TV Goodness (Or not)

Posted by Unrepentant Escapist

November 3, 2009 -- 3:22 p.m.

Modern Marvels did an episode on "Barbarian Battle Tech." Though even the show seems to acknowledge that "Barbarians" to cover everything from the Celts to the Huns is perhaps not the best word, the info about the weapons will be interesting to any fantasy enthusiast. I had no clue that the Celts had chariots, though I wonder if they really did use them in the way described. It seems--un-Celtic. It also says that there is a surprising advantage to fighting naked except for blue paint--though mail is still a more effective protector.

Anyway, you can watch it here.

Tonight, ABC is premiering their latest hyped series--"V," which is apparently a remake of an earlier science fiction series with the same name. The first eight minutes of the show are available for free online.

Although I wouldn't waste your time on it, honestly. Unless you want to learn how not to tell a story.

It's just too formulaic. I can picture executives sitting around in a studio, ticking off demographic groups--there's the rebellious teen. The hard-worked single mother. The religious guy. The person being overlooked at work. And the black man.

It's obvious that the show is trying to invoke Lost--which I finally got around to watching--even the title minus theme music fade dramatically into the foreground. The show does try to hang a lampshade on it by joking that the movie Independence Day "is merely derivative of its other science fiction predecessors." But as far as I can tell, this series isn't going to be anything new.

The commercial where the alien asks the news reader "not to ask any questions that might portray them in a negative light" is amusing, not because of the obvious, overplayed menace in the question, but because the television news guy is all "what?" It's humorous because obviously, the writers haven't been involved in journalism, to act as if this stipulation is unusual or even unthinkable. Anyone who's worked with established politicians knows that in some cases, there are limits to the questions you can ask--which often have to be submitted in advance, no less. So how this request should surprise him...

Though, of course, the wisest politicians will field any question, because chances are, they know more about it than the reporter does. I was often pleasantly surprised as a newspaper editor at how intelligent the politicians were. They are not all spotlight seekers with good hair, strangely.

Anyway, "V" starts too slowly. It has none of Lost's in-your-face slashes of temporal displacement, a brilliant type of storytelling that should have obsoleted the "info-dump" in V's intro. Also, V's focus on so many characters dilutes any chance of me empathizing with one. You just can't flash cliches on the screen and expect me to identify with them. Either sink your teeth into the characters, or get to the special effects, else you leave me yawning.

Anyway, perhaps I'll be pleasantly surprised by the rest of the episode. There was a series, I think it was on sci-fi in the late 90s, that played with the same premise. But instead of this show, where the aliens were obviously bad guys, you never quite knew whether the visitors were good or bad. They offered human beings all this advanced technology, but the humans were still suspicious, and there were alien hate groups and all sorts of interesting, advanced themes. Too advanced, perhaps, for viewers. It was V's premise done right.

Looked up the show I liked: It was called "Earth: Final Conflict." I don't think I watched all five seasons, though. Either I quit watching after they killed off all the people I liked or they quit broadcasting in my area.

Anyway, speaking of Lost...

I was watching an episode with Rousseau and I suddenly realized, "That's Ambassador Delenn!" I was surprised it took me so long to notice--must be the lack of a bone plate. So I had to wikipedia it to make sure I was right, and it turns out that not only does Mira Furlan play both characters, she's also Croatian. Which means something to me because I did my college thesis on Yugoslavia. The ethnic cleansing there inspired the racial aspects of the novel I'm working on--as well as providing some of the motifs. Furlan is a Croatian who married a Serbian, and who fled Zagreb after she was harassed for attending an International Theater Festival in Serbia, making her, supposedly, a national traitor. She had agreed to do the performance before the war broke out.

It's a hard situation. On the one hand, you have this chance to remind the Serbians that their enemies are human, too -- something many soldiers obviously forgot during the war. Dialog between the two very similar cultures who had been living in peace together since WWII could have been a bridge to solve the genocidal rampages. Art should continue despite war.

However, at the same time, by participating in an event, no matter how international, in Belgrade, capital of your worst enemies, you are bringing legitimacy and helping, at least economically, the people who are massacreing you. Art may be beyond borders, but it can also be twisted. Politicized.

