Rod Serling and Free Speech: Why “Defeating by Ignoring” Doesn’t Work

One day in 1966, Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” entered the offices of the American Nazi Party and spoke at length with the man in charge, George Lincoln Rockwell.

No, really. That may sound like fiction, but it actually happened. Haley was there to interview Rockwell for Playboy magazine, which subsequently published the entire discussion.

You might think that Serling, a man so vehemently outspoken in his opposition to Nazism that he heaped scorn on “Hogan’s Heroes,” would be outraged that Haley and Playboy would give someone like Rockwell a public platform. If so, you’d be wrong.

Indeed, he wrote a remarkable letter of support to the magazine — a letter that I believe deserves a careful reading in this hyper-political, ultra-sensitive age of ours:

April 15, 1966

Editor
Playboy Magazine
232 East Ohio
Chicago, Illinois 60611

I anticipate that you people shall probably be roundly roasted for the recent Rockwell interview. There is a breed of layman social scientist who will forever cling to a concept of “defeating by ignoring”. Hence, when out of the muck of their own neurosis rises these self-proclaimed fuehrers, there is this well-meaning body who tell us that if we turn both eyes and cheeks, the nutsies will disappear simply by lack of exposure.

My guess is that in this case exposure is tantamount to education, and education, here, is a most salutary instruction into the mentalities, the motives and the modus operandi of an animal pack who are discounted by the one aged maxim that “it can’t happen here.” So might have said the Goethes and the Einsteins of a pre-war Germany who thought then, as we do now, that civilization by itself protects against a public acceptance of the uncivilized. Eleven years of national genocide and ten million lives later, we have learned to realize that even the most sophisticated society can still fall prey to an invasion of monsters. It is not public exposure that helps these perverters of human dignity. Rather, it is apathy. Laughter and derision might momentarily embarrass them but in the long run prove no deterrents whatsoever. What is desperately needed to combat any “ism” is precisely what PLAYBOY has done — an interview in depth that shows us the facets of the enemy. Yes, gentlemen, you may be knocked for supposedly lending some kind of credence to a brand of lunacy. But my guess is you should be given a commendation for a public service of infinite value.

Sincerely,

Rod Serling
Pacific Palisades, California

I couldn’t agree more. We either have free speech in this country, warts and all, or we don’t. Serling knew what today’s censors apparently don’t: we must expose odious philosophies and creeds, not silence them. Silence leads to ignorance and apathy, and that is what helps the “perverters of human dignity.”

Do we not have faith in our own positions? If so, we shouldn’t fear a discussion. We need light, not darkness, if we’re to learn the “facets of the enemy.” Serling knows we can’t combat the “lunacy” if we turn a deaf ear to it. We must speak and listen, not shout down and ignore.

***

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About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 08/03/2017, in Rod Serling and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. Donna Brown

    Spot on, Paul!

  2. I agree — I may NOT (and don’t as a rule) agree with the late US President Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, but something he said at a commencement address at Dartmouth College in 1954 has ALWAYS stayed with me: “Don’t join the book burners or book banners!”

  3. How can you combat what you don’t know? How can you argue against what you do not understand?

    • Exactly. That’s why I really wanted to spotlight this now — too many people don’t seem to understand that. Listening is hard, but we need to do it.

  4. Excellent post, Paul. You are absolutely right. We shouldn’t be afraid of the discussion. If you’re confident in your beliefs, you can stand up to questions and answers you don’t agree with. If your beliefs are made up, to hide your hatred or fear, then we should see that, too.

    • Thanks, Dan. I’ve really been disturbed by the growing trend toward suppression of views we disagree with, so when I came across this letter by Serling, I felt I had to highlight it. We shouldn’t force hatred underground. We need to expose it to the light of day — and to the ridicule it deserves.

      • You’re absolutely right, Paul. More than a few episodes highlighted that notion. Ironically, the DVD I popped in Saturday night began with “Deaths head revisited”

  5. Paul, you were wonderful to bring this volatile subject up!
    I have hundreds of co-workers who support unthinkingly their party and generally a white suprenacy. Ten of us are rather vocal in our own way against use of Confederate flag and many other segregatory actions.
    My parents were fully behind open communication. We had a democracy among our family, in our “meetings.” Dad said one time it “hurt his heart” when people were hateful to anyone who was in the midst of struggle, youth, military, and since he grew up poor, the impoverished. My Mom was much more lucky to have had a Dad who was of an immigrant family and went to the New York technical college. They had food on their table during the Depression.
    The notion that migrants and immigrants are lazy or any other negative connotation is so wrong.
    They are usually creative and hard working!
    When she became a teacher, she and Dad would quietly (no name on cashier checks) pick HS students (she never taught where we lived, so we may not have run into them but she would invite different students to dinner. . .) to give part of our tithes to. The church money set aside would be knowing “who” we agreed should need it. We were one of three families at an African American wedding.
    The twin daughters wrapped arms around my Mom because they thought she bought them each silverware for their gifts.
    Funny, looking at the few pictures taken, Mom in her yellow dress, hat and gloves but all of us warmly welcomed. Two of this family were given our tithes and all of us kids chose to give up our Christmas money, too. Not for the potluck simple dinner at the wedding but for college tuition. Living this life we had, we could not fathom when we went to Florida, the McD’s didn’t serve blacks at their drive thru or walk up window outside.
    Hate needs to be brought into the light. Two of my grandparents were immigrants (met on street corner in NYC, German and Sweden) so we don’t believe in treating ANY one person or group in a negative fashion. This note includes my personal stuff to face the rhetoric against banning across the board, immigration. If you would like to shorten it, it was not intended to “brag” but give perspective on the subject. Smiles, Robin

    • No plans to shorten it, Robin — only too glad to have your reminisces here! Especially ones that underscore this, yes, volatile topic. It’s a tough one, and I get why some people have a problem with it, but free speech cuts both ways. Far better, I think, to get it all out in the open — the ugly and the not-so-ugly — than silence the “wrong” POVs. I wound up having an argument or two over this one (not here, but elsewhere), so I appreciate the support! Thanks for sharing your very pertinent recollections with us.

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