Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My BSG Addiction: Thought

In order to get over my addiction to "Battlestar Galactica," I'm going to talk the show to death until it's out of my system. What originally started as a one-off essay is too big for just one post. This is Part 8.

Big Show, Big Ideas

For all its faults, this show can never be accused of not trying. When I say this is the defining sci-fi series of the last decade, I'm not saying that lightly. The term "Post-9/11" is so cliche, but it's so true. The '80s and '90s saw the rise of the middle class. Suddenly there was this amazing blending of rich and poor into a blended middle that was just comfortable. For decades, that middle class grew and grew until an unprecedented number of people saw the hope and potential for real, life-long success.

Starting with 9/11, that all came crumbling down. Now, ten years later, we're years into a war. We live in constant fear of another terrorist attack. Even the world economic system that was so instrumental in our success is falling down around us. The promise of the middle class is degrading into an even bigger gap between rich and poor. Even the Catholic church, a bedrock of moral leadership, is mired in sex scandals. I'm not saying 9/11 caused all that, but in the last decade, we fell from hope to uncertainty real fast. That's where Battlestar comes in. As you read on, keep in mind this all fit perfectly into a cable sci-fi series with robots, spaceships, and magic arrows.

Military vs. Civilian:  The relationship between government and military has always been a tenuous one. The difference between soldier and civilian has always been clear. Plato spoke of the soldier as the ideal man, yet we form our governments around the idea that civilians should lead, not soldiers. Galactica keeps the rest of the fleet alive, yet the people aren't content to let Adama get away with whatever he wants. The show is a cautionary tale to all people, to make sure they constantly question those in power. Likewise, it's a message of understanding about the powerful. Say what you want about the Bush Administration, but those people aren't supervillains; they're just people.

A Fundamentalist President: President Roslin starts the show as Secretary of Education. She's a school teacher. When a war is placed at her feet, she doesn't hide behind her books. War isn't just an evil, it's a responsibility. When the lives of people are in a person's hands, we all expect that person to protect us. I can't help but wonder if she's a direct commentary on George W. Bush. She's a religious fundamentalist who's not afraid to fight. The last decade saw a lot of shows with strong presidential characters. Perhaps this one gets the closest not to an ideal president, but what W. could have been if he was a tad more introspective.

Torture: Is it okay to torture a Cylon to save the fleet? At first, the answer is clear, they're not human, therefore, they don't get the same rights as humans. They are machines. Their feelings and sensations are a result of programming. They're not real. As the show progresses, torture becomes less and less an option. Cylons have a soul, and anything with a soul has the right not to be tortured. At about the same time, the Bush Administration was following an executive order making torture perfectly acceptable and legal. Dick Cheney even went on the news to justify torture. If it saves the country from another attack, don't terrorist give up their rights by attacking us?

Fear Thy Neighbor: The guy sitting next to you on an airplane could have a bomb in his shoe. Terrorists aren't all guys with dark skin and turbins. Some of them you've known for years, and one day they'll just carry out their plot. What do you do when that does happen? Would you feel loyalty to your friend? Betrayal? Keeping up with the Cylon as terrorist motif, Galactica goes through all those phases. From sleeper agents to shaky allies, Cylons reveal in the characters what fear can do to a normally stable society.

Peace Through Forgiveness: A plot hatched in Afghanistan sends airplanes into buildings in the US. The US Army marches on Afghanistan. Bombs send a Spanish train off the rails. The US Army marches on Iraq. Bombs go off on the London Metro. Villages get bombed, innocents on both sides die. This isn't a war fought between governments and soldiers, it's people vs. people. How will the world get past this? In the BSG universe, humans and Cylons find it in themselves to move on. Both sides have committed atrocities, and by moving beyond justice toward peace, they find a way to co-exist. It's a hard question with no easy answer, but BSG places itself up there as an example. Maybe no one will find justice in the eventual armistice with the terrorists, but does it matter if we can finally have peace?

The Perfection of God: In the last decade, we've seen God dragged through the mud. The supremacy of Christianity is no longer a certainty. Christian groups in this country have started to act like a persecuted minority, pushing through legislation seeming to have the sole goal of holding onto this idea that the US is a Christian country. A lot of shows have come out recently that either embrace religion and its message or flat out insult it. I can't think of another show that so deftly deconstructs religious institutions while at the same time sounding the glory of God. We're entering an age where religion is becoming more of a choice than a given than ever before, and shows like this are helping to take us there.

Smaller Issues:

On a much smaller scale, BSG tries to tackle some far smaller issues, but with no less of the depth. I thought the abortion episode could have been the start of a bigger issue, but it didn't go anywhere. President Roslin declares abortion illegal to preserve the species. They never go further, though. If abortion's illegal because we need to have babies, doesn't it also mean birth should be mandatory for all women? I would have liked to see Roslin grapple with that a little more. The topic of democracy in times of crisis keeps coming up. The pattern usually follows that a desperate people seek a dictator. I really think Roslin losing the election was a strong message about the power of the people checking the power of the government. Even though, the people were wrong in electing Baltar, it is still the people's duty to keep the government honest.

Some one-off episodes dealt with class wars and unions and what to do when medical supplies need to be rationed. Such issues would never cross a Star Trek writer's desk. Even if they do, they're always dealt with in such a dismissive way, as though it's the duty of humanity to be better than our own foibles. The whole series is one giant civics lesson, and it even goes as far as saying that being good citizens, a good society will lead us to our salvation.

So yeah, get on that, everyone.

Continue to Part 9

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