Thursday, February 28, 2013

Red Dwarf. Reminding us where even a benign path can lead.

You may have seen the pictures of Dennis Rodman sitting court side at a basketball games beside the current dictator for life of North Korea.

And the image of Rodman sitting by North Korea's latest Dear Leader sparked an entertainment memory of mine. All these years later, having seen him once young and strange and talented, he's sitting in odd company. So a spark of remembrance was lit.

Namely, an episode of Red Dwarf, "Out of Time". In it, beyond the rest of the plot, the crew of Red Dwarf cross paths with themselves, from far in their futures. And they are shocked at what they see.

Future Rimmer: Haven't you anything better than this hogwash? We're used to the best! 
Future Kryten: Kryten, we're epicures now. We travel through history enjoying the very best time has to offer. 
Future Rimmer: Dolphin sweetmeats, roast suckling elephants, baby seal hearts stuffed with dove pate. Food fit for emperors! 
Future Lister: We socialize with all of the greatest figures in history, the Hapsburgs, the Borgias. 
Future Kryten: Why, only last week, Louis the 16th threw a banquet especially in our honor. 
Future Rimmer: The man is a complete delight, urbane, witty, charming. 
Kryten: He was an idiotic despot who lived in the most obscene luxury while the working classes starved in abject poverty. 
Future Rimmer: Well, we certainly didn't see any of that while we were there! 
Future Kryten: And his wife's an absolute cutie. 
Future Cat: I think they're our favorite hosts. If you don't count the Hitlers. 
Kryten: The who?! 
Future Rimmer: Providing you avoid talking politics, they're an absolute hoot. 
Kryten: You're good friends with the Hitlers?! 
Future Kryten: It's just a social thing. We don't talk about his work. We just have a few laughs, play canasta, and enjoy the odd game of mixed doubles with the Goerings. 
Kryten: I don't believe what I'm hearing! 
Future Rimmer: Look, you have to understand we travel back and forth throughout the whole of history, and naturally we want to sample the best of everything. It's just a bit unfortunate that the finest things tend to be in the possession of people who are judged to be a bit dodgy. 
Kryten: Herman Goering is a bit dodgy! What has become of you all? You've all abandoned your morals, been seduced by power and wealth. All you're interested in now is indulging your carnal desires. 
Future Rimmer: And could we tell you some stories about that! 
Kryten: I don't recognize any of you! You're just amoral self-serving scum, freeloading your way through history!

And with that, the Red Dwarf team are moved to kick their future selves off the ship. Seeing how they change, they hope to escape the fate of becoming who they're destined to become. And then they blew up...You have to go and watch the episode.

I don't want to completely judge Rodman based on next to no information. He's there with the Harlem Globetrotters, and they are doing some goodwill work. I am all for that. It's just I wonder how much entertaining the little dictator and his select audience will do.

Anyway, being reminded of this episode, I wanted to tie it to our political environment, and something that does happen too often. How people cross paths with government and often become corrupted by access and the goodies that come.

(Of course, this scifi tale is a little too perfect. No example for the current world can match it. They go on to literally befriend and pal around with Hitler! No hyperbole, it is what they do. The story makes a nice extreme case.)

Plenty seem to get lost in the glamour, the money, the soirees, the proximity to power, the cocktail parties, being treated as important. Often we see journalists enter the Beltway scene and get invited to events and parties. They are good ways to connect with interviewees, makes contacts, and learn details for stories. So I can't fault the engagement.

But it's the balancing act that follows that troubles. A piece too hard on the Senate Majority Whip might get you uninvited to an event. Or a report on some trouble with an oil lobbyist will a source to clam up. Or critical stories on the White House leads to people from it refusing to do your show. And you're asked to lighten blows, or pass up stories, so as to not rock the boat of your access.

 Beyond that you may just become friends that you frequently interact with. We've seen this with reporters embedded with troops, travelling with generals, or just following a presidential campaign. You spend days and months together and you...well, let's be honest, it's a variation on Stockholm Syndrome. Suddenly a scandal doesn't need to be broken. The violent way troops handle an incursion into a city following losses is something you have no right to question. When the general violates the uniform code it's just not for you to challenge.

It's all so easy. Just go along to get along. And, if you are "good enough", you may get that front page column at the New York Times. You may be the go to talking head for the afternoon cable hosts. You may become the host of Meet the Press. And then you can look back at who you once were, back at the start, and scoff just like the Future Crew of Red Dwarf do.

And like Future Kryten, you can say to yourself, "Good grief! I can't believe I used to be such a stuck up pompous prig." And you can get back to memorizing your soft ball questions for John McCain.

Red Dwarf
And, just in case someone is going to be pedantic. I know that in the episode of Red Dwarf I reference here, they weren't aboard Red Dwarf (the massive mining ship the show is named over), but aboard Starbug (the amazingly well stocked shuttle from Red Dwarf. I just wanted to keep the narrative as simple as possible (particularly since I have a habit of over complicating things).

And, I know, "Jack? Why Red Dwarf?" Hey! It works. Just be happy I didn't feel the need to explain or connect thematically what happened to Winnie the Pooh on Red Dwarf.

Now let's all walk away.

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