Is Battlestar Galactica Relevant in the Obama Era?
Jan 29, 2009 17:01
Major plot points from Battlestar Galactica were also front page headlines over the past few years: terrorism, secret tribunals, prisoner abuse, war. Will the show continue to feel relevant with Obama running America?
With only a few episodes left in the series, BSG is about to disappear from the airwaves. The question is whether it will stand the test of time as the world changes. We've got three reasons why Battlestar might remain relevant in years ahead, and three reasons why it might be headed for the ashcan of history.
Why it's still relevant: Stirring portrait of multicultural, gender-equal leadership.
The Fleet is a good example of what leadership might look like in a post-Obama America. One of the most powerful stories that BSG tells is of a community whose leadership is mixed-race and gender-equal. Admiral Adama is the Caprican equivalent of Latino, while characters like Gaeta, Dualla, and Tory are mixed-race. And women occupy some of the highest positions in the government and the military. While some shows might make a big deal out of this, and smarm you with PC unctuousness, BSG simply takes it for granted that its human society is racially mixed. Certainly there are racial issues, such as the dark-skinned Sagittarans being oppressed by the lighter-skinned Capricans. But the Sagittaran vs. Caprican conflict is really about economic power: The Sagittarans are poor, and that's what makes them powerless - not the color of their skins. BSG's mixed race future is part of that "hope" which the Obama Administration promises.
Why it's in the ashcan of history: Stale liberal siege mentality.
During the presidential campaign, fans of The Daily Show often asked whether the underdog liberal satire show could survive in a liberal administration, and you should be asking the same question about BSG. This smart scifi allegory about US politics may lose its edge now. For example, the new anti-cylon racism plot already feels like a rehash of stale liberal siege mentality - and stale BSG plots. Zarek and Gaeta's mutiny plot feels like something written for the Bush Era, a cautionary tale of what happens when xenophobia creeps into national policy. But President Obama has turned these kinds of cautionary tales into the stuff of campaign speeches. BSG no longer feels like a healthy dose of social criticism. Instead it's in lockstep with the party line espoused by one of the world's most powerful leaders.
Why it's still relevant: Though most of the show is about war, it is also about the thorny road to peace.
BSG tells a timeless story of the horrors of war and the ambiguous nature of peace. Obama may or may not make good on his promise to end the US occupation of Iraq, but assuming he does the scars of war will linger for generations. The high-intensity, emotionally ravaging battles in BSG - especially during the Cylon occupation of New Caprica - will never get stale. At the same time, the show manages to depict how difficult and slow the peace process is. This season's revelations about Starbuck's mysterious identity - is she cylon? something else? - allow BSG's creators to deal with what happens to people whose lives have been shaped by war. How will Starbuck adjust to peace? How will other Fleet members adjust to the idea that she's a human transformed by cylon technology? At the same time, the Tigh and Six plot promises to deal with the same thing. Theirs is a war baby, and its fate is tied to the fragile peace between human and cylon.
Why it's in the ashcan of history: The torture years are over.
Now that Obama has shut down Gitmo and other foreign prisons, we lack that feeling of panicked recognition as we watch the humans and cylons abusing each other. As Newsweek's Joshua Alston put it in a recent article about culture during the Bush Administration:
"Battlestar" has been more honest [than anti-terrorist thriller series 24] about the psychological toll of the war on terror. It confronts the thorny issues that crop up in a society's battle to preserve its way of life: the efficacy of torture, the curtailing of personal rights, the meaning of patriotism in a nation under siege. It also doesn't flinch from one question that "24" wouldn't dare raise: is our way of life even worth saving?
With a new president who isn't beating the "war on terror" drum, will BSG start to feel so retro that it's hard to take seriously? Will it become The Day After of our time, serious and intense when it was released but now naive and cheesy?
Why it's still relevant: BSG unflinchingly portrays the deep connection between religion and politics.
Though BSG is at its heart a show about the future politics and science, it's also about spirituality. Show creator Ron Moore has said a number of times that he thinks the mystical aspects of the Fleet's quest for a new home are crucial to the show. One of the show's most talented scientists, Gaius Baltar, has slipped between the roles of mad scientist and cult religious leader. President Roslin has quelled political uprisings and gone on religious vision quests. A lot of science fiction would shy away from the idea that religion will be as important in the future as it is in the present. And that's what will continue to make BSG relevant in the present - the power of religion isn't going away any time soon.
Why it's in the ashcan of history: Religious war is being replaced with religious tolerance.
Culture wars between Judeo-Christians and Muslims may be on the wane with Obama addressing his inaugural speech to "a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers." Over the past two decades, Western pundits like Samuel Huntington have tried to claim that Muslim fundamentalism is to blame for a global "clash of civilizations" - and that in some ways, this clash caused the 9/11 attacks. Under Obama, it's possible that this civilization gap will start to close. That might mean that future audiences will be unmoved or just bored by BSG's tale of two civilizations warring over God vs. gods. If Obama makes good on his promises of religious tolerance, in eight years BSG's religious anguish and culty weirdness may look as dated as Logan's Run.
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