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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

The Twilight Zone and the Confederacy

The Twilight Zone with Rod Serling (image from television.mxdwn.com)

In times of confusion, trouble, and uncertainty, who better to turn to for guidance than Rod Serling? The upstate-New Yorker created The Twilight Zone which in ways he never anticipated continues to be available to us today to help show us the way. As it turns out he devoted several episodes that shed light on the current trauma. I am not referring to Twilight Zone episodes that are specifically about the confederacy, but to various episodes worth a second consideration in light of recent and ongoing events.

See if you can detect a pattern in these episodes and that theme relates to the appeal of the Lost Cause to Confederates (with help from IMDb).

Walking Distance (October 30, 1959, Season 1, Episode 5)

The busy and stressed VP of an ad agency, Martin Sloan, stops his car at a gas station. While waiting for his car to be repaired, he realizes he is 1.5 miles away from Homewood the hometown he left 25 years ago and decides to walk there. Soon he finds that he has returned to the past; where he finds his 11 year old self and his parents. There is a merry-go-round and park. Eventually after receiving sound advice from his father he returns to the present.

A World of Difference (March 11, 1960, Season 1, Episode 23)

Businessman Arthur Curtis is sitting his office chatting with secretary about plans for his daughter’s birthday party and that he and his wife will be flying off for a couple of days of rest and relaxation. Suddenly he hears someone yell “cut” and he realizes he is on a movie sound stage. He can’t understand what has happened to him. Everyone refers to him as Gerry Reagan, but he insists that he is Arthur Curtis. He runs off but can’t find any of the familiar landmarks he knows such as his house or his place of work. He is desperate to return to the world of Arthur Curtis but that window of opportunity may be closing on him. In the end he succeeds since after all, this is the Twilight Zone.

A Stop at Willoughby (May 6, 1960, Season 1 Episode 30: 30 EPISODES IN A SEASON!!!)

Ad agency executive Garth Williams has had a particularly rough day. He falls asleep on the train home and wakes up in another place and another time. It’s July 1888 and he’s in the village of Willoughby, a peaceful town where life is easy. Tired of his miserable job and wife, he starts dreaming on the train each night, about this old, idyllic town. There is a gazebo in the center of town and the local Opie is going fishing. He comes back to his own time but as the pressures of work and life continue to mount, he decides Willoughby is exactly where he would like to spend the rest of days. As it turns out he is on a fast track to Willoughby Twilight-Zone style although perhaps in some way he does find eternal peace.

Static (March 10, 1961, Season 2, Episode 20)

Ed Lindsay has been living in the same boarding house for over 20 years and he has become an embittered old man. He doesn’t like how the world has changed around him and his crotchety behavior has made him certainly the most disliked man there. He dislikes the worthless tripe on television. When he turns on his old radio however, he gets music from the 1930s and 1940’s on a station that, it turns out, has been off the air for 15 years. I confess that I don’t remember this episode about another trip into a more peaceful and wonderful life past.

Once Upon a Time (December 15, 1961, Season 3, Episode 13)

In 1890, janitor Woodrow Mulligan uses his employers’ invention to transport himself to the future. He imagines an Eden but finds a polluted, busy world that he doesn’t find at all attractive. He meets Rollo who is also disgusted with the world he lives imagining life in the 1890s as idyllic. When Woodrow goes back to his own time Rollo goes with him but he is soon bored without any of the conveniences of modern life.

Of Late I Think of Cliffordville (April 11, 1963, Season 4, Episode 14)

William Feathersmith is a hard-nosed – and hard-hearted – businessman who is now quite wealthy but bored. It’s clear that what he enjoys is the chase and the acquisition of wealth. He also likes breaking men in the process. While leaving the office one day, he finds himself on the wrong floor and in the office of Devlin Travel, run by the devilishly attractive Ms. Devlin (Julie Newmar). In return for his amassed fortune, she offers to send him back in time to his hometown of Cliffordville in 1910 where he can start over and get the pleasure of building his empire all over again. He accepts and once back to the days of his youth begins wheeling and dealing. Nothing quite goes as planned however since this is The Twilight Zone.

The Incredible World of Horace Ford (April 18, 1963, Season 4, Episode 15)

Horace Ford is a toy designer. He is enthusiastic about what he does and has fond memories of the games he played as a child. Lately, he is forever talking about his childhood, obsessing in fact, over those little childhood moments that brought him great joy. His mother however doesn’t quite remember their time living on Randolph St. as such a great time in their lives. He goes to visit his old neighborhood but when he gets there, he seems to have stepped back in time. He returns to the street several times and the scene repeats itself over and over. He realizes his childhood wasn’t the wonderful time he remembered. So why did he remember it as the way he wanted it to be rather than as the way it was?

