Monster of the Day #220

So who’s the real monster…HMMMMMMMM?

(OK, you guys kind of stole my thunder on this earlier this week, but anyway.)

  • Ericb

    [in rushed deadpan voice] It’s man.

  • Ericb

    For a less cynical but equally creepy take on this basic concept see the Outer Limits’ “A Feasibility Study”. In a way the “twist” ending of the Twilight Zone episode occurs at the beginning of the Outer Limits’ version. The episode then goes on to explore the humans’ reaction to the situation. I much prefer The Outer Limits version of the tale.

  • I saw this Twiilight Zone at an early age (probably the same year I saw “Eye of the Beholder”, which I adored), and even in my tender years I knew enough to call shenanigans on the show.

    I mean, I’d HAD power outages already in my life and yet I had seen no lynch mobs. And the weird family down the street with the two harelipped kids was hardly ostracized at all.

    I was too young to realize it at the time, but now I put it into the same category as the idiot TV shows and movies and novels that try to blow the lid off the steamy mental illness, secret drug addictions, hypocrisy, and illicit affairs that make up modern suburbia. Maybe that’s how Hollywood imagines suburbia as being, but I can safely say that the percentage of murders and wrecked marriages is profoundly less among my suburbian friends than my inner-city ones.

    Also the percentage of riots. Lynchings were obviously more likely in rural areas, but again, it’s not really suburbia’s thing.

  • Wasn’t that episode basically a play on everyones fear of communists living among us? It was the height of the cold war when it premeired.

  • Was 1960 really the “height” of the cold war? We weren’t in Vietnam, and hadn’t earnestly fought Soviet agents since 1953. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a couple years in the future. McCarthy and MacArthur were disgraced. We still had diplomatic relations with Cuba (though they were starting to sour).

    I guess the only reason we could seem more anti-Red in 1960 might be because there were way fewer Communist sympathizers than we had 20 years later. And it was still obvious that if you were a Communist, you were working for the Soviet Union. Still true later on, but not as obvious.

  • Ericb

    I’d guess that there was also a bit of Lord of the Flies influence on the episode and beyond that Thomas Hobbes so it’s not necessarily all Cold War all the time.

  • Gamera

    I’ve thought this episode was interesting in a spooky paranoid way but yeah it seems to me to be more fantasy than real. Ive lived in a rural area my whole life and I really can’t imagine anything driving the neighbors and me against each other rather than causing us to band together againt the unknown outside threat something like the folks from ‘Feasibility Study’ that Eric brought up.

  • monoceros4

    I’ve said it already here but I’ll say it again: the only reason the script doesn’t fall to pieces, the only reason, is that it supplies a kid with creepily specific alien-invasion fantasies. Every time the situation looks like it might calm down, the kid’s there to pump the tension back up again–every time. First time I saw this episode the way through I was halfway expecting the kid would be revealed as an agent provocateur but no such luck.

    The more I think about this episode the less I like it. It’s like one of Ibsen’s plays that only works because its characters have been painfully contrived to do all the wrong things at the right time.

  • Rock Baker

    Things move quickly here, but we are talking about a half hour show. Maybe they should’ve saved this story for the hour long season, then the build would be less jarring. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the episode as is, but maybe I’m just more willing to play along? Television requires the viewer to accept things they wouldn’t in real life, things like vampires and werewolves, for example. And, yes, Martians more than anything else.

  • To misquote Chesterton, if you tell me that Gladstone was haunted by Parnell’s ghost in his dying years, I might be talked into belief. But if you tell me that Gladstone slapped Queen Victoria’s back and offered her a cigar, I’d scoff openly.

    The problem with this episode is that it is portraying something that all of us KNOW about. Hence it is clearly impossible. Look at the people who refuse to accept sparkly vampires – it just goes against the established canon too much for many of us.

    This episode violates our sense of disbelief in a more profound way than aliens or werewolves. I have the same problem with the crazy religious lady in The Mist. That’s just not how crazy religious people act (having known many) – it’s how a non-believer thinks they might act.

  • zombiewhacker

    Honestly, the idea behind the episode is a good one. It’s the execution that drives me nuts. Give us a REAL reason for people to suddenly start turning on each other. Not some idiot kid scaring adults with things he read in a comic book.

    Compare to Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. The paranoia dividing the characters ultimately proves to be as deadly a foe as the creature itself.

    Or the “Ice” episode from X-Files. Different kind of threat, same fevered reaction.

    Or “The Adversary” or “Way of the Warrior” episodes from ST:DS9.

    In short, give me a smart paranoia episode, not a dumb one.

  • Rock Baker

    Still, Claude Akins.

