1) Fun and Games
Our last example is about “bread and circuses,” a perennial subject of political and moral philosophizing that is placed in a fantastic alien context in Fun and Games.
A boxer and petty criminal (Nick Adams) witnesses a murder while observing a poker game at an urban tenement building, and while seeking means of escape, barges into the apartment of Laura Hanley (Nancy Malone). Both Adams and Malone are carrying deep psychological and emotional scars, and are judged to be superb material by “The Senator,” for his “fun and games”.
The “fun and games” in question are gladatorial hunts and combats between various alien species periodically abducted from their home planets and brought together in an “arena,” which is a rather hostile, jungle-like world used specifically for these “games.”
The Senator teleports both to the planet Andera for an initial interview, in which they are informed that if they do not choose to play the games, Earth and all its people will be exterminated “for the enjoyment of our citizens.”
This episode explores the dark aspects of human nature, and the manner in which even the most technologically, economically, and scientifically advanced civilization, that judged by its technical achivements and living standards, appears “civilized,” can in reality be morally degenerate and, indeed, barbaric.
The inhabitants of Andera, having long ago conquered all material want, have become bored, effete, and decadent. “One elusive conquest” remains for the Anderans, and that is “pleasure.” The Anderan’s do not engage in wars and civil strife any longer. They enjoy “self respect, peace, and affluence.” But a “high order of civilization” does not necessarily “lift the low order of passion.” Hence, like ancient Rome, the government of Andera provides its citizens with “an unbroken succession” of “passionate games” to appease and control the passions and lusts that still simmer and churn below the veneer of “self respect, peace, and affluence.”
Yet again, we confront some of the deep, terrible questions of human existence, including the ultimate question of the conquest of self, not simply of the material conditions within which the self has its experiences and relations.
This episode revisits, without the Freudian overtones, a very similar theme seen in MGM’s Forbidden Planet, in which the fantastically advanced Krell were still not able, despite their stupendous intellectual development, to ultimately conquer the lower aspects of themselves (which Christians will understand as the “fallen” or “natural” human constitution) that they had repressed and ignored at their own peril.
Deep questions for our own time and culture, as some look wide eyed at a future of human cloning, genetic manipulation, embryonic stem cell research, and virtual reality technology. How “civilized” are we really?
Our culture has changed substantially since the early sixties when this series first aired. Hollywood itself, artist colony that it is, has both lead and reflected those changes. While this, for the most part, extremely well written and conceived series, explores the philosophical and ethical questions of existence, one’s jaw almost drops at its absence of overt political content. There are a few passing references, here and there, to contemporary concerns (such as the threat of nuclear war), but these are treated as problems of the human condition generally, without any of the ideologically self conscious preachiness one finds in modern cinematic or TV Sci-Fi.
Oh, and “give thought to the mysteries of the universe” now and then.