Friday, October 02, 2009

Philosophy in the Twilight Zone

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the airing of the first episode ("Where is Everybody?") of The Twilight Zone, one one of the two greatest dramatic TV series ever (the other one being of course The Sopranos).

Maybe this is a good time to announce that a book of original philosophical essays on the series that I edited with Noel Carroll is out in paperback.

My own contribution (other than the introduction to the book and a lot of editorial work) is a biographical essay on the development of Rod Serling, the creator of the series and author of 92 of the 156 episodes, as a writer. It is a very interesting story, dramatic and funny by turns. As I say in that chapter:
The emergence of the Rod Serling who created The Twilight Zone is a rather odd case of artistic evolution. He changed, rather abruptly and driven by the pressure of circumstance, from an artist who thought it was his highest calling to comment on the problems of the day by depicting them directly, to one who commented on principles and universals involved, not merely in the problems of the moment, but of human life itself. In so doing, he became just the sort of author who deserves the sort of treatment he is given in the essays in this volume. For to move from the concrete issues of the day to the principles that underlie them is to move from a journalistic approach to these problems to a philosophical one.
My favorite T-Zone episode is probably "The Midnight Sun". Partly I'm sure this is due to my childhood crush on the star, Lois Nettleton (a half hour of a sweaty Lois wearing nothing but a slip -- woo hoo!), but it does happen to be a brilliantly crafted piece, full of irony and surprises. The surprises begin immediately after the title, which suggests a land of frosty cold, but soon is revealed to refer to a world of searing heat, where the sun is so huge and bright it still lights the sky at midnight. They continue to the end, which is one of the best "twist" endings (Rod called them his "snappers") in the series. The closing narration is also mercifully free of any preachy or patronizing moral:
The poles of fear, the extremes of how the Earth might conceivably be doomed. Minor exercise in the care and feeding of a nightmare, respectfully submitted by all the thermometer-watchers in the Twilight Zone.
The tale is full of meaning, but the meaning is for you to find. Kind of like life.

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