Occupy Coruscant: Life Imitating Art

Now I don’t claim to know the specifics about the whole Occupy Wall Street movement, nor do I wish to be perceived as having a complete grasp on all the implications of the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case.  I’m fairly laid back when it comes to politics and I try to shy away from getting into political debates.  However being a big geek I do enjoy drawing parallels between real life situations and my favorite fictional universe, Star Wars.

When it comes to Star Wars I consider myself something of an expert.  Obviously my love of the movies stems from the original trilogy but I do enjoy the prequels as well, and don’t have quite the feverish hatred for them as some others out there.  In fact one of my favorites of the three prequels, despite the great fount of dissenting opinions from across the opinion-sphere, is The Phantom Menace.  Sure there’s too much Jar Jar, despite that though I found myself extremely engrossed by the scenes on Coruscant and the political environment there.  For as we all knew, this would be the political realm that would usher in the end of democracy in the old Republic, and set up the power base of the nefarious Emperor Palpatine!  One of my favorite additions to the Star Wars mythos in the prequel films was the Trade Federation and its lot of greedy cronies.

For those who might not be as familiar with the movies as myself, the Trade Federation is a large conglomerate of intergalactic corporations and trade guilds run by a central council which is responsible for regulating and overseeing most of the galaxies trade, trade routes, and trade taxation.  Of course there are some checks and balances on the power of the Federation by the Galactic Senate which had the power to propose legislation for or against the policies of the Trade Federation.  The fictional history of the Trade Federation has its origins as a simple commerce lobbying organization associated with the Galactic Republic, however by the time of Episode I the Federation had been monopolized by the Neimoidians and had amassed such power and political sway that the entire entity of the Trade Federation was granted its own representative in the Galactic Senate in the form of Senator Lott Dodd.  Along with other manufacturing and banking conglomerates similar to the Trade Federation lobbying and special interests in the Galactic Senate were brought out from behind the scenes and given full disclosure and equal voice to those of individual star systems and their local populations.

Senator Lott Dod of the Trade Federation addresses the senate

 

Sound familiar?  I remember when I first heard about the Citizens United case, and the phrase “Corporations are people.”  My initial thoughts were, without skipping a beat, “Wow, they just created the Trade Federation.”  Of course corporations having the ability to create political ads is quite a stretch from intergalactic groups of corporations creating standing armies and invading neighboring planets.  Or is it?  Well not really, when you think that companies like Halliburton and others hire private security contractors and their own groups of armed forces to protect military supply lines and logistics outposts.  The number of private, corporate security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq are second in size only to the U.S. military itself.  For more information on that subject check out this LINK.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m getting at with all of this, I suppose that I’m just doing my own small bit of political activism by trying to illustrate how scary the phrase “corporations are people” really should be.  If that mindset is allowed to take hold, what’s to stop it from becoming “corporations are citizens” and eventually becoming “corporations deserve representation.”  I can almost hear the reasoning for it now, that such a move would be able to alleviate the economic sway of special interests over politicians, when in fact it would simply give special interests exactly what they want, a political voice, and more power.  Such things or course are only theoretical, but we already have corporations theoretically being people.  What’s to stop these theoretical ‘people’ from forming theoretical states within states which could then be granted a voice and legislative power equal to the very real individuals who have to then toil for and deal with these over powered and gluttonously wealthy corporations.  People are people and from what I remember in my social studies classes in middle school governments are supposed to exist to support and protect their citizens, not cater to shadowy businesses who have buckets full of money which they can use to sponsor the direction of political discourse.  Ah but what do I know?

That is all!

My B5 Mission

So here it is, another Babylon 5 blog post from me.  I’m sure you might be getting sick of hearing me go on and on about this defunct sci-fi franchise and I promise I will try and make this my last B5 post for awhile, but I just have a few more things to say about this series.

