Five socially relevant episodes of The Twilight Zone

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Over half a century after Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone first aired, people are still captivated by the sci-fi show. So in advance of the Theater Company of Lafayette's production of Return to the Twilight Zone (Volume 8), A Parody, which opens tomorrow night at the Mary Miller Theater , we took a look at five episodes of the classic show that are eerily relevant in 2011.

"The Obsolete Man"

The episode: In a futuristic society, a librarian is put on trial for being "obsolete," a crime punishable by death in a country that has eradicated literacy.

Why it's still relevant: Ian Gerber, who's playing Rod Serling in the Lafayette production as well as directing this episode, says he chose this particular vignette because he works selling books to librarians and sees them struggling. "Along the Front Range they keep losing their jobs," says Gerber. "So I kind of picked this one as a dedication to all my hard-working librarians, many of whom have been losing their jobs because the state has better ways to spend the money." Though the punishments aren't as harsh as in this episode, the state is still finding ways to deem librarians obsolete.

"The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine"

The episode: Stuck in the past, an aging movie starlet has nothing to live for in the present so stays alone, reliving her former glory by watching her old films over and over. Eventually she disappears from the modern world and is only seen on the projection screen, at a party with all of her old co-stars.

Why it's still relevant: The narrator artfully ends the episode with this: "Barbara Jean Trenton, movie queen of another era, who has changed the blank tomb of an empty projection screen into a private world." With technology today, we really can change empty screens into private worlds. People can got lost in everything from TV to Second Life, ignoring what's going on in real life.

"The Brain Center at Whipple's"

The episode: A man lays off workers at a manufacturing plant in favor of a machine that does their jobs -- and his superiors eventually replace him with a robot.

Why it's still relevant: With machines increasingly doing manufacturing jobs that used to belong to people, this fifty-year-old look at human workers being laid off for the profit of a few men at the top is still fresh (see also: Occupy Denver).

"The Monsters are Due on Maple Street"

The episode: On a normal neighborhood street, all of the power suddenly goes out, causing the residents to immediately turn against each other, suspecting their friends of being the monsters who caused the outage. Ultimately, it's revealed that the true monsters are aliens watching from a hilltop, creating the paranoia.

Why it's still relevant: While the episode was originally inspired by Red Scare paranoia, human nature hasn't changed in the intervening years. Rather than banding together against a harmful force, people still fall prey to modern-day McCarthyism in these post-9/11 days.

"Number 12 Looks Just Like You"

The episode: In a world where every person must got undergo "the Transformation," a process that makes everyone look beautiful and young, one woman resists for fear of losing her individuality.

Why it's still relevant: The goal for many cosmetic-surgery patients is to look young (even when they're not) and conform with society's ideal beauty standards. The only thing missing is that this goal is not enforced by the state. Yet.

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