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Thursday, November 13, 2014

How a war-weary vet created 'The Twilight Zone'

Few television shows remain as timeless and influential as The Twilight Zone. In a recent post at The Daily Beast, Rich Goldstein reflects on the contribution Rod Serling made to American science fiction:
A strange mix of dramatic styles, one part satiric morality play, one part science-fiction ghost story, The Twilight Zone challenged the sensibilities of both hardened skeptics and true believers. It was never a huge hit, but its stories resonated with an American public tenuously relearning moral ambiguity.

Creator Rod Serling was compelled by the need "not to just entertain but to enlighten." He wrote 93 of the series' 156 episodes over the course of its five-season run, which began on CBS in 1959. Most modern shows take an average of 7 seasons to produce as many episodes.

Serling, a veteran of World War II, used the show, and his writing, to deal with the untreated psychological trauma he suffered during his enlistment in the U.S. military. Rather than the glamorized affair the war was to become in subsequent retellings, Serling was intimately acquainted with the horrors of America’s attempt to reclaim its Pacific colonies. Almost half of the author's comrades were killed fighting in the Philippines. Serling's best friend, a Pvt. Melvin Levy of Brooklyn, was decapitated in front of the future screenwriter by a "biscuit bomb," a food crate intended to nourish the life of the man it killed.

Serling closed out the war living in the horror of occupied Japan where the American treatment of women, children, and the elderly contributed to the nightmares that plagued the author for the rest of his life. The towns that were not obliterated by the atomic bombs, or burned by American’s firebombing raids, were deeply scarred by famine. The U.S. naval blockade around Japan in the waning days of World War 2 was actually called Operation Starvation.

Several Twilight Zone scripts would return to the subject of survivor's guilt ("King Nine Will Not Return," "The Thirty-Fathom Grave") or long simmering military resentment ("The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms," "The Encounter").
An interesting read for fans of the show.

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