Thursday, March 13, 2008

Enlightening Entertainment

Since it seems as if I have a theme going on here, I might as well continue with the original idea I had when I put up my first post about enlightenment. I mentioned before that one of the things I love about sci-fi and fantasy is that it explores the unknown. Enlightenment doesn't have to be about religious themes, though it so often is. But mostly it's about understanding and awareness of virtually any form. I think human beings are more or less in a constant state of seeking enlightenment. There are books galore on figuring out what our purpose in life ought to be. There are books that swear we can change our lives by changing our thinking and others that say we should leave it all up to God. I think most of us can agree that we won't know any of these answers until we die, and that's even assuming there's a life after this one. And that's the basic struggle isn't it? I would be willing to bet most people hope there's a life after this one. Preferably one without struggle, depression or hopelessness-- in other words, one that isn't Hell. But is there really a Heaven? Nirvana? An alternate reality? Who knows. But our entertainment sure likes to tease us with the possibilities doesn't it? Or maybe we like to tease ourselves. Humans are kind of perverse that way aren't they. So here's a look at some entertainment that attempts to look at the world from different angles and offer up some unique explanations of the unknown. The Matrix You can't really have this discussion without looking at "The Matrix" can you? Not only was "The Matrix" a visually dazzling movie but it was a mind bender. Even though it's just a movie it makes you look at the world in a completely different way. How many of us go through our lives, just going through the motions and never really question anything? I think I can count myself in that category much of the time. But just imagine if there was a completely alternate reality lying just beneath our own? It's not as crazy as it sounds. Some scientists actually believe they can prove the existence of parallel universes, though that isn't really what "The Matrix" is about. No, this is a film that asks us to question reality and our desire to really know the truth. I'm sure if I was to delve into it more I could come up with tons of religious and mythical connotations as well; Neo being "the one", Trinity's name, The Oracle, even the names of the ships have meaning -- The Nebuchadnezzar, The Shiva, The Osiris, The Prometheus-- I could go on and on. Clearly when this was written is was meant to be something that could make you think and want to debate the deeper meanings. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov I read this book years ago, so my recollection may be rusty. I'm sure the movie bears some resemblance to the book; though Hollywood surely missed the mark like they do with most big-budget adaptations. What I remember though is the idea of robots having self awareness. I don't know if Asimov was the first to theorize that man made creations could one develop sentience but it's an idea that has blazed across our consciousness. From TV shows like "Battlestar Galactica" to movies like "The Terminator" and "Blade Runner" we've been asking ourselves how far can we go with technology before it rebels against us. And the even larger question is can we create life from inert matter? Can it have a soul? Saving Grace Every now and then a TV show comes along that tries to get us in touch with our Christian side. "Touched by an Angel" and "Highway to Heaven" are my earliest recollections, and they were rather touchy-feely if I remember correctly. I don't think "Saving Grace" could be called a sweet show, though it is meant to make you think. What I like about this show is that it doesn't necessarily take the easy way out. It appears that Grace is being visited by an angel who is trying to save her soul, but at the same time there's always this kernel of doubt. What if she is just hallucinating? Or having really vivid dreams? Overall I'd say the show is arguing the case for Christianity and really, if you're not interested in exploring that, you may not like it. But even if you don't consider yourself Christian, but rather say a spiritual person that doesn't practice a particular faith, it still has a point to make. To me, the main statement this show makes is that God (or whatever you want to call him/her/it) is interested in us even if we aren't interested in him. That there is something larger than ourselves that cares about us even if we don't acknowledge its existence. Something to ponder. Star Trek I also think this conversation can't really happen without mentioning "Star Trek." What's great about "Star Trek" is that is explores so many unknowns. It isn't the first show to explore the universe or encounter alien life, but the show in its many incarnations did so much more. It explored the boundaries of space and time. It asked moral questions and pushed racial boundaries. It was in so many ways an influence on society both in terms of entertainment and technology. I can't say the show necessarily answered any of the questions is posed but you gotta love that it tried. And the subjects this show covered are so vast that I have a hard time even latching on to one particular subject. For some reason I keep flashing back to "Q," the omniscient being that first appeared in The Next Generation series. I think the reason I remember him so well is because he may have been all powerful, but he wasn't benign, and I think that is another way to question whether or not God, or a god (as in a minor deity) is worthy of being worshiped simply because it holds great power. X-Men I originally was going to list "Heroes" here, but I kind of think "X-Men" came up with the idea first. What I mean is that "X-Men" asks how would we handle it if humanity suddenly became inexplicable? What if human development made massive leaps that defied science and evolution? How would we rationalize it? And would we, out of fear, despise those who were different? Sadly, I think it's human nature to despise what we fear and I'm happy that the "X-Men" movies managed to make this point so clearly. In a world that allowed a man like Adolf Hitler to rise into power we can't afford to be so narrow-minded but we still are. This is entertainment I can get behind. Something that might actually teach my children tolerance. X-Files I loved "X-Files" and I am so glad they're making another movie. You gotta love a main character like Fox Mulder. A man who has a poster over his desk that shows a spaceship with the caption "I Want to Believe." But the X-Files wasn't only about alien contact, it was about any unexplained phenomenon-- that had a show about a genie no less! This is a show that took every boogie monster from our childhood and said what if it was real? You had government conspiracies, alien abductions, and exorcisms. Virtually any paranormal subject you can think of, "X-Files" brought into the show. I sure miss it. I'm sure there are tons more shows, books and movies that I could list here, but I think I'm going to run the risk of becoming redundant. You get the point though. We like to challenge ourselves, even when it comes to our entertainment, to explore the world-- and universe-- around us. This is a good thing. A very good thing. And I hope we never become so complacent that we stop asking the big questions. TV would become one long episode of "Knight Rider" if we did, and I don't think I could stand that.


furiousBall said...

there really is a Nirvana, they were a three piece out of Seattle and they kicked ass.

Charles Gramlich said...

Very interesting post. STrangely, Lana and I were just talking last night about the religious symbolism in the Matrix. Star Trek started much of that in SF, of course.

SolShine7 said...

Excellent post!!! A main component of science fiction is about asking all those "big questions" and that's why it connects with so many people.

"The Truth is out there"

avery said...

The question of soul-possession is one that brings me to "Buffy" and how much of the show revolved around who had a soul and who didn't. Angel had a soul forced on him, but would revert straight back to Angelus (the bad vampire for you haters out there) the minute his soul was removed. Spike, on the other hand, just had a chip put in his head to stop him from harming people. Still, with only a demon soul, he began to figure out how to be more human, and eventually realized he needed his soul back to truly act like a human. The differences between the two souled vampires always made me wonder what would happen if someone popped Spike's human soul out of him. I'd bet he wouldn't revert totally back to his old ways, since he'd already learned to cope without a soul.

This was a totally pointless response, but I'd always thought about that, and what it meant about the value of one's soul. Operating by those rules, I'd say it wasn't about the soul, per se, but more about the ensouled.

Yeah. That was pointless. Sorry.

SQT said...


I have no clever comeback to that.


I love that you and your wife discuss this stuff. My husband would probably look at me like I was nuts.


I think that's why sci-fi will always have an audience. We're curious like that.


Lol. Not pointless at all. I think that's what I was going for when I mentioned I, Robot. It's kind of the same thing. No matter what form life takes, it's the soul that matters.