  • Marsden

    The first time I saw this the whole paranoia and undefined threat parable was completely lost on me and I was disappointed there were no monsters. Maybe I’m too simple, but this episode is a real let down.

  • Yes yes – I have no problem with paranoia and people turning on each other. “The Thing” is a great counterexample, as is “A Simple Plan”.

    And I also admit that as a kid I wanted real monsters too. I guess that’s why I liked Outer Limits more, generally speaking.

  • Ericb

    I’d also add that in the absence of a shape shifting alien monster it would take more than a day for people paranoia to set them at each others’ throats.

  • On the other hand, at Tween Fest it was looking like blood was about to be drawn halfway through that CHASTITY movie. About the time she started talking about her toes, many of us cracked under the strain. Ken narrowly escaped with his life.

  • Rock Baker

    Well, the whole point is how human beings are monsters who have prefected and accepted a front of polite society, and that the facade can be cracked with little effort. It really doesn’t take much to throw people off. If you have a car and a watch that mysteriously stop at the same time, there’s just enough of the unknown to jumpstart the imagination. Unless a simple answer is delivered in short order, paranoia quickly builds without justification. Some radioactive particals were vented in a Japanese reactor and the west coast of the US was in a panic over contamination. I can’t really say that the plot of this episode is all THAT far-fetched (except for the Martians, natch). People tend to panic pretty quickly, I’ve noticed.

  • P Stroud

    “I mean, I’d HAD power outages already in my life and yet I had seen no lynch mobs. And the weird family down the street with the two harelipped kids was hardly ostracized at all. ”

    You are right on, Sandy. I think what we are seeing in this episode is an early manifestation of Hollywood’s maltreatment of people in flyover country. The view prevalent on the Left Coast that the nation is full of easily manipulated and unsophisticated people. Funny, but since I moved from L.A. to Utah I’ve never felt the least bit worried about mobs or riots.

  • Terrahawk

    I disagree with that Rock. A lot of it depends on culture and beliefs. I don’t accept the principle that cultures are all the same with just shiny bits (food, clothing, etc.) being different. I think the Japanese reaction to a major disaster compared to disasters in other places has shown that. That’s why I agree with Sandy that it’s less likely for a suburban neighborhood, like the one depicted in the episode, than for urban one to suddenly crack.

    Some Harvard sociologist released a study that multi-ethnic neighborhoods had the least trust level to the point that even members of the same ethnic group didn’t trust each other as much.

  • Ericb

    Well, I live in a multiethnic Brooklyn neighborhood and the different people get a long just fine. Yesterday there was a St. Patrick’s day parade and people from many ethnicities came and enjoyed the fun including Muslim Turks who wore hijabs and waved American flags (the hajab wearing Mulsim teenaged girles on the subway act just like American teenagers anywhere complete with i-phones, jeans and sneakers). Lots of different people also turn out for the Mamorial Day, Veteran’ Day and Halloween parades in theneigborhood. On 9/11 and the 2003 blackout people pulled together as they often do when someone gets sick on the subway. In Astoria Queens one summer the power went out for more than a week and the peole got angry at the electric company rather than each other. In fact I’d say the the neighborhood I’m living in now has a more of a small town feel than the little town I grew up in and still visit.

  • where have you noticed people panicking so quickly, Rock? Sure, the media got excited about the radiation from Japan, but no one I’ve talked to in person was more than mildly concerned. Many openly mocked the thought that it would reach California. The “panic” was phony. In fact every time I’ve seen people act weird about something, there have ALWAYS been those who pooh-poohed panic and radical action. I can remember in 9/11 in my office some people who first told us that it was a normal plane crash, then clearly only a mistake in air controlling software, then that the buildings would be saved, etc. In this case, the naysaying non-panickers were, of course, wrong, but they still existed.

    While I’m sure there are ethnically diverse neighborhoods that all get along, like Ericb’s and Sesame Street, I have never felt as closely united to any community as I did to the one I grew up in, which was not diverse at all at least spiritually (almost everyone was a Mormon). So if we’re going by anecdotal evidence, there’s my counterexample.

  • Ericb

    I didn’t mean to imply that it’s paradise but neither is it one of the decadent and divisive places often protrayed by some pundits freaking out about “multiculturalism.” And it is cerainly no worse or aleinating than life in the suburbs. There is more community spirit in the neighborhood that I live in now than in some “edge cities” in the suburbs (and in the community I grew up in which for all it’s Norman Rockwell appearance has just as much crap going in as anywhere city). Sure I guess it it anecdotal evidence and I’m not saying it happens everywhere but I’ve been living here for 14 years and that has to count for something.

