How The Twilight Zone Predicted Our Paranoid Present

Pic: Wiki (PD)

Pic: Wiki (PD)

via The Atlantic

More than half a century after it first aired, The Twilight Zone still has one of the most recognizable opening themes in television history: Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo. Incidentally, composer Marius Constant dashed off the 30-second theme song in a single afternoon, according to The New York Times—but that melody has endured in our popular imagination just as the program has. Though its original run spanned five seasons between 1959 and 1964, generations of new viewers have since discovered The Twilight Zone, its longevity at least partly buoyed by an annual marathon broadcast each New Year’s dating back to 1994. The Syfy network will continue the tradition for a 19th time this week, airing more than 80 episodes in 48 hours starting the morning of Dec. 31 at 8 a.m.

Critics tend to talk about The Twilight Zone like it’s trapped in amber. The series is celebrated as an acute reflection of a rare and intense moment in American history; a space-age cult classic that captured the messy transition between post-World War II America and the chaotic 1960s. Atomic war, space exploration, government control, anxiety, and mortality are all common Twilight Zone themes.

But the series has endured for more than half a century because of how resonant it remains today. The Twilight Zone is at its core an exploration of the human condition and commentary on how people cope with fear of the unknown. Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling said that even in science fiction, he was most compelled by stories that were relatable first in human terms. “If you can’t believe the unbelievability, then there’s something wrong in the writing,” he told a college class in 1975. Serling’s outlook also meant he was more interested in imagining the world as it might actually become. Here’s how he explained this idea in a 1970 interview: “I would probably shy away from the year 2500. I would much rather deal in 1998. The hardware that I use, I think, should be identifiable. I like to know what happens Thursday, not in the next century.”

Yet now that we’re well into the “next century” that was so distant to Serling, some of The Twilight Zone‘s more fantastical ideas and inventions have emerged in real life. More than 50 years since it first aired, re-watching the series reveals that many of the technologies and ideas it imagined as supernatural in the 1960s are commonplace or at least conceivable today—including driverless cars, flat-screen televisions, human-like robotics, government surveillance, and more.

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  • Juan

    Loved this show as a child. Watched all the reruns in the 60s and 70s as well as the various marathons they would run later.
    I have to say, I think this program probably more than just about anything else was a major positive influence on my morality and ethics when I was growing up.

  • wendyjoy

    “We’re developing a new citizenry. One that will be very selective about cereals and automobiles, but won’t be able to think.”
    ― Rod Serling