THE COLUMN: Monsters From the Id

Michael Walsh27 Feb, 2023 3 Min Read
Let's do the Time Warp again.

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 inForbidden 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. 

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints, and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace and its sequel, The Fiery Angel. Last Stands, a study of military history from the Greeks to the present, was published by St. Martin's Press in December 2019. He is also the editor of Against the Great Reset: 18 Theses Contra the New World Order, published on Oct. 18, 2022, and of the forthcoming Against the Corporate Media. Follow him on Twitter: @theAmanuensis


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6 comments on “THE COLUMN: Monsters From the Id”

  1. I think another component is modern feminism, which devalued children as burdens and obstacles to some, and to others as mere accessories and trophies to showcase their parenting. It's not confined only to mothers, but women have set the tone.

    Once children were no longer seen as contributing members of a household and as individuals forging their own identities, they became proxies for their parents "self-actualization."

    Helicopter and snowplow parenting have taken the place of adult judgment, discipline, and guidance, while adult sensibilities are simultaneously assigned to children and they're left to their own devices in areas they do not yet fully understand. When those children behave like children, their parents don't know where they went wrong.

    It's the same cognitive dissonance that informs pretty much all of the neuroticism that masquerades as progress in today's world.

  2. Indeed. Rocky Horror "one of the best musicals ever written? Only to someone who'd never seen or heard any of the others!

  3. Pertinent to the topic Mr. Walsh has presented, from "A History Of The English Speaking Peoples" by Winston Churchill, Book One, Chapter Three, The Roman Province [Britannia], the two final paragraphs of that chapter:

    Nevertheless the Roman Empire was an old system. Its sinews and arteries had borne the strain of all that the ancient world had endured. The Roman world, like an aged man, wished to dwell in peace and tranquility and to enjoy in philosophic detachment the good gifts which life has to bestow upon the more fortunate classes. But new ideas disturbed the internal conservatism, and outside the carefully guarded frontiers vast masses of hungry, savage men surged and schemed. The essence of the Roman peace was toleration of all religions and the acceptance of a universal system of government. Every generation after the middle of the second century [A.D.] saw an increasing weakening of the system and a gathering movement towards a uniform religion. Christianity asked again all the questions which the Roman world deemed answered for ever, and some that it had never thought of. Although the varieties of status, with all their grievous consequences, were accepted during three centuries, even by those who suffered from them most, as part of the law of nature, the institution of slavery, by which a third of Roman society was bound, could not withstand indefinitely the new dynamic thoughts which Christianity brought with it. The alternations between fanatic profligacy and avenging puritanism which marked the succession of the emperors, the contrast between the morals at the center of power and those practised by wide communities in many subject lands, presented problems of ever-growing unrest. At the moment when mankind seemed to have solved a very large proportion of its secular difficulties and when a supreme Government offered unlimited freedom to spiritual experiment inexorable forces both within and without drove on the forward march. No rest; no stay. "For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come." Strange standards of destiny were unfurled, destructive of peace and order, but thrilling the hearts of men. Before the Roman system lay troubles immeasurable--squalor, slaughter, chaos itself, and the long night which was to fall upon the world.

    From outside the uncouth barbarians smote upon the barriers. On the mainland were savage, fighting animals, joined together in a comradeship of arms, with the best fighting men and their progeny as leaders. In the rough-and-tumble of these communities, with all their crimes and bestialities, there was a more active principle of life than in the majestic achievements of the Roman Empire. We see these forces swelling like a flood against all the threatened dykes of the Roman world, not only brimming at the lip of the dam, but percolating insidiously, now by a breach, now in a mere ooze, while all the time men became conscious of the frailty of the structure itself. Floods of new untamed life burst ceaselessly from Asia, driving westward in a succession of waves. Against these there was no easy superiority of weapons. Cold steel and discipline and the slight capital surplus necessary to move and organise armies constituted the sole defences. If the superior virtue of the legion failed all fell. Certainly from the middle of the second century all these disruptive forces were plainly manifest. However, in Roman Britain men thought for many generations that they had answered the riddle of the Sphinx. They misconceived the meaning of her smile.

  4. For decades the world of entertainment has been beating us over the head with one message - all restraint and decorum is oppressive and humanity will only thrive when the libertines rule. Well here we are and I’m craving some good old fashioned prudishness. Sorry to see that the “art” Michael Walsh included here represents some of the most degrading trash ever produced and that HE LIKES IT.

  5. At least the Shadow Out of Innsmouth might no longer fall over Chicago after tonight...

  6. Child worship began in earnest, to the increased level we have now, with media, in particular television, started catering to the interest of children. The advent of channels, not just programs, specifically aimed at children, increased the opposite of what had been gospel in the past: Children were going to be heard AND seen. Parents are no longer in control of their kids as every decision is based upon the opinion of their children. What are we eating tonight? The angle that parents must constantly "entertain" their children takes up most of their free time without allowing children to get bored and tap into their own imagination and problem solving. And, it is only getting worse. Anthony is now the norm as opposed to the exception.

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