Monthly Archives: November 2008

Lesson#4: Mutants are hip.

Sexy Mutant!  Rogue from X-Men

Sexy Mutant! Rogue from X-Men

Popular culture seems obsessed with mutants. We’ve come a long way from The Elephant Man, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mask, or The Great Mutato in The X-Files, as mutants have campaigned for better representation in the media. No longer media figures that teach the rest of us empathy and the value of humanity, mutants can now be sexy, beautiful, powerful, and enviable. There appears to be a strong divide between “good” mutants or “bad” mutants, meaning those who use their powers to help others versus those who become crazed with power, but “sad” mutants don’t really appear to be pop culture figures anymore (with the possibly exception of Rogue from X-Men). Mutants are now so desirable and hip that people are trying to make everyone mutants, from Mohinder in Heroes to Jordan Collier in The 4400. Mutant powers come from a variety of sources, including the ambiguous “future” in The 4400 who introduced an entirely new neurotransmitter, random genetic mutations in X-Men, genetically born with extra midi-chlorians in Star Wars (making some people seriously force-sensitive), and something to do with the adrenal gland in Heroes. Of course, we’re all actually mutants, but given that a large chunk of the U.S. public doesn’t believe in evolution and most of the rest don’t really understand genetics, we can go with this vision of mutants.

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Lesson #3: Red blinking lights are generally bad.

"Open the pod-bay door, Hal." "I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that."
There are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, the same progressive red lights on Kitt in Knight Rider were good, but bad on the Cylons in Battlestar Gallactica. For the most part, however, red blinking lights mean a bomb or an evil android. If a light is any other color except red, and then turns red, it either means that something is about to explode or something has turned evil. A recent episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles indicated that even those skilled at bomb detection and disarming (indeed, those charged with saving the world) can be fooled into thinking that something with a blinking red light is a bomb. It’s a natural reaction. The lights are especially bad if they blink, but even a steady red light should indicate that there may be trouble ahead.  If only Dave in 2001 had heeded the red-light warning about Hal before it was too late. In general, if confronted with a red blinking light or a light which changes from any other color to red, first see lesson #2 (loot any dead bodies around you to arm yourself) and then run.  This especially applies to stop lights and brake lights.

Lesson #2: Looting corpses is a crucial survival skill.

This is one of the most important lessons of the media. It is abound in television and films. Whenever someone dies, one must search the body for important goods, primarily weapons and ammunition. At a minimum, one must pickup a gun from the dead body. This applies to all sorts of people, especially police officers, FBI agents, and criminals. However, I believe television is trying to tell me that if I end up in a situation where I’m around a dead body, it’s best to pick up a gun regardless of who I am. It’s better to be safe than sorry, but that’s a different lesson. Even cute little WALL-E looted items off the corpses of his dead robot counterparts to survive in the post-apocalyptic world.

The media considers this such an important lesson that it created training programs to teach us the gravity of remembering to pick up items from dead bodies, namely video games. In video games, people are scored on their ability to scavenge from the dead. We practice this so unrelentingly that we hopefully will remember to do it in a real crisis situation. In video games we learn that the dead do not just have ammunition and guns, but also food, diaries that help explain crazy events, strange pills and syringes, money, tools, magic potions, and even tape recorders. The next time that I find myself in a chaotic, near-death experience, I know who to find for help: The guy who scored highest in Bioshock.

Don't kill a Little Sister in Bioshock! But if you do, you can loot her.

Don't kill a Little Sister in Bioshock! But if you do, you can loot her.

Lesson #1: Most aliens speak English.

All sorts of aliens who can be heard in English!

All sorts of aliens who can be heard in English!

It may be British English, American English, or Australian English, but indeed, most aliens speak English. Perhaps this all began because “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” many spoke English. Maybe that’s where we learned the language from. At the time of the Stargate film in 1994, aliens in the Stargate universe did not in fact speak English. Between 1994 and the beginning of 1997 series, aliens in multiple galaxies had all learned English. Perhaps Daniel Jackson taught them while he was living on another planet or they simply heard Earthlings were coming (just the American English speaking kind) and they wanted to be prepared. I appreciate the effort, especially in such a short time.

Interestingly, the aliens I see via Doctor Who all speak British English, including the Doctor himself and the evil Daleks. In Battlestar Gallactica, they are humans, but human aliens with no contact with earth. True, they speak a frakked-up form of American, but the persistence of this language across galaxies is uncanny.

There are a few aliens out there who don’t speak English, such as all sorts of species in Star Trek and in Farscape. Apparently those crews were able to travel far enough to find areas of space that English hadn’t pervaded, at least until a wormhole brought Ben Browder and Claudia Black to Stargate Command and the world of English-speaking aliens. Oddly though, the translator microbes in Farscape gave an Australian accent to those speaking, even though the listener spoke with an American accent. What an odd translation quirk!

The tenacious Star Trek crew was able to understand alien-speak via the “universal translator.” The universal translator worked on the basic scientific principle of magic. With a click of a button, magically everyone could understand each other and the camera could record English-speak. For the uninitiated, “universal translator” is code for “writers’ pitiful attempt to deal with alien communication problems.” At least they made an attempt, albeit a sad one.

The influence of English across the universe is amazing and unbounded. With this sort of power, I don’t see how non-English speaking cultures here on Earth have any hope.