Rod Serling: human rights activist as science fiction showrunner

Science fiction author Hugh Spencer (previously) has published an essay on how Rod Serling's activist views on human rights were embodied in The Twilight Zone, drawing on the practice of using fantastic fiction to evade social constraints, in the tradition of Gulliver's Travels (to say nothing of books like Pinocchio and Inferno).

Spencer uses Twilight Zone and Night Gallery episodes to show how Serling's activism influenced his storytelling, and how he learned to sneak "controversial" subjects past the network censors. Spencer argues that Serling's work is a kind of dramatic retelling of the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, where the story and Serling's amazing monologues worked together to combine drama and exposition to make trenchant points related to hot-button current events.

Serling, Spencer reminds us, was a public political activist, who drew heat for refusing to take a loyalty oath. Science fiction remains an active source of political pushback, with shows like Black Mirror; it's awfully fitting that Jordan "Get Out" Peele will be running a rebooted Twilight Zone.

When we compare themes from vintage television programs with clauses from an international legal document we are engaged in much more than a curious categorization exercise. There is an almost intuitive appeal and intellectual impact when we view the artistry of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery through the ethical lens of the UDHR.

The UDHR expresses values and principles that Rod Serling embraced as a writer, as a citizen of his country, and as a human being. Much of his work addresses the dangers of intolerance, prejudice, and systemic cruelty. It is not surprising that Serling used fiction, whether realist or magic-realist, in combination with real-world activism to oppose injustice and promote his political views.

Social Justice from the Twilight Zone: Rod Serling as Human Rights Activist
[Hugh AD Spencer/Dialogue]