ALS24 vs. Carl Sagan

A guest post from my daughter, Anna aka ALS24.  As hilarious as it is true...

Captain Sagan and his magical hand motions. He's doing a spell.
I am in what may be a literal spaceship, which may also be a literal dandelion, and, on top of that, is definitely a metaphorical embodiment of imagination and discovery, hurtling through space-time with an oddly dressed madman who is smiling wildly apparently at the beauty of it all. This happens to me quite a lot, but this time is different because neither am I watching Dr. Who, nor am I having one of my incredibly odd dreams. (Ed. note: she has really weird dreams) No, the strange things I see actually happened (sort of), a long time ago (read: the late 70s), in a galaxy far, far removed from normalcy. 

Like a creature from your worst nightmares...
This is Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. I’m only two or three episodes into it, but it’s already starting to creep into my mind at peculiar times, the way any show I immerse myself in does, and rightfully so. Cosmos, if it remains unknown to my poor, deprived reader, was a PBS television series about scientific discovery that aired in 1980 and was presented by Carl Sagan, an astrophysicist, author, science advocate, and über-nerd. Given that elevator pitch, I probably would have given up on it before it was half spoken, mostly because of the link with PBS, a channel I associate with crappy puppetry and awkward segments on the evils of spam mail by people who look like they think they’re talking about the Unabomber-esque figure who torments people by mailing them processed meat in a can.

However, I did not discover this show in a rational frame of mind. No, I found it late at night, while skimming through a Netflix channel labeled “Mind-Blowing Movies” (which also inexplicably included a Spiderman movie. Spiderman may be soul-crushingly whiny, but he is not mind-blowing. I really don’t know what the Netflix gnomes who make such decisions were thinking).  I clicked on it, entranced by the impression of it I had gotten through Symphony of Science, an incredible project that Auto-Tunes scientists (most prominently the aforementioned Dr. Sagan) speaking about the wonder of the universe. On a whim I watched an episode and what I saw changed me forever (maybe). 

You have to understand, floating calendars are part of this guy's
everyday life. This isn't weird for him. This is just Tuesday.
Cosmos seems like what would have happened if the Dharma Initiative took astronomical amounts of hallucinogens, and then wrote poetry about science and how "fucking beautiful the world is, man" and then someone made their genius/insane observations into the most widely watched series in the history of American public television at the timePresented to us by the show is an incredible universe, full of stars and supernovas and possibly aliens, and brimming with wonderment. Also presented in the show are these insane diorama things of places like the lost library at Alexandria and the “cosmic calendar”.  The universe is truly an incredible place, we are told repeatedly through beautiful images and enthralling, dramatic music.

"When will then be now? Soon."
Throughout our discoveries of these new worlds, we are given Carl Sagan as a guide. This is an interesting choice, given how ridiculous almost everything this man does on camera is. Yes, he is teaching science, but he’s teaching it while sitting in a field, smiling at a dandelion, wearing a leisure suit. The impression his guidance leaves you with is that someone has taken your high school physics professor, gotten them slightly high, dressed him in a polyester windbreaker/turtleneck/pants-and-sports-coat combo and told them to explain time travel to you. In other words, it’s awesome, despite the fact that it’s impossible to explain why.

As I watch the show, I find myself realizing while you can wonder at it, day dream about it, laugh at it, and get scared of it, you cannot attempt to dissect it. You can’t question. If what you thought was Earth turns out to be an alien planet, you roll with it. If we are suddenly on a rickshaw in Egypt, you just accept that fact. And if your cosmic chaperone has decided the only way he can communicate is through vaguely mysterious hand gestures like a stoned Italian, you will learn to love this. Because it’s all just part of the fathomless ballet that is this show.

1 comment:

  1. Second only to the more actionable Gerard K Oneill, Carl Sagan is a titan. All currently earthbound cosmonauts agree. Long live the hair.

    The auto tuned BBC might be the thing that saves public television. Compress all the shows into music video sized files that can be downloaded for Ipad and DTV, or uploaded directly to the cerebral coretx.