Monthly Archives: December 2011

Interview with Maureen Ryan

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Maureen Ryan recently joined AOL Television as its lead television critic after 13 years at the Chicago Tribune covering television, primarily, but also popular culture, the Internet, media, and music. Her Tribune website, The Watcher, has been nominated for an Editor and Publisher Espy Award for Best Entertainment Blog, and Variety in 2007 named her one of the six most influential critics in America. She also has done commentary about television for NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and other media outlets. Helena Vann sat down with her to talk genre.
In what ways is the science fiction genre a good way to explore deeper philosophical, cultural, and political issues?

Science fiction is a great vehicle for exploring those issues because it shows societies interacting with other cultures and with people whose beliefs, values and customs may be radically different from our own. It forces us to examine core ideas and principles that we assume are universal, though, in fact, those beliefs are often far from universally shared. The characters end up figuring out what they believe and why when they’re confronted with situations that don’t match up to their experience, and in my opinion, those kinds of encounters and transformations can make for great drama.

What elements should be incorporated into sci-fi shows to better appeal to people who may not typically like the genre?

Really interesting characters. That’s where it begins and ends for me. I think people are willing to go along with almost any premise or setting as long as they’re involved in the journeys of the people involved. We have to care about the characters’ needs and goals if we’re going to buy into the wilder elements of what sci-fi can bring to the table.

Opinions differ on whether there should be spaceships involved. Some networks executives don’t like them, because they think the presence of space ships instantly gives a show  the “for nerds only” label. I look at the box-office receipts for the most recent Star Trek film and I disagree with that. Space shows can offer a great canvas for action and adventure, and I think there’s always an appetite for those kinds of grand adventures.

As a television critic, is there anything you would like to see more of in this genre (e.g., more cross genre shows like Firefly? More episodic sci-fi shows along the lines of The Twilight Zone?)

I really do miss shows set in space. There are a few shows now — notable Falling Skies and Terra Nova — that have sci-fi premises but they don’t really take place in space itself. There’s something grand and optimistic about space operas in the old tradition, though I fully recognize that by the time it went off the air, the TV incarnation of the Star Trek franchise had run out of gas. But I hope it’ll be revived by some new, creative writers who have the itch and the ability to explore that kind of territory again.

There are so few sci-fi shows on network television and most new sci-fi shows end up on basic cable, especially the Syfy channel. Are major networks shying away from these shows?

Yes, I think so, though the relative success of Falling Skies may change that. The trouble is that the bigger networks don’t ever want to alienate potential audience members — they try to make everything as non-controversial as possible. But the problem then is that you have neutered sci-fi, which disappoints fans of the genre and usually fails to win over anyone else, even non-genre fans. And the smaller networks have decided that they want to ride other trends — vampires, werewolves, witches, etc.  Space is just not trendy right now, though I hope that the success of ‘The Walking Dead’ convinces the more adventurous cable networks (and the broadcast networks) that rigorous, well-made shows with genre elements can be big, mainstream hits.

How do you think the Science fiction genre has been affected by serialization on television?

I think it cuts both ways. Sci fi shows usually sell well on DVD because the fans love that sort of ongoing story, but network executives think that standalone episodes are better because they can air them as reruns. Fringe is a good example of a show that got more creatively successful the more it serialized, but its ratings went down, so that was a problem. The show that best balanced serialization, standalone stories, and character development was Battlestar Galactica, but no one has really tried to create a successor to that, because for all the critical praise and awards it got, it wasn’t really a ratings success.

Why do you think a show as successful as Lost has not appeared yet?

I don’t think the networks are as willing to be adventurous as the Lost creators were. There are signs that that’s changing — the success of Grimm and Once Upon a Time show that networks are finally starting to loosen up a bit after several years of badly conceived Lost imitators and the kind of by-the-numbers procedurals that the networks tend to make when the economy goes downhill.

Network executives constantly make a classic mistake with Lost — they say to themselves, ‘Let’s make a show with a lot of people and a big, complex mythology!” But Lost wasn’t really about the mythology at first, it was a character drama with some interesting, mysterious questions at the heart of it. And the characters in most Lost-imitating shows have been pretty boring or just derivative. That’s where they constantly go wrong — they don’t imitate the things that made Lost great (adventurous ideas, good characters, amazing production values). They just think “Hey, throw a mythology in this slightly spooky drama” and hope for the best. And those shows usually fail.

I know you’ve visited Columbia and spoken to students. Why do you do this? Why do you think it’s important?

I love hearing what other people think about what I do — and if they have ideas on how I could do it better, I want to hear about that! Writing about TV for the Internet is a job that changes all the time — it’s evolving through social media, and I’m not entirely convinced that people even care about pre-debut reviews of TV shows. I view talking to students as not just a fun exploration of the shows we all enjoy, but it’s also a form of market research. I want what I do to be relevant and helpful, and talking to potential readers is one way to get advice on what I’m doing right or wrong.

Failed ENTERPRISE: How Rick Berman and UPN Ruined One of TVs Most Valuable Properties

Star Trek. The very words conjure up images of galactic exploration. Though for many they mean other things as well. For some it’s just a TV show from the 1960s (or the ‘80s/’90s). For others it’s a series of movies. Or perhaps it’s William Shatner talking in a dramatic manner, or a guy with pointy ears. But there are emotional connections too: maybe it’s a treasured friend or some show you watched when you were a kid. Or it simply calls to mind a bunch of costumed geeks, crammed into a convention center, buying a bunch of fan-fiction and blueprints for imaginary technology. Whatever Star Trek represents to a person, there’s no denying the franchise is a multi-billion dollar media juggernaut comprised of six television series, eleven movies, countless books and fan merchandise across the span of almost half a century. Since the early ‘90s, no matter what someone thought of it, it seemed undeniable: Star Trek was here to stay.

However, in the early 2000s, something happened – the latest film, Star Trek: Nemesis, was a critical and box office disappointment. The fans felt betrayed and tore into it in reviews. Then, shortly after that, the latest series, Enterprise, was canceled after only four seasons. For the first time in nearly two decades, there was no new Trek to be had anywhere. But what happened? Utilizing production theory, one can see that the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise was not due to ‘franchise fatigue,’ as Executive Producer Rick Berman insists. From its golden age a decade earlier, Star Trek’s producers ruined the show by straying from its roots, caving to network pressures, and ignoring the fans that made it popular in the first place.

But first a bit of background information: Star Trek has always been somewhat of a ‘horse of a different color.’ In 1964, when Gene Roddenberry brought his ‘Wagon Train to the stars’ to Desilu Studios, NBC didn’t initially know what to make of it. Further, though the executives liked the premise, they weren’t fans of the original pilot and had him almost fully recast. After that, production of the first season went well enough. At the end of the second season, though, they felt the ratings were questionable and considered canceling it. However, unexpectedly, the network was inundated with letters from fans wanting to save the show and it was renewed for a third season. To make room for newer programming, NBC also moved the show to the ‘Friday night death slot’ at 10 PM, which caused the ratings to slip further, and this time the letters weren’t enough to save it (Davies).

“Turnabout Intruder,” the final episode of the series, aired on June 3, 1969 and for a time it seemed the public would forget about Star Trek. This time, though, an even stranger thing happened: the fans wouldn’t let it die. They held Trek-themed conventions, created their own replicas of props and costumes, and wrote their own literature based on the series. Though what would later be known as a ‘cult audience’ is relatively commonplace today (similarly passionate fans have flocked to various franchises such as Star WarsThe X-Files, LostHarry Potter, and the works of Joss Whedon), at the time it was unprecedented. Despite its meager beginnings, the Star Trek fans turned their favorite TV show into a phenomenon (Reeves).

Since the cancellation of the Original Series, Gene Roddenberry had been campaigning for a Star Trek movie to be made, but no studios were interested. With the exception of high-art films like Stanley Kubrick’s2001: A Space Odyssey, they claimed science fiction movies were a thing of the past. However, based on the enduring popularity of the series, Paramount (who had since acquired Desilu) was willing to develop a new TV series with him and began working on a new series called Star Trek: Phase IIPhase II would have been a spin-off series, following the adventures of a new crew in the same setting. But then Star Wars was released in 1977, becoming a massive success. A largely independent film, Star Wars took everyone by surprise, and played to sold-out shows. People were lining up around the block at all hours of the day to see the movie and Paramount wanted a piece of it. Consequently they decided to scrap their plans for Phase II (as well as their plans for the Paramount Television Service – their own network – that Phase II was to have launched the following year) in favor of a Star Trek motion picture, using the new sets from Phase II and the cast from the original series (Meyer).

