Posts Tagged ‘cylon’

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Battlestar Galactica and Current Events (SPOILER ALERT!)

August 10, 2009

SPOILER ALERT!  Just so you know, you should not read this essay until you have finished watching the new BSG series! 

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YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Battlestar Galactica: Socially Conscious Sci-Fi

              “All this has happened before, and it will happen again.”

              In 1978, a TV series about a war between humans and robots slowly gained cult following. It was a little melodramatic and a little campy, but we liked it. It was Battlestar Galactica, the original series, and it was canceled after only one season. Frak.

              Flash forward twenty-five years and most American television is avoiding the elephant in the room: the country has just survived a terrorist attack and is currently at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Things look a bit grim. This is when producers Ronald Moore and David Eick decided to create a reimagining of that campy old sci-fi show, Battlestar Galactica. They were faithful to the original premise: Most of humanity has been destroyed in a massive attack by an enemy that has lain dormant for years. Left floating in space, the refugees are an endangered species, with the last Battlestar (an aircraft carrier for space) the only thing between them and the robot Cylons bent on their annihilation. They live in fear of the enemy, many of whom look human, while they search for a new home, a legendary planet called “Earth.”

              Sound familiar? Not the part about murderous robots and aircraft carriers in space. The massive terrorist attack, the fear of a foe living next door, feeling lost and paranoid in the wake of the destruction of a world we thought was safe—all this should feel eerily like the past nine years. The writers of Battlestar Galactica intentionally wrote the show to reflect current events. Ron Moore was inspired by September 11th, the Iraq War, and prejudice while reimagining the sci-fi classic. He wanted to use the show as a metaphor for current events, not to draw direct parallels (Cylons= terrorists= BAD), but to raise questions about what was happening in our own very complex world. The result was what Time magazine named “the best show on television.” The Guardian claimed, it’s the only award-winning drama that dares tackle the war on terror.”

              But how exactly does a race of evil robots intent on humankind’s destruction equal the War on Terror? Keep your frakkin’ shirt on. I’m about to tell you.

September 11th

              The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica began with a miniseries, where we were introduced to the Twelve Colonies: planets populated by humans and united under a common government. Forty years previous, there was a war between humans and Cylons—the very robots humans had created. The humans won, and the Cylons left for the far end of the known galaxy, where they were ignored as the humans got lazy and drunk on their own success. Compare this societal tranquility to the attitude of Americans before 9/11. Sure, we had gone through minor terrorist attacks before, but at the end of the day, we were invincible and our enemy was out of sight and out of mind.

              One fine day, all twelve planets were attacked, swiftly, suddenly, efficiently, in a coordinated nuclear holocaust. It was an act of genocide—most of the human race was killed, and the survivors (50,000 souls) banded together in whatever spaceships were already launched at the time of the attack. Our not-so-merry fleet of refugees is led by the President of the Colonies (former Secretary of Education Laura Roslin), and Bill Adama, Commander of the Galactica, the only Battlestar to survive the attack. At first the survivors feel listless, depressed, frightened of another attack and unsure of what to do next, until Commander Adama gives them a purpose: to find Earth, the long-lost planet of their ancestors. Inspired and hopeful, the fleet sets off, determined to survive. So say we all!

              These events are September 11th and the days following it, on a galactic scale: the massive terrorist attack, the panic and fear, followed by the patriotic rallying at the courageous words of our leader. For both the Galactica and America, things are looking up. Then war breaks out.  

The War in Iraq

              At the end of season two, the stakes have changed for our fleet of scrappy humans. They’ve settled on a planet, dubbed it “New Caprica” after their old capital, and they’re living in a tent city, trying to scratch a living out of the dirt. The Galactica remains in orbit, manned by a skeleton crew. Just when everyone is content to ignore the Cylons and pretend they’re gone for good, guess who comes to dinner…

              As we enter season three, the humans are living on Cylon-occupied New Caprica. The Cylons make the rules, and the humans submit or get conveniently disappeared. But the Cylons claim it’s all in their best interest; they’re trying to help the humans and move toward a relationship of peace. As long as the humans do as they’re told and don’t make any show of resistance, everyone will be happy. So say we all?

