Oh, right, fine, something sensible at last

A short quote from Waiting For God:

LISTER: What do you believe in, then? Do you believe in God?
RIMMER: God? Certainly not! What a preposterous thought! I believe in
aliens, Lister.
LISTER: Oh, right, fine. Something sensible at last.

Now, let that quote swill round your head a bit. Now, the fucking pathetic sad little Dwarf freak that you are will know all about Dwarf‘s No Aliens policy. With that in mind, this makes perfect sense.

But bear in mind two things. Red Dwarf has only specifically stated the No Aliens policy in the books; it’s never mentioned in the TV series. And this is only the fourth episode of the series. Now, isn’t it really, really weird that a SF series would act like the very idea of aliens was inherently ridiculous? Not a load of guff about aliens visiting Earth – but simply the very idea that aliens exist somewhere in the universe?

It’s not set up that this is a big moment in the series in any way – there’s no explanation of his comment. And at that point in the series, Lister and Rimmer are supposed to hail from the 21st Century – nowhere near enough time to conclusively prove that aliens don’t exist. And most importantly – our sympathies are clearly designed to lie with Lister in that scene. All the indications are that we’re supposed to take Lister’s comment at fact value – that the whole idea of aliens existing is complete and utter nonsense.

Have attitudes really changed that much since 1988? Or is this just a really strange bit of writing?

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31 Responses to Oh, right, fine, something sensible at last

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  1. G&T Admin

    The idea of God and Aliens are just as interchangable and unfathomable as each other.

    Name: Daniel Stephenson
    Specialist Subject: The Bleedin’ Obvious

  2. The idea of God and Aliens are just as interchangable and unfathomable as each other.

    I disagree. God is a ludicrous idea to me. It’s pure fantasy, like the tooth fairy. Aliens existing in some form or other is not. I don’t believe they’ll be bipedal – I think their unique terrain will bless them with a unique evolution – but the idea of something other than us in a universe that is supposedly infinite is not improbable. We just haven’t met them yet and most likely never will.

  3. Why “unique terrain”? After all, there’s millions of billions of trillions of stars in the universe [which is a severe understatement]. The idea that Sol is the ONLY star with a life-bearing planet[s] around it, in a numbers game, is patently ludicrous. And even if a tiny fraction of those stars have life-bearing planets around them, that’s still such a mindbogglingly HUGE number of stars and planets that the likelihood of there not being at least one other species that looks significantly humanoid to be recognised as such is pretty much ludicrous too.

    Now does that mean that flying saucers have visited Earth and probed the anuses of idiots? No. Chances are that (1) they’re far enough away that mere signs they exist won’t reach Earth until we’re all dead and (2) on that basis, them TRAVELLING to Earth would take forever and a day.

    Oh, and in a universe where three million years of sublight travel is still an inconceivable distance, no reputable scientist in the Dwarfverse would dare to claim aliens can’t exist :)

  4. Perhaps Lister just feels it’s ridiculous the way Rimmer believes in them, seems to almost worship them, even (e.g. the whole ‘Quagaar’ incident)… how he thinks they’re going to come in contact and give him a new body and basically, for all intents and purposes, *play* God. That comment doesn’t necessarily imply that Lister thinks the idea of aliens is preposterous in general; it seems more a mocking of Rimmer and his point of view in particular. Possibly.

  5. After all, there?s millions of billions of trillions of stars in the universe [which is a severe understatement]. The idea that Sol is the ONLY star with a life-bearing planet[s] around it, in a numbers game, is patently ludicrous.

    “It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them. However, not every one of them is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the Universe can be said to be zero. From this it follows that the population of the whole Universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.”

  6. ISWYDT.

    From memory the idea of Aliens was a lot more ridiculed back in the 80s. The decade playing it’s part in establishing the cliches that only rednecks in the hills ever got abducted etc. In the 90s we had the X-Files boom worldwide, it became a bit more cool to think everything was one big conspiracy. Somewhere along the line the public consciousness was introduced to this idea that if the universe is this big old place we get told than applying logic we probably aren’t the only “living” thing in it. What’s rarely added is that just as the universe is unfathomably big, our prescence in time has also merely been a blip in the great scheme of things. So for all we know Mars could have developed from single cell organisms into a galatic empire wiped and wiped itself out before earthlings were even a twinkle in the universes eyes.

