Babylon 5

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Fandom
Name: Babylon 5
Abbreviation(s): B5, Bab5
Creator: J. Michael Straczynski
Date(s): 1993 - 1998, 2002, 2007
Medium: television series, 6 movies
Country of Origin: United States
External Links: Babylon 5 at IMDb
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Contents

Babylon 5 is a science fiction television show that first aired on 26 January 1994.[1]

It is the story of the Babylon 5 space station, a neutral site meant to be a place where different planets and cultures can mingle and engage in non-violent diplomacy.

It was designed to be a five-year show, with one overarching story arc. Unfortunately, the show was threatened with cancellation, so the story had to be awkwardly wrapped up by the end of year 4. As it turned out, the show was not cancelled, and a fifth season was quickly written. Many fans mourn the possibilites that an uninterrupted arc would have brought.

The universe has gone on in in several tie-in books and three short-lived spin-offs: the two television series Crusade (1999, cancelled after 13 episodes) and Legend of the Rangers (2002, cancelled after just the pilot), and the 2007 straight-to-DVD movie Babylon 5: The Lost Tales.

Babylon 5 Fandom

Babylon 5 had a thriving internet-based fandom from its inception, thanks to the growing use of the web as the show started and the efforts of the show's creator. Babylon 5 has also been a popular show at general science-fiction conventions, for panel discussions, interviews, episode screenings, and cosplay.

Some fans also fondly remember or still play Babylon 5's official roleplaying game, wargame, and collectible card game.

Fan communities for Babylon 5 often sprung up on message boards, such as the official Warner Brothers and TNT fan sites. Pathfinder, for example, had a dedicated Babylon 5 message board which hosted a long-running real-time round-table fanfiction roleplay, called the Babylon 5 Never-Ending Story (Add Your Own Twists!) With several dozen participants, the narrative evolved from a free-for-all wish-fulfillment into a more structured story with planning, plot, and character development. The Never-Ending Story survived the merging of the dedicated Babylon 5 board into the general Sci-Fi Television board, a switch to a different hosting site entirely, and finally petered out on a mailing list.

International Fandom

On its first run in syndication, Babylon 5 aired internationally anywhere from several months to a year behind its US schedule. This led to much disgruntlement among international fans who wanted to participate in online activities, which were often overwhelmed with American fans wanting to discuss the latest episode. To keep up with the show in countries where the it wasn't airing yet, fans often copied and circulated VHS tapes with episodes recorded and mailed by American fans.

During the Gulf War, the Pentagon contacted JMS to tell him that the show improved morale among troops and to request advance synopses for episodes so that they could keep up with the airing schedule.[2]

Babylon 5 Fandom Today

After over twenty years, the fandom is still going strong. Even though the younger generation of fans mostly prefers the more 'comtemporary' fannish spaces, fandom has not completely abandoned Usenet either, and some of the old message boards, such as B5TV are also still around and active.

In journal-based fandom, Livejournal's Babylon 5 community is low-traffic but active, and the twice a month newsletter Universe Today collects discussion, fan fiction, art, and other interesting links from all over the web with plenty of links in each issues. There is also Babylon 5 Love Month, the annual fanworks fest celebrating the show.

One of the most active hubs of activity at the moment is on Tumblr, where the B5 fandom is well-known for welcoming new fans with open arms (and being considerate when it comes to spoilers). When a new fan posts in the B5 tag (usually to mourn for the perceived lack of fandom for B5), it is traditional for the other fans to reblog their post and welcome them to the fandom.

As one fan put it:

Seriously, though, the B5 fandom is probably one of the chillest fandom groups I’ve ever come across. You know what my favorite part about it is, though?

There’s no judgement. You could be an old fan of the show. You could be a brand new one. We don’t care. The general attitude seems to be that as long as you love it, we love you, too.

It’s funny because, in a way, I feel like our fandom does what the station itself set out to accomplish in the first place, and you know what? It’s beautiful. [3]

B5 Fandom and the Powers That Be

From its inception, Babylon 5 fandom has had an accessible relationship with series creator, J. Michael Straczynski, as he was a regular contributor to the newsgroups alt.tv.babylon-5, rec.arts.tv.sf.babylon5 and rec.arts.tv.sf.babylon5.moderated.[4] JMS (as he is commonly known) would frequently answer fan questions about the show, not only about production or technical issues but about the backgrounds of the characters and the worlds he created. His posts, which are archived at jmsnews.com, are an early example of internet creator/fan based interactions [5].

Regarding his place as a showrunner and fan, he wrote in 1996:
I was on CIS and GEnie long before B5 got going. I figured, why change my habits just because now I was supposedly a vip? (And I'm not always comfortable with that designation.) Beyond that, my job as a writer is to know as much as I can about my characters and universe. In answering all these questions, I learn more about those areas, which helps me. Finally, it's a matter of being accessible and *accountable* to fans, as I'd wished producers had been when I was primarily a viewer. SF fans are generally the most exploited sorts of fans...you're told to line up, watch the show, buy the merchandise, and shut up. I didn't like it then, and I don't like it any better now that I'm on the other side of the lens. [6]

Fan interaction with JMS also helped to shape details in several episodes of the show. In the late first-season episode The Quality of Mercy, for example, there is a discussion of the rights of due process in a society where there are functional telepaths. JMS acknowledged on the newsgroup and in discussions that he fleshed out the on-screen discussion rather than glossing it over because there had been a high level of interest on the newsgroup.

