Friday, November 29, 2013

DROIDS: My Favorite TV Theme Song

A friend of mine recently threw my favorite kind of party; a Saturday Morning Cartoon party.

We watched shows from our youth and when we couldn't take full episodes, we just watched openings.

I love openings of shows, because they're basically music videos a lot of the time, and the animation is usually better than the shows because the job of an opening is twofold; it has to dazzle you to get your attention, and it also has to tell you what the show is about.

Anime openings tend to lean more towards just being music videos because the song is usually part of the marketing of the show, and in North American, animated shows are generally aimed at children and the people producing these shows often think that kids are stupid, so the openings tend to be really simplistic and direct (often to the point of being condescending), often having songs that are literally "This is exactly what this show is about."  
And sometimes that's ok...there are some really charming openings that just say what the show is about right up front (Gummi Bears and Ducktales jump immediately to mind as good examples, and Mummies Alive jumps immediately to mind as an awful one).  But the really sweet ones...the ones that stay with me...are the ones that manage to communicate what the show is about while (A) not just telling you straight up and (B) sounding like a real song.  It's a tricky balancing act.

Which brings us to the favorite opening song of my childhood, which I only recently remembered thanks to my friend screening it at the aforementioned Cartoon-a-palooza; the opening to DROIDS.

STAR WARS was huge in the 80's...way bigger than it is even now.  As rabid as todays Warsies are, the marketing of STAR WARS in the 80's makes it pale in comparison, and LucasFilm sourced out the creation of two spin-off cartoons to Nelvana, EWOKS and DROIDS to capitalize on this.

I loved both shows, but if I'm being honest, I liked DROIDS better.  Robots just appealed to my adolescent more than alien teddy bears, and the show was exciting with it's lightsabers and laser guns and speeders and space ships and aliens and what-have-you.

And going back...DROIDS is actually still a pretty decent show.  The premise is solid; C3-P0 and R2-D2, lost and alone after their adventures in the original trilogy, seek out new masters and bumble into various adventures.  This allowed the show to tell both serialized stories that built from episode to episode, but also in small arcs designed to end, with the Droids moving on after having helped their new master succeed and finding a new one as they looked for both a purpose and a home like some kind of cyborg Littlest Hobo.  Sure the animation is limited, the designs are dated, and the dialogue is cheesy, but it's still got some solid storytelling and a strong premise.  I find I have an appreciation for this show that I didn't have a kid.

And a lot of that has to do with the opening.

The animation and the images used aren't particularly impressive, but juxtaposed with the song, they offer a compelling narrative.

As an intellectual exercise, I'm going to break this down.  I'm not saying that any of this was the creators intent, it's just my reading of it, but if it was their intent...I have profound respect for treating 6 year old Derek Halliday like an adult.

The song, TROUBLE AGAIN, was written and performed by Steward Copeland of the POLICE, and the lyrics are as follows:

Steppin' softly in a danger zone
No weapon in my hand
It's just this brain, designed by man
It's got me in trouble again
In trouble again
I put my life in jeopardy
In the service of my friends
I wouldn't care but it's a dangerous affair
'Cause I’m in trouble again, trouble again
In trouble, in trouble, in trouble
Firstly, it's a pretty good song.  It sounds like STAR WARS, but it also sounds like 80's pop.  None of the lyrics state anything specific about the show...they don't say the shows name, they don't reference the characters, they don't tell you who they are or what they do, so the song stands alone as a song.  I also like the slightly melancholy feel the song reminds me of the LITTLEST HOBO in that regard.  It sounds upbeat but slightly regretful.
Now, if you break down the lyrics, you get a pretty interesting commentary on the existence of the Droids in the STAR WARS universe and how they view their lives.
The first verse tells you what their average day is like...they are constantly put in danger that they have little to no ability to deal with, but they also are compelled to confront due to the circumstances of their creation.  The cause of their woe is, "...just this brain, designed by man."
As Droids (robots, sic), they are intelligent beings with a certain level of self awareness.  Unlike humans, though, there is no great mystery as to their creation or their greater purpose in the universe...they were created by men to serve a specific function.  Droids know who their creators are, and interact with them all the time.  So might not a robot, put in constant danger, question why he was created to suffer, or whether his compulsion to meet dangerous situations was programmed into him?  A Droid would not believe in a greater power, because they weren't created by a greater power, they were created by flawed men.  They know that their decisions are not their own, but the result of a program...they wouldn't curse God for their situation, but their own flawed minds, and their inability to violate the programing which compels them into situations they can't control.
The second verse acknowledges that the Droids put their lives in danger as a service to others, and the use of the word "friends" implies that this is a noble thing.  But the third line, "I wouldn't care but it's a dangerous affair" contradicts this, and again, it implies that the Droids are aware that their choices are not free ones, but part of their programing that they are helpless to change.
As any good nerd (and let's be're only reading this if you're a nerd) knows, Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics are:

(1) A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

(2)  A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

(3)  A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Assuming that the Droids in Star Wars generally follow these laws (and it's safe to assume that most standard service model Droids would, even though we know that there are Droids built either without the First or Second Laws, or modified First and Second Laws), the second verse of this song is an interesting lamentation on the conflict in the Droid's lives; are they capable of being selfless?

If the Droids follow the Three Laws (or have some kind of similar programming that is equivalent), then any sacrifice would not be a choice, but a compulsion.  The line, "I wouldn't care but it's a dangerous affair" implies that the Third Law is being superseded by the First Law...the compulsion to jeopardize their existence is not a selfless act because it's not a choice in the first place.  Knowing this makes the Droids question whether any of their actions can be considered heroic or noble, despite the fact that their are risking their own existence.  The "I wouldn't care" suggests that, if they had the choice, they WOULD chose to endanger themselves for their friends, but they'll never know if that is a choice that they would freely make.

Listening to the theme song now gives the show a whole new depth to me, even if I'm just reading too deeply into something that isn't really there...I just like the idea of C3-P0 and R2-D2 as going on an existential adventure, and questioning the nature of their existence.  They were created to be comedy relief and comedy is a human affectation, so it's easy to forget that they are non-human entities and that they're thought processes would not be human ones.  To me, the song is a lamentation of the Droid's inability to change their fate because they can never know if their choices are free ones or simply the result of their programming.  They cannot be noble or heroic, even if they might aspire to be, because they are incapable of making a selfless sacrifice, since such sacrifice is part of their programming...even as their programming may also be telling them to selfishly preserve their own life.  This seems especially true of C3-P0, who seems to have a stronger Third Law bias than R2-D2...but, then, they are made for two very different purposes.  C3-P0 is a Protocol Droid, and thus probably pretty expensive and fragile, while R2-D2 is a service Droid built to affect repairs in hostile environments.

That's how I see it anyways.  Thanks for indulging my cartoonishly over-the-top analysis of a cartoon theme song that no one remembers!