Tuesday, August 24, 2010

We Have Just Entered The Twilight Zone...

"I happen to think that the singular evil of our time is prejudice. It is from this evil that all other evils grow and multiply."  -- Rod Serling

This is important to me. Up until now I have tried to keep the focus of this blog on film and filmmaking with an emphasis on story construction. And this post will not stray too far from that, but you will get a view of my politics that I have mostly left out of this blog. I may alienate some people, but I am willing to take that chance.

I believe deep in my heart that stories exist to teach us. I go into this in great detail in my second book The Golden Theme, which will be out before the month is out, if all goes smoothly.

I believe that our stories contain the collective wisdom of everyone who has ever lived.

Why do I bring this up? Because I think there is a story that we need to pay attention to right now. Like all good stories, it is timeless and so appears to be timely.

You don’t have to read many of my posts to know what a hero Rod Serling is to me. In 1955 there was a very famous lynching of a black teenager named Emmett Till. This lynching shocked the nation and Rod Serling wanted to write a television play about it.

The sponsors were so worried about the Southern response to the story that they edited Serling's script beyond recognition.

Serling wanted to tell stories that mattered. He decided to make his points in an indirect fashion and created his classic television show The Twilight Zone.

Now, if you are a regular reader of this blog you know all of this. I bring it up because of something that happened this weekend at an anti-Muslim rally in New York. This was a rally about the Islamic community center planned two blocks from Ground Zero, which has been erroneously dubbed “The Ground Zero Mosque.”

At this rally a man was harassed and accused of being a Muslim by an angry, hateful crowd.

This reminded me so much of one of the most insightful Twilight Zone episodes: “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.”

I suggest that you please watch it and see if you can tell how little we have changed since Mr. Serling wrote this mini-masterpiece fifty years ago. See if you notice how little we have learned to see the humanity in our neighbor – and how quickly we turn to anger, hatred and suspicion.

It’s high time we grew up.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Walt Kelly in his Pogo comic strip

Patterns : the complete scripts of four famous television plays : Patterns, the Rack, Old Macdonald, Requiem for a Heavyweight


LJCohen said...

Thank you for posting this. It is a story that needs to be told, and told again. It saddens me that we, as a culture/race/planet seem to learn so slowly. Or maybe it's not at all.

But then again, one of my son's best friends is a Muslim. My son is Jewish. Maybe what's most remarkable is that while my son is a Red Sox fan, his friend roots for the Yankees. Given that rivalry, I'd be temped to say the sports differences are more relevant to their lives than the religious ones. And it gives me hope. At least a little hope.

Brian McD said...

Glad you liked the post. Thanks for letting me know.

Will J said...

Hi Brian,

It really seems that this situation will only repeat itself endlessly throughout time. Thanks for writing about this. It's as much about stories as it is about worldly problems.

On a note more related to your previous post, I owe you a BIG thank you. Your book has motivated me to tell great stories and has helped me focus my writing. I've been reading and re-reading your blog posts too and look forward to your new book!


JKG said...

Great post and crucial topic to be reminded, in these hard times and in such a bland Industry it's so refreshing to read blogs with some progressive stance.
Thanks for this and keep up the great work.

Jamie Baker said...

great Post, Brian. Yes, this whole ballyhoo in NYC is worrying isn't it. I heard someone point out that proposal to build a Mosque (with private money on private land) so close to ground Zero outrages some people (as if GROUND ZERO is hallowed ground) yet those same people seem unmoved by the fact that sleaze-ball strip joints are being built there too.

Not sure what to make of it all or what the answer is. For as long as there has been hateful human behaviour there have been people speaking against it, both directly and in the form of stories, and yet the message only seems to get through to those who are open to it, which may mean that those particular people have already learned that lesson prior to hearing the story.

Does art change things in the real world? For some people yes but not for everyone...

keep up the great posts Brian, and never fear about speaking your mind about the issues that concern you, beyond the CRAFT of storytelling itself. After all, as you say, THAT is why the craft is worth learning in the first place

Quentin Lebegue said...

I just can't wait for The Golden Theme. I'm sure it will be as awesome as Invisible Ink. Great post by the way !

Brian McD said...

Hey Jamie,

Thanks for your comments.

As for your question I do think art changes people. It doesn’t change everyone all at once, but if a piece of art hits someone at the right time in his/her life it can be profound.

Sometimes art only needs to change one person. I made a film 12 years ago that I know has helped people see things differently.

Frank Capra got letters all his life about It’s a Wonderful Life and how it helped people.

