The SciFi of Homelessness

Just to start–realize that I do not believe in ‘homelessness”. One’s home IS one’s country. Secondly, it is this planet. One may be unaccommodated, [living rough], “alternatively housed” [tent cities, squats, vehicles] or in any number of other difficult living situations, but one cannot BE “homeless”.

You have a home. You may not have a “legal” address. Does someone who live in the Black hole of Calcutta in an illegal squat say they are “homeless” or do they say that Calcutta is their home but they are poor?

Now that that’s been clarified –let’s move onto today’s Ponderation topic.

_______________

I am a SciFi junkie.

I was pondering lately two significant camps of belief about how to resolve the situations of unhoused people while re-watching *Battlestar Galactica*.

Major plot holes aside for the moment, I began to wonder why I loved the *Farscape* concept so much more even if it was much “darker”.

Then I realized, it was about philosophy. How I believe we need to tackle and resolve human rights struggles, including economic disadvantages and the lack of adequate housing.

It is my viewpoint that only the de-housed can save ourselves by relying on our accumulated skills and wisdom regardless of what mistakes or disruption we may, in error or by deliberation, execute in pursuit of our mutual goal. There’s no organized “great plan” of action, no matter who claims to be selling the best brand of hotdogs in the ballpark of the global housing struggle.

It’s a situation by situation, call. Country by country. City by city. Space by space. Face facts. Reality check. No big authority is just going to hand over enough housing no matter how much weeping and moaning anyone does about it.

*************

There’s fantasy–and then there is SciFi that is based in an alternative place/time while the storyline explores the human condition.

*Battlestar Galactica* is about a group of humans who, due to their arrogance of playing God with artificial intelligence technology, find themselves on the wrong side of a genocide rained upon them by their own robotic creations, the Cylons. Humanity’s planets are bombed out of existence.

Consequently, humanity becomes homeless, fleeing in their few remaining spaceships. Eventually they “triumph over adversity” by regressing technologically to the stone age, blissfully sacrificing their hard-won technological achievements as they come to terms with the prophesied Cylon-Human relationship because “God” intervened with ‘angels’ leading them to the promised land. Then we close with a shot of a toy robot for sale, thousands of years in the future. Full circle. Stop. Start again. Rinse. Repeat.

Farscape is about a scientist/astronaut who is accidentally shot through a wormhole alone in his experimental pod then finds himself, through no fault of his own, in another galaxy during a shoot out between escaping prisoners and their lawful captors.

“Homeless” is truly an apt description. John Creighton of Farscape is both physically and metaphorically, lost– light years from all he knows and the civilizations he encounters are far beyond his technological comprehension. It’s a violent, dangerous universe. He has no idea where he is, how to get home, or how to improve his situation. He is confounded by who is allied with whom, who is reliable–or not, and the political/social/cultural realities of his new situation.

For once, in a SciFi show–humans are perceived as *backwards*. They are physically, socially and mentally deficient in comparison to the advances of alien cultures. They are not the Great Masters of the Universe. Hell, in the beginning, John Creighton, our Great American hero, does not even know how to open a door.

He’s tentative, insecure and eager to please–the same response most people have in a completely alien, anxiety-provoking situation when they are suddenly faced with a complete sociological shift.

He’s just a nice guy, who accidentally bounced through a wormhole into the wrong place, at the wrong time. Others alternately bully and con the new guy. Not much different than popping into the local homeless drop in, the first time.

As time goes by, our hero becomes hardened from having to defend himself, with a crew of escaped prisoner allies, against other threats in the galaxy. In some cases, the crew is terrorized by others out of malice. Galactic authorities want the information on how Creighton traversed the wormhole so they can control territory and of course, control inter-galactic economics through warfare.

The political powers that exist want Creighton’s labour and his knowledge, but they’re not offering anything in return since they have no respect for his unknown species. He was not born into a powerful race or a respected class. His knowledge is a commodity but he, as a person, is expendable.

