“A Street in Dallas”: JFK and the Twilight Zone

November 22,1963 was just an ordinary Friday. For a while, anyway.

20 (2)

The Twilight Zone aired on Fridays during four of its five seasons. And on November 22, 1963, Richard Matheson’s “Night Call” was set to air. But when an assassin’s bullet cut down President John F. Kennedy earlier that day, every network immediately shifted to continuous coverage of the tragic news.

Every American alive then can tell you where he or she was when that news first hit. They wept. They prayed. And in the case of Rod Serling, they wrote.

Out of that day was born one of the most powerful episodes of the entire series, “I Am The Night — Color Me Black.” No, the story had nothing to do directly with the details of the assassination. A searing meditation on hate and revenge — and their poisonous effects on everybody — it concerns a man about to be hanged in a small-town for murder. His victim: a local bigot.

13

But this is The Twilight Zone, so don’t expect the ordinary. The condemned man is no saint. Indeed, he’s as consumed with hatred as everyone else in the town … which is covered in darkness. Even though it’s 9:00 a.m.

And that’s Serling’s point. Not to point a finger at one side or the other, but to point it at all of us. It’s the climate of hatred that’s creating this blackness surrounding us. And as the reverend tells the crowd, “it’s coming up all around us and choking us.”

That’s Serling’s point: Stop, people. Just STOP. Before your hatred consumes YOU.

19

As the episode ends, the darkness becomes blacker still. A radio announcer notes that similar instances of seemingly inexplicable blackness are being reported worldwide, and adds: “At 2:00 this afternoon a dark cloud appeared over a street in Dallas, Texas.”

Not just any street. Elm Street. Right in front of the Texas School Book Depository.

Will our world get darker or lighter? As Serling so powerfully reminds us in this episode, it’s up to us.

18 (2)

Don’t miss: “More Than a Man Has Died”: Serling on Kennedy’s Death

***

Photos courtesy of Wendy Brydge. For a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Pinterest. You can also get email notifications of future posts by entering your address under “Follow S&S Via Email” on the upper left-hand side of this post. WordPress followers, just hit “follow” at the top of the page.

Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

Advertisements

About Paul

Hard-working, hard-playing fan of all pop culture, especially the Twilight Zone. Which led to a Twitter page. And then to a blog. And then to ... stay tuned. Yes, that's a picture of Rod Serling, not me. You can find the real me under the "Your Host" tab on my blog, along with biographical details that, while 100 percent accurate, sound kind of boastful and braggy. Sorry.

Posted on 11/22/2013, in Rod Serling, Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Thanks for this, Paul. How sad that, 50 years later, the darkness is still as dark as it is.

  2. Victor De Leon

    brilliant post and review. very profound episode, isn’t it? nice job!

    • Thanks, Vic! I plan to drill down on it a bit further in the future, but I wanted to note the tie-in with the assassination today. A very profound episode, yes. It never fails to move me and make me want to be a better person.

  3. Thanks for posting this. You got me. I was not aware of this one. I wonder if the message just hit too close to home in this episode for it to ever have a chance at becoming one of the episodes on everyone’s short list of favorites.

    What do you think of Matheson’s Duel? I posted an essay recently on that one.

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Henry! I’m a big fan of “Duel,” as I noted in my comment on your blog post.

      As for this episode, yes, it usually isn’t found on most fans’ short lists, but many people do respond to it positively, I’ve found. However, it IS a heavy topic, so I’m not surprised it’s not a top-tier episode for many viewers. Sometimes the truth isn’t pretty, but Serling was never one to flinch from telling it anyway.

  4. MUCH to be learned from this episode. One of the most brilliant and poignant of all Serling’s scripts. For me, it ranks right up there with “The Gift”, which as you know, is a favourite of mine. I wasn’t overly familiar with “I Am The Night” and I re-watched it when you told me you were writing this post. Very powerful indeed. And how that darkness spreads… I hope people pay attention when they watch this.

    • Even here, late in TZ’s final season, when Serling was supposedly running on creative fumes, he could still write episodes as powerful as “The Masks” and this gem. It’s still gripping even now. Such a raw and moving plea.

      I hope people are paying attention too, GF. On the bright side, I can tell you that they respond very positively every time I quote this episode.

      Fighting the hate isn’t easy. All we can do is try.

  5. I’m glad you have commented on this episode. Everyone should watch this one as it is as relevant today as it was then.

  6. Thank you for this! And thanks for keeping Rod Serling alive and relevant!

  1. Pingback: The Case of the Missing Twilight Zone Season | Shadow & Substance

  2. Pingback: Is Black Mirror Truly a Modern Twilight Zone? | Shadow & Substance

  3. Pingback: “More Than A Man Has Died” | Shadow & Substance

  4. Pingback: Finding Faith in the Fifth Dimension | Shadow & Substance

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: