'You would not make the act of submission which is the price of sanity. You preferred to be a lunatic, a minority of one... But I tell you that reality is not external. Reality exists, not in the individual mind which can make mistakes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal.'
This is a quote from Orwell's 1984. The words are directed to Winston Smith by his interrogator O'Brian. As everybody knows, Winston was finally broken and made to believe that he actually was insane and wrong and that the 'collective and immortal mind' was right. What I like about Blake (and what, presumably, fans in general like about him) is that he doesn't have a problem with being a minority of one. Blake asserts the right of an individual to challenge and criticise 'the collective mind' of those in power. And since the Federation has failed to impose their vision of truth and reality upon him and convince him that he is wrong, they must convince everybody else. This is why they try to discredit Blake with false charges of rape, exile him rather then kill him and later, when he gets hold of the Liberator, pronounce him and his crew 'maniacs and killers', as dr Kayn (in 'Breakdown') declaims so promptly.
It is well known that heroes such as Blake are a rare sight in the pop culture of today. Typical heroes of the nineties are police officers, Starfleet officers, army officers, detectives, FBI agents, marines, lawyers. All of them on the side of the governing structures, law and order, representing and advocating the righteousness of the 'collective mind', and occasionally confronting the criminals who oppose it... One could easily imagine any of the heroes of the nineties in pursuit of Blake. Assuming there is some sort of popular culture within the B7 universe, this is more or less what the heroes on the Federation vis-tapes would be like.
Not only does Blake have no (or hardly any) successors among the fictional heroes of today, but his own character has undergone changes, partly in the original series, partly in the reviews and studies to follow. Chris Boucher says that when he (among others) took over the story, in the second season, he 'felt that it was reaching a point where we had to make some sort of statement about what was happening to the man - he had killed a lot of people, he had blown a lot of things up - his motives frequently might have been impeccable, but I mistrust clear blacks and clear whites and I was conscious that having reached that stage... he'd got to be fanatical. And so I nudged him a little further towards the fanatical end of the scale. I thought it was time for him to start questioning himself, to feel a little less certain about what he was doing.'
This is all right in so far as Boucher wants to avoid creating a one-dimensional character, but is he correct to push Blake 'towards the fanatical end of the scale'? Is such a development indeed inevitable? And why should Blake feel uncertain about what he is doing? Don't we know enough about the Federation to see clearly that what Blake is doing is right? As a consequence of these shifts, we have Blake in 'Star One' saying he has to make a move, regardless of the number of casualties this will cause, because he has to be sure that he is right. On the other hand, the Federation has suddenly become much like the Star Trek Federation, the sole defender of mankind against the alien invasion. What is the purpose of this confusion?
The author of the book from which I'm quoting the interview, Tony Atwood, goes on to say, 'Blake was the personification of the fanaticism that lay behind all idealism'. This statement goes much further from what Boucher says. Besides, it is not rendered as the author's opinion, but as a commonplace truth, something that goes without saying: the opinion of the 'collective mind'. But is it really something that should be taken for granted? That idealism is wrong and practically non-existent, and those who challenge or criticise the system inevitably fanatics and terrorists?
In the same book there is an interview with Michael Keating, who talks about 'the continuing confusion between good and evil' in the series. Commenting upon the final episode, he draws a conclusion that 'if we were supposed to be the good guys, evil won, although if you worked it out, the Federation weren't that bad. There were independent planets that seemed to get on quite happily, and we seemed to go around disturbing them.'
Keating is perhaps joking, but his observation is nevertheless correct. The original premise of the series has gradually been turned upside-down. Confusion between good and evil is fine for a Shakespearean tragedy, but when it appears in an entertainment program, it makes one wonder.
I won't pretend to know the purpose of this 'continuing confusion', if indeed it is intentional and has a purpose at all. Perhaps the 'collective mind' of our age has decided that Blake is not such a desirable role model for the pop culture consumers. The fact is that B7 presents us with an image of a dominant power whose actions are morally unjustifiable, not wrong in minor details, but fundamentally wrong. Which, as an image, has to be slightly unpleasant for the dominant power of any age. Perhaps it was thought wise to blur this image a little - to justify the Federation a little, and to discredit Blake a little. If not by charges of rape, why, then by turning him into a manipulator, a terrorist, an anarchist, an idealist who cannot afford to think, a fanatic. But then again, maybe this has all been done for purely aesthetic reasons. Depending on which vision of reality we wish to accept.
Back up to Essay index
Back up to Blakes 7
Last changed on 27th of March 1999