Dave's Nattering:
Galaxy Rangers: Why the Cowboy Hats?

copyright 2009 by Dave Van Domelen

    Galaxy Rangers was one of my favorite cartoons in the 1980s, I liked it even more than Transformers, and was glad to see it finally get a DVD release in 2008. And unlike the original Transformers cartoons, it holds up pretty well to viewing as an adult. Well, comparatively speaking, anyway. But it tends to hang up on its high concept: Wild West In Space. Specifically, if humanity is such a newcomer on the galactic stage, how come everyone's driving souped-up stagecoaches, wearing bad string ties and talking with fake Texas drawls? Why the cowboy hats?

    Obviously, the real world answer is, "It's the high concept, don't think about it too hard." Certainly, the show never really worried about it. While I only watched about half the episodes after getting the DVDs, I'm pretty sure they never spent any real time justifying the whole "even the aliens wear cowboy hats" thing. It's just the setting, and they were more interested in telling stories in the setting rather than about it. It's not really the sort of thing the writers have to worry about, and most don't. Nor do they really expect the target audience to worry overmuch about why that Pedulont has a ten gallon hat to go along with his five gallon nose.

    But, as an adult fan, it is the sort of thing that gets me wondering sometimes. And the show breaks out of the paradigm often enough (trading robosteeds for hovercycles, going to 80s style rock concerts, etc) to make it more than "that's the way the world is" in the same way that you expect teenagers to always be great mecha pilots if the word "Gundam" is in the title of the show, or you never wonder how muppets can coexist in a world of humans (although the Greg the Bunny show wondered about that anyway).

    We don't really get a lot of recent backstory, all told. In 2086 humanity got the hyperdrive, although presumably there'd been slower-than-light or inferior faster-than-light space travel long enough that a fleet infrastructure already existed. Unless Kiwi and Andorians are really long lived, the main action of the story can't take place too long after 2086, even ignoring elements in the Supertroopers episode. So, in a relatively short time, humanity has spread out to colonize numerous planets of their own, plus be a presence on many more and start to butt up against the Empire of the Crown. But we haven't been out there all that long...so even if there's a good reason humans are doing the cowboy hat thing, why are the aliens? Humanity is a fringe species, recently discovered, far enough out in the boondocks that the Queen can't just trivially come smack us around no matter how delicious our spirits are. How come the massive cultural impact?

    The way I see it, there's three main elements that could in part or in whole explain this. It's likely a little bit of all three, in some synergistic combination.

Memetic Smallpox

    It's never really established what makes a species suitable for conversion to Psychocrystal form, but it's safe to assume that it's a psychological matter rather than a purely biological one. And whatever it is, the Queen has been selecting pretty strongly against that trait, given that the only race even marginally acceptable for the process has been hunted almost to extinction by the time humans come on the scene.

    I posit that resistance to cultural memes is one of those qualities that makes for good Psychocrystals. Sure, there's plenty of intelligent, high-spirited and strong-willed races left out there, but pretty much every intelligent race that hasn't been hunted to extinction by the Queen has no "immunity" to memes. (As an aside, I'll table for now whether Tarkonians are human, and whether they'd make good Psychocrystals. One can assume that the Queen's never risked the wrath of the Heart of Tarkon to try, though.) As a result, when a new race rich in cultural concepts comes on the scene, all the remaining Imperial subjects soak up the memes with absolutely no resistance. A few here and there manage to avoid it, but it's like unleashing a physical disease on an unprotected population...memetic epidemic. And if memes are actual things in the Galaxy Rangers universe rather than a handy metaphor, it gets even worse. One could definitely argue that the existence of psychics like Niko makes it plausible that memes are really psychic infections as their more ardent real-world boosters would suggest.

2086 Was Not First Contact

    Sure, Waldo and Zozo came to Earth in 2086 to give us the hyperdrive and seek our help against the Queen. But even as peace-loving and potentially very naïve aliens, would they really have sent just two emissaries to Earth on their first contact mission? Well, maybe. But it seems likely that the Andorians had been checking out the fringe worlds for a while, seeking potential allies, and simply felt that 2086 was the right time to approach humanity (or that they'd run out of time to keep waiting).

    Perhaps the first contact happened in the late 1800s "Old West" region? Then the cultural elements would have had two centuries to percolate through the Empire and become popular and well-established. Either combine this with the memetic smallpox idea, or assume that the Andorians wanted to prep the Empire to be more accepting of human culture. Other non-human cultural elements seen in the series could be the result of groundwork laid by the Andorians for races that ended up not being brought into the fold, or who were brought in and failed to be of help. (Aside: yeah, that's a cheerful thought, isn't it? Humanity isn't the first race the Andorians offered their hyperdrive to in hopes of gaining allies against the Queen...but the others are all dead now. Kinda Darhel of them, isn't it?)

Merchants of Venus...Er, Planet Nebraska

    Face it, even without the omnipresent cowboy hats, human colonization of the stars happened at an implausibly rapid pace. Even allowing for some pretty flexible timelines, the first humans born off-Earth are likely still minors during the main action of Galaxy Rangers. So, once given the hyperdrive and presumably retrofitting it onto the existing fleet of slowships, humanity must have made one hell of a push to get people off Earth and onto the colonies. And since there's little evidence that Earth is a totalitarian police state where people could just be rounded up and stuffed onto colony ships (although parts of Supertroopers suggest that such a government may have been around in living memory), that means the mother of all public relation campaigns.

    Any good PR campaign needs a hook, and an Old West theme would certainly make sense for this "new frontier". Any place where form didn't have to follow function, they incorporated 1800s elements. Fashion cycles drove hard towards string ties and cowboy hats. Robotics concentrated on quadrupeds modeled on horses and mules, rather than hexapods or wheeled units. Genetic engineering turned to make super-cattle and variants of wheat that could ruthlessly dominate a new ecology. And law enforcement, recognizing that there was no way a metropolitan police force model could expand quickly enough to keep up with this, focused on the marshals/rangers model instead.

    And what PR man worth his salt is going to stop at selling his product to the home market if he has new vistas to conquer? The admen were probably hot on the heels of the survey teams, into new areas even before the prospectors, selling the cowboy culture to any alien with a head capable of wearing a ten gallon hat. If this was combined with memetic smallpox, I can just see the hucksters practically passing out from the sheer joy of going into this new market.

    Alternately, if the 1800's First Contact scenario is in effect, then the PR campaign may have had its theme chosen for it, and the admen have to worry about keeping alien marketers from selling cowboy hats to us....

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