Nobody on our hero’s team wants to be there. Everyone has dangerous secrets, not everyone gets along very well yet they must learn to depend on each other, glaring flaws and all, or be destroyed by those that hold the power. Everyone is running from something. Everyone is an outcast. Everyone is alien to each other. Everyone has self-interests. Everyone has annoying personal quirks. They all have strikingly different values and ethics. There’s little common ground beyond the collective need to survive. They become the stereotypically dysfunctional faux family unit.

None of our heroes remain untainted by their experiences.

Creighton, who starts out as reasonable, compassionate and sensible is then relentlessly driven by the violence committed against him and the violence he must in turn, commit to survive, over the line of sanity.

No Universal Fairy Godmother steps up and directs the events. No “great plan” is in motion. Good people suffer and die merely from being in the wrong places, at the wrong times. The “bad guys” have justifiable, logical and often perfectly sensible reasons why they do “bad things to good people”. Sometimes, the bad guys align with our crew due to circumstances that threaten their personal survival. Some people are just plain helpful and pleasant. Some aren’t. Sometimes the good guys sell out to meet their own needs. The Farscape universe, like our lives, is in ever-changing flux.

The major characters are all displaced and simply trying to stay alive until they can work out their individual futures. They want to go home, or at least somewhere better. Everyone wants to improve the quality of their lives–good guys and bad guys alike.

Our protagonist, Creighton just wants what every ‘homeless’ person wants.

He wants to go home.

When he finally learns enough to jump a wormhole back to earth–he is so scarred emotionally from his ordeals, he can’t relate to “home” any more.

He can’t share his feelings with anyone except his ‘alien’ shipmates. His experiences have made his universe larger, more threatening and his viewpoint is beyond the comprehension of those in his world that remained in their comfortable lives. There is no common ground of understanding, no matter how much his loved ones reach out for him. His knowledge of galactic power-jockeying and how that impacts on his personal situation, as well as the future of the Earth and the universe–is too great a divide to cross.

His previous conception of “home” as a “safe place” is forever destroyed.

By the finale, what he’s seen, what he’s experienced and what he’s done to insure the survival of his cohorts and his newborn son, literally “blows his mind”.

My problem with Battlestar Galactica is that the “hand of God” reaches down and intervenes with blatant biased favoritism. There is no doubt all fates are guided by this unseen force. Suddenly, all of the learning that the survivors go through, abominable abuses of each other, acts of heroism, commitment, betrayal, compassion, love and horror–EVERYTHING is “part of the plan” and therefore, all predestined. In this world view suffering is excusable and readily surmountable because it will lead to a “new home”. Everything will turn out just fine [including gargantuan plot holes] because it’s all “God’s Plan”. Most of the crew get a lovely new start on a leafy new unpolluted pioneer world complete with a pre-civilization race of humanoids for breeding purposes. Hum “It’s A Small World After All”. Fade to black.

All the BSG characters turn out to be nothing more than marionettes playing their assigned roles on the stage of some obscene morality play as an unseen, all-knowing God pulls the strings.

It never occurs to the writers that “primitive” tribal people might have their own agendas and that the Battlestar survivors are invaders. They’re just conveniently available for procreation to ensure the survival of the human race. It’s all “God’s Plan For the Future Of Mankind”.

I have to cynically analyze a prime time TV show selling the futuristic concept that some God must commit genocide on billions of lives repeatedly through a karmic eternity, then turn the survivors of each holocaust into homeless refugees because “we have all been here before and we will all be here again” simply to hammer home the point that humans are stupid and as such, must keep repeating our experiences, ad nauseum until we “get it” –if humans weren’t such sinful critters putting our technology before worshiping God then we collectively deserve to suffer for the sins of the few guilty parties.

Included in these justifiably nuked “sinners” are billions of religiously fundamentalist peasants who never touched a computer. Billions of children and non-military labourers–equally sinful. They all deserve to be slaughtered, starved, hunted and homeless on the altar of “God’s Great Plan”.

Frankly, that kind of god figure makes the Daleks appear positively beneficent. At least the Daleks just screech “Exterminate!” then get it over with. They aren’t conning anyone that it’s done out of “love”.

