Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chauncey DeVega's World of Ghetto Nerds: Battlestar Galactica Reviewed--In Barack Obama's America We Are All Cylons Now

And the other thing is, I'm concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice; I'm concerned about brotherhood; I'm concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can't murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can't establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that...

I want to say to you as I move to my conclusion, as we talk about "Where do we go from here?" that we must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Disappointment tests the mettle of one's convictions. Disappointment hurts, as much as it strengthens, our character. Disappointment can crystallize one's resolve, and make more resolute a hope for a better tomorrow. Disappointment can also destroy our belief in the virtue of our dreams, weaken the ties that bind our community together, and set us against one another in a sea of nihilistic fervor.

Battlestar Galactica is a series rooted in the "now." In its first three seasons Ronald Moore, the producer and writer of Battlestar Galactica, has used the show as a lens for discussing the national trauma that is/was September 11th, the morass of a twilight war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the disastrous Hurricane Katrina. In the final season, Battlestar Galactica's first two episodes "A Disquiet Follows My Soul," "And a Great Notion" are an extended meditation on the hopes and dreams of the American people in the face of economic calamity--and the investment which they have made in Barack Obama, a political messiah of sorts (one in which I too believe), to lead them through this darkest of times.

In mirroring our present, Battlestar Galactica has found its promised land, the fabled planet Earth, a destination that was supposed to be a new home for the refugees of the human-Cylon War. The leaders of the human fleet, and now their Cylon allies, have sacrificed so much for a new beginning, that they are numbed by the discovery that Earth has been destroyed. The goal of their struggle, the object of the religious faith and belief in prophecy which has sustained humanity in its struggle for survival, has been exposed as a fraudulent, cruel lie.

Barack Obama's presidency, like the humans' struggle to find Earth, is pregnant with the potential for great disappointment and calamitous consequences if he fails in the great crusade to remake America. Those throngs of people in Chicago's Grant Park, the millions who attended the inauguration, and the many many millions both here and abroad, who watched America elect its first Black president, a man who is the first and best hope for change and salvation, can just as quickly sing Obama's praise, as they can turn in venomous rage upon him if he fails to right America's path. Will it come from the Left or from the Right? Who will be the first to whom Obama will ask, "Et Tu Brute?"

Battlestar Galactica as literate, compelling, challenging television is highly evolved and wonderfully executed melodrama. The "big" questions of faith, survival, life, justice, death, hope, and free will, are embodied by and through the struggles of its characters. In the first two episodes of Season 4.5, Battlestar Galactica has given us the dualism of spiritual emptiness and loss mated with the cathartic liberation of death through Dualla's suicide. Questions of government, justice, inclusion and community, are witnessed through the rebellion among the fleet against including Cylons, their blood enemies, into their political community. The dignity of struggle in the face of adversity, and the nurturing power of love are embodied by Admiral Adama and President Roselyn's intimacy...and also Tigh and Six's act of heretofore impossible conception. Painful truths about faith, responsibility, despair and loneliness are voiced by Baltar as he preaches, "What type of a father abandons his children to despair and loneliness? Perhaps it is God who should come down here and beg for our forgiveness?"

Barack Obama's campaign and election are also powerful melodramas. Consider, could one even construct such a story that is Barack Obama's life? The first Black president, born to an immigrant father and a white wanderlust filled anthropologist mother, abandoned by his father and raised by grandparents in Kansas, and who rode a meteoric star to Harvard, married a beautiful, smart and formidable woman with whom he would have two charming children, then elected to the United States Senate, and eventually the presidency. President Barack Obama's life is a fiction that is real. How will this story end? Will the political theater that is Obama's evocation of Abraham Lincoln end in the healing of what is now a broken promise between the American government and its citizens to guarantee the common good and national prosperity? Or, will the melodrama that is the Barack Obama moment end as a tragedy, one of epic proportions where disappointment and pain are the feelings most associated in the public imagination with President Obama's administration?

As Season 4 of Battlestar Galactica has thrown into question our assumptions about humanity's relationship with the Cylons by introducing the notion that perhaps humans and Cylons are actually one in the same species, in Barack Obama's America, Left and Right have been forced to work together to solve our collective crises. Once looming large in our political vocabulary, such once common sense framings as Blue State, Red State, and "the Culture Wars" have momentarily given way to a sense of collective, linked fate. White voters, voters who historically have chosen racial animosity, and the psychic wages of whiteness over shared class interests with people of color, have in a moment of enlightened self-interest, elected a Black man the President of the United States.

It seems that in a moment of disaster, just as in Battlestar Galactica, former foes are forced to work together for a common goal. Differences are seemingly erased, while still simmering beneath the surface. Genocidal calamity has brought humans and Cylons together, but for how long? Economic calamity has brought Americans together, but for how long? It seems that in Barack Obama's America, we are all Cylons now, but for how long?

