Seth MacFarlane, the multitasking comedian and creator of “Family Guy,” and other raunchy fare, happens also to be the driving force behind the new version of Carl Sagan's classic science show "COSMOS," which will appear Sunday on Fox and simultaneously on other networks, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I know a number of the writers and producers who have striven to create something stunning, vivid and updated for the 21st Century.
MacFarlane admits -- in this fascinating article -- that he was partly motivated by a strong will to fight back against a growing darkness that seems to be spreading across much of America, in particular, an outright war on science of intellect, pushed hard by cynical manipulators for their own short sighted political agendas and greed.
MacFarlane riffed about the irony, that COSMOS will appear on Fox Entertainment. “They are hurting and helping at the same time,” Mr. MacFarlane said of Fox, his tongue somewhat in cheek. “In that sense, I suppose it’s incumbent upon Fox to do something like this, to make up for all the damage it’s done with its 'news' network.”
== Ironic twists in this struggle ==
Similarly contradictory... The late Harold Ramis was brilliant at leveraging upon the American reflex -- tweaking pompous authority figures. In ANIMAL HOUSE, CADDYSHACK and GHOSTBUSTERS, Ramis partnered in bringing us laughs amid celebrations of pure fun. Yes, Ghostbusters had a different view of science -- rambunctious and positive -- than the anti-intellectualism of the other two. I consider Gohostbusters to be the most original piece of cinema I ever saw, expressing proud assertiveness… even aggression… against all the mystical things that 6000 years of mythology proclaim we're supposed to hold in awe.
Still… this iconoclastic essay -- published churlishly within a week of Ramis's passing -- does offer an interesting demurral… that the supposed Suspicion of Authority (SoA) message in Ramis's films was not aimed as much against Big Money as against OLD money. Against government and labor and traditional morals that might stand in the way of a new class of entrepreneurial wealth-building -- the invincible Masters of the Universe typified by Wall Street, who resent any restraints, even moral or ethical ones, on the untrameled right to trample your way to the top.
I'm not sure I swallow this argument. But it does merit a read and a pondering.
== The struggle against a new dark age ==
I clearly and often make clear that I believe American anti-science romanticism is not restricted to just one end of the hoary left-right "spectrum." There are nostalgic-cynical grouches at both wings, doing fantastic harm to a civilization that accomplished wonders through our earlier tradition of contingency, argument, experimentation and pragmatic problem solving. And curiosity. Yes, there are nostalgist monsters at both fanatical poles.
But let's be clear, the far-left is not our current worst problem. The fever on the entire-right is what has plunged us into dire danger for our entire Great Experiment. And here is one more piece of evidence:
"Less than five years ago, 54 percent of Republicans and nearly two-thirds of Democrats said the human species evolved over time. Today, however, the share of Republicans adhering to modern theories of human evolution has dropped significantly – to 43 percent." That's almost 60% of GOP members who deny evolution on a planet that is four billion years old, in a cosmos of trillions of suns.
No wonder American scientists (and every other knowledge clade; name one exception) have been fleeing the GOP. Thirty years ago, 40% of U.S. scientists were republican. It is now down around 6% and plummeting. This is not about capitalism, or enterprise, or freedom or statism or socialism… it is about crazy.
== Lest we forget the recent mania that said it all ==
Do NOT let anyone forget, this election cycle, about the government shutdown. Old Abe may have said it best, in a fascinating and chilling parallel. In February 1860, while initially running for President, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech at New York's Cooper Union. Read excerpts. Though bear in mind: today's Republican Party is largely based (regionally and thematically) in regions that were in those days Democratic, and vice versa.
"Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. [...] Under all these circumstances, do you really feel yourselves justified to break up this Government unless such a court decision as yours is, shall be at once submitted to as a conclusive and final rule of political action?"
"But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!" [...]
"A few words now to Republicans. It is exceedingly desirable that all parts of this great Confederacy shall be at peace, and in harmony, one with another. Let us Republicans do our part to have it so. Even though much provoked, let us do nothing through passion and ill temper. "
Now combine this with Lincoln's later Gettysburg Address, calling on Americans to ensure that "government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth."
Roll it over the tongue, and ponder how bitter it must taste to the New Confederates, who recite the Fox Nostrum that "government" is evil in principle, and under all conditions. (Despite having supported it blindly when the blithering incompetents in charge were from their side.) Men (mostly) who ignore the declining deficit, or the fact that U.S. federal tax rates are at their lowest levels in 70 years. Or the lesson of 60 centuries that most oppression came not from civil servants but owner-oligarchs. Just as a million poor whites marched foolishly (albeit bravely!) to fight and die for their feudal overlords in 1861, so do millions obey Rupert Murdoch's mantras, despising any class or cadre (e.g. scientists, teachers, civil servants and so on) who might possibly stand in the way of a new feudal order.
Since the fall of the outrageously evil Soviet Empire, I have seen no greater threat to the republic that I love, and the renaissance it helped engender.
== And about psychology… look in a mirror after reading this! (I will.) ==
How Television Re-Inforces Our Politics: In October 2012, The New York Times published the results of a TiVo-based study, which found that while registered Republicans tend to watch golf, registered Democrats have a penchant for cartoons, as in Family Guy and American Dad. Republicans also like NASCAR and reality TV competition shows such as The Biggest Loser, Survivor, American Idol, and The Amazing Race. Democrats prefer to watch the sitcoms 30 Rock and Community, AMC dramas The Killing and Mad Men, and late-night funny guys Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
In general, the article suggested, TV-viewing trends between Republicans and Democrats were “every bit as polarized as the political culture.” Not one network show favorite appeared on both sides of the divide.