Ringing in the New Year naturally brings about feelings of nostalgia as I contemplate all that has happened over the past years. I enjoy watching old home videos from my family’s past Christmas gatherings and see how much has changed. I’m a sentimental person by nature, so I enjoy reminiscing about fond childhood memories while striving to recreate these same experiences for my children. Another favorite Christmas pastime of mine is to watch old classics like It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. Seeing how much America has changed since the 1940s often makes me yearn for a time that I never knew. A time before I or even my parents were born. Everything seemed so simple back then. The men and the women dressed and acted like men and women. People seemed so polite and congenial. Many of the modern problems that we face had yet to manifest themselves, at least in the way that we have to deal with them today. Virtually all Americans believed in basic Christian moral principles that regulated their daily lives.
One particularly poignant example of this nostalgia for the past is represented in an episode of The Twilight Zone, unlikely as that may seem. The episode is called “Static,” and it was the twentieth episode of the second season which aired on March 10, 1961. The plot involves a curmudgeon named Ed Lindsay in his late 50s who lives in a boarding house with several others. Ed is constantly irritated by the habits of the other residents who sit around mesmerized by the television set. Ed finds television programming to be vapid and mindless. Ed reminisces about his happier days when he used to romance another woman living in the boarding house, Vinnie Broun. Ed and Vinnie would listen to radio programs from the era of big bands. Tommy Dorsey was their favorite, especially his hit “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You.”
Ed retrieves his old radio from the basement and brings it up to his room. He turns it on to discover that it still works, and astonishingly is playing the same music from the 1930s and 40s that it used to play when Ed was younger! Ed tells the others that he has been listening to live music from Major Bowes and Tommy Dorsey, but they casually dismiss his claims because those performers are dead. When Ed attempts to vindicate his claims to the others by having them listen to his radio, all that comes through is static. Ed is further perplexed when he attempts to contact the radio station and learns that they went off the air 15 years earlier.
Vinnie and another resident named Professor Ackerman sell Ed’s radio to a junk store because they worry for Ed’s sanity. Ed is furious and promptly buys back the radio and returns it to his room at the boarding house. Ed turns on the radio to make sure it works, and he hears the familiar tune of Tommy Dorsey playing once more. He yells for Vinnie to come in. Vinnie appears in the doorway, but she is a younger version of herself from 1940. The camera pans back to Ed, and the viewers see that he too has returned to his younger self. The two embrace, and Rod Serling’s voiceover at the end of the episode assures the viewers that Ed got the second chance to marry Vinnie that he had pined for over the past two decades.
The episode is noteworthy for its commentary on the direction that the modern world was headed. On the surface Ed is an irritable man who can’t make peace with the new wave of modern technology. His distaste is simply the product of his regret for the decisions that he’s made in the past and his desire to go back in time in order to rectify his mistakes. However, I think beneath this superficial reading is a deeper understanding of Ed. In the beginning of the episode Ed makes several comments about how television was dumbing down entertainment. Ed later comments on how radio caused people to use and develop their imagination. Ed’s complaints about the present cut deeper than his regrets about his relationship with Vinnie.
Watching this episode left me with two impressions that I thought were worth sharing. My sympathies are naturally with Ed Lindsay in his complaints about the modern world. Things are certainly heading in the wrong direction. We ought to be following the “old paths” (Jer. 6:16) that our righteous ancestors have left us. Our task is to resist the winds of change that are blowing our culture towards ever more degeneracy and rebellion against God’s created order. This means minimizing contact with negative influences outside our families. However, Ed’s generally negative attitude is something that Christians ought to avoid. As Christians we ought to view the future with the optimism that we are getting closer to Christ’s final victory. We can’t go back to 1940 using a magical radio, and even if we could this would be mere escapism. We must live in the present without regrets for the opportunities we missed because we were too busy complaining about how bad the world has become. We must meet the problems of today head on and joyfully live our lives with the knowledge that God’s grace will guide us safely through our trials and the expectation that we are the ones (not the Left) who are on the right side of history. I wish everyone a Happy (and sentimental) New Year.