Many cast members, such as Claudia Christian and Patricia Tallman, also often interact with fans online or at conventions, and contribute to fan-run projects such as The Babylon Podcast.

A good example of co-operation between fans and TPTB is Babylon 5: I've Found Her, a space combat simulator which continued the legacy of the cancelled Babylon 5: Into the Fire game with the help of the developers of the commercial game (and the unofficial blessing of JMS).[7]

Tensions with Star Trek Fandom

Don't you think it's just the *teensiest* bit unfair to compare a show with a TWENTY SEVEN YEAR HISTORY to something that's only been on the air

less than two seasons? If B5 and ST came on the air at the same time, then you could make this comparison fairly. ST has, over nearly three decades, become part of the culture; B5 doesn't have that advantage.

On the whole issue of so-called "Trek bashing," part of my brain explodes every time I see this discussion dredged up from whatever place it rests in between sessions. For 27 years, many ST fans held up that show as being the Ultimate in TV SF. "Well, X is okay, but it's not as good as STAR TREK!" "Show Y really sucks next to Star Trek." And so on.

So now somebody says, "Well, Star Trek is okay, but it's not as good as BABYLON 5" and suddenly I hear a lot of whining and whinging and "Tell the bad mans to stop making fun of us! That's not fair!" Seems to me it's only not fair because somebody other than ST fans is saying it. (And please don't tell me the former stuff didn't happen; I've been on the nets since 1984 and at cons/in fandom since forever, and I've seen it.)

Most of the ST fans, I should point out, are quite accepting of B5; what I see most often is those who did the most bashing of every other show falling entirely to pieces because now they're at the other end of it, as though their show should be sacrosanct. To whom I simply say...tough. Deal with it, pink boy, it's *your* turn in the barrel, and if you don't like it, then maybe you shouldn't have been doing it yourself all these years.

This leads to comments like those from (either Berman or) Pillar in a recent magazine interview, in which he stated that yes, there are lots of other SF shows out there, but because his show has the Star Trek name on it, he really doesn't have to keep up with or have any sense of competition with any other show, since that name gives them an automatic advantage. That speaks to the heart of why many ST fans are now having a problem with that show, whose motto seems to be, "We're Star Trek, we don't HAVE to try harder." (Reminiscent of the SNL routine, "We're the phone company. We don't care. We don't have to.") It's sheer complacency.

When some ST fans berate or criticize other shows, they feel they do so from a perspective of quality, and thus they're automatically right; if another fan of another show does it to them, well, by golly, that's not

informed criticism, it CAN'T be, because ST is the True One Light, it must be BASHING! Screw that. [8]
If I had to turn to the Star Trek community, and express a concern, it would be only this. Gene Roddenberry advanced the idea of IDIC. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. It is another word for open-mindedness. Because Babylon 5 is on the air, it does not constitute a threat in any way to Star Trek. One is

no more disloyal to ST by checking out B5 than one is disloyal to the original Trek by watching a show using the same name but in no way created by the creator of Trek (Voyager).

We are not Trek. We have no obligation to be Trek. Nor, really, do I think anyone would want us to be Trek, because then we *are* irrelevant and redundent. We are another view of the future. It's not the same as the Star Trek future, but another possibility... which of course gets us into philosophical areas, and some of the objections some ST fans have toward B5 are, indeed, philosophical; this is how they want the world to be 250 years from now. Fair enough, and I don't have a problem in the world with that.

I have no problem with ANYone who gives B5 a fair shake, and then decides it's not for them; anyone who actually *embraces* the idea of IDIC and practices it; anyone who gives B5 the kind of fair chance that ST fans wish would've been given to the original show back in the 60s. Yet all too often, when someone comes into the B5 section on a kamikaze run, after they've dropped the bombs, you discover that, in fact, they've never seen the series, never seen more than some promos, or two minutes of a show; the same people who will, by their own statements, stick with a new Star Trek series, even though they hate aspects of it, for whole *seasons* until they figure out how to get it right.

There is NO reason for animosity between ST fans and B5 fans, for the simple reason that, every day, we gain more fans who began as ST fans, and in many cases CONTINUE to enjoy that show. Any hostility is as fundamentally silly as fans of Hill Street Blues declaring open warfare against anyone who likes NYPD Blue because they both have the word Blue in the title, and HSB was there first.

All that anyone wants, I guess, is that the show be given a fair chance. The lack of that chance was what helped drive the original Star Trek off the air after two years initially, and finally after the third. I can't see any reasonable

ST fan, knowing that history, and decrying it, then doing it to another. [9]

Fanworks

Close relationship between TPTB and fandom also had its problems, especially when it came to fanworks.

