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TV History: The Twilight Zone

by Christine Becker

This clip was uploaded for an assignment in Prof. Christine Becker's FTT 30461: History of Television class at the University of Notre Dame. A student will be adding the commentary to this clip by March 1.

Challenging Conceptions of Beauty in "Eye of the Beholder"

by James Docimo

In the episode “Eye of the Beholder” from The Twilight Zone anthology series, creator Rod Serling challenges widely held values about standards of physical beauty, and even beliefs about how important physical beauty is. This episode challenges these values and beliefs so well that even now, more than fifty five years after it originally aired, it can still make viewers look inward and reconsider their conceptions of beauty. In the context of 1950s/early 1960s television, both the series The Twilight Zone and this episode in particular represented a departure from the cookie-cutter family sitcoms that promote consumerism and traditional values, and a departure from programming that went out of its way not to challenge anyone for fear of scaring off viewers and advertisers. It also represented a resistance to the decline of the anthology drama.
In “Eye of the Beholder,” we find an apparently hideously deformed patient with bandages. The bandages are removed to reveal someone whom we would see as a beautiful woman, but whom the pig-nosed doctors and nurses find hideous. Another man who looks like a normal human comes in to tell her about a separate community of deformed people like them, where she can live, separated from a society run by a dictator who stresses “glorious conformity.” The message is clear: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That message is all well and good, but it really does not make much difference unless we look at how it would have challenged people to reevaluate their preconceived notions of beauty. People watching television in the 1950’s were constantly being encouraged to consume and conform, and standards of beauty are constantly being pushed to sell products. Are you pretty enough? No. Try this new treatment, or this new makeup. However, in watching this episode and seeing the extreme to which “the State” carries these ideals, viewers are shocked, because looks should not matter that much. So, without even realizing it, the viewers are changing their notions about beauty, and focusing on the fact that this character is still a human being even if she does not look like everyone else. Why is this so effective? Because she looks like us. When we watch this episode, we see someone who looks like us being mistreated simply because of how she looks, and that is what prompts us to ask why looks really matter.
Rod Serling famously wrote a play called “Noon on Doomsday,” about the murder of Emmett Till, which was censored by networks in favor of less thought provoking and status quo challenging material, because they thought it would scare away viewers. According to Amy E. Boyle Johnston, “The location was changed to New England. The murdered Jew was transformed into an unnamed foreigner. The word ‘lynch’ was excised from the script, as was anything deemed ‘too Southern’ in connotation. The villain was softened to ‘just a good, decent American boy momentarily gone wrong’” (Johnston, qtd. In Kates). This just goes to show that Rod Serling was always trying to push the envelope and challenge people’s perceptions. Networks would not let him do it as directly as he tried to with “Noon on Doomsday,” which is why The Twilight Zone is so brilliant. By creating a fantasy world in “Eye of the Beholder,” Serling was able to challenge conceptions of beauty without being direct, but while still getting the point across.
This challenge of people’s widely held conceptions is in direct opposition to one of the prevailing views of the shift from live to telefilm, which represents this shift as a total decline. As described by Barnouw, “telefilms rarely invited the viewer to look for problems within himself. Problems came from the evil of other people, and were solved - the telefilm seemed to imply - by confining or killing them” (qtd. in Newcomb 105). In “Eye of the Beholder,” however, the viewers are only being invited to look for problems within themselves. While the evil in the episode does come from characters separate from the protagonist, the real life evil represented in the episode is in all of us. Also, at the end, the evil is not confined or killed; in fact, the ones perpetuating this evil are the ones who get to continue to live in society, while the ones receiving it are forced into a colony. The problem is not confined or killed, it is not even solved. In this way, this episode of The Twilight Zone makes viewers realize that, while the story in the episode is extreme, they are receiving and perpetuating this notion of a single standard of beauty at the same time.

Works Cited

Kates, William. "Uncensored: 'Twilight Zone' Creator's Script on Emmett Till Case." The Washington Post. WP Company, 27 Mar. 2008. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Newcomb, Horace. "The Opening of America." The Other Fifties. N.p.: U of Illinois, n.d. 103-23. Print.

"Eye of the Beholder," The Twilight Zone

This is a clip from the episode of The Twilight Zone entitled "Eye of the Beholder," Episode 6 of Season 2, which first aired on November 11, 1960, on CBS.

from The Twilight Zone (1960)
Creator: Director: Douglas Heyes, Writer: Rod Serling
Distributor: Netflix
Posted by Christine Becker
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