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Serling saw drama as a political act and his commitment to social justice often extended to his activities off the page.The content and consequences of his 1968 speech at Moorpark College are cited as an important example of his real world political behavior.The impact of Serling’s vision is found in Jack Gould’s review of Patterns in The New York Times, printed soon after its first broadcast: Nothing in months has excited the television industry as much as the Kraft Television Theatre’s production of Patterns, an original play by Rod Serling. In writing, acting and direction, Patterns will stand as one of the high points in the TV medium’s evolution …
As noted by scholar Leslie Dale Feldman: “…his writing was more than science fiction; it was political theory” (6).
This paper examines three episodes of The Twilight Zone and three Night Gallery segments and compares them with specific articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights [UDHR].
From Jonathan Swift’s book Gulliver’s Travels (1726, amended 1735) to Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (2008) and the Canadian television series Orphan Black (2013-2017), politics have provided both cultural fuel and creative structures for speculative storytelling, most especially for the science fiction genre.
Rod Serling started his writing career as one of television’s “angry young men” from the medium’s first golden age in the 1950s and the author of many critically acclaimed realist dramas.
He found time to teach at Antioch College and was involved in political causes including the Unitarian Universalist Association, the American Civil Liberties Union, and campaigning for incumbent Pat Brown against Ronald Reagan in the California 1966 gubernatorial race (Zen).
Serling’s concerns about the political meaning and artistic merits of scripted television led to the creation of The Twilight Zone.As a means of exploring Serling’s use of drama as a tool for social justice, this paper compares themes from The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery with charter and constitutional statements of human rights.The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the moral template applied in this discussion.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).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).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.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.