As the new Twilight Zone series captures the attention of both old and new audiences, viewers can thank the tenacity and creative integrity of show creator and host Rod Serling for the thriller-horror series that inspired so much of modern, American pop culture.
Because of Serling’s commitment to telling stories that touched on sensitive and controversial social issues – censorship almost ended the Twilight Zone completely.
Written and pitched to various networks before landing at CBS, the socially conscious nature of the Twilight Zone made many producers fear that middle-class Americans during the Era of Good Feelings would tune out of the series because of the hinted themes of race relations, xenophobia, McCarthyism, and nuclear holocaust.
Through the mechanism of storytelling, Serling was able to convey messages to the audience during the show’s original five-year run starting in 1959 that no other show on television had ever done. However the fact that the Twilight Zone, which was far from a rating machine, has been able to remain alive with a loyal fanbase shows the series’ lasting messages still resonate with generations of new viewers, who might not be aware of the social and political context of the episodes unless they watch them with the intent of doing so.
While Serling was not a libertarian, his ethos of peace, tolerance, and individual liberty made some episodes stand out from others. Critically acclaimed storylines such as “The Obsolete Man” deal explicitly with a statist government which dictates the opportunities and outcomes of its people, going as far as to intentionally execute individuals deemed “obsolete” if the state no longer sees that as having a purpose.
During Serling’s time as well as the Twilight Zone writers, most of which had lived and fought through WWII, Nazism was still a fresh memory as well as the looming crisis of fascism and communism. Episodes like this remind viewers that a brief look at the manmade atrocities committed by governments against civilian populations in the Twentieth century alone show that the concepts discussed and fleshed out in the Twilight Zone series such as “The Obsolete Man” truly stand on the line of fiction mirroring reality.
As a new Twilight Zone series begins, viewers can only hope it follows in the socially conscious footsteps of its predecessor while emphasizing peace, tolerance, and individual liberty.