    Regards the Dwarf/No Aliens line. Doesn’t Lister say something akin to “Human biengs are a planetary disease” – this to me lends itself to the idea that if there is one disease there will be many or that earth must have caught “Humans” from somewhere, dirty little slut that it is.

  7. “Man is alone in a godless universe. Hilarity ensues.”

    Thought that was the basic premise of Red Dwarf at the beginning. Lister is ALONE, save for his companions on the Big Red One. It’s only later space fills up with Simulants, Holograms, Gelfs and whatnot.

    The idea of Mankind being the only form of life in the universe is ludicrous, almost as much so as the idea of a god. Space is too big for it to be otherwise. We know it can happen, we’re the proof. However by that same logic it’s likely to be very far away. However, since when did Red Dwarf run on logic…

  8. G&T Admin

    Thought that was the basic premise of Red Dwarf at the beginning. Lister is ALONE, save for his companions on the Big Red One. It?s only later space fills up with Simulants, Holograms, Gelfs and whatnot.

    But this is the problem. Yes, that *is* the premise – but it’s never explicitly stated in the TV series. It is in the books, but not the TV series. And Waiting For God is only the fourth episode of the series – so there has been *no* chance to find out the premise from anywhere else.

    So you can’t take the statement as anything other than face value. It’s not a setup line to indicate that there are no aliens in Dwarf – the concept needs much more of a setup. It *has* to be that you’re supposed to automatically sympathise with Lister. And that’s really, really odd.

  9. G&T Admin

    Perhaps Lister just feels it?s ridiculous the way Rimmer believes in them, seems to almost worship them, even (e.g. the whole ?Quagaar? incident)? how he thinks they?re going to come in contact and give him a new body and basically, for all intents and purposes, *play* God. That comment doesn?t necessarily imply that Lister thinks the idea of aliens is preposterous in general; it seems more a mocking of Rimmer and his point of view in particular. Possibly.

    I did consider this as well. Certainly, although Rimmer hasn’t gone on about Quaagars etc when Lister says it, we can guess that Rimmer goes on about it all the time.

    But it just feels a bit too much like an explanation after the fact. Sure, we can easily explain away Lister’s line – but I want to know what was going through Rob and Doug’s mind when they wrote it. And I’m not convinced that Lister was referring to all the other stuff Rimmer goes on about – I don’t think the line is clear enough for that. I think if that was meant, then they would have put the line *after* all the Quaagars stuff.

    I think Karl might be on the right lines here – that in the 80s, the concept of aliens simply wasn’t as accepted as it is now.

  10. > However by that same logic it?s likely to be very far away.

    Not just far away, but we’re also likely to be separated by millions of years. It’s not just the space that’s infinite, it’s also the time – we’re far more likely to eventually stumble on the ruins of a dead civilisation (or aliens eventually stumble on the ruins of ours) than for two species of approxmately similar evolution to be knocking around within the same few thousand years of each other.

    > Yes, that *is* the premise – but it?s never explicitly stated in the TV series. It is in the books, but not the TV series. And Waiting For God is only the fourth episode of the series – so there has been *no* chance to find out the premise from anywhere else.

    Nobody mentions there being no aliens in Firefly, but it’s absolutely the case in that universe. By episode four of either show not finding aliens, and not mentioning their being around, is surely enough to suggest there won’t be any – especially given the genre (SF) and setting (um, space) of the show.

    Which makes the line a nod to the show’s intent, and akin to the original Star Wars dialogue: where you don’t explain everything (the curse of SF – Strange Days goes to huge pains to explain where the SQUID device came from, and then there’s that awful Blade Runner voiceover…), just let the characters’ own assumptions and reactions convey the nature of their universe.

  11. G&T Admin

    Nobody mentions there being no aliens in Firefly, but it?s absolutely the case in that universe. By episode four of either show not finding aliens, and not mentioning their being around, is surely enough to suggest there won?t be any – especially given the genre (SF) and setting (um, space) of the show.