While it did reasonably well at the box office, Star Trek: the Motion Picture went vastly ($31 million) over budget and consequently wasn’t considered a success. But Paramount wasn’t ready to give up on Star Trek(nor the fans’ money) and put TV producer Harve Bennett in charge of the film franchise. Roddenberry, the first film’s producer, was largely blamed for this excess and his input would be severely restricted (in some cases limited to name-only) in future projects. Plagued by long-running problems with the sequel’s script, Bennett offered the project to sophomore director Nicholas Meyer, who wrote a new draft in two days and made the movie for $11 million, less than one fourth the cost of the previous film. With its release in 1982, Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan was a big success, setting a record for opening-day box office at the time, and would eventually go on to gross $97 million, ensuring the continuation of the feature film franchise (Meyer).

Finally, in 1988 Paramount thought it was time the franchise returned to television and Star Trek: the Next Generation, the latest incarnation, was produced for first-air syndication, once again under the semi-supervision of Gene Roddenberry. TNG quickly became a huge success in its own right, running for seven seasons – more than double that of TOS (the Original Series). Upon the death of Roddenberry in 1991, Paramount turned to TNG co-executive producer Rick Berman to helm the franchise, which would go on to spawn three spin-off series, which Berman would also oversee. The first of these, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, began airing concurrently with TNG’s fifth season. Similarly produced for syndication, DS9 also ran for seven seasons. In 1995, with the completion of TNG, Star Trek: Voyager represented the franchise’s return to network television, this time on paramount’s new network, UPN. Voyager would similarly run for seven seasons, ending in 2001, and would be followed by Star Trek: Enterprise, beginning in September of that same year (after a slight delay due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks). However Enterprise faltered, as mentioned before, as did Star Trek: Nemesis, the latest film in the franchise. As with TOS before it, Enterprise was similarly moved to the ‘death slot’ for its fourth season, and canceled in 2005 – the only series since the original not to make it to seven seasons.

The ‘party line’ for Enterprise’s cancellation, as towed by series creator Rick Berman, is what the producers termed ‘franchise fatigue’: “I think that we found ourselves in competition with ourselves.Enterprise in many markets was running against repeats – whether it be cable or syndication – of the original series, Next GenerationVoyager [or] Deep Space Nine. And I think that after 18 years and 624 hours of Star Trek the audience began to have a little bit of overkill with Star Trek, and I think that had a lot to do with it. And I think that if you take a look at the last feature film we did, Nemesis, which I still believe was a fine movie, it did two-thirds the business that the previous films had done. So I think it’s again, another example of the franchise getting a bit tired” (Berman). Other ideas touted by ‘those in the know’ were that, because of the franchise’s long history, any new show had too steep of an entry level for new viewers to tune in (they were afraid there was too much background information they were missing to enjoy it) and that Trekwas stigmatized as ‘for geeks’ and that, too, scared potential audiences away.

However, one questions if this was in fact the case. Indeed, historically, the lowest rated Trek series were the ones that aired independently of their fellows (Nielson). Further, Deep Space Nine aired concurrently with new episodes of TNG, reruns of TNG, and reruns of TOS and ran for a full seven seasons. Similarly,Voyager had to contend with all of these in addition to DS9. So, are Berman and company suggesting that the addition of Voyager was the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’? As Hark points out in his essayFranchise Fatigue? The Marginalization of the Television Series after The Next Generation, “Berman’s explanation eschews any blame that might fall upon the heads of himself and his creative team. They merely turned out so much of a good thing that it became too much.” And so, in viewing these official statements with skepticism, where must one turn next?

Well, for one, the expectations of the network were changing. TNG and DS9 had both been created for first-run syndication, however Voyager (and later Enterprise) was produced specifically for UPN. This meant the show would air based on the network’s priority, in better slots when times were good and in less desirable slots when viewership was down. Also important to the network was the notion of ‘viewer retention’: much of UPN’s audience up until that point would tune out when Enterprise came on – not necessarily to return with its conclusion – whereas the Enterprise fans would only watch Enterprise and leave when it was over.

Similarly, the landscape of UPN was changing: when the network first debuted in 1995, it was full of shows like Star Trek: sci-fi/dramas such as Nowhere Manthe Sentinel and Deadly Games. However, by the time of Enterprise, it was somewhat of an ‘odd-man out’ in the predominantly sitcom/comedy lineup, alongside shows like Girlfriends, America’s Next Top Model, and Moesha/the Parkers; catering to the network’s new target demographic: women and, often, African Americans. But still, one asks, is this enough for a show to be canceled? Certainly there were other shows on UPN outside this rubric at the time, such as Veronica Mars andWWE Wrestling. So why was there talk of canceling Enterprise when it was one of the highest rated shows on UPN (Nielson)? Surely it wasn’t all about changing demographics and audience retention.

Also important was the fact that Enterprise, as an hour-long science fiction show, was no longer uncontested on the air. Now the audience had other programs vying for their attention as well, such asFarscapeThe X-Files, and StarGate: SG1. These programs would court the same cult audiences that UPN was after with Star Trek, forcing the producers to seek a more mainstream audience. Further, these networks could produce their shows for less by shooting in places such as Vancouver, while Trek remained tethered to its longstanding studios at the Paramount lots. “The paradox of doing space-based science fiction for the last several decades is that it has bigger budget requirements than the standard cop or lawyer show and yet appeals to a much smaller segment of the audience” (Hark). So, in order to turn a profit, the producers of these other shows had to come up with new ways to balance the books, and they simply opted to save as much money on their shows’ physical production as possible. “Their producers simply accepted that ‘genre’ was usually a niche market and so sought out venues and budget-cutting schemes that would make a small but devoted cult following sufficient to keep their shows profitable” (Hark).

UPN, on the other hand, decided to keep the budget right where it was and try to make up the difference on the other side of the equation by courting a more diverse audience. However, “[i]n looking for the audience to assure a turnaround, Berman and show-runner Brannon Braga needed to court three separate if sometimes overlapping constituencies: [casual viewers, devoted fans, and ‘ubergeeks’] (Hark). Though this sounded good conceptually, in practice it not only failed to attract a new audience but served to disenfranchise the existing fans. “Elements presented in the two-hour pilot, ‘Broken Bow,’ seemed to indicate, however, that the appeal was specifically to [non fans]” (Hark). Even the opening credits had eliminated ‘Star Trek’ from its title and the signature instrumental Trek theme song, over images of space, had been replaced with a more ‘pop’ tune, with lyrics, over historical photographs heralding not the history of Star Trek, but of ships bearing the name Enterprise.

This departure from the show’s ‘core’ wasn’t simply an aesthetic one, either: At its heart, Star Trek had always been a show about exploring ourselves under the pretense of exploring the galaxy. Each series had spun this concept slightly: TOS explored what it meant to be human, TNG explored our place in the larger community, and DS9 asked how our principals stood up in the real world, when everything is shades of grey. However, beginning with Voyager (which, incidentally, was the first Trek show which Gene Roddenberry had no involvement in the creation of), the shows’ message became unclear; “As different as DS9 might have been from TNG, both of them, as well as the original series, had a consistency of approach and vision. A viewer knew what principles the characters operated on and what their missions were” (Hark).

On paper, Voyager was a show about a ship stranded on the other side of the galaxy and the tough choices the crew would face in trying to get home. In reality, said Hugo award-winning TNG/DS9 staff writer Ron Moore, this notion quickly went out the window. Consequently, he could only bring himself to work on two episodes ofVoyager: “In the premise this ship was going to have problems. It wasn’t going to have unlimited sources of energy. It wasn’t going to have all the doodads of the Enterprise. It was going to be rougher, fending for themselves more, having to trade to get supplies that they want. That didn’t happen. It doesn’t happen at all, and it’s a lie to the audience. I think the audience intuitively knows when something is true and something is not true. Voyager is not true.” (Di Justo 179) “[He thought Voyager] ultimately became Next Generation by another name” (Kosh).

