June 23, 2021Ideal vs Real

If you are a creative with a storyteller’s heart, that most likely means that you are a bit idealistic in your thinking. If you take that idealist thinking out into the real world of work and jobs, it’s inevitable that your thinking and the cold hard realities of the money-making world are going to clash.

But not to worry, because you’re a creative! And that means you’ll be coming up with creative solutions to the problem. And sometimes the outcome of what started out as doors slamming shut, is just more doors opening, and who knows what wonderful work you will bring to the world as a result …

I was blessed with a special treat a few weeks ago when a post popped up on Facebook with links to some 1960-ish interviews with television writer, Rod Serling. Don’t believe it when they tell you that time travel isn’t possible … YouTube is most definitely a time machine!

I got transported back almost 60 years and, what began merely as a backwards glance from a curious fan, turned into rare, special glimpse into another writer’s heart. I’ll be watching these again, because the first time I was listening while working – something I do when a current drawing project gets tedious – and I want another chance to listen closer and pick up on whatever nuggets I might have missed.

There’s not much I enjoy more than listening to people who love what they do, talk about what they do.

It doesn’t matter whether any of us are writing television shows or children’s books or composing music or painting or sculpting or dancing … we gotta’ do what we were created to do. We also have to eat and pay bills and go the dentist and get the car worked on and take care of ourselves and our families. Sometimes life’s realities and the heart’s aspirations crash into each other, and part of being a successful creative is learning how to manage and satisfy those two and maintain balance in life.

That’s what Mr. Serling was addressing in those interviews … trying to address the compromises he was required to make in order to keep his position with such a broad mass-reaching platform like television to deliver his heart’s message. And that message was important indeed.

He was living and working during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement in the 50’s and 60’s, and was profoundly affected by what he saw happening around him. He wanted to write about that, and he did ... but quickly found out that didn’t sit well with television executives.

Material for television had to be a little gentler and mindlessly entertaining, so as not to scare off sponsors who didn’t want to scare off consumers. Shows that got too controversial lost sponsors, and, without those sponsor dollars, television couldn’t be.

Mr. Serling, who was full of important commentary on the civil rights movement, found much of what he wrote being rejected by TV execs. And he was more than a little frustrated by that. Life’s realities and a heart’s aspirations were clashing again.

It’s a dilemma many creatives face: do you compromise your art in order to make a living? Or do risk your livelihood for the sake of your art?

Mr. Serling – being the astute observer of human nature that he was – found the middle ground where he could write the entertainment TV execs and the viewing public wanted, while also writing the social commentary that he wanted.

He was writing about incidents where a person was unjustly harming another person. Ordinary people who could be the guy down the street or your next door neighbor. And no matter whether he made the perpetrator or the victim either white or black, then either white or black audiences would identify with that, realizing, That could be ME doing those awful things! or, That could be ME suffering that injustice!

People didn’t like those messages. It was perfectly fine to talk about “those people” and what’s happening “over there”. It’s not difficult for people to observe others and make a judgment call concerning their behavior. That’s safe.

But don’t talk about “me” and “my neighbors” and make me face my own attitudes and actions. That’s just too much!

This is the power of the written word … people will identify with your characters. Especially if the characters look, talk and act like them.

So Mr. Serling changed the setting and the characters. He wrote about the same incidents and injustices, but had it all unfold on an alien planet, between two aliens.

And The Twilight Zone was born.

TV execs were happy. Audiences were happy. But I got the impression that Mr. Serling was a bit sad about it all.

His social justice messages were there, but they lost a bit of their punch when it was mostly about “them“ and not “us”.

The point of the messages was really to help people look inward and examine themselves, and hopefully to change some attitudes, resulting in changed behavior and a better society. But most folks watching the show probably came away thinking, How barbaric those aliens are! I’m sure glad that WE don’t act like that!

Many creatives are a bit idealistic in their thinking. I know I certainly am. While I don’t know if Mr. Serling was like that, or what were his aspirations for himself and his work, I hope he knew that he did have a positive influence, causing many of us think about things we needed to think about.

If we can achieve the same for readers with the books we make, we will have been successful, too.

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  • BILL MITCHAM says:
    2021-06-23, 10:53:14
  • Dixie Cooley says:
    2021-06-23, 07:03:42
    Awesome, thank you.
    God Bless