Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Television's Sci-Fi Conspiracy That Never Was

Watching Fox's new Sci-Fi series, "Fringe," by Writer/Producer JJ Abrams, I was struck by the "Conspiracy That Never Was," and the total inability of current TV, as well as Comic Book writers and producers, to make decent Science Fiction. Science Fiction that addresses the central facts of our time. It's as if certain things never existed, at all. Almost every comic book, science fiction television program, and science fiction movies have the same problem. Pushing ideas that are not true, villains and heroes that have no basis in reality, and ignoring very real trends that threaten the West.

The dominant facts of our Post Cold-War era are decentralization, globalization, and the ability of even poor nations, even loosely organized groups, to kill masses of wealthy Westerners in their own countries through the spread of technology. Assault rifles such as the AK-47 are widely manufactured, in some places in Africa they can be purchased for around $100. Nuclear weapons are not (yet) such a commodity, but failed nations like North Korea, where citizens often starve and eat grass, have produced their own. Along with ICBMs capable of reaching Alaska and Hawaii. Neither the nukes nor the ICBMs may be of good quality, but even a badly made spear can kill. Even more troubling, the squabbling tribes with a flag known as Pakistan have more than 100 nuclear weapons, under questionable control and security.

Yet science fiction television show after show, comic book after comic book, presents the same tired old themes that have no resemblance to actual reality: massive, super-organized American government conspiracies, evil plots by gigantic American corporations, massive and secret scientific efforts, often for bad ends, by centralized powers (either the US government or Corporations or both). With brave, "rebel" type misfits who seek to expose the "lies" and so bring about a new order of truth and justice. In other words, recycled Watergate plots mixed with X-Files conspiracy mongering. Missing: any mention of the words "Islam," "Jihad," or "Muslims." It's always evil White men (and sometimes women) behind the plot, and the corporate evil-doers are always American, never say, Chinese or Russian or Middle Eastern corporations. It's as if Chinese companies never sold poisoned baby food or pet food. As if Russia were not the major arms supplier to dangerous rogue regimes. As if oil-fueled Princes and Sultans, often dissolute, Jihadist, and polygamous tyrants, were not buying up many US firms and properties, including say, the media.

As Comic book writer Frank Miller says, characters like Superman and Batman are supposed to be used to punch out men like Osama bin Laden, but even Miller, with the success of "300" and "Sin City," cannot get his Batman vs. Osama comic book published. Partly out of fear, of Muslims killing writers, artists, publishers, and anyone else associated with the project (as happened with Salman Rushdie's Italian translator and publisher, and Dutch Film Maker Theo Van Gogh, descendant of Vincent Van Gogh). But mostly out of Political Correctness.

Orwell was mostly right, in his novel "1984." The only thing he got wrong, was that the Ministry of Truth was not a centralized, Stalinist organization, but rather the noxious, decentralized thought control of the wealthy Baby Boomers who took over America's cultural institutions in the late 1980's. This is why current comic books, television, and movies are so bad with respect to Science Fiction. Political Correctness (and Multiculturalism and "Diversity") require writers to ignore what they see with their own eyes and toe the party line. Or face career ruin.

"Fringe," the new Science Fiction series from "Lost," creator JJ Abrams, is a good example of this requirement to deny the obvious. Just as the Roman Catholic Church required Galileo to deny that the Earth revolves around the Sun (instead of the other way around), so too does Political Correctness require Abrams to deny the obvious. Deny that governments and corporations, are filled with careerist, take-no-risks bureaucrats, who fear PC-driven lawsuits more than say, a terrorist attack. After all, no one lost their job or had their career impacted by doing nothing to prevent 9/11. Deny that science and technology advances contribute to decentralized threats, instead of massive conspiracies by governments and corporations. Deny that cheap encryption, public data networks, globalization, and the large scale movements of people and goods provides even loosely organized and poorly funded organizations such as Al Qaeda the proven ability to kill mass numbers of Americans and Westerners in their own countries. Deny that Islam, Jihad, and Muslims are at the heart of the real, decentralized, and ongoing threats to Americans.

Just as in the "X-Files," or "Lost," or "Serenity," or "Nowhere Man," or "Battlestar Galactica," or nearly any Science Fiction television show of note, "Fringe" posits all the threats emanating from the "evil" US Government and corporate nexus. In the most recent episode, research by the evil US Government during the Vietnam War to create a group of "supersoldiers" in just a few weeks, through accelerated growth and aging created a ruthless serial killer. Along with that theme (science is inherently evil, and controlled by "big" organizations, namely the US government and Corporations), was the fascinating sub-theme of pregnancy being a lethal threat to attractive women (that literally kills them). A more telling window, into the consumerist consumption of sex, and anti-natalism, could not be imagined. That science and technology is presented as "creepy" and threatening, ultimately evil, is also quite illustrative. Themes that the "X-Files," presented constantly, but also present in "Lost," and "Nowhere Man," and "Serenity," and Battlestar Galactica," the remake (by Ron Moore).

