Posts Tagged TV

Canned plots and lazy storytelling

Drama or Science Fiction? Either way its a huge cliché

Over the past month or so the BBC has been running a primetime show called “Outcasts”. I heard about this some time ago becuse it was being billed as a great new BBC drama; that’s right, drama. In spite of the fact that the show is about colonists on a distant planet in the future who escaped the end of the Earth the BBC refused to call it Sci-Fi at first. Indeed the series designer is reported to have said:

the BBC doesn’t want to give the impression it’s putting out a sci-fi show on prime-time BBC1. This is a futuristic drama with the focus on pioneering humans who, out of necessity, just happen to be living on a planet that is not Earth.

I think it’s a bit of a stretch to set something in such a science-fictional setting but deny that it is one purely so that you can avoid being viewed as as a channel that puts out trivial TV. In actuality Outcasts manages to be trivial all by itself. If you haven’t seen it (don’t bother to now) the basic plot is that after some apocalypse a ragtag group of characters fly off into space and try to settle another planet. This is an interesting setup and it’s what got me to watch the show, however in spite of all the potential stories that could be told about the difficulties of such a task the BBC fills the show with ghost aliens, mysterious ten thousand year old human remains, evil genetically engineered rebels and horrifically clichéd characters. Now I’m not writing this post with the intent of writing a comprehensive review of Outcasts as it has been done elsewhere many times, instead I’d like to ask a question; why the hell do TV shows feel the need to make science fiction by dropping outdated clichés into a blender with awful actors before forcibly pouring it into our eyes with all the grace and subtly of a wet fart at a funeral? Outcasts is by no means alone in this, most visual media of this nature, be it film or TV, take a story that they want to tell (i.e. a unifying republic devoted to democracy being slowly corrupted into a totalitarian empire) and bolt on lasers, spaceships and aliens (can you spot where the example was from?).

If you wanted to write about colonising another planet then why not address the real issues of such a feat? Issues like how to grow terrestrial crops on an alien world, how to avoid alien antigens and the logistics of transporting a fully capable industrial society (with all the support infrastructure and technology needed) to another star, not to mention how the society would survive if the planet didn’t have the right atmosphere mix, pressure and temperature. I’m not calling for totally realistic stories but surely I’m not the only one who thinks that taking a story that could work perfectly well in the present day real-world and slapping on spaceships and aliens is a lazy means of story telling? Should’t the aim of any speculative fiction be to explore the human condition in situations radically different to those ever encountered before rather than vomiting canned plots onto the surface of an alien planet?

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Do no harm…?

At the end of Christmas time I settled down to watch what I thought would be one of those typical Channel 4 documentaries called Britain’s Fattest Man. If you missed it the documentary was about Paul Mason who became the world’s heaviest man weighing in at over 440kg (that’s 70 stone or 980lb for all you imperialists)! Not to go through the whole documentary but in essence it was very sad, Paul became this size after suffering a series of devastating blows in his life before becoming addicted to food. He was bedridden and required carers to wash and feed him. Paul was desperate enough to go for a gastric bypass (a procedure that shrinks the available stomach size) which enabled him to shed 120kg in just a matter of months.

Paul Mason 48 years old at a time when he weighed nearly half a tonne

You may ask why I am bothering to blog about this, I had no plans to. It was merely one of those stories we hear about and perhaps relay in a shocked tone to others. The thing that really got me about this documentary was the way people treated Paul. Other than receiving hate mail I was dismayed to see a wealth of articles both online and in newspapers lamenting the cost of Paul’s care and medical treatment. Per year Paul costs slightly over £100,000 to the NHS and over the fifteen or so years Paul has needed this care he has topped over £1,000,000. Reading through some comments online I couldn’t believe the amount of people who were advocating Paul either not receiving this care or not deserving it. This is a bit of a problem for me, I believe in social healthcare. I think medicine should be a right not a privilege.  There’s two dangerous mentalities here, one is that if you don’t contribute you don’t deserve (ridiculous, what about students, mentally ill, prisoners and those down on their luck) and the other is that if you did it to yourself you don’t deserve help. To me that’s a pretty slippery slope to start on.

It is possible to go through your whole life without smoking or exposing yourself to any airborne carcinogens and still get lung cancer. The following numbers aren’t real but they illustrate a real point; out of 100 non smokers 20 get lung cancer and out of 100 smokers 60 get lung cancer. Now out of those 60 smokers with cancer 1 in 3 could have contracted the disease independent of their smoking. If we adopt the mentality of “you don’t deserve healthcare if you did it to yourself” we have to deny or charge for care for 40 of them. But it’s impossible to tell! Do we just deny all of them because they took a risk? Even though every third man didn’t cause it themselves? This principle is very damaging and whilst I don’t condone Paul Mason eating himself to that size I certainly don’t think he is any less deserving than a healthy taxpaying member of society. The whole philosophy of social healthcare is that those who can contribute so that all can receive any and every medicine or treatment that they require.

What do you think? Is Paul justified in receiving medical treatment? At the end of the day would you rather live in a society which takes care of those in need or one that dismisses those who can’t help themselves?

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