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No Redemption- by vilakins

Dragon*Con 2005: Sunday, Part Three - the B5 Genocide Panel

Ok, selenak, here's the part you've been waiting for. ;) Continued from here.

The B5 genocide panel was pitted against the Masquerade, which virtually assured that we would only have around fifteen people in the room. This actually turned out to be good thing, though, because these were fifteen people who cared about what we were talking about. And while this sometimes meant Sabrina and I had to redefine the boundaries before members of the audience started going at each other, at least we didn’t have an audience who simply stared at us like stunned wombats.

My intent in proposing the panel was to encourage the audience to examine presentation and how it affects our judgment. The Centauri-Narn conflict unfolds before our eyes in vivid and terrible detail, while the Earth-Minbari conflict is presented to us in snatches of memory. Is it possible that JMS is manipulating our reaction to certain characters and conflicts by manipulating what we see?

I did not achieve my ultimate goal to the fullest extent because we got bogged down on a smaller question: Does the Centauri-Narn conflict rise to the level of the Earth-Minbari conflict in genocidal intent? One audience member, convinced that the answer to this was yes, claimed that the Centauri intended to obliterate the Narn, but “their greed got in the way.” I boggled. Aside from a few remarks uttered in fits of pique, canon just doesn’t support this. It isn’t Londo who openly – and soberly - pines for a day when his people can carve Narn bone flutes for their children, sow the Narn soil with salt, etc. There are genocides committed against certain groups on Narn – some deaths are necessary, goes the thinking, to keep a population pacified - but ultimately, the Centauri government wants subjects and slaves more than it wants corpses. Do the Minbari show this kind of restraint?

(And just as a sidelight, would the Narn have shown that restraint if the circumstances were reversed? At one point, Sabrina brought up G’Kar during the discussion, asserting that he “just wanted to protect his people.” “No, that is not all,” I thundered into the mike. That’s when the bone flutes came up. “It does a disservice to G’Kar as a character,” I said, “to minimize his own genocidal ambition.”)

After repeating the above in a number of iterations, it occurred to me that some audience members might be having trouble with the distinction because they feared that recognizing said distinction would somehow absolve the Centauri. So I explicitly emphasized that it would not. What the Centauri do to the Narn is morally reprehensible regardless of whether or not their actions pale in comparison to those of the Minbari against the Humans. After disabusing the assembled of the notion that I intended for this discussion to serve as a Centauri apologia, I then asked whether anyone was troubled by Delenn’s past. “In what way?” Sabrina replied. And this, after we had just spent most of the panel bickering over the Centauri, was really a beautiful illustration of my intended point, though I didn’t say so out loud.

Instead, I explained what I meant: I proposed that JMS’s narrative of the Earth-Minbari War is plot-serving rather than completely truthful. Because Delenn is supposed to be one of the heroes of the piece, any ambiguity about her role in the Earth-Minbari War tends to be minimized through a little revisionist history. We see her deciding vote cast in grief. We see her attempt to broker a peace. We see her heavy remorse. But it’s important to remember that the events of In the Beginning occurred over a number of years - and in all that time, Delenn only made one attempt to stop the war, even though canon explicitly states that there were dissenters in the Gray Council. Would she have even made that one attempt if her gods hadn’t told her the Humans were the key? Moreover, would she have voted for surrender if it weren’t for the sheer luck that allowed her to select Valen from the horde at the Battle of the Line? Does the fact that we only see part of the story in flashbacks make it easier for us, the viewers, to forgive her? Gratifyingly, a number of attendees seemed willing to entertain the question.

