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Workshop: Babylon 5 vs. ST:Voyager 1
Star Trek: Voyager vs. Babylon Five -- a workshop discussion by Jacqueline Lichtenberg.
This post below had in 1997 or 1998 I think. The discussion on the AOL boards is probably gone by now, but the discussion of Babylon Five on the Sime~Gen List (Virtual Selyn) went on during the whole original run of Babylon Five. Some of the posts I put on the AOL board, I also posted to the Listserv. JL(1999)
-- [ From: Jacqueline Lichtenberg * EMC.Ver #3.0 ] --I just posted another little essay on B5 vs Voyager on AOL's boards. There's a long, complex conversation there in the Welcome folder.
The conversation is a contrast/compare study - lots to do with writing technique, the limits of tv as a medium, and the nature of Art and its relationship to taste. I suppose it's cheating to post it here too - and it's technically off-topic on a S~G discussion list - only it's NOT really off-topic.
The fellow I'm discussing with is a S~G reader, and this is all about Relationship driven vs. plot driven fiction. I think you all know which side S~G tends to fall on - though it can support pure action, it's about overcoming the fear of intimacy and its about commitment to a relationship and a way of life - which, someone on here said recently is more about preventing war than winning war.
He said in a post just before I posted this thing below - that ZD had a plot that was there just to get the characters together and any plot would done just as well, if it brought them together. I didn't challenge that - though I was tempted mightily. And in another post MLCVamp (our own Margaret Carter -- see http://www.simegen.com/school/workshop/ ) made a comment that got him to define plot and story - and it turns out, he meant something different than what I had meant!
So, here's my post on Star Trek: Voyager vs. B5: This could end up as part of one of my columns, but here it's half-baked off the cuff .I saw the VOYAGER ep where Kim and Paris are imprisoned as terrorists. Initially, I thought what I'd found on my tape wasn't VOYAGER at all - just because the images were so ugly. On Rewind, it didn't look like anything I'd ever want to watch.
Then I saw a close-up and thought Paris? Huh? Aha! Yuck. The voice over for the next ep tried to convince us they've changed the show and made it better - and everything they said was a huge disappointment to me. But I watched anyway of course. Actually, they plastered ugly window dressing on top of what is essentially a wonderful show. My story was still there.
This Paris/Kim ep was about Paris more than Kim. If you remember Paris's personal history, Kim's defense of Paris speaks volumes. And if you don't - it's sorta ho-hum and meaningless.
That's a major flaw in the script - they needed to remind everyone of how and why Paris got himself into so much trouble and ended up in prison before. Notice also they made an explicit point of showing off Paris's muscles while he was nearly fatally injured and succumbing to the implant. This is show-don't-tell for the truism that physical strength is meaningless and of no value in real life.
The only strength that really counts is emotional and moral strength - and Kim demonstrated that because even when pushed past all physiological limits he still said NO to killing. Paris with all his physical strength succumbed to the implant because using his physical strength got him stabbed to begin with.
This was a "test the hero to destruction and see what he's made of" episode, guaranteed to captivate a wide swath of Classic Trek fandom, a very wide swath. Even if the aliens were "contrived" just to present this Paris/Kim story, and even if Janeway shouldn't have been first-in on the rescue team, and even if they had no idea which airlock on that huge station led to Paris and Kim's compartment, and even if Nelix would have been reluctant to use his ship and get his people in trouble with these nutty aliens, and even if it made no sense that Kim could cobble together a forcefield key out of nothing much, - nobody cares about all that and all the rest of the holes.
The point was to test these heroes, crack them open and see what's inside. They did that and did it well - nothing else matters. The very best line was at the end when Kim realizes the prison-guru with his manifesto was actually correct, even if he was crazy. It's the old punch-line, "I may be crazy but I'm not stupid."
But I was most moved by Paris saying he'd only heard Kim's defense of his friend. Being that this is television, it probably won't ever mean anything. But if this were a novel, that event would change Paris's character on a very deep level, and everything he did or said subsequently would demonstrate that change. And it would get bigger and more pronounced as time went on.
