Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Success Driven Happiness of Galactica, Recognition of Beauty in Ordinary Existence Driven Happiness of Mystery Train, Spinoza's guide to happiness


In Battlestar Galactica the main characters face enormous challenges, and most of the time they overcome those challenges, and the audience is satisfied by that pattern. Of course if all the humans or main characters - human & Cylon - who the audience identifies as positive - end up dying at the end of the series next year, perhaps the audience will be very disappointed. Success, in the Galactica world, ultimately means survival. Success in our world can also mean survival, except, we know all of us will die one day - from old age, etc. So, even though survival works as the ultimate signifier of success in the Galactica world - or in our judgement of the lives of the characters in that world, that is not an option that we have in our/the real world. Survival is only available to us as a source of temporary happiness - we know we are alive now, but who knows what will happen in 10 minutes or 10 years? Let's take a look at another kind of success, another kind of happiness, in a set of filmed entertainment far different than Galactica.

In Jim Jarmusch movies, such as Mystery Train, neither the characters nor the goals that they try to accomplish are enormously important compared to those in the Galactica world or traditionally big dreams & plans of individuals in our world. So, what is the thing that makes us happy about Mystery Train? I would say it's the reflection of the world, and existence, as an interesting place - beautiful in several ways, full of unusual characters. So, the knowledge that such a perspective and thing - a movie that finds value not in epic plots & life or death challenges but in beautifully observed amusing, relatively ordinary, moments - gives us happiness. So, the Mystery Train kind of happiness, happiness that derives from ordinary existence, which is different than the victory-over-possibility-of-getting-killed-by-robots kind of success/happiness of the Galactica world, is, I would say, more accessible to a greater number of people in the real/our world.

What did philosopher Baruch Spinoza (1623 - 1677) think about happiness, or about the kind of relationship with existence that leads to lasting happiness for individuals? From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Spinoza's "free person" is one who bears the gifts and losses of fortune with equanimity, does only those things that he believes to be "the most important in life", takes care for the well-being of others (doing what he can to insure that they, too, achieve some relief from the disturbances of the passions through understanding), and is not anxious about death."

So, if a character in the Galactica world or a person in our world were to combine Spinoza's idea of success/ideal way of reacting to existence and were to add to that the model for happiness offered by Mystery Train - recognition of beauty & humor of ordinary existence - it might be a useful & rewarding approach for them.

There is of course a lot more to Spinoza's ideas, go read an intro here, including about Spinoza's unique interpretation of the idea of God (the God or Gods concept is an important idea in both the Galactica world and of course our world). The world of Jim Jarmusch movies/Mystery Train is not concerned with the existence of & the will of a creator being/deity but Jarmusch's focus on otherwise minor characters (characters who would be minor characters in most Hollywood shows, including Galactica) and small moments does feel at home with Spinoza's view that all of existence is God (a re-defined God as opposed to the Biblical God, a God not concerned with goal oriented success practiced by humans). Again, a big subject, check out more on this page about Spinoza.

Incidentally, it would be interesting to see Jarmusch write & direct an episode of Battlestar Galactica. Probably not much will happen in that episode, but I am pretty sure that what little ends up happening will be funny, interesting, and probably will happen very slowly. Maybe an episode about two Cylons taking a break from hunting humans across space & enjoying some coffee & cigarettes while listening to Mahler.

- Sujewa

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