Americans of a certain age will recall a Twilight Zone episode called “It’s A Good Life.” In it, six-year-old Anthony Fremont (Billy Mumy) turns 40-something birthday celebrant Dan Hollis (Don Keefer) into a jack-in-the-box and “wishes” him into the cornfield. Little Anthony was a monster — a mind-reading, music-hating brat with supernatural powers. He used his special gift on anyone who dared to think thoughts he didn’t like.
All Dan wanted to do was listen to his Perry Como album, a birthday gift from his wife. Anthony vetoed that idea, of course, so Dan downed a little too much brandy, his other gift, before giving the boy a piece of his mind. As anyone over 60 — and most over 50 — probably knows, Anthony pointed at Dan, calling him “a bad man, a very bad man” before condemning him to that eternal spring (boing!) in the field.
The episode, from the show’s third season in 1961, ranks among Twilight Zone’s best. Based on a short story by Jerome Bixby, critics and fans appear to agree that the message of Rod Serling’s teleplay was, essentially this: “Take heed, parents. Control your kids before they control all of us.”
But despite a couple of remakes and assorted rip-offs, Serling’s instruction didn’t seem to take. Each day brings us headlines of fired teachers and coaches in primary and secondary schools who’ve said something that today’s little Anthony Fremonts find upsetting. In the universities, it’s the student as often as the professor who gets sent to the metaphorical cornfield for breaking that most abhorrent modern code of conduct that we have all been lured into calling “wokeness.” (More on that later.)
Over the first five years of this century, I taught an upper-division course in writing and critical thinking at a major west coast university. Oh, the things I got away with! Not once did I ask my students their preferred pronouns. My lectures were full of that dreaded heteronormative storytelling — the quintessential expression of white male phobic rage — and I coerced my students to consider outmoded ideas, e.g., empirical evidence. Privilege no doubt dripped from my podium as I spoke of white supremacist notions, like avoiding perfect solution fallacies, and warned them of the perils of ad hominem attack. Put me back in a college classroom today and I’d be tweeted to the cornfield faster than you can say “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
Serling understood that stifling our freedom of thought and expression was monstrous activity, that the victim is more enslaved than simply “canceled.” In a sense, he is killed — in mind, heart, and soul. Yet, among us, we find a legion of zealous advocates for this brand of serial murder. Notoriously, some of these verbicidal maniacs inhabit the halls of Congress, some wear the robes of academia, while others run Big Tech and Big Media. All of them fancy themselves (at least publicly) as champions of the little guy, of the downtrodden, of the historically mistreated. They somehow still don’t understand, despite the lessons of the Third Reich, the Soviets, the North Koreans, the Cubans, et al., that the world they try to create cannot be achieved.
The first rule of bullies is that when left unchecked, they continue to bully. To stop bullying, two things are required: first, one must tell the unvarnished truth about the larger situation and accurately report the antisocial behavior; second, one must be equipped to disable the bad actor. Failing in either prong can be lethal.
Before meeting his tragic fate, Dan implored the other men in that Ohio living room to do something while the boy was focused on him, to “lay something heavy across his skull.” Dan acknowledged it would take someone “with guts,” someone who was sick and tired of living under the oppression the kid had brought to their lives. He provoked the little darling by reminding the others of the kid’s pure evil. Anthony resented that truth and canceled Dan with extreme prejudice. Because no one stepped forward, Anthony had his next victim.
So how do we step forward? I previously suggested we at least tell them to “shut up.” More is needed, obviously to confront and call out the beast. Mocking the devil is never advisable, but what about his minions? Aside from the theological question, mockery is a tough business these days. The Babylon Bee can afford lawyers to instruct the New York Times on the meaning of satire. Most of us would prefer to spare ourselves the expensive exercise. But as Dan said, it will take “men [and women] with guts” to end what is making us all sick and tired.
So, here’s a modest proposal (and it ain’t satire): we stop playing by their rules and debating in their tongue. “Wokeness” is a hollow philosophy and a linguistic crime. Ditto “cancel culture.” A movement based on rendering its opposition “nonpersons” is a hideous cult, not a culture. Parents, forbid your children from going along to get along. Remind them that boys are “he” and girls are “she” and that together they are “they.” Remind them “they” represent an actual culture, i.e., Western Civilization, and that if said civilization is to have a future, it must be protected and defended.
Parents, we are not absolved of our obligation to fight this enemy. If you haven’t already volunteered in this war, consider yourself conscripts in a force whose cause is just (which you likely know or would not be reading this publication). It may be in the workplace, at the grocery store, in a book club, or coffee klatch, but be ready to thicken your skin to protect and defend our way of life every bit as enthusiastically as we want our kids to do. We all have to do our part in the effort.
It’s a sad truth that we live in an age that is Beyond Satire (that’s “BS” for short). But if we let them win, the world we get will make us wish we were simply entering The Twilight Zone.