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January 5th, 2016

Some Days You Really Miss Rod Serling

This came across my Facebook stream, in relation to the militia kooks occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon…

twilight zone oregon federal building standoff-sm

In case you haven’t read by now, the militia heros that declared themselves ready to occupy the cottage at the preserve by force of arms for years if necessary until the government ceded the land to them…didn’t bring with them any food…

19492266-standard

Internet ridicule has swiftly followed…

send snacks

Somewhere else I read they were also asking for socks.

This is all very good snark material, but that picture of Rod Serling got me to thinking about what he’d have possibly made of all this. The Twilight Zone wasn’t merely comic book weird tales and amazing stories. Within its otherworldly take, Serling took on the social, moral and political issues of his time, and because his stories were so good as to be timeless, ours as well. The more you watch those old black & white episodes, the more you appreciate what he managed to accomplish in the Hollywood system, and the more you miss him. If TV was a vast wasteland back then, it’s a toxic landfill now.

You can imagine it opening with the militia, (which Twitter quickly dubbed Y’all Qaeda) talking to reporters from the front door of the cottage. Perhaps the local sheriff steps forward to beg them to leave peacefully before anyone gets hurt. The townsfolk don’t want you here, we’re a peaceful law abiding community, the men you’re defending were found guilty of setting fires on public land by a jury of their peers. They could have killed those firemen and rangers. Please…just go…before anyone gets hurt. And the militia spokesman with the cameras rolling (this is late 1950s TV) just recites his boilerplate about freedom, tyranny and the lawless federal government taking our land and persecuting the ranchers. Waving his rifle in the air he says he and his men will occupy the land for as long as it takes and like the patriots who fought for America they too are willing to die for their cause if it comes to it. 

…at which point the camera might pan over to Rod Serling, who might say something along the lines of…

Meet [name of militia leader], American patriot, who with his men has just invaded a small wildlife sanctuary in a remote part of Oregon to defend freedom from the scarecrows contained within pamphlets and newspapers printed by extremist madmen. But tonight those scarecrows will step off the printed page and accept his challenge, because what he and his men don’t yet realize is the land they have occupied…is in the Twilight Zone.

The camera backs away from the militia news conference, and begins to pan over a gathered small crowd watching the proceedings. We hear the militia man arguing with the sheriff in the background, while various townsfolk express their opinion that they should leave before someone gets hurt. Others that they have a point, the federal government doesn’t seem to listen to the people anymore. Someone says they’d listen if more of us voted. Somebody else whispers that they’re not fighting for the ranchers, they’re fighting for the old land barons who owned everything here including the water, before the government cut them down to size. 

The camera comes back to the scene in front of the cottage. The sheriff warns the militiaman that the longer they stay the more likely someone will get hurt. The man repeats his claim that they are willing to die in the fight against tyranny.

The scene changes to night. The camera pans from armed watchmen outside to the interior of the house, where we see these guys are just playing soldier. They brought plenty of ammunition but nobody figured on food and the water to the cottage had been turned off for the winter. There is some argument about what to do next, but the leader is still in control. Unfortunately, he’s just a schoolyard bully in a grownup body. He has neither military experience nor common sense. They bed down for the night.

Then they wake up to find themselves in a Jewish ghetto surrounded by SS men. They have some weapons, but now there is a military force arrayed around them, not a small town sheriff and a few men.  Now we see what they’re really made of and none of them are even close to soldier material, nor martyr either: they’re cowards and it shows right away, first in the leader, who like all bullies collapses into a self pitying heap when confronted with anyone bigger and stronger. His men quickly follow. The Jews in the room with them look on in disgust. The soldiers outside begin firing.

They all die. Then they wake up again in teepees at Sand Creek surrounded by soldiers. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Then they wake up again and they’re in a southern black church during the civil rights days surrounded by a lynch mob led by the local sheriff. Again the cowardly behavior. Again the looks of disgust from the people in the church.

Then they wake up in a small house in ancient Rome, there is a makeshift cross on the wall…Roman centurions are outside. The men rend their togas and try to wave white surrender flags out the windows while the Christians inside look on in disgust. The centurions  break down the door, charge inside with their short Roman swords…

…and they wake up in Tiananmen Square…

…at which point the camera pans over to Rod Serling, who might look into the camera and say something along the lines of…

Every tyrant is a thief and every thief a potential tyrant, and the items of value for their taking are more than simply money and land, but also culture, history, and valor. These things, intangible though they are, contain the sum of all wealth and human nobility that ever was and will ever be, and while they may be stolen and worn for a time, they can only be lived by the those who have earned them. A word of warning to anyone who would cast themselves in the role of martyr in the defense of liberty: you might just get an audition…in the Twilight Zone…

Of course, Rod Serling would write a better story and better words to speak to the camera than I could ever put in his mouth. But a kid who grew up in the black & white TV days can still imagine what it would have been like.

ammon-bundy-bw

 

tiananmen_square-bw 

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