THE COLUMN: Monsters From the Id
One of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone concerned a malevolent child with supernatural powers who terrorized the adults around him into indulging his every whim. Frustrate the little bastard over anything, no matter how small or trivial, and the offender was subject to instant, humiliating, sometimes capital, punishment. Called "It's a Good Life," the 1961 episode was remade in 1983 by director Joe Dante as part of Twilight Zone: the Movie. If somehow you're not familiar with it, have a look. Here's the original, based on the 1953 short story by Jerome Bixby and written by Rod Serling :
And here's some of Dante's version:
The subtext was the petulant beast that dwells in the breast of every child, and no, it wasn't about Greta Thunberg. What makes this episode so remarkable was that it came as the 1950s turned into the 1960s, but still before the "youthquake" that began c. 1963. The idea that children should be seen (maybe) and not heard (never) was paramount in most stable American—father, mother, more than two kids—families. Nobody liked a smarmy or mouthy kid, certainly not one like the nasty Anthony Fremont or the brown-nosing Eddie Haskell of Leave It to Beaver:
But by the time the little monster, Anthony, returned in Jon Landis's star-crossed movie, he and Eddie had already started to take over the world, even without magical powers. The generation of parents that had grown up during the Depression had surrendered to Dr. Spock and legions of child psychologists, who wormed their way into child-rearing, "liberating" children from "arbitrary" parental authority and producing generations of the solipsistic darlings now determined to impose their theories of relativity upon the rest of the world.
Thus was begotten the Gretas of the western world: monsters from the belly of a world that has abandoned reality for their fantasies du jour. And so it believes, as good Spockians, that our children have a clearer, better vision of the future than we do. And, worse, that we ought to listen to them:
Monsters from the Id, indeed: in another classic movie from the period (1956), Dr. Morbius belatedly was forced to confront his deepest, most destructive fears as he sought to solve the riddle of why one of the most advanced civilizations in galactic history had suddenly committed mass suicide and disappeared. Yes, the one Anne Francis starred in—Forbidden Planet:
My poor Krell. After a million years of shining sanity, they could hardly have understood what power was destroying them.
Nor could the doomed Morbius, as his reclaimed ancient civilization is torn apart by his own primitive impulses. But those impulses, like many human impulses, stem not from adulthood but from childhood, from the unfettered Id that would destroy if it could because, lacking the Apollonian superego, it cannot yet create. And when your civilization is given over to its rudest and meanest impulses, hell rather than heaven is the likeliest result.
So "flow morfia/Morbius slow." The seductive rush of absolute power mingles with the surrender to absolute pleasure. America's children have come home to roost. In 1975, a few years before The Twilight Zone movie, Australian director Jim Sharman turned an obscure London stage play by Richard O'Brien into a film called The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which somehow presciently tapped into the coming Zeitgeist by combining classic science fiction movie tropes with the narcissism of bodybuilding, old comic books, English fondness for campy cross-dressing, and the burgeoning sexual fluidity of the Cocaine Era: little Anthony, all grown up.
It starred the then-unknown Tim Curry—who went on to give one of the greatest single stage performances I've ever seen as Mozart opposite Ian McKellen's Salieri in the original Broadway case of Amadeus—as well as the Shakespearean actor Charles Gray, so memorable as the syphilitic Pandarus in the late Jonathan Miller's dyspeptic 1981 TV production of Troilus and Cressida. The result was, oddly, and taken strictly on its merits, one of the best musicals ever written:
Who’d ever seen anything like it? And yet it leaves us with this exhortation, as conservatively American as apple pie:
Hot patootie, bless my soul. Talk about moral-cognitive dysfunction! And yet here we are. Where we're going is another question. Art suggests, reality follows. Somewhere in the Twilight Zone, little Anthony is enjoying the hell out of this. Your results may vary.