Friday, April 30, 2010

Permutations of the Human: Thoughts on Lexx, Part 1

Thanks to the wonders of the new internet, I’ve recently been working my way through a science-fiction television series that aired back when Geocities represented a predominant paradigm for thinking about web content and community, a fact that is aesthetically confirmed by the late 90’s amateur web-design of the few, untended, zombie fansites still up (though not really running).

The 61 episodes of Lexx, recently made available through Hulu,  originally aired in Canada from April 1997 to April 2002.  Though the series is first and foremost a silly kind of scifi comedy about a misfit starship crew that inadvertently destroys everything it comes in contact with, I find it most notable for the way it provides an articulate contrast to the rational humanism of Star Trek: the Next Generation (1987-1994).

enterprise.jpg Lexx

While I was never a huge fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), there was a period a few years ago when TBS aired something like a three-hour block of the series every weekday afternoon.  I should probably be ashamed to say it, but I caught quite a few episodes, and I’m not ashamed to say that part of the reason for this was that I enjoyed them immensely.  But the following strikes me as incontestably true: Captain Picard, with his elegant diction and love of Shakespeare and Reason, symbolized the sovereign intellect, spontaneous and free (and White and male), that was the ideal of the Enlightenment humanists…the ideal of humanity to which Data aspired, often laughably but always hopelessly. 

In this context, Elaine Graham, in Representations of the Post/Human (2002), persuasively argues that: 

The Federation’s anxieties about the Borg therefore rest in the cyborg body as anathema to the humanist self because it is compromised, hybrid, profane – monstrous….  The fundamental telos of the series is to protect the integrity of human distinctiveness, premised upon clearly demarcated boundaries between humans and others. (147-8, my emphasis)

Human skin, rather than space, is in fact the unacknowledged “final frontier” of TNG, and though the crew of the Enterprise, in the name of bold humanity, invades and often transforms the strange worlds of space, the series ultimately refuses the alien (whether organic or machine…another distinction the series rigorously defends) such freedom of movement or such mutational power. 

But Lexx is scifi pastiche – a mutant to the core – and suitably disrespects almost every formulation of “human distinctiveness.” 

(to be continued)

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