Saturday, March 21, 2009

Current events channeled from the future by Battlestar Galactica

I don't watch television. But for Battlestar Galactica I'm making an exception. It's my brothers fault, a couple years ago he told me about the new BSG, how it is excellent television, and that this show was worth regardless of my decision to stop watching television. Fortunately they were selling the shows through iTunes making it possible to watch television without owning a television. In any case he was right, the new Battlestar Galactica is not only excellent beyond measure, it is also a highly relevant opportunity to look at current events through the lens of characters projected on a screen. This weekend the final episode is being aired and unfortunately it hasn't finished downloading through iTunes and I haven't watched it. However I have a lot of thoughts in my mind about this show and the reflection on current events.

The writers and actors on the show purposely used the new BSG to look upon current events. They've said this all along, and it's interesting the primary producers and actors were at the United Nations this week to parlay with world leaders.

The two Apollo's here are one representation of the difference between old BSG and new BSG. Richard Hatch on the right played Apollo in old BSG, and Tom Zarek in new BSG, while Jamie Bamber plays the new Apollo in the new BSG. I watched the old BSG and remember vaguely being enthralled by it, but it didn't sink in and become a big deal. It was a very popcorny show, with a few interesting ideas combined with several groaners, and it's also a fine example of the mediocre state of television in the 1970's. This new one could be described as reality television meets fiction, the characters look like they're going through those events as real life. And the journey they've gone through has been incredible. They are the sole surviving remnants of a human civilization which spanned 12 planets across the galaxy, who were nearly wiped out due to a war with their robotic creations. They are living in tin cans floating in space after thousands of years living on planets, they are constantly chased and harassed by their Cylon enemies, and they have had to do some ugly things to survive against the worst odds you could imagine.

Compare this story against current events.. the original BSG was aired in a time when The Russians and Communism was the specter of evil. But the new one was developed and aired within the context of terrorist attacks against the U.S.A., the launching of a stupid illegal war in Iraq, suicide bombings, the use of illegal torture techniques, a rising level of machine intelligence, a dependency on oil to drive the technology that drives our civilization, political power being abused those in power perhaps while believing they were protecting us, all this and more were portrayed on the new BSG. Plus they seemingly had more freedom to create a very hard hitting show versus the soft pedal mediocre style we endure in other television shows.

Are suicide bombers evil? Well, take your average citizen, put a foreign occupying power in charge patrolling your streets and holding your government hostage. Take away all the power from that citizenry, brutalize them, arrest and torture the ones who speak up, what would you do? That's what the new BSG asked you to contemplate. Would you hunker down and go along? Or would you fight back? If you have no power how can you fight back? There have been freedom fighter movements throughout the millennia who faced this choice and fighting a war is in itself an evil business. What would you do? And what do you think is driving Iraqi's to fight the U.S. Is it differences in ideology or is it simply that we are the occupying power, the Iraqi's did not invite us into their country, we invaded and began enforcing our will upon their country, telling them how to run their country, etc. Iraq is the cradle of civilization, they have had human culture in that land for 4000 years or longer. Who are we, a country that has existed for only 250 years, to tell that ancient civilization how to live?

Is it right to torture? Take your average solder, teach them that so-and-so people are evil inhuman objects of hatred. Give them a captured enemy soldier for questioning. Are they going to see the humanity of that person in front of them? Or will they believe that it's right to dehumanize the enemy, treat the enemy as a nonhuman object to which you can do anything?

Is the enemy purely evil? Maybe the enemy has motives other than a desire to inflict the most damage possible? Maybe the enemy has a goal in mind, and for them the pursuit of that goal means killing people. In the U.S. we're being told that radical Islam is evil, without questioning whether radical Christianity is also evil. The portrayal of radical Islam being the danger is so prevalent that regular Islam is highly suspected by Americans. Oh? A religion of Peace and it's widely believed to be a religion of Terror?

Is religion the best way to drive political policy? In the new BSG we saw religious beliefs held by the Cylons as the driver of their policy to wipe out humanity. We saw several kinds of leaders taking their guidance in making society-wide decisions from Religious concepts and teachings. Then we saw that their ancient scriptures were a lie, rather did not tell the whole story. Today we're in the grip of fundamentalist religious leaders, both Christian and Islamic, who have headed our world into a clash of Religions that's tied to a clash of super powers trying to grab access to important scarce resources. But the writings of these religions are suspect, they clearly don't tell the whole history of our human society, and often it appears religious leaders are using their religions to control society.