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Red Dwarf

Updated: Jul 12

Just about every Britisher in my generation I have ever met has watched Red Dwarf—the series is a sci-fi pastiche, essentially a riff on Ridley Scott’s Aliens franchise and its blue-collar look; except in Red Dwarf everything is played for laughs, not frights. Really, the sci-fi setting is incidental: the show’s core is an odd-couple character comedy—with the odd couple in question constrained by close proximity in a starship rather than in a shared apartment.

The show’s premise, for non-Britishers, runs as follows: Dave Lister, a third-class technician (the lowest rank on the eponymous mining ship Red Dwarf), finds himself placed in stasis for 18 months without pay because he smuggled his pet cat “Frankenstein” on board. When he awakes it is three million years in the future—the ship’s crew were wiped out by a radiation leak and so Holly, the shipboard computer, kept Lister in stasis until radiation levels returned to normal. In the intervening period, the human race died out. Lister is now, quite literally, “the last man”—and for company he has only an anthropoid descendant from his cat (Frankenstein turned out to be a pregnant female) and the hologram of his former supervisor, Arnold J. Rimmer. Later, the motley company is joined by Kryten—a service android who becomes an amiable factotum for the crew.

The series premiered in the late 1980s, ran solidly into the 1990s, and has been periodically revived since. It is also a very negative influence on social life, for it exemplifies the anti-ideal that the current Western system strives towards. Dave Lister, the everyman anti-hero, is a mixed-race Scouser with no work ethic, no manners, and no sense of the transcendent—his dream is to settle on Fiji with his crush, Kristine Kochanski (a character who died in the radiation leak but who is revivified through multiverse and time-travel episodes). Kochanski is superior to Lister in every way: middle class, diligent, and intelligent (and, above all, a woman—the show’s feminist imperative on display). Lister is her complete inferior.

Lister’s foil, Arnold J. Rimmer, exists to ridicule and trash Western man. Rimmer has a Boy’s Own take on life—except he has failed at everything, he is a mere one technician rank above Lister despite his ethos of diligence and yet takes his trivial role deadly seriously; he dreams about medals, develops his own custom salute for the Space Corps—yet he has minimal competence. The difference is occasionally shown up when his multiverse alter ego, Ace Rimmer, appears—he embodies everything Rimmer has failed to achieve. Rimmer as a character is a literal brown nose, Arnold Rimmer (i.e. “a rimmer”, anal rimming) and is smug and superior despite his minimal achievements. Similarly, Kryton is based on the heroic Victorian butler “the admirable Crichton”, being a robotic helpmeet. The show’s kernel is the humour that is derived from the fact that the relaxed Lister, who subsists on vindaloo curry and lager, and the fastidious Rimmer have been cooped up together in confined quarters—the odd couple at the end of the universe.

In its way, Red Dwarf accurately sums up what the West will be: the last man will be a proletarianised creole whose interests are limited to food and vulgarity—and who lusts over a superior white woman who has ceased to exist in actuality. Lister really is Nietzsche’s last man—literally, one novelisation that accompanied the series was called Last Man. Last man: a man whose role on the ship was to fix the chicken-soup dispenser—a job considered beneath the ship’s robots—and whose sense of the world is centred on material satisfactions; so much so that in some episodes he escapes his predicament through addictively immersive Virtual Reality.

Meanwhile, a technological artefact of Western civilisation, Red Dwarf, ticks on through the millennia—superintended by a supercomputer that was once reputed to have a “6,000 IQ” but has now gone “computer senile”. The last man is accompanied by a mutated human-like descendant from his pet cat—portrayed in the series as a vain black man formed by his love of beebop, he occasionally licks and preens himself as cats are wont to do; and he is retarded (indeed, although the show is impeccably progressive, the way it portrays its only black character is as literally animalistic—although this is excused due to its overall progressive thrust). “The white man” only exists as a hologram, Rimmer, who nags the last man to shape up, and yet his desire for heroism, discipline, and greatness is portrayed as risible—among the ruins of the titanic civilisation his ancestors built, a creole and a black seek material amusements.