It must have been a tough decision. I cannot even begin to speculate what was the "moral" action was or what I would have done in Furlan's place. I wasn't in her situation, I haven't heard both sides of the story, etc. I strongly suspect I would have been out with the Croatian nationalist army, wielding whatever primitive weapon I could have against the superior armed Serbs, because if someone hurt the people I love, I couldn't not fight back. Whatever the rightness of her decision, Furlan's goodbye to Yugoslavia--written in response to the death threats she received when she got home, shows a woman of intellect and courage. And should be required reading for any writer whose characters are about to make "The Speech."

It's here in full, but an excerpt:

It seems that I've been chosen for some reason to be the filthy rag everyone uses to wipe the mud off their shoes. I am far too desperate to embark on a series of public polemics in the papers. I do, however, feel that I owe myself and my city at least a few words. Like at the end of some clumsy, painful love story, when you keep wanting, wrongly, to explain something more, even through you know at the bottom of your heart that words are wasted; there is no one left to hear them. It is over...

"I know that it may seem out of place to swear t0 pacifism, to swear to love and brotherhood of all peoples while people are dying, while children are dying, while young men are returning home crippled and mangled forever...But I have no other way of thinking. I cannot accept war as the only solution, I cannot force myself to hate, I cannot believe that weapons, killing, revenge, hatred, that such an accumulation of evil will ever solve anything. Each individual who personally accepts the war is in fact an accessory to the crime; must he not then take a part of the guilt for the war, a part of the responsibility?

In any case, I think, I know and I feel that it is my duty, the duty of our profession, to build bridges. To never give up on cooperation and community. Not the national community. The Professional community. The human community. And even when things are at their very worst, as they are now, we must insist to out last breath on building and sustaining bound between people. This is how we pledge to the future. And one day it will come...

It is terribly sad when one is forced to justification without having done anything wrong. There is nothing but despair, nausea and horror. I no longer have any decision to make. Others have decided for me. They have decided I must shut up, give up, vanish; they have abolished my right to come home...

Can the horror of war be used as a justification for every single nasty bit of filth we commit against our fellow man? Are we allowed to remain silent in the face of the injustice done to a friend or colleague and justify our silence by the importance of the great bright national objective?...

To whom am I addressing this letter? Who will read it? Who will even care to read it? Everyone is so caught up with great cause, that small personal fates are not important any more. How many friends do you have to betray to keep from committing he only socially acknowledged betrayal, the betrayal of the nation? How many petty treacheries, how many pathetic little dirty tricks must one do to remain "clean in the eyes of the nation"?

I am sorry, my system of values is different. For me there have always existed, and always will exist, only human beings, individual people, and those human beings (God, how few of them there are!) will always be excepted from generalization of any kind, regardless of events, however, catastrophic. I, unfortunately, shall never be able to "hate all Serbs", nor even understand what that really means. I shall always, perhaps until the moment the kind threats on the phone are finally carried out, hold my hand out to an anonymous person on the "other side", a person who is as desperate and lost as I am, who is as sad, bewildered and frightened...

I reject, I refuse to accept such a crippling of myself and my own life. I played those last performances in Belgrade for those anguished people who were not "Serb" but human beings, human beings like me, human beings who recoil before this monstrous Grand Guignol farce in which dead are flying. It is to these people, both here and there, that I am addressing my words. Perhaps someone will hear me...

I am sending this letter into a void, into darkness, without an inkling of who will read it and how, or in how many different ways it will be misused or abused. Chances are it will serve as food for the eternally hungry propaganda beast. Perhaps someone with a pure heart will read it after all.

I will be grateful to that someone."

(Mira is apparently currently working on a film with Oscar winning director Danis Tanovic of "No Man's Land" called "Cirkus Kolumbia" which is tentatively slated for release in 2011. Not much info on it yet, but it looks interesting. Filming just started, so I wish her the best of luck!)


  1. Zlatna said...

    It wasn't a theatre conference, it was a highly respected International Festival, with performances by actors and theatre companies from all over the world.
    She had agreed to do the performance before the war broke out.

    The letter was not her goodbye to Croatia, but her goodbye to Yugoslavia.

    Mira is currently in Bosnia working on a film with the Oscar winning director Danis Tanovic called "Cirkus Kolumbia"

  2. Unrepentant Escapist said...

    Edits added.

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