One of the things that science fiction does best is to ask the hard and the really big questions. Babylon 5 is a prime example of this. Besides "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" one of the most interesting and longest running questions asked by the series might be phrased as "Who is the Other?" A narrative universe that contains sentient non-terrestrial life can automatically open up some really interesting avenues for discussions about race, creed, gender, or any combination of "otherness." After all, when dealing with the Cantauri or the Narn or the Dilgar or whoever, humanity is dealing, for the first time in our history, with different races, different species, than our own.
Like human societies throughout history, the humans of the late 2250s and early 2260s, have a real tendency to put aside their differences when something comes along that we can all hate together. From the earliest episodes of Babylon 5, we hear reports of so-called "Earth First" organizations, which want to limit or end human contact and trade with aliens of all types. As the series progresses, we see both Sinclair and Sheridan derided in the Terran press as "alien lovers" a phrase that should immediately resonate in a nation which not too long ago hurled "Indian-lover" and "Nigger-lover" at citizens who began to look beyond what a person looked like in order to find out who they actually were.
In Babylon 5 this racism is brilliantly, and unfortunately, quite realistically mixed in with the goals of a security state under President Clark. Fear of the other is developed by official organizations like the Night Watch into fear of dissent and fear of disloyalty to the human race, and EarthGov. Disloyalty is framed as coming from people who have been confused or unknowingly subverted by vague and unspecified "alien influences." Such people are misguided, and need "reeducation." It kind of makes me sad that this theme is one of the things that gives Babylon 5 longevity beyond its original broadcast in the late 1990s. Oh, there are the good things about us homo saps in there too, but how prescient does JMS seem when rewatching the series after 9/11/01? The tensions between security and freedom, between our willingness to exercise our rights and our equal willingness to curtail them when the world makes us afraid, or when we are made to be afraid of the world and each other by people who have a vested interest in making us afraid are all there in Clark's government, the Night Watch, and the hatchet jobs performed on the crew of Babylon 5 by ISN.
Fear of the other rode to the stars with us in Babylon 5, and continued to manifest in some very, very ugly ways. Here as elsewhere in this tremendous series, JMS' fiction - isn't. It is said that great fiction is universal, by which people mean that it deals with eternal human truths - William Faulkner's "human heart in conflict with itself." Babylon 5, is just such a great fiction, and Straczynski, bless his writerly heart, always managed to remember that while we may carry the better angles of our nature into the future, we can be counted on to bring along our demons. We always struggle with Shadows.
John Vickery as Mr. Welles (hummm.... sounds familiar!) in 2.22: "The Fall of Night."
Until next time - Hold the Line!