17 thoughts on “Zocalo: Spoiler-Free Discussion of “Lines of Communication””

  1. Having listened to the podcast:-

    I want to be both more and less critical of the show’s presentation of the Mars resistance than our hosts were. More, because I don’t think “It was the ’90s and people weren’t as aware/ready for etc.” works as a defence. Babylon 5 is substantially inferior in its presentation of these issues to its funhouse mirror twin, DS9. So it was doable in this genre in this medium at this exact time, because it was being done. And I think Chip is right to pin the blame on JMS’s desire for his heroes to be old-fashioned virtuous heroes at all times.

    But I think it’s not quite as bad as Chip did, because this can all be seen in the light of the presentation of the Mars independence movement in S1, where the default assumption was that they were the bad guys. So I think JMS doesn’t do too bad a job of flipping that while still making it clear that, yes, these are the same terrorists as in S1.

    Also, in defence of JMS, the reference to the Mars food riots and the anger that the Mars resistance members feel at Sheridan is, for me, the single moment at which JMS is most willing to abandon his presentation of Sheridan in particular as an idealized square-jawed hero who might as well be in a TV show from the ’50s. Obviously, I think JMS does some interesting things with his idealized Heroic Space Captain, but I also have some problems with it, and it’s nice to see this hint that the Sheridan that the show has been presenting to us might not be the Sheridan that everyone sees.

    This is another area of the overall arc where I feel the loss of Sinclair (as always, I mean Sinclair the character as distinct from O’Hare the actor). As a person from Mars himself, his relationship to these events would be more complex and interesting than Sheridan’s.

    On another note, I don’t think “It was the ’90s” works as a defence of our heroes’ belated realization of the importance of propaganda and public information in their struggle, either. Especially Sheridan, who’s supposedly steeped in the history of World War II!

    I see this as another reflection of the show’s politics of elites (which I know I haven’t sold everyone here on). Because in fact Sheridan should have been struggling with this as a matter of his relationship as leader with the population of the station from the very moment when he rebelled – maintaining their support, maintaining their morale. It should all be in place on a local level long before this. But JMS’s tendency to reduce the ordinary people living on the station to a cheering section obscures this.

    Which is to say, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Focusing on elites can allow you to say some interesting things about elites. And I think JMS, for better or for worse, is not in Babylon 5 terribly interested in the ways in which power lies in how other people view and behave towards the person in power, but *is* very interested in the question of what you do with power when you have it.

    1. I see the absence of propaganda and PR as JMS believing, both in terms of plot and in terms of storytelling, that actions speak louder than words.

      In the plot, action is more important. We rarely see the propaganda and PR for the same reason we rarely see the characters going to the toilet or purchasing groceries.

      In terms of storytelling, this series isn’t Mad Men. (Can’t think of a 1990s equivalent off the top of my head.) Or even a political thriller. It’s a space opera, and the conventions of space opera are that conflicts are resolved largely through doing rather than talking.

      1. That’s a fair point, and one I’ll steal and use from now on: that suppressing certain things reinforces the space opera genre conventions. And Babylon 5 is definitely interested in those.

        However, I’d note that looking at it this way is incompatible with seeing any serious element of “You *can* fight City Hall!” in the show, so I don’t know that JMS looks at it this way.

        And the show does have two-and-a-half separate episodes about the media and does feature quite a lot of the trappings of politics and diplomacy- and does, at the end of the day, lay a lot of stress on the idea that the achievement of the hero is creating an alliance between different powers. So I don’t think it’s easy to say that it isn’t putting these questions on the table at all.

        (I might contrast Star Wars, which starts with the Rebellion already there, and avoids ever putting the heroes in the place of making policy as distinct from carrying it out with ray guns. I mean the original trilogy, obviously.)

        Also, and this is where I think your approach maybe turns up something a little disturbing, applying space opera conventions to politics is still applying them to politics. And a politics that celebrates doing over talking in this way is a little Fascist. Capital F: I mean actual Fascism in Mussolini’s Italy, not just a generic political slur: the exaltation of action over deliberation, focused on the leader.