Many fans felt this ‘bait and switch’ trend continued with Enterprise, which promised a prequel to TOSbut largely ignored the established continuity. “Apparently revisionist history about first human contact with the Klingons, Ferengi, and Borg also disturbed the fanbase. Even one of the cast, Jolene Blalock (T’Pol) ‘a life-long Star Trek fan’ […] said she was dismayed by early Enterprise scripts that seemed to ignore basic tenets of the franchise’s chronology, and that offered reveling costumes instead of character development.” (Hark) Says Sara Gwenllian-Jones, who studies such things in her book Cult Television, one of the most fundamental principles in building and maintaining a cult audience is continuity (an “ongoing story arc or mythology”). However, the producers weren’t hearing any of this, openly mocking such fans and blatantly referring to them as “continuity pornographers” (Hark). And yet, as one quickly learns when pursuing this subject, these fans are the very ones vital to the show’s success, and disenfranchising them did nothing but drive them away in droves.

Similarly, much of the talent (of which Ron Moore was the most visible), who were themselves fans, found themselves in a daily struggle to stay true to their beloved show while constantly at odds with the producers and the network: “As Voyager ended its run and plans for the fifth series were being developed, the creative team was at a crisis point” (Hark). DS9/Voyager co-creator Michael Piller was responsible for the hiring and development of many talented writers while running the TNG writing staff, and many of these individuals would go on to work on DS9 and later Voyager. However, by the end of Voyager, only Brannon Braga remained. Said Ron Moore of the Voyager writers’ room, “The politics of the show were such that the egos of the people in charge of the series were threatened by the people who worked for them […] and the only reason it was done was to keep the guys on the top of the pyramid feeling good about themselves” (Kosh).

When Enterprise’s ratings first slipped, the producers initially tried to change the show’s formula even further. While the first two seasons were traditional Trek fare, the third season presented a more serialized, season-long story arc. Unfortunately, it did nothing to stem the tide and the producers were shortly informed the show’s fourth season would be it’s last. Ironically it was then, when they had nothing to lose, that that finally returned to the franchises continuity, cramming the remaining twenty-two episode season with seven two and three-part episodes, designed to fill in the blanks between Enterprise and TOS. But it was too late. The fans even staged another letter-writing campaign, raising millions of dollars in an attempt to fund a further season, but it didn’t make a difference. And so it was, on May 5, 2005, the final episode of Enterprise aired. Titled “These are the Voyages,” the show presented a retrospective-style look at the events that happened to the show’s characters after the final season. However, all this was presented from the viewpoint of TNGcharacters in the context of a seventh-season TNG episode and, for many fans, this was but the final insult – the Enterprise finale was relegated merely to the whimsies of another series’ characters. Efforts were made to shop the series to another network, such as SciFi, but no one was even willing to buy it.

The network, through their changing desires/demands, and the producers, by straying from the franchise’s roots and by ignoring the fans in favor of catering to non-fans, took down one of television’s most valuable properties. The one glimmer of hope for the franchise’s future came five years later, in the form of a new series of films without the involvement of Rick Berman or any of the high level executives. This new movie, made by J.J. Abrams of Lost fame, represented a return to the characters of the Original Series – and hopefully its principles as well, as remains to be seen in sequels. This movie was widely successful, earning over $400 million – making it the highest-grossing Trek film yet. Proving that the world wasn’t tired of Star Trek, just the Star Trek they were getting.

Bibliography

“Berman: Trek Needs a Rest.” Weblog post. Global Episode Opinion Survey. SciFi Wire, 1 May 05. Web. 09 May 2011. <http://www.geos.tv/index.php/news?nid=1378>.

Davies, Máire Messenger, and Roberta Pearson. “The Little Program That Could: The Relationship between NBC and Star Trek.” NBC: America’s Network. Berkeley: University of California, 2007. Print.

DiJusto, Patrick, and Kevin Robert Grazier. The Science of Battlestar Galactica. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010. Print.

Everett, Justin. “Fan Culture and the Recentering of Star Trek” In The Influence of Star Trek on Television, Film and Culture, by Lincoln Geraghty, 186-197. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2008.

Hark, Ina Rae. “Franchise Fatigue?” In The Influence of Star Trek on Television, Film and Culture, by Lincoln Geraghty, 41-62. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., 2008.

Gwenllian-Jones, Sara, and Roberta E. Pearson. Cult Television. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2004. Print.

Kosh, Hypatia. “The Ron Moore Interview – Why Moore Left Voyager.” Hypatia.slashcity.org — Star Trek FanFic, Opinions and Maybe Some Cool Code. Web. 09 May 2011. <http://hypatia.slashcity.org/trekshack/moore.html>.

Meyer, Nicholas. The View from the Bridge: Memories of Star Trek and a Life in Hollywood. New York: Viking, 2009. Print.

Reeves, Jimmie L., Mark C. Rodgers, and Michael Epstein. “Rewriting Popularity: The Cult Files.” “Deny All Knowledge”: Reading the X-Files. London: Faber and Faber, 1996. Print.

Predestination and Free Will in BABYLON 5

The question of whether or not free will exists isn’t a light topic, but J. Michael Straczynski wasn’t afraid to tackle the big questions in his cult hit science fiction show, Babylon 5. Without making a blanket statement about the existence of free will, Straczynski comes at the topic from different angles, playing with our notions of cause and effect. In the traditional television narrative, the choices characters make create the future. In the world of Babylon 5, everything’s up in the air.

Keeping in line with the science fiction television genre, this is a show that isn’t afraid to challenge the beliefs of its viewers. Babylon 5 does this in many ways, but I believe that this show is at its best when it’s asking questions about the choices we make and whether we have choices at all.

Narrative paradigm theory, or narratology, is a framework used to analyze story by looking directly at the narrative and narrative structure. This is drawn from the idea that human beings experience life as a series of events and, therefore, storytellers communicate by laying out a series of events for their audience. According to narrative theory, narrative structure is a mean of communicating information by tapping into the natural ways in which we experience the world and process information.

“[Narrative] theory argues that each narrative has two parts: a story (historie), the content or chain of events (actions, happenings) plus what may be called the existents (characters, items of setting); and a discourse (discours), that is, the expression, the means by which the content is communicated” (Chatman 19). Aristotle, whose 330 BC book Poetics provides an early framework for narrative theory, thought that the story was the more important part of the narrative (O’Donnell 74). He said that “drama is defined by its shape, composition, manner of construction, and purpose” (O’Donnell 74). It follows from this assertion that Aristotle believed that story elements such as dialogue and character are secondary to the importance of the sequence of events, or plot. Additional elements of narrative structure originally described by Aristotle include the idea that stories should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and that characters or events that do not advance the story have no place within a narrative. These are concepts that should be very familiar to writers, and recognizable to everyone in their relationship to narrative.

A second early influence on the development of narrative theory is Vladimir Propp, by way of his 1928 book Morphology of the Folktale (O’Donnell 75). In fact, structural analysis can be said to have began with Propp’s work (Lwin 70). Propp claimed that all stories “contain the function of the lack and/or villainy” (O’Donnell 75). This is the idea that in the hero’s life, either the lack of something or the presence of a villain creates the narrative through disequilibrium. The hero wants to return to equilibrium, so he has to find what he’s lacking or defeat the villain. The hero’s desire for equilibrium is what moves the story forward. It is also important to note that Propp pioneered the theory that “a tale can be described according to its component parts and the relationship of these components to each other and to the whole” (Lwin 70).

In addition to examining how narrative is created through structure, narrative theory draws on the work of Carl Jung, detailing the importance of myth and archetype in story. These two concepts are somewhat intertwined, both stemming from the idea of the “collective unconscious,” an idea developed by Jung, who believed that certain mythical images were common to all people, as well as certain desires, urges, and fears (O’Donnell 84). When these mythic stories and archetypal characters appear in stories, they are immediately recognizable because they draw on the shared common experience of the human race. Identifying myth and archetype is an important element of narrative theory because it ties in directly to how we relate to narrative and draw connections between stories and our own lives.

Narrative theory has come under some criticism for “disregarding the content in search for the form” (Lwen 70). Additionally, it has been described as being too universalist. One critic of narrative theory has argued that “it tends to assume that the principles for one kind of narrative—typically Western—become the measure of all other kinds of narrative, particularly those that are non-Western” (Friedman 4). These are important concerns, and as narrative theory evolves from Aristotle’s original framework for narrative, modern notions of story and structure continue to be incorporated, creating a more accurate view of why narrative is important.

