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  •  "To Serve Man" (13+ / 0-)

    Over at the A.V. Club, they have a new article that looks back at a classic episode of "The Twilight Zone." I don't know if it's possible to spoil a 51-year-old episode of television, especially one with as well known a twist as this one, but just in case spoilers for the episode do follow.

    "To Serve Man" first aired March 2nd, 1962, and is based on a 1950 short story by Damon Knight. Todd VanDerWerff over at the A.V. Club approaches the episode a little differently than most reviews I've read in the past by asking whether the Kanamits "deal" was all that bad in the grand scheme of things?

    I hadn’t seen this episode in so long—probably since high school—that essentially all I could remember about it was the twist, which has been parodied and repeated ad nauseum throughout this great popular culture of ours.... What I found myself thinking about this time through was this idea: Would it really be so bad to be a human in this scenario? I mean, yes, the idea is that we are basically turned into cattle. The Kanamits stop us from killing each other, and they keep us healthy and well-fed that they might take us back to their home planet and devour us. We never see the aftermath of Patty realizing that the book, To Serve Man, is actually a cookbook. So I suppose it’s possible that humans are kept under lock and key after that, as Mr. Chambers is on board the ship. But at least in this episode, people are free to head to the Kanamits’ homeworld when they so choose. The Kanamits can’t kill all of us—as they might in a typical alien invasion story—because they need a breeding population to keep their main course coming. Yes, I can see the horror here, but there’s also a certain appeal that is easier for me to see now than when I was a teenager. A world where your every want and need is taken care of could be a nice one. A world without war could definitely be a nice one.

    The question, I suppose, is how much you value your own independence, how willing you are to push against the grain. “To Serve Man” has become one of those episodes of this show that gets so often shown in high schools because it promotes those sorts of thoughts at a time when many teenagers are starting to really question everything they were raised with in earnest. Adolescence is a time of rebellion, and “To Serve Man” paints a scenario where rebellion is called for, but everybody is lulled into complacency by basic creature comforts... The Kanamits seem like they would be so easy to fight back against, but nobody does so. They’re too blinded by the stuff they’re getting.

    That, of course, is perfect for a teenager, certain that his parents are too complacent because of their creature comforts, certain that all of the adults she sees are blinded to the coursing emotions and pain of everyday life. To see this at 17 is to think that, yes, you would fight back against the Kanamits. Even if you couldn’t decipher what was in that book, you would realize something was up, that your species was to be decimated via the least likely means possible. To watch as an adult, however, is to realize how sadly plausible this all is, to realize just how nice it might be to not have to worry anymore.

    A few interesting things about this episode:
    • This episode goes against the usual grain of "Twilight Zone" episodes. Usually characters, such as those in "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street," are punished for their closed mindedness and their inability to accept & trust strangers, giving into their fear & paranoia. The exact opposite happens in this episode. Humanity accepts the Kanamits, disarms, and becomes the equivalent of cattle.
    • Why would the head Kanamit bring a cookbook to the United Nations while trying to deceive humanity into becoming food? "Because it doesn't matter, they've already won. They're playing with their food. It's like a sadistic farmer who plays cruel games on a hog because, "Who cares?" It's going to be porkchops anyway... Or how a seafood restaurant isn't too concerned about leaving the menu out in plain view of the lobster tank."

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