  • Ericb

    Also, what social tension I do see in NY is more economic than cultural. Gentrification is a sore issue as amoung old timers of many ethnic backgrounds. As hipsters and yuppies move in many of the residents of the older ethic enclaves are forced out of the market. It hasn’t happend where I live so much as I’m out at the edge of Brooklyn but in places closer to Manhattan this is a problem. But my main point is that many neighborhoods in the bouroughs function like villages and many keep that atmosphere even when different ethic immigrant groups replace each other and mix. Unfortunately this atmosphere is weakened when more upscale Manhattanites move to the cheaper pastures of Brooklyn and Queens and turn the neighborhoods into little Manhattans. That seems to be the future for all these neighborhoods. Too bad.

  • Rock Baker

    Okay, I must concur that the over-reaction was coming mostly from the media (and worse, local government), in terms of the radiation scare. It remains true that the hype was meant to make people uneasy with anything nuclear. In many ways, the reactor having problems (after standing firmer than expected against a massive earthquake and tidal wave) was a prospect that had countless media and political figures drooling (as nasty as that sounds of me to say). But there were enough everyday Joes and Jills buying into that hysteria (the media always manages to find a voice or two that’s fallen for their story) that I can buy -under the right circumstances- the sort of paranoia and frenzy we saw on Maple Street. It would never be as large scale, but I can certainly see some pockets of our society going bonkers with little encouragement.

    I should also state, I don’t really agree with the theme of the episode (us all being monsters under our polish). I do, however, find the episode constructed well enough that I can enjoy the story. Little things like music and line readings can work together in such a way as to make even an unlikely affair such as this work within the viewer’s mind for at least as long as the episode lasts. A similar, yet different take on this theme also occured in an episode revolving around a bomb shelter and incoming enemy attack. The theme works as a story, and it really doesn’t matter if it would or would not happen in real life. I recall an episode about the sun not rising in various spots around the world. Obviously, hate won’t form black domes over towns and countries, but the story was intriging enough that I could buy it for 24 minutes.

  • zombiewhacker

    BTW, the X-Files episode “War of Cophrages” was also a good example of hysteria breaking out in a small town.

    I loved this episode particularly because, unlike other X-File shows, it turns out that there is no actual threat. Townspeople are freaking out over an invasion of “killer cockroaches” but really no such infestation exists. There’s a reasonable explanation for all the deaths. (My God… Scully was right for once!)

    But again, panicking is one thing and lynch mobs are something else.

  • Marsden

    Taking in the parable aspects, this episode can work, but it’s still not one of my favorites. I think the Urban situation breaks down much faster and much worse than any other unless it’s on a case by case basis, Katrina showed me how close to anarchy we can be, although I think maybe it’s how close to anarchy New Orleans is. I never thought well of that place and that sure didn’t improve my opinion of it any. Actually, some cities in the North part of the country handle disasters rather well, so it’s not necessarily an urban problem as another kind.

    But back to TV, one of my absolute favorites was The Zanti Misfits, (yes, I know it was Outer Limits) It had everything I could want, action and soldiers blasting the monsters. I get so tired of seeing the Army not be able to kill things. Why do you think the alarmists call it the killbot factory? When I saw that was around the time there were a lot of movies/shows about bugs and spiders and what not that people acted rediculously paniced and it never occured to anyone to step on the damn things. And I remember the whole “Mankind is so savage we had you kill our prisoners because we’re too enlightened to do it ourselves” crap didn’t matter to me at the time.

  • Hey I loved the Zanti Misfits. And in that case, while sure the Zanti wanted us to kill their prisoners, it’s also the case that we clearly see the Zanti launch an attack on the humans FIRST. The army is just monitoring the site. Of course when the attack comes, the army quickly kill the hideous Zanti.

    I guess my last comment on the dire hysteria of suburbia is that in my lifetime I have seen news reports of many riots ranging from the 1960s to 2011 Mid-east. Every single riot was in an urban area.

  • Rock Baker

    Could I speculate that the suburban setting of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” was used purely to hit closer to home for the viewers in terms of the whole ‘monsters-under-our-polish’ theme, and not because the writers felt suburban communities were more likely than any other to fall into panic with minimal stimulation? Suburbs just make a good setting for tales of the fantastic because the majority of people can relate to it and moreso buy into whatever outlandish concept we’re being presented with.

  • sandra

    Isn’t that Jack Weston standing next to Claude ? I have wondered if Rod Serling got the inspiration for Maple St from a movie called NO NAME ON THE BULLET. It starred Audie Murphy as a hired killer who comes to a little town which turns out to be full of people with something to hide. The townsfolk drive themselves crazy trying to figure out who Murphy has come to kill, while he just sits and drinks coffee.