It was business as usual as I shared another New Year’s Eve with Rod Serling: He smoked, I ate my weight in cookies left over from the holiday baking orgy. It was inevitable we would find ourselves together again, Rod and I, since we’ve been a pre-midnight duo for at least 12 years.
For those of us growing up in the '50s and '60s, the Twilight Zone was our “must-see” TV. We were as obsessed with spacemen as young’uns today are smitten with vampires. We fretted about flying saucers. We practiced hiding under our desks and in coatrooms during frequent air raid drills at our sturdy brick schools. We envied our neighbor’s bomb shelter with its orderly rows of Campbell’s soups and olive-drab gas masks, and whined for one of our own.
On the last night of December 2012, I was paying intermittent attention to the Twilight Zone marathon. After all, I’ve probably seen each episode at least 20 times. This familiarity allows me to fold laundry, swill cocoa AND juggle bowling balls while focusing in every so often to watch as aliens abduct earthlings and Martians colonize Medford while everyone smokes Winstons.
Still, when “The Invaders” came on—the classic episode featuring Agnes Moorehead as a harried and isolated farmwoman being attacked by space men—I watched intently. It was like going back in time. I was a child again, sitting cross-legged on the floor with my brother, watching our black and white TV and rooting for the grunting woman to squash the evil spacemen. The big twist at the end of the episode shocked us. (spoiler alert!) It turned out the spacemen were actually U.S. astronauts, while she was a giantess from another planet. We shivered in fear—a fear that in 2013 seems almost laughable.
The Space Age that inspired and frightened us began with the Soviets launching the first satellite, Sputnik, on Oct. 4, 1957. Our feeling of U.S. superiority vanished and we were forced to play catch-up with the Ruskies. We launched our own satellite, the Explorer, on Jan. 31, 1958, and the great space race was on. And despite our fears of the unknown and aliens with anvil-shaped heads, it was an exhilarating time, a time when space colonization seemed not only possible but also highly probable. We fully expected to be living in sterile white cubes on Mars by the 21st century.
Our collective imaginations soared. Cowboys exploring the Wild West morphed into cowboys in silver-lame jumpsuits, exploring outer space, the Final Frontier. We traded in The Lone Ranger for Flash Gordon. Space exploration of the great unknown filtered into every aspect of our cultural lives: television, literature, movies and art. We had a common goal: to win the space race and reclaim our title as the most superior nation.
When was the last time we as a nation had a common goal?
There have been 734 gun deaths since the Newtown shootings on Dec. 14, yet rather than slowing down membership in the NRA, more than 100,000 new members have joined the ranks. On the flip side last week, we had shooting victim and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, announcing the formation of a political action committee (PAC) aimed at preventing continued gun violence.
Second Amendment zealots might be interested to know Giffords and Kelly support gun rights and still own two guns that are locked in a safe in their home. What they DON’T support is the public’s ability to purchase large-capacity magazines and assault weaponry, both of which were used at Sandy Hook Elementary, at the movie theater in Aurora AND in the shooting that left the congresswoman still struggling with speech issues, her vision and physical movement.
Sixty-some years later, our fears of big-headed aliens have been replaced by our fears that big egos in Washington cannot or will not move to take semi-automatic weapons out of the hands of average citizens. and wreak the same kind of bloodshed on our children. After all, are Roberts, Baker or South Valley that different from Sandy Hook? Is Moorestown High School vastly different from Columbine?
No one is advocating the abolishment of the Second Amendment. You want to own a gun or a rifle? Go for it—responsibly. I asked this question several columns ago: Why does an average citizen need a semi-automatic pistol, shotgun or rifle? If you can give me one reason why the guy next door should have an AK-47, I’d like to hear it. The anxiety of aliens wanting to colonize then consume us seems so innocent in our 21st century world of mass killings. I say give me an 8-foot-tall cyclops in a tasteful toga over an Uzi-toting shooter any day.
I say it’s time, at last, to have this be our national goal: stricter gun control laws. Vice President Joe Biden and his committee are advocating the biggest expansion of gun control laws in two decades. They want to enact an assault weapons ban, place limits on high-capacity magazines for ammo and they want every individual who purchases a gun to register their purchase, including buyers at gun shows. Interestingly, in a bid to make gun regulations more palatable to politicians and the public, Biden has shot down the term "gun control" in favor of the more innocuous term, "gun safety."
To-MAY-to, to-MAH-to, let gun safety be our national goal in 2013.
Another goal? Ban the silver-lame jumpsuit. It’s so unbecoming.