Babylon 5

By | Saturday, May 26, 2007 Leave a Comment
So I've been watching Babylon 5 for the past week or two; a co-worker lent me the first two seasons on DVD. I'd only seen bits and pieces of it over the years, so it's by and large new for me.

I'd never really bothered watching it before because of some of the superficial aspects that I didn't like. The sets looked cheap, and the Centari hairstyles were laughably silly for starters. The designed aspects of the show -- notably the architecture and the technology -- looked like they were created in the 1950s. ("Yeah, let's use random neon lights here. That'll look future-y.") Indeed, much of it looked like only a slightly updated version of an old Buck Roger serial.

It wasn't until several years later, well after the show ended, that I learned that it had developed something of a following. It was something of a mystery to me -- never having really watched the show at length -- why people would invest so much in it. Clearly, there was something there that fans were latching on to, and it must have been in the writing as J. Michael Stracynski's name was hailed with as much reverence as the name of the show.

Eventually, Stracynski came around to writing Amazing Spider-Man. I remember at the time curious to see what he might bring to the character and whether his Babylon 5 fans would follow him to a different medium and genre. And, while Stracynski irritated some long-time Spidey fans with ideas like the spider-totem and such, I found that he did have some good ideas to bring to the Spider-Man mythology.

I've just started season two of B5 and, in all honesty, it's not really gripping me. It took me about 8 or 10 episodes of season one to "get it" and another 3 or 4 beyond that to realize that it's not really a science fiction show at all. Sure, it's got some trappings of sci-fi -- aliens, lasers, starships, etc. -- but the thrust of the shows is wholly unrelated to the technology. Science fiction, as I see it, does one of two things: 1) it showcases possibilities for advanced technology (Larry Niven's work is excellent for this type of thing) or 2) it showcases the relationship between mankind and technology (Orson Scott Card tends to lean in this direction). It can do both, certainly, (Isaac Asimov) and it can get by without focusing expressly on either (George Lucas) provided that there is at least something of an undercurrent present. By in the Babylon 5 universe, the technology is wholly irrelevant to the story. Indeed, much of the technology seen in the show was actively available while it was in production.

I don't say this to be dismissive of the show, mind you. It's well-written and the characters are fleshed out and generally engaging. But it's not really science fiction, as I see it. And that, it seems to me, is a dangerous road to travel. Because people like me, who expected to see a science fiction show when it first aired, and seeing instead what appeared to be a show in which the technology wasn't even addressed in a rudimentarily logically level, skipped over it. I'm not saying that anyone actively mis-represented the show to me -- I don't really recall any of the promotional material in fact -- but I'm forced to wonder how talented the marketing department working on it was, considering that I gave the show zero notice until it was literally handed to me.

I'm wondering this in relation to comics because there are almost assuredly comics in a similar vein out there. Stuff that's written well, perhaps drawn well too, that simply aren't sold as what they truely are. Stuff that is being sold as, say science fiction, when it's really just human drama. Granted, comic book marketers are generally more in tune with what they're working on than those in TV, but it makes me wonder how many other great comics I'm missing because I think they're something else...
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