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March 23, 2008

A few thoughts on Battlestar Gallactica

So, I've been watching season one of the new Battlestar Gallactica with my girlfriend. Loving it - a seriously cool example of what you can do with sci-fi. But what's especially interesting is the show's relationship with the war on terror.

The modern remake of Battlestar is, not contemporaneous, but distinctly in the same era with, the first convulsive sprawlings of the war on terror. The show deals superficially with terrorism - in the first six episodes (and preview), the human race is all but destroyed by espionage, a ship is infiltrated and fitted with a dirty bomb, and there are two explosions, one in a military target and another a straight out explosive-backpack suicide bombing. The Cylons are also religious fundamentalists.

  But there's a lot more going on than that, and it's shockingly conservative and reactionary. The human race is pushed to the brink of extinction in the initial sweep of the Cylon attack. Although the nuclear holocaust which causes this might be expected to have a certain savour of the cold war to it, it reeks instead of dirty bombs. The attack is unpredicted - the enemy, unseen to the audience (every attack being related rather than portrayed). The attack is facillitated by a breach of military security. So an act of warfare has been translated into an act of subterfuge - war is equated with terrorism.

The human race is undeniably at stake in the show. But at least as often as people say "the future of our race is at stake", they also say "the future of our culture is at risk". The colonists are fearing for their culture - their way of life, another term bandied about freely in the war on terror. That culture (semi-Christian, although referring to the Lords of Kobol rather than Jesus), is distinctly American.

The real sucker punch is in the numbers game. Battlestar, disturbingly, allows the Americans to act out the perverse and xenophobic mindset necessary for the war on terror to make sense. In real terms, the American military might, it's capacity for power, its sheer numbers, outstrip the conceivable forces amassed by any collation of terrorist organisations. It probably outstrips the entire Muslim population of the middle-east.

But in Battlestar, the human (American) population has been culled to less than 50,000. The Cylons are effectively numberless. Which is exactly the characterisation given by every oppressive regime to justify its persecution of a minority. The International Conspiracy of Jewry - the malignant Tutsi tribe - the Muslims, Christians and Buddhists in Cambodia - the tiny group is inflated, made deamonic, given impossible powers of conspiracy and collusion. Just like the cylons - just like the mythic Muslim fundamentalists.

All of which depresses  me more than a little, because there is so much about the show to love.

Anyway, I urge you to watch it. 

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