Battlestar Galactica, Battlestar Obama. It has a certain ring and cadence to it, does it not?

Some thoughts and questions.

1. Why Dualla? Why the strong black woman? Perhaps, she was not as strong as we thought? Or is she stronger than any of the other characters?

2. Is the prophecy which described Earth as the home of humanity wrong? Is the Book of Pythia incorrect? Or as in most matters of prophecy and faith are they merely being misinterpreted?

3. On this point, notice the language of the Prophecy, "humans were cast out of Kobol." Hmmm....sounds like punishment to me. And if we were cast out, what was our crime?

4. Confusion. Okay, did humanity make the Cylons on Earth and then the Cylons rebelled and destroyed us? Thus, the circle being complete when humanity returns and destroys the Earth?

5. Or did the Cylons make humans as slaves, we rebelled, and returned and then destroyed them? Again, the mirror, and the fulfillment of the idea that all of what we are seeing in Battlestar Galactica is cyclical?

6. Apocalyptic religions are centered on a narrative of destruction and rebirth. Could it be that the final five, and Tigh's wife in particular were part of a cult (i.e. those Christian Fascist Left Behind Rapture types) that actually put into motion the destruction of Earth in order to fulfill God's plan?

7. Oh, I have to gloat, I called Tyrol's baby daddy problem a year ago in this post.

8. We have the final five Cylons. But, we don't have a number "Seven" Cylon. Could Tigh's wife be a Seven, and someone else, Starbuck or Athena/Boomer's child be the real final Cylon?

9. My theory, this is all cyclical and will repeat itself again and again because the desire to create artificial intelligence is hardwired into the subconsciousness of man. We want to create life in an effort to become God. These creations will repeatedly rise up to destroy us. Second thought: each generation humanity leaves Earth and returns to find it destroyed. They, the humans and Cylons, then go out into the galaxy to find new planets. This cycle is repeated again and again. For a visual imagine the spokes of a wheel. We return to the center and then strike out in new directions, an act which in turn spreads our human/Cylon civilization throughout the galaxy. Wash, rinse, and repeat. Question: will this continue forever or until we finally get it "right?"

10. Two words: Count Iblis. I still put my money on a Deus Ex Machina moment where all is revealed and someone has been pulling the strings.

11. Do you take the Cylons into the fleet or leave them out to dry? Do you trust their technology given how they have used it as a weapon before? Do the Cylons merit inclusion as citizens? Given the many poor decisions which Adama and Roselyn have made how can you not be on Zarek and Gaeta's side in the upcoming civil war?

12. Ultimately, this all has to end badly with a huge loss of life, a loss so great that it necessitates the merging of the human and Cylon fleets.

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

why didn't you guys put any spoiler tags,or at least some type of warning, on? I have season 1,2,3, and am on 3, and you ruined the shock. I know its my fault, but jeez

Unknown said...

Just finished watching the final episode of BSG, and searched the web to find some deeper talks on the show. Don't turn a perfectly good show into a rally cry for "Change." We the people do not want socialism and never will. The simple fact is that this president has single handedly managed to divide out great country into many near violently angry segments. Racial lines have been drawn so deep in the sand; it will take decades to fill it in again, to mention nothing of the class warfare he has ignited. BSG is about freedom from tyranny and those who would seek to chain us and democracy and the sometimes ugly scarifies made by good people in order to insure all are heard. You also make points of "forcing right and left to work together," and all I can ask is WHEN? When he passes his stimulus plan that was all republicans where opposed to and instead of realizing it was a stupid idea in the first place, decided to pass its latest revision without any review. I am sorry sir, but you either saw a different show, or live in a different country. I implore you, please stop listening to what NBC tells you is going on, dig a little deeper. Now to find a page that isn't tainted by propaganda.

Unknown said...

Noticed, you have to approve my previously made comment first. Well, sending this hoping you seriously consider not deleting it. Good day to you.

Lady Zora, Chauncey DeVega, and Gordon Gartrelle said...


Thanks for chiming in, and please read my review of the last episode.

I love the show because it invites serious reflection and discussion. Now, I do have to differ--we should be true to a text. Yes, the show is a great critique of tyranny, and I most certainly agree with you on that point. Now, Obama as a socialist? Come now, while you want us to stop watching "NBC" that most foul of corporate media, you repeat the tired mantras of the Right Wing echo chamber. A bit problematic, no?

Second thought, are you one of the folks who also think that Batman the Dark Knight is a vindication of Cheney and Bush's tactics in the War on Terror? i.e. the Batman is Cheney meme that took hold among the Right-wing?

chauncey d