Why The Twilight Zone shatters Black Mirror

Nicole Bolla ‘20,Opinion Editor

Any sci-fi enthusiast worth their salt undoubtedly knows of the late 50’s and early 60’s television show The Twilight Zone. With its iconic black and white spiral imagery and self-contained stand-alone stories, Twilight Zone paved the way for future shows that would follow the same formula, like Black Mirror. Black Mirror follows the same single-episode story formula as Twilight Zone, but, because it was created in 2011, it focuses more on how technology is the downfall of humanity. But as time will show us, newer is not always better. 

Kathryn VanArendonk, a critic for New York Magazine and The Vulture, said, “Season five [of Black Mirror] is a mess.” Black Mirror is going downhill the longer it goes on, as is evident to anyone who has seen it.  The Twilight Zone, in comparison, has aged remarkably well and still holds its place as one of television’s top sci-fi series, showing that it is nearly impossible to outdo the classics.  

Black Mirror is well known for its strange vulgarity and confusing plots such as the 2017 episode “Crocodile” in which a woman accidentally commits a murder and covers it up, but years later kills three more people—including a baby—to keep her secret. This, albeit predictably, ultimately backfires and she is seen crying when the police come to collect her. 

The Twilight Zone, however, does not have this level of savagery due to the strict censorship laws that were implemented in 1934 and then softened in the late 1970s. These laws were put in place to prevent anything deemed ‘inappropriate’ from being aired. Such laws included no displays of graphic or excessive violence and no overtly sexual content. These laws were so smothering that when showing married couples, the actors could not even be sleeping in the same bed; they had to have two twin beds. 

With such a restrictive code of conduct put in place, it forced the writers of The Twilight Zone to think outside the box in order to provide content that was interesting to adults. This led to the creation of some amazing episodes like “Shadow Play” in which a man has a recurring nightmare that he is sentenced to death by electric chair. He desperately tries to warn the figments in his dream that if he dies in the dream, he will wake up and they will cease to exist, so instead of showing his graphic death, they show the figments of his dream try to stop his execution in any way they can. This is more entertaining than Black Mirror because the audience does not know whether to believe the man or not. It forces the viewer to think outside of the box and use context clues to solve the mystery and make educated guesses. When watching an episode of The Twilight Zone you are not just watching, you are experiencing.

Despite the regulations, The Twilight Zone managed to come out on top, soon becoming one of most influential television series of all time. In contrast, the use of vulgar content in Black Mirror is supposed to make the content more ‘adult’, but there is almost nothing engaging behind it besides the idea that technology is harmful to human society.

The amount of effort in the content of each episode is not the only category in which The Twilight Zone beats out Black Mirror. The Twilight Zone was shot at the very end of the golden age of film noir. Film noir was a movie genre popular in the 1940s and 1950s that was shot in black and white. This mysterious and moody black and white vibe complimented The Twilight Zone’s thriller/sci-fi aesthetic perfectly. The classic cinematography provides a layer of depth and mystery that Black Mirror simply lacks.

The Twilight Zone also has an interesting perception of ideas. The show was created during Cold War America, specifically the arms race, so many of the episodes focus on nuclear fallout and what could happen in the future. This show has aged well because it provides a look at the fears and retributions of 1960s America through an extraterrestrial lense. It is both entertaining and informative as now people know that the prediction of nuclear war was false, but allows insight into what could have been. 

Black Mirror, being focused on the interactions between humanity, reality, and science, takes place mostly in the modern-day; this means incorporating real debates from current events, primarily the argument of whether technology is enhancing or ruining human society. Although The Twilight Zone is a 60-year-old show, the imminent fear for what could happen reflects our current fears in the face of pandemics, worsening tensions, and natural disasters during this strange time in American history.

Whether it is battling aliens or dealing with a nuclear fallout, The Twilight Zone has Black Mirror beat. The eeriness of the black and white screen goes perfectly with the thriller genre and wraps the audience in a smoky haze of intrigue and mystery. Coupled with the interesting plot and the possibility that anything could happen, and you have yourself a formula for The Twilight Zone.  So maybe the next time you pick up your  remote to watch some Black Mirror, consider unlocking the door with the key of imagination and crossing over into The Twilight Zone.


Photo courtesy of variety.com

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