In the early television era, one of the most innovative and imaginative shows around was Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Certain episodes were so compelling that they entered the popular imagination, and are familiar to anyone over 30. One of the most brilliant episodes, shown in 1961, was It’s a Good Life, based upon a Jerome Bixby short story. I’ll let Rod Serling himself explain the episode’s premise:
‘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.’
The episode walks viewers through the horrors little Anthony inflicts on the town’s residents if they think negative thoughts or engage in behaviors that irk him. By show’s end, when one of the town’s citizens, having imbibed enough to have some dutch courage, calls Anthony both a monster and a murderer, Anthony turns him into a jack-in-the-box. Not content with that act of personal destruction, Anthony also causes snow to fall, destroying crops and ensuring the town’s demise.
Even as their destruction stares them in the face, the town’s residents still try to placate the monster in their midst, with the last scripted words spoken being “…but it’s a real good thing you did. A real good thing. And tomorrow….tomorrow’s gonna be a… real good day!”
Rod Serling, of course, provides the perfect coda to Anthony’s reign of terror (emphasis mine):
‘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.
The show’s first audience was composed in part of the World War II generation, and entirely of the Cold War generation. These were people who had seen first hand totalitarian regimes that demanded their citizens’ total obedience.
To enforce that obedience, the spy network for each of these totalitarian governments measured people’s allegiance by closely examining their behavior. The wrong word, a mis-timed blink or twitch, an unfortunate handshake in the street, and ordinary people would suddenly find themselves in the gulag or the gas chamber. The regimes surely regretted that they lacked Anthony’s mind reading skills, but with a frightened population, spies in every family, and draconian punishments for even the slightest deviation from total devotion, they were surprisingly effective at creating a Stepford citizenry that, even as the world crumbled, repeated that every government initiative was “a real good thing.”
For decades, Americans assumed that “it can’t happen here.” American strength and American freedom would inevitably overwhelm any efforts to turn the thought police lose on the American public. But of course, it has happened here, although not with the bloodshed and torture that characterizes most totalitarian regimes. Instead, through the medium of political correctness, which preys on Americans’ innate desire to be a good and decent people, we are constantly pushed into “correct” modes of thought. Deviate from that line of thinking and you will find yourself publicly pilloried as an “-ist” (e.g., racist or sexist), or a “phobe” (e.g., Islamophobe), appellations that have become the ultimate insult that can be visited upon any good American.
Have you given any hint that you think unfettered illegal immigration is deleterious to America’s economy and the security of her citizens? You’re a racist.
Have you muttered that it’s wrong to destroy collegiate men’s sports programs so that there is numerical parity with women’s sports programs, even though the latter are historically less likely to desire such programs? You’re a sexist pig.
Have you mentioned that it’s more than coincidence that the common denominator in the vast majority of terrorism attacks around the world is the perpetrator’s devotion to Islam? You’re a racist Islamophobe.
Did you perhaps contribute a few dollars to the campaign to maintain traditional marriage in America? You’re a homophobe.
Have you criticized Barack Obama’s policies? You’re a racist.
Have you criticized Michelle Obama’s arms? You’re a racist and a sexist.
And so it goes, from matters major to minor: any deviation from the politically correct norm is subject to withering, soul-destroying insults. It’s not a physical gulag, but an emotional one.
What’s sad is that, as with Al Gore’s famous boiling frog, we’ve slowly acclimated to this creeping deprivation of the quintessentially American liberty of freedom of speech. We’ve therefore willingly tried to conform our thoughts to the “right” way of thinking, so that it’s always a “real good day” in America — at least as “good” is defined by the race-obsessed, sex-obsessed, statists among us.
Bad as all this is, I think the worst is yet to come. Right now, average Americans are censoring their speech, but they’re still thinking the thoughts. Polls and votes show that people don’t like illegal (as opposed to legal) immigration; that they recognize that Islam is a breeding ground for terrorism (although not all Muslims are terrorists); that traditional marriage is an institution that should be carefully considered before being thoughtlessly overthrown; and that Barack Obama’s policies are disastrous, at home and abroad. We’re cowed, but our brains our still active.
The New York City bombing attempt may change all that. Although initial reports were conflicting a couple of things are now perfectly clear about that bombing attempt: (1) the target was Viacom and (2) the perpetrator was a Muslim (Shahzad Faisal, according to a recent bip on my iPhone).
Viacom, of course, is the parent company of Comedy Central — and Comedy Central is the company that thought better of airing a South Park episode that poked fun at the Islamic obsession, not just with observing its own blackout of Mohamed’s image, but with forcing everyone else in the world to abide by that same religious mandate. (As an aside, this obsession, while it has a long history in Islam, has never been universally observed. There are significant numbers of Islam representations of Mohamed. The current screaming mania is as much a manifestation of jihad as it is of a genuine religious impulse amongst the Islamists.)
So what we have here is a company that self-censored, but still ended up on the receiving end of a bomb. Viacom’s dhimmi behavior was inadequate to placate the Islamic radicals. Unlike past totalitarian regimes, which accepted conforming behavior as adequate to deflect the thought police, the new Islamic regime wants to ensure that we don’t even have the thoughts anymore. Just like little Anthony, Islamists want to make sure that, when it comes to their faith and their prophet, we “had best think only good thoughts.” Entertaining the possibility of any other ideas relative to Islam is likely to be deadly.
In another era, of course, an era that hasn’t been bleached of strength by the PC police, by identity politics, and by increasing statism (and, therefore, decreasing individualism), Americans would have given the Islamists the one-fingered salute they deserve. Historically, when America, with its size, strength and freedoms, stood up to tyranny, America won. But we no longer can boast those virtues.
Sure we’re big, but we’re not a strong melting pot. Instead, we’re a fractious “salad bowl” (the politically correct metaphor for an identity riven nation).
Yes, we’re strong, but we’re weakening all the time, as we give away our energy independence, our economic power, and our weapons.
And lastly, we’re increasingly less free as we willingly hand our lives and our thoughts over to the statists. As the good people of New Orleans demonstrated in Hurricane Katrina’s wake, when you consign yourself entirely to government care, your ability to care for yourself (and the courage such care requires) rapidly atrophies.
Put simply: we don’t have the moral or physical strength any more, as a citizenry, to take a stand against threats to our fundamental freedoms. TV shows will be ever more bland and careful. Newspapers, echoing the BBC, may well start proactively appending “pbuh” to stories the reference Mohamed. And ordinary citizens, increasingly cowed by accusations of “isms” (e.g., racism) and phobias (e.g., Islamophobia), will not only keep their mouths shut, but will also keep their thoughts pure.
Welcome to the new American Twilight Zone.