“The Obsolete Man” in the 21st century

Can a half-hour TV show be a masterpiece? The genius of Rod Serling’s best work is he isn’t taking aim at left or right, patriot or rebel, believer or unbeliever. If you’re displaying the behavior, it’s about you. Minus commercials, twenty minutes to tell a story that sucks you in and often turns you inside out. What’s more, in these times of trigger warnings and public vilification for a careless word or unpopular perspective, The Twilight Zone is at least as relevant as when originally broadcast in 1959-64.


The Obsolete Man, emblematic of Serling’s best work, features Romney Wordsworth (Burgess Meredith), a librarian in a state without books, judged to be obsolete and sentenced to death. The warehouse-like courtroom is a gray beehive with buzzing drone-like people. Serling introduces this dystopian state as a place where “Logic is an enemy and truth is a menace”. We learn the “State has proven there is no God”. When he’s judged to be obsolete, Wordsworth responds, “No man is obsolete. I am a human being. I exist”, to which the Chancellor responds, “Delusions that you inject into your printer’s veins with printer’s ink…the state has no use for your kind…no more books means no more librarians”. When the state lets him choose the manner of his execution and permits the broadcasting of his death for its “Educative effect on the population”, Wordsworth chooses to die in his book-laden room, invites the Chancellor to observe him prepare for his “educative” death. But unbeknownst to his executioner, Wordsworth has locked the door so both men will perish. The oblivious Chancellor poses the question: “How does a man react to the knowledge that he is going to be blown to bits?” With the locked door revealed and the clock on the wall ticking, Wordsworth counters with a word of his own: “Let’s see how a Chancellor of the state dies…let’s have a little chat…just you and me and the great equalizer.”


Wordsworth proceeds to read from Psalm 23, from the Book of books forbidden by the state, the Chancellor smoking in nervous silence, both men defined in the moments the clock ticks down to the blast.


Serling’s postscript sounds quaint today: “Any state that does not recognize the worth, the dignity, the rights of man, is obsolete.” In the verdict the state levies on the disgraced Chancellor, we might recall the Robespierres and Trotskys of history, the “Chancellors” in our day dragged down by their ideological brothers and sisters for one false step, one moment of weakness. In black and white and in 30 minutes, Serling depicts flashpoint issues in ways that chips away at our psychological and ideological biases.


In his time, no one would have called Serling a reactionary or religious zealot, but his views about human dignity no longer correspond with those who apply gender, sexual orientation, religious, psychological, racial, ethnic, or class struggle lenses to every spoken or written word. He was from a generation that witnessed the “obsolete” eliminated by the millions. The Chancellor says the problem with Hitler and Stalin was they didn’t go far enough. Serling was a humanist who knew that liberty, justice, and solidarity can only be built on a foundation of “The worth, the dignity, the rights” of every human being.


The human heart

Those who live only for pleasure become cynical in middle age. A cynic has been defined as one who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. You blame things, rather than self. If you are married, you say: “If I had another husband, or another wife, I could be happy.” Or you say, “If I had another job…” or, “If I were in another city, I would be happy”…


Once you realize that God is your end…you begin to see that friendship, the joys of marriage, the thrill of possession, the sunset and the evening star, masterpieces of art and music, the gold and silver of earth, the industries and the comfort of life, are all the gifts of God. He dropped them on the roadway of life to remind you that if these are so beautiful then what must be BEAUTY? He intended them to be bridges to cross over to him…


Unfortunately, many become so enamored of the gifts the great Giver of Life has dropped on the roadway of life that they build their cities around the gift, and forget the Giver, and when the gifts, out of loyalty to their Maker, fail to give them perfect happiness, they rebel against God and become cynical and disillusioned…


Look at your heart! It tells the story of why you were made. It is not perfect in shape and contour, like a Valentine heart. There seems to be a small piece missing out of the side of every human heart. That may be to symbolize a piece that was torn out of the heart of Christ, which embraced all humanity on the cross…


When God made your human heart, he found it so good and so lovable that he kept a small sample of it in heaven. He sent the rest of it into this world to enjoy his gifts and to use them as steppingstones back to him.   (Fulton Sheen)




Sentience, a philosophical murder mystery (copyright 2016, T. M. Doran)

The passengers and crew on Sentient Air Flight 99:

Anarch—Columbia University professor

Autarch—chairman of Globalcorp

Cynic—Sentient Air captain

Deontologic—safety and security specialist

Empiric—CalTech astrophysics researcher

Glamor—L. A. celebrity model

Gnost—flight attendant

Hedon—scion of a billionaire

Libertine—post post-modern artist

Stoic—pantheistic clergyman


Thirty-two minutes, twenty-seven seconds, and twenty-nine thousand feet of altitude into Sentient Air’s flight from New York to Paris, Glamor’s head descended to her breast and her tongue emerged from her mouth like a lethargic snake from its lair. Read more