Monday, December 21, 2009

You've Just Crossed Over Into ... THE TWILIGHT ZONE

It is an occasional custom of mine: I often get home from work late at night, around eleven or twelve o’clock. Karen is usually fast asleep. The house is quiet. And from time to time, after greeting the dog and one of the cats who always comes to the door, I fix a bowl of pretzels, open a beer, pop a disk into the DVD player and relax with an episode from the old TV series The Twilight Zone. It is a nice way to unwind.

The Twilight Zone first hit the air October 2, 1959. I was in grade school at the time and became fan right from the start. The series was the invention of Rod Serling, one of the great writers of television drama back in the days of “live” programming in the 1950s. Serling wrote most of the Twilight Zone episodes himself along with Richard Matheson, Earl Hamner, Charles Beaumont and the inimitable Ray Bradbury.

It is a continual marvel and a testament to the quality of the writing and production that so many of the episodes, especially from the first two or three seasons, are still so satisfying. Much of the enduring impact of this fifty year-old television series is due to the fact that no matter how fanciful or far-fetched the series was, many of its best episodes managed to accurately -- and eerily -- reflect human life down here on Terra Firma.

This morning I recalled a particular episode. Perhaps you have seen it: A space craft lands with visitors from another world. Aliens are seemingly friendly and charming creatures who, despite their otherworldly appearance present themselves as benevolent beings who love the human race. They just want to help. In fact, they are found to be carrying a book titled To Serve Man. How lovely. Their stated mission is to seek recruits to take along on their ship back to their own planet.

Serling’s opening comments set the stage:

“Respectfully submitted for your perusal --- a Kanamit. Height: a little over nine feet. Weight: in the neighborhood of three hundred and fifty pounds. Origin: unknown. Motives? Therein hangs the tale…This is the Twilight Zone.”

Yes indeed, fans; a nice, crisp presentation of the crux of the story: "therein hangs the tale."

The program moves smartly along as thousands of awed and, as it turns out, gullible earthlings flock to secure passage to a promised-land of intergalactic paradise. Meanwhile a doubtful skeptic feverishly works to translate the mysterious text contained in the pages of To Serve Man.

The story concludes as the mass of humanity crowds aboard. As the hatch it closed the translation arrives with a patented Twilight Zone twist.

How does this relate to anything in today’s universe? At one o’clock Sunday morning the United States Senate pulled the 2,000 page healthcare bill everyone has been fighting over, and replaced it with a different, new, 2,000 page bill no one has seen or read…and in that hour voted 60-40 to end debate.

As the space craft sails off, bound for a dinner table in another galaxy, Serling’s concluding commentary is apropos.

“…simply stated, the evolution of man…the metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup. It’ tonight’s bill of fare on The Twilight Zone.”

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