Night Watch

From Issuepedia

Analysis

Spoiler Warning: The following article contains plot details regarding the television show Babylon 5. If you are familiar with this work and know how it ends, or don't care whether you find out in advance, feel free to read on.

In Babylon 5, the Night Watch storyline demonstrates many of the techniques used for building and maintaining a Power Structure.

The Night Watch organization initially offers members 50 credits per week to join; the only requirements are:

  • members must wear black logo armbands (essentially an arbitrary requirement, since these armbands serve no clear function)
  • members must help their fellow humans to cope emotionally in the current difficult times
  • members must be "loyal to Earth"

After some time passes, and the political situation has evolved somewhat, Night Watch membership is used to coerce recruits who are otherwise well-intentioned into performing more and more questionable activities (gradually increasing requirements), with the threat of treason used to prevent members from leaving (asymmetric entry-exit).

Loyalty "to Earth", initially presented as being fairly abstract and more or less on a level with loyalty to humankind, is refined to mean "loyalty to Earth's government", "loyalty to the President", and ultimately "loyalty to the current President" (equating the individual with the office); criticism of the President's actions or policies is labeled sedition.

"Helping fellow humans to cope emotionally" is carefully equivocated ("coping emotionally" means we must stamp out negative thoughts; critical thoughts are, of course, negative by nature – especially any thoughts which are critical of the government's efforts to "help everyone cope") to justify the act of reporting "disloyal" speech (making Night Watch a citizen informer corps), and of arresting those reported to have spoken such. Ultimately "helping people to cope" and similar phrases are used to justify just about anything the government wants to justify.

Night Watch recruits who had willingly agreed to be "loyal to Earth" and to "help people cope" find themselves – reluctantly, in most cases – led into supporting increasingly fascistic acts on the part of the Night Watch.

Related

The Night Watch storyline bears significant similarities to events in (and was probably inspired by):

  • Nazi Germany, especially with regard to arbitrary displays of loyalty (such as armbands) and the creation of various "special" groups of citizens whose beliefs and actions could be manipulated (e.g. Hitler Youth)
  • the novel 1984 by George Orwell