Cerebral Television

Ryan Heshmati

December 30, 2022

When television that provokes thought comes to mind, classics like The Twilight Zone are often the first to be brought up, but what has television been doing for viewers lately? Viewership in programs that tackle ethical and philosophical issues, seen everywhere from The Twilight Zone to Star Trek, has been lost to increased viewership in reality television. The television industry has transitioned away from the thought-provoking to the popular.

The Twilight Zone, aforementioned twice already, is the poster boy for cerebral, thought-provoking television. Entertaining, each black-and-white episode features a unique storyline that seldom bores. Engaging, each episode captivates the audience by forcing them to make predictions and ask questions as the plot progresses. One episode, called “Eye of the Beholder,” questions the concept of beauty and is used at Saratoga High School in one class’ speculative fiction unit for study by students.

Rod Sterling’s The Twilight Zone ended in 1964, and with it, so did an era. The following five decades were full of programming, but nothing came close to Rod Sterling’s creation, challenging viewers to think. In 1996, Star Trek: Voyager aired “Tuvix,” an episode that involves fallout after two men combine into a new individual in a transporter accident. Captain Janeway, the ship’s ranking crewmember, must decide whether to undo the incident and restore the two men while killing Tuvix or do nothing and leave the two men gone.

Rather than drawing inspiration from shows like these that challenge one’s convictions, 27% of 18-29-year-old Americans, according to Soocial, draw inspiration from reality television celebrities. While found entertaining, reality programming does little for watchers beyond that. Finding difficult moral questions in Keeping Up With the Kardashians is challenging, yet it enjoyed twenty seasons.

While guilty pleasures, like the occasional reality tv show, are entirely acceptable, cerebral television deserves more of a place in 2022 America. Some may assert that while specific viewers enjoy ethical questions, others do not, and nothing focusing on them gains nothing. However, it is essential to consider that it is when a society begins to stop questioning ideas, practices, and convictions that it is doomed to forget.

Humanity will wrestle with questions concerning autonomous vehicle protocols, Ai, and privacy in the coming century and must tackle these with reasoned perspectives trained through recurring thought. Next time one is looking for something to pull up on their television, they should throw The Twilight Zone or another thought-oriented program into the hat.