Some Thoughts on the New Cosmos

April 7th, 2014

I’ve heard a fair amount of disappointment with the new Cosmos from fans of the original Cosmos.

I’ve been a fan of the original Cosmos since it first aired. I have the 20th Anniversary DVD set, and I watch them periodically, even today. I don’t watch the original Cosmos now to learn new things, or even to refresh things I’ve already learned. I watch it because it has a visceral, emotional draw. The music, the imagery, the way the ideas are presented.. the shape, the texture… I find the original Cosmos to be a beautifully produced piece of media, especially given the resources available. The WAY the story is told is at least as important as the story. I enjoy the story of the original Cosmos, but I also enjoy the way the story is told, and that contributes to its “rewatch value”.

Many of the complaints I’ve heard about the new Cosmos center on the use of animation to present historical events and hypothetical events of human pre-history. I’m not a huge fan of the artistic style of the animation… the broad lines, the sharp angles, and so on… but I certainly see that animation has a place in the Cosmos framework. It did in the original, and it does today. The difference is that in 1980, Cosmos portrayed things like the troubles of Kepler and the triumphs of Huygens in live action, where the re-imagining of Cosmos tells those stories in animation.

I can certainly see the benefit of animation over live-action… first, it’s WAY cheaper to produce than, say, a live-action seventeenth-century vatican scene, followed by a live-action burning at the stake. Second, animations like those in the new Cosmos are part of the modern media landscape. Twenty years from now, they may date the Cosmos we’re watching today, but the same can be said for Sagan’s turtleneck, and the styles of animation on offer in 1980. …and, yes, the original Cosmos was fraught with animations and miniatures photography which would be handled in CGI today. If you don’t believe me, watch it again.

I really think this new Cosmos is fighting far more of an uphill battle than its predecessor. In 1980, the Apollo program was still fairly fresh in the modern consciousness, and science was a more respected field of endeavor in the United States. Today, fundamentalist Christianity has gained a sizable plurality in the political arena, and its adherents are extremely vocal and unduly indignant. They have reshaped America’s intellectual landscape to a point where 40% of American adults claim to believe that the Biblical creation story is more or less factually true, and discount biological evolution out of hand. Cosmos faces a far more hostile audience with a far weaker grounding in fundamental scientific ideas than the original did.

For me, if the modern Cosmos team can grab and hold an audience, and not pass along false information, then I call that a win. I am in no position to cast stones. The new Cosmos is polished, clean, consistent, engaging, and, I think, not at all condescending.

…also, I think the animations provide a certain, “This is allegorical and/or hypothetical… it may contain factual truths, but don’t take the whole of this as literal fact.” cue. This is one place where a great many of the new Cosmos’ contemporaries fall flat. Other science shows use inflated language, Hans Zimmer-esque music, and overblown imagery, and leave the viewer, I think, with a distorted view of what’s actually happening in the universe.

There’s another thing that separates Cosmos from practically all other popular science-oriented media… Cosmos is aimed at the individual. The intent is to engage the individual audience member on a personal level, rather than shooting over her or his head with endless facts, or blinding them with over-the top flashy CGI and hyperbolic narrative. At every step along the way Cosmos says, “This matters to you because…”

And, to the folks who are disappointed that the new Cosmos hasn’t brought up this or that… the latest complaint I’ve heard is that Hubble was not mentioned in the episode centered on light… I think you’re making a mistake in denigrating the completeness of the new Cosmos without having seen it in its entirety. The writers may have decided Hubble matters more in another context. We’re only 5 episodes into a 13 episode series. Please cut them a little slack.

All in all, I think this re-imagining of Cosmos stands firmly on its own, while being respectful to the Cosmos “brand” so many of us know and love. I keep in mind, however, that this is a re-imagining, and not a shot-for-shot remake. I also remember that I am not the target audience. Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is made for people very much unlike me. People who don’t get gravity and light and simple chemistry and biology… People who may have been told, for all of their brief lives, by people they trust implicitly, that they were put here by an invisible superfriend with a special purpose, as part of a perfect plan. I ask my fellow Sagan (and Tyson) fans to do the same.

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Libtard? Can You Spell That, Chief? (NU1329-CEV1)

August 10th, 2013

Gilberton, Pennsylvania, at first glance, may seem like the ideal small town, or if you like, wide spot in the road, with its rich coal seams, run down houses along Main Street, and its bustling population of 867 people according to the 2000 census.

Gilberton’s police chief, Mark Kessler, seems to have gone out of his way to cement his town’s reputation around America as a nest of right wing vitriol, and, ironically enough, populated with just the kind of folks then-senator Barack Obama referred to when he talked about their bibles and their guns.

Kessler has posted a number of videos on YouTube clad, alternately in his self-described Duty Uniform, and anti-liberal garb, including a t-shirt which says… on its back…

liberals take it in the ass

…. are you following this? This man has gone out of his way to present his case against liberals and their pro-gun-control attitudes wearing a shirt which could be understood to be an invitation to treat him like a liberal.

In any event, Kessler has uploaded these videos to YouTube. In the videos, he speaks of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in ways which could be construed as either threatening or as incitement to violence against her.

He then, in one of the videos, repeatedly shoots a target which depicts a scary clown brandishing a large wooden mallet, calling it “ol’ nancy”, “Miss Pelosi”, and so on.

His technique for delivering his tactical advice is remarkable, in that, he prefaces a remark with a disclaimer, such as,

I’m not promoting a holster or anything like that

followed IMMEDIATELY by

I suggest you buy a serpa holster

Similarly, he states he is not inciting anyone to violence against elected officials, then almost immediately, demonstrates what to do when -quote- ol’ Nancy hasn’t had her meds -end-quote- and is coming after you with her over-sized gavel. …over … and over… and over… …. and …over.

Kessler’s facebook page is a heck of a thing. Momentarily disregarding all the your-you’re confusion, apostrophes used to indicate plurals, and other syntactical, spelling, and grammatical transgressions, it is fairly clear that Kessler, his friends, and his supporters are all very indignant, and strongly convinced that mere humans pose a threat to their god-given right to keep and bear arms.

…and then…

Thirty day suspension.

Can’t imagine how something like that happened.

When I was in the Navy, and I’m pretty sure this is standard policy across all the armed services, we were told, in no uncertain terms, that we are never to speak publicly or express any opinion in uniform or as a representative of the service, unless lawfully ordered to do so by a superior.

Kessler announces in one of his videos that he’s Chief Kessler, and he’s in his duty uniform (which includes an Under Armor cap… does Under Armor sponsor the Gilberton PD?)… that is to say, he says

I’m gonna do it from my duty uniform

before spouting his bile.

Kessler’s personal website, Chief Kessler dot com echoes some of the sentiments from his facebook page, including that he expects to be fired during his 30-day suspension.

Now, that’s the best news I’ve heard come out of Gilberton, Pennsylvania in a long time.

Story originally appeared in NewsUndies NU1329 - watch the episode below

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