Understanding Justice and Privilege Classic Television and the Twilight Zone

I enjoy what is now referred to as classic television. I guess it is a sign of aging when television shows you remembered in prime time are now considered a part of that category.

Some call it innocence, while others use the term naivety but it is astonishing to consider the types of issues which can be solved within that 30 minute episode. What’s interesting, however, is that despite that simplicity often one can discover deep contemplations of wisdom.

Given that my Mom first became ill while I was a first grade sprout, my memories are skewed toward the later years as her illness progressed. After her passing not long after my high school graduation, it took some time before I could recall periods of my upbringing with her at the times when her illness was not the dominating theme. One of the reasons why I started posing questions to my Dad, my maternal Grandparents, my Uncle (her older brother), and people in the area was my watching episodes of the Donna Reed Show. Certain scenes with the character of Donna Stone touched me in a way I cannot really explain, and led me to discover the inconsistencies of my childhood perception of Mom with who Mom had been before the illness and how she struggled and coped during. The result is that 20+ years following her passing, I can recall the positive times before and during her illness more vividly today than I could years ago. Thanks for so many people keeping personal notes from that period; I have the benefit of multiple perspectives which enables me to decipher the differences between the Donna Stone character and what was reality in our small household.

The Twilight Zone is another show that I have always enjoyed. Aside from the news and weather, sporting events, Dragnet, old westerns such as The Rifleman and Gunsmoke, the Twilight Zone was one of the television shows my maternal Grandfather and his friends watched. A little aside that I learned only as an undergrad is that my initial exposure to The Rifleman came from my paternal Grandfather as it was his favorite television show.

With the Twilight Zone, I do not know enough about Rod Serling to even fathom as to how little I know about the man. Even though he did not write every episode, Serling had a unique, fascinating, and quite complex take on many issues as illustrated throughout the series. Since the show aired well before my birth, I only saw the episodes in reruns. I remember some of my elementary school teachers telling me how that show frightened them so they never watched the reruns, but I never had experienced that horror effect.

Most of you reading this probably have your favorite Twilight Zone episodes. Many of you may be “upset” with me because you have the intro sounds now stuck in your head.

For those curious, some of my favorite episodes in no particular order are:

“The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” “A Passage for Trumpet,” “The Obsolete Man,” “Deaths Head Revisited,” “Five Characters in Search of an Exit,” “The Changing of the Guard,” “Kick the Can,” “Nothing in the Dark,” and I’m definitely forgetting others that I will think about after typing this list.

The reason for my reflections on classic television and the Twilight Zone in particular is that a friend and former colleague has been conducting research for a piece on “Economic Justice.” Via social media, he asked my definition. For the trained and well versed Economist, this History Prof actually pulled the “economic” qualifier aside in my initial response.

 I really can’t relate a specific definition as “justice” is often determined by place, time, and context.  I often hear people say what they deserve, are owed, have spent, or the classic fair, but again your broad idea may and should not (my opinion) be the same as mine or the person standing on the corner.  Religion, culture, personal experience, and such influence us whether we admit it or not in our determinations of justice.  Only in specific instances can we look back and gauge “justice.”

Some want to argue status quo or perhaps equal treatment today, but is that “justice” when you are not starting within the proximity of the same point but are actually in different ballparks not because one worked harder, had harder working ancestors, but someone created and perpetuated that difference regardless of manner?  Place even an iota of forces which either created or perpetuated the existing difference into the equation today on the other side, and listen to screams of lack of justice, unfairness, suppression, and oppression.

As a kid I learned that fairness and justice meant that I should feel satisfied or comfortable if the roles were indeed reversed.  Would I deserve the same punishment for the same offense?  Would I be happy with the same reward?  Take that simplicity and combine it with the realization that what I consider punishment may mean nothing to another and what I find as a reward may be viewed as a disincentive by another.  In other words, what might be the right thing for me might be the wrong thing for you.  Who is to know who is right or wrong or if either or both are correct or incorrect.

Comments from another who I do not know personally, did strike a chord with me. This individual put forth the argument that “justice” was a liberal term often seen in sociology which meant little if anything to a conservative such as him. I was tempted to respond with a position based upon the Old English term of rehtwisnisse along with what, off the top of my head, would be 13th to 15th English incorporations of justice with judicial officers and Justices of the Peace.

The above is far removed from either my research or teaching areas, so I may be incorrect with the time frame I just gave. My point, however, would have been inquiring how one can take an idea such as justice and isolate it to the modern “liberal” and “conservative” labeling. As I have written before, those terms and how they are used today mean nothing in my opinion. Both are merely twisted to resemble what the initiator wants to label as either a friend or foe. I never intended to do this explicitly, but implicitly in writing about political ideologies of the present I use quotation marks around those terms.

Typically the usage of the “liberal” or “conservative” monikers in current events leads me to take the following arguments with a grain of salt. Later a statement to the effect of everyone has the same opportunities and equal chances appeared in the individual’s dialogue.