As I mentioned before I was overjoyed to hear that all five seasons of Babylon 5 are available to watch on Netflix now.  Unfortunately the show only saw a brief life in reruns due to some sort of distribution rights dispute that effectively shut down syndication of the series.  For years I relied on VHS tapes that I recorded from television with the commercials edited out in order to spread the word on the show.  Even that approach, or showing the series on DVD, requires finding time to meet up and watch all five seasons, episode by episode.  It’s often difficult to find a time when that works for both parties.  You of course can lend out your copies to friends and family, but as I grow older I more and more take the position of “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”  I know I still have movies and games floating around the house that I’ve borrowed from friends years ago, and there’s always a slight pang of displeasure when I am without a lent item for extended periods.

The Babylon 5 station

Now however, thanks to modern technology, all of that is a thing of the past at least when it comes to spreading the word on Babylon 5.  Ironically I myself do not use Netflix, the wife and I are currently crunching numbers in an attempt to save money, and though it isn’t that expensive, it does all add up.  It’s on our list however and I’m sure we will catch up to the rest of the world shortly.  This development though does mean that I can finally conveniently and efficiently urge my friends and anyone else I know with Netflix to watch the show.

I am taking up a personal crusade to prosthelytize Babylon 5.  I really believe there has not been a show to equal its scope and level of storytelling.  I love the franchise and the Babylon 5 universe, and unlike other major sci-fi franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek, Babylon 5 needs a bit of a fanbase boost because it seems to be slipping further and further away from the pop culture spotlight (doubtlessly due to the aforementioned lack of syndication.)  BUT I also do not want to overhype it.  I hate when that happens, when you get all pumped up for something listening to others talk about, and you go in with enormous expectations that can’t be met.  If you have never seen the show I don’t want you to take a look at the first season and think “What the fuck?  He was praising this?”  So here are a few things to keep in mind:

1-The effects, for the most part, are bad.  At the start of season 1, the special effects can be blocky, slow and a bit awkward.  You have to keep in mind though that this was an upstart low budget series.  This isn’t part of a big franchise like Star Trek where they can use the legacy of the show, and established fanbase for larger budgets for graphics and effects.  Like Babylon 5 itself in season 1, the effects department was just getting off the ground and starting from scratch.  Thankfully as time goes on the overall look of the show improves tremendously.

2- The show is dorky.  In case you weren’t aware the show is a sci-fi series which, on occasion, conforms to the stereotypes of the genre and has a few dorky moments.  A couple of bad puns here, an alien penis joke there, you know, those old chestnuts.  Though actually as the series goes on those lighthearted “dorky” moments really help reflect the heavier, darker, and more epically mature moments in later seasons.

The show does have a lot of genuinely funny moments

3- The show is thick with continuity.  Babylon 5 isn’t a show you can pick and choose episodes with, in fact I often compare it to LOST in that respect when talking with people about the show.  Sure you’ll get the idea if you just jump right into season three, but there will be plenty of moments where you find yourself completely out of the loop, asking yourself “Now who the hell is that guy, and why is everyone so pissed?”  Without following the continuity of the show you really lose a great deal in regard to the development of the characters which is crucial to the show, and which I’d say is the best part of Babylon 5.  Which brings me to the good things about Babylon 5.

This show is unlike anything else in television, as far as I’ve seen.  The characters in the show grow and evolve with each episode and through every season.  No character is static, or two dimensional.  They are given quite a bit to deal with on screen and there are a plethora of rich personal histories that are alluded to, and referenced which help flesh out the characters.  When I say “the characters” I don’t mean just the main characters, the stars, the heroes, I mean every character on the show.  The side characters, the recurring characters, the comic relief characters, they all evolve as the show goes on.  You find as you watch Babylon 5 that your opinions of characters drastically shifts, and are often completely turned upside down.  The entire Babylon 5 cast is made up of cast of complex individuals working through their issues during the intrigues and immense storylines of the series.

Aside from the characters, the setting for the show, the B5 universe itself, is also deep and well crafted.  There is a sense of history in the universe that is seen through the characters and the plot.  There are political tensions and feuds between various interstellar governments tracing back through these fictional histories.  There is a strong sense of realism, emotional honesty, mingled in through the high tech unreal world of Babylon 5.  In a way the political tones and issues portrayed in Babylon 5 were ahead of their time, I would go so far as to say that J. Michael Straczynski was the first television writer to capture the feel of the post 9/11 United States, before 9/11.  Which is a huge credit to the political savvy of the show.  Thinking about it now, with its themes of corrupted media, distrust of outside cultures, misuse of military power, government conspiracy, and so much more Babylon 5 is more timely now then when it was originally aired.

