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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Kosh, not Tuvok

While I was occupying myself with looking backwards the past three weeks (dwelling on all the people we lost during 2008), the movie awards season raced forward at full speed ahead—without the benefit of my full attention.

This period, which runs roughly from somewhere in December through January and at least most of February (the Academy Awards, which will be given out this year on February 22, constitute the emotional climax of the season) seems to get busier and shorter every year. If people were getting anxious waiting—all the way from early November until the latter part of January—for Barack Obama to get inaugurated, there has been similar pressure over the years to tighten the Oscar schedule. And the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t even need a constitutional amendment to do so. The way the attention span of most moviegoers is going, if the Oscars were still held in March, as they used to be, many punters wouldn’t even remember seeing most of them on DVD, let alone in the cinemas. If the trend continues, expect someday to hear the winners announced at midnight on New Year’s Eve.

In the dim recesses of my memory, I am convinced that during my childhood the Academy Awards were the only movie awards ever given out. Now I know that isn’t true because I can easily go check on the web and find out, for example, that the Golden Globes have been given out for 66 years now. But all the other awards from different guilds and societies and organizations never used to seem to exist for me. That may have been due to a lack of media exposure on my part, but part of it must also have to do with the fact that the media, which used to consist of three national TV networks and some newspapers, didn’t have the bandwidth to focus much on all of them. Now we have zillions of cable and satellite channels and web sites looking for content to fill broadcast schedules and computer screens, so there is more time for coverage of the Assistant Gaffer Guild’s annual film awards, etc.

And it’s no coincidence that the film awards season more or less parallels the football championship season. Okay, it probably is a coincidence, but it doesn’t seem like one because the press has the same breathless horse race atmosphere of coverage for both. As sports fans follow their favorite teams from one playoff to another, wondering which one will wind up on top in the Super Bowl or the Rose Bowl or whatever, the press treat each new set of awards that are announced as if they are all part of a playoff system leading up to the Oscars. We have talked about this before, and of course there is no point system or playoff elimination system for movies. Winning statuettes at the Golden Globes or the Directors Guild of America or the Screen Actors Guild is no requirement or even overly meaningful for determining how the Oscars will go. Okay, reasonably, guild awards, like the directors one, could be predictive of certain Oscars since the people voting would largely be the same as those voting for Best Director. But beyond that, it is silly to be treating, as so many writers do, each set of awards of somehow “boosting” or “furthering” certain films’ chances in the Oscars. But I’m starting to sound like a broken record, broken record, broken record.

So let me switch gears here. I want to correct something I asserted several times last year, most recently in December. I kept insisting that Barack Obama and Lieutenant Commander Tuvok of the starship Voyager were one and the same person. And, in fairness, it was an easy mistake to make. They are both unflappably cool, extremely intelligent, unfailingly logical and, of course, there are the ears. But I was misled by superficial appearances. More recently, it has become clear to me that Obama is not Tuvok, nor is he any Vulcan at all. I can sense your relief at the fact that I have finally come to my senses.

No, it is obvious to me now that Obama is really Ambassador Kosh. I will explain why, but first I have to give you fair warning that, in doing so, I will be revealing major plot developments in the brilliant television series Babylon 5, which must be considered spoilers. If you have not seen the series but think you may someday, you will be doing yourself a huge favor if you stop reading this now.

Okay, as all B5 devotees know well, Kosh is a Vorlon, one of a mysterious race much older than humans. He wears an encounter suit under the pretext that the space station’s environment is poisonous to him, but we eventually learn that the suit is worn to hide his appearance because, well, it would be very confusing if everyone could see him. In a key episode, the final one of the second season, called “The Fall of Night,” Kosh has to leave his encounter suit to fly upwards to save Capt. John Sheridan, who is falling from an exploding station shuttle high above a garden. Sheridan sees Kosh as an angel. Observers on the ground each see him differently but invariably as a divine being they recognize from their own respective culture. (Except the Centauti ambassador Londo Molari, who sees nothing, but let’s not get into that.) It turns out that the Vorlons have been showing up on planets all over the universe for eons and guiding primitive cultures in their early stages.

Well, Kosh is back here on earth again, and this time he has appeared as Barack Obama. (B5 purists will point out that Kosh was actually done in by the Shadows part way through the third season. But that happened in the year 2260, smarty pants, so it hasn’t actually happened yet and won’t for another 251 years.) Think about it. Everyone who looks at him sees, more or less, what he or she wants or expects to see. Die-hard liberals look at him and see a flaming left-winger. Moderates look at him and see a reasonable centrist. Even Republicans look at him and want to see a pragmatist who doesn’t really mean to keep the most extreme of his campaign promises. Everyone (except maybe Rush Limbaugh) sees him as someone who, deep down, agrees with what they themselves believe.

I first came to this insight after his inauguration speech when I heard commentators on NPR highlighting his outreach to the Muslim world and pundits on Fox News basking in his praise of the wealth-producing power of the markets and his calls for responsibility. Everyone heard something in the speech that they liked. I was reminded of the president’s Vorlon qualities this week when governments in Europe and Canada started going crazy over the protectionist “Buy American” provision in “Obama’s stimulus bill.” Since the election, the European media have been falling all over themselves touting how much better things were in America and in the world now that Obama is president. Then, suddenly one morning, they were shocked to find he would endanger their already suffering economies by paying back a campaign debt to American organized labor. Unexpectedly, they saw the Vorlon go back into the encounter suit, and in that instant they no longer saw the internationalist and global free-trader they thought they had been seeing. To further confuse things, Obama quickly changed course on the “Buy American” thing, and now it’s Big Labor who’s getting a reality check.

The fact is that Kosh was always a cipher in the Babylon 5 story. His motives were never entirely clear, and he was given to making weighty pronouncements that sounded wise and profound but which nobody had the slightest idea what he was talking about. Sample: “Ah, you seek meaning. Then listen to the music, not the song.” Sort of ranks up there with “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” doesn’t it? Eventually, however, Kosh had to act, and things were never the same again. And, undoubtedly, that is already starting to be true of our new president.

-S.L., 5 February 2009

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