Tuesday, April 22, 2014

17363--Must We See Eye-to-Eye?

Do you have anyone whom you consider close to you whose views on life and politics differ wildly from your own?


How about a fictional character?  Are there any you find you enjoy immensely yet you realize you might feel conflicted about their goals or methods of achieving them?

Varying views on how our lives should be lived have probably been around since before we invented words to use to argue with each other.  As Colonel Hunter Gathers once said, "The minute God crapped out the third caveman there was a conspiracy formed against one of them."  Some people play it off as needless drama, but conflict is the friction that motivates action.  In fiction, that conflict may be portrayed as anything that gives the protagonist difficulty in reaching his goal, even if it's the protagonist himself.

Two politically charged science fiction TV shows that have distinguished themselves with their writing over the last few years are Person of Interest and Continuum.  In the latter, the primary goal of the protagonists is to make use of information provided by an independent artificial intelligence to save the lives of people it perceives to be in imminent danger.  Their secondary goal is protecting the technology from being abused by government and corporate operatives who seek to control the AI's omniscience (it constantly gathers information by all-pervasive monitoring of surveillance and telecommunication systems) and is willing to kill anyone their ranks who even knows about the AI's existence.  The AI doesn't share what it learns, so people's secrets are secure.  The Machine (as they call it) merely points its virtual finger, leaving the humans to determine whether they're being pointed at someone who needs to be helped or stopped.  Additionally, another threat to the protagonists and the Machine has been introduced in the form of a citizens' rights group called Vigilance which is militantly opposed to any invasions of privacy.  Vigilance wants the Machine and its human contacts stopped by any means necessary.  They're all operating in the shadows.

I appreciate the show's writing, offering heroes who attempt to mask pain with wit and work to save lives even if they belong to people they don't like or if they have to do things they'd rather not.  No shortage of emotional conflicts here.  Am I opposed to ubiquitous surveillance?  Definitely.  I also understand that the show's ongoing conflicts regarding the Machine exist because each faction believes that their position is the right one.  It's like a televised debate out of current news, but with violence, plots and some advocacy for individual rights.  Of course, everyone fighting for the people would be labeled a terrorist by the government.
The other show gets more complicated.  Continuum has plenty of advanced technology, but the pivot point of this program is time travel.  The protagonist is a protector (law enforcement officer) displaced from sixty-five years in the future.  She wants to return to her husband and child, but she can't even consider that until stopping the escaped criminals who've also come back in time intending to change the course of history.  It seems that the antagonists don't like the corporatocratic, oligarchic dystopia of the North American Union and its Corporate Congress.  Wait, did I describe the future or the present?  Just kidding, although their future sure looks like it could be woven from a tapestry already in the works today.  In 2077, the high-surveillance police state is so firmly in control that the criminal freedom fighters have decided that killing it in its infancy is their only chance at changing their world.

Well, doesn't that put us in an interesting position?  We have a heroine struggling to protect lives until she can return to her family and job in a future where debtors can be consigned to life at mindless slave labor.  We have outlaws organizing radical citizens' rights groups and killing seemingly harmless people to thwart the construction of a future they've already changed.  It's especially hard to cheer the protector on when most of the glimpses we're shown of the future involve the state killing or otherwise oppressing people.  In fact, while it initially seems that her trip to the present was accidental, it's revealed that it was engineered by the future's chief architect and corporate mogul who also wants a different version of the future than the one he has had a great hand in crafting (though his means of effecting that change involves making alterations in his younger self).  From what we've seen of him in the future, he seems a far gentler soul than the dark world around him.

Like I said, it's a bit more complicated.  The likable heroine is fighting for a future I would detest.  Her redeeming virtue comes in that she's not doing it because she's a stiff-necked fascist, she just loves her family.  The harsh antagonists are using terrorist tactics in ruthlessly championing a cause I'd support.  And they all come off believably, so I'd say they've crafted the twisting of methods and goals effectively.

[Spoiler: The start of season 3 explains that a even a short trip back in time basically unravels the timeline one has left in favor of the creation of a new one.  The new one may resemble the old, but there's no guarantee as to how much.]

For me, I'm going to say we don't have to agree with every aspect of characters to appreciate them.  They merely need to be well-crafted.  Disagreements can be educational, thought-provoking, and perhaps even enlightening.  A little challenge to our normal way of thinking may help us see things from a different point-of-view.

How do you feel?

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