As a child I wasn’t much of a fan of science fiction books, movies or television shows. But there was one program that I seldom missed. The Twilight Zone.
The original series was shot and broadcast entirely in black and white even though color TV’s were commonplace when the series ran on CBS for five seasons from 1959 to 1964. Perhaps the appeal for me were those dark and cold scenes in black and white. Maybe it was the voice of the show’s creator and iconic narrator, Rod Serling, a young avant-garde screenwriter, playwright and television producer. Maybe it was the eerily haunting repetition of four shrill notes of the opening theme music – once you heard it you couldn’t un-hear it.
The 156 Twilight Zone episodes explored various genres, including fantasy, science fiction, absurdism, dystopian fiction, suspense, horror, supernatural drama, black comedy, and psychological thriller. They often concluded with a macabre or unexpected twist, and usually with a moral narrated by Serling himself. For me, it was sci-fi like no other. It ranked first among arguable equals like Night Gallery, The Outer Limits, The Ray Bradbury Theater, The X-Files and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
It would take a sci-fi genius no less artful than Rod Serling to write a screenplay that could encompass all of the horror and pain of 2020. Like all well-written sci-fi stories it would have to be intriguing, scary, and testing the limits of credulity. An anthology of 2020 events worthy of episodes of the Twilight Zone would definitely need to fit the bill.
Episodes of a Serling-like production based on 2020 would definitely have the viewer gripping the arms of the chair tighter and breathing a little heavier. They would cause heads to shake and cries of “noooooo…stop it” shouted at the screen.
Despite what most people believe, Rod Serling never spoke the words “Imagine if you will…”. That’s actually a famous example of the Mandela Effect, an unusual phenomenon where a large group of people remember something differently than how it occurred. It’s sort of like Smokey the Bear when there is no “the” in Smokey Bear’s name. Or “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast” when in fact it is “the savage breast” not “savage beast”.
With due respect to Serling who truly never said “Imagine if you will…” I will issue that rhetorical challenge. So, imagine if you will a year like 2020 with unprecedented political divisiveness, social and racial unrest, unjustified murders of innocent people of color at the hands of law enforcement, the worst pandemic in 100 years that snuffed out one third of a million Americans, tens of millions having lost their jobs, hundreds of thousands of small businesses shuttered, isolation the likes of which we have not experienced in our lifetimes, corruption at the highest levels of government and economic disaster causing individuals and families to be homeless and hungry.
The pain and suffering of 2020 is unprecedented. The convergence of so many calamitous events during this year from Hell have scarred the American psyche and will cause trauma to so many for so long to come. The events of 2020 represent the basic story lines of a classic sci-fi show. But when the year blessedly comes to an end it won’t be as simple as “fade to black…cut to commercial”.
Rod Serling may never have said “Imagine if you will…” but he did often begin his production with a variation of “You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. You are entering the Twilight Zone.” There is no doubt that for most of us, entering 2020 was very much like entering our own personal Twilight Zone. But as we prepare to start 2021 the question we all want answered is “how do we exit the Twilight Zone?”
We’ll know we have made it through to the other side when we begin to experience wide-spread evidence of decency, tolerance, respect, fact over fiction, honesty over corruption, truth over deceit, public service over self-interest, love over lust, helping over hurting, inclusion over exclusion, faith, freedom, opportunity, humility, generosity, justice, integrity, loyalty, patriotism, empathy, compassion, kindness, courage and gratitude.
Once we feel enveloped by these positive traits and behaviors we will have left our personal Twilight Zone and begin to feel the warmth of sunshine which Justice Louise Brandeis taught us is the best disinfectant.
For more commentaries by Stu Turgel go to: https://thephoenixfile.net/commentaries/