Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Zoned Out

Warning: The following entry contains links to a few Twilight Zone episode spoilers, if you haven't seen the episode(s) referenced I suggest you see them first lest you ruin the one time pleasure of catching a good Twilight Zone twist. 

Over the years, my 4th of July has, in a gradual and steady manner, developed a fairly set routine. The only other holidays with more firmly established rituals and expectations are probably Thanksgiving and New Years. For me I know exactly what I'm getting on Independence Day. Some activities include: taking the trip to my Uncle's house for the big family BBQ where I meet all my distant relatives from my aunt's side who I never remember the names of; eating more varieties and quantities of meat than I ever do all year; catching the local (extremely underrated) town fireworks show; sweating a lot from the heat; and of course watching "The Twilight Zone" marathon on Syfy (I still feel stupid writing their name out that way).

While "The Twilight Zone" is also often given a marathon on New Years Eve, it's the summer marathon that I've grown the most attached towards. For me the pale, severe, image of a gray suited Rod Serling is as much an essential part of the general tableau of Independence Day as BBQs, the American flag, fireworks, and the Founding Fathers hanging out over the Declaration of Independence. That being said, it pains me however to say that in recent years the "Twilight Zone" Marathon has lost a lot of its luster. Interestingly enough the cause of this decline is an ironic twist worthy of the "Twilight Zone" itself.

For as far back as I can recall, the TZ Marathon was my exclusive yearly source for catching episodes of the series. The earliest marathons where I was actually first introduced to the show were the New Years Eve marathons on local channel 11 (WPIX). Eventually the show moved to Syfy where the 4th of July tradition was established. The scarcity of episodes for the whole year contrasted with the sudden overwhelming deluge of them and only further added to the marquee event status of the marathons in my life. It became my yearly passion to catch and savor as much of these episodes as possible before the long drought until the next marathon.

This dynamic was completely destroyed a few years ago though when I received a DVD box set of the entire run of the series for Christmas. I do want to go on record that it was indeed one of the most thoughtful and generous Christmas gifts I have ever received in my life. However, much like the twist in "The Brain Center at Whipple's" the long term, unforeseen consequence of this fantastic advance in technology was that it completely obsoleted a previous way of life (the value of the marathons). Further compounding the effect of this gift was the availability of the entire series run on Netflix Instant streaming about a year or so later. The prospect of immediate hard and soft copy access to commercial free, uncut, remastered editions of every episode compared to catching random, formatted, episodes twice a year on TV was as lopsided a fight as Lee Marvin's sad final stand against his superior android boxing opponent in "Steel". The age of the marathon being appointment television had come to a swift end.

In a way, the situation follows the frequently explored "Twilight Zone" trope of "be careful what you wish for". Whether it's a dickish Genie ("The Man in The Bottle") or Satan ("A Nice Place To Visit"), people who end up wishing for everything they want or what they think they want usually find themselves far unhappier (or worse) than they were originally. Growing up I wanted to be able to catch every episode of the show I enjoyed so much, but now that I have it all at my finger tips my passion for it has flagged. Another common TZ trope my situation may fall under would be the "you can't go home again/your childhood is gone forever" message that comes up frequently. The most heartbreaking and obvious example of this would be the classic "Walking Distance" (which I think could also make for a really surreal episode of "Man Men"). "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville" actually walks a fine line between "be careful what you wish for" and "you can't go home again" where a man who has taken everything in life makes a Faustian deal just for the opportunity to go back and take it all again (with obvious unforeseen consequences). In my case the prime TZ marathons of my youth were from a simpler, happier, era before DVD box sets and streaming video where one had to work for and earn the simple joy of just catching what you wanted on TV; an era that is gone forever.

Of course there are examples of the contrary. Sometimes a big wish is just what you need and you have to have some faith in it ("The Big Tall Wish") and maybe sometimes you have to realize that the past really wasn't that great, there's no use trying to live in it, and you should move forward and grow as a person ("The Incredible World of Horace Ford"). Then there's the most important life lesson of all: always have a spare pair of glasses handy ("Time Enough At Last"). 

You know, all this writing about the Twilight Zone kinda makes me want to watch some episodes...

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