Narrative structure and the breakdown of the classic narrative arc play an essential role in what we take away from the story of Babylon 5. Building on the flexible platform of the science fiction genre, Straczynski has created a world where characters occasionally know more than they should. They see the future, whether through dreams or through the eyes of a seer. Time travel allows them to step into events from their own futures. Races with extraordinary powers can strip away elements of their personalities to modify their actions, or in some cases, control them outright. They are often pawns of greater powers, or pawns of “fate.” Through these kinds of unique narrative elements, Straczynski has eliminated the concept of a future that is constantly in flux — where our actions create the chain of events. His characters may be able to choose what they want for breakfast, but the major events of their lives are set. In this way, narrative structure has the power to take away free will and to create a deterministic world.

Before we talk about whether the characters of Babylon 5 have free will, I’d like to briefly tackle the question of free will as discussed by Augustine and Jason T. Eberl. This is not so much to address the question of whether free will exists as to point to two opinions on the topic as they relate to my paper.

In his “On Choice of Free Will,” Augustine argues that God’s knowledge of events to come does not strip us of our free will because God exists outside of time. God sees everything at once, even though the future is undetermined:

“God knows future events still undetermined…Now God knows such events not only in their causes but also as actual happenings. Though they happen one after another, God’s knowledge of them happening is not itself successive (like ours), but instantaneously whole. His knowledge, like his existence, is measured by eternity, which in one and the same instant encompasses all time; so his gaze is eternally focused on everything in time as on something present and known to him with certainty, even though it is future and undetermined in relation to its cause. “(Augustine 8 )

This idea can be applied to the seers in Babylon 5, who tell characters the outcome of events. They see everything at once, even though it’s still in flux and “undetermined in relation to its cause.” They don’t see the outcome of events, they see everything. In “‘You Cannot Escape Your Destiny’ (Or Can You?): Freedom and Predestination in the Skywalker Family,” Jason T. Eberl comes at the same problem in a different science fiction show:

“At least one individual in the Star Wars galaxy seems to have had a pretty clear idea of what lay ahead in the future: whoever wrote the Jedi prophecy that Anakin fulfilled when he, as Vader, killed Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi. This visionary, at least in this case, had a “God’s-eye view” of the future and it’s this perspective that raises questions regarding Anakin’s freedom as well as our own.” (Eberl 5)

Eberl finds the “God’s-eye view” more problematic than Augustine, suggesting that the existence of someone who can see the future places our free will on unsteadier ground. When looking at these two statements regarding free will, the complexity of the subject becomes apparent. Rather than coming down on one side of the fence or the other, Straczynski has chosen to explore every possibility, creating a rich, dynamic world.

In the world of Babylon 5, characters are given warnings by people who have the ability see the outcomes of events before they have been set in motion, and yet these characters are still unable to make decisions to change the future. This casts the universe in a fatalistic light. The knowledge of things to come should give characters a chance to make better choices, but in Babylon 5, prophecies always come true.

Londo Mollari is the poster child for being a “victim of fate.” He starts his journey as a fun-loving, comic character with a good heart and good intentions, but dark prophesies and visions quickly outline a future that is setting him at the center of great tragedy and destruction. In this exchange between Londo and Elric, a “Technomage” whose race can see the future, Londo gets the first of many warnings that his life is about to take a dark turn:
“Well take this for what little it will profit you. As I look at you, Ambassador Mollari, I see a great hand reaching out of the stars. The hand is your hand. And I hear sounds. The sounds of billions of people calling your name.”
“My followers?”
“Your victims.” (Straczynski “The Geometry of Shadows”)

Londo is in the unique position of having almost endless warnings from gifted visionaries, but he always seems to be heading in the wrong direction — he’s a means to an end who watches helplessly as he destroys the universe without ever meaning to. Is he just that weak, or does he really not have a choice? The amount of predestined events in Mollari’s life suggests that he is a pawn in a greater plan, which he has no say in.

Let’s come back to Jason T. Eberl’s article on free will in the Star Wars universe for a moment: Eberl uses the concept of future-contingent propositions to assert that characters do in fact have free will in the Star Wars universe. He argues that “such propositions become true or false only when the event to which they refer occurs or fails to occur” (11). For example, if the prophesy that “Obi-Wan will die at Vader’s hands” is true, Obi Wan’s choice to allow Vader to kill him makes it true. The prophesy doesn’t cause the event.

Eberl is right that this may be how prophecy functions in the world we live in—that the assertion becomes true when events come to pass, or becomes false when they don’t—but he seems on more dubious ground when applying this idea to a story in the more mercurial world of science fiction. Perhaps in our own lives we can comfortably say that free will exists, but when examining stories about a group of people who change the course of the galaxy forever, prophecy becomes much more than a parlor trick. The evidence shows that some events in the saga of the Skywalker family were always going to happen, regardless of what the characters involved wanted or worked for. Some events are bigger than people in stories like this and I think that’s what makes this question so powerful.

Another free will challenging facet to the world of Babylon 5 is that characters are given glimpses of their tragic futures, through dreams and time travel, but again foreknowledge does not help them change the course of events. This is a bit similar to the argument I’m making above, but instead of “signs and portents”, what we’re looking at is trick plot devices like time travel and entire species who know how they will die. When characters see events in their own futures, which have unfavorable outcomes, this knowledge should give them the preparation and motivation to work towards more favorable outcomes, but foreknowledge doesn’t change the course of events. Once again, these characters cannot escape fate.

Several characters are given glimpses into their own futures in Babylon 5 through a variety of plot devices. For example, Londo Mollari’s people, the Centauri, can foresee their own deaths in dreams (Straczynski “Soul Hunter”). They all have these dreams and they always come true. Londo has always known that he will die with his hands wrapped around G’Kar’s throat and vice versa (Straczynski “Midnight on the Firing Line”). Even though these mortal enemies become incredibly close throughout the course of the show, there is no escaping this vision of the future — as we see, this is how they die. The way they get to where they’re going is variable, but the end is fixed. To give another example, John Sheridan is told that if he goes to Za’ha’dum, he will die, and even though he manages to cheat death by coming back to life, this doesn’t change the fact that he died at Za’ha’dum (Straczynski “Za’ha’dum”). Certain events are inescapable.

In a more straightforward depiction of the loss of free will, characters are frequently controlled like puppets by outside forces. This is a plot device that comes up again and again in Babylon 5. In addition to the many ways in which Babylon 5 characters are incapable of escaping fate, there are more concrete ways in which characters have their free will taken away — characters who often force others into taking actions against their will. I believe this is a more concrete metaphor for the lack of control these characters have over their own lives.

Notably, Londo Mollari has his free will taken away in a very tangible way by the end of the series. One could argue that his entire mythic arc is a gradual loss of free will, culminating in a foreshadowed event where he is physically taken over by a “Drakh” alien, which literally controls his every action (Straczynski “Za’ha’dum”). It seems to me that this is a metaphor for Londo Mollari’s entire life. This is Londo Mollari as a pawn and he sums it up best in this conversation with his one-time sworn enemy G’Kar:

“Isn’t it strange, G’Kar? When we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. And now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all. No choice at all.” (Straczynski “The Fall of Centauri Prime”)

In addition to Mollari’s mythic arc, there are several examples of characters in Babylon 5 losing control of their own actions. This is evident in two major story arcs concerning addiction – Doctor Franklin is addicted to stimulants (Straczynski “Walkabout”) and Michael Garibaldi is an alcoholic (Straczynski “Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?”) – and many of the story arcs concerning telepaths, the strongest of which can physically control the actions of others. Two examples of telepaths controlling others are:

Lyta Alexander, the strongest telepath in the universe, forces another character to shoot himself (Straczynski “The Face of the Enemy”).

Alfred Bester alters Michael Garibaldi’s personality at a basic level, compelling him to betray John Sheridan and send him to certain death (Straczynski “The Face of the Enemy”).

These are just a few examples of how characters forcibly lose their free will at the hands of others in Babylon 5.

Babylon 5 is just one of the many socially conscious and progressive television shows that falls into the category of science fiction, but it is also unique in its audacity and the scope of its content. This is a show that attempts to do more than other shows of its time set out to do, and often succeeds. There are three main reasons why Babylon 5 is extraordinary, and in conclusion, I would suggest that these reasons are as follows:

Experimental Narrative Structure: Babylon 5 is easily the most thoughtfully plotted serialized television show to date. The intricate web of the story is simply masterful and it’s an achievement in television that hasn’t been matched by any show since. The unpredictable nature of the television industry makes this kind of storytelling a risk and Babylon 5’s unexpected cancellation and rescue by FX between seasons 4 and 5 produced major hiccups which demonstrate why hyper serialization can be problematic, but the sweeping five year story arcs are proof enough why it’s worth the risk.

