Friday, October 28, 2011

Yahwists and the Sequel Hypothesis

So, I'm going to be a little more lighthearted here, and also somewhat speculative.  What can I say, I'm in a mood.  I'm going to make some comparisons here involving the major Abrahamic religions of the world and television shows.  For those of you who are atheists, particularly if you're also somewhat of a geek, you can probably already see where I'm going with this.  Enjoy the ride.  Oh, and warning, TVTropes will ruin your life, but I'm linking to it anyway.  For the rest of you, let me lay this out as clearly as I can.

There are four major religious traditions that descend from the Abrahamic tradition: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Mormonism.  Its possible to do serious studies of these traditions, and they've been very important to the history of the world.  But stepping back for a moment, and viewing them as a whole, they follow a very familiar pattern.

Judaism is the "original series" of the Abrahamic religion.  You can see clearly how it drew upon the influences of other religions of its time, but it had some new concepts that made it stand out from the pack.  It took old stories and ideas and interpreted them in unique ways, creating something very new when all was said and done.  Now, that's not to say it was always very high quality work.  The characters weren't always consistent, the stories could get overblown or pedantic, and the editing control was obviously in dire straits.  Occasionally, the moralizing got a little heavy-handed, and when you look at it from a modern perspective, it certainly shows its age; some of the things it includes may have made sense at the time, but today we just cringe at the unfortunate implications.  And the special effects?  Well, they were certainly big, and might have been cool for their time, but in hindsight they're definitely lacking, and the flaws tend to break one's suspension of disbelief.  Still, it must be said that it has some good points, and even today it maintains a faithful following.  It might even be called a cult classic.

Christianity seems to be the "next generation" of Abrahamic religion.  It draws on the same roots as the original series, and takes place in roughly the same universe.  But we've moved forward in time a good bit, and we've got a completely new cast of characters.  The writing is more consistent, although there are a number of places where the sheer silliness of the premise shows through.  The special effects remind us of the kind of things done in the original, often being explicit revisits of those old episodes, but they're more closely grounded to believability, if not entirely possible in the real world.  Only on occasion do they get really cheesy, and even then, they at least are used to draw out strong emotional appeal.  Most importantly, there's a more clear message to the series, one that feels a little more comfortable to modern sensibilities.  It still has some things that make us wince, because it tries as hard as it can to remain true to the timeline of its universe, and some might criticize it for being too optimistic, expecting that the future will be all sunshine and rainbows and we'll all live in peace.  But on close examination, it doesn't really flinch away from hard truths, and is overall a much higher quality work of fiction.  It maintains a large group of fans today, and has spawned several spin-off series that try to interpret the material, with greater or lesser success.

Islam comes next chronologically, and seems to be the "gritty reboot" of the Abrahamic concept.  It makes it clear how much of an influence the previous two series had on its writer, and it tries to remain consistent with the story previously set in place.  But the special effects have been simultaneously amped up and strictly tied to reality, or so the series claims.  Everything is supposed to be purely in the realm of plausibility, as long as you accept that you're living in a universe with rules just slightly different than our own.  What really makes this story different, however, is the underlying message.  It doesn't shy away from hard topics, and makes its stance on difficult modern issues very clear.  This can get uncomfortable at times, because the old harsh morality of the original series is still very much in evidence.  Islam strictly enforces the old rules, adds some more of its own, and deals very honestly with the implications.  Now, to be fair, it made some amazing advances, particularly in the realm of technology.  When it dealt with the universe, there's no denying that it made some brilliant insights, and inspired people who weren't even fans of the show to advance new ideas.  But like so many of these shows, the fanbase got a little too serious about it, and insist that everyone should follow the show.  They take a lot of offense at the suggestion that there might be some flaws in the writing or the effects, because they know that both the show itself and the writing staff are beyond reproach and deserve universal respect and adoration.

So, that covers it, right?  Oh wait, I almost forgot one.  Mormonism.  The "wacky fanfiction" of Abrahamic faith.  Rabid fans of the original series and the next generation, the writers decided that there was only one thing missing from the stories: themselves.  And so the new, unofficial episodes began to be written, but without the reality checks of trained writers, the plotlines soon went way off the rails.  There might be a few gems in there, some stuff that is really quite good, but its overwhelmed by Mary Sue characterization, ridiculous plots that make absolutely no sense, contradictions galore, and a return of the heavy-handed moralizing.  Only now, its clear that the "morals" are designed so that the main characters can get away with pretty much anything they want.  The stories obviously split the fan base; the majority just don't see the appeal, and think that there's no reason to add bad writing to a perfectly good story.  But there's a very vocal, very loyal community who think that these fan fics are the best thing since sliced bread.  They continue to tout its virtues, making excuses and coming up with new stuff all the time.  The leaders of this group are obviously benefiting greatly from the fact that a lot of people like the stories, so there's no reason to accept any criticism.  But they just want to be accepted by the mainline fans, so when they get into discussions with outsiders, they emphasize their similarities and do their best to shove the differences out of the spotlight.  Easiest way to do that?  Pick on the people who don't like any of the shows.  Like me.

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