              No say we all! Out of the Cylon occupation a resistance force rises. An underground group of human freedom fighters—or are they “insurgents”?—led by former Galactica crew members, is doing their best to run the Cylons out of town. Hoarding weapons, assassinating Cylons, blowing up buildings, suicide bombings… the resistance fighters will do anything they can to keep the Cylons from being in total control. Even when their leader, Colonel Tigh, is imprisoned and tortured for information, they don’t give up.

              This is where the plot of our campy little sci-fi show gets uncomfortably controversial. The parallels to the war in Iraq are hard to ignore. On a cursory viewing, it might seem like the Cylons are painted as the US military, while the humans are the Iraqi insurgency. But this can’t be right. The bad guys can’t represent the good guys, the US of A, the most powerful and free country in the world, can they? And the humans can’t stoop to terrorist tactics. They would never form an insurgency to fight for their freedom by whatever means necessary… would they?

              These are the questions Moore and Eick encouraged viewers to ask themselves. They were not taking a definite stand on the war in Iraq, merely presenting the situation in a way that would not only entertain fans of the show, but get us to think. Whether BSG’s resistance fighters changed your mind about the War on Terror, or reinforced your beliefs, at least the story got you out of your comfort zone and into a place where conflict is gray, not black and white. 

Racial and Religious Prejudice

              Part of what made the Cylons of the new BSG so dangerous was that they looked like humans. They could be anyone, and probably were. Compared with the chrome Cylons of the original series (“Toasters”), the Skin-jobs were much more dangerous, and full of potential for drama, hand-to-hand combat scenes, and… romance?

              Here we hit on a major theme of the show: prejudice, or more specifically, racism. For the humans and Cylons are different races of people, similar in many ways yet separated by religious beliefs, political motivations, and basic biology. These differences cause many of the same side-effects of prejudice we’ve seen in our own world. Racial profiling runs rampant in a fleet where Cylons masquerade as humans, gathering information and setting traps. In the Galactica’s fleet, anyone could be a Cylon, and paranoia, blame, and suspicion run rampant. A similar situation existed after 9/11, with airports sending Middle Eastern passengers through extra security, and hate crimes committed against Muslim Americans.

              The prejudice between humans and Cylons is never more apparent than in the relationship between Athena—a Cylon model #8—and Helo, a human Raptor pilot. Their romance, marriage, and child Hera are all reminiscent of a time when “mixed-race marriage” was illegal in some states. Make no mistake, this couple is mixedrace: human and Cylon, they are hunted, abused, imprisoned, kept apart, and ridiculed throughout their relationship. Actress Grace Park, a Southeast Asian, has commented that her on-screen marriage with Tahmoh Penikett (who is half white, half Dene Nation) has had a positive reaction from fans, who say that the relationship is encouraging to mixed-race couples, and not simply because the actors are different ethnicities. Helo and Athena’s daughter Hera, a human/Cylon “half-breed” is feared and revered by human and Cylon alike. Not surprisingly, this child of two peoples plays a pivotal role in the series finale.

              The most obvious parallel between the prejudice on BSG and in our world today is religious prejudice. While the humans worship many gods (like the Greek pantheon), the Cylons believe in one true god. It is this difference in religious beliefs which drives the two groups deeper into conflict, which each side claiming to have “God” or “Gods” on their side. Sadly, I don’t think I need to spell this one out in terms of current events.

 

 

              Election fraud, freedom of the press, a woman’s right to choose, alcoholism, cancer treatment, the right to a trial by jury—Battlestar Galactica doesn’t just deal with the big issues. The show discusses all of these hot topics in one manner or another, whether it be a storyline used as a metaphor for current events, a larger theme of the plot, or a character dealing with a difficult concern. Needless to say, it would take a whole book and plenty of academic research to fully uncover all the socially-aware plotlines in Battlestar Galactica. 

              But it’s not all doom and gloom. As with any good show, the strength of BSG lies in the characters and their relationships. And what characters they are! They laugh, they cry, they drink themselves silly, sacrifice themselves nobly, and selfishly save their own hides. If you’re tired of generic sci-fi and looking for something to really make you think, watch Battlestar Galactica.

 

~Jess d’Arbonne

Note from Editors: We’ve all been moving lately and thus updates have been extremely spotty.  Also, Amanda Seamus’s laptop died a while ago but she is getting a new one this week sometime so definitely expect more consistent updates when that happens.