Life Lessons From The Twilight Zone | Mark Dawidziak on The Art of Manliness with Brett McKay (#844)

Key Takeaways

  • “The Twilight Zone was, is, and forever will be great storytelling.”Mark Dawidziak
  • Rod Serling was like Mark Twain, a moralist in disguise. He used fantasy the way Mark Twain used comedy
  • Every Twilight Zone episode had what Mark Dawizdak would call a parable (a great way to teach somebody a lesson while entertaining them)
  • The discovery that the past is behind you can be heartbreaking and sobering
    • Despite having a hard time in your life, you can never go back, you have to create good memories for yourself in your life  
  • Does your life feel existentially flat? 
    • It’s probably because there’s no friction in your life, and you need it
  • Happiness ain’t a thing in itself. Happiness is just a comparison to something that ain’t happy, that you need both (Mark Twain reference)
  • If something is too good to be true, it probably is
    • “Everywhere you look, some people are trying to present something too good to be true, and The Twilight Zone told us very early, to be wary of anything too good to be true. If it looks too good, it probably is too good.”Mark Dawidziak
  • You get old when you stop playing
    • There is a difference between valuing the inner child, and not childishly living your life 
    • “Nobody achieves greatness who does not hold on to something of the nursery.” Mark Dawidziak quoting G. K. Chesterton
  •  “Any civilization, any society that does not value the individual is obsolete, that state is obsolete.”Mark Dawidziak quoting Rod Serling

Key Books Mentioned

Intro

  • Should we live our life by what “The Twilight Zone” has to teach us?
    • Mark Dawidziak is a veteran TV critic and the author of Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone. In this episode, Mark and Brett McKay unpack life lessons embedded in one of the best and most influential shows in television history – “The Twilight Zone”
    • Check out Mark’s website
  • Host – Brett McKay (@brettmckay)

What Makes the Twilight Zone So Good?

  • What gives the series such timeless and cross-generational appeal?
    • Old-school morals, relatable characters, unpredictable narrative
  • “The Twilight Zone was, is, and forever will be great storytelling.”Mark Dawidziak
    • It’s easily digested and it has the appeal of sitting around the campfire telling stories
  • Rod Serling was like Mark Twain, a moralist in disguise. He used fantasy the way Mark Twain used comedy
  • Every Twilight Zone episode had what Mark Dawizdak would call a parable (teach somebody a lesson while entertaining them)

You Can Love the Past, but You Can’t Live in the Past

  • In “Walking Distance”, Martin Sloan plays Gig Young, a businessman in his 30s, driven into the ground by the New York lifestyle
    • His car breaks down just about a mile from the town where he grew up
    • He walks back to his hometown and into his past, encountering himself as a little boy, and the hometown that he knew then
  • One effort that all men try at some time in their lives – trying to go home again
    • The yearning to recapture one’s childhood is an inevitable part of what it means to be human 
    • The discovery that the past is behind you can be heartbreaking and sobering
  • Martin Sloan is all of us
    • When adult life is hard, we recall our memories of our youth, a time without worries
    • Despite having a hard time in your life, you can never go back, you have to create good memories for yourself in your life  
    • You have to move on, you have to live in the moment

Life Is Unfair, Now What?

  • In “Time Enough at Last”, Burgess Meredith plays Henry Bemis, a bank teller who loves to read but is surrounded by those who discourage him from reading (anti-intellectualism)
    • He survives a nuclear exchange and becomes the last man on earth
    • Preparing to kill himself, he notices the ruins of a library and realizes this can be his survival (solitude versus loneliness)
    • There’s time enough at last. And as he bends down to pick up the first book, his glasses slip and shatter
    • The scene with the broken glasses is one of the most powerful visual images of the Twilight Zone
    • The episode stands out because it’s one of the episodes that does not play according to the rules of the Twilight Zone 
    • According to Mark Dawizdak, Henry did nothing to merit that awful ending
  • Life isn’t fair. And nobody said life was fair. And that’s what Henry Bemis says at the end

You Can’t Know the Sweet Without the Bitter

  • There has to be opposition in all things
  • In “A Nice Place to Visit”, Larry Blyden plays “Rocky”, a criminal who gets shot and dies
    • He wakes up and meets Pip (an “angel”) who guides him and gives him everything he desires
    • He becomes bored with the fact that he’s got everything he wants
  • The episode resonates with us in our age of algorithms giving you whatever you want in terms of content 
    • Amazon shipped to your door in a day
    • We’re kind of creating worlds where we get whatever we want to be catered to us
  • Does your life feel existentially flat? 
    • It’s probably because there’s no friction in your life, and you need it
    • Happiness ain’t a thing in itself. Happiness is just a comparison to something that ain’t happy, that you need both (Mark Twain reference)
  • We need misery and tragedy to understand what happiness is. There has to be a connection

If Something Is Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

  • In one of the most remembered episodes, “To Serve Man”, aliens (called “Kanamits”) come to Earth to provide humanitarian aid by sharing their technology
    • They leave a book behind called “To Serve Man”
    • Their technology puts an end to hunger, energy shortages, etc.
    • Soon, humans are volunteering for trips to the Kanamits’ home planet (paradise)
    • However, one of the members of the cryptography staff decodes the book and finds out it’s a recipe book on how to serve humans as meals
  • “Everywhere you look, some people are trying to present something too good to be true, and The Twilight Zone told us very early, to be wary of anything too good to be true. If it looks too good, it probably is too good.”Mark Dawidziak

Recapturing the Magic of Childhood

  • In “Kick the Can”, a retiree living in a rest home thinks he’s found the secret of youth in kick the can – a children’s game
    • If he acts young, he will become young
  • You get old when you stop playing
    • There is a difference between valuing the inner child, and not childishly living your life 
    • Never lose the child-like wonder that you had 
  • The episode talks about the magic of retaining your childhood 
    • “Nobody achieves greatness who does not hold on to something of the nursery.” Mark Dawidziak quoting G. K. Chesterton
    • If we do lose all sense of that, we will never achieve genius and greatness

Mike’s Recommendations for Someone Who’s Never Watched the Twilight Zone

  • “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”
    • “If we do not find a way to talk to each other, to have a discussion, real discussion, without mistrust and fear and paranoia of creeping into it if we do not find a way to get around that we ain’t gonna make it, folks.”Mark Dawidziak quoting Rod Serling
  • “The Obsolete Man”
    • The worth of the individual, the worth of reading
    • The story is set in a futuristic society
    • The written word has become banned
    • Everything is prescribed by the state, and Fritz Weaver plays the authoritarian symbol of the state
  • “Any civilization, any society that does not value the individual is obsolete, that state is obsolete.”Mark Dawidziak quoting Rod Serling
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