Censorship and the Twilight Zone

During Banned Book Week (September 25 – October 2), we’re each going to talk about a particular banned young adult or middle grade novel. These are books someone somewhere has challenged as unfit for kid consumption—either in public schools or libraries. However, sometimes what we write gets censored even before it sees the light of day. Rod Serling talks about just that in this interview with Mike Wallace that recently surfaced:



Serling discusses how sponsors and networks emasculated the content of shows he’d worked on prior to the Twilight Zone. When pressed about his new show, Serling explains that he’s tired of fighting the censors and he just wants to put on an entertaining show. (I’m paraphrasing.)

“So, you’ve given up on writing anything important for television,” Wallace tells him.

Serling answers, “…if you mean I’m not going to delve into important social issues, then I’m not.”

Hah.

Serling was no fool. This interview aired the night before the Twilight Zone premiered on October 2, 1959. In later years, Serling admitted he chose a science fiction / fantasy anthology format precisely for the opposite reason that he told Mike Wallace (and all the sponsors and network suits watching). Serling knew he could wrap what he wanted to say about important social issues up in the shiny, palatable wrapper of speculative fiction—and put one over on the suits. They equated science fiction with escapist fare like Buck Rogers. But Serling used science fiction and fantasy to make shows about racism, Nazis, the Cold War, religion, and the loneliness of modern life. And he won three Emmys in the process.

Ironically, if Rod Serling hadn’t fought censorship throughout his TV writing career, we might not be watching the Twilight Zone over 50 years later.

Can you guys think of any other instances where science fiction and/or fantasy were used to ingeniously “skirt” censorship issues? Or where the possibility of censorship actually spurred on the writer’s creativity?

8 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I believe the Wizard of OZ is extremely symbolic for the time period. All the characters, OZ (ounces of gold), the emerald city, the poppies - they all stand for something. But, um, I can't remember what.

Angie Smibert said...

Didn't know that! Thanks, Laura.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan said...

Star Trek was used to discuss racism. It featured the first interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura (aliens forced them to do it). There was another show about an alien race where the beings were white on one side and black on the other. Individuals differed as to which side was which color, and the prejudice between the two sub-races nearly killed off the entire alien race.

SF was/is still used in some Communist or former Communist countries as a way to dodge censorship. I've seen this discussed in Locus, but I don't have access to back issues at the moment and can't provide examples.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Just another reason TZ rocks! And spec fiction in general...

Jen Chandler said...

One of the many reasons I love SF/F and speculative fiction. You have freedom to voice whatever issue you like, as long as it's packaged as a nice, fictional story in a nice, fictional world. Lovely, isn't it?

Jen

Melody said...

I had actually never thought of anyone intentionally masking a social commentary in fiction. I knew people did, but I also knew it was open for people to recognize. I never thought of someone doing it to avoid censorship...

Angie Smibert said...

Sandra - Yes! The original Star Trek was another great example of using scifi to slip tricky issues (for the time) past the suits. Roddenberry pitched the show as Wagon Train to the stars--and then gave them interracial kissing.

Annette Lyon said...

Fascinating. The puppy story just boggles the mind.