The world view of course is that women should remain single, attractive, and never "ruin" themselves with pregnancy. That science and technology is "evil" because it furthers centralized control of the massive Government-Corporate conspiracies, and that Western society's greatest threat comes from the evil insiders (White males and females). "Fringe," tellingly, has the noble US Government head played by ... a Black man. So that everyone knows he is the good guy, and the Hillary Clinton resembling older White female Corporate head, the obvious villain. All kin to the central Corporate conspiracy of "Lost," or the Government conspiracy of "Serenity" (the "terrorist" Reavers are "created" by the Government's thought control "signals" of peace and cooperation). Even the remake of "Battlestar Galactica," has the Cylons as being "created" by humans as slaves, and suggests that humanity has it coming to be wiped out by "better," and more perfect creations. That are immortal, never age, and don't get pregnant, much less form families.

How did America's creative community get to such a state? What are the reasons for this iron-clad PC inquisition, that prevents writers from writing about what they see before their eyes and reciting the dull, aging dogma of 1968? Why must they deny that it moves?

It is important, to look back, and see what came before. Before "the X Files," or "La Femme Nikita" (the Canadian co-production starring Peta Wilson), before "Serenity," the remake of "Battlestar Galactica," or "Lost," or "Cloverfield," or any of those types of PC-bound shadows of Science Fiction. Back to the 1970's, and 1980's.

Back when shows like "Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century," or "Six Million Dollar Man," or "Greatest American Hero," or even "the Flash," defined Science Fiction on American Television.

What these shows had in common were: humor, a sense of people working together, not to uncover massive and all-consuming Government/Corporate conspiracies, but to achieve worthwhile goals, a sense that society could be saved from threats, big or small, and optimism about the future. A future broadly defined as well, "American," in the classic sense. Science and technology were not "evil" and threatening to the status quo, but a critical tool that enabled the good guys to beat the bad guys. Even in such films as 1991's "the Rocketeer," (written by Danny Bilson), which came relatively late in the 1980's cycle, a more optimistic view of America, government, patriotism, corporations, technology, and who and what the villains were contrasts starkly with "the X Files" which came only two years later, in 1993.

The table below shows what huge changes took place, demographically. The old guard, who came of age no later than the early 1970's, and mostly in the late 1950's, still believed in the promise of America, and the American Dream. Their version of Science Fiction had their friends, neighbors, and people they knew as heroes enabled by technology — and cooperation among themselves, though with often humorous bickering that merely served to emphasize how different people could come together to save the day, as long as they shared the same fundamental values.

By contrast, the later generation came of age in ground zero of Political Correctness, in the 1980's. The 1980's were the era when the wealthy, connected cohort who had been immersed in the 1960's protest culture came to power. Naturally, the tools they used for power were quite different from the older cohort they displaced. Instead of cooperation, seeking "deviancy" from the accepted dogma of Political Correctness was the tool for advancement. A way to use an updated version of the Inquisition to inquire after thought crime, and remove rivals who might pose threats to one's career, or those who one could replace or supplant.






































































1990's to 2000's Writer/Producers
PersonAgeYear at Age 20
JJ Abrams421986
Joss Whedon441984
Josh Scwartz321996
Ron Moore441984
Chris Carter*411976
Joel Surnow*411976
1970's to 1980's Writer/Producers
PersonAgeYear at Age 20
Stephen J. Cannell401961
Harve Bennett471950
Glen A Larson441957
Danny Bilson371976



Thus the conspiracy themes of evil US Government and Corporate powers, merely echoes the only PC-laden denunciations of those insufficiently enlightened. As does the theme of "exposure," where writers and producers "expose" their peers who not Politically Correct enough, and so "destroy" anyone who might offer a "threat" to return to the old certainties of cooperation, optimism, and the American Dream (laced with can-do technology).

