Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Let's Call Bill -- He's a Physicist!

Sci Fi channel was running a "Twilight Zone" marathon.  I recorded probably 20 hours of it, and am slowly working my way through it three or four episodes at a time.

I was somewhat particular about the episodes I recorded.  I skipped the ones I still know by heart (like the one with Burgess Meredith and the eyeglasses) and the ones that still ook me out (Telly Savalas and the damn "Talky Tina" doll).  I was extra happy to record the ones that I recalled liking when I was a kid (like that one where the woman goes to the 9th floor of a department store that doesn't have a 9th floor) but couldn't remember the twist (... and about ten minutes into watching it, I said out loud, "She's a mannequin!") 

And I watched "Little Girl Lost," 'cause that one was always my mom's favorite.  That's the one where the mom and dad wake up to the sounds of their little girl crying, but she's completely disappeared from her bedroom.  Being unable to find her, the dad goes and makes a call, and comes back and explains to the missus, "I called Bill.  He's a physicist, maybe he'll know."  He even adds, by way of apology for how ridiculous that sounds, "It was the only thing I could think of."

Wow.  A very innocent time (1959-1964) -- your kid goes creepy missing and rather than going for the police, you call the neighborhood physicist.  Come to think of it -- how very handy that they even had a neighborhood physicist.  (OK, I probably have a neighborhood physicist, but I live right near Caltech.)

But it was a very innocent time.  A time when our vision of space travel was three guys in a rocket.  Able to land on Mars.  And meet the fine people of Mars.  And breathe the air there.  Actually, there's a lot of space travel in "Twilight Zone" episodes and, so far, I have yet to see one of their astronauts wear a helmet.  But, hey, we were just taking baby steps in the Space Race, so it's certainly understandable that audiences would accept this sort of stuff as reasonable fictional representations.

What also gets me about these episodes -- especially when you watch them one on top of the other -- is how strongly the moral of the stories comes through.  There was a huge fear, for instance, that we'd destroy the planet through nuclear war (thank you, Cold War).  Episode after episode involves escaping the planet after we've destroyed it.  (Literally, episode after episode.  I guess you didn't notice how much they repeated plots when you were watching one per week over a period of five years.)  But, yes, huge fear we'd destroy the place.  Also huge distrust of humanity.  Episode after episode in which the aliens are the good guys and our fear or distrust ends up screwing us over.  Or even where the aliens aren't so good -- but the episode is constructed to point out a flaw in us (anyone else remember what happens to Roddy McDowall when he lands on Mars and the Martians build him that really nice house?)  And there was also an almost paradoxical distrust of technology.  While some of the episodes embrace the computer (a computer in a "Twilight Zone" episode is the size of a couple IKEA bookshelves and has lots of blinky lights) -- others fear that our acceptance of technology will drive humans out of business.

All things considered, the show had a pretty pessimistic view of the future -- with the "future" being, oh, 1985.  With the perspective of history, I can't say we've done that badly.  Planet still here (last I checked); humans haven't yet screwed up relations with alien species (nor been "To Serve Man"ned up on a platter); and we seem to have integrated computers into our lives without letting them take over.

.... well, excepting that it's 2:23 in the morning and I'm still on mine.


annalisa135 said...

yeah, what happened to that 11 p.m. curfew (no computer!) you self imposed a few entries ago?  forgot it already, I see!!!!  :-)

annalisa135 said...

and I quote, "There shall be no turning on of the computer (and subsequent use of the internet) after 11:00 p.m."

um hmmm!!!

reneem19542000 said...

I used to love watching the twilight zone when I was a kid.  Didnt care for the newer ones.  I still love your writing .  I just finshed reading a few posts.  I had you on alert and it quit coming and this morning You were there.  I have a new user name now but the old one was either something like Reneem1954 or Nene 1954.  I have lots of catching up to do.  You are good!   Renee