That belief resulted in my trying to think of a way to illustrate the concept of “privilege.” I’m not equating “privilege” to discrimination. I merely sought an example of how we all have various advantages and disadvantages based upon nothing that we have done which are rooted into variables upon which we have no way of influencing. Of course many of the disadvantages can be overcome. Of course many of the advantages can be wasted. The point is that no two people or groups of people are planted upon this planet with exactly the same potential. When we have been granted some “privilege,” it is hard to recognize that as a “privilege” and not as a “right” or something we earned for ourselves that the other person or group is either unable or unwilling to earn. For example back home, someone might and most likely did give me the benefit of the doubt which I did not deserve but based upon the respect they had for my Dad or my maternal Grandfather. I would never realize that benefit to be a privilege unless I saw it not being extended to someone else that I knew. I qualify that with someone I knew because I might be able to justify the inconsistency by thinking the other person had not done the things necessary to receive that same benefit.

All of these thoughts relate to the emphasis I place on needing to see things from multiple perspectives. One can apply the Golden Rule, but in some ways that application is also placing one’s own beliefs and point of view upon another individual or group.

There is no easy or correct answer as to what is just, fair, or way of knowing what privileges I have that you do not and vice versa. To use the above as an example, for me the hard work and respect earned by my Dad and maternal Grandfather are things of which I am proud and use to motivate myself to work hard and earn respect. Of course my Dad continues to encourage me. I’m fairly confident that my Grandfather would take pride in some of my work and feel more honored if someone spoke highly of me than anything they might say of his work. In other words, they wanted me to do my best but never belittled me when I came up short. They never pressured me to try and be something that I’m not. I do have friends, however, who were caught in the shadows of a sibling or other family member. Regardless of what they did, it never seemed to be as good as someone else. Even with great accomplishments, they carried that extra weight and pressure and at times became someone they were not solely to try and free themselves from that shadow or toss that extra baggage aside.

While it is not Rod Serling and the Twilight Zone, the 1983 Twilight Zone Movie the segment starring Victor Morrow and directed by John Landis offers a glimpse of experiencing life from a different perspective and not being a recipient of privilege.  After the opening prologue, of the 4 episodes compromising the movie this one, “Time Out,” was the only one not directly a remake of one of the series episodes. It does pull from a few original episodes and addresses the concepts of racism and discrimination directly, but to me offers an example to define “privilege” and the necessity of being able to view things from multiple perspectives.

As I concluded to my friend and former colleague:

To somewhat answer your question:  Justice or fairness, in my opinion, can only be achieved with communication and by focusing on the similarities and not being distracted or blinded by the differences.  The concept of different yet same is so simple that it is among the most complex.

As original Twilight Zone actor in multiple episodes and narrator in the Rod Serling role for the movie, Burgess Meredith begins:

“You’re about to meet an angry man: Mr. William Connor, who carries on his shoulder a chip the size of the national debt. This is a sour man, a lonely man, who’s tired of waiting for the breaks that come to others, but never to him. Mr. William Connor, whose own blind hatred is about to catapult him into the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone.”

A Viewing Note:

For those who wish to view the 17 minute clip from the movie, I have attempted to make an unlisted upload to the LAB LouisianaBoy You Tube Channel.  In addition to making the upload unlisted, I have disabled embedding.  I am not sure if Warner Brothers will allow the clip to remain on YouTube even with these measures and credits.

To view on the You Tube Channel, you may click the link below.  If you are concerned about malware, viruses, redirects, and so on as we try to be, I encourage you not to click links within other websites but to cut and paste them in your browser address bar.


UPDATE:  Sorry that I could not make the clip available.  When time permits, I will try to summarize and include with this posting.

The video clip I uploaded has been blocked by Warner Brothers because it is their property and not yet within the public domain as the movie is only 30 years old.  Other sites may have the clip or movie available.  I am providing a link to the following that has a portion of the transcript from the scene referenced above starting approximately a third of the way down the page.


Some Professional Reviews:

From TV Guide:  http://movies.tvguide.com/twilight-zone-the-movie/review/121428

From Roger Ebert:  http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/twilight-zone-the-movie-1983

The simplified premise is that of a bigoted man upset that he did not receive a promotion at work. While at a bar with friends, he complains that the promotion went to a Jewish coworker who he acknowledges had worked at the company for a longer period of time. His anger continues with remarks about Jews, blacks, and Asians.  After a near confrontation in the bar, he leaves and discovers himself in NAZI Germany.  Later he is transported to a KKK lynching where he is the one about to be fitted with a noose. Next, he finds himself in Vietnam where he is not an American but the enemy in the eyes of an American patrol. Ultimately he returns to Germany, is labeled as a Jew and forced into a railroad car headed to a concentration camp as he cries out to his friends seen leaving the original bar.

I’m not sure how the episode would have played out without the tragic and fatal accident which took place on the set. It is extremely predictable, but that predictability in many ways drives home my point of easy it is not to see privilege.