Monday, March 10, 2014

Cosmos Redux

Some of us have fond memories of the original, Carl Sagan Cosmos.  As will happen in such cases, some of us wonder why it has reappeared, now narrated by notorious planet-killer Neil deGrasse Tyson.  When the ship of the imagination was piloted by Sagan, Cosmos was a personal voyage.  Now it is something called "a spacetime odyssey" which may or may not be an homage to Kubrick/Clarke's masterpiece, but sounds rather stale.

The first episode, if I may call it that, struck me as uninspired.  Particularly galling was the cartoon segment involving some of the story of Giordano Bruno.  The style of that segment was disturbingly reminiscent of some of the animated features I watched with my daughters when they were little girls, perhaps most of all Disney's Hunchback.  It seems that more of this style of animation, combined with the annoyingly simple narrative which seems always to accompany it, awaits viewers of the series.  This is unfortunate.  Cartoons seem an inappropriate manner in which to communicate the remarkable nature of the cosmos.  The music was insipid as well.  I found myself missing Vangelis' electronic stylings.

While it is possible to criticize the medium in this case, however, it is not possible to deplore the message.  Much has happened since the first Cosmos, including the growth of knowledge of the universeMuch more can be told, therefore, than was told to us in the original.  I hope that telling takes place.  But even the repetition of what was told back then would be useful now, as in many respects we in this Great Republic at least are probably more ignorant of science and the vastness of the universe and its great age than we were when Sagan was the skipper. 

We even flaunt our ignorance, in some respects.  We take pride in demanding that creationism be taught in our schools, in claiming the universe is a mere several thousand years old, in engaging in the kind of antics engaged in during the Scopes trial.  Tennessee then is too similar to Tennessee now.  Whether or not it will penetrate our seemingly willful disregard, we should be reminded of the insignificance of our world and the time we've spent on it.  We should be required to see our colossal arrogance for what it is.

The only good part of the sequence regarding Bruno was the statement that "your god is too small."  We have very small gods indeed, which perhaps is to be expected of our very small planet, but is also to be expected given our lunatic belief that we are the sole or primary concern of the divine creator or sustainer of the almost unimaginably large universe.  Perhaps this Cosmos will serve to raise some questions about the little gods we worship. 

It also seems that this odyssey, like the prior voyage, will emphasize the benefits of science and the use of the scientific or experimental method.  This emphasis may be needed in these dark times, when we are plagued not merely by fundamentalists in religion but also be those who have made careers out of maintaining that science and the methods used in science are no better than any other answer or approach to problems and issues. 

It is of course delicious that the series comes to us via the Fox Network, the news section of which has become a kind of propagandist for rampant religious fundamentalism and anti-science.  But with Fox it's difficult to say just what is or is not really thought by those in charge.  I suspect they are playing us, or at least some of us, and will do and say and broadcast whatever is required to make money; that, after all, is its function.

So it's to be hoped this Cosmos will thrive and be watched, and become a kind of icon as did the original.  I'm not sure it will, though, as Tyson doesn't seem to have the weird charisma Sagan possessed--he was a sort of highly-intelligent Mr. Rogers, talking to adults about wondrous things.  Too wondrous, perhaps?  That probably depends on us.  Little gods for little minds, and we've believed in them for a long time, and still do.  We may just be too little.

No comments:

Post a Comment