Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Making Time

Time travel, by its very delicate and potentially destructive nature, can never be a democratic practice. If everyone had access to the space/time continuim, the world would be destroyed within seconds, or at best, our "reality" would be in constant flux, fates instantly changing, lives enhanced, broken down, or wiped out, though none of us would really know any of this in conscious time -- or would we?

That's the time travel rub, and I'm not about to explore all of its potential meanings, as they tend to become contradictory and self-negating, when not simply confusing. Suffice it to say, only a select few would be allowed to fly back or leap forward in time, and only after extensive training and world historical education.

But who?

First thing, we'd have to keep the technology out of the hands of the state, though this presents a problem as any time travel mechanism would most likely be a product of the corporate military complex. This would mean that a lone, eccentric billionaire, or a collection of eccentric billionaires, would serve as the only reasonable alternative, and that could get dicey as well, for eccentric billionaires, whether alone or grouped, tend to be megalomaniacs, and may very well use privatized timer travelers as personal tools to further strengthen their present power.

"I want you to help crush that labor uprising in 1887."

"But it was crushed, by federal troops."

"Yes, but not with particle beams!"

You see the dilemma.

I'd volunteer as a potential time-naut, but I'd have no stomach to see the future -- not on this timeline, anyway -- and the past would serve as a historical/cultural sightseeing tour, with U.S. history taking up most of my past-time, as I'm much more familiar with that than with other global periods. And even there I'd focus more on 20th century events than I should, but hell, can you blame me for wanting to see Josh Gibson play in his prime? Watch the young Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet jam live? Smoke dope with Kerouac and Burroughs? See just how smart Noam Chomsky was at 17? Hang out with Mabel Normand at the Keystone Studios in 1913? Visit the National Lampoon offices in 1972? Get in on the free love scenes of pre-First World War Greenwich Village and late-60s San Francisco?

Pretty pathetic, I know. And don't think I wouldn't go back to earlier parts of my own life, not necessarily to change anything, as that would alter future/present time, but to see with aging adult eyes just how I got to this place, and recall those events I've long ago forgotten or otherwise suppressed. Okay -- maybe I'd tell my young, in-over-their-heads parents to take it a bit slower and lighter and not allow their fears and dark emotions to define them. And then there was that dickhead tormentor of mine whose ass I'd probably kick. But that's it.

The reason for this rant is that my friend Juan Cole writes about the political message of NBC's hit series "Heroes" in Salon today, making points that I've considered, but have been too busy/lazy to tap out. Juan does a fine job of cultural analysis, which doesn't surprise me: Juan's a serious sci-fi buff, and talking with him about various scenarios and themes over pints is always fun.

If you haven't seen "Heroes", the first season of which just ended, then you're missing some entertaining television. Yes, the show's a bit of an X-Men knock-off, but unlike that Marvel narrative, "Heroes" deals more with the world we currently inhabit, albeit through the lives and tragedies of its mutant characters.

I ignored "Heroes" during the first half of its initial run, focusing instead on the now-canceled "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (boy, can I pick 'em!). But over the Christmas/New Year period when I suffered from insomnia, I watched every "Heroes" episode then available at NBC's web site, became instantly hooked, and didn't miss an installment after that.

As Juan points out, the main story arc for the first season is the prevention of a nuclear-type blast in Manhattan. Thing is, it's not a bomb, but a human mutant who explodes, and throughout the season we were given several glimpses and clues as to which character might be responsible. In one of the final episodes, Hiro Nakamura, who can bend and stop time, and his best friend Ando Masahashi, who has no powers but is loyal to Hiro, travel five years into the future to see that the bomb did go off and that half of Manhattan is in ruins. This is my favorite episode by far, with Hiro running into his future self, a grim, cutthroat samurai who's trying desperately to go back and change the past, but thus far has failed. Meantime, a police state is in high gear, as the U.S. President (himself a hidden mutant) commemorates the five year anniversary of the blast at the ruins of ground zero, gigantic American flag draped behind him. That image alone, set against the larger storyline, reminds us that in these savage days, fiction isn't all that far-fetched, and that is what gives "Heroes" its prime time edge.

Anyway, Juan goes into greater detail, so weather the brief Salon ad and read his piece. And if you haven't seen "Heroes", every episode is still up at NBC's site.

Save the cheerleader, get renewed for a second season.