Creating and communicating in such an intellectually and creatively bankrupt milieu filled with (in Minow’s words): “unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence and cartoons” offered little opportunity to tell stories of any value or artistic integrity.
After Minow’s speech, “a vast wasteland” became critical shorthand for the argument that television was undergoing an inevitable process of crass commercialism and the “dumbing down” of content to the lowest intellectual denominator.
Not every science fiction story may be a political tract, but science fiction can be a relevant and powerful vehicle for social commentary.
As the scholars Hassler and Wilcox observed: The politics of the real world on our planet continues with events, with struggle, with individual and collective success and failure.
The fictional world of science fiction continues to be reinterpreted, newly invented and widely attended to in our culture.
(vii) In other words, ongoing and active connections exist between politics and science fiction – with events, things, and ideas forming the basis of social polemics and serving as part of the fictional world where the stories take place.Examining the broader cultural and political contexts in which these episodes of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery were produced is informative because the state of American broadcast television in the 1960s both shaped the course of Serling’s career as a writer, and influenced the content and format of his scripted dramas.In his famous 1961 speech, “Television and the Public Interest,” to the National Association of Broadcasters, Federal Communications Commission Chair Newton Minow noted that there were indeed some excellent television programs on the three existent national networks and he even named The Twilight Zone as one of them.Much of his fiction contains moral and political themes, and Serling publicly stated that it was the duty of writers to explore relevant and socially significant content in their work.He resisted the interference of sponsors, censors, or outside agencies in the exercise of this artistic responsibility stating that: “I think it is criminal that we are not permitted to make dramatic note of social evils that exist, of controversial themes as they are inherent in our society” (Zen). He wrote 99 of the 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone, and penned several major motion pictures including Seven Days in May (1964) and Planet of the Apes (1968).Keywords: Rod Serling, Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Science Fiction Television, Golden Age of Television, Television Censorship The use of futuristic settings and narratives to convey social messages and political arguments is not new to science fiction in any medium.Examples range from the techno-optimism of Hugo Gernsback’s Ralph 124C 41 (1911), the dystopias of Huxley, Zamyatin, and Atwood; the literary and cinematic future histories in Wells’ Things to Come (1936); and even the morality plays sometimes found in the television series Star Trek (1966-29) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94).He is now primarily remembered as a leading practitioner in the fields of science fiction, fantasy and horror; his best-known television projects were The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) and, to a lesser extent, Night Gallery (1969-1973).On the surface, Serling’s literary career path might appear to represent a major change in genre and creative focus (from realist to fantasist), but on closer examination, there is a consistent and growing concern with human worth and social justice in all of his major works.Rod Serling achieved critical acclaim in the First Golden Age of Television writing realist teleplays that express a strong moral sense and social consciousness.With the decline of anthology drama at the close of the 1950s, Serling created The Twilight Zone, which would become a forum for telling relevant stories while circumventing commercial and bureaucratic interference.