My last bit of praise for Babylon 5 simply goes to the writing.  The only word I can think of for the writing is epic.  The best description of the show I’ve read was that Babylon 5 was a novel on television.  That is exactly it.  A novel with a huge story arc, dozens of tangents, and varied and complex themes.  The show changed my expectations of television and of the sci-fi genre.  In a way the show changed how I viewed politics and science, encouraging a better understanding of both.  The best thing I’ve taken away from the show however are dozens of memorable chunks of dialogue.  From sharp tongued one liners to eloquent dramatic soliloquies, Babylon 5 has them all.

The character of Michael Garibaldi is one of the best examples of the series writing

So overall my mission now is to create more Babylon 5 fans out there.  Why am I doing this you might ask.  Because I believe in the show?  Because I respect the creators and actors?  Because I hope to share the series message of realism mixed with hope?  The answer is yes to all of those I suppose, but I believe it is all pretty simple, and much more selfish than that.  I’m looking for more folks to talk about the show with who enjoy it as much as I do.  Perhaps I hope to prove to myself that I have been correct in devoting my fandom to the series.  If others out there like it, then maybe that means I have been right to spend so much time following the adventures of a band of fictional warriors and politicians in space.

Isn’t that why fans of any ilk band together?  Whether it’s TV, movies, sports, don’t we all get together not simply to enjoy the subject of our fandom, but perhaps to reinforce to ourselves that we are not alone?

That is all!

“Presidents Day” Should Be a Celebration of Deeds, Not Power

Today was Presidents Day. Every time this holiday rolls around I am reminded of an editorial piece I read several years ago in the local Akron Beacon Journal which brought up an important concept about this national holiday and its poorly chosen title. Though I had a basic understanding about the history of this federally observed holiday, sadly the ideas brought up in this newspaper article hadn’t struck me fully until after its reading.

As I’m sure most of us know, originally Presidents Day was not called “Presidents Day,” but rather a celebration of George Washington’s birthday. This of course is indeed a noble cause for celebration. George Washington was a father of our nation, leader of our homegrown revolution, and first president of our free nation. There is no one, even in todays poisonous political environment, who would argue that a recognized celebration of the life of George Washington would be out of order as a nationwide observance. Likewise, there was at one time a celebration of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. The leader of our nation who struggled to maintain our union throughout a divisive and bloody civil war. President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, undoing the shameful practice which lingered far too long in this country. Though the legitimacy of exulting our 16th president might be in question by the last of our country’s hold-out idiot bigots, the majority of our citizens understand the importance of this influential and important president.

Two separate celebrations for two separately extraordinary leaders of the United States. However at some point in history (I’m not a facts guru, go look it up) it was deemed that two days off was one too many, and the celebrations of Washington and Lincoln were combined into a single observance called Presidents Day. Which, under that broad title thusly diminishes the honor of the individual men previously heralded. Essentially, in the mind of the general public, Presidents Day became the sweeping celebration of a position of power, and not the celebration of the wise few who have wielded such power with great distinction.

Calvin Coolidge, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush. As I recall these were not popular men in our nations history, or at least they each had very troubled moments during their reigns, in terms of popularity. Whatever your political views are, or your personal views of the aforementioned three presidents, it is safe to say that none of that trio will ever be revered as a great watermark in American political history.

I guess what I’m getting at is that regardless of how your political stance leans or how terrible our modern political environment might seem it is important to remember that there were a few select Presidents of the United States who performed truly great deeds and exhibited the qualities needed to induce a nations veneration. Those are the individuals we should be celebrating on Presidents Day, I would suggest we change the title to “Awesome Presidents Day” or perhaps “Above Average Presidents Day” I just have a problem with lumping them all together in a single uninformed observance. Although I can not remember the author of that commentary from my local newspaper I am thankful I read it, and was thusly inspired to remember the important aspects of this national holiday. So take a moment to think about what your country might be like without the two gentlemen seen below.

That is all!

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln: American Legends