Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Popular TV as political allegory (beware the Cylonic jihad! etc)

It being the end of the summer and with nothing but the mighty CSI (which, one day, I will bore you to DEATH about hehe) on the TV, I've been steeping my brain with box set binges. Notably series one of the reversioned Battlestar Galactica. While worrying that maybe I was taking it all a bit too seriously I read this and realised that it really IS something quite special (I need critical back-up in these times of blog paranoia to allow me to form an opinion, natch).
More post-9/11 than Lusht (though it uses the same clever metamedia ideas to keep its fanbase involved), more pointedly dealing with bad recent history than an Oliver Stone movie, BG is a real eye-opener, especially for those who still subscribe to the wrong-headed notion that dumb USA makes dumb TV.
It takes the late 70s original which was all post-Watergate/sub-Star Wars laser infused disco fantasy and turns it into something predictably darker, and then some...
People old enough to remember the original (hem hem) will have fun initially with the inversions. Starbuck's a woman (as is the president). Colonel Tigh is white. Gaius Baltar is a jittery English sex symbol. The Cylons look like us! etc etc. This final point isn't just an excuse for cost-cutting though. The old Cylons are there in all their metallic CGI glory, but the new ones, naturally ramp up the paranoia factor.
They're TERRORISTS. We get ships loaded with nukes ramming the Battlestar, suicide bombers, security breaches and an enemy that's religiously fanatical. Meanwhile the humans are drunks, liars, sexually wayward, prone to bickering, bigoted...oh, and religious fanatics.
The reason the human race fails? Because of the internet - we learn that networked computers led to the first defeat at the hands of a technologically advanced enemy with a good idea how to plant viruses. What's more WE created the enemy.
Sci Fi is so good at this stuff - I remember my film tutor telling me that Star Trek was 'imperialism in space' - and while I know that for any film student raised (as I was) on basic theory it will seem a little heavy-handed, but in this day and age, and from a nation whose president makes apocalyptic tales of mankind's demise seem that much more feasible, this is something special.
Now I'm wading through series 2 and the fact that the producers are political science majors is really starting to shine out. Somehow they manage to reference the assasinations of JFK and Lee Harvey Oswald, make pertinent points about the true nature of democracy and still fit in a few good battle scenes (I LOVE the way the CGI is all shot as though with hand-held - in fact the camera work is all super-dynamic. Adding to the rushed, panicky, ragged feel of the whole thing). I get the feeling this is subversion by stealth. While the pilot was competent, the first series became gradually more insane in its exposure of the desperate straits of a race on the brink of extinction yet split by internal politics. Now, beginning series two you get the idea that this could stretch out to be the first long-running series since Twin Peaks that could have the ultimate in downbeat endings (as Leslie Halliwell used to say). At times you even question whether the human race SHOULD survive. Now that's dark...
I know all you West Wing fans will be screaming 'nothing new here!' but I urge anyone who wants a really good idea of how America is coping with the war on terror to watch this as soon as possible.
POSTSCRIPT: Since I wrote this I've entered the considerably darker world of Series two. If Season One was bold, this one beggars belief as to how the hell it even got made. halfway through and I feel as drained and strung out as the crew. As to the basis in contemporary political atrocities...let's just say 'abused prisoners of war' and leave it at that...

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