Recently my wife and I have started watching Bones. I missed this when it first came out. Ok, I miss most things when they first come out. Truth is I don’t watch much broadcast TV, at least not as broadcast TV. But that is not what I want to talk about.
As I said, we were watching Bones the other night, and they found someone dead. Surprise! This person worked for “The Agency.” It was said that the Agency, would protect its own. That the agency would protect their interests. It was even hinted that the agency might have killed this person to protect their image and keep certain secrets. At one point, FBI agent Booth says, “… I don’t care what you say, our government does not kill people,” to which Bones replies “You were a sniper…” This suggested two things, first that yes, our government does kill people, and second that it would not be such a stretch to believe that, “The Agency” would also kill people to keep their secrets.
Probably none of this is surprising. It should also not surprise you that a show about how wonderful science is, and that routinely takes jabs at religion and belief systems, government agencies, and what a lot of people feel is pretty normal stuff, would take a jab at another government agency. What is surprising about this is what “Agency” they were talking about, NASA!
I don’t think that any one would be really surprised, in this day and age, that every government agency has a bit of a dark side. But, NASA is one of those that is held up as a shining beacon of progress, of hope for the future of not only our government, but of the human race in the form of colonization of other worlds. NASA is one that we, well at least I, hope has not been touched by this.
Let me make it very clear. This was a fiction. I believe it to be a fiction, and I am only talking about it because I want to show the power of names.
Throughout the episode, they called it “The Agency,” only occasionally referring to it as NASA. Only hinting at the work that they do obliquely. By calling it the agency, and focusing on the actions of a few, they were able to cast it in a dark light. They were able to make it look like any other part of what is routinely portrayed on this show and others as a completely corrupt government that was capable of doing incredibly bad things. That is the power of a name. That is the power of suggestion that a name has. I think that if they had called it NASA all the way through the episode no one would have taken the episode seriously. It would have been laughed at. If they had shown even one rocket lifting off, or some pictures of space, it would have completely ruined the mood they were going for. As it was, the closest they got was one very cropped shot of two people in space suits and a few seconds aboard the “vomit comet.” Even the picking of that and using that name likely was intended to give a negative feel to it. No one likes to vomit.
I want to be clear about this. I don’t think NASA or really any part of the government is bad intrinsically. In fact, I think that most government agencies really try to do good, even the ones that we typically think of as being “bad.” I think NASA really is a beacon of hope for scientific progress, and the future of man kind. But, I do think, that there is incredible power in names.
As a fiction writer, I think this is important to keep in mind as we name our organizations, and groups, locations and star ships. Those names will determine how our readers perceive them. And how are works will be seen by others.