Friday, August 7, 2009
Battlestar Galactica: Words Cannot Express
The 2003 re-imagined version of the classic television series Battlestar Galactica is something truly special.
It began as a 4-hour TV miniseries, which tells the beginnings of the story:
Somewhere in the galaxy, in an unknown time or place, the human race colonized twelve planets, and forged them into a society much like our modern United States. At some point, they created the Cylons, a robotic race of beings, who then turned upon their masters and began a bloody war. An uneasy treaty was struck, and the Cylons retreated into deep space. Decades later, the Cylons return and proceed to completely wipe out the human race with nuclear weapons. Only 50,000 survivors are left, fleeing from the Cylons in a barely-working group of civilian ships protected by the last remaining military Battlestar, Galactica. Their goal is to find a new home: a fabled planet named Earth.
This sounds like a fun Sci-Fi series, but it is, in truth, a Science Fiction series--yes, there is a difference. "Sci-Fi" is a slang term used to refer to any story involving fantastical technology, but true "Science Fiction" involves things that are much deeper.
It is my belief that the original Science Fiction story is the Greek myth of Icarus. Icarus, who attempted to reach the heavens with his wings made of wax and feathers, fell to his death when he flew too close to the sun, melting the wax on his wings. The first modern Science Fiction story is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which deals with the theme of mankind attempting to obtain godhood, and the horrible consequences that follow. Another story is that of The Time Machine, which suggested that capitalism would ultimately bring about an extreme social class distinction that would destroy humanity.
All true Science Fiction asks us questions: How high can we fly before our wings of wax melt? Can we play God? What are the possible consequences of our current actions?
Science Fiction may not always come to the correct conclusions (as The Time Machine illustrates), but its point is no less well-made. Science Fiction uses theoretical ideas about technology to realistically examine future possibility, which may inform modern action. How many times have politicians cited the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and its concept of "Big Brother" as realistic and terrifying outcomes for possible government rule?
In today's world, we have endless hordes of sci-fi TV series, films, games, and books. Many of the more popular franchises, such as Stargate and Star Trek, have become more focused on maintaining an enjoyable story, rather than telling a meaningful one. There's certainly nothing wrong with surface-level entertainment, but for something that truly makes statements about modern society and gives you something deeper, Battlestar Galactica reigns supreme.
Battlestar didn't seem so amazing at first. Its premiere miniseries was striking in its ultra-realistic style and fictional culture that closely resembled our own, but it wasn't necessarily a super-engaging story. Once the TV series actually started up, however, things began to change.
It soon became clear that this was a show like no other: while other TV series relied upon "characters," Battlestar relied upon "people." The cast of the show was portrayed in such a realistic manner that it rarely felt like watching a rehearsed show; it felt like peering into something real that was happening somewhere out there in the universe. By the 3rd season, the show had reached incredible levels of depth.
A complaint often raised against the show was that it relied too heavily upon sex, and that's a valid point. Those seeking to watch a show where they can "live through the characters" might find Battlestar problematic, as it portrays a universe in which nearly every major character makes serious moral errors. This is, however, part of the point: Battlestar portrays a world in which society's structure has been almost entirely broken down, and people are now forced to find truth for themselves, independent of any guiding rule. It's a sociological dissertation, examining ideas of religious belief, good, evil, life, death, and human rights.
The entire United Nations assembly actually held a conference in retrospect of BSG, inviting the cast and crew of the show to speak on the real-world issues that the show dealt with.
Two days after that conference, the UN rewrote their charter to no longer refer to different cultures with the term "race."
That's right, the UN actually did something. Because of Battlestar Galactica.
I do not personally agree with every position that Battlestar Galactica takes, but that does not lessen the significance of its existence. It truly is the pinnacle of modern Science Fiction, holding up a mirror to our own society and forcing us to look in a painful mirror of jagged edges and harsh truths.
So say we all.
So say we all.
So say we all.