I don’t doubt there’s a political agenda pushing BSG as the “Greatest SciFi show ever”. Entertainment is fine. I like to be entertained. I actually enjoyed much of BSG, for what it’s worth. I DO think, however, that we need to analyze the message it’s sending because like it or not–we are affected by the general population’s acceptance of such philosophies espoused by public entertainment.

In such a “there’s a greater plan” world we might as well all hold hands, wailing “Oh Give Me A Home Where the Buffalo Roam!” at the top of our lungs while quoting some ancient dusty tome so that in God’s Great Housing Plan, pastel painted, rent-geared-to-income suburbs will magically appear on the distant horizon fully furnished, including big screen plasma TV’s. Then we can float gently towards our eternal rest homes while being filmed through a Vaseline-smeared video lens provided by Faux news and proceed to watch ourselves on our new tellies.

What we do to each other, how we can acquire more housing, or what we suffer to accomplish it–doesn’t matter if it’s all part of “the plan”. Now don’t you just feel like a special and unique snowflake? Why does no one ever question what happens to the “not-quite-as-special” snowflakes that simply exist to suffer and die as minor characters in some Great Cosmic Plan?

I find “God’s Plan” idealism a far more dangerous concept than our Farscape team of pragmatists who must make questionable decisions, live with guilt, shame and remorse while they cross ethical lines to survive as they rely on each other’s good will, trying to rebuild broken trust, hoping for the best against overwhelming odds–even if the ending isn’t supremely happy because it’s unlikely any of our Farscape team will ever be going “home” again.

It’s no wonder Farscape was canceled a few years ago over the voracious objections of a tremendously growing fan base as it careened towards it’s ominous conclusion yet recently, BSG stayed on the air as a rapidly diminishing population of viewers chronically complained of awkward plots and badly written scripts.

The do-nothing-and-pray fantasy of “divine intervention” is much more palatable to corporate sponsors, incompetant and uncaring government bureaucrats/politicians, fundamentalist religious leaders and all too often, the media-brainwashed public than the morally tenuous reality of desperate people pulling together dysfunctionally using desperate means to survive and knowing that after being de-housed, even if the situation is rectified at a later date, there’s no going back to “the way it was.”

We are forever, fundamentally altered by such experiences.

If we’re all waiting for the Hand-of-God-Governments to swoop down and solve the housing problems with some half-baked Deux Ex Machina plot–we may as well hand over the entire planet to the Cylons/Peackeepers/Scarrans/Daleks/Corporations/Republicans/Conservatives right now.

Otherwise, we might be wise to lay our differences aside awhile and start teaming up the best we can to grab some of our planet back before the series is cancelled.

MetisRebel I tolerate dissent readily. Debate me, go for it. Jump on it. However, I expect that we are adults and no matter how much pain and suffering any of us have been through, or how personally affected we may be by this, I believe we are capable of tolerating dissent. In fact, the true measure of freedom is the extent to which a society tolerates differing opinions.

18 Comment(s)

  1. once again, i would rather live in your world…you go. hug the plants and pat the dog. peace.

    s buckle | Jul 17, 2009 | Reply

  2. Hey the big plant FINALLY had a baby! Jeez, I thought only the runts were reproducing.

    I’ll save ya some mayo.

    MetisRebel | Jul 17, 2009 | Reply

  3. Good post, more government intervention doesn’t solve problems, it just creates them and eats away at our freedom.

    Byndi | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  4. Well, in the BSG that I remember (the 80’s), I never watched the end of the series, but they never gave me the impression of being homeless. Nomadic, yes, but the humans were a pretty close group, most of them caring for each other.

    That said the role of a Government in a mixed economy is much more complex than a Deus Ex Machina plot. It does not exists in isolation (state, local, private providers), nor it has an absolute will, and, I hope, it’s not trying to nuke anybody into stone age, just to solve homelessness

    Well, I hope :)

    Miguel de Luis | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  5. Sorry Miguel, I should have made clear that it was the *second* version of BSG.