J Michael Straczynski, Auteur: Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes of Babylon 5 himself—giving him an unprecedented level of control over the content. This creates a show with a clear vision, which is seen through to the end. Recurring themes – such as free will and predestination – are apparent and expressed vividly through the eyes of one writer. It’s an interesting anomaly in the collaborative medium of television.

Themes: It’s important to look at Babylon 5 as a complex story, tackling universal themes of love and loss, light vs. dark, and free will vs. predestination. Like many science fiction shows, Babylon 5 is so much more than a space adventure. It tackles deep philosophical questions with intelligence and sensitivity. My paper looks at just one of the carefully considered themes in Babylon 5, a show which I think deserves recognition for its gutsy execution and thematic depth.

Works Cited

Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will, translated by Anna S. Benjamin & L.H. Hackstaff. New York: Macmillan, 1964. Book III pg. 4. Qtd. in Eberl pg. 8.

Chatman, Seymour Benjamin. Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1978.

Eberl, Jason T. “‘You Cannot Escape Your Destiny’ (Or Can You?): Freedom and Predestination in the Skywalker Family.” Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine. Eds. Kevin S. Decker & Jason T. Eberl. Chicago: Carus Publishing Company, 2005. 3-15.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Towards a Transnational Turn in Narrative Theory: Literary Narratives, Traveling Tropes, and the Case of Virginia Woolf and the Tagores.” Narrative; Jan2011, Vol. 19 Issue 1, p1-32.

Lwin, Soe Marlar. “REVISITING A STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS OF FOLKTALES: A MEANS TO AN END?” Buckingham Journal of Language & Linguistics; Sep2009, Vol. 2 Issue 1, p69-80.

O’Donnell, Victoria. Television Criticism. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2007.

“The Face of the Enemy” Babylon 5, Season Four. Writ. J Michael Straczynski. Dir. Mike Vejar. PTEN. 9 June 1997. DVD.

“The Fall of Centauri Prime” Babylon 5, Season Five. Writ. J Michael Straczynski. Dir. Douglas E. Wise. TNT. 28 October 1998. DVD.

“The Geometry of Shadows” Babylon 5, Season Two. Writ. J Michael Straczynski. Dir. Mike Vejar. PTEN. 16 November 1994. DVD.

“Midnight on the Firing Line” Babylon 5, Season One. Writ. J Michael Straczynski. Dir. Richard Compton. PTEN. 26 January 1994. DVD.

“Soul Hunter” Babylon 5, Season One. Writ. J Michael Straczynski. Dir. Jim Johnston. PTEN. 2 February 1994. DVD.

“Walkabout” Babylon 5, Season Three. Writ. J Michael Straczynski. Dir. Kevin G. Cremin. PTEN. 30 September 1996. DVD.

“Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi” Babylon 5, Season Four. Writ. J Michael Straczynski. Dir. Kevin James Dobson. PTEN. 11 November 1996. DVD.

“Za’ha’dum” Babylon 5, Season Three. Writ. J Michael Straczynski. Dir. Adam Nimoy. PTEN. 28 October 1996. DVD.

The Pre and Post-Western and the Birth of Hybrid Cross Genre

“In a world in which stylistic innovation is no longer possible, all that is left is to imitate dead styles… (Resurrect old styles periodically because there is nothing else new– we can only remix what’s been done)” (Jameson). This concept does not just sit under a purely denim based umbrella; this concept will also encompass the media world and specifically Television and the western itself. Television is a living organism and when times change so does the industry and so does the Western. Today’s Postmodern Western uses an array of devices to stay relevant in today’s postmodern era. In the beginning of TV, the Western was more of a caricature of a western lifestyle. In our present times, it embodies a more realistic portrayal with an onslaught of sexuality and the rehash of our culture. To keep up with the bustling nature of our accelerated culture, the Western has had to go under the knife to become a multitude of different genres. Between taking the Western into space, placing into a present day or putting it back right where it began almost 165 years ago, the Western has come a long way. Today the TV Western has been rethought, rehashed, and recycled and it is still as popular as it was more then 50 years ago. The Western is not dead, it just has been revised to suit our postmodern lifestyles.

Since 1940 and the birth of the television, the genre has been a staple of organization and the triangle trade of TV. Genres tend to be based on a multitude of point mainly style, themes, structure, and location (Chandler). In all necessary sense the TV Genre is constructed and used so the audience can determine what to watch, but more importantly so that the TV studios can make a profit. The genre allows for the analysts to determine what demographic of person watches what show and from that data they place the shows in their time slots. From the time slot choices the studio then approaches the advertising industry to sell the airtime to each demographic. This cycle is why genres are so important to the TV industry and why it is used in such a dissecting manor. Genres in some circles of TV are considered rules, these rules are repeatedly broken, but they explore what we call sub-genres and the marriage of many of the umbrella genres. Specifically in Westerns which, over the course of the last 70 years, have evolved with the times. Instead of the classic Western that may have existed in the beginning of TV, we now have hybrid genres, a mixture of the original setting or plot that you may remember from Westerns of the past that have now been replaced with another setting or another plot from a completely different genre known as the cross genre. Today we put each one of these cross genres under a large western umbrella that now encompasses the Science Fiction Western (that includes ultramodern elements into a Western setting), Contemporary Westerns (original Western themes placed in contemporary times) and the Revisionist Western (based on the original time frame with far more realism sex and a far more gritty nature). These three sub genres have been created due to the hybrid nature of today’s postmodern TV culture.

During the early years, the television industry sprouted a multitude of programming that would soon determine the way in which America received its daily entertainment. In the early 40s to mid 60s, it became abundantly clear that the TV Western was the sought after genre that people from all ages turned to during their free time in front of the wonder box (Jackson 13). Soon Westerns became a prominent staple to the everyday line up of the three networks and as the 50s progressed the Western would eclipse all other genres on ABC, NBC, and CBS alike. Shows like Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, and Hopalong Cassidy would rule the airwaves for almost an entire decade. Yes, the Western was here to stay. Or so they thought. The networks left hours of prime-time open just to fill it with a Stetson and a single action Colt. These show were simple and easy to create. And by 1965 the networks had fired out over 150 westerns in a span of 25 years (Jackson 22). The postmodern world was beginning to grow tired of the constant barrage of the 1870s and its lack of relevance to the culture hurdles of the times.

By the 1960s, America had begun to change on a rapid basis, so fast in fact that culture flipped upside down. Between the years of 1960 and 1969, the western would take a long look in the mirror. Variety hours and sitcoms took over the airwaves and opened a new door. The Western had given America a break from the day-to-day violence of WWII, but WWII was over and so were the go-lucky 50s (Jackson 14). The baby-boomers were set on changing the world…and they did. The West had been won and it was time for the new war to be fought, a war of social injustice, political oppression, and cultural birth. No one was prepared for the culture revolution that would shake the core of this nation. Between its bookends the 1960s would see the rise of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and man would walk on the moon. The Beatles, Woodstock, and the Summer of Love would cement the rise and fall of Rock and Roll and the hippie nation (McWilliams xiii). All of this would not be in vain. The Baby Boomers had changed the world, it was just a different outcome than what they had predicted. They had created a counter culture that would catapult youth, rock and roll, free thought and expression into the masses, and society would never be the same. After all the blood, sweat, and tears, the counter culture and its ideas of the world would finally fall on the fuzzy little box that sat at the center of your living room, the TV. This counter culture that had grown up watching the classic Westerns The Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, and Roy Rogers would in the end kill the very shows they grew up adoring (Reid).

