Thursday, March 25, 2010

Submitted For Your Approval...

If you’ve been wondering if you’d ever see author George Orwell, screen composer Bernard Herrmann and early television writer Rod Serling all mentioned in the same sentence, your wait is over.

I am, and have been for years, an admirer of all three. For purposes of this short piece let me simply state that in their respective fields, each is a giant. If you scroll back through the Plumwood Road archives you’ll see a piece posted December 21, 2009 that concerned one of Serling’s excursions into The Twilight Zone. Let the record therefore show that I’ve at least nibbled around the edges of the subject before.

The three men were not quite contemporaries. Orwell died in 1950, while Serling was writing teleplays for the great WLW in Cincinnati, and Herrmann was near composing the score for The Day the Earth Stood Still. But for the purposes of this article, let me offer this single observation: these three artists, Serling, Herrmann, and Orwell all frequently created works built around a dread of the totalitarian state.

For The Twilight Zone Rod Serling wrote dozens of episodes depicting the nature of dark, futuristic mega-governments, of state control and monitoring. The music of Bernard Herrmann, beautiful and listenable as it is, frequently contrasted warm inner passion with an icy, sterile, emotionless condition. Watch a copy of the 1966 production of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Pay special attention to the musical score and you’ll see what I mean. And, finally, what is there to say about George Orwell, author of 1984, that hasn’t already been said? The word “Orwellian” sums it up nicely.

As it happened, the other evening I was reading Orwell’s essay, The Prevention of Literature. It’s an excellent short piece if you want to gain a little insight into the workings progressives and of the leftist press from an expert.

Usually I read in silence. But I’d received a new CD; a collection of the scores that Herrmann wrote for The Twilight Zone.

After dinner, as Karen and I settled into the living room to do some reading. I unwrapped the double-disc CD set and put it in the player. I had only a hazy memory of the music composed for the episode titled Eye of the Beholder, so I cued it up and pushed play, then settled down to read.

As the music played, this is the passage from Orwell’s The Prevention of Literature that I happened to read:

“The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient… It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had ceased to be necessary….From the totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible… This kind of thing happens everywhere, but is clearly likelier to lead to outright falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth. The friends of totalitarianism in this country (Great Britain in the post-war 1940s) usually argue that since absolute truth is not attainable, a big lie is no worse than a little lie. It is pointed out that all historical records are biased and inaccurate, or, on the other hand, that modern physics has proved that what seems to us the real world is an illusion, so that to believe in the evidence of one’s senses is simply vulgar philistinism. A totalitarian society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician, the historian, and the sociologist. Already there are countless people who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would see nothing wrong in falsifying a historical fact. It is at the point where literature and politics cross that totalitarianism exerts its greatest pressure on the intellectuals.”

Did you get all of that? The above is excerpted from one, single paragraph. It pays to read Orwell slowly, with a pencil for underlining. But he opens a door for you, doesn't he?

About half way through the passage I became aware of the effect that Herrmann’s music was having in enhancing the impact of Orwell’s words and I began to read aloud. I didn’t get far before Karen said,

“Stop, Jed. Stop. It’s scaring me.”

She made my point. Orwell’s text read with Herrmann’s musical accompaniment projects a vivid image. You can feel “the state” at work. The state is everything. You are an ant.

And, now that you have read George Orwell’s text displayed on your computer screen didn’t you, too, even without musical embellishment, see the state as represented by our compliant, unquestioning press, by evidence-destroying global warming scientists, by a power hungry Congress, by seedy, self-serving cradle-to-grave programs?

But what about Mr. Serling; where’s his contribution in this discussion of a potentially all-controlling state?

If you have 23 minutes to spare, click on this You Tube video, broken into three short segments,

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

It is the original November 11, 1960 broadcast of The Eye of the Beholder. See if you don’t get the warnings concerning government medicine, of rationing, of benevolent oppression.

Submitted for your approval...
from Plumwood Road, via The Twilight Zone.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for a wonderful memory. I haven't seen this in nearly fifty years. It was still as wonderful, still as horrible, and still as frightening as it was when I was barely a teenager.
On the other hand, in those days, we had Heroes and thought we could grow up to be heroes, too. That hope seems strangely abscent among today's children.
The young are no longer taught to expect to be responsible for themselves; someone else is always to blame for whatever goes wrong. It's never OUR fault; always YOUR fault.
Rod Serling was a tortured man who had astonishly clear vision. I wonder what he'd make of the present. I think he'd be frightened.
Ron Pittenger

Tom Rosenblum said...

Jed: Great post re: CA & Arizona. After reading the post, I wanted to get your bio. info. and I read some more posts (enjoyed the Kodachrome story). The first thing I thought of was James Lileks. You have probably heard of him. If not,I guarantee you that you will love his website and his work (writings & photos). I have spent hours viewing photos on his site. If you want to check it's a link:

Take care. Tom Rosenblum, Jacksonville. (