I didn’t mean to leave the last post so anticlimactically, especially since I was getting to the good part: the reconfiguration of the relationship between drama and audience and the resulting destabilization of identification with characters that was a constant in literature for most of the 19th century and still haunts young adult literature and a good deal of genre fiction, even some contemporary literary works. In film, of course, seeking to attract as much as repel the audience is not new. But for tv it is, partly because tv is extremely representational and is often obsessed with realism. Interestingly, BSG is a realist show, a mimetic or imitative show (the reality indexing that happens when the inside of a spaceship looks like what we think of the inside of a submarine, for example) in spite of the fact that its “appropriate” genre is sci fi. And it is this realism, down to the untidy and uncomfortable heroic characters, that provokes attraction and repulsion that is not a gimmick but rather part of an unraveling mystery.
As I mentioned in the earlier post, the human forms of the Cylons is being fully explored in this third season. On the one hand, the plot implications of this detail are tantalizing, though almost completely exhausted by this season: in season 1 and 2, there are enough encounters with these humanoid Cylons to provide suspense and adventure. Finding more hidden Cylons in the fleet would just be repetitive and unimaginative. The more important aspect of the epistemological confusion this Cylons form entails is a questioning of what is human. The question had been suggested in seasons 1 and 2, but Cylons then were united in their pursuit of destroying humans. That goal is now questioned. The diversity of opinion, the debates among the Cylons, their visceral discomfort of resurrection (the download into now bodies when they die), and their obsession with love puts us firmly into the world of “humanity.” Moreover, the humans’ use of suicide bombings and thirst for revenge upon the human collaborators of Cylon occupation suggest their “inhumanity.” A version of this is already offered in the Pegasus’ crew physical and sexual abuse of their captured number 6 model. What emerges is a model of humanity that is extremely contingent, situational. The monotheist/polytheist debate subtends this contingency, particularly as the mystics of each camp consider each other’s visions valid: the future is already written and does not define the characters, their subject positions are reconfigured given the relational networks in which they exist and through which they move. This is BSG’s recasting of our globalized world.
As unsatisfying as this contingency may be for aesthetic and philosophical theories of the subject–and it IS unsatisfying–the series does a much better job of exploring these issues than the hints of the post human Morrison’s run in New X-Men offered. The problem with how Morrison did this with the X-Men have very little to do with either Morrison or the merry mutants. It is probably a genre problem of the comic book, particularly the superhero comic. But it does suggest that humanity’s others: mutants, Cylons are the actual protagonists of the drama, not the vectors of destruction they represent, and the original humans, though they are the targets of the narrative focalization, are the actual ancillary subjects.
BSG continues to offer a new look of what is human, and it certainly indexes quite well the specific shades of this question most important to the mid 2000’s.
Originally published on 15 Mar 2012
Recently, I have been re-watching old shows: I think it’s the cheeto presidency that’s driving me to shows that make me feel comfortable. One show in particular I’ve been watching is Battlestar Galactica.
I’m currently in the beginning of season 3, in which the epistemological problem that Cylons are indistinguishable from humans is being fully exploited: after having her hybrid baby, Sharon has been made into a lieutenant aboard the Galactica, humans are engaging in suicide bombings of other humans and Cylons in the name of the resistance, and the uniformity of the Cylon models is cracking thanks to the Cylon war heroes, Caprica 6 and Boomer. These plot reversals and inversions are important not so much in terms of creative plot development (though that creativity must be acknowledged) but most importantly because of how they reconfigure the audience’s relationship to the series. That is, who are we to root for? And why? Well, yes, the humans. But the characters themselves remind us that suicide bombing crosses a line. And are we now going to throw in with Colonel Tigh, a character we are constantly reminded is not to be trusted? The viewer has to be pragmatic here, even if it is distasteful. And the Cylons, what to do with them? As dastardly as they are, our apprehension is intimately related with how like us and our history they are. What even the human characters are beginning to grapple with is the idea that Cylons have souls (something the audience could always entertain but which now they have to face more seriously). And yet they decimated billions, a crime that cannot just be forgiven, especially by the survivors of such decimation.
This is why Battlestar Galactica is such a great show: the series seeks to constantly reconfigure the bonds of identification and disidentification between audience and fiction. For there is much we admire about the characters as well as what repels us. President Roslyn’s moral certainty, until it becomes tyrannical. Adama’s decisiveness and leadership is comforting at the same time that it’s narrow minded and the character can never truly be approached; we are Lee in many ways. This push and pull goes down to the setting: space age humans in a gritty, rust bucket fleet. Not the star trek sleekness we’re used to for a space drama.
I’ll sign off for now, but I have more to say on this topic.
Originally published on 13 Mar 2012