Vivek Haldar

Star Trek vs Babylon 5

Star Trek and Babylon 5 are two space operas that offer very different views of humans, technology and the relationship between them. That one is hugely popular, has entire conventions dedicated to it, still gets reruns and has spilled over into popular culture beyond just geek circles, while the other is likely to draw blank stares when one mentions it says a lot.

Star Trek is an expression of the idea that technology cleanses people. It is technology manifested outwards to people and society. And technology is clean and rational.

Star Trek depicts a clean world. Not just physically clean, but also emotionally and socially clean. There are no politics. (Did Picard ever have to contend for limited resources with other Star Fleet captains?) There is no heartbreak or jealousy. There is no class. There are no vices, no addictions, no crime. The Enterprise does not have a dark, seedy corner. There is no soul-searching. It’s telling that the non-human Data is often the most reflective character. Good and evil are clear. Star Fleet and everyone it in is good. All problems and all evil comes from the outside (Q, the Borg, other civilizations etc etc).

Babylon 5 is an expression of the idea that human nature is independent of technology. It is technology as one part of people and society. And people are messy and irrational.

Babylon 5 depicts a world of humans with all their failings. In it, technology has brought us far into space, but we are all still humans. Life is still messy and unpredictable and hard. Politics, within the humans, and among the space-faring races, is central. Society is stratified. There are haves and have-nots. It is not always clear which side is “right”. People experience joy, sorrow, heartbreak and the full range of human emotions. They battle demons and addictions.