Frank Darabont says that he gets letters all the time about how The Shawshank Redemption has helped them through hard times.

Art is a way of teaching without preaching and when it’s done well it inspires people for generations.

Brian McD said...

Thanks, Quentin!

Jett said...

Hey Brian,

I appreciate your comments and your point of view. I don't think I necessarily agree with you on this one and it has nothing to do with race and everything to do with decency and taste.

It is not unlike when Pope John Paul asked the nuns who had set up a convent near Auschwitz to relocate. They had every right to be there but their presence was could have been deemed, and was, by many Jewish survivors and family members.
The rhetoric is going to get quite heated on both sides. I could just as easily post up a recent video with an altercation about the Ground Zero mosque where a young Muslim harassed a Jewish holocaust survivor taunting him saying that he obviously hadn't learned his lesson from World War II.

On a slightly different note, like you I am a big Roger Serling fan. I came across an interview he gave a few months before his death.

It's a great interview and I'm sure you've probably already seen it but he said some things that struck me and I wondered your take on them as a minority screenwriter.

He mentions how discouraged he was with the subject of race on television.

“Most television fiction that I watch has very little relevance. I think it’s one thing to say that we will now have a program called Mod Squad, say, and we will have one black man and one oriental and one Hawaiian to show this marvelous melting-pot concept. But I think, Jim, that’s altogether phony. I don’t think that’s… I think at best condescension and at worst exploitation. The fact is that we have so distorted the pure ethnic minority over the years by making every black man a banjo player, and a village idiot, and a coward, that suddenly we are going to reverse switch, he is now a brain scientist or an atomic scientist or any one of an equal distortion at the other end. Needless to say I’d much prefer the distortion on the good side of the scale… but all television fiction I find quite irrelevant and quite unrelated.”

Since we're talking about race and racism a bit on your blog, I wondered if you felt things were any better or worse than when Serling gave this interview in 1970 and if being aware of the pendulum swinging to the "ludicrous distortion" has affected how you write characters and how you watch the movies or tv?

Thanks much!

Brian McD said...

Hello Jett,

I had to reread my post because from your comment I thought I had focused more on racism than I did. My focus was on prejudice and paranoia. Period. I never even said the word racism. I mentioned Emmitt Till because it came easily to mind and is a very famous case. But Serlimg’s quote does not mention race and neither does the episode. He only talks about prejudice and that was the point of the post. People pick all kinds of reasons not to like each other. My point was not limited to racism. The word is not even mentioned in the post.

It’s just that in this country blaming brown people has a long history. Sometimes we mix it up and hate the Irish or Italians. But mostly it's been brown folks.

Having said that I do not want this blog to become a discussion about race and racism. America does a terrible job of talking about race because it mostly denies its existence.

Suffice it to say, that I have been black for 45 years and I know exactly what racism looks like. I know what it sounds like. I am not guessing or speculating when I see it. And there was a reason that crowd picked on the black man.

This country has a long history of scapegoating brown people. And have often been very violent about it.

If you had to be on the business end of that kind of hatred, as I have often been you might see the world a lot differently:


What people of color have to say about their everyday experience is always debated by those who do not have the experience themselves. It’s like having some who has never been to your house argue with you about its layout.

I used to think that racism was a thing of the past, but the world taught me something else.

As for Serling’s interview comment I’d have to agree with him.

But this country is way to divided on race for me to talk any more about on this blog. Maybe I’ll start another blog.

Jett said...

Hi Brian,

I guess I view the concepts of bigotry and racism to be while not exactly interchangeable at least similar enough to dovetail the conversation on fear and bigotry to flush up with the conversation on race and racism.

I meant no ill intent or disrespect on your blog. I hope you didn't feel I was hijacking your site with my comment/question.

I greatly value your insights as we do live in such interesting times.

Thank you for your thoughts and candor and for your blog. It's one of my favorite reads.

Thank you again.


Thanks much.


Brian McD said...

Hey Jett,

I agree that these hatreds are interchangeable. So, really we agree.

Thanks so much for wanting to clear things up.

And thanks for following the blog. I'm glad you get something from it.

-- Brian

Dave Olden said...

Unfortunantely, the YouTube link to "The Monsters Are Due" produces this message:

" 'The Monsters Are Due'-This video is no longer available because the YouTube account associated with this video has been terminated due to multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringement from claimants including: [CBS]"

Dave Olden said...

Although, I did find another posting of it, prefaced by an intelligent (australian-accented?) host.

Not sure how long it will be up, but here's the link to part 1 of 3:


(September 17, 2011 (PDT))