Observations of life by author and poet Charles L. Chatmon
In the past, I’ve said that “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” was my favorite Twilight Zone episode, "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" ranks a very close, extremely close razor-thin, second.
As you have probably seen below, a young woman of eighteen named Marilyn must undergo a ‘transformation’ although she doesn’t really want to and rebels against the forced process on her. Everyone in this nightmarish futuristic society looks, acts and speaks just alike, which Marilyn refuses to agree to becoming. Ironic how this episode is set in the year 2000 and this piece is written in 2015 and how identical this mirrors our 21st Century society today.
This episode was written by John Tomerlin adopted by a Charles Beaumont story from 1952 entitled “The Beautiful People”. Twelve years later in 1964, “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” remains a memorable but haunting tale of society’s pursuit of ultimate beauty by paying the ultimate price. The actors bringing this tale to life makes it stand out even more.
Perhaps the fear element of “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” doesn’t belong with space aliens or foreign spies ready to take over our world or country. Normal human beings who live under the norm that ‘everyone wants to be beautiful’ is just as scary. To have a notion of beauty forced upon us without considering the quirks and complexities of life, is wrong. True, Marilyn wasn’t beautiful by society’s standards, but the irony is in order for her outer appearance to ‘look the same’ as everyone else’s, the uniqueness that made her stand out, the intelligence she possessed - her inner beauty - had to die. It was a threat to the society’s existence and their belief system of what physical perfection is meant to be.
The danger lies with those who force any concept of beauty or even love upon us. It should be up to our individual selves to make those determinations as they see fit. Perhaps our Number 12’s in 2015 are more of the mental than physical nature, which is just as dangerous and frightening. The bombardment of images online and on cable of the so-called beautiful people on reality shows, movies, award shows and other media outlets place an unrelenting emphasis on physical perfection. Plastic surgeons enhance the breast size of women who yearn to be well endowed (and in rare cases past that to ridiculous proportions). It is this overwhelming desire in our modern society to be beautiful that denies all reason to the point of impacting one’s health.
Identity is important, it defines who we are as individuals. Doctor Sig may insist to Marilyn that "We're only going to decide what's best for you." We deserve the right to have our own minds, our own perceptions of beauty. However, as Marilyn discovered to her peril, not one person around her truly understood what it meant to be ‘different’, expressing the beauty of the human heart is even prettier than the outer shell of a person. Even the famous people she mentions in the episode went on to produce outstanding works, despite their physical handicaps.
We live in a homogeneous society in this year of 2015 AD. We are beginning to look the same, sound the same, no uniqueness or a hint of individuality in our media. Unlike Marilyn, we still have a choice to not allow conformity to rule our lives. As individuals, we can refuse to go along and speak out like her and rebel in whatever form assimilation presents itself, whether it be physical or mental.
The ending is to me, the saddest of all the Twilight Zones I’ve ever watched and there are many that will challenge for that spot. It's due to the fate poor Marilyn suffers but eventually, as best she could, impossible to escape. This classic episode reminds us that although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there are 'beholders' in name only who determine how beautiful we are, pushing cosmetic products upon scores of young women how to look and act by enlisting A-list celebrities and entertainers, enticing them to ‘look the same’. This is what Marilyn fought against until the end.
One huge question we should ask ourselves, “What will our world look like in twenty, ten, five years?” Will it depend on a fleeting vision of beauty augmented and plastic or will it the inner beauty in each of us? As history and the present shows us now, there’s nothing wrong with looking like Number #12 or #8, but the cost is much too high to lose one’s identity.
“The experts claim Gentrification is wonderful, it increases the value of certain neighborhoods. What I’m discovering is that while it’s not evil, it’s a huge slap in the face for residents who lived for years in urban areas who wished for these new storefronts and shops when they requested them. Of course, like the Rebuild L.A. situation, the community can cry out, but no one outside of it dares to listen.”
I wrote that last week, then all of a sudden, I read a headline this week from a city in the Bay where I have family: Rev. Jesse Jackson to East Palo Alto: Fight gentrification
Jesse’s not the issue here, the main issue is that the community of East Palo Alto, California is in the crosshairs of Silicon Valley zillionaires who want to buy up most of EPA (East Palo Alto for short) as it’s happened in most major urban areas in the country. It’s happening on the East coast (Harlem), already a part of the ethic erasure in San Francisco, and although it hasn’t been significant here in South Los Angeles yet, chances are in a few years we’ll have this discussion.
So why is should it be a surprise for long term residents who have lived in EPA for nearly all their lives to have an uproar about it? Naysayers may question “What’s the big deal? It’s only going to improve property values, yadda, yadda, yadda.” Borrowing from an old skit Jesse used on SNL once, “The statement is moot”. Backers of Gentrification love to extol the financial benefits of it, but leave out the historical and urban aspects of the community. True, EPA has seen its better days. I could remember the days of my youth visiting family there when the neighborhoods were just as quiet and pleasant as the one I left from here in South L.A. However, I’m sure residents in EPA have also made the call for better retail, schools and so forth just as they’re popping up now that a promising new/old demographic is on the rise with money.