In the novelisations, Lister’s ideal life is in Bedford Falls, the community depicted in Frank Capra’s film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)—yet when presented with this vision in the novelisation via VR, it is destroyed; the schmaltzy vision presented by Capra whereby the suicidal George Bailey is shown by an angel what a world without him would be like and so returns to his family and redeems the community is trashed in the Red Dwarf version—trashed by Rimmer’s vast internal self-hatred which psychically sabotages the sentimental haven, for people who aspire to greatness secretly hate themselves (or so Red Dwarf claims). This is typical for Red Dwarf, it wants to run anything that is transcendent—even Capra’s sentimental film—through the mud, so that it is polluted with prostitution and vice; even the last man’s mass culture sentimental heaven cannot be allowed. Even the Victorian butler “the admirable Kryton” is just a robot “shaped like a novelty condom”. Yet to put it that way sounds…a bit like Rimmer, a bit risible and fussy—“Nah, we’re real men, mate. Anather lager and a vindaloo and a shit in a ditch. Awight?”

One way to interpret shows like Red Dwarf is that they play the necessary court jester role. The world is run by men like Rimmer’s alter ego, Ace Rimmer, and Red Dwarf is funny because it is not reality; everyone knows that the way Lister and Rimmer behave is negative—nobody wants to be like that, but it is funny to laugh at a character who is so slobby and his snobby counterpart. We need a break from straightforward heroism, we need a world where the protagonist is a sloppy janitor—“He’s just like me! Except…even I’m not that bad! Lol”. We all need comic catharsis, right?

As I age, I am less sure shows like Red Dwarf are “innocent”. In fact, I see them as subversive and destructive. At one level, the show documents what the last man is: unheroic, mundane, and concerned with pure biological function—and ugly, and proud that he is ugly (it shows he is not a snob, you see). Indeed, there is a joke in Lister’s name as well—he is totally dirty, but he is named after the man who invented antiseptic, Joseph Lister (Lister-ine mouthwash); he repels like astringent antiseptic, but only because he is so dirty.

On the other hand, the show serves to shape the decline: man is highly imitative and when you watch Red Dwarf you have various psychic manacles placed upon you, quietly. A while ago, I documented how Paul Crockett, a desert mystic, freed several men from Manson’s cult because he could foreground the implicit double-binds that Manson bewitched them with. Well, shows like Red Dwarf place a similar double-bind on the human mind just as surely as Manson’s enchantments. The bonds they place on people: mixed-race people are high status, heroic white men are risible and should be ignored, everything must be related to the lower bodily functions, it is stupid to pursue higher ideals, women are more intelligent than men and should be worshipped, the universe is a cold dead space…

Red Dwarf, for a real fan (perhaps even a casual watcher), will bind you into some very unhealthy attitudes in the guise of humour—especially if you are a white man. Oscar Wilde said that while everyone is in the gutter some people are looking at the stars, with Red Dwarf you are in the gutter and you are looking at the gutter—you aspire to the gutter. What kind of man does this create? A man like Richard Russell, the “Sky King” hijacker; now, I doubt an American his age ever watched Red Dwarf, but there are enough shows like it in America; and the attitude it creates in a person is summed up in his pre-crash radio broadcast: “Nah, I’m just a white guy.” The reason why people express their psychic distress in this way is because they have been hypnotised by mass culture products like Red Dwarf.

Now, as with all these things, Red Dwarf did not come from working-class mixed-race writers.

Who writes this stuff? Progressives—degenerates, really. Indeed, one co-creator for the series, Doug Naylor, lost his leg as a child: biological deformity leads to resentment—leads a person to create a series and characters that destroy what is healthy and celebrate what is weak; ultimately, what is ugly. “It’s just a TV show, man. Let people enjoy things.” Yet it counts; even for the casual viewer, this stuff is enchantment. There are dozens of shows like Red Dwarf and their purpose is to hypnotise people into self-destruction—into clever nihilism and sneers, and, ultimately, into the destruction of innocence.

Although it is set in space, in the cosmic fastness, there are no aliens in Red Dwarf—only life that has evolved from Earth over the aeons. This reflects the show’s inherent solipsism: nothing except man could ever exist, and what man exists for is his curry and lager and his dreams about the girl “he can never possibly get because she’s totally out of my league”—it is hard to imagine Nietzsche watching Red Dwarf, but if he did he would recognise that his prediction had come true: the last man has arrived.

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