospital visit and the last allowed by the government. The faces of the doctors and nurses are also hidden by shadows and
Janet's bandages are finally removed, and the medical
staff retreat in disgust.
haggard woman (Agnes Morehead) hears a strange sound on the roof.
She climbs up to see a miniature flying saucer and tiny spacemen who
invade her home.
Their small ray guns sting, but she fights back.
(Dennis Weaver) is on trial, and the judge gives him the electric
chair. Adam chortles that it's all a joke, a recurring nightmare in
which all the participants are bit players in a scripted play.
will anyone listen?
Romney (Burgess Meredith) is a God-fearing librarian in a
totalitarian state in which books and religion have been banned.
Romney is judged obsolete by the government chancellor but is
granted several requests before he dies. He chooses to have a
television audience watch his execution.
Forty-five minutes before
he is to die, he invites the chancellor to his room and locks them
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet:
Robert (William Shatner) boards an airplane after having been
discharged from a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown.
out his window during the flight and sees a weird creature on the
wing. Alarmed, he alerts others. However, when they look out, the
Robert eventually realizes that what he sees is
a demon trying to dismantle the plane so it will crash. Robert
decides to act.
(Telly Savalas) is angry at his wife for buying his stepdaughter an
Erich has a nasty disposition and soon discovers
that the doll has a life of its own and it dislikes him. In fact,
the doll tells him so.
Talky Tina says emphatically "I hate you" and
"I'm going to kill you."
deathbed, Jason Foster calls his four heirs to his side on a Mardi
Gras evening. Each heir has a character flaw - self-pity, avarice,
vanity or cruelty.
Foster demands that each wear a mask he has
fashioned for them. If they refuse to keep the masks on until
midnight, they will be disinherited. The masks are hideous, and the
heirs do not want to don them.
But out of greed, they slide them
onto their faces.
Peaksville, Ohio, a small community, has been "taken away" from the
so-called 'normal world' - ravaged by 6-year-old "monster" Anthony
By mere thought and/or wishes, Anthony can make things
and people disappear or turn into hideous creatures. All of the
adults kowtow to his every desire.
To Serve Man:
- nine-foot-tall, large-headed creatures - come to Earth from
outer space, bringing gifts, spouting peace and promising to end
After some initial resistance by earthlings, the world
relents and humans become entranced by the visitors.
government agent Mike (Lloyd Chambers) soon discovers a sinister and
shocking plot being hatched by the Kanamits.
Zone was a paradox.
Although the series
is often seen as science fiction, ultimately it was not science
Whatever weird or
far out setting may have been involved in a particular episode, the
focus was always on the angst, pain and suffering we face in the
so-called "real" world.
As author Marc Scott Zicree writes:
Zone was the first, and
possibly only, TV series to deal on a regular basis with the theme
of alienation - particularly urban alienation...
states a simple message:
The only escape from alienation lies in
reaching out to others, trusting in their common humanity.
to the fear and you are lost.
Fifty years after
the original The Twilight Zone series questioned whether we
can maintain our humanity in the face of authoritarian forces trying
to reduce us to mindless automatons, we're still struggling with the
demons of our age who delight in,
Yet as I make clear
in my book
Battlefield America - The War on the American People, we
don't have to be stranded in this alternate universe, this twilight
zone of tyranny, brutality and injustice.
We still have the
power to change our circumstances for the better.
the evils of our age will require more than intellect and activism.
It will require,
concluded in his remarks to the graduating class of 1968:
is the singular quality most required of you... we have left you
a world far more botched than the one that was left to us...
your challenge is to seek out truth, to come up with a point of view
not dictated to you by anyone, be he a congressman, even a
Are you tough enough to take the divisiveness of this
land of ours, the fact that everything is polarized, black and
white, this or that, absolutely right or absolutely wrong?
one of the challenges.
Be prepared to seek out the middle ground...
that wondrous and very difficult-to-find Valhalla where man can look
to both sides and see the errant truths that exist on both sides.
you must swing left or you must swing right - respect the other side.
Honor the motives that come from the other side. Argue, debate,
rebut - but don't close those wondrous minds of yours to opposition.
In their eyes, you're the opposition. And ultimately...
ultimately - you end divisiveness by compromise.
And so long as men
walk and breathe - there must be compromise."