Maple Street USA, mid-summer. A tree lined little world of front porch swings, barbecues, the laughter of children and the bell of an ice cream vendor.
This is how Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling set the stage for his masterpiece, the episode of his series that first catapulted it into television history titled The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. Maple Street USA was just as you might imagine it, the typical middle class American neighborhood teeming with everything that now epitomizes the United States in the late 1950s. Little girls jumped rope and played hop scotch. Young boys tossed around baseballs, while husbands smoked a pipe on the front porch as their wives prepared fresh apple pie. It was the classic American Utopia, until the “monsters” arrived.
In the episode aliens from outer space, a relatively new and scary concept to Americans at the time, descend on the neighborhood. The citizens never actually see them, but they don’t need to in order to fulfill the aliens goal. It begins with a power outage. Then the neighbors notice their handheld radios and even their cars won’t turn on. Before long, they are at each others throats. Men women and children alike are accused of being deep cover alien spies, sent to scout the area for a coming invasion. The episode concludes with the murder of an innocent man, mistaken for an alien invader. The camera pans to a nearby hillside, where the real aliens remark, “Turn off a few of their machines and radios, throw them into darkness for a few hours. Then sit back and watch the pattern. They pick the most dangerous enemy they can find, themselves. Their world is full of Maple Streets. We will go from one to the other and let them destroy themselves.”
This episode was a more modern take on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Where Miller elucidated the tragic history of the Salem Witch Trials, Serling warned his fellow Americans against McCarthyism and the great Red Scare of the 1950s. As I watched this episode this week, one person became fixed in my mind, Joe Biden.
The former Vice President has come under attack recently for his characteristic excessive physical contact with strangers. This personality trait has been on public display for the entirety of his nearly fifty year public career. It has been memed, joked about, and parodied many times since his election as Vice President of the United States in 2009. It never gave anyone pause, until rumors surfaced that he was planning a run for president.
I disagree with Biden on nearly every policy position, but this is outrageous. His cunning presidential opponents have successfully capitalized on the growing outrage machine in American culture in order to take down an innocent man. This isn’t about #metoo, a valid and empowering movement that has brought down several sex predators. The attacks on Biden are just like those seen from the aliens in The Twilight Zone. Political opportunists are taking advantage of the legitimate #metoo movement, and the growing public appetite for celebrity humiliation to devastate Biden’s campaign before it begins.
Chaos rules in our post-religious society. Acceptable societal and moral standards are an ever moving goal post. Like the onlookers at the gladiator battles in ancient Rome, Americans look on with bated breath, salivating for TMZ to bring them a new celebrity pelt. We are locked in a cultural Indian Run, happy merely not to be the poor fool caught in the back of the line when the coach blows his whistle. Fear of public judgements keeps those in positions to stop the madness from speaking out in defense of those like Biden who have committed no crime, but still find themselves in the crosshairs of social media outrage.
We, like the inhabitants of Maple Street, are destroying ourselves. All men are fallible. Everyone makes mistakes. If we enforce today’s societal standards on yesterday’s actions, we create a litmus test that no one can stand up against.. Biden is too touchy. It is sometimes cringey and weird, but it’s not immoral. He didn’t actually sexually assault anyone at all.
Serling’s closing comments for the episode were both relevant then and prophetic for our society today. ” The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined, to the Twilight Zone.”