Student Pilot 3000
Futurama, Fox Broadcasting Company
From The Rumpus:
Futurama frequently presents Fry as useless and undesirable; the series goes out of its way to make sure we understand this point: he’s only got one set of clothes; he loses his teeth from drinking too much Slurm; he is his own grandfather; he can’t kill the last ship on Space Invaders. But despite this overt characterization, the series insists on Fry as an emotional hero—a devoted friend, he loves unabashedly and hopes always. In “The Why of Fry” he starts to lose his hopeful attitude; Leela dates an arrogant mayor’s aide, Bender and Leela don’t need his help on deliveries, and he gets a ticket for failing to scoop Nibbler’s poop, even though “it weighs as much as a thousand suns.” He tries to argue that he matters, but really can’t; he tells Leela miserably, “the kind of importance I have, it doesn’t matter if I don’t do it.”
But it does matter; the whole universe depends on Fry doing something. Turns out, Fry, as Nibbler tells us, is “the single most important person in the universe.”
On Planet Eternium, Nibbler (a brilliant alien masquerading Leela’s pet) and his colleagues explain to Fry the consequences of his “doing the nasty in the past-y.” In a previous episode, “Roswell That Ends Well,” Fry travels back through time and gets pretty (un)lucky with his grandma. As a result of the unintentional inbreeding, his brain lacks the delta wave, thus making him invisible and impervious to the evil Brain Spawn. As luck would have it, the Brain Spawn have built an Infosphere in order to collect all the knowledge in the universe. They’ll prevent new knowledge by destroying the universe. Fry agrees to destroy the Infosphere.
Fry flies to the rescue on his Scooty Puff Jr., which promptly breaks. But even after it breaks, Fry sets off his bomb, knowing he can’t escape. He does, as he tells the Brain Spawn, one important thing with his life.
That’s where I connect with this show—the wanting to know that what I do matters. That somewhere, among chasing down drafts, and writing the same comment (“Please proofread” or “Expand this analysis”) on student papers, something useful and important happens. That how I feel at the beginning of each new semester is correct: I can include students in a conversation about research and writing, I can get them to embrace revision, I can help value them writing.
But right around October, I become discouraged. And not because of my students; instead, I feel stuck in a system of adjunct labor, little more than a delivery boy—assign three papers to two classes, grade the papers, start a new semester. Relationships with students, much less my own writing or research, tend to get thrown by the wayside in the interest of just getting the job done. And so, the one important thing gets lost; my work just serves a larger, vaguer institutional goal.
Fry becomes similarly disillusioned.