There are a lot of reasons why Keith Olbermann’s speech last night was a masterpiece, but my favorite bit is the way he references the best television show ever :
And long ago, a series called “The Twilight Zone” broadcast a riveting episode entitled “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street.”
In brief: a meteor sparks rumors of an invasion by extra-terrestrials disguised as humans. The electricity goes out. A neighbor pleads for calm.
Suddenly his car â€” and only his car â€” starts. Someone suggests he must be the alien. Then another manâ€™s lights go on.
As charges and suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are inevitably produced.
An “alien” is shot â€” but he turns out to be just another neighbor, returning from going for help.
The camera pulls back to a near-by hill, where two extra-terrestrials are seen, manipulating a small device that can jam electricity. The veteran tells his novice that thereâ€™s no need to actually attack, that you just turn off a few of the human machines and then, “they pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, and itâ€™s themselves.”
And then, in perhaps his finest piece of writing, Rod Serling sums it up with words of remarkable prescience, given where we find ourselves tonight.
“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices – to be found only in the minds of men.
“For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own â€” for the children, and the children yet unborn.”
Rod Serling’s genius was that he found a way to work around the censorship that threatened to neuter his “legitimate” writing. In the process, he created a show that was both socially relevant and artistically brilliant. From the Wikipedia’s entry on The Twilight Zone :
Throughout the 1950s, Rod Serling had established himself as one of the hottest names in television, equally famous for his success in writing televised drama as he was for criticizing the medium’s limitations. His most vocal complaints concerned the censorship frequently practiced by sponsors and networks. “I was not permitted to have my Senators discuss any current or pressing problem,” he said of his 1957 production “The Arena”, intended to be an involving look into contemporary politics. “To talk of tariff was to align oneself with the Republicans; to talk of labor was to suggest control by the Democrats. To say a single thing germane to the current political scene was absolutely prohibited… In retrospect, I probably would have had a much more adult play had I made it science fiction, put it in the year 2057, and peopled the Senate with robots. That would probably have been more reasonable and no less dramatically incisive.”
And because of this, Serling wrote episodes that make observations about the world that still hold up today. Like The Obsolete Man :
Any state, any entity, any ideology that fails to recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, that state is obsolete.
And The Shelter
For civilization to survive, man must remain civilized.
We could really use another Rod Serling today.