Post-379: “People Are Alike All Over”

I somehow ended up seeing the 1960 Twilight Zone episode, “People Are Alike All Over.”

Sometimes (always?) Twilight Zone episodes have some kind of moral lesson embedded in them. I would propose this one’s was:

You’re right to beware of strangers bearing gifts.

A future in which Mars is inhabited but contact between Earth and Mars is limited; two Earth astronauts are on a mission to Mars; one of the Earth men is optimistic about the locals who live on Mars; the other is pessimistic, fearful; the optimistic one dies soon after their spaceship crash lands; the pessimistic one, now alone, becomes paranoid; he holds his gun close and won’t get off the spaceship.

Eventually he gives in and comes out. He is delighted to discover how wrong he was: The Mars people treat him great! The first astronaut was right all along. They even give him a nice, mid-20th-century-US-style house to live in.

Something feels off about the way the Mars people are behaving. The reveal at the end is: It’s no house at all, it’s a zoo exhibit. Outside gawkers crowd around to see the new specimen; a sign helpfully informs them “Earth Creature in his native habitat.”

A lot of digital ink has been digitally spilled on these classic Twilight Zone episodes, here in the Internet era so many decades after their original airing.

The Twilight Zone is, judged on that standard, be among the most successful shows of its time.

One Twilight Zone site, active since the 2011, is called The Twilight Zone Vortex. There I learn “People Are Alike All Over” (original air date: Friday, March 25, 1960) was originally a short story by Paul W. Fairman (1909–1977) of Missouri. He may have written it in 1950 or 1951; it was published in the March 1952 issue of a pulp sci-fi magazine; Rod Serling paid Fairman $2,500 for the story rights, or $22,500 in 2020 dollars, excellent money for one short story.

The author of the ‘Vortex’ blog points out that this episode is a direct forerunner of Planet of the Apes (1968), with a similar plot. The original script for Planet of the Apes was also written by none other than Rod Serling of the Twilight Zone.

I hadn’t seen this episode before and was surprised by the ending. One problem with it as morality play is the shipwrecked astronaut had no choice but to stick around and eventually come out of the ship. He was in their captivity from the start.


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