    Which makes the line a nod to the show?s intent, and akin to the original Star Wars dialogue: where you don?t explain everything (the curse of SF – Strange Days goes to huge pains to explain where the SQUID device came from, and then there?s that awful Blade Runner voiceover?), just let the characters? own assumptions and reactions convey the nature of their universe.

    You see, I was wondering if it was that. But I suppose part of the thing that was stopping me thinking that is that there is now way humans could have proved there was no alien life by that point. You’ve got Hollister as Mr. Fat Bastard 2044 – we’re only talking about 50 or so years into the future. So there’s actually no way that Lister can *know* that there are no aliens. Wheras in the books, it’s explained that interstellar travel happened for ages, and they found nothing.

    If it’s a line setting up the universe – and, admittedly your explanation does make it feel more likely that that’s what they were doing – it’s one that doesn’t make much sense, given the timeframe.

  12. > but I want to know what was going through Rob and Doug?s mind when they wrote it.

    “Maybe we should think it through over dinner. I wonder if Doug will bring his wife.”

  13. > we?re only talking about 50 or so years into the future. So there?s actually no way that Lister can *know* that there are no aliens.

    Oh, sure. But you have to take into account the writers’ aproach to ‘facts’ in their own science fiction. It’s not set in the 21st century especially, it’s an arbitrary date that is, in fact, just ‘the future’. It that was later corrected when they realised it caused questions such as the one you have – because, so often in their writing, it’s the concept first, and the ‘how’ comes later.

    Planning your series to have no aliens is a whole different thing to ‘planning your series to be at a point in the future where humanity could have proved there are no aliens’.

    It’s like…well, magic doesn’t exist in the Dwarf universe. Nobody says so, it just doesn’t. But some people believe in it today in our ‘real’ universe. Doesn’t mean Dwarf has to explain how humanity has now proved the non-existence of magic; you just, y’know, never get presented with contradictory facts.

    (Of course, the book explanation just makes things worse anyway. In 200 years we’ve definitvely proven that there’s no intelligent life? We’ve charted the whole of infinite space? Not likely. But that sequence in the book is less about the aliens stuff and more about establishing the stasis booths. Which, again, are on the TV show’s ship with no good reason whatsoever – they’re insane things to pay to install and power just to punish two crew members.)

    Hey, even if the first book didn’t have the aliens/booth section, we’d all still know that Dwarf is an aliens-free zone. Just by the context.

  14. G&T Admin

    I suppose so. And yeah, agreed that in the book, it does actually make it worse, with the 200 years thing. I hadn’t thought of that.

    It’s just that… oh, I don’t know. Your explanation *should* make sense. It does make sense with a hell of a lot of things. But with this line… it just doesn’t feel like a setup line to me. Not even a subtle one. I can’t quite say why – it’s just not how it comes across to me. It feels more like a reflection of the time, than of a reflection of the Dwarf universe. It doesn’t feel deliberate.

    Maybe I’m just digging myself into a great big Patrick-Stewart-shaped hole again…

  15. Well, Rob’s at DJ – you may as well ask him!

    > It feels more like a reflection of the time, than of a reflection of the Dwarf universe. It doesn?t feel deliberate.

    I don’t disagree. I think the line was ABLE to be used because of the time.

    (Just as, say, a writer who is not racist will write a particular type of joke into his show that you can get away with in the 70s, but not today. [Thinking of stuff in Fawlty Towers right now, interestingly.])

    But I don’t believe that Rob and Doug – creative sponges that they are, and well-versed in science both fiction and fact – subscribed to the view of the era, or would casually give such a reference to their character without knowing that a) it hinted at the show’s world view, and b) it’s easy to dismiss aliens because, well, at the time many people would.

  16. G&T Admin

    “‘No no no’, I said. ‘The niggers are the West Indians. These people are wogs!'”

    Anyway, yeah, the dual explanation makes more sense to me. It really was the idea of Rob and Doug actually subscribing to the idea that aliens were inherently ridiculous that was bugging me – because yes, that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever…

  17. Battlestar Galactica also has a ‘no aliens’ policy. Although now it also has a ‘no season 5’ policy so what does it matter?

