Aping ‘Babylon 5,' Copying ‘The Matrix,' & Mimicking The Macintosh
(or, Straczynski Is My God)
April 6h, 2000

You are finite. Zathras is finite. This is wrong tool…

I am Zathras. Zathras got here by being Zathras. Zathras wants nothing, so Zathras gets nothing. That is life.

Zathras, from Babylon 5, episode #317, "War Without End, part 2"

A good story should provoke discussion, debate, argument...and the occasional bar fight.

Introduction: five years until dénouement?

For the last few days, I've suffered The Flu from Hell. For four days straight, I've been on the couch, hacking up my right lung, along with various-shaped "loogees."

Between NyQuil-induced naps, I still found time to succumb to my latest avocational addiction: viewing video-taped episodes of "Babylon 5." From what I understand, the show originally aired for five years straight, starting around 1993. During that time I was mucking my way through graduate school and reruns of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Since then, I've upgraded my inferior viewing habits.

For the uninitiated, "Babylon 5" is the brain-child of the eminent J. Michael Straczynski. It's the 23rd century, and it's been several years since Earthlings discovered that they aren't alone in the cosmos. We join the story where humanity has come to grips with earthlings mutating into telepaths, aliens who are seen as angels and/or deities by anyone who views them, enemies that resume battle every 1,000 years, time travel being as common place as tachyon emissions, and starship captains who don't dally with hot, green chicks á la William Shatner. All the while, you are presented with a muti-layered plot that ponders religion, patriotism, "first contact," and old-fashioned good-versus-evil.

In short: it's damned-good story telling for people sick of the insipid television represented by "Survivor," "XFL," "Chains of Love" and "Who wants to be a Millionaire?" "What does this have to do with Macs?" you are probably asking by now. Hold on, brother; hold on, sister. There's a thread here, namely one of quality.

Quality and mimickry

If you recall Literary Structure from English Lit 101, there's the Introduction, the Rising Action, the Complication, the Climax, and the Dénouement. Year one up through about the first eight episodes of year two are Introduction; we are now in Rising Action stage. Remember that this is structured like a novel.

J. Michael Straczynski, explaining the five-year outline of "Babylon 5"

I tried to watch Babylon 5 once before. Too boring. But, later, after being fed up with the pure crap passing for television nowadays, I found myself viewing the Sci-Fi channel, and giving it another chance. I was astounded by the depth and breadth of the characters, as well as the aforementioned multi-layered plot (additional note to the uninitiated: you have to view more than one show to understand the whole "Babylon 5" mythos; hell, you need to view a couple of seasons to catch on). I soon found previous episodes and discovered something unlike any other show I'd ever viewed. "Start Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" are poorly scripted wet dreams by comparison. (Keep the flames to yourselves, Trekkies and Trekkers. I am undeterred in this opinion of mine.)

The same way that "Star Wars" spawned an endless line of wannabes movies that continue to this very day, I'm sure that other writers will attempt to script television shows of the same, matchless caliber of "Babylon 5." This tendency to produce derivative products already exists in other realms. Here's a good "f'rinstance" for you…

While I was sick, I also viewed several movie rentals. I was more amused with the movie trailers than the feature presentations. What amused me was the utterly shameless attempts many movies made to rip off the special affects popularized by another recent icon of popular culture -- "The Matrix." I direct you to Exhibit A: "Spy Kids." I direct you to Exhibit B: the abysmal "Charlie's Angels." I direct you to a virtual litany of time-wasting pap being shown in American theatres. I'm referring to the hackneyed special affects like the one where the camera view rotates around one object or person, while freeze framing the rest of the scene. You know what I mean.

That turns me off more than anything, but I guess the viewing public isn't composed of purists, since the aforementioned movies made respectable showings at the box office. Which brings us to the Macintosh.

There are very few mainstream computers and operating systems that deviate from the template set by the original Macintosh. For the last few weeks, I've been playing with a pirated copy of Windows XP. Throughout my testing, I've failed to see anything original in the product. The similarities I between Windows and the Mac OS parallel any comparisons between the novel-esque "Babylon 5" and the also-rans.

"Good enough" seems the order of the day in the world of computing, as well as the modern arts. Who cares if originality is absent?

Maybe the diminishing quality in Western entertainment is a sign of the times. Maybe it's the natural progression of things: our popular culture's quality is inversely proportional to the march of time and the advancement of overall technology.

But, I thank God that there are bright spots like the Macintosh, "The Matrix" and "Babylon 5" out there, showing that someone still gives a damn about quality, depth, and the consumer's sensibilities. Maybe there is hope for the state of the art. Then again, maybe we are just witnessing penultimate gasps of ingenuity before we are drowned by the idiocy of the mundane.

Sources for further reading:

Your comments are welcomed.