Topic: Science & Technology

Rod Serling in the Unethical Zone
(11/22/2005)

Submitted for your approval: the plight of a certain Rod Serling, a long dead writer with a peculiar problem. For though in life he fought television executives to make television fare meaningful and intelligent, an alliance of venal producers and naïve family members have sentenced him to a hellish eternity beyond his most feverish nightmares. Rod Serling is about to encounter a horror more terrifying than aliens with a cook book, more frightening than a furry monster on an airplane wing. He has taken a crooked road out of the cemetery that has led him to…



NBC's paranormal drama "Medium" features Patricia Arquette as a woman who uses her psychic powers to solve murders. The producers thought it would be a hoot to have their special 3-D episode introduced by the icon of the weird and unexpected, Rod Serling, whose classic series "The Twilight Zone" set the standard that all subsequent science fiction shows on TV have failed to equal or even approach. Luckily for the producers' scheme, Serling is dead, for while he enjoyed playing host to his own programs, Serling was a talented and serious writer for the large and small screen ("Requiem for a Heavyweight;" "Seven Days in May") who would have launched himself into outer space before he rented himself out as a huckster for funny glasses. But it must have been a rough year for the Serling family, because they let themselves be talked into selling Rod's image to the producers of "Medium," who then digitally manipulated footage of him from "The Twilight Zone." Once the Serling-like tones of impressionist Mark Silverman were synchronized to his lips, the sensitive creator of "Patterns" appeared to be telling TV viewers to put on their goggles as soon as the screen was filled by Patricia Arquette's eyeball.

Cool.

This is another step over the ethical line that leads to the world of "Looker," a forgotten sci-fi thriller that starred James Coburn and Susan Dey. Coburn played the evil CEO of a diabolical company that used advance computer technology to make ultra-realistic digital images of models (like Dey) that a technician could then make do, wear, or say anything an advertiser desired on television commercials. The real life models were murdered so that they couldn't object or demand paychecks. Making the images of real people, who have died and cannot protect their own dignity and reputations, into digital slaves is an act of complete exploitation and disrespect, and the casualness with which the Serling example was executed is chilling. According to the Washington Post's TV columnist Lisa de Moraes, "Medium" creator Glen Gordon Caron told reporters that Serling was "a little stiff" to work with (har! har!) before he lauded Serling's "legacy." But Serling certainly didn't want this posthumous addition to his legacy, and forcing it on him was an artistic and technological breach of ethics despite the fact that his family seems to have been complicit in it.

Rod Serling's passions were social justice, peace, racial harmony, and human kindness, and his brand of fantasy and science fiction was just a medium for his message. Repackaging this brilliant and passionate man into the vacuous host of a "Medium" episode is bad enough, but what's next? A digital strip tease by Katherine Hepburn? John Wayne advocating Iraq troop withdrawals? Bob Hope and Bing Crosby eating bugs on Fear Factor? Mister Rogers performing obscene rap lyrics?

In the 21st Century, films, recordings and videotapes of great and talented individuals from America's past are their memorials, as crucial to their memories and places in history, popular culture and posterity as the statues and marble memorials of old. Using them in ways that would have embarrassed or outraged these celebrities when they were alive is as wrong as defacing their gravestones or destroying their monuments.

Rod Serling, a man who wrote fantastic stories that warned humanity of the dangers of meanness, pettiness and narrow-mindedness, is now condemned to an afterlife on videotape as a grinning 3-D enthusiast. Mark his fate well, and file it under D for disrespect in the over-flowing annals that document the crimes of the very breed of television executives that Serling battled in life…those who don't even know that they dwell in the shadowy place we like to call…


 

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