Here, have some free entertainment
If you’ve 30 minutes or so to spare, you could do much worse than watch this classic episode of The Twilight Zone (link below). For unfamiliar readers Twilight Zone was a sci-fi (well, sort of) series that was originally aired between 1959 and 1964 in the United States. Since then it has been both revived and re-run across the globe (see wiki) and has become something of a classic.
I promise you that if you watch this episode you’ll be entertained, despite the fact much of the language and ideas may seem a little dated to contemporary viewers. For me that’s part of the charm. Watching episodes of this programme is a little like perusing historical documents which detail the social constructions of the middle of the last century.
Anyway, when you’re done watching, you might like to return to the text below, because I believe that the scriptwriter (none other than Rod Serling himself) makes a point that far exceeds his intended context and reaches out to an unexpected aspect of our lives today.
I hope you enjoyed it.
I’ve recently adopted the habit of watching old episodes of this series on YouTube when I’ve a little time to kill of an evening. For example, weekday nights when there isn’t enough time to watch a full movie and when you don’t just want to sit around idling on the internet all night either. Last night the choice of episode was the one above, The Shelter. I enjoyed it greatly, initially for the story and for the historical aspects of the theme.
“I guess in the 1950s, the fear of nuclear war was a real concern” I said to Mrs Montag who mumbled something which translated as “will you shut up with your theorising, I’m trying to follow the dialogue”.
It was only today after having, once again, to endure pointless bickering and hostility on the comments section of a news provider’s website did a more expansive point of Mr Serling’s tale suddenly hit home.
The characters in Serling’s screenplay, having realised that they had nothing to lose, reverted to feral behaviour which had more in common with wild cats fighting over a discarded mackerel, than with the cultured middle class of middle America in the middle 20th century.
The point was that just a scratch or two beneath our elaborate façade of civilisation, remains something thoroughly nasty. That same thing that starts wars, that slips easily back into torture, greed and racism.
Serling sets this up as the product of the need to survive, emergent only in the red-toothed do-or-die moment of panic. How dismayed might he have been to learn that such behaviour is commonplace now, and not as a result of life or death struggles. We see it regularly on internet forums; and the trigger for this savageness? Merely differing opinions – on politics, football, life.
In that respect Serling missed the mark. He assumed that it was the fight for life which brings out the bestial in modern man. Perhaps he was wrong. Perhaps it is simply anonymity. In his screenplay it was the impending anonymity of annihilation which revealed the hidden ugliness of the characters. It didn’t matter that they showed themselves for who they were, as they were all likely to die anyway.
Death as final anonymiser.
On the internet we have much easier routes to anonymity; chat rooms, screen names, complex electronics. Regardless, the outcome is the same. A sort of social snarl develops. The dark nature of man reveals itself.
“For civilisation to survive the human race has to remain civilised” Serling intones at the end of the episode.
Something to remember the next time you are tempted to kick off at a stranger online.