The Western was now a relic of the 1950s and both the networks and the viewers were beginning to acknowledge its demise. As Westerns steadily declined a new genre began to take precedent over the wounded Western known as the Spy genre. After the film Dr. No was released in 1962, James Bond and the spy genre became the new kid on TV’s prime-time block. The Networks began to take notice and began looking to other outlets to fill their slipping ratings (Reid). In a last dash to save the TV Western CBS began looking for a more current show that was relevant to the growing Baby Boomer audience. During this search a successful triple threat (writer, producer, actor) named Michael Garrison took notice. Garrisons business partner at the time Gregory Ratoff had purchased Ian Fleming’s first bond novel Casino Royale and when Ratoff died, Garrison decided it was time to follow his interest with the spy genre and began work devolving a similar project this time is would be Bond on Horseback. Garrison pitched the project to his friend Hunt Stromberg Jr. (head of CBS programming development) and Stromberg gave the green light. With Garrison taking cues from the spy genre (Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and from the science fiction genre (The Twilight Zone) he created a show that encompassed all of the popular action of the time, and on September 17, 1965 CBS released the first postmodern, cross-genre, western known simply as The Wild Wild West. The main characters, Jim T. West and Artemus Gordon, were secret service agents hired by the US Government to infiltrate highly sensitive situations they lived like James Bond fought like James bond and took on villains from The Twilight Zone (Reid). Michael Garrison’s hybrid creation was an instant success and although well written, and enjoyable, the shows copious amount of violence got it booted from the network on its fourth and final season. But Garrison had done something, he had reconstruct the way we watch and enjoy westerns, by simply splicing in aspects of TV that the current culture already enjoyed. He had created the three sub-genres of the Postmodern Western The Wild Wild West fell under all three of the hybrid sub-genres Science Fiction Western, Contemporary Westerns, and Revisionist Western. This would prove extremely important to the Western genre in decades to come, but not even Garrisons daring idea could save the genre in the late 60s and by the end of the decade all but Bonanza and Gunsmoke had been cut from the networks (Jackson 14).

After the death of the TV Western in the mid 1960s, a large void was left in television for almost four decades. Forty years of cop dramas, sit-coms, medical dramas, and soap operas. It was time for the world to see a gunslinger quick draw again. As the ideas and interest ran out for many of the TV series of the early 80s, TV executives again began the search for the next show that would cover their prime-time slots. In this post modern environment the easiest way to find a new medium was to go back and reinvent the past (Johnson). Many executives began thinking of a new way to introduce the western back into the mainstream culture, but without a relevant grasp time and money would be lost on a doomed pilot. Warner Bros. decided to take a gamble and released a show called The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. in late 1993. The show was about a lawyer and gunslinger, Briscoe County Jr., son of the late marshal Briscoe County, who is hired by three powerful tycoons to track down his father’s killers and bring them to justice. The show embodied many aspects of Garrison’s original hybrid Western theory. The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. mainly dealt with the sci-fi side of Garrison’s post western genre (Jackson 218). The show aired on Sunday mornings on TNT paired along side the original Wild Wild West series that had been syndicated to play before Briscoe County at 9am every Sunday. Although the idea was well executed the time slot for the show was not prime-time and The Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. only lasted for one season. Nearly ten years later in the early part of 2001 TV executives learned that a mixture of genres could revive and give birth to a new genre of Western now known as the cross genre. The cross genre allowed for time, space, location, and modernization to happen in the Western genre and it allowed its audience interest in a more contemporary time (Johnson).

The first step to develop a new Western was to take them out of the 1860s and move them to a galaxy far, far away. Feeling that if film could do it with Star Wars why couldn’t TV do the same, in 2002 Joss Whedon released FireFly, a space-western based in a future 500 years from now. This cross-over of sci-fi and the Wild West was not new to many of the viewers and the show was regarded as a Western almost entirely. The fact that the crew of Firefly happened to be in space seemed irrelevant to many of the viewers and critics alike. Part of the fun of Firefly is the way it explicitly explores the Western roots that many sci-fi films and television series share: through the use of Western character types (think Stagecoach in space), the use of multiple Western visual and aural motifs (space as wide open plains, individual planets with western topographies, guns, clothing, colloquial speech), and the use of various Western plot devices, train robberies, cattle rustling, etc. (Johnson).

Westerns have just turned to Sci-fi to have their voices heard just as George Lucas did for film Whedon is doing for TV. Critics and viewers alike view Firefly as a Sci-Fi Western or a cross-genre a true hybrid not just a Western with Sci-fi elements, but a Western character type in space. Unlike the original TV Western that were released more then 60 years ago TV has now had time grow up and as the medium has matured a more aggressive approach to genre and the industry is allowed to thrive. Television, like its social audience, has grown and with that growth comes a birth of sexuality, language, and cinematic abilities not capable on the television of the past. TV had not just expanded as a genre, but rebirth was also possible in 2004 David Milch released Deadwood on HBO. Deadwood gives birth to the highly sexual, gritty, and real world out look on the Old West. It falls between a Contemporary Western and a Revisionist Western (Larvy). Deadwood gives a fresh and realistic outlook of how the West really functioned in the mid 1800s. Its gritty nature was essential in making the show not only authentic, but plausible to the postmodern audience that would be watching the show. Releasing Deadwood on HBO would insure that the FCC would not be able to interject its views on the production and its ideas to treat Deadwood as a film making the shows use of sex, violence and language a core to its very nature (Larvy). Even though Deadwood does not cross over multiple genres it is the true definition of a cross over theory known as the Post-Western. Deadwood ‘s vulgar language and gratuities violence and sex make it barely TV and could be classified as a modern mini-series. Although Deadwood does not launch into space or go to distant planets, its real nature does not detract from its groundbreaking ability to be the first accurate TV Western possible of all time.

Along with the Sci-fi Western, Westerns of the past 20 years (such as Briscoe County Jr. and FireFly) we also have Westerns the take place in modern day and like with the new bread of TV the new bread of the Antihero tags on for the ride. The modern Western must be a clear mix of the Wild West but still balanced with the postmodern world we live in. In the last few years we have seen a revamp in Film and in TV. The Western is no longer a death trap (i.e. Adventures of Briscoe County Jr. and FireFly) and now multiple networks are joining the race to create the newest western, they will fall by the wayside simple because FX (the Fox associated network) has between everyone else to the punch starting with The Sons of Anarchy. Sons is the brain child of Kurt Sutter, that is in the midst of shooting its third season, and ending with Justified (FX’s newest Western) a true Post-Western produced and written by Elmore Leonard. Both series are very similar to the original way westerns were filmed and executed they just happen to have been made in the early part of the new millennium. Although the shows come from not only the same network but also a similar genre it is easy to see the direct similarities in differences in the approaches and productions. Although both tend to have an Antihero feel each have their own identity. Justified is a series that revolves around a lone wolf US Marshall known as Deputy U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens – he has a self assured swagger and an overdeveloped trigger finger and lays down the law with a quick pull of the trigger.

Justified is certainly a Post-Western, consciously drawing on and reinventing traditional genre conventions. The series alludes to those conventional Westerns in several ways: by casting Timothy Olyphant in the lead role (and thereby alluding to his earlier role in Deadwood, connecting, via the actor, the characters of Seth Bullock and Deputy US Marshall Raylan Givens); via the character’s signature clothing (Stetson, cowboy boots, gun holstered at his hip); and a number of other smaller ways as well… Including a large poster for the film Tombstone, a visual reminder of the series’ awareness of its western roots…And Raylan is the fastest gun in the west. His fast draw speed places him in a long line of western heroes (Johnson). The Sons of Anarchy and Justified portray a spirit and livelihood developed decades prior by the TV industry back in the 50s and sits cookie-cutter against the Anti-Hero Western within the Western genre. From Wanted Dead or Alive to The Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke, The Sons of Anarchy and Justified represent a postmodern take on a so-called “dead genre”.

The balance between the Western genre and the multitude of cross genres that now fall under its vast umbrella has blurred severely over the last seventy years, and it’s hard to tell where the Western ended and where the sub-genres, cross-genres and hybrid-genres begin. In this postmodern culture that we live in few things can be as clear as the Western, it seems impractical that something as American and simple as a Western can be more complicated then an outlaw in a ten gallon Stetson holding a six shooter, but that’s the true essence these past 70 years have shown tremendous growth not only in the hybrid nature of television culture but true evolution in the genres themselves. In the beginning genre was simple comedy or tragedy now we have a multitude of areas to explore now drama is not just drama it now can be dramedy.

Today’s culture turns the TV Western in to an open book. Simply imply the nature of the outlaw, the lone wolf, or the lawman and the rest will follow. You do not need a horse to be a cowboy. A Harley Davidson will do just fine. You don’t need an open range to ride on when infinite star systems at light speed will do. And you don’t need a six-shooter. A full auto Russian AK47 will do the trick. Because of these leniencies from our accelerated culture and our acceptance for cross-genres TV studios and networks now have the ability to create a show that caters to all walks of life. The Western may not be dead, but it is certainly not a Western anymore it’s a Post-Western.

