Previous Entry Share Next Entry
To be edited: Red Dwarf made me laugh again
tapestry jacket

Red Dwarf is based on a funny but tragic premise of the last living man, Lister, ever trying to make it back to Earth after being in statis for three million years in the vain hope of finding something like home to him. What makes it funny is that he's not alone. He's got a very un-HAL ship computer named Holly, a man evolved from cats who is simply The Cat (ever wondered what your cat would be like as a person?) a hologram of his former room-mate, Rimmer, and later has a self-blaming, genre-savvy cleaning robot/mother hen in Kryten.
Even in an unfair universe, Grant Naylor delivers their own brand of comedic justice. In Red Dwarf, everyone gets made fun of and Rimmer only gets it more because he actively tries to be nasty to the others and then gets insulted back. This made me laugh after being the butt of everyone's jokes and everyone's punching bag wherever I went for four years of both my childhood and adolescence. It was hilarious but it wasn't simply unfair or mean-spirited. If Rimmer was a nice nerd character, I really believe the writers would have given him an equal share of jokes. Most of the Rimmer-based humour is from him trying to be nasty or devious and having it backfire on him.
We are allowed to feel sorry for everyone too, even if, like Rimmer, they bring their problems on themselves.

Some people have offered an interpretation of Rimmer being autistic, but I think they've also said the very kind, but very unlucky, Frank Spencer from Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em was autistic, so I don't know what criteria the theories are being based on. The problem is whenever a person is deemed to have no friends or is socially inept, theorists decide that person automatically has to be autistic which definitely isn't always the case.
Rimmer doesn't seem to understand when others aren't interested in hearing stories of him playing Risk!, but he doesn't insult people by mistake, is often dishonest, exaggerates greatly and is very sarcastic. He mentions he was once nice to higher-ups he didn't like at all, though evidently wasn't very convincing as he never got promoted.
Given how the poor bloke had an abusive dad who had crazy expectations for his sons, a mother with skewed priorities (when his brothers had tied him to a tree upside-down as a little boy, his mother lectures him about his lack of progress at school instead of helping him down), three bullying brothers who ended up successful and tormentors instead of friends throughout life...and none of this was ever punished or acknowledged as wrong by anyone. In fact, it was often rewarded in ways Rimmer never experienced for himself, like love, success and friendship.
So, Rimmer was taught how not to treat others, hasn't quite realised that it's not normal and hasn't figured out what to do differently. He knows he's screwed up and everyone else seems happier, but thinks everyone is just as cruel as those he grew up with. They're lucky bastards. So he thinks if Lister (who can be insensitive and make a few dick moves, but is rarely mean unless provoked) makes a light-hearted joke at him or won the last battle of insults, he has to get his revenge on Lister and usually makes a pre-emptive attack. If he thinks Lister could have more power than him, Rimmer can try cajoling if he can't think of a sneaky plan. The problem is, even if he's actually trying to apologise for real, Rimmer hasn't realised that previous insincerity, unprovoked nastiness, sneaky behaviour and a lack of acknowledging his mistakes means that Lister doesn't find him trustworthy. He once tries to proclaim Lister is his friend. When Lister awkwardly tries to state he honestly doesn't like him without being cruel, Rimmer still tries to insist they are. It's funny because Rimmer's insulting Lister and making bad excuses for previous lousy behaviour but still sad because Rimmer clearly doesn't know what a friend is but knows other people have them and obviously wants one badly. He thinks a friend should be like a fan, a flat cardboard cheerleader instead of a person. It's possible he's that desperate for positive attention that he can only picture having a worshipper for a friend, with none of the 'bad' bits that come from having one because he couldn't cope with the bad bits.

Is Lister really luckier than Rimmer or not? Hard to say. He does admit most of his friends were simply also 'bums' like him, but they did get along. He can irritate people, but it's more likely because he's lazy, a smart-aleck or unhygienic rather than being unlikeable. He has known himself as being abandoned as a baby, and never forgets this, but got loving adoptive parents. Even though his adoptive dad died when he was very small, he mentioned plenty of relatives and family friends. He never had trouble making casual friends and girlfriends, depending on how you value casual connections. He even got a serious girlfriend he was really in love with, though he was very broken up when it didn't work out. While he also has identity issues, keeps every aspect of his life casual to his detriment and is good at denying these two things, he remains positive, has lived with better examples of how to treat others and has enjoyed the pleasures in life that Rimmer either denied himself or never had the chance to get. In the actual series, Lister does get along with the other characters well.

Good news is, everyone else, having survived numerous threats together, does rub off on Rimmer, even though he's obviously not as close as they are with each other. Lister also manages to build up a level of trust and he has sometimes explained to Rimmer why something Rimmer said or did was wrong, even if by doing something unpleasant to his light 'bee'. It probably helps that Lister is honest and sticks to his guns. While Rimmer still provokes people and lies about himself, he doesn't fail to tell people when he disagrees with a plan and will admit when he can't think of a better one- so he becomes more honest, too.
His love of war heroes has always motivated him, but as time goes on, he tips away from the 'war' part (he leads an army of wax models and 'wins' despite both sides melting) and more towards the 'hero' part.
In one of the few times when 'out-of-character' is done in a good way, he opts to fight back rather than surrender to unbeatable foes and this motivates a disheartened team. It leads to a sweet moment when they're all happily encouraging each other during their attack and makes it sad when they start getting killed rather than morbidly funny. They got better.
While the first episode featuring Ace Rimmer (an alternative universe version of Rimmer) serves to highlight what a weaselly git Rimmer can be, the second Ace episode has Rimmer needing to take up the hero's mantle. Ace Rimmer doesn't sit behind a desk and shout orders like a commander, he actively goes alone on risky missions to rescue people. Lister secretly helps him realise he can do it and also gives him a kind, respectful send-off. The Cat and Kryten probably would have too if they had known, but Lister may have kept that secret to ensure nothing hurtful was said. Rimmer's changed between these episodes. It's not just Rimmer deciding to become a hero and actually considering if he can do it, rather than gleefully deciding he's getting his just desserts and carelessly ruining it before it began like he would have done before. Lister's actions are those of a friend. Rimmer got himself a friend after all, even if it's because of being one of the crew. Lister's made friends with a computer, a robot and an evolved cat. He's good at it.

Rimmer and Lister aren't obviously talented, but Rimmer spends less time on forcing himself through things he can't do and Lister takes more of an interest in doing things. As Rimmer is stated in the novels to be particularly good with making paint colours and nearly breaks down when he believes Lister could have an Art degree, I wonder if he would have made a better war historian, archivist, art critic, interior designer, map illustrator (making it look pretty only) or even an artist than an attempted space admiral. On that note, Lister has considerable talent with mechanics and robotics. He doesn't seem to notice that not everyone can fix a robot or make a toaster talk, nor rate it much. If he had actually had ambition, he would have been a good engineer- though he would prefer a practical apprenticeship to studying a degree. The show is an interesting commentary on what can happen if someone ignores finding a calling or insists on going for the wrong one.


Log in

No account? Create an account