  18. …it just feels a bit too much like an explanation after the fact. Sure, we can easily explain away Lister?s line – but I want to know what was going through Rob and Doug?s mind when they wrote it. And I?m not convinced that Lister was referring to all the other stuff Rimmer goes on about – I don?t think the line is clear enough for that. I think if that was meant, then they would have put the line *after* all the Quaagars stuff.

    First off, I think the fact that he acts that way later in the episode is enough, I don’t think that line necessarily should have come beforehand for it to make sense to have Lister act as if he’s heard it all before; it could be a sort of foreshadowing, if you will, as we can assume that he’s used to Rimmer going off on these little flights of fancy by his reaction. And the fact that, before that exchange, Rimmer is all excited about this U.O., and Lister responds about there being nothing out there, suggests that either Lister just doesn’t believe in aliens for whatever reason and so thinks it’s ridiculous that Rimmer does, or that, as in the book, in the RD universe, the far reaches of space have already been explored and not even an ameoba was found, and thus, he thinks it’s ridiculous that Rimmer is holding on hope.

    So even if we take the episode at face value, Lister has established before that line that, for whatever reason, he doesn’t believe aliens exist, so of course he’s going to think it’s not sensible for Rimmer to do so. But again, that’s just the way I took it – I’ve got my own little nitpicky things that drive me crazy in other episodes that other people have explained away or not thought twice about, so I know where yer coming from with the line just not feeling right to you. :)

  19. > Battlestar Galactica also has a ?no aliens? policy.

    Worth asking – have they ever been discussed in the show?

  20. > ??No no no?, I said. ?The niggers are the West Indians. These people are wogs!??

    I’ve also just been reminded of Dan Ackroyd blacking up in Trading Places…

  21. > Not just far away, but we?re also likely to be separated by millions of years. It?s not just the space that?s infinite, it?s also the time – we?re far more likely to eventually stumble on the ruins of a dead civilisation (or aliens eventually stumble on the ruins of ours) than for two species of approxmately similar evolution to be knocking around within the same few thousand years of each other.

    I’ve always felt that if aliens existed and I strongly believe that the law of averages says that life must exist in some form or another somewhere, there would be huge variations in evolution levels…
    Given that thought and where we are today in evolution and scientific terms, I would suggest that there would be civilisations far in advance of our own as well as pond life.
    I therefore think it more likely that we will be (or have been already) found.
    We are way off having the technology to go out and find.

  22. I really can’t get past the basic explanation of the line as a reaction to Rimmer’s curt disregarding of any form of deity before trotting out something equally faith based.
    Especially with Lister’s chirpy chuckle, which I imagine the line was delivered with (I’ll check that tomorrow/today after a snooze.)

    Mind you, I concede that it shows Lister is willing to respect religious faith but has particular reason to expect aliens knocking on the door. This could be setting-relevant point, except that it is largely the point of view of most ‘right-thinking’ folk. And yes, I do use that phrase for it’s obvious fallacy and blurred meaning.

    >>”We are way off having the technology to go out and find.”
    We did unleash a very intense radio signal in the 60’s that might reveal us to future aliens. Not soon, mind.
    I suggest for now that we limit the search for intelligence to Earth. I still do not anticipate success.

  23. I think that the alternate version of the scene deserves some scrutiny as well. In that version, Rimmer says “Well, Lister, if you don’t believe in God and you don’t believe in aliens, then what DO you believe in?” and Lister replies “That we should be nice.” I think that indicates that Lister regards the idea of aliens and God as equally unbelieveable.

    In that case, his line “Oh, right, fine, something sensible at last” could either be a serious statement that he finds Rimmer’s nonbelief in God to be the only sensible thing he’s said in their conversation, or it could be a sarcastic poke at Rimmer regarding God as being preposterous while still believing in aliens.

  24. In 200 years we?ve definitvely proven that there?s no intelligent life? We?ve charted the whole of infinite space? Not likely.

    Well, that’s not what the book says. The book says that it was surmised, but not definitively proven for another two thousand years, that mankind was alone. Now, you might still say that’s unlikely, given the fact that the universe is, by its very nature, infinite – but even so, it’s a longer time period than just 200 years.

    I?ve also just been reminded of Dan Ackroyd blacking up in Trading Places?

