I almost entitled this post, "Jack Klugman Enters the Twilight Zone," except that this is the vale of twilight. Be that as it may, Jack Klugman, who died yesterday, starred in four Twilight Zone episodes. The news accounts mention that fact but don't say which. "A Passage for Trumpet," "In Praise of Pip," "A Game of Pool," and "Death Ship." Twilight Zone marathon coming up on New Year's Eve. Check it out to see what TV can be.
I've been watching old Alfred Hitchcock re-runs from '63 and '64. I must have seen some of these as a kid, but I've forgotten them all. On the night of 10 August I saw "The Magic Shop." What struck me was how similar in theme this is to the Twilight Zone episode, "It's a Good Life."
The very next morning I checked to see if a Twilight Zone episode was airing on the Sci Fi channel. There was, and it happened to be "It's a Good Life." So that is the coincidence, and you can make of it what you will.
Hitchcock is good, but he can't hold a candle to Serling. Rod Serling's 1959-1964 series was and is TV at its very best. The best of the episodes are inexhaustibly rich especially 50 years later. They provide an insight into the speech patterns, the mores, the sartorial habits, the politics, and the cinematography of the day. More importantly, many of them are morality tales that convey important moral truths and life lessons. Serling was above all a moral teacher. We have nothing like this on TV today. What we have are endless quantities of degrading garbage.
The epitaph on Frank Sinatra's tombstone reads, "The best is yet to come." That may well be, but it won't be booze and broads, glitz and glamour, and the satisfaction of worldly ambitions that were frustrated this side of the grave. So the believer must sincerely ask himself: would I really want eternal life?
At funerals one hears pious claptrap about the dearly departed going off to be with the Lord. In many cases, this provokes a smile. Why should one who has spent his whole life on the make be eager to meet his Maker? Why the sudden interest in the Lord when, in the bloom of life, one gave him no thought? If you have loved the things of this world as if they were ultimate realities, then perhaps you ought to hope that death is annihilation.
If then a man without religion (supposing it possible) were admitted into heaven, doubtless he would sustain a great disappointment. Before, indeed, he fancied that he could be happy there; but when he arrived there, he would find no discourse but that which he had shunned on earth, no pursuits but those he had disliked or despised, nothing which bound him to aught else in the universe, and made him feel at home, nothing which he could enter into and rest upon.
One might even go so far as to say that heaven would be hell for the worldly person. And what the worldly person imagines heaven to be might reveal itself as hell, as in the Twilight Zone episode, A Nice Place to Visit.
I see that London Ed has some thoughts on the topic. I agree with him that 'the objection from boredom' is no good. I'm never bored here, why should I be bored there? Never bored here, only tired. But that's due to the bag of bones and guts that makes up my samsaric vehicle. Free of crass embodiment, things might well be different on the far side.
You say I'm speculating? True enough, but if a philosopher can't speculate, who can?
Here. Marathon starts New Year's Eve morning and runs for two days. My eyes glued to the set, my wife invariably asks, "Haven't you seen that episode before?" She doesn't get it. I've seen 'em all numerous times each. Hell, I've been watching 'em since 1959 when the series first aired. But the best are inexhaustibly rich in content, delightful in execution, studded with young actors and actresses who went on to become famous alongside the now forgotten actors of yesteryear, period costumes and lingo, allusions to the politics of the day. Timeless and yet a nostalgia trip. A fine way to end one year and begin another.
To see how much philosophical juice can be squeezed out of one of these episodes, see here.
The first decades of televison were comparatively wholesome compared to what came later. An example of outstanding TV was Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, which ran from 1959-1964. Comparing a series like TZ with trash like The Sopranos, one sees the extent of the decline.
Serling knew how to entertain while also stimulating thought and teaching moral lessons. Our contemporary dreckmeisters apparently think that the purpose of art is to degrade sensibility, impede critical thinking, glorify scumbags, and rub our noses ever deeper into sex and violence. It seems obvious that the liberal fetishization of freedom of expression without constraint or sense of responsibility is part of the problem. But I can't let a certain sort of libertarian or economic conservative off the hook. Their lust for profit is also involved.
