My husband and I watched a show a couple of weeks ago that I’m finally getting the time to contemplate and write about.
A Town Has Turned to Dust was written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame and aired on network television when a lot of stage actors were trying out this new medium. And that is to the public’s benefit. Great acting, great writing, and a great example of the often prophetic aspects of the dramatic arts.
In the play, a town that has suffered from months of a terrible drought and has had little to do (no farming, no diversional activities either, just lots of heat and fear of dying). One person, the general store owner, manages to stir up controversy, false in nature, alleging that a young man stole from his store and also assaulted the owner’s wife. It is a total fabrication, we will later learn. The store proprietor himself had harmed his own wife and, it seems, this was not the first time.
But, in order to punish the young man of Mexican heritage who would occasionally visit with the lonely, unhappy wife, out of jealousy and prejudice, the store owner makes up the accusations and gets the men of the small town to join him in storming the jail and lynching the innocent young man.
The mob that angrily assaults the jail and badgers the ineffective sheriff gleefully hangs the Mexican youth and cheers his demise. I have included the link to the Playhouse 90 episode below. Though it is a fictional story of a fabricated crime, there are elements that eerily reminded me in some ways of the situation our country recently found itself in when, though a much larger number of people, we found ourselves with little to do (homebound and many not able to work, fearing sickness and death that might occur if we went out). It wasn’t a drought but a virus that caused this inactivity/confinement and fear of dying. And then, after months, one single incident (terrible and real, to be sure, in our case) caused thousands to first righteously march in the streets to protest police brutality and racism.
But I am not addressing the peaceful protests that had a worthy purpose. I am focusing on when the crowds turned from peaceful people with a right to denounce indefensible actions to violent mobs that destroyed private property. And that morphed into purposeful destruction and defacing of public property.
The mob would have its way. The unthinking, irrational, destructive mob was loosed on too many municipalities around our country. Part of it was probably due to months of isolation and fear, of lack of purpose and few diversions, just like in the play.
There are legal and proper ways, reforms that are right and just, to take care of some racist and bullying police officers that exist in too many police forces in our country. There are also proper ways to remove statues and monuments that local communities find offensive. And then there is the way of the mob.
And we can see that a mob does not think about right and just ways to do anything. A mob is the epitome of power used to dominate, intimidate, and destroy that which ‘it’ has decided has to go. There is no calm, rational discussion, or use of the laws that are written and meant to be followed to help move a society forward in a manner that encourages civility and thoughtfulness; critical thinking skills are not part of the mob mentality.
A mob is a rabid dog, bent on hurting others, that cannot be controlled. Or perhaps a mob is like a spoiled child that throws things and bawls incomprehensibly for what it wants, no matter how much it may have been taught that this is not the proper way to acquire things.
All I know is, peaceful demonstrations by large groups of like minded people can begin to change a society by raising awareness of a problem and by shining a light on what has been hidden. I know that with mobs the core reason for peaceful protests is lost and it leaves anger and animosity toward the nameless, faceless crowd that caused the losses – loss of businesses, livelihoods, homes, goods, sense of safety.
The Playhouse 90 production we watched and that I’ve shared below is about racism, which ostensibly started the riots and the mayhem. In the show’s case it is prejudice against Mexicans. But it is also about letting the mob rule which can never be allowed, for justice and positive change for the good of the oppressed can never be achieved through mob means.
What is right and what is just can only be found through dialogue, debate, really listening to what a particular group of people would like to see changed and what ways they have been grieved, but that includes a clear articulation of one’s desired goals. Passing laws to change the wrongs in our society is a good start. But we also always must work on changing hearts and minds. We should never devolve to mob rule and vengeance.
We have to look at ways in which we can work together for a better world peacefully. You knew it was coming, if you’ve ever read more than one of my blog entries, and that is my belief that we’ve got to love like Jesus, who loves each of us as if there were only one of us. He died for us, He lives for us now. And we can only love like Him if we ask Jesus into our lives, into our hearts. We have to ask forgiveness for our sins. There is humility in admitting we’ve done something wrong. But there is freedom in being forgiven for those things. Look to Jesus in the Scriptures. Talk to Him (that’s prayer!) and ask for a peace that only God can give. Ask for a renewing of your mind so that you can start fresh with a desire for the good of others.
It is easier than you realize. The Holy Spirit, who Jesus sent to us when He ascended, can give you the grace needed to live the life Jesus offers us. It is a life of giving, and of joy, a life of love.
There are many other lessons to be gleaned from this Playhouse 90 production. I urge you to watch to the end. Actor Rod Steiger gives a stirring monologue worth listening to.
(The recording below includes the original commercials from 1958 so that’s kind of interesting from a historical viewpoint, as well. Yes, there are cigarette commercials which are sort of jarring. It was a different time and we’ve come far. May we continue to learn from past mistakes.)