Sunday, August 13, 2006

Three-Edged Sword

Reflecting back on the contents of TV series which have gained fame and have been watched by millions in the US, I can’t help but wonder: is the public simply blind, or do the authors overestimate its capacity to analyze what it sees and hears?

Take the X-Files, or Babylon 5 for instance. The contents of those shows, the material in there should have awoken people who watched them, should have made them aware of the society they live in, of the blanket of propaganda that is Georges W. Bush’s Administration main method of doing politics.

This is not only true for domains like the military and the “war on terror” flag raised every time the Republicans feel threatened—ever wondered at the timing and scale of chaos following the thwarting of that plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic? Ever put that together with the coming election in November, and the difficult position the Republicans found themselves in until they so conveniently could get back to whipping that poor dead “war on terror” horse?

It’s also true in domains like economy and the One Allowed Line of Thought that states that completely unfettered market economy is good for humanity, and that the market is good for all of us, and will benefit us all. It’s true when it comes to unravelling this despicable deception called “the American Dream.”

Oh yes, there’s all that in TV series, and more. Let me quote you one of the most disturbing exchanges in Babylon 5, taking place between John Sheridan, Captain of the station, and Julie Musante, official envoy from the Ministry of Peace on Earth:

JM -“Earth doesn't have homeless. We don't have the problem. Well, yes, there are some displaced people, here and there, but they've chosen to be in their position. They're either lazy or they're criminal or they're mentally unstable.”
JS - “They can't get a job.”
JM - “Earth-gov has promised a job to everyone that wants one. So, if someone doesn't have a job, they must not want one.”
JS - “Poverty?”
JM -“It's the same.”
JS - “Crime?”
JM -“Yes, there is some, but it's all caused by the mentally unstable. And we've just instituted correctional centers to filter them out at an early age.”
JS - “Prejudice?”
JM -“No, we are just one happy planet”

(JM: Julie Musante, JS: John Sheridan, from Babylon 5’s Voices of Authority)

Rings a bell? Ever heard those lines or much the same from politicians near you? From people thirsting after an easy victory in elections? From senators or congressmen trying to push for a new law to be voted?

And there is more, way more to find. Babylon 5’s Lines of Communications is an exercise in unravelling the tapestry of lies and propaganda spun by the likes of Fox News. Starting with so-called journalists claiming, ”Our job, as always, is simply to state the facts and let the truth attend to itself,” the episode is a brilliant demonstration of just how you nudge the facts this way and that, how you cut interviews just so and edit videos this way to get the “truth” you were aiming for.

The X-Files’s “Redux” shows us a stunning summary of the US governments’ actions in the last 60 years, which, while certainly pushed to suit the author’s scenario, ought to at least shake people, and make them wonder about what has been done in their name, about what the US government has been doing in the world since World War II.

There is much, much more where that came from.

Desperate Housewives is an exercise in demolition of the righteous and hypocritical bigots that constitute the upper-middle class. Every single episode happily tramples down upon the lies and clichés such people entertain about themselves. Every single episode should send those people screaming in horror.

And yet, have these shows changed anything? Sometimes, I really question the ability of people to think, and reflect on what they see.

Yes, those shows are fiction, and they do not show you “the truth”. But they aim to shake easy certainties, and to make you question what you’re being told, to make you think, to force you to make yourself an opinion instead of blindly swallowing down anything spewed out by spokespersons with bovine zeal.

When I watched Babylon 5 for the first time, it was in Detroit, at a friend’s house. When I was done, I asked him: “do you realize what it is that’s shown you? Do you realize how it’s a slap in the face that undoes the way the American people just allow themselves to be led by the nose by people who only look to their own interest?” He told me that, yes, he did realize the strength of what was being shown in that TV series. But I fear he’s an exception. Oh, there must be hundreds of thousands of such exceptions, but I’m afraid they’re just a drop in the ocean of three hundred million people that comprise the United States of America.

And above all, I fear that most people in the US and elsewhere watch TV series for the fun of it, and switch off their brains when they do so—that people refuse to reflect on what’s going on around them, refuse to use the material they’re being given to question the pre-digested “truths” delivered by propaganda machines like Fox News and others. I fear that people just consider that fiction is fiction, period, and not meant to have a serious impact on “reality”. That’s a terrible mistake.

Authors of shows like Babylon 5 do want you to use your mind, to use what they showed you to challenge and question what happens around you.

When I write stories, I place elements that reflect on the world I live in. I want people to think, to question. I don’t care if in the end they agree with me or not, I’m not aiming to win any kind of election. No, what I want is for people to make their own mind, make their own opinion, instead of blindly accepting whatever is being handed to them.

Do people realize that?

Are people willing to make the effort of applying what they see, what is questioned in a TV series to challenge their everyday reality?

I wish I knew. I wish I understood how people work in that regard.

“Understanding,” as Ambassador Kosh Naranek rightly says, “is a three-edge sword: your side, their side and the truth.”


virgo_andromeda said...

I realise there is also one quote of babylon 5 that is unfortunately happening in Irak: wars are usually followed by civil wars :(
Human kind does not learn very much :(

For the quote of Kosh, I thought it was "understanding is a triple edged sword, your side, THEIR side and the truth"
quid ? :D

Fuu-chan said...

Actually you're both wrong and right: it's "their side", and it's nto "triple" but "three". I checked and rechecked ot make sure ^^;;

That mistake is corrected, thanks for pointing it out ^^

As to humanity's ability to learn from past mistakes, well...not exactly encouraging, but I think we have no choice but to trust to hope, and to keep on raising our voices and trying to make things better, even if we have little chance of reaching our goals. Because if we do not act, then all is lost for certain, and that's not something I'm willing to contemplate.