Note that in the case of Chris Carter and Joel Surnow, I used the year their signature series debuted, and then added three more years to make them an influential producer rather than merely a first year success. So for Carter, I used his age at 1993 plus three years, or 1996. For Surnow, it was 1997 (La Femme Nikita, not 24's debut) and then added three years to get his age at 2000. For the older producers from the 1970's and 1980's, I used the same methodology. One might quibble with one or two producers and the year selected, but the overall result I think is sound. Looking at producers who make well known or influential Science Fiction television series, at the three year mark. [All data taken from IMDB.com.] It's men in their thirties and forties who write and produce most of the influential Science Fiction television. Men with enough youth to work the punishing hours, and still maintain creative control or influence, and enough maturity to avoid pitfalls in production, writing, staffing, and creative directions. Yes, it is a very male field. Women, for what ever reason, do not seem attracted to writing and producing Science Fiction.

Regardless, if you compare the attitudes towards technology, cooperation, patriotism, America, and the threats, from a show like "Greatest American Hero" versus, say, "Fringe," the change is striking. What stands out is faith and fear. The older generation had faith in the essential goodness of the American Hero, enabled by technology. Ralph Hinckley is a High School teacher, who is presented as much of a hero for believing he can make a difference in the lives of his at-risk students as he is with the super-suit given to him by Aliens. His comic foil and partner, Bill Maxwell, might be the comic relief as the Reagan-loving FBI agent, but his beliefs are often proved correct and his toughness and patriotism are celebrated. This is largely because the man who wrote their lines, Stephen J. Cannell, came of age when people still believed those things. Whereas JJ Abrams, writer of "Lost," came of age in 1986, when PC started to assert it's iron rule upon our culture.

The other thing notable from it's complete absence on screen, is of course Jihad. By the late 1970's, Islamic Terrorism was inescapable. Our diplomats and Embassy personnel had been held hostage and tortured for more than a year in Tehran, by the Ayatollah. Throughout the 1980's, Islamic Terrorism grew, with airliners bombed out of the sky (Lockerbie/Pan Am 103) or the Marine Barracks in Beirut and our embassy there, or hostage taking, too numerous to recount. The 1990's were even worse, with terrorist attacks on our Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killing hundreds, the first World Trade Center plot that killed six and hoped to kill 50,000 (by toppling one tower onto another). And yet, there was nothing resembling Jihad ever depicted on "La Femme Nikita" (where the terrorists were all ex-Marxist Europeans or Serbians) or "the X Files," or "Nowhere Man," or "Lost," or even "Battlestar Galactica," where the "terrorists" were all played by sexy, lithe starlets who bore no resemblance, physically, emotionally, or culturally to Mohamed Atta or Osama bin Laden.

As "Wretchard" of the Belmont Club points out, the main issue is fear that PC is breaking down along with Multiculturalism and Diversity, as a means for social control and advancement, with the threat of terrorism, abetted by nuclear proliferation, global trade and the movement of people, and the equal distribution of technology. Even Al Qaeda has websites:


In the years leading up to the Civil War there was the theory among those who advocated compromise that slavery would gradually fade away and that a direct confrontation was ultimately unnecessary. In a kind of inversion the Left has probably hoped since the 1960s that people would be ‘enlightened’ into voluntarily accepting their intellectual chains.

But the Culture Wars and especially the Rise of Islam have shaken that belief to the core. The Culture Wars meant the program wasn’t working. People were pushing back. And with the decline of the MSM and the growing obsolescence of the traditional university it became less obvious that a certain world view could ‘inevitably’ be imposed by cultural indoctrination alone. But I think the advent of radical Islam really told them the clock ticking. If they couldn’t make their vision happen soon, it wouldn’t happen at all. September 11 had the effect of energizing conservatism and usurping the Left self-appointed revolutionary role. The Left was caught between two fires: the conservative hold-outs and the more militant Muslims. But there was a third, largely unrecognized factor which weakened the Left. Globalization. Globalization has made not just Islam but a whole host of non-Marxist authoritarianisms competitive with their monopoly. The Confucian Chinese and the Russian crime-syndicate types of authoritarianism mean their dream of a multilateral EU-style world is far from inevitable. In fact, it means their politically correct world is unlikely to survive in the fact of such brutal competitors. Not only are the demographics and trends are against them, their silly little Fabianism simply won’t work against thugs. You can’t argue “reproductive rights” with radical Islam who will simply decapitate the staff of their abortion clinics. Nor can you blater on about human rights in Moscow, where a bullet in the head answers all arguments. About the only thing the Left is confident of beating is the relatively civilized, Bible-clinging, law-abiding soccer mom. So that’s who they’re going to beat up on. Not any Shi’ite militias or Janjaweeds. None of those. What they’ll take on is Sarah Palin or an old geezer who can’t comb his hair.


