Twilight Zone Episodes Show Dangers of Too Much and Too Little Government



Tyler Fortenberry

Trust, leadership, government. All are necessary tools for a group of people to survive, live and prosper. When the government is overly involved in society, citizens often lose their ability to be the decision-makers in their own lives. On the other hand, with too little government, society will not survive. This situation is similar to saying “two sides of the same coin.”

Examining “The Twilight Zone” episodes, “The Obsolete Man” and “The Old Man in the Cave,” one can see the dangers on each side.

“The Obsolete Man” gives the viewer a look into a world where government is the only source of power. The people cannot decide for themselves, and the government has the only say about what is right versus what is wrong. Citizens in this world live in a totalitarian government.

In the article The Terror of Totalitarianism Explained, totalitarian rule is described as, “Opinions are being given the same weight as facts, leading to endless debates and the assumption that nothing can be known anyway.” This statement further highlights how dangerous this type of government is. In “The Obsolete Man,” it was the opinion of the government leaders that Mr. Wordsworth was obsolete, and to them, that was a fact. No one could change their opinion.

Totalitarian governments exist beyond the science-fiction world of “The Twilight Zone.” One of the most infamous examples of this type of government is Nazi Germany. Hitler’s 12 year rule over Germany changed much of the landscape of the world, and it brought on one the most horrifying events.

It was Hitler’s opinion that Jewish people were inferior and not deserving of life, much less equality. It took many years to end this brutal rule, but according to the article The power of ordinary people facing totalitarianism, it happened because ordinary people failed to stop it.

This quote highlights that the people in the nation and world can stop these types of regimes. It only takes one person to light a spark that will ignite change. Mr. Wordsworth in “The Obsolete Man” was this spark. He spoke out against his government. He challenged their system. His master plan was to prove how the people and the opinion of the people matter. The voice and power of the citizens is always stronger than the government. The people can change the ideals.

On the reverse side of the coin, “The Old Man in the Cave,” delves into the idea of a fleeting sense of trust in those in charge. This episode takes place 10 years after a nuclear holocaust, and it centers around a group of survivors.

Their leader, this hidden figure, the old man, tells them what is safe to consume or when it is safe to venture out. The only communication the survivors have with the old man is through another survivor, Mr. Goldsmith, who brings them the directives of the old man. Many of these survivors already show signs of distrust in their leader. They have either gone against his word, or they have attempted to break what he says.

In the article, Trust in government is falling – here’s how we can restore it, the author writes, “If people think their elected officials aren’t playing by those same rules, they come up with ways to game the system. When this every-man-for-himself attitude prevails, the rules of society start to erode.”

This is a dangerous thing that happens in society. People rule that the government is no longer trustworthy, so people will start to enact their own rules. It becomes this pseudo-anarchy.

While the governmental structure in “The Old Man in the Cave” is a simple structure, it is not immune to the downfalls of a people who have distrust. The survivors’ trust in their hidden authority figure is lost when a new group comes into the area. This new group, military men, offers the survivors new rules, and they claim the old man has been wrong on everything.

Chrystia Freeland’s article What happens when citizens lose faith in government? notes that “In our kitchens, on Facebook, and in our public squares, a lot of us, in a lot of places, are talking about how we long to kick the bastards out. But how we act on that angry impulse varies widely.”

In the instance of this episode, the survivors destroy their leader. They find out the old man is a computer, and all trust is lost. They destroy the one thing that has kept them alive, and it turns out to be a dangerous action.

Once they gave up on their leader, all but one died. Instead of fixing the issues they faced, they destroyed the one who helped them the most. This leads into the dangers of the government not being trustworthy. Citizens can turn on their government, and they can divulge into this anarchy rule that destroys the country.

In a world dominated government, it is up to the people to keep their government in check. They cannot let the government destroy who they are, nor can they turn to anarchy. These two episodes highlight what happens in both situations. They serve as a reminder to every viewer to watch, learn and study your government. Do not let the coin land on either side.


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