Now, I've described this episode in some detail so you can understand very clearly that the show I watched bears no resemblance at all to the show you watched. (this post is in parts because on the AOL boards, the amount of space per post was very small) TEST TO DESTRUCTION PART 2 It isn't that one is superior to the other. It's a matter of taste, a matter of where the attention is focused. If the viewer's attention is focused where the producer's attention is - then the show will "work" as Art for the viewer.
If the viewer's attention is focused somewhere other than where the producer's attention is focused, then all the viewer will see is holes and mistakes.
ST has always been, at base core of conception, a Relationship Show - Gene Roddenberry designed it that way. He often said that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy were three elements of himself. Whenever you take a single individual and factor them into parts, the natural tendency of the parts is to reform into a single whole. That underlying striving for wholeness among disparate parts is what Trek is about - not because I say so, but because Gene Roddenberry said so.
Focus your attention on the science or the battle tactics -the "vehicle" for that relationship show - and you'll be lost. You'll scoff and deride and feel you're wasting your time. The reason I'm striving to make this point is to demonstrate that a viewer who can approach a show in search-and-find mode, looking for where the producer's attention is focused, and then pick up that thread and follow it - will have many more shows available for enjoyment. An educated palate acquires tastes. I enjoy war movies a lot.
My problem with B5 is that it presented itself as anti-war, and THAT'S the thread I picked up to follow - then it changed.
According to the voice-over for the new season of VOYAGER, and according to tv Guide, they may be trying to do the same thing. So is DS9. It's okay for a show to grow and change, transmute right before our eyes -it's even GOOD for that to happen. But for characters to espouse a high philosophy, then abandon it at the first challenge shows a weakness of character.
WhatB5 did when it performed the about face to "victory is better than peace" is exactly what Kim refused to do when he refused to kill Paris. Kim showed moral strength. The B5 leadership characters are demonstrating a total lack of moral fiber.
That is what the contrast/compare between these two shows boils down to. It doesn't really matter WHICH morality is being supported and which is being abandoned. The artistic value of the two shows does not lie in which morality is deemed "better" - (my opinion on that is personal and ideosyncratic) - artistically what matters is the emotional strength and intellectual integrity to choose one's morality carefully, then support it all the way, without reservation. A character who does what is expedient when some outside force rams its agenda onto the stage is not a character who deserves admiration or emulation. So, I've rambled on too long again. Sorry. Live Long and Prosper, Jacqueline Lichtenberg What I didn't say on AOLl is that the prison-motif was a setup for a classic fanzine hurt-comfort-slave story with more than a little sexual overtones. Not my favorite sort of fanzine, folks.
The brutal surroundings would certainly suggest sexuality to some people. But I didn't want to get into that on AOL. Usenet maybe - here sure - not on AOL.
Here, someone raised the point that S~G depicts an insane society - which is true. This ep of Voyager did that also. But this ep pulled fewer punches with the brutality and ugliness than S~G has.
You must remember that S~G was shaped by being a Doubleday series to begin with, and Dbdy sold to mid-America's public libraries on subscription (a library could buy a year's worth of Dbdy sf hc's for a set amount and get 24 books like clockwork - a year's worth of books had to be a set number of pages. The reason many of my books are so skinny is that my pages were allotted to other writers.)
At any rate, the Dbdy guidelines prohibited a lot of stuff that I had originally built into S~G as the main part of the drama. Now we're free of all that and can explore all the facets of S~G.
My only requirement is that an artistic balance be maintained. This series is about the few nice, decent folks like you and me trying to survive physically and psychologically in a world gone mad.
Now, granted, I gave that world a really good reason to go mad. The only way to stay sane is to go mad when you must kill to live. The defining of Gens as not-human as Jean depicted for us so well is that sort of knife-edge balanced sanity where only the neurosis can keep the rest of you functional. Humans do this all the time - develop neuroses to cushion and shield away PAIN that's too much to bear or deal with - as a bandaid sheilds a wound. There's nothing wrong with that; it's a survival technique.
Our problems come when we fail to support a cultural mechanism for REMOVING our neuroses once they've served their purpose. A bandage left on a wound too long can rot the wound. But note that in S~G, we add the channels into the mix as a lure into an "easy" solution - and it produces the worst monster humanity has ever seen -the Modern Tecton. Live Long and Prosper, JL (on simegen.com -- "JL" designates Jacqueline Lichtenberg -- and "Jean" means Jean Lorrah. Saves some bytes.)
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