Friday, March 16, 2012

Confusing Heroes and Villains

I have a dirty little secret that I keep very poorly: I am an American. If you are a foreigner, you may use the word Yank--or Damn Yank before I get done with this note. Last night I was perusing Instant Netflix and I saw an episodic television show that looked interesting, Outcasts. I started watching. It seems the story concerns a colony on a planet in the near future. OK, I like the sound of that.

The first thing after the cool spaceship-establishing shot was the guy walking out of the wilderness into the community of Carpathia. Then the guy gets hassled because the town now is a gun-free zone. This show must be written by and for Brits--there's no Second Amendment. We quickly discover two things about the guy: He wants to move out of the Green Zone and into the wilderness he's charged with exploring on foot.

In the future, they've forgotten how to make ATVs.

Did you notice Green Zone? Yeah, that. This planet they're colonizing appears to be a verdant Afghanistan with allied troops holed up in quarters with air conditioning and television while occasionally sallying forth into the surrounding countryside, but not living there.

And not learning to live there. Too much like the British Raj and not enough like the Old West. I'm not just dumping on the Brits here. The US followed the same pattern in Vietnam. And that worked out so well, didn't it?

Contrast the settlement of the North American continent by Europeans. We moved here and we spread out.

The fellow in the establishing shot appears to hold American attitudes of Guns and Manifest Destiny. Thus, he's obviously insane. His psych profile says he suffers from multiple personality disorder? It's a TV show--that happens all the time on TV. And he's paranoid. He thinks people are out to get him.

Coincidentally, it happens that his wife is part of this little community's Stazi and she has been tasked with spying on him. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean everyone's not out to get you.

The irony got me wondering where the script writers are going with this thing? a) They are stupid and didn't see the irony. b) They're smart and they're giving good motivation to those who desire to leave this Gulag. I fear the former--it's not as if Joss Whedon is writing this thing.

So, the Stazi chick and her co-worker are patrolling the settlement and they encounter a couple idlers engaging in a business transaction. As policemen are wont they commence to hassle said idlers--and bring accusations of Black Market dealing.

(Black Markets happen whenever a state over-regulates trade through price-fixing or the outright prohibition of goods or services. The State's central planners are so much better at regulating an economy than free markets. Ask any Soviet.)

Suddenly, a blinding dust storm envelopes the place and the idlers run off with Stazi chick in hot pursuit. Then Bam! Someone hits her. She is badly wounded. The idlers are accused of the assault. At this point, I figured the script writer would proceed to take 45 minutes to establish alibis for the idlers and to pin the assault onto her husband. I turned it off.

Does Carpathia deserve to survive?

I think it not. A state governs with the consent of the governed--not the script writer. A frontier town does not have the power to compel unwilling compliance from people who can walk away. Or when people have the guns to answer force with force.

England is a beautiful country with stone fences around everyone's garden and high hedges along the roadsides. The policeman is called a bobby and he doesn't carry a gun. They don't have to. The land has been tamed by two thousand years of civilization. A powerful government can rule with a heavy hand.

But an unsettled planet has no stone fences. A government that is not powerful must rule with a lighter hand or it risks its own stability. This fairly easy to understand notion has apparently escaped the writers of Outcasts.

It's not as if Joss Whedon is writing this thing.

Firefly told the tale of the losers of a war of rebellion against another heavy-handed government. But I identified with Captain Mal and his crew. Outcasts set up a similar conflict between heavy-handed government and rebels and they clumsily made me hate their heroes and love their villains. The same thing happened in the movie First Blood. Sylvester Stallone had the good sense to pivot from Rambo as crazed Vietnam vet to super-warrior.

I fancy a notion that the most restless and independent left Europe for the New World. As the US has become a tamed land, the most restless of America have fled to its wildest places. I believe that space colonies will be started by restless and independent people--not compliant sheep who tolerate tyrants--even petty ones. I would suspend disbelief no further.

Thus I abandoned Outcasts to watch Macbeth instead.
Do we but find the tyrant's power tonight,
Let us be beaten, if we cannot fight.


  1. You can never go wrong with Macbeth.

  2. So true. Only problem with this production is the last scene. You need an actor playing Macbeth with long hair on his head to make it easier to carry.

  3. There were a lot of things wrong with Outcasts. It died a horrible death here in the UK, and rightly so.

    Sadly, I wasted my time on a few episodes before I realised the writing was just plain BAD.

    But your take is really interesting, from the PoV of a Brit. Didn't see the frontier/tyrant disparity before. I think you hit the nail on the head there.

  4. Love Firefly. I also love a story where the writer makes me love (some of) the villains as much as the heroes. Joss is always good for that. When a writer does this accidentally it's a bit of a disaster. Sean Bean struck me as quite likeable in National Treasure, for example. I would have been quite happy for him to get the Declaration. I don't think that was intentional!


Those more worthy than I: