I turn to stories for comfort. When things begin to go dark, I pull a DVD off the shelf or browse Netflix for something that will shed a little light.
Stories have been used since the beginning to instruct and inspire. Every oral tradition, every ancient culture, every urban neighborhood has stories, myths, legends. It’s because stories are how we share our knowledge of the world.
When something goes wrong in the world, I want to understand. So I engage in a visual story that teaches me more about the human condition. No matter if you watch a cerebral sci-fi or a reality show, you’re watching how people behave and interact with each other. It becomes a part of our interpretation of life, past, present and future.
I think the reason why we look with rosy glasses on the past is that we are educated on only the progress we’ve made. We skip over almost every tragedy, only stopping a moment to dwell on the largest, those we can’t escape noticing. We hide behind inventions and movements because we don’t want to know. We don’t want to know that our ancestors were sometimes despicable, often evil, unknowingly creating history by stepping over the bodies of their fellow men.
With all the terrible events happening today, whether they’re occurring in the Middle East or in our own country in Ferguson, Missouri, I’m searching my queue for answers. Why does this happen? How could this happen? What can be done to stop it?
When I was little, I spent several hours at my granny’s house watching re-runs of Star Trek: The Original Series. It captivated me. I was drawn to the bold, bright colors, the warmth of the lighting, the diversity of the crew, and the philosophy and optimism eschewed by Gene Roddenberry. It was comforting to me. It gave me hope that the world wasn’t as dark as I’d believed it to be.
Spock, particularly, mesmerized me. His calm demeanor, his logical thinking, and his loyalty were traits I attempted to emulate. I grew a little older and fell in love with the Star Wars films of the 70’s and 80’s. Though the present was bleak for the characters, the heroes fought for a brighter future. That, too, gave me hope.
We moved around too much, with too little to spare after that to keep up with current shows and movies and I fell behind. It wasn’t until I went to college that I became aware of what sci-fi had become.
DS9 was the first Star Trek series I did not enjoy wholeheartedly. While I appreciated the characters, it was too dark for me. The wonder of space travel had been lost thanks to real life events (we landed on the moon, but where to go from there? That, and finances were becoming an issue), and the optimistic philosophy had been replaced with a cold psychology. Why had this happened? I wondered.
I was in 9th grade when 9/11 happened. I hadn’t really been aware of current news until then. I was living in Spain at the time, and our neighbors brought over a small television for us to see what was happening. They also brought us flowers and their utmost sympathy. It felt surreal. How had this happened? How was I supposed to feel about my country, my nationality, my sheer luck that I was living in a city where the worst thing that had happened lately was a car bomb that had been called in by the terrorists who had set it up?
After we left, 11-M (March 11th) happened in Madrid. I had friends who had gotten on the train at one stop and arrived at the next to see bloody bodies and rubble everywhere. I became confused about the world. I had never imagined the future would look like this. How do you keep going after an event like that?
Tragedies kept happening; or at least, I was more aware of them. School shootings, more bombs, and then war. And now, we’re beginning to see that things close to home are not as idyllic as we’d hoped. With the death penalty fiasco of the last several months and children being killed by law enforcement, the future is not what I’d expected. It is darker, much more like Battlestar Galactica and Continuum than Star Trek: The Original Series. What has changed?
I used to think that humans made progress. It was why there were movements like The Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution. But with all progress comes a price. Scientific innovations must be tested. If the scientific innovations happen to be of a lethal nature, someone or something has to die. How else are we supposed to know that the thing we’ve invented actually works?
I’m not saying technology is responsible for the tragedies we’ve faced. I am merely suggesting that our inclinations to destroy and to seize power and take control over others have perhaps driven some of our “progress.” What it all comes down to is that though there are people who believe that in all humanity there lies a spark of goodness, we don’t often act upon it. We have been taught that kindness or goodness is “weak.” Those of us who grew up idealistic have become cynical skeptics of our race. What good can we possibly do?
If we look at Battlestar Galactica, we learn that no one is above reproach. We all fail. We all have to make tough decisions. Even when the majority agrees, they can be wrong. How do you trust yourselves or your leader when you know that none of you is trustworthy? Continuum makes several of the same points. You can’t trust anyone. You can’t even trust yourself. How do you make the right decision when it isn’t the one you want to make? How do we keep our humanity in check? How do you weigh one life against another?
Today I thought about the past and what it was like. There weren’t as many mass tragedies directly caused by human hands, I suppose, but there were still unspeakable things done in the name of “progress.” I kept thinking about all the Revolutions and Renaissances and Ages and I realized that history isn’t a straight line. It’s a circle, or maybe a spiral. It’s also like ocean waves, going back and forth on the shore, over and over. We repeat ourselves. We are doomed to do so until such a time comes that we have learned how to break free. Life and art are like that. One feeds into the other, pushing and pulling, but to what end? How can we break free from the cycle of violence? How can we find peace?
It seems impossible. I have become weary of hoping. But there are little steps toward real progress here and there that are encouraging, like raising awareness about issues that can then be addressed or people who have a position of power using it as a platform to aid the voiceless or people with means finding a way to benefit someone other than themselves. Historical events and people who enacted them have grown over the years, not diminished. With each small victory claimed I see a pattern emerging. It is slow, it is subtle, but it is there.
Beneath the bleak exterior of the human existence there is still a yearning for light. There are still people doing good in this world. Some are telling stories that shed light, allowing us to get a glimpse of ourselves and our race as a whole, that we can change, and for the better. We just need to decide what we’re going to do with that information. Will we learn from it? Or will we pretend that it’s just “entertainment”?
Maybe someday we’ll return to science fiction that seeks to improve upon our opinion of ourselves, to inspire us to greater heights. Until then, I return to watching TOS. After I figure out a way to help shed some light.
If you would like to help those in need of aid in Ferguson, Missouri, you can find a list of resources here: 10 Ways You Can Help The People in Ferguson, MissouriImage Credits: Shawn Semmler