On Spreading the Gospel of Babylon 5

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Title: On Spreading the Gospel of Babylon 5
Creator: Howard Kleinman
Date(s): June 24, 2013
Medium: online
Fandom: Babylon 5
External Links: On Spreading The Gospel of Babylon 5 - Life In An Electric Box, Archived version
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On Spreading the Gospel of Babylon 5 is a Babylon 5 essay by Howard Kleinman.

The essay discusses the show itself, its fans, its flaws, its comparison to Star Trek and other media science fiction shows, and the difficulty in promoting this show to other fans.


I watched Babylon 5 during its original run in the 1990s. A few of my High School friends and I watched it obsessively, digging into its mysteries, taking guesses as to how things would play out and laughing at how our hopes and expectations were both made and confounded. It was the first time I’d been that obsessed with a TV series since I was a little kid. I’d look forward to every episode with breathless anticipation and, even when the last season dragged on, I still hung around for the last episodes and watched the last few mediocre TV movies. I cried at the finale. I couldn’t believe that it was over and that it had ended without gimmicks, without jokes and without meaningful loose ends. The show was a five-year long novel for television and it succeeded in most of its ambitions. I thought it was the most brilliant television show possible and that anyone who enjoyed Science Fiction would think the show was the best thing that happened to the medium since the original Star Trek. Well, I still think the show is amazing and a totally worthwhile time investment, but convincing people who didn’t watch the show when it first aired to give it a shot proved more challenging than I ever thought possible and, as time goes on, I suspect it will only get harder. There are a few key barriers to entry for the series, some of which are due to the series’s own faults, some due to the nature of the show’s fanbase and some due to the nature of science fiction fandom in general.

The Show’s Fans

We gush like you wouldn’t believe and we get snippy when people dare criticize the show. If you just started watching it from the beginning you’ll wonder if its fans are in an insane cult, and you might just be right. If someone tells me that they’re a B5 fan that gives me a feeling akin to meeting someone who is from the same town as I am. It’s like discovering a lost friend. While Babylon 5 is one of the first shows to develop an online fandom, online fandoms were such a small thing at the time that most fans didn’t even think to look online to find friends to link up with. The show didn’t sell a lot of visible paraphernalia, it didn’t have any phrases in pop culture like “he’s dead Jim,” it wasn’t covered in most mainstream entertainment magazines or entertainment news programs. It felt like an underground, invisible thing to be a part of. It made fans feel like part of a secret society. Hell, the biggest B5 site was called “The Lurker’s Guide,” lurkers referring to the people who lived in the poorest sections of Babylon 5 and were rarely seen or heard from. We were small in number, but we were powerful enough to keep the show from getting cancelled. I think the fact that the show MADE it five years and doesn’t have the tragic “too good to last” label on it hurts its legacy in some ways when compared to other series like Firefly and Farscape which required fans to organize to get more show. Despite some fears that season 4 would be the end, we got our promised five year arc, and if the pacing was disrupted due to production issues, we never had to band together to bring our show back. We managed to keep it afloat. That leads to a lot of fan pride, but not a lot of headlines or fan movements. We got most of what we wanted just for being loyal viewers. As series creator J. Michael Straczynski said, “Faith Manages.”

To other B5 fans, we speak the same language. To non-fans we look like a cultish bunch of ornery, hyperbolic nutcases. The more time passes by and the more shows we get like BSG that hit the ground running, the less time and willpower non-fans have to devote to the series. “Stick with it?” They’d say, “this show isn’t very good and I don’t know why you people are hyping it so much.” But we’ll keep hyping it up and annoying people who gave the show a fair chance. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of other shows people could watch that are good from the get go, even if they never reach B5’s highs. We oversell the show when we should undersell it. We should also come up with a definitive guide to how to watch as little of season 1 as possible.

Further Reading