In the early 1960s, the concept of “political correctness” didn’t exist. Most people weren’t aware of any of these concerns, but if they were, they simply disregarded them as annoying or shut them out.
The 7th Is Made Up Of Phantoms
An example is the issue of the plight of native Americans. In “The 7th is Made Up of Phantoms,” three National Guardsmen were transported back in time to join Custer’s battle against the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. This is an interesting study in time travel, how it happened, why it happened and how the modern day participants became historical figures. You could never tell this story today, though, because of the central issue involving the native Americans.
In the 1960s, we loved westerns. There were many cowboy TV shows and lots of movies featuring gun-slinging sheriffs and arrow-shooting Indians. We still viewed the Indians as dangerous wild animals to be feared and killed. Custer, already a victorious Union Army general, along with his soldiers were gallant heroes caught in a no-win struggle against an evil foe.
Nowadays that story would be turned on its head. White men were infringing on native American land and decimating their way of life. They simply got what they deserved. Is this political correctness? Just what is political correctness?
It started out as an attempt to view the wronged party in a sympathetic light, to understand that everyone has their point of view and has value. The civil rights movement in this country brought this out in the 1950s and 1960s. People were being treated horribly and things had to change.
Obviously, this didn’t start out as something bad. Discrimination hurts everyone. The credo of our nation is that all people should have the opportunity to pursue their own path in life without the risk of violence.
It’s important to look at both sides of the situation, though. The natives wanted their land and their rights which were being encroached upon, nearly wiping them out. Custer, on the other hand, had his duty to do. He was part of the westward expansion. He was a product of his time, right or wrong. By the time General Custer came along, the native Americans had been lied to over and over, and badly mistreated by the white government. It’s no wonder they were in a scalping mood.
One side argues that discriminatory practices must be set right. The other side says this is impossible: People who were wronged have long since passed and those who are the beneficiaries of these favored policies were never wronged in the first place.
Why can political correctness be counterproductive? When taken too far, anything is bad. For example, allowing more members of one racial group access into college, not by academic standards, but purely by race. If people are given benefits that they don’t deserve, they won’t work hard to better themselves. Society ends up with not the brightest, but just those who got the free pass. Mediocrity ensues.
The Big Tall Wish
However, where Twilight Zone failed with native Americans, it got it right with African-Americans. In “The Big Tall Wish,” all of the major players are African-American, yet they aren’t playing African-American roles, for example, a black maid or a black butler. They’re just people. Imagine that! This was unheard of in the early 1960s.
This is a poignant story about a little boy, Henry, who makes big wishes, in this case, that his friend, Bolie Jackson, an over-the-hill boxer, will win his fight. Later during the fight, Bolie is down on the mat being counted out, but Henry is making his big wish and suddenly Bolie is standing up, being hailed as the victor by the referee. Later, Bolie tells Henry that there is no such thing as wishes. The spell is instantly broken and Bolie is back down on the mat having lost the fight.
This episode is superbly acted by Ivan Dixon as Bolie, who would go on to star in “Hogan’s Heroes, Stephen Perry as Henry, and Kim Hamilton as Frances, Henry’s mother. It was a story that could have been played by white actors, but choosing to use African-Americans made it even more touching. Yes, there were white boxers, but the struggle of the black man was portrayed without having to beat people over the head with politically correct dogma.
Women in Twilight Zone
No conversation about political correctness can be complete without considering how women are dealt with. Looking back at television in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we see that women were usually ditzy housewives, rarely working away from home or doing anything that would use much brain power. They were getting into ridiculous situations on “I Love Lucy” or were simply added to the set decoration.
However, if the female characters were dull, boring, scared, petty, mean or otherwise less than stellar, it’s only because most of the characters in the Twilight Zone stories are like this, male or female. Rod Serling likes to bring out the human failings in every person no matter what the gender. People get an equal opportunity to fail and they usually do.
Twilight Zone, and Rod Serling, were products of their time, getting some things right and missing the mark on others. Perhaps people are overly sensitive. It’s easy to become outraged if you belong to a group that has been hurt in the past. However, there are always instances of people who have risen above discrimination to become successful in spite of it. This discussion is far from over, but the continued move toward equal opportunity is the right course of action. I think this is what Twilight Zone tried to achieve through its stories and it achieved this goal more often than not.