Friday, May 30, 2008

Star Trek Versus Babylon 5: A Futurists Utopian Conflict?

The two most popular science fiction television series of the 1990’s, did the fan feud between them made these two science fiction series even more popular or did it hurt the respective science fiction enthusiasts’ image as a whole?

By: Vanessa Uy

To outsiders ignorant of the science fiction genre, motion pictures about space faring civilizations in the distant future may look all the same to them. They probably can’t tell the difference between Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek from George Lucas’ Star Wars, and humanity is much poorer because of this oversight. But seriously though, has anyone remembered or still care about that famous feud between fans of Star Trek and Babylon 5 back in the mid-1990’s where everyone is vandalizing each other’s web page with digital graffiti with “BABYLON 5 RULES” or “STAR TREK RULES”? The past might now seemed as if a foreign country to most of those fans but does the reason behind the feud hold something much deeper?

To the uninitiated, Star Trek and Babylon 5 may seem the same. Both are about the future of our civilization a few centuries into the future, and yet these two demarcate the two differing philosophies of the 20th Century, namely the Humanist’s view and the supernaturalism of Protestant Calvinism. And each of these TV series displaying the good – and bad – parts of the social contracts of the two differing philosophies, for better or for worse.

Gene Roddenberry was an unabashed Humanist and his Humanist views are part and parcel of Star Trek since the original series back in the 1960’s. He typified an idealized altruism-leaning version of Marxist-Leninist Socialism that was embraced in Star Trek’s time, even though this ideology is prone to bureaucratic corruption and very much open to abuse at present. Roddenberry’s utopian future would probably be hell for Ayn Rand.

While in Babylon 5, the complexities of laissez-faire mercantile Calvinism / 20th Century American Capitalism is alive and well from wrongful death lawsuits, litigious mindsets (a man suing an alien for damages for abducting his great grandfather and for performing traumatic medical experiments) and more. Plus, the various organized religions that existed in the 20th Century managed to survive in Babylon 5’s time, unashamedly displayed in full glory.

Though I am a fan of both Star Trek and Babylon 5, there seems to be something that these two works seem to agree on, war. Yep, war will still be around in the future with means and complexities that rival what humanity had been dishing out with each other for centuries. It seems as if to make a science fiction serial interesting, there should be a political power struggle to secure the continued existence of a certain sentient race.

Other thing common to the two is ingenious ways to overcome the speed-of-light restrictions of interstellar travel. Though Babylon 5’s jumpgate is somewhat reminiscent of the Panama Canal-type technology by being very dependent on fixed incumbent technological structures, I find it more plausible given current advances in quantum physics. Star Trek’s warp-drive technology has a certain sexy-ness in it though because works without dependence of incumbent structures like exit apertures of artificially created wormholes and Casimir vacuum technology.

As a hole, I have to agree with what the 2007 Nobel Literature laureate Doris Lessing said about science fiction. In that science fiction deals more on the probable social conditions of the future and less on the technology that might be in common use then. I wonder what kind of science fiction stories Friedrich Nietzsche would write if he just had the time?