        1. I see JMS as applying space opera conventions to a TV show, not politics. I don’t expect TV or film to always mirror reality or be relevant to current day society, otherwise it would be impossible to watch Disney cartoons or Lord of the Rings. It’s entertainment.

          If I were being serious about the message being sent by a TV show to the audience, then I’d say that 21st C progressives could learn a few things from space opera about the importance of doing over talking. In both the recent Brexit and US presidential elections progressives on both sides of the Atlantic talked and tweeted and commented and posted; but as shown by the voter turnout figures what they couldn’t be bothered to do was get off the couch and vote.

          1. Hugh,

            Between the post-election progressivist rioters, and progressivist violence on university campuses, I’d say there’s been quite enough “doing over talking” on the left already.

          2. Hugh: In terms of the EU Referendum, voter turnout was 72%, contrasted with UK elections of 2010/2015 at 65-66%. It’s also had, in Northern Ireland, some knock-on effect in terms of juicing up numbers through the registration. Before EU Ref, local elections got 55% then 58% nationwide, but after EU Ref, participation shot up to 64.8%. I would expect in the rest of the UK numbers would rise also. So, specifically, no, but generally, yes, there’s a problem whereby non-voters represent a formidable election-swinging force.

        2. Voord,

          Your Fascism point brings me back again to my theory that JMS is a closet authoritarian. Whether it’s Sheridan and Delenn doing things with the White Star fleet that I can’t mention in a spoiler-free thread, the application of super powers in Rising Stars, or Superman’s finger-waggling preachiness in Grounded, there’s the recurring theme in JMS’s writing about solving problems by arming “the good people” with overwhelming force.

          1. Oh, I would be happy to rant under other circumstances about misguided and counterproductive university protesters.

            As an old lefty, I just find it strange that a TV show that celebrates doing over talking can be considered “Fascist”. Late 19th/early 20thC anarchists had philosophers and writers, but they also recognised the “propaganda of the deed.” Trade unionists and communists used “to the streets!” as a rallying cry. (And the Civil Rights marchers in the 1960s?)

            The World Wildlife Fund, which most people would hardly consider a fascist organisation, currently has on the front web page a call to support action on climate change. Action, not deliberation.

            Yes there are political failure modes which include Fascism. But we humans are an apathetic lot, and the far more common failure mode is for people not to do anything about problems. So I regard B5 as a positive example for everyone.

            Getting back to B5, we’ve seen discussions about the morality of command and rebellion, the military portrayed as human beings who can make moral choices, and people refusing to join the rebellion without retribution. As noted above, very different to say Star Wars.

  2. Did the Drac have this effect again?
    Weren’t the Drac the makers of the keepers?
    I remember thinking they were awesome bad guys in this episode, but I also remember being disappointed they abandoned the creepy effect when they next appeared. Am I imagining that?

  3. Concerning Franklin’s “bring back some bagels” line, I think it’s appropriate to link it to Garibaldi’s stated opposition to a cult of personality. While I certainly agree that Franklin didn’t mean it literally, it’s still definitely an example of how Sheridan is starting to lead the resistance through sheer charisma and force of will. Garibaldi may be making too big a deal about it, but he’s not wrong.

  4. Watching this, I found myself asking why Forell bothered to bring his gun. (Laser, whatever – the function is a gun.) Delenn, ever since that unfortunate Earth thing, has always preferred talking to shooting. I think that if Ferell had just asked Delenn to meet the Drakh, she’d have gone and events could have unfolded in exactly the same way.

    Maybe instead the gun is just to show us how bad things are on Minbar, that Forell is desperate enough to resort to threats?

  5. This is a reply to Hugh (above), but that part of this thread is out of replies.

    Hugh, Professor Headbutt: I wrote more on this topic in the spoiler thread.

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