    God, that’s one of my favourite films, but that scene on the train is still near-excruciating…

  25. > The book says that it was surmised, but not definitively proven for another two thousand years, that mankind was alone.

    Ouch – I’d forgotten that! That’s even dodgier: ‘Everyone knows there aren’t aliens, though they haven’t proved it. Still, rest assured it’ll be proved later on, so everyone can act like it’s known now. Oh, and there being no aliens means we have all these redundant stasis booths knocking around…even though we haven’t proved there are no aliens yet.’

    Yeah, stuff like this doesn’t really hold up to close scrutiny…

  26. Yeah, no, but is it funneh?

  27. What is funny is that the first TV broadcast of any strength they’re likely to pick up will come from Nuremberg and feature one Adolf Hitler.

    (for a serious look at aliens look up a copy of “Evolving the Alien” by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen)

  28. Reason enough to leave us well alone….

    Over the years I’ve read a lot of books regarding the subject and remain open minded. There’s a lot of books out there that offer a pretty compelling case ‘for’ but equally those that dismiss the posibility. ‘Above top secret’ managed to get away from the nutters angle and made a good case for an international cover up involving numerous countries and their various ways of dealing with the subject.

    For every sighting or report that could be serious, there’s a thousand ludicrous claims. It only needs one person to see a flashing light and suddenly there are claims of alien abduction, Anal probing and little green men. If something were to happen, it would probably vanish in a haze of bullshit.

    It is very true that there do not seem as many claims these days or dodgy photo’s, you would think with the amount of people carrying camera phones and access to cheap recording equipment, we’d be swamped.

  29. Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. They write them good books, actually, even if my first introduction to them was through The Science of Discworld, which happens to be a deceptively heavy book, given the Discworld chapters interwoven amidst the science.

    >> “…you would think with the amount of people carrying camera phones and access to cheap recording equipment, we?d be swamped.”

    I was thinking along these lines about ghosts earlier; if they have ever been observable, surely the sheer amount of recording gear that exists in the general populace and “experts” hands would lead to a near-certain video.

    On topic, isn’t Lister’s earlier rant more revealing? The whole “no aliens, no nothing – just me, you and the Cat” speech. Except longer and more ranty. As it’s less provoked and before the pod is on board it tells us straight-up what Lister believes about aliens and their non-existence.
    Which would tie nicely into your thoughts anyway, John, but that early in the episode still leaves room for Lister’s fallibility to shine through and aliens to have their six-breasted way with them, I suppose.

  30. G&T Admin

    (Just as, say, a writer who is not racist will write a particular type of joke into his show that you can get away with in the 70s, but not today. [Thinking of stuff in Fawlty Towers right now, interestingly.])

    Watching Marooned today, I was just thinking – would Rob and Doug have done the Lolita gag these days? Or, indeed, have Lister losing his virginity at the age of 12?

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with either joke, mind you. But I do wonder whether it would be something they would write now…

  31. >would Rob and Doug have done the Lolita gag these days?

    Well, maybe…because, child-pornography aside, the joke is a good way of establishing 1) that Rimmer isn’t as intellectually stimulated by the book as he’d otherwise pretend to be and 2) that Lister is, well, everything he’s ever pretended to be.

    Lolita is a really good global reference point, pornographically speaking. As a literature major (disregarding my particular Nabokov fandom for the time being) I read all sorts of criticism and histories of these novels…and you’d be surprised at how little age is discussed in criticism from that time. The umbrage taken seems to be with the pornographic content in general–with almost no reflection on the ages of the participants.

    So, basically, it still would work. Rimmer and Lister being turned on by a passage in Lolita functions full-well as a joke (and still would, I believe) because we all know Lolita is a “dirty book.” I don’t think anyone watching would believe the punchline to be anything along the lines of “Rimmer and Lister are child-molesters.” Even though, strictly speaking, that’d be the more accurate conclusion to draw from the novel’s content.

    Lolita is a great example of something attaining world-wide recognition by people who have never bothered to read it, and therefore are only ever in a position to judge it based on general assumption of its contents…much like Ulysses or even A Christmas Carol.

    In summary then: this particular child-porn joke functions well enough in a more generally dirty context and we all get to laugh without feeling guilty.

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