Our culture has been stuck in 1968 for a long time. Key creative people, in Television, in Movies, in Publishing, even in Comic Books have accepted Political Correctness, as the sort of Inquisition, because it worked. Wretchard is correct, already the ability of the Inquisition to ruin careers and end discussion are ending. NBC's "Chuck," written and created by Josh Schwartz, has run episodes with Jihadi gangsters as the obvious villains. Even if the main villain seems to be a faction in the CIA, the "good guys" are still a beautiful CIA agent and grumpy, "Bill Maxwell" like NSA agent (brilliantly played by Adam Baldwin). Schwartz, of course, is only 32, and came of age in 1996.

Our Science Fiction in Television, in movies, even in Comic Books ignores Jihad, Muslim threats, Islam (alien and threatening in it's certainty and especially it's polygamy), the decentralized nature of life, and the spread of technology to even dirt poor people, countries, and places. Because to do so would be to acknowledge the bankruptcy of Political Correctness when faced by determined thugs. Who are both more numerous and more brutally determined. Laughable "conspiracies" abound in fantasy governments because that's how PC operates -- by "exposing" thought crimes.

All this can hold on for only so long. It's likely to die when really tough times come, not just in the nuclear blast of an American city dying by nuclear technology now available to any determined bidder, but the long ugly aftermath requiring discarding of the wealth and peace-driven Political Correctness, for pure survival.

In that regard, shows like "Battlestar Galactica," where people fight to "save" Political Correctness rather than do anything to survive, deserve to be called what they are: fantasy. Not Science Fiction.

Let's hope newer writers and publishers revive Science Fiction out of it's current, PC-fantasy doldrums.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

No wonder I feel vague irritation and annoyance after watching some of this crap. Great stuff, Whiskey. You should do a book. I'd like to read more.

Nine-of-Diamonds said...

Thank you for your observations whiskey.

I myself have become interested in tracing how and why domestic political radicals have been able to exploit the public's unease re: technological advances.

IMO one of the main reasons for the success of Conspiracy Culture is most modern citizens' fundamental ignorance of the hard sciences. I've been told that during the 1950's there was a major initiative to reemphasize the sciences in American high schools and colleges. People remembered all the amazing new technologies that the war had produced - rockets, proximity fuses, radar. Everyone was worried about Soviet technological superiority (Sputnik, etc). Hence, strong interest in these fields inside and outside the classroom. According to one conservative academic (David Horowitz?) several decades ago even public colleges offered an excellent array of hard science courses.


This "techno-centric" atmosphere may have contributed to a culture where the hard sciences were viewed as essentially benevolent. From comic books to "futuristic magazines" there was such an emphasis on science enabling futuristic heroes to conquer evil, delivering material benefits to middle class families, and so on.

Between 1970-1990 there was a shift in perceptions of science that seems to correspond to a decline in the quality of education as a whole. Even as campus radicals proposed drastic "improvements" to traditional curricula (less core curriculum - more emotive/ethnic separatist courses), the "futurism" of prior decades died out. The old sci fi heroes were either satirized or forgotten. Sci fi literature focused increasingly on Cyberpunk-esque, dystopian scenarios - technology running amok or being used to support corporatist states comprised of Evil White Men (tm).

Predictably, average Joes began to soak up these themes, whether consciously or not. Note the anti-nuclear hysteria of the 70's and 80's, as well as the growth in the ranks of luddite enviro groups. By way of contrast, when was the last time you heard of a high school with, say, a rocketry club? I was in Middle School during the mid-to-late 1990's, and I cannot recall a single friend who idolized astronauts, pilots, or other technological pioneers. At first many of my peers seemed to be indifferent to the sciences, not hostile (who needs Neil Armstrong when you've got Kurt Cobain?) As I got older and attended College, more students (and teachers) actively denounced technology and/or anything too closely associated with "Western" values - whatever those are.

Eventually we reached the state we're in today. Everyone "knows" 9/11 was an inside job because "The X Files", comic books, films, TV shows, and Liberal Arts university courses reinforce the same anti-technological/governmental bias. Nobody knows anything about jet fuel, metallurgy, Occam's Razor - what they DO know is that Bush looks kinda sorta like that villain from that movie they saw last week. They are also aware (however dimly) of the anti-government/antiprogress and pro romantic primitivist meta-narrative that even "mainstream" journalists have been pushing since 9/11 (hapless, Muslim noble savages good - technocentric, soulless hyperpower bad). And so, some of them become die-hard Leftist or quasi-fascist kooks with their own truther websites; most just become further immersed in the anti-science mentality through cultural osmosis.

Artstudio Sri Lanka said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Whiskey said...