What is is that characterizes contemporary media dreck? Among other things, the incessant presentation of defective human beings as if there are more of them than there are, and as if there is nothing at all wrong with their way of life. Deviant behavior is presented as if it is mainstream and acceptable, if not desirable. And then lame justifications are provided for the presentation: 'this is what life is like now; we are simply telling it like it is.' It doesn't occur to the dreckmeisters that art might have an ennobling function.
The tendency of liberals and leftists is to think that any presentation of choice-worthy goals or admirable styles of life could only be hypocritical preaching. And to libs and lefties, nothing is worse than hypocrisy. Indeed, a good indicator of whether someone belongs to this class of the terminally benighted is whether the person obsesses over hypocrisy and thinks it the very worst thing in the world. See my category Hypocrisy for elaboration of this theme.
The semi-annual Twilight Zone marathon is under way at the Sci Fi channel and will continue through New Year's Day and into the wee hours of January 2nd. Here is your chance to view some of the episodes you may have missed. The best of them are phenomenally good and bristling with philosophical content. I have just given you my analysis of "The Lonely" which aired in November, 1959. I just now viewed the The Dummy for the nth time, and I note that the ascriptivist theory of personhood I mentioned in my analysis of "The Lonely" also figures in "The Dummy."
The original series ran from 1959 to 1964. In those days it was not uncommon to hear TV condemned as a vast wasteland. Rod Serling's work was a sterling counterexample.
The hard-driving Serling lived a short but intense life. Born in 1924, he was dead at age 50 in 1975. His four pack a day cigarette habit destroyed his heart. Imagine smoking 80 Lucky Strikes a day! Assuming 16 hours of smoking time per day, that averages to one cigarette every twelve minutes. He died on the operating table during an attempted bypass procedure.
But who is to say that a long, healthy life is better than a short, intense one fueled by the stimulants one enjoys? That is a question for the individual, not Hillary, to decide.
Rod Serling's Twilight Zone was an outstanding TV series that ran from 1959-1964. The episode "The Lonely" aired in November, 1959. I have seen it several times, thanks to the semi-annual Sci Fi channel TZ marathons. There is one in progress as I write. One can extract quite a bit of philosophical juice from "The Lonely" as from most of the other TZ episodes. I'll begin with a synopsis.
Synopsis.James A. Corry is serving a 50 year term of solitary confinement on an asteroid nine million miles from earth. Supplies are flown in every three months. Captain Allenby, unlike the other two of the supply ship's crew members, feels pity for Corry, and on one of his supply runs brings him a female robot named 'Alicia' to alleviate his terrible loneliness. The robot is to all outer appearances a human female. At first, Corry rejects her as a mere robot, a machine, and thus "a lie." He feels he is being mocked. "Why didn't they build you to look like a machine?" But gradually Corry comes to ascribe personhood to Alicia. His loneliness vanishes. They play chess with a set he has constructed out of nuts and bolts. She takes delight in a Knight move, and Corry shares her delight. They beam at each other.
But then one day the supply ship returns with news that Corry's sentence has been commuted as part of a general abolition of punishment by banishment to asteroids. Allenby informs Corry that there is room on the ship only for him and 15 lbs of his personal effects. Alicia must be left behind. Corry is deeply distressed. "I'm not lonely any more. She's a woman!" Allenby replies, "She's a robot!" Finally, after some arguing back and forth, Allenby draws his sidearm and shoots Alicia in the face revealing her electronic innards. Corry's illusion of Alicia's personhood — if it is an illusion — dissipates and regretfully he boards the ship. The thirty minute episode ends with Serling's powerful closing narration:
On a microscopic piece of sand that floats through space is a fragment of a man's life. Left to rust is the place he lived in and the machines he used. Without use, they will disintegrate from the wind and the sand and the years that act upon them; all of Mr. Corry's machines — including the one made in his image, kept alive by love, but now obsolete — in the Twilight Zone.
Philosophical Analysis. The episode raises a number of philosophical questions. Here are some of them.