In his latest FIREWALL, Bill Whittle talks about fathers and sons, heroes and cowards, as seen from the viewing port of the Jupiter 2.
Hi everybody: I’m Bill Whittle and this is the Firewall!
Hey, you know what we old timers like best about living in an age where everything that ever happened is available on the internet? You get to back and visit your youth. I recently went back and revisited the one classic science-fiction TV show that had the most profound influence on me growing up as a boy in the early sixties…
No, not this one.
((LOST IN SPACE))
Now I know, I know what you’re thinking: Lost in Space maybe the worst show ever made. I don’t remember it being as bad as it was, and that’s because when I first saw Lost in Space, it wasn’t that bad.
The first ten episodes or so were really solid TV science-fiction, and at five years old I was hooked: There were spacesuits and suspended animation and spacewalks and massive derelict shipwrecks; there were meteor storms, and alien Cyclopses, and jet packs, and the Chariot. And way past all of that was The Jupiter 2, just my all-time favorite piece of science-fiction hardware ever.
Just beautiful, with the landing gear and the awesome propulsion noise… They built a life-sized prop for the third season. One day, if I make enough money, I’m going to have that rebuilt, put it out back, and live in that.
By myself, obviously.
But there is a larger point to all this, because in the 40 years since Lost in Space first lit up my imagination, a lot has changed in America, especially the way we view the family: especially the way we view fathers and sons.
John Robinson was not a man-child; not an overweight adult idiot sitting around watching TV while his wife balances the books. And he wasn’t some weak, sensitive life partner who had to call the exterminator if he found a spider in the shower, either. He wasn’t a coward, and he wasn’t a brute: he was a astrophysicist, an explorer, a husband and a father. He was strong, quiet, calm, confident and firm.
But nothing has changed since this lost future nearly so much as how we look at children – and especially how we look at boys. Because the center of this show, for me and millions and millions of boys my age, was my friend, Will Robinson. He wasn’t a rebel, he didn’t have SWAG, and he was very, very not cool. Will was brilliant, adventurous, brave, decent, kind and responsible. How did he get to be this way? Well, he had a dad that loved him, showed him he loved him, and encouraged his ingenuity. He punished him when he misbehaved, and praised him when he didn’t. And most of all, he rewarded that sense of responsibility with autonomy and trust, and more than once this little brave, smart, resourceful little boy used a weapon! – that bad-ass laser pistol -- to save his father and the rest of his family. That kind of boy is just unimaginable on TV today. But back then, this was the kind of we wanted our sons to be.
And one other things seems to have changed, and not for the better. It goes to our entire idea of manhood today.
On one hand, you have the ship’s pilot: Major Don West, hotheaded, strong, loyal, honorable, brave, competent and hardworking. On the other hand, Dr. Zachary Smith: Reptile cold, weak, treasonous, lying, cowardly, incompetent shirker and goldbricker.
Don is making it with awesome space-babe Judy; Dr. Smith hangs out with a boy.
Smith is selfish, vain, and narcissistic, and considers his greatest attribute to be his vast intelligence. He’s a man of letters, who thinks the military Major is a dim-witted brute. Smith is a product of the faculty lounge. Dr. Smith is an intellectual.
But intellectualism is not intelligence. Intelligence is the ability to process new data, spot patterns, and make predictions. Intellectualism is the ability to drop witty observations and occasional insights about things that have already happened. Intellectualism is intelligence that has been left in the back of the fridge for seven months.
Smith, the self-centered intellectual, can’t open a jackknife and sells out the major, and the entire family, for personal gain pretty much every week. West, the so-called brute, is a pilot, mechanic, engineer, astrophysicist who can assemble force field components from the space stove. West, parenthetically, repeatedly risks his life to save Smith and the family. West is not only far more intelligent than Dr. Smith, he’s a better person – a better man – in every way.
See, these are not just two different men. They are two different kinds of men.
But the single greatest danger I see in the world today is the result of the leftist intellectual sophistry that started taking root in America right about the time Lost in Space went off the air in 1968.
Because to the realist Conservative, like Major West, the opposite of courage is cowardice. But to the intellectual Progressive, like Dr. Smith, the opposite of courage is intelligence. You know: the idea that the military is only good for those kids too stupid to get a decent job; the idea that other people’s kids can go and die to protect us so long as my brilliant gender-studies major doesn’t have to. This idea of cowardice being masked by the fig leaf of so-called intelligence –the lie told by these guys over the last four decades…
…well, that’s going to get us into real trouble, the way it always has, when real dangers have gone the way of the Jupiter 2, leaving us here, on earth, surrounded by rabbits where men used to be.
Oh the pain! The pain!