cover image Monsters on Maple Street: The Twilight Zone and the Postwar American Dream

Monsters on Maple Street: The Twilight Zone and the Postwar American Dream

David J. Brokaw. Univ. of Kentucky, $40 (280p) ISBN 978-0-8131-9784-5

Historian Brokaw debuts with a penetrating analysis of how the Twilight Zone (1959–1964) exposed the dark underbelly of Cold War America. Examining key episodes, Brokaw argues that creator Rod Serling “sought to... reframe popular portrayals of white Americans’ wish-fulfillments as nightmares rather than aspirational dreams.” For example, the episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” which depicts a suburban neighborhood gripped by hysteria after residents become convinced one of them is an extraterrestrial, criticizes McCarthyism, according to Brokaw, while “Living Doll,” in which a newfangled talking doll murders her child’s stepfather, warns that consumerism leads parents to “become overly dependent on... toys and gadgets to fill voids in their children’s lives.” Historical background illuminates the cultural and political issues the show touched on, as when Brokaw discusses how “The Shelter,” in which birthday party attendees force their way into the host’s fallout shelter after learning of an imminent nuclear strike, cautioned viewers that the debate over whether shelter owners were obligated to let in their neighbors was turning Americans against each other. Brokaw’s trenchant analysis highlights the richness of the show’s scripts, and the history brings out the allegories’ finer points. It’s a strong case for the enduring brilliance of the show. Photos. (Aug.)