Work Cited

Belleranti, Guy. “The Wild Wild West: Where Western Meets SciFi Spy – Sixties TV Show – A Timeless TV Classic.” Fifties Sixties TV, Movies, Facts and History about 1950’s and 1960’s. Loti, 23 June 2008. Web. 13 Feb. 2010. .

Chandler, Daniel. Semiotics the Basics. London [u.a.: Routledge, 2007. Print.

Darling, Cary. “The Ultimate Brisco County, Jr. Guidebook.” Theoasis.com/brisco. The Orange County Register, 31 Mar. 1996. Web. 15 Feb. 2010.

Jackson, Ronald. TV westerns A pictorial History. Vol. 1. New York, New York: Carol Group, 1994. Print.

Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke Univ., 1992. Print.

Johnson, Michael K. “Motorcycle Westerns.” The Official Blog of the Western Literature Association. 5 Feb. 20010. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. .

Johnson, Michael K., and Neil Campbell). “Joss Whedon’s Firefly as Western.” The Official Blog of the Western Literature Association. WLA, 17 Jan. 2009. Web. 12 Feb. 2010. .

Lavery, David. Reading Deadwood a Western to Swear By. London: I. B. Tauris, 2006. Print.

McWilliams, John C. The 1960s Cultural Revolution. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 2000.Print.

Reid, Craig. “Wild Wild West Tv Retrospective.” Cinefantastique 31:8 1 Oct. 1999: 44-48. Web.

The American and Japanese Culture Trade

“Globalization as a concept refers both to the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole…both concrete global interdependence and consciousness of the global whole in the twentieth century” – Roland Robertson.

Globalization is a theory calling for free trade amongst nations with little to no restrictions. Several nations have adapted this concept to their policies, some have proven to be successful other not so much. In this paper the relationships between nations will be examined more specifically focusing on Japan and America. In this relationship we see a mutually profitable Television and Film trade occurring amongst the two. It’s the globalization mindset that allows Japanese Television producers to export and adapt their programs for American broadcast. Globalization also provides a secondary marketplace for franchises to expand. With the trading of programs and films, globalization also aids in educating audiences on foreign cultures. For these reasons the paper will provide evidence that American and Japanese cultures are in a symbiotic trade.

“Globalization studies arose around several sets of phenomena that drew researchers’ attention from the 1970’s onwards. One was the emergence of a globalized economy involving new systems second was new transnational or global cultural patterns practices and flows, and the idea of “global culture(s).” (Robinson 125) Robinson’s description of the creation of globalization studies makes a point of the global culture. Globalization as a theory is saying that soon the world will become so connected that eventually the world will become a global economy and culture. There are “two broad categories of research: those studying specific problems or issues as they relate to globalization; (2) those studying the concept of globalization itself”(Robinson 126). The division allows better organization of such a complex theory, now able to separate different ideas and concepts of globalization. The concept of Americanization stems from the problems that relate to globalization. One of the leading researchers on Globalization is Maunel Castells. His approach is more technologically based. Saying “The new economy is: (1) informational, knowledge based; (2) global, in that production is organized on a global scale and (3) networked, in that productivity is generated through global networks of interaction.”(Robinson 132). The world is becoming a smaller place, the Internet can bring together two people from the opposite sides of the world and they can have a conversation. It is through globalization that we see the trading of American and Japanese Films and programs between each other made possible through mostly technological advancements. As Robinson puts it “An “epochal shift” has taken place with the transition form a world economy to a global economy”(130). In the past countries were mostly connected through trading and financing but in the modern world, instant communication and air travel have deteriorated the idea of each country being able to isolate itself from all others. In the modern age, the world is now one large global market.

The history of Globalization is rooted in a constant battle between isolationism and expansionism. Some claim globalization began with human history some 10,000 years ago, others speculate with the beginnings of capitalism some 500 years ago. Others say it started with post-modernism 30 years ago (Robinson 127). Globalization theorists have no idea when the process started or if it ever had a start date. Since the conception of the globalized studies. One of the main criticisms of the ideas of globalization is the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank’s promise to help third world nations out of poverty. The main way they would do this is by handing out large loans, but with the loans came strict regulations. One of those is full embrace of free trade and entrance into the world marketplace. This has led many to criticize globalization and the international agencies back it. In Mark Kramer’s book Dispossessed, he traveled around the world seeing the terrible hardship endured by many of the developing nations. He points out that the policies these nations have with regards to their own economies, as well as their infrastructure plan comes from IMF or the World Bank’s strict regulations when they receive their loan. Globalization is not completely without its benefits. Several teachers and journals have pointed out that Globalization is leading towards a more progressive, one world mindset amongst students and is helping the spread of knowledge about other cultures to these students. Throughout its history, globalization has been a battle ground. Some say that it’s completely impossible for third world nations to develop with all these regulations, but at the same time Globalization provides a broader spectrum of knowledge to students, it’s a duel edge sword. Globalization has been around for decades and we are now seeing the long term effects this theory has on the world.

Globalization has helped increase the profits of Japanese television companies as well as draw viewers to the networks airing the programs. Japanese Anime proves to be a niche market in America and mainstream programming of Anime has proved successful on several American networks like: MTV, Sy-Fy and Cartoon Network. Focusing on Cartoon Network, one of the first networks to embrace mass importing of Japanese programs, they placed a series of Japanese shows into a programming block called: Toonami. Toonami was originally hosted by Space Ghost and had mostly American animated shorts. But starting in 1999, Anime programs were imported and placed into its time slot . Toonami typically ran from 4:00PM to 6:00PM on weekdays. Toonami quickly became the only programming block showcasing almost entirely imported Japanese anime. One specific show which lead to a tidal wave of imports was Dragon Ball Z. While initially unsuccessful, Dragon Ball Z eventually became a ratings behemoth.

Targeting a young to teenage male demographic, known for its over the top fight sequences, fast paced action, and a diverse cast. The same demographic that fell in love with Z in Japan fell in love with the series in America. Toy lines, made for TV movies and spin off series turned Dragon Ball into a cultural phenomenon lasting over 8 seasons. The next big import was Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. Wing brought the multi-billion dollar Gundam franchise to America and opened the door for several Gundam shows mostly notably, G-Gundam and several other Gundam programs. The franchises brought over to America lead to a surplus of Anime related toys, clothing and DVD sales. At one point the market became over-saturated with one specific toy line, the G-Gundam series. So many models were brought over to America that the retailer did not have enough shelf space to place all the products. Gundam has since died down in America, many say it is actually because of the over-saturation of the market with the toys (AnimeNation). But Gundam is still keeping strong, with the latest series Gundam 00. Having finished its run on Sy-Fy, Sunrise is already planning on translating an older Gundam series, Turn A Gundam, for American broadcasting. While not the same scope as Gundam once was in America, its impact is still noticeable here in America. Another Anime program that had a huge impact on American audiences is Cowboy Bebop. Cowboy Bebop came to America in 2001 and enjoyed huge popularity on a different scheduling block of Cartoon Network, Adult Swim. At the time Adult Swim was not a ratings behemoth, similar to the way Toonami was originally. Adult Swim typically ran comedy and various other American animated short programs steered towards a more adult audience. It was after Bebop was the first Anime shown on the block that Cowboy Bebop’s popularity brought in more Anime. Anime from Japan such as Inuyasha, Neon Genesis Evangelion found a new audience. The popularity of Anime on Adult Swim made the programming block divide the two nights they ran, Saturday and Sunday into Action Saturdays and Comedy Sundays. Anime would dominate the ratings, but as Adult Swim became more and more popular, it began taking more mainstream American cartoons into their block, most notably Futurama and Family Guy. American animated comedy tend to fare better then action based Anime amongst older demographics and as such Adult Swim currently almost never showcases a newly imported Anime. Presently Cartoon Network has far fewer animated imports then it had in the early 2000’s, but the popularity of Anime endures on American programming. While not as prevalent as the glory days of Anime, Sy-Fy channel has taken certain Japanese programming and has Anime Monday’s, a programming block that is a mix of both Adult Swim and Toonami’s concept in the sense that it is not strictly adult or teenage programming but a mid-range demographic. The Anime they featured tended to be of artistic lesser quality than that of Adult Swim’s or Toonami’s, but the latest Gundam installment, Gundam 00 was part of their block for its initial run. With On-Demand, a feature used by Comcast Cabel as a sort of library of television programs and films, Funimation has used on Demand for Anime distribution and has two options one for free viewing and a platinum edition for paying subscribers. It is only through the free-trading between Japan and America that allows Anime to be broadcast on syndicated television as well as other features. This provides higher ratings to the networks that broadcast the programs as well as increasing the profits of the Japanese producers.