Thanks Nine-of-diamonds.

To all: I deleted a spam comment. Hopefully we won't get more.

tom-the-impaler said...

The last decent Aerican sci-fi I've seen was "Babylon 5". and it pisses me off to no end that I've NEVER seen American sci -fi as good as "Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex". There's just no excuse, I know we have the creative talent.

Looking Glass said...

Whiskey,

You wanted a viral video for the Republicans?

Instapundit calls this "Devastating."

Are We Fighting a Holy War?

Anonymous said...

Whiskey:

Great post, great site, as I've said before.

Minor correction: you write "Dutch Film Maker Theo Van Gogh, descendant of Vincent Van Gogh".

In fact, murdered director Theo van Gogh was the great-grandson of Vincent van Gogh's brother Theo. In other words, the famous painter was the great-uncle of the father of the murdered filmmaker.

I'm looking forward to reading more of your work.

TGGP said...

Muslims/Arabs make boring villains because they are pathetic (an Israeli general once said their secret to success was fighting Arabs). They are so far below us in capability that there is little heroism involved in opposing them. Hell, just close the borders and don't let them in. Let pilots carry handguns. That's it. Compare it to the Nazis or Soviets. Those were some impressive bad guys. One of the few reasons so many people even pay attention to the Mideast Powder Thimble is their emotional attachment to the lone civilized country in the region (which has nukes and a great army and so can take care of itself, thank you very much). I think you should chill out and read some Steve Sailer and Greg Cochran.

Kevin J waldroup said...

http://www.baen.com/
"last, best hope for science fiction baen book ".

Joshua said...

Whiskey, I'm surprised you didn't bring up the influence of the grandmother of all PC sci-fi TV shows - the original Star Trek - and its firstborn child, the mother of all PC sci-fi TV shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Both shows, along with subsequent series and movies in "the franchise", posited a quasi-socialist, multicultural future for humanity that is pretty damn close to the Left's ultimate wet dream. (Only "pretty damn close" because, in spite of the franchise's pacifist pretensions, there was still plenty of on-camera war-fighting to be done.)

The original series started the Star Trek phenomenon, but it was ST:TNG that finally made televised sci-fi respectable again. Without the success of ST:TNG there would probably have been no X-Files, no (remade) Battlestar Galactica, no Lost, none of it. And for that matter, no J.J. Abrams reimagining of the original series as a feature film due out next year.

With a PC/MC-fest like ST:TNG setting the standard for televised sci-fi, is it any wonder that subsequent series have followed in the same dubious footsteps?

Anonymous said...

While i agree with you on some points (sci-fi has become kinda locked into a culture of the bad guys must be white corporations. Being English I've seen the all scifi bad guys are english thing for ages.) I've got to disagree on many points too. Terrorisms main aim and normally the only goal of such senseless acts of violence is to get the public to acknowledge (and in some cases support) their cause. So making the Muslims (many of whom are not the devils that the few are making them out to look like) the bad guys is playing right into their hands your effectivly glomourising their aims and causes and giving them the reckognition they desire. While i agree that we shouldn't over look that threat i would suggest that glamourising a agenda like terrorism is the last thing we should be doing. Besides it's much easier to identify with the corporation as the bad guy as there is an awful lot of bad guys in the real world to identify with. In the end these programs are about one thing and one thing only getting people to watch them so as to make the (corporations) people that make them vast amounts of money and the idea of the muslim terrorist doesn't sell that well obviously.

Micha Elyi said...

"Just as the Roman Catholic Church required Galileo to deny that the Earth revolves around the Sun..."

That you believe such falsehood only goes to demonstrate the power of the media to indoctrinate, Whiskey.

Read up on the actual historical sources, Whiskey, and you'll discover that the Church simply enjoined Galileo from teaching what at that time was unproven speculation as fact. Hmmm, hawking unproven speculations as if they were facts... sounds like what the propagandists of anthropogenic global warming catastrophism are doing today. Or if today's university administrators would only clamp down on women's studies professors who preach wishful speculation as fact. (Yeah, the left-liberals would protest with phony righteousness against such reactionary close-minded bigotry yadda yadda yadda. And the lefties and femmes would be wrong, but they'd be loud in their wrongness!)

Anyway, the arguments for heliocentrism used by Galileo were not strong enough to overcome the existing observational evidence that supported geocentrism (ok smarty pants Galileo, if the earth is making these big circles around the sun, then why don't the stars appear to shift position -- due to a parallax effect -- as the earth goes from one side of the sun to the other, hmmm???) and some of Galileo's arguments were plainly in error.