Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fiction's Philosophy

TV Series Fight Fate

As the current TV season surges to its climax, in just one week we’ve seen Fringe’s Walter try to save a different version of his son from an alternative universe, Flash Forward’s Agent Noh hear that his path to avoid dying could not be changed, and The Legend of the Seeker’s Zed worry that his action to change the forces of evil would still lead to the prophecy of doom.

Fiction has viewers always clamoring for an alternative chance to redo a past act, but the philosophy in us asks whether any chance to relive a moment would only bring the same result.

Why have so many examples of speculative fiction this year decided to explore this theme? Fiction has reveled in the question. The remake of The Time Machine in 2002 showed that despite the protagonist’s best efforts, he was unable to prevent his love from being killed despite trying to change key events. Orson Scott Card’s novel Pastwatch included a scene where characters from the future attempted to delay Columbus’ ships from arriving at Hispaniola at a key time. They changed an event, but the ships still arrived as though the pull of fate was gravity.

Yet years after the passing of the Star Trek’s three series, questions about changing time erupt again. In this year, we have seen the concern that fate’s decisions cannot be countered by our best intentions. Fringe’s Walter rescued an alternative son when his boy died of a rare disease. But the events of the theft of the alternative son set in motion a war between the two universes. As the agents in Flash Forward try to avoid the destruction many have seen in a vision of the future, they are told that all the possible paths will lead to the same concluding event. Despite the Seeker’s faith in his abilities to make his own fate, he sees his friends always hurt by attempts to change a path that is foretold.

Fiction reflects the present world, the past and future too. In our world of tech advancements that require updates every micro-second, certainty is evasive. Since 9/11 the shock value of fear can drive people to think individual action would fail when it faces the inevitable. Individuals who worked in the Ground Zero cleanup thought the government protected their health. Yet many still are denied health coverage for sicknesses related to the cleanup. The public expected a quick victory against the forces of terrorism, yet the problems have increased. So the fiction verbalizes the fears, casting a father in Fringe, a protector of society in Flash Forward, and a fantasy knight in The Legend of the Seeker. Yet the question that plagues them gnaws at our being — we dare ask if we can find an alternative path to upset a seemingly powerful destiny.

- Tom Pope

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