    In the first version, if I recall correctly there is also the underlying theme that “God/Angels” will “save” everyone in the end and predestination is also a recurring pattern.

    “That said the role of a Government in a mixed economy is much more complex than a Deus Ex Machina plot.”

    Well and that’s my point about us sitting around believing we are unique snowflakes in a plan. And why the government/corporations would prefer we believe that [and so, sell us entertainment based on the concept] because it is an ineffectual philosophy that serves *their* interests–not ours.

    If we are NOT unique snowflakes then we’d best join our flakiness into snowballs so we can throw ourselves at ‘em and get their attention *wink*

    MetisRebel | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  6. Byndi:

    “Good post, more government intervention doesn’t solve problems, it just creates them and eats away at our freedom.”

    Thank you for your support but I believe that dichotomy is also a myth.

    It’s not about the SORT of democratic government one has [democratic libertarianism, democratic socialism] it is about HOW MUCH the tax and power bases reflect the *will of the people*.

    When corporations and banking institutions are roaming the world free to abuse the labour force, murder, pollute and bankrupt the citizens on an ongoing basis, one can yell “democracy” at the top of one’s lungs–it’s NOT.

    Nobody voted in the CEO’s. They have been pushing through the agenda of “private property” and “property rights” while singing publicly that it is about the “citizen’s right to private property.”

    No, it isn’t. It isn’t about some working shmuck’s right to live in his house without the police bashing down the door [ if it was there'd be no "Terrorism Acts"], or making sure some musician gets money for creating, etc. It’s about THEIR control of everyone’s economy–not your government’s.

    And THAT is where the government intervention needs to happen. Because as long as *they* have the economic power to make people homeless, abuse and starve them, they hold every card over the head of the average citizen by using your own government against you while you get less and less say about how your tax dollars are spent.

    It’s about global corporate CONTROL.

    Think about it. If you had access to some corporate profit, land, resources [and comparatively speaking, you wouldn't need much] there would be plenty of housing, food and with some skills and resources–diverse ways of making a living.

    The average citizen did not get any wealthier since government controls came off corporations–the average citizens became noticeably *poorer*.

    What needs to happen is MORE government control on corporate greed and LESS government control on how citizens conduct their personal lives–when to survive the financially disadvantaged start taking over housing, or growing their own food, or figuring out inexpensive solutions to their dilemmas.

    Taking over an empty building doesn’t *hurt* anyone. Stealing YOUR tax dollars for corporate welfare to pollute, abuse workers, and suck up real estate that sits unused–DOES.

    MetisRebel | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  7. very interesting argument made here, I agree with the first part especially about the planet being our home. And that ‘homeless’ being used is really just meant to mean temporarily houseless.

    Television Spy | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  8. This is such a great article, I can’t commend you enough.

    I too was homeless for a period of a couple months last year, and you are so spot-on with the part about not being able to relate to your old friends and family when you finally do get back home.

    I’ve been struggling to find the right words to put my experience into, luckily you have done it for me. Excellent article.

    dethkon | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  9. dethkon:

    Thank you for your response. I’m glad writing it helped you feel understood.

    I don’t know if you know any WWII vets. My father was one.

    He couldn’t speak of what it was like to have people shooting at him and him having to shoot back. He was just a gentle farm boy who was trying to survive and get back home.

    It’s a similar paradigm.

    I think, what fundamentally changes us in the experience is not just what gets done to us–it’s what we do to survive. It’s the moments when we are terrified, when we wonder where our courage has gone, when we wonder what concept of “honour” we are supposed to have when it is -25f and all we want to do is curl up and cry.

    It’s the times we are ashamed because we are so stressed out by our conditions that we reacted to someone, badly.

    How can anyone explain those to someone who hasn’t experienced it?

    Then we are moments where we are proud of what we’ve done. The times we’ve stood up for someone else, the times we survived impossible odds, the times we did something kind, courageous or inventive or someone did that for us. Sometimes we miss the people we had out there They kept us alive to tell this tale.

    If we tell “normal” people about those positive experiences–they just look at us with pity that those occurrences, which seem so small in their eyes–are such a big effort in a de-housed environment.

