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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Beyond the rim

Every so often, something happens that changes your view of the universe. That shakes up every preconception and view you have ever held. Something that makes you sit down and reconsider every opinion that you thought you could defend with ease.

For me, such a moment came during the past week. I never thought the words of a politician in high office could have such a major effect on my life. No, I’m talking about Trent Lott. If he thinks that the United States would have been better off having elected a segregationist a half-century ago, he is entitled to his opinion. At the end of the day, his utterances are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

No, my world was shaken by words that you might not have yet heard. Unless you are a frequenter of the Usenet newsgroup This is the newsgroup that continues to discuss the great science fiction television program Babylon 5, even though it finished its first run of new episodes four and a half years ago. The great thing about this newsgroup is that the creator and producer of Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski still regularly posts to this group and fields questions. This is not because he has a lot of time on his hands since B5 went off the air. He is producing the cable sci-fi series Jeremiah as well as writing scripts for The Amazing Spider-Man and other comic books.

I have to say that this is a wonderful boon to lovers of literature everywhere. It’s as if theater devotees of the 16th century had a regular chance to sit down with William Shakespeare to ask him what Hamlet was really about. Needless to say, I follow the newsgroup every chance I get. I have picked up endless insights into the Babylon 5 canon from reading it. But nothing prepared me for what I read recently.

In one of his posts, Straczynski recounted a conversation he had had with fellow B5 producer Doug Netter, who in turn recounted a conversation he had had with B5 star Bruce Boxleitner. It seems that Boxleitner had accompanied his wife, Screen Actors Guild president Melissa Gilbert, to the White House. The occasion was to discuss acting roles moving north of the border to Canada. In the middle of the conversation, the door opens and White House strategist Karl Rove walks in. He says to Melissa, “I hope you will forgive me, but I’m actually here to see Bruce.” And, no, it wasn’t to give him a hard time about how the Night Watch subplot on Babylon 5 was an eerie foreshadowing of the War on Terrorism.

According to Straczynski, Rove tells Boxleitner, “I just wanted to tell you that I’m a big science fiction fan, and that Babylon 5 is the best science fiction television series ever.” After a pause, he adds, “And the president thinks so too.”

Take a deep breath and pause for a few minutes to digest that. The president of the United States is allegedly a Babylon 5 fan.

I’ve written about George W. Bush’s tastes in popular entertainment before and came up with the uncomfortable conclusion that he knows absolutely nothing about mainstream television or movies, with the disturbing exception of the Austin Powers movies, which he inexplicably adores. I had written the president off as someone who not only has frat boy tastes but who has the tastes of a frat boy who doesn’t get out much. I had complacently put Bush into a pigeonhole and then moved on. I didn’t need to think about him or his taste in movies and TV anymore. Now, that is all over.

Now I have to contend with the possibility that George W. Bush is a fellow Babylon 5 fan. I have to wonder how he felt when Commander Sinclair was retired in favor of Captain Sheridan. Was he disappointed in season 5? Did he weep while watching Sleeping in Light? In a flash, I have bonded with the most powerful man on the planet. Moreover, I have to wonder what he made of the series’ theme about a corrupt earth government using an external threat as pretext for establishing a repressive dictatorship. Did he think about the Night Watch when his administration was suggesting that U.S. citizens inform on each other? More likely, he identifies more closely with Captain Sheridan, who has to make tough decisions of life and death, as he confronts a menace that has lain for ages in the shadows, waiting to awake and destroy life as we know it.

That is the trouble with epic stories of good versus evil. On the written page or on the big screen, it is obvious who the good guys are. In real life, everyone sees himself as one of the good guys, even if people on the other side see him as an oppressor or a terrorist. For a work of fiction, Babylon 5 was skillful in pointing this out. If Bush really is a B5 aficionado, then that gives me a bit of comfort. Now, if I find out that he is also a fan of The Lord of the Rings, I’ll really start feeling good about America’s future.

-S.L., 12 December 2002

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