Tuesday, 25 May 2010


I've tried to write a few words about what I found disappointing about the finale and, in some sense, the entire final season of Lost.   To me, the show appealed as a piece of science fiction, a mystery and a quirky "things aren't really as they appear" narrative along the lines of the Twilight Zone.  It wasn't, originally,  about the characters or relationships.  Note that the writers were actually going to kill off Jack in the second episode.  The show took great delight in having beloved characters die without warning.  This wasn't Brothers and Sisters or Friends.  So, I felt disappointed in the authors retreating to that storyline in the end.

I think that what distinguishes good science fiction from fairy tales and silly flights of fancy, is that good science fiction will tell a compelling and complicated but always consistent story about a state of affairs in which the laws of nature differ from ours or which may or may not be true in our world.  The good science fiction explores how those deviations from reality  explain the kinds of things that go on in the sci fi world.  Good science fiction doesn't require suspension of disbelief once you've understood and accepted the fundamental differences between our world and the sci fi world under consideration.   So in good science fiction, obligations to give or allow for compelling and reasonable explanations remain.  Lost appeared to be doing that for some time, exploring a world which didn't necessarily differ radically from the real world and in which the strange departures would make sense as we learned more about the basic differences between our world and Lost world.

Secondly, it also worked as a mystery and as a quirky "nothing is as it appears" story.  Of course, mysteries are interesting exactly insofar as they invite us to read/watch/listen along as potential clues are offered up and we simultaneously test our own ability to extract and reconstruct the data to explain the strange goings on.   A mystery isn't fun to read if the mystery can't be explained with the information that has been shared with the audience along the way.

Somewhere along the way, Lost  pulled a bait and switch.  It gave up on being a compelling mystery/sci fi story and turned it into a story about relationships and people finding happiness. The writers thumbed their noses at those of us interested in what had seemed to be a compelling and fascinating mystery involving science and  metaphysics.  After throwing out all kinds of mysteries and situations requiring explanation, it just gave up and said, "Oh yeah, we were just telling a story about people" and relationships.   The mysterious island, well, it's still mysterious and the final episode has some implausible hokum in which the island can be turned on or off with some wine-stopper like plug, less compelling or interesting than the fairy tales one might read to a four year old.  For some reason, the writers assumed instead that what viewers would care about would be mawkish, inexplicable and irrelevant reunions of people who'd already died.  As one commenter put it,

 They [writers] couldn’t have proved them [those who argued that the ending would be a big cop out]  more right if they’d had Jesus and Krishna themselves make an appearance on the island and tell Jack that, “everyone will go to a warm, lovely place that they made together to be together to remember that they were together somewhere for some reason, because that’s what people have been wasting their time for six years to find out.”

I feel as if I were reading a fascinating mystery novel in which lots of strange things happen and along the way various protagonists die only to have the book end by ignoring the obvious questions that the mystery had raised and instead telling some silly story about all the characters getting together in heaven and being really happy about seeing each other.  Any one of Jimmy Kimmel's endings would have been better.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Tea Party and pick and choose freedom

Leonard Pitts wrote an article a little while ago about a poll of Tea Party participants and argued that the "poll offers strong evidence that, contrary to the denials of tea party enthusiasts, President Obama's race plays a big role in their outrage. Indeed, researchers found a significant correlation between racial resentment and tea party zeal."  Pitts argues that their alleged concerns over taxation and deficits and socialism are as appropriately or more appropriately made at either of the two Bush presidencies and that this fact and the poll respondents' views on racial questions suggest that what's really at issue here are concerns about race.  I've seen other similar arguments which note that what concerns people is not just Obama's race but the fact that homosexuals and Latinos have made significant strides in this administration.   But those arguments overlook, I think, the fact that GWB's administration elevated people like Colin Powell, Condi Rice and Alberto Gonzalez to very high positions of power.  So, I've tried to keep sort of an open mind here. 

Nonetheless, recent events give further pause.  If you were pro-freedom and pro-markets, wouldn't you be pro-immigration, e.g., like super  libertarian, Bryan Caplan.  (see, for example, link 1 or link 2).  But even if you're not pro-immigration, at the very least if you're a Tea Partier, you're opposed to big government, right?  You don't want the government to be able to pull people over and demand papers, that kind of stuff happens only in totalitarian regimes that scoff at the notion of individual liberty.   But the Arizona Tea Party called people to action to support this immigration bill.  (link 2)  The Tea Party, or an important Tea Party member, also insists that driver's license tests should be English only.

 There's a strange notion of freedom operating here, no worries about government overstepping power when it's going to start going around asking for ID papers or forcing you to speak English to get a driver's license.   In light of these clarifications on what kind of  curious notion of freedom the Tea Party supports, I find Rand Paul's objections to the 1964 Civil Rights Act particularly jarring.  The Tea Party will  not only let these other assaults on freedom go but even encourages them and yet draws a line, or at least Paul does, at standing up for the rights of business owners to refuse to serve black people or draws a line by sticking up for rights of employers to refuse to make accommodation for people with disabilities (Paul also disagrees with the Americans with Disabilities Act).    So, it's not wholesale freedom that the Tea Party supports, not a freedom for disabled people to access the workplace or freedom of all people to be able to access the same services as white people, or even a freedom from demands for papers, it's a more limited notion of freedom, a freedom for the rich and empowered to continue doing whatever they want, the freedom to maintain the status quo however unfair or unjust it may be.  Screw their ad hoc notion of freedom and bigotry wrapped in talk of patriotism, I think Pitts may be on to something.