    They see the crack in the pavement. We see the dandelion. And we see whose feet are stomping on it.

    MetisRebel | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  10. Thank you TVSpy.

    I did think there were two fundamentally different viewpoints of “homeless” presented by BSG2 and Farscape.

    MetisRebel | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  11. Wow, finally a word to apply to my growing dislike of BSG (as I watch it now that its done)…the farther into the fourth season I get, the sillier it seems to be. Though you should put some spoiler tags at the top of your post, guy…may well be that everybody who is going to see it already has, but chances are some people will get a spoiled show by reading your excellent post. Other than that, it does kinda make sense - good shows get canceled, bland crap gets mass-produced. Le sigh.

    Gonzobot | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  12. Gonzobot:

    Good point about the spoilers–didn’t think about it. Pretty hard to spoil the plot ending–the writer did that.

    MetisRebel | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  13. Well said.

    I never looked at those shows in that light, but now I have yet another reason to like Farscape and dislike BSG. What you said about the BSG story does not count as a spoiler, because it is such an absurdly arbitrary deus ex machina as to lose all dramatic relevance. For once, I see a show that would actually be a good fit for the old “the last two seasons were just a dream sequence” cheat.

    It would make perfect narrative sense: in their desperation, people increasingly turn to religion and magical thinking. Now that they’ve made their situation completely untenable by basing their actions on fantasies we can have a last minute series of flashbacks, as in Fight Club or The Sixth Sense, where we abruptly find out which parts of the story were delusions, or outright hallucinations.

    But the madness of crowds is so morally ambiguous and human. Just give the people a nice little fairy tale and be done with it.

    MGuy | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  14. MGuy:

    Both Farscape and Battlestar are fundamentally about homelessness. I suppose that’s why my gears started turning as I re-watched BSG.

    It’s not that the characters turn into religious lunatics under stress–that, in some people, is psychologically viable. It’s that the writer makes it *real* instead of questionable–as if HE is playing out his personal God fantasy.

    I think the most brilliant and risky move on the part of Farscape writer Rockne O’Bannon [brilliant, brilliant guy] was NOT hanging onto the “Oh gotta get home it will be a happy ending” for John Creighton.

    BSG pretty much copied the idea that when they found earth [the first time] it should be a wasteland. Planet of the Apes, anyone?

    The other psychologically real part of the characterizations is that the Farscape team don’t just bounce back from every escapade. As the show goes on–the viewer can SEE the toll that displacement, violence and stress is having on them.

    What bugs me is that BSG is considered “edgy”. Duh, whut? Because it shows a torture victim and it’s horrifying? Are viewers really that dumb they didn’t realize that? Or that suicide bombings are acts of desperation against a larger force? Is the viewing audience really that stupid or do the writers just think so?

    And what’s “edgy” about a show that says “Frak”?–drove me crazy every time I heard it. And in case you didn’t notice–Farscape invented it, used it ONCE and dropped it. Where it rightfully stayed until BSG decided to pick the idiot word back up.

    Aside from homelessness, put BSG up against Torchwood Season 3–which tackles class divides as well as other seriously hardcore problems such as the sell-out of the most vulnerable citizens by elected officials while the poor stick together and fight back ineffectively…and see which way the politics jump.

    In BSG2 the upper class military and unscrupulous politicians [it's for your own good!] are the majority of the ‘heroes’ even though the majority of the survivors are neither one. Tom Zarek, the revolutionary who wants elections and fairer working conditions is depicted as more corrupt than the people with the real power.

    Political agenda-wise, that says it ALL.

    Then there is the point that the BSG has a clear hierarchy palming itself off as a democracy.

    The Farscape crew are a *team*. Any one of them could be leading the charge, depending on who has the most information or skills in the area. The “hero” may bail them out sometimes, but just as frequently, he screws it up and they bail him out. Whole different perspective on democratic process, there.

    I think BSG fed right into the desires of its’ corporate sponsors. Nothing like a little corporate shilling propaganda in your entertainment. I can’t even stand TV anymore because it rarely depicts a team of ‘dysfunctional’ people accomplishing anything since Roseanne Barr went off the air.