The Bewitchin’ Pool (June 19, 1964, Season 5, Episode 36, 36 EPISODES IN A SEASON!!!)

Told by their bickering parents that they are getting a divorce, Sport and Jeb Sharewood now have to decide with whom they are going to live. They decide they would rather live with Aunt T, the woman they’ve met by traveling through a portal at the bottom of their swimming pool. At the other end is an idyllic world where children play and there are few adults. Aunt T is a kindly old woman but Sport is far more reluctant than Jeb to accept her invitation to stay with them. It’s not Dorothy’s tornado and the children never click their heels.

The search for an idyllic world is not limited to the Twilight Zone. Worlds of wonder can be found on Fantasy Islands, Westworlds, or even Jurassic Parks but often the results are unexpected. The search for Shangri-La continues. Consider these other examples of escapism.

Brigadoon

Americans Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas, on a hunting vacation in Scotland, discover a quaint and beautiful village, Brigadoon. Strangely, the village is not on any map, and soon Tommy and Jeff find out why: Brigadoon is an enchanted place. It appears once every hundred years for one day, then disappears back into the mists of time, to wake up to its next day a century hence. When Tommy falls in love with Fiona, a girl of the village, he realizes that she can never be part of his life back in America. Can he be part of hers in Brigadoon? The bar scenes in Manhattan are jarring even ugly, a far contrast to the lovely idyllic pastoral world before industrialization. True it is a white world but that doesn’t mean Gene Kelly and Van Johnson are racist.

Doc Hollywood

Benjamin Stone is a young doctor driving to L.A where he was offered a new job as a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills. He gets off the highway to avoid a traffic jam, but gets lost and ends up crashing into a fence in the small town of Grady. He is sentenced to 32 hours of community service at the local hospital. All he wants is to serve the sentence and get moving, but gradually the locals become attached to the new doctor, and he falls for the pretty ambulance driver. Will he leave? Surprise. Surprise. Hollywood makes a movie about someone leaving the cosmetic artificiality of La La Land (not the idyllic land of dance and song) for the downhome simplicity of Mayberry where people are real and life has a gentle easy routine.

Sweet Home Alabama

A young woman leaves Alabama for Manhattan where she reinvents herself. She is about to marry a future President of the United States. [A president from New York City? Is such a thing even possible?] She returns back home to officially divorce herself from the south. As in The Twilight Zone trips to the past, the return journey doesn’t work out as she has planned. The truth is revealed on the battlefield where her father is participating as a Confederate re-enactor looking impressive in a uniform on a horse as if he has the right stuff. In the end, she realizes that what she had before in the south was far more perfect than the life she had in New York City and she remains in sweet home Alabama…and her husband goes on to coach Texas Western to the NCAA basketball championship with an all-black starting five against all white Kentucky in 1966 (oh wait, that’s another movie he is in).

Some people deal with the travails of the present through science fiction, others turn to the past. The more removed one is from the past, the greater the gap between the past as it actually was and the past as we want to remember it. Remember Camelot? Remember that 1960s paean to the world of King Arthur where homosexuals could marry, women could vote, and transgendered people sat at the Round Table? Camelots reflect the times in which they were created.

So too with the Confederacy and the Lost Cause. Once there was a time when the people involved were older versions of people who actually had lived through it. At the time of Birth of Nation, there were still people who had direct memories of the Confederate past, but more and more it was becoming a legacy of children and grandchildren. When Gone with the Wind succeeded as a blockbuster book and movie, people were biologically even more removed from the Confederacy. Now there is scarcely anyone left who had young grandparents from that time.

While the Lost Cause was born in the heartfelt hope of restoring a vanquished world based on slavery, I strongly doubt that is true today. Who wants to give up air-conditioning? I differentiate here between the white racists and history re-enactors, between the people dedicated to hate and the people who enjoy pageantry and taking pride in their ancestors even if you don’t. In each of The Twilight Zone episodes and the movies above, people had reasons for wanting to escape their present. We need to do a better job of understating why people prefer the Lost Cause to the American Dream and whether or not they now as Lee eventually did identify with their country first and state second. Do people who support the Lost Cause believe that if Lincoln hadn’t been elected slavery in the South would still exist today? If not, then how do you think it would have ended? In the real world.

4 thoughts on “The Twilight Zone and the Confederacy

  1. We need to erect Civil War monuments that capture Matthew Brady’s battlefield photographs or the Lee’s soldiers shuffling barefoot to Appomattox with barely a handful of parch corn a day for the past month. The reason those monuments weren’t built when the Confederate veterans were still alive, was because they knew all too well what copious amounts of blood and gore smelled like.

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