Globalization also allows television producers to have another marketplace to showcase their product. Allowing franchises to expand to foreign markets increases the profits of the producers and distributors. Japanese children’s broadcasting has always been popular in America with shows like: Speed Racer, Voltron, Gigantour, and Astro Boy. It’s a field that Japan and America have had a long relationship in. Older times saw Japanese programs simply translated into English for broadcasting. But live action shows from Japan such as Super Sentai needed more than just translation, they needed cooperation between the original Japanese producers and the future American broadcasters. The popularity of Sentai proved so strong in Japan they brought it to America. Being aimed at the same demographic, boys ages 6-11, Sentai was adapted into Power Rangers. To do the adaptation the American producers had to replace the Japanese cast with an American one. With very little money to do the show, they relied heavily on the original Sentai footage for action sequences then incorporated new footage of the American cast into each episode. When Power Rangers was finally released, it quickly became one of the most popular Saturday morning television shows, dominating its target demographic and becoming a cultural phenomenon overnight. Power Rangers also spawned a toy line that still proves to be highly profitable. No large scale story changes or complete overhauls were necessary when Super Sentai came to America. Simplistic stories of good versus evil with no major cultural bounds allows children’s programming to expand to other cultures without there being much discretion needed to determine what needs to be replaced and what can stay. Transformers is another example of the Japanese/ American relationship. Originally a small toy that boasted two for the price of one, the idea was brought to America where it was developed into the Transformers toy line and cartoon show, both of which were massively popular and were then translated and exported to Japan. Pokémon is another Japanese franchise that was brought over to America. Initially Pokémon was just a video game but when the games were introduced to America they became a cultural phenomenon. Spawning an animated Television series, a long string of feature films, a trading card game, shirts, hats, underwear and everything that could was branded with the Pokémon logo. Retailers were swamped with Pokémon paraphernalia making the franchise one of the true success stories of globalization. The mass consumption of everything Pokémon has influenced the 90’s generation to no end. Pokémon still releases new games and while the mania is over, it still has retained a large following in the west and will continues its success with Pokémon Black and White, notable for having the largest release out of any of the Pokémon games (Gantayat). Globalization has allowed these franchises to expand over to America, leading to profits for the producers and distributors of such products. The Transformers television show is very similar situation to Super Sentai, but instead of going from Japan to America, it goes America to Japan. Globalization has aided companies to spread their products to the worldwide audience instead of just their domestic. It is through this free trade that allows such products to go far beyond borders. Power Rangers, Transformers and Pokémon are just three of many examples of shows with worldwide acclaim and popularity that could not be enjoyed by so many if their national borders were closed off from foreign programming.

The globalization of Television and film is not just aiding in the sales of profits, but it has also spread interest and education of other cultures. Anime has several reasons as to why it is so popular not just in Japan or American, but worldwide. Some reasons why Anime is popular among these audiences is mainly because “people are more interested in fantasy world when the reality around them is no as interesting or satisfying” (Hamada 197). Also Anime is a very flexible type of media because it can easily be translated into whatever culture it gets imported into, it has become a vernacular genre. As such it transcends cultural lines and is enjoyable wherever you are. The popularity of Anime has affected many younger audiences in various ways. In America, Anime has lead to a large increase amongst younger demographics to study Japanese. One teacher found that Anime has influenced several of her students to take another language course (Fukunaga 206). These students are now seeking to learn more about foreign art and as such are expanding their knowledge and becoming more aware of world cultures. Teachers have found that when students are asked to write about what they like to watch or what interests them they find that given the freedom, some students will write papers analyzing what they are watching, with one student trying to find the common thematic element in the Anime Dragon Ball Z (McGinnis 575). Globalization is not just aiding in the spread of cultures or in blending them. It’s also spreading awareness and educating students everywhere creating a broader world view for them and it will undoubtedly continue influencing generations to come.

Critics will argue that Globalization’s goal of benefiting both countries is false; one country always wins out in the end. Several European countries have strict limitations on what foreign television programs are allowed to broadcast. The fear European nations have towards hegemony with American culture stems from protecting their culture and history (Feigenbaum 375). Critics point out that America creates the vast majority of Film and Television exports and as such when a nation imports these products they take over their domestic marketplaces, their main fear focusing on an Americanization of their entire culture. America is the chief exporter of Television and Film goods, however one of the many reasons for America’s domination of these film and television markets is because the nations themselves do not produce enough products to dominate their own markets, much less anyone else’s (373). America alone cannot be held responsible for dominating these nation’s domestic marketplaces nor that Globalization is the cause for the deterioration of cultures. The Japanese and American relationship is one clear example of the benefits of globalization. The Japanese government has very loose regulations regarding imports primarily because “The Japanese film and television industries have been markedly successful in their home markets, at least until recently, and have developed significant export markets for animated films and television shows” (Feigenbaum 385). As such the Japanese government and people have no problems being introduced to American culture and in fact American imports often times find themselves gaining a large following. One example is the popularity of The Simpson’s in Japan. The show proves very popular among the same demographic that it targeted in America, however though unlike many other nations that broadcast The Simpsons, Japan has a television show in the same market that rivals The Simpsons, Shin Chan. Shin Chan is intended for the same audience. Many have called it “Japan’s response to The Simpsons (Kiku TV)”. It proved so popular there that it has been adapted and brought over to America, where it fared well at first but was cancelled after only two seasons. Besides America and Japan, India is another nation where Globalization is aiding in their Film and Television markets. Every American film that is brought to India is adapted and turned into a Bollywood production. This is due to a change in story telling structure. In India in order for a narrative to be complete in a film it requires at least one dance sequence. As such American films like Silence of the Lambs must be adapted to India and given a dance sequence. India markets and produces enough domestic films to keep their market their own, but in conjunction with Hollywood, India’s film market receives the rights to adapt these films and market them within their own country. Globalization is a cause for concern for many nations that cannot sustain their own market-places, mostly due to the fact that they do not put as heavy importance of the film and television markets as the Japanese and Americans. But as seen with the relationship between Japanese and America, the benefits of globalizing surmount the fears of cultural deterioration.

In summary, Globalization has several benefits and several disadvantages. However, in the area of film and television trading the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Symbiotic relationships between broadcasters and producers allow more markets for products to be sold and the education of foreign cultures proves to be successful between the Japanese and Americans. While there are some countries that view globalization as a cloak for Americanization, to the nations that have opened up their borders, prosperity has been their reward. Globalization is becoming more and more apparent as technology shrinks the size of our world. It is the future, a television audience linked together as one worldwide whole.

Works Cited

“AnimeNation Anime News Blog » Blog Archive » Ask John: Which Gundam Series Have Had the Most Impact on Anime?” AnimeNation Forwarder. AnimeNation, 12 Oct. 2007. Web. 08 May 2011.

“Crayon Shinchan.” KikuTV.com. Web. 8 May 2011. .
Feigenbaum, Harvey B. “Hegemony of Diversity in Film and Television? The United States, Europe and Japan.” The Pacific Review 20.3 (2007): 371-96. Print.

Fukunaga, Natsuki. “Those Anime Students: Foreign Language Literacy Development through Japanese Popular Culture.” International Reading Assosiation 50.3 (2006): 206-22. Print.

Gantayat, Anoop. “Record Start for Pokemon Black & White.” Andriasang, Gaming News From Japan. 21 Sept. 2010. Web. 08 May 2011.

Hamada, Masako. “Teaching Japanese Culture through Anime: A Case Study.” Asian Cinema 18.2 (2007): 197-219. Print.

McGinnis, Theresa Ann. “Khmer Rap Boys: X-men, Asia’s Fruits, and Dragonball Z: Creating Multilingual and Multimodal Classroom Contexts.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 50.7 (2007): 570-79. Print.

Robinson, W. I. (2008) Theories of Globalization, in The Blackwell Companion to Globalization (ed G. Ritzer), Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9780470691939.ch6