Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"What happened to this generation?"

I've been watching Fringe on Hulu.com.  I've been enjoying it--interesting premise, good enough stories, and characterization the way characterization is supposed to be done:  varying complexity and occasional moral ambiguity without relying too heavily on the "bad people arbitrarily designated protagonists" crutch.  Sometimes there are quantum leaps of deduction used to keep the plot moving in the right direction, but considering they're usually made by the resident lobotomized psychotropic-drug-using genius on a show where such insights can even be plausible, I'm willing to overlook the flashbacks to the early days of sf television.

I didn't mean to dwell on the show.  I just wanted to comment on a scene in an episode from a couple months ago.  The aforementioned genius, Walter, was taking a break from whatever work he was doing in his Harvard lab, and was sitting outside watching students go by and smoking pot with a colleague, Nina.  The following exchange takes place:

Nina:  "I forgot how serious this campus has become.  I remember my time here quite differently."
Walter:  "We did have fun, didn't we?  I don't know what happened to this generation."
Walter:  "Look at all these students.  When did they become so afraid?  We had the courage to think against the grain of what we were told; we let our curiosity be our guide."

What happened to this generation?  Walter and Nina did.  Walter's generation looked at the one that invented the bomb, decided to live for today (how that constitutes letting curiosity be their guide, and how what Archimedes and Galileo and da Vinci and Tesla and Einstein was something else, I can't imagine), and he himself went down a path that broke this universe, and the one next to it.  Maybe this generation finally learned that some caution is appropriate in this life, after all.

Here's the problem I see.  The "courageous" generation that preceded a "serious, afraid" one rejected what they were told, instead of simply playing devil's advocate like an honorable curious skeptic; but then they turned around and tried to teach their successors that this parochial truth of relativism was the One True Way.  Nina at least seems to be truer to her principles:  if the truest thing you can do is throw off Truth, then you shouldn't be scandalized when the  people you try to teach would not scruple to question, doubt, and reject the things you turned out to be taking as absolute after all.

Never mind about what Walter considers to be courageous.  Maybe our apparent seriousness and fear is just what prudence looks like to him.  Prudence is a virtue.  Too bad the consequences of his lapses in prudence were being shared with everyone--with the fearful and serious students he was watching with Nina, and with everyone and everything else known to exist.

But it's just a TV show.  Maybe I shouldn't think too much about the words that the writers are putting in the characters' mouths.  But that's begging a question.

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