“That was spirited,” said Tom Holste (I believe) when the panel adjourned. By which, as he later clarified on list, he meant that he was afraid there was going to be a bloodbath, particularly whenever real Earth politics entered the discussion, which it did on occasion. (A certain person in the audience was of the opinion that I proposed the topic specifically for the purpose of discussing real Earth politics, which was kind of interesting in its way, but not right. Don’t get me wrong - I have absolutely no problem with people drawing parallels to real Earth politics (though I reserve the right to disagree with those parallels), but my intent, first and foremost, was to talk about a certain space opera and its author’s power to influence interpretation.) But despite the occasional political clash, everyone seemed to be in agreement that we should discuss the topic again next year. Sabrina and I were both congratulated for our moderation. And people were still discussing the panel’s primary questions in the hallway ten to fifteen minutes later. Isn’t that what all panels should accomplish? I’m not going to hide it – I’m proud of that result, even if searose came up to me afterwards and affectionately called me a “troublemaker.” :P

Comments

Sounds absolutely brilliant, love - wish I'd been there!
Sounds like you did a great job!

And yes, *I* am disturbed by Delenn's past. Always have been. It made me not trust her, once I found out she took part in torturing Sheridan.
That was Sinclair, actually, but yes.
D'oh! I KNEW I would get that wrong!

Brava! Brava!

As in, like streel, "I so wish I could have been there"

I'll third 'I wish I was there.'

Maybe next year, or the year after...
It was a good panel, although that one guy really got on my nerves. It was interesting to see the discussion going on between older men who'd either served in or remembered wars of the past, and the college-age women.
When that one gentleman revealed that he was a Holocaust survivor, that was my first "oh, God" moment. The second was when that same gentleman brought up certain current conflicts and leadensky, bless her, yelled, "Not everybody's going to agree with you on that!" Meep! But we really did get through it with no bloodshed. *g*
What did the survivor say?
The first was an "oh, God" moment only because I knew his expectations were going to be higher because he had actually lived it. In other words: "Oh, God, I hope I do this topic justice even though I'm just a brat kid." As for the second instance, I would like to reserve my right to be coy about it. Suffice it to say that he made a comment about something currently on the news and leadensky strenuously disagreed.

To my relief, he did seem pleased with the panel overall. He congratulated me for bringing up the topic, and he seemed ready to talk to Sabrina and me all night about what was covered.
I think, next year, that there should be some definitions established in the first five minutes of the panel. The issue of cultural genocide was a good one, and needed more discussion, I think.

(I also think that it could have cut down on some of the more stupid moonbat inflammatory RealEarth comments, if we had established what we meant by genocide.)

I don't think that we can, in SF discussions, get away entirely from discussing real politics - part of the purpose of SF is to make a mirror at a distance of RL, so these things can get discussed more reasonably. My purpose in pushing for the discussion to focus "on the space show" was to prevent the (non-metaphorical) fistfight that was waiting to happen.

I also think that the discussion of presentation, and spin, could have (and maybe should have?) gone into RL politics as well, even at a historical distance. (WWII, for instance, is chock full of opportunity to exam the use of propaganda for "noble purposes.")

Anyway. Yeah, good panel. Turn your mike down next time. *g*

- hg

Yep. Yep. See me nodding my head at everything you say. I didn't have a whole lot of opportunity to speak to the other panelists before showtime, and I do think that if I had had the opportunity to clarify my intent to them, we could've been even better. Still, since the topic was received enthusiastically by at least one member of the track staff as well as the audience, we can, perhaps, consider this a learning experience for a potential next time, yes? *g*

And I will turn down my mike. When I'm excited/agitated, I tend to forget that I can project. *g*
I enjoyed myself on the panel, I know that much, and you have every reason to be proud for how the panel turned out! :)
Damn, wish I'd been there. You really raised some points I never thought about, and you made me want to go back and watch "in the beginning..."
I think you're generally right about the path Delenn took (and G'Kar), but your reply misses the point somewhat. What I'm trying to say is this: canonically, we see very little of Delenn's redemptive process because she is, as you say, nearly done by episode one. Isn't it a little possible that this redemption is thus easier to accept for the viewer because it has been relegated to the past?

Consider the following: Most of fandom assumes that Delenn told Sheridan about her role in the Earth-Minbari War. But there's actually no canonical evidence that this admission occurred. It is equally plausible that Delenn never told Sheridan because she was afraid Sheridan would not forgive her, which is not necessarily an unfounded fear based on what we've seen of Sheridan. So why do most people accept interpretation number one? Because they assume that Delenn's redemptive process was complete and unambiguous. If they were to accept the second interpretation, on the other hand, that would cast a light of doubt on that assumption, because part of the process of true redemption is being honest with your victim.

