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01/03/2003 Archived Entry: "Man and Superman"
Posted by CKL @ 02:32 PM PST

After seeing It's a Wonderful Life on Xmas Eve and reading Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang-- in particular, the story "Understand"-- I've been ruminating on the ideas of "the common man" and "the super man." I think the television show Quantum Leap synthesized these concepts pretty well, or at least it did until its last season.

Consider: the character of Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) was arguably a "superman," having a photographic memory, five doctoral degrees, and an understanding of the physics of time travel. And yet his mission in the show was to affect the lives of ordinary people-- as the opening narration stated, "to help put right what once went wrong." One of the original and central premises of the show was that Sam would only tangentially encounter celebrities or other famous historical figures. Of course, the producers abandoned this in the last season, which was pretty much played for ratings and sucked like nobody's business.

But I digress. Sam would only leap into ordinary people, little people, the "John Does" of the world (to reference another Frank Capra movie). And this was important. It was important that he changed a few of these lives for the better, because those people's happiness or survival would affect others, and there would be a little more goodness in the world for it. Some of this was explained in the series finale, but since that also sucked ass, I tend to disregard it.

So there you have it, God or Fate or Time or Whatever leaping a superman around in time, asking him to help his fellow man (and woman), one life at a time. In a way, GFTW is playing dirty pool, because Sam can't leap until he "fixes" the timeline. His other choice is to stay and live out the rest of that person's life (at best frustrating, at worst a very short life), or hope that the folks back at Project Quantum Leap figure out a way to retrieve him (and we all know how well that usually works). It's a Hobson's choice.

Do the more fortunate among us have an obligation to help the less fortunate? I don't believe in obligation. But the thing I love about Quantum Leap is that it supposes that even the least of us are worth saving... as long as you're not EVIL! But that's a whole other discussion.

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