Two articles worth checking out.
This one, "Filmgoers debate future of space travel," sent to me from Paul Wargelin, is a piece in the Houston Chronicle discussing a range of audience reactions to the new film The Astronaut Farmer. A lot of older viewers are exciting by the private sector's move into space exploration and space tourism, but that excitement isn't shared by 14 year old Summer Thompson:
"NASA has lost touch with today's kids. In school they teach us about the planets, and I've heard about a couple of space missions, but other than that, they don't say a lot. I don't know that I've ever heard a kid say, 'I want to be an astronaut.' I hear kids say all the time, 'I want to cure AIDS' or 'I want to cure cancer.' They don't know a lot about space. No one cares about going to Mars. If they want to keep NASA going, it's going to take an army of kids who want to do it. But this generation has just lost touch with the space program. I don't want to go into space. I want to be the one who cures cancer, just like everyone else."
Meanwhile, via Pamela Sargent, Gary Kamiya writes "History that hurts," an analysis of why the HBO series Rome works so well that appears on Salon.com. Gary talks about how so much historical drama tries to map contemporary values onto figures in other times and places, taking the stance that mankind is virtually unchanged beneath the hairstyles and fashion statements of different eras. Rome, by contrast, "dares to depict an alien worldview, one untouched by Christianity and the moral ethos introduced by that strange little sect... The biggest difference between Rome and Gladiator, or Ben-Hur, or the vast run of Hollywood costume dramas, is that it resists making its characters familiar. This is a bigger achievement than it might appear. A work of art set in the distant past must walk a tricky line between portraying its characters as essentially the same as us or as utterly alien. Most history-themed films and TV shows have always fallen decidedly on the 'human beings are always the same' end of the spectrum. There are many reasons for this. It requires both historical scholarship and a certain imaginative audacity to create characters who don't share some of our most basic assumptions and beliefs. It's also a lot easier to hook viewers with characters whose emotions and beliefs they share. Moreover, there's a self-contradiction at the heart of the enterprise: to create a three-dimensional character, one must fully enter into his or her mind -- not easy to do if that mind is radically different."
I was also gladdened to see Gary praising Rome for the detail of its world-building, in a comparison with The Lord of the Rings, and talking about how this, combined with the show's willingness to deal with brutality, is what makes it so effective in portraying what he calls the "outer space of history."