Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Never Again

I've been watching Babylon 5 again. I decided to do it as a method of exploring my own spirituality, as I remembered how much it affected me the first couple of times I saw it through. I'm not being disappointed, of course. At the end of the five seasons, I will begin writing a paper on spirituality and modern mythology in science fiction media.

Today, what struck me most was the references to war throughout the episodes I watched. Considering I'm watching a television show that was written in the early to mid 1990s, I'm stunned by how relevant every episode has been. The politics playing out among the various races of aliens aboard Babylon 5 might as well be the Arabs and Americans and Orientals of modern day Earth. The escalation of fights and violence, the manipulation of the mainstream media, the subtle and then not-so-subtle infiltration of the public with negative stereotyping and fear-mongering... It's all there.

Time and again in my note-taking, I refer to the "slippery slope" that takes one from light to the Shadows (who are the show's Bad Guys, for those who haven't seen it). It takes only one small thing to tip one over the edge from good to bad, from light to darkness. The character of Mr. Morden is an excellent foil for the Shadows, as well as their Ambassador of sorts on Babylon 5. When we first meet him, he wanders around the station asking all of the other Ambassadors, "What do you want?" It seems like such a pointless, and yet innocent question.

The answers given by those Ambassadors highlight the characters of the races involved. The humans are too busy to really listen, and shoo Mr. Morden out. The Minbari are at least somewhat aware of what he represents, and they order him to leave them be. The Narn answer his question, but show through that answer that they are not a suitable race for the Shadows to infiltrate. Then there is the answer given by the Centauri, which is just sneaky enough, just corrupt enough, to serve the Shadows' purposes. It's just one little "yes" that tips the Centauri pile over.

This is just a parable for our lives. Every day there are little questions that dictate whether we speak for the light or the dark in our souls. Every day the battle wages on between the light and the Shadows. The mythology described is as old as we are, and runs through every human culture in some way. The question that Babylon 5 asks us, is whether we, personally, allow the Shadows to rule us, or whether we continue to fight against that darkness.

Perhaps it seems odd or silly to be giving such deep thought to a mere television show. This is the mythology of our time, though. We're not creating new myths to inspire our youth and to touch their souls. Often enough, we just give them vacuum, but when we do provide myths they're old ones, crafted decades or centuries or millennia ago. How can we expect them to learn moral lessons that apply to today's world, if we don't provide them with an environment that teaches it to them? Mythology is how we teach ethics and morals, and we've done a piss poor job of providing modern mythology for instruction of our young.

Babylon 5 touches on the mythology nerve. So does Star Wars, of course, designed with the help of Joseph Campbell. Star Trek also dealt in morals and ethics, although that was largely lost in the more modern series. Just because these myths are etched on film rather than stone or scroll doesn't invalidate them. They deserve a much closer look.
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