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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

MAD DOG BANISHED TO THE CORNFIELDS: TWILIGHT ZONE EPISODE BECOMES REAL

Still Waiting! (For Better or Worse, December 15, 2018)

Rod Serling (and Gene Rodenberry) had an extraordinary ability to foretell our present situation. So many episodes seem to be about today it. In this blog, we turn to:

It’s a Good Life 

Written by Rod Serling
Directed by James Sheldon
Originally broadcast Nov. 3, 1961

The comments and descriptions on the websites about the episode tell the tale we are now living. They come from imdb.com and Wikipedia mixed with some comments of my own.

On an isolated family farm, a young boy with vast mental powers, but lacking emotional development, holds his terrified family in thrall to his every juvenile wish.

This is a portrayal of a nightmare. It’s one of those things where you hope you’ll wake up. It’s about an entire community that has been taken over by a child brat who is totally self-centered and sociopathic. He probably doesn’t realize the error of his ways. Any effort to educate him would result in being “sent to the cornfield.” This is a state of limbo. When your adversary has no conscience, he cannot be approached in a rational way. This story is about fear. Not only are the people under constant threat, the world the boy is creating is one that is becoming bleak and vacuous.

As you read the opening narration please keep in mind that the story is about an actual six-year old in mind and body and that he has actual supernatural powers. These two considerations mean the story is not an exact parallel to the real world but the fundamentals ring true as even in the real world an immature child can have great powers at his command.

Opening narration

Tonight’s story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States, and there’s a little town there called Peaksville. On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind, he took away the automobiles, the electricity, the machines because they displeased him and he moved an entire community back into the dark ages just by using his mind. Now I’d like to introduce you to some of the people in Peaksville, Ohio. This is Mr. Fremont. It’s in his farmhouse that the monster resides. This is Mrs. Fremont. And this is Aunt Amy, who probably had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. But one day she forgot. She began to sing aloud. Now, the monster doesn’t like singing, so his mind snapped at her, turned her into the smiling, vacant thing you’re looking at now. She sings no more. And you’ll note that the people in Peaksville, Ohio have to smile. They have to think happy thoughts and say happy things because, once displeased, the monster can wish them into a cornfield or change them into a grotesque, walking horror. This particular monster can read minds, you see. He knows every thought, he can feel every emotion. Oh yes, I did forget something, didn’t I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He’s six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you’d better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This is the Twilight Zone.

At the beginning of the show, the child is playing with his animals. He loves playing with his animals. They are right out of central casting. And since he likes science fiction he can makes his animals into any form he wants. They can even speak out of both sides of their mouths if he wants them to just as he does. But eventually the child tires of his toys who sometimes have minds of their own and they are disposed of, banished to the cornfields where this field of dreams is a nightmare.

The people live in fear of him, of the uncertainty, of never knowing what the child will say next. They constantly tell him how everything he does is “good,” the best ever, the greatest ever whereas everything before him was the worst ever. Never having experienced any form of effective discipline, the child does not even understand that his actions are wrong. He thinks everyone should want to play on his team and that he has his pick of the best and the brightest in the land. He is confused when his father tells him that the neighbors are reluctant to let their children play with him and join his team after he sent several of his playmates to the cornfield.

One night each week, the child gives the townsfolk one hour of television, which he creates and projects onto the family TV set. The adults gather around in his living room, squirming uncomfortably as child shows them a vision of Fox and Friends with screaming dinosaur talking heads engaged in a gory battle. Unable to voice their real feelings, they tell the child that it was far better than what used to be on TV. Everything now is the greatest ever.

His aunt Amy whose brain had been “fixed,” says “I kind of liked it a little better when we had cities outside and could get real television.”
The child’s mother replies, “The child’s television is much better than anything we used to get.”
The child’s father adds: “Why it’s fine. Why Fox television is the best thing we have ever seen.”

After the program is over, the adults celebrate Dan Hollis’ birthday. He gets two presents from his wife: a bottle of brandy – which is one of only five left in the village – and a Perry Como record. Dan is eager to listen to the record, but he’s reminded by everyone that the child does not like singing and he must listen to it at home. Getting drunk from the brandy, he starts complaining about the miserable state of the town, not listening to the record, and no one singing “Happy Birthday” to him. The child at first ignores him after telling him to be quiet. Dan eventually snaps with repressed rage surfacing and confronts the child.

You monster you, you dirty little monster…. maybe some man in this room; some Republican with guts, somebody who is so sick to death of living in this kind of a place and willing to take a chance will sneak up behind you and lay something heavy across your skull and end this once and for all.
Somebody sneak up behind him. Somebody end this now….
Will somebody take a lamp or a bottle or something and end this.

The printed word cannot capture the intensity of the anguish of this emotionally wrought person who can no longer endure the reign of the child, who does not act anonymously or after the fact but face to face.  Aunt Amy tentatively reaches for a fireplace poker but no one has the courage to act. The child banishes him to the cornfield. The adults are horrified at what he had done but no one does anything,

Then Thomas Friedman said, “I believe that the only responsible choice for the Republican Party today is an intervention with the president that makes clear that if there is not a radical change in how he conducts himself — and I think that is unlikely — the party’s leadership will have no choice but to press for his resignation or join calls for his impeachment.” But Friedman’s words were as flat as his world and everyone at Fox just laughed.

The child then causes the stock market to drop and the snow to fall even though it’s summer and the crops have not been harvested. The father then smiles and tells the child in a terrified voice, “…But it’s good you’re making it snow. A real good thing. And tomorrow… tomorrow’s gonna be a… real good day!”

Is there anything more dangerous… than a spoiled, selfish, stuck-up little brat who always gets his way?

Closing narration

No comment here, no comment at all. We only wanted to introduce you to one of our very special citizens, little Anthony Fremont, age 6, who lives in a village called Peaksville, in a place that used to be Ohio. And, if by some strange chance, you should run across him, you had best think only good thoughts. Anything less than that is handled at your own risk, because if you do meet Anthony, you can be sure of one thing: you have entered The Twilight Zone.

How did Rod know?

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