Another part of true redemption, imho, is punishment, and I don't think that really happened with Delenn. Her physical re-invention did invite some scorn. And yes, she did have her own guilt. But ultimately, she, along with her husband, became a revered figure. That's a pretty easy atonement compared to, oh, say, voluntarily sacrificing your autonomy and subjecting yourself to fifteen years of torture and humiliation for the sake of a whole planet.

I'm sure Londo sometimes wished he could've just undergone a physical metamorphosis in a chrysalis and then married G'Kar to atone for his sins. Which is not to say that Londo didn't totally bring it upon himself (I hope I don't have to repeat my standard "yes, Londo is a war criminal and I'm not excusing it" disclaimer), but the truth of the matter is, Londo did have a choice even at the very end - he could've run away and saved his own skin as soon as he perceived that things were going terribly awry. We know that he was tempted. (see also, The Day of the Dead) The fact that he ultimately concluded he had no choice at all but to submit speaks to his honor, not to the reality of the situation. And when you add this to promises kept (The Long Night) and genuine apologies (The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari), you get a picture - again, imho - of someone who has sincerely embraced a difficult path of atonement. So why are less people willing to accept that? I believe it's because Londo's crimes are more salient to the viewer because we see them all, without spin.

But, YMMV.
But wasn't it too bad we never saw that take place? I would've loved to see that scene. I suspect it would've played like their scenes together in Z'Ha'Dum.

Just so we're clear, I've come to love Delenn precisely because of these intriguing ambiguities I perceive in her character. As with G'Kar, I feel whitewashing her culpability does her a disservice. Acknowledging it, on the other hand, allows us to explain, for example, her sympathy for Londo, which has always struck me as uniquely knowing.
I'm sure Londo sometimes wished he could've just undergone a physical metamorphosis in a chrysalis and then married G'Kar to atone for his sins.

Heh! Yes, exactly. And you know I totally agree with you here. Delenn gets off way too easily.
And just as an oh, by the way, Londo comes to understand the error of his ways without Vorlonic intervention of any kind. Which is not to deny the choice Delenn and G'Kar both have to make to accept said intervention, but I don't think it should be forgotten that Londo only has his own guilty conscience to guide him.
Now I wish we were living in the ST, not the B5 universe. Because then either the Enterprise or the Defiant, due to one of its various visits of the past, could have kindly used its transportation system for my benefit and beamed me to that panel. Because it sounds absolutely 100% like the perfect thing I want to attend!
I'd honestly never considered Delenn in that light before. It's a fascinating new perspective, and I'm going to have to go watch a lot of her stories again to see what I think about about it.

Sound like it was a great panel!
Just let me say: yes, I think you are right. I think the way Delenn's backstory is presented is meant to incline the audience in her favor. I am a total Delenn/Sheridan shipper, and that's why I think there should have been more scenes like the one in "Z'Ha'Dum".
would she have voted for surrender if it weren’t for the sheer luck that allowed her to select Valen from the horde at the Battle of the Line?

Yeah, exactly. Londo's redemption arc would have been a lot less impressive if he'd suddenly discovered that Narns were really reincarnated Centauri. Only with Delenn, we're supposed to accept that she believed genocide was wrong in and of itself the whole time, based on... her being one of the good guys?

Which isn't to say that I don't think she's sorry. Although I can't think of one moment where canon touches on her guilt and we aren't supposed to feel sorry for her. Londo's arc breaks your heart, but not because G'Kar is unfair and mean when he describes what the Centauri did to his world - when the ISN reporters say anything negative about Delenn, we're meant to side with her because she's upset. Like you said in another comment, we're led towards thinking of her redemption as complete already.

This sounds like a fantastic panel. Why can't fandom hold all these things within easy travelling distance of me? ;)