Tag Archives: The Twilight Zone

Tempus fuhgeddaboudit

All fiction is historical fiction. That’s hardly a piercing insight — even if all topical references are scrubbed out of a story, the author’s assumptions and preoccupations will fix its place in history. What IS startling, though, is how quickly that history becomes ancient history.

  While I continue the search for full-time employment, I’ve signed on as a substitute teacher in several school districts. The other day I filled in for the teacher of a reading comprehension class. The middle schoolers had been going over Rod Serling’s teleplay for “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” one of the best-known episodes of The Twilight Zone,  I warned the kids that as an artifact from pre-CGI 1960, the show’s visuals effects would look cut-rate and frequently corny — once again I marvel at how often the show reused sets and props from Forbidden Planet — but they should try to stay focused on Serling’s writing. Then I filled them in on a bit of Serling’s background as one of the first great talents of the television era, and how after years of fighting with timid programmers and intrusive advertisers, he hit on the idea of using a fantasy and science fiction-oriented series to comment with the social and political issues of the day. In an interview he called himself “a tired idealist,” but the best episodes of The Twilight Zone are anything but tired.

Then I tried to give them some more context, and promptly fell into a black hole of memory. The students got a few quick laughs at the sight of cars with running boards, but when I tried to convey the idea of living in an era when mass media consisted solely of newspapers, radio, snail mail, and television — no Internet, no smartphones, no texting — they were simply puzzled. (One of the main character is a ham radio operator — try explaining that one in millennial-friendly terms.) I asked them if they could relate the story to what was going on in current America. Some of them knew a bit about the Cold War and the civil rights movement, both major elements in the story’s background, but only one had heard of Joe McCarthy and the paranoid political climate he exploited. When I talked about 9/11, I ran into the realization that it, too, was history — they hadn’t even been born.They did smile knowingly, however, when I recalled that a great many people responded to 9/11 by becoming suspicious of all Muslims.

This isn’t going to be another complaint about how Those Damned Kids Aren’t Learnin’ Anything. I threw a lot at them in a small period of time, and a gratifyingly large number of the students tried to engage the subject. I learned a couple of things, too. One, tempus fugits a lot faster than you realize. Two, Serling’s closing message has a lot in common with Edward R. Murrow’s sign-off remark in his commentary on McCarthyism.

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Friday finds

Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling sat down in 1970 with author and academic James Gunn as part of Gunn’s series “Science Fiction in Literature.” This footage, never released, was recently re-synched with an audio track. The results are technically highly variable, but the content is fascinating to anyone interested in Serling’s work or science fiction in general. I particularly appreciate Serling’s avowed respect for the SF genre, all the more striking for the fact that the interview took place well before science fiction was considered respectable by most critics — or commercially viable by Hollywood. Contrast Serling’s name-checking of recognized SF authors with the pretentious evasions of a certain filmmaker who made immense amounts of money strip-mining the work of his betters.

Thomas Ricks lists the best books about George Waterboard Bush’s excellent Iraqi adventure. Imperial Life in the Emerald City is the only one I’ve heard of, much less read.

Cage match! The Big Chill vs. Return of the Secaucus Seven.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness adapted as a graphic novel.

Attention, Kurt Vonnegut fans! In response to my post about the 1972 broadcast of Between Time and Timbuktu, a friend scouted out the complete show on Tudou. I’ll have to see if the decades have been kind to it.

North Wind, a journal devoted to the study of pioneering fantasy author George MacDonald, has put its entire archive online. Tolkien fans may be interested in Jason Fisher’s essay (PDF) on MacDonald’s influence on the Don’s early writings, and how he eventually fell out of favor with Tolkien.

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