Where Do They Park Their Brains?


By Brantley Thompson Elkins and Velvet Belle Tree


Brantley here. One of my pet peeves for some years has been the sort of mindless movies palmed off as Ōscience fiction.Ķ IÕm not talking about just dreck like the Transformers series, but movies like Avatar that are ŌseriousĶ and even critically acclaimed as well as big box office draws.

Forget about the simple-minded scenario of James CameronÕs blockbuster (to which at least one sequel is in the works) about noble savages threatened by Big Bad technocratic imperialists – rehashed from Kevin KostnerÕs Dances with Wolves. Smoke Signals, a movie by a real Indian, Sherman Alexie, spoofed this sort of liberal sentimentality:

Victor Joseph: You gotta look mean or people won't respect you. White people will run all over you if you don't look mean. You gotta look like a warrior! You gotta look like you just came back from killing a buffalo!

Thomas Builds-the-Fire: But our tribe never hunted buffalo – we were fishermen.

Victor Joseph: What! You want to look like you just came back from catching a fish? This ain't "Dances With Salmon" you know!

No, IÕm talking about the silly stuff like floating mountains with waterfalls – where does the water come from? What holds them up? Apparently the same unobtainium that the Big Bad Imperialists are after. So how come they donÕt mine the floating mountains? At one point, a Bad Guy says they have to destroy the native village and its sacred tree because the next closest unobtainium lode is a hundred miles away. These invaders have come a hundred light years and canÕt go another hundred miles? In any case, as Darrell Schweitzer pointed out in The New York Review of Science Fiction, Bad Guys that Bad would simply nuke the natives when they fought back and be done with them. And then thereÕs the business of the natives being not only spiritually but neurologically connected to all other life forms. Olaf Stapledon had imagined symbiotic species in Star Maker, 70 years earlier – but he limited it to nerve links between just two intelligent life forms because he knew how symbiosis actually evolves. Cameron doesnÕt.

The Book of Eli, a project of the Hughes Brothers, didnÕt match Avatar at the box office, but its conservative bullshit matched CameronÕs liberal bullshit. In a post-apocalyptic world, the hero is on a quest to find a lost book that is the only hope for saving humanity. That book turns out to be the Bible – the King James version, no less. Like, a world where civilization has collapsed doesnÕt need any books on such practical subjects as farming, carpentry, mechanics or medicine?

Unlike Avatar and The Book of Eli, Iron Man and Iron Man 2 donÕt pretend to be serious. But Tony Stark is an appealing hero, and deserves a better script than he gets in the second outing. HereÕs a really stupid scene for you: Stark has decided at the last minute to enter an auto race at Monte Carlo. Only his new enemy Vanko somehow finds out and shows up to attack him with some sort of energy whip. Stark isnÕt wearing his armor, of course, but Vanko is only half-dressed himself – any rent-a-cop at the track could have taken him out.

I had assumed that this sort of idiocy was limited to sci-fi and comic book movies. I knew there were some liberties taken on cop shows – on CSI, for example, nobody has to wait weeks for the results of forensic tests; and on NCIS vital information from computer databases always comes up instantly. But I can understand that on series TV, cases have to be wrapped up in an hour of screen time and no more than a few days of fictional time – in real life, it takes a lot longer, and the cops are working other cases in the meantime. But I never would have thought that Ōreal worldĶ TV shows would play as fast and loose with reality as sci-fi/comic book movies. VelvetÕs here to set me – and all of you – straight:

Last Friday, being alone and having nothing else to do, I caught an episode of Bones. IÕd seen a couple of them before, but not recently.

The story started out with Booth, the FBI agent who works with Temperance Brennan (ŌBonesĶ) in army uniform and deploying to Afghanistan for a year. The story picks up seven months later. The coroner is in trouble, so a woman who appears to be a supervisor calls Booth in Afghanistan (he answers on a satellite phone) and tells him he has to return. So he does – just like that. Later in the story she asks him if heÕs going back and he says heÕs not. I didnÕt know that soldiers can decide for themselves when they want to leave the battlefield and return to civilian life.

The case thatÕs baffling the coroner involves the skeleton of a child. A boy has disappeared and she is unable to say whether this is his skeleton. From insect evidence, the skeleton, which was found wrapped in a blanket with twine around its wrists and ankles, indicates a death not more than 12 weeks ago. Later, they decide it was more like 16 weeks. I may be wrong, but I really donÕt think that all that would remain after a few months would be a clean skeleton (But the twine didnÕt disintegrate!).

What the coroner has to do is find out if this skeleton is the son of two known people. Have they ever heard of DNA? I suppose the fact that itÕs a skeleton is supposed to rule that out, but itÕs never even mentioned. And I do believe that DNA has been obtained from fossils, so why couldnÕt they get it from the skeleton? Oh, I know the answer. If they did, thereÕd be no story.

And thatÕs the problem. In order to make a story, all facts, all reality is forgotten. We want a character returned who weÕd sent off as a soldier to Afghanistan? No problem, weÕll just ask him to come home and pretend that soldiers can do that. We want the story to revolve around the examination of a skeleton? No problem, weÕll have a skeleton whether itÕs logical or not, weÕll forget about trivialities like DNA.

Although not the same kind of show, thereÕs a similarity to Glee, which a friend of mine recently convinced me to watch. She said that the stories arenÕt so good but the singing is great. Stories not so good? They donÕt make any sense. The teachers do things that no real teacher could ever get away with. When I complained to my friend that when one of the students was performing in the school auditorium, a full gospel choir magically appeared to support her and then was never seen again or mentioned (Brantley opined that the church bus must have broken down by the school.), she said it was like the old-time musicals, just watch it for the singing, itÕs just entertainment, itÕs won lots of awards.

And thatÕs where the similarity arises. If you mention these things to someone who likes it, the answer is: itÕs just entertainment. That means: turn your mind off and enjoy. I, however, cannot enjoy something if I have to turn my mind off.