Monday, October 09, 2006

One Cylon's Terrorist Is Some Human's Freedom Fighter.

Webomatica has a thoughtful take on season three's first episode of Battlestar Galactica. (Here.) Some of it seems off the mark, some is spot on, but all of it is worth reading. He argues that BSG has always been a political show and he welcomes this season's obvious comparison to Iraq. He also argues that the episode has something universal and important to say to viewers, especially American viewers.

BSG has never been a political show about today's society. In the first two seasons the show did use current events for plot and themes but the series has always been about the BSG universe not about Earth in the 21st Century. Whatever similarities there might be between the BSG universe and our own are superficial. For example, the Cylon's sneak attack on the humans is not like 9/11. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were tactical strikes against discreet targets. The Cylon attack on the human planets destroyed many planets and killed billions of people and was the first blow in a genocidal war. The war we fight today is a war between ideologies not a genocidal war.

What has made BSG excellent so far is that the producers have resisted the urge to turn the series into a thinly veiled version of Earth today. There is a whole genre of TV shows that gives viewers stories "ripped from today's headlines" as the advertising puts it. To be blunt about it. Those shows are plain unadulterated crap lacking the creativity to tell original stories and lacking the wisdom to really add much of anything to the debate about whatever issue the producers decided to hijack into their series.

The concern that arises from BSG's third season premiere is that the situation in the series is set up so carefully to match the situation in Iraq. This was a deliberate choice as this review (here) in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer makes plain. A series producer explains their use of the word "insurgency" in the episode:
"'That's the phrase that we use to apply to all the violence taking place in this part of the world that we're so neck deep in,' co-executive producer David Eick said earlier this week in a conference call. 'It's that old adage: One person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist. It all depends on what your frame of reference is, and on what side of the ledger you're on.

"'The nature of how we interpret the actions of our characters is, for sure, informed by what's going on in Iraq. ... But I think we also relate to these actions in a different way because, ironically, yes, that's the way this country was born too. So what does it really mean to be an insurgent?'"
O spare us.

No doubt it's true that all three situations mentioned by Eick involved an insurgency. The American revolutionaries were insurgents who but for their victory would have been hung as traitors. The Iraqi revanchists are insurgents but they do that little beheading and suicide bombing thing that the American colonists didn't do. And the BSG humans are insurgents too. But beyond that there is little similarity between the three and the situation in BSG is so extreme that it can tell us nothing about the wisdom or not of the bumper sticker adage "one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter."

The human situation on New Caprica is probably one of the few situations where the kind of terrorism practiced today might be moral. The humans are fighting for their survival against an enemy embarked on a war of genocide against them. The situation in BSG is so extreme that it probably justifies an eventual genocidal counter-offensive with the goal of killing every Cylon down to the last android. About all the show can tell us about the morality of terror tactics is that when you are one of about 50,000 human survivors fighting android overlords who began a genocidal war by destroying a dozen or so planets and killing billions and billions of other humans, a suicide bombing here and there will not make your just cause unjust. It says nothing about whether terror tactics in a lesser cause turns a just cause into one that is unjust.

All that being said, the series deserves watching. The producers have maintained a high level of quality in the first two seasons and, to give them their due on this issue, there is a lot of room for moral exploration. Besides, the series has way cool spaceships and totally hot androids.


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Interesting take; I like reading different interpretations about what's going on with BSG. I'll make sure to check in on your blog after future episodes to see your perspective on recent developments.

One thing I definitely agree on is the hot spaceships and androids. Which was one item kind of missing from the first two episodes!
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