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Fifth-Dimensional Finishes

The Twilight Zone is famous for its twist endings. But for me, the real cherry on top of our inter-dimensional sundaes is Rod Serling’s closing narrations.

Surprisingly, some critics deride them as unnecessary. How dense are we, right? Can’t we figure out the lesson without having it spelled out by an omniscient referee? Perhaps, but that’s not the point.

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The conclusions aren’t there because we’re slow. They serve an important purpose. Sometimes they tie up loose ends, sometimes they lay on a little irony, and sometimes they make a wry comment on the proceedings.

In short, they’re there to make the stories more enjoyable. Hearing Serling introduce and wrap up each episode, with his trademark voice and poetic language, is the perfect framing device. I’m convinced the show wouldn’t be as beloved without them. Read the rest of this entry

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A “Conservative Liberal”

Polarization in politics — is it the norm these days? It certainly appears to be.

I say “appears to be” because I think this phenomenon is mainly one of perception. Most Americans are somewhere in the middle, but the loudest voices from both ends of the spectrum get the most press. Conflict = eyeballs, so the media have every reason to play up the extremes.

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But if, in fact, Americans are becoming less moderate, it’s worth recalling something that Rod Serling said in the November 28, 1961 issue of Show Business Illustrated:

There’s a propensity in our country to polarize things in black-and-white concepts. A man is either this or he is that.

He’s either a Communist or he’s on our side, and I think the reverse is true amongst liberals. If a man happens to be militantly and vehemently anti-Communist, this guy is suspect among the liberals. Read the rest of this entry

What Makes Serling Unique?

There’s a pithy piece of writing advice that goes: “Show me, don’t tell me.” Don’t simply say that something is wonderful or horrible, interesting or boring — give examples. Make your case.

So let’s apply that to Rod Serling. Why is he still so famous more than 35 years after his death? Because he was (cue the adjectives) so imaginative and creative. But so are other writers. What makes Serling unique? Let me show you, using one of his most famous Twilight Zone episodes, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.”

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This is, of course, the legendary story about a nice, suburban American neighborhood hit by a mysterious power outage shortly after seeing what they assume is a meteor pass overhead. It isn’t long before the residents get suspicious and start turning on one another. Soon they’re convinced that an alien invasion is underway. No one can be trusted, they think. Chaos and death ensues.

At the end, we learn that aliens are, in fact, invading. Yet — and here’s where Serling’s uniqueness comes in — they’re not the titular monsters. The neighbors are. It’s you and me.

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Think about the set-up — power outage, weird sights and sounds — and then put yourself about five minutes into the story. It could go anywhere at this point. And in the hands of a different writer, it may very well have. For example: Read the rest of this entry