Science Fiction Film & Television

A journey into the shadows

The Twilight Zone's visual critique of the Cold War

Science Fiction Film & Television (2014), 7, (1), 55–76.

Abstract

The Cold War was a time of strict binaries where the symbolic struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness played out in both public rhetoric and popular culture. Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (US 1959-64) drew on this imagery to create a television show that explored the shaded areas where light and dark met. In order to discuss such delicate matters as nuclear anxiety, racial tension and suburban conformity, Serling asked viewers to journey into what he termed a ‘land of shadows’ where normal rules and expectations broke down. In The Twilight Zone, shadows became the site of a cultural critique that utilised these liminal spaces of ambiguity to challenge the dualistic thinking of the times. Although critics have discussed the show's thematic content, little attention has been paid to The Twilight Zone's visual feel - a striking omission given the show's title. The Twilight Zone was a provocative series where thematic content and innovative visual style were mutually reinforcing. Serling and his co-authors' scripts offered strange, twisting tales that caught viewers off guard, forcing them to rethink commonly held beliefs. But the visual feel of the majority of the episodes, populated by shadow and chiaroscuro, worked in tandem with the show's content to create a world where the common assumptions of the Cold War were interrogated and, oftentimes, overturned.

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Mortenson, Erik