In the end, Silicon Valley will win out, they’re too heavily leveraged with riches not to be denied space in EPA. As in the South Central piece, one would hope these new visitors are reminded of where they are moving to and to respect long term residents who have made East Palo Alto their home. No one should be surprised if the residents have reservations of their new neighbors moving in, they should. These quotes will determine which way the ‘new’ East Palo Alto shall go:
“Silicon Valley companies have yet to prove if they will be "friends or foes" to East Palo Alto, Jackson told the standing room-only crowd.” (from article)
“"Caring matters -- it carries the day," he said.”
The ball’s in your court Silicon Valley. Will you be friend or foe to East Palo Alto residents? The choice will be yours.
And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh. - Ecclesiastes 12:12
Apparently the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon didn’t write this text with writers in mind, but it reveals an indisputable truth; too much research can tire you out. There is a vast source of information that goes on without end; the internet. Today, authors can sit at home and gather up all of the research they’ll ever need at their fingertips. There is an endless stream of advice, tips and more from trade magazine websites, other niche webpages that features authors and videos with helpful advice. While they are beneficial, they also become a burden spending hours at home looking up information for the writer’s next article or book. Too much research wears the writer down and robs them of their ideas or plans.
There are only twenty four hours in a day, if most of that time is spent doing research, the brain doesn’t have a chance to rest and reflect on the material the writer has absorbed into memory, creating a loss of productive energy that could have been better used in writing the manuscript. Writers should allow enough time by taking a break engaging in activities away from the house and internet. A weekly gym class, a walk in the park, attending movies and sporting events, traveling, all help the writer refocus on life. Time away from these distractions helps the writer feel like an individual once again, allowing them the mental space they need to continue working on their project.
What contributes to a loss of energy for writers? Feeling burdened by too many ‘rules’. Every trade or online website has examples of the routines of bestselling authors and their words of wisdom. One piece of advice leads to another in a different resource such as a social media timeline or trade magazine, then it adds up until the writer’s mind is confused on how to start their manuscript or how. They should keep in mind while bestselling authors have discovered what works for them, it may not be the same for the writer. There are no magical ‘rules’ one should adhere to except to stick with a writing process that has worked in the past. Each writer’s method to publication is different.
While it is important to be as accurate and to gather as many resources as possible, writers should take time out to take a break. Not only will their minds be clear from distractions, but they’ll enjoy much needed time doing activities away from their work area. Solomon’s words even to this day are very wise and advice writers should take heed if they plan on taking care of the people who mean the most, themselves.
Opinion: A belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by proof. 3) A judgment or estimation. (American Heritage Dictionary)
We live in a future where opinion is king. It’s held up constantly online via websites, blogs (such as this one) and mostly social media, where it is taken as fact which is in contradiction with the definition above. In recent times, it has been the cash cow for televised media as well. Everyone has an opinion that they tout as the truth, and thereby it becomes a platform for these individuals to create traffic, pull in advertisers and viewers.
I grew up appreciating what real news used to be; a sampling of an event supported with facts, and not from the frothing mouths of pundits who insist their opinions on a certain subject is the real deal, that they do have merit. Media, social and televised counts on capturing our minds and hearts when opinionated talk show hosts or ‘news’ personalities loudly proclaim their opinions are the only ones that count. Differing points of view be damned. This is all our fault for allowing this slide into the intellectual abyss. Everyday we click on a story about “The Best Five Hot Dogs You Need to Eat Now” or “Why Felix The Cat and his Magic Bag of Tricks are Game Changers”. These faux examples arouse curiosity, but are they really that important or does it give a writer license to present their opinion under the guise of news? Perhaps one infamous online news site is the culprit in this shift of journalistic quality. A shift which reflects more on shock value than on the issues and people who really count and opinions which don’t need their own Amen Corner.
The internet has given us the freedom to establish platforms based on causes we hold dear to our hearts. This is why you constantly see New Media celebrities who originated on YouTube and other sources found on the web with television deals. This is why you read about the latest commentary from a website catering to a certain gender and ethnic group as if will move the earth’s axis one degree further, and don’t forget Twitter, where intelligence goes to die in one hundred forty characters or less. Opinion sells, which is all anyone focuses on these days. We wait for the next controversial statement from that movie star, high-priced athlete, politician and reality show vixen. Our wishes are granted as their unwarranted statements are shown for public consumption ready to be mentally devoured by the masses.
Of course all of this is coming much too soon, too fast for our senses to slow down and avoid a cranial overload which doesn’t give us time to think about what we post - or how we say it online.
Consider me guilty as charged too. In times past in social media, I too have given into the temptation of typing something that I thought sounded profound - but utterly useless conversation wise. I too longed for the hit of the ‘Like’ and the Retweet, but since I took some much needed time off one site for a while, I suddenly realize it’s important to just be who you are and let everyone know of who you are too. I can’t save my race with one Facebook post or Tweet. All I can do is constantly produce good work as a writer, something I mentioned in the past but now I begin to understand the world doesn’t revolve around what I or anyone else says. Our fast paced internet lifestyle would insist otherwise.
In one poem I stressed the need for everyone to do research and not allow ourselves to be easily misled by the screaming pundit, the profane tongued talk show host, the trash talking reality star and more importantly, the easily bought and sold politician. Opinion should be valued, but not at the expense where the multitude treats them as fact. In this 21st Century, we should learn there’s nothing wrong with being an individual and thinking for yourself, no matter what the issue may be. Keeping your own thoughts to yourself is the best freedom anyone can have. You learn it’s not all about you.
What are your thoughts on this? I'd love to hear what opinions you have below in the coment section.