Straczynski requested that fans not post fanfiction or story ideas to the newsgroup he frequented as he didn't want his copyright compromised by the possibility of being seen to have stolen a fan's idea.[10] In one case he went so far as to delay an episode's production, pushing it off for a season, until he could get a release from the fan who had suggested a similar idea on the newsgroup.[11].

JMS's no fan fiction policy--or, more accurately, a policy of "I can never say that I am in favor of fan fiction"-- was seen by fans as a request to keep the fanfiction where he could not see it. For a few years there was little Babylon 5 fanfiction openly published on the internet, with only a few archives and no discussion about it on the major fan boards. Because of this, Gen fans found themselves in the unusual position, formerly the place of slash fans, of needing to be introduced to invite only fiction mailing lists.

Art print of Marcus by Tim Kuzniar. Print is water damaged
Regarding fanart:
To this day, I don't think anyone at WB has ever had any kind of

problem with fan computer art, freely distributed, based on the show,

or altering images into something new and different. [12]
Regarding fanfiction:
I've been informed that J.M.S., as the creator of Babylon Five prefers to be called, requests that no one write B-5 stories until the series is officially and irrevocably cancelled, some five years hence. This doesn't exclude artwork or filk..." [13]
In June 1996, J.M.S. said:
think the main reason there isn't much fanfiction is that I've specifically asked for there not to be any until after we've finished our run. And as is generally true of the SF fan community, if you ask nice and respectfully, you will generally be accommodated. [14]
In March 1996, J.M.S. said:
Except I don't think it's actually a story idea, but rather qualifies as parody (of a sort). Also, I've never said I'd go after anybody who posts story ideas, because I can't do that; I can only leave any forum where they come up. I can't interfere with that. Actual *published* fiction that infringes is another matter entirely, of course. [15]

At least one zine, Third Age, was also dead in the water before it even began because of the no-fic policy:

Several months ago I wrote to J. Michael Straczynski to inform him of my plans to publish a fan publication based on Babylon 5. I finally received a reply a couple of weeks ago from Joanne Higgins (assistant to Straczynski) of Babylonian Productions. Even though my letter emphasized the fact that this fanzine was not for profit, Ms. Higgins has expressly forbidden me to publish Third Age, stating that "all publications using the Babylon 5 name must be licensed through Warner Brothers as they own the rights." Apparently Warner Bros does not share Paramount's view that fan publications increase fan awareness and commercial success of a series (Paramount has no problem with Star Trek fanzines as long as they are non-profit). Warner must also be unaware of the other B5 fan publications that are out there. As a result, I will not be publishing Third Age as planned. I've written back expressing my disappointment in this apparent "ban" on B5 fandom. [16]

After the show ended, the 'ban' on fanfiction was lifted -- while fans still kept fic away from spaces where JMS himself frequented, by the late 90's it wasn't considered something that actively needed to be hidden anymore.

Popular topics for fanfiction include what-if alternate universe stories (What if the Minbari did not surrender at the Battle of the Line, what if Sinclair was never replaced by Sheridan), relationship-centric stories featuring both canon pairings (John Sheridan/Delenn, Susan Ivanova/Talia Winters, Susan Ivanova/Marcus Cole) and non-canon pairings (Delenn/Susan Ivanova, Marcus Cole/Neroon, Londo Mollari/G'Kar, Sinclair/Garibaldi), and continuations of the original 5-year canon both gen and relationship-centric.

Babylon 5 was considered too large fandom for Yuletide until 2009, when it was allowed under the ten year rule (Crusade had been eligible for a few years until being disqualified because of the franchise rule). However, the next year it was again deemed not rare based on the number of stories on AO3 - only to allowed back again in 2012.

Fanzines

Links to Babylon 5 fanzines can be found at Category:Babylon_5

Fanfic archives

See resources below.

Resources

References

  1. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0517669/
  2. As related in the Babylon 5 script books.
  3. Knightless about Tumblr-based fandom here.
  4. http://www.midwinter.com/b5/Usenet/
  5. The posts have also been collected into a five-part book series, compiled by JMS and a team of fans, that contains of every question JMS had ever answered on Usenet, AOL bulletin boards, GEnie, and in online chats, sorted by category. The books total approximately 2,000 pages and cover 5,296 questions. More here; reference link.
  6. from a CompuServ transcript
  7. I've Found Her official site
  8. from J. Michael Straczynski : CompuServ transcript, May 29, 1995
  9. from J. Michael Straczynski : CompuServ transcript, June 12, 1995
  10. http://www.midwinter.com/lurk/resources/story-ideas.html
  11. http://www.midwinter.com/lurk/countries/us/guide/048.html
  12. from J.M.S. in a CompuServ transcript, August 16, 1995
  13. from the editorial of Grip #48 in 1994
  14. from a CompuServe transcript
  15. from a CompuServ transcript, subject line was "Subject: B5 vs. DS9 filk story?"
  16. from Trexperts #37
  17. reference link.
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