Put the Monster in the Cornfield

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August 13, 2007

As resident horror/sci-fi/fantasy buff here at STR , I'd like to draw to your attention an old and rather famous Twilight Zone episode. It's the one about a small rural town in Ohio , a town every single bit as Norman Rockwell as the early 1960s in which it fictitiously existed. A serene, peaceful, sleepy place to live.

Until the monster came to town.

The monster took away the electricity, the telephones, the automobiles--everything mechanical or technological. Because these things displeased him. He isolated the town from the outside world, creating an acutely finite island of existence in which there were few creature comforts left, and from which there was no escape. And he could read the thoughts of the townspeople; even the thoughts of dogs and other animals. Everyone did their best to think only happy thoughts, do happy things (at least the people, that is). To displease the monster was to risk being sent to the cornfield, you see. And the cornfield was death.

The episode in question was "It's A Good Life" (not to be confused with the Xmastime classic starring Jimmy Stewart, of course--another great piece of fantasy cinema, though irrelevant here), and the "monster" was a six year old boy, Anthony Fremont, portrayed in fine form by Billy Mumy (later of Lost in Space fame as Will Robinson, today still a sci-fi actor, musician, and author). Anthony Fremont, in this tale, has been born with a very special and terrible gift: He can make anything at all reality, simply by using his mind. Because of this, the adults in town are stricken with fear by his very presence; they go to any length to keep him appeased. Knowing this, Anthony governs them like a child king, an utterly irresponsible, unaccountable tyrant who has no sense of consequence whatever for his actions. His abilities have endowed him with a means by which to entirely subvert and abdicate the natural process of maturation. As a result, the unspoken implication among the adult townsfolk is that--barring Anthony's own demise--in due course, he will cause them all to die. However, in order to forestall the inevitable, the adult population are constantly reminding Anthony--no matter how egregious one of his acts--that "Why, it's good you did that Anthony! Real good!" And, "Everyone here loves you, Anthony! We love you, son!"

TZ creator Rod Serling often used his program to convey political and social messages which, at the time (perhaps even today, in many cases) would've never otherwise made it past network censors. As he said himself: "I can have a Martian say what Republicans and Democrats could never get away with." My feeling is that "It's A Good Life" makes one of the most powerful commentaries about government and its insane relationship to society ever visited. The townsfolk fear Anthony greatly, even hate him, though they are afraid to admit this (or even think it too loud), much less take action against him. His own mother and father still harbor feelings of parental devotion--albeit they know their son is a walking, breathing nightmare. He is tolerated and co-existed with only on account of the damage he can do, and what everyone feels they still have to lose. Indeed, the one person who rebels during the episode, after getting drunk on brandy during a birthday party held at the Fremont household in his honor, points ominously at little Anthony and states: "You. You monster. You murderer. You go ahead and think about me, Anthony. Think real hard." And then, his unsober, frantic eyes sweeping the room, he continues: "And maybe some man in this room, someone with the guts, someone who's sick to death of living in a place like this . . . maybe that someone will come up behind you and lay something heavy across your skull." But no one flinches. In the end, even after screaming, "Won't somebody pick up a bottle or a lamp or SOMETHING and END THIS ONCE AND FOR ALL !", Anthony turns the offending party into a grotesque jack-in-the-box, and at his father's pleading, wishes it "away into the cornfield." The revolt is thus crushed, and the darkness of Anthony's rule continues.

The allegory to the "real" world is in overt evidence. Let's take it a step further, though. While government is widely reviled at many levels by people across the political and philosophical spectrums, I hold that it is only the libertarian anarchist whose denunciation is at once consistent, moral, and logical. As examples, the leftist may detest the Drug War, yet when the State levies taxes by force to redistribute as welfare, he is the first to exclaim that it's good that Anthony did that, real good. Likewise, the right-winger may loathe gun confiscation, but when American forces are sent abroad adventuristically--to plunder, kill, and impose their will on another people--he is proud to proclaim that he loves Anthony; we all love you, son. Neither realizes that there is either liberty (no State) or tyranny (a State, any State); that there is and can be no "reasonable" compromise, no "middle ground."

Neither realizes that there is no such thing as half a monster.

And that unless we put that monster there first, likewise, the cornfield awaits us all.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 153

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His MeWe group can be found here.