    In real life–those are usually the people who are willing to do something risky to change things.

    PS: And Farscape has far superior dark humour.

    MetisRebel | Jul 18, 2009 | Reply

  15. I don’t think BSG was trying to promote its resolution and its implications as being better or neccesary. Just to make people who are watching it think those implications through when the credits roll. They can then re-assess their views on the subject having being presented with what might have been a new perspective… or dissmiss it all and write an essay fueled by cognitive dissonance.

    FlashMedallion | Jul 19, 2009 | Reply

  16. FlashMedallion:

    The whole point of “hero journey” stories is to promote a point of view through the hero’s journey and his/her allies. It’s a very specific and traditional storytelling technique. The protagonist is Bill Adama.

    Somehow I can’t see Religious fundamentalism as being anything “new”. The first BSG was based on The Book of Mormon.

    Using storytelling to explore that point of view can be interesting and there are two ways of doing that. One is to “make it real” and be consistent in the mythology so that it leads to a conclusion. “Desperation” by Stephen King and “Prophecy” are such stories. The other, as a writer is to leave it open whether or not there is an unseen hand aka “Dune” and Babylon 5.

    BSG didn’t do that, either. BSG did not follow it’s own created mythology in it’s religious plotline. That is why IMDB is stacked with fans b*tching about the idiotic conclusion.

    The first two seasons are fairly consistent. Three is passable. By four–the plot is Swiss cheese.

    It’s not “cognitive dissonance”–that would be the result in the characters if all the foregoing religious hoopla turned out to be hogwash because the Cylons manipulated the results.

    Actually, that would be a MUCH better ending.

    MetisRebel | Jul 19, 2009 | Reply

  17. I think the distinction between homeless and houseless is brilliant. I haven’t seen either show, but I would object to the hero of Farscape being unable to live with what he’s been through. For those of us who have endured the unendurable, sometimes the world does seem pretty bizarre as people walk around not knowing a thing about what we’ve been through. But so many of us put our all into living an ordinary life even with that knowledge and the impact it continues to have. I think that should be honoured.

    Lilian Nattel | Jul 19, 2009 | Reply

  18. Lilian, I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    It’s not that the main characters in Farscape can’t live with their experiences [most of them survive] it’s that they are profoundly altered and do not end the show without some serious psychological changes. They will never be going “home” or be the same, again.

    Some become more caring, some shed their nativity, some become more trustworthy or less so– and most have periods of mental instability where they lash out or are profoundly distressed. That’s what’s so brilliant about it.

    “For those of us who have endured the unendurable, sometimes the world does seem pretty bizarre as people walk around not knowing a thing about what we’ve been through.”

    The struggle for us is that although we may accept and even, “appreciate” some of our experiences–we are in a society that depreciates the collective wisdom we’ve gained through hardship.

    The small snarly little abuses we were subjected to seem petty to many. It’s not that those daily oppressions and stigmatizing moments were hugely impactful in themselves–it was the sheer volume of them we must struggle with.

    That’s what’s so difficult to explain to financially stable people.

    It’s also difficult to explain to people who believe in “safety” that we have lost our concept of “safe”. We know it’s a myth. One financial disaster and no one is safe below the 1M per year mark is “safe”–not matter how much money they saved, what “trusted” investments they think they have, their education level, their job status, their mental health status or their personal history. On our travels, we meet people who “had it all” and lost it through some disaster or another.

    Sometimes, we can’t tell people what we’ve done because there’s no getting around it–they WILL “think less of us”. They may not mean to–but the proof is all over the media, entertainment and the web. We know that “the right suit” will not get us the job–but the right address, might.

    Most of us see right through the illusions.

    I sometimes find it unbearable to listen to those still living in that dreamworld. I feel frustrated by their blind beliefs and want to shake them out of their complacency. Often, I can’t hang around them for long.

    I don’t know how you feel about it.

    MetisRebel | Jul 19, 2009 | Reply

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