If one were to peel back the influences that pop culture has had on me, one of the biggest would be science fiction. From an early age, it was science fiction stories and shows that grabbed my attention. So, it should come as no surprise that when I think about the theme for the month of June, beauty, the first thought that comes to my mind is from a classic science fiction show.
The show in question is the original Twilight Zone, and the episode that comes to mind is one titled Eye of the Beholder. Perhaps you’ve seen it too? For most of the episode, we see a person in the hospital with bandages around their face, talking about an operation that was a last chance to alter a physical deformity. We, the viewers, don’t see the faces of the doctors and nurses who are telling the patient that regardless of how this operation comes out, the bandaged person can live a happy, normal life. This being the Twilight Zone, there’s a twist ending. Spoiler alert—once the bandages are removed, the person looks like a “normal” person. We then see the faces of those who were talking to her and they all have malformed faces, turning the idea of what is beautiful and what is ugly on its head. This episode was written by Rod Sterling, a noted Unitarian Universalist. The episode debuted in November of 1960 and the message it sends is still relevant to us today—that beauty is a subjective thing, not to be dictated by a government or society.
For many years the idea of what is beautiful and what is not has been informed by white supremacy in our popular culture. When one looks at magazine covers or what we see in movies or television, up until recently there were very few people of color that were represented in these mediums, which is why Nichelle Nichols’ portrayal of Uhura on Star Trek was such a groundbreaking role. Representation matters. In our current political climate, white supremacist ideals are re-asserting themselves. It’s up to us, as allies and as people of conscience, to fight white supremacist ideals, ideals like voter suppression, putting children in cages, or from police shootings and so on.
One of my favorite books is Ms. Rumphius, who is tasked by her grandfather to make the world a more beautiful place. This is a task that I give to you all—to make the world a more beautiful place, be it through the ballot box, social justice, or by taking to heart a science fiction show that held up a mirror to our own failings in an effort to teach us something. Amen, and blessed be.
The Almost Rev. Kevin DeBeck