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Don’t Know What You’ve Got Till It’s Gone, And Also I Write A 9,000-Word Blog Post About It For You: A Post About Battlestar Galactica

There are many lady issues facing ladies today: for example, pay inequality, the problematic coding of masculinity and femininity as oppositional, the exclusion of women from legitimate positions of authority, the goals of President Obama’s Council on Women and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

OK! More importantly! Battlestar Galactica is totally almost over! 
Oh, my God, Battlestar Galactica. I love it with an epic love. Tragically for me, no-one in my life seems to understand or share this passion. No, the only people who share my love for Galactica are nerds. Nerds, on the Internet! Tragically, all of my friends – and blog readers, I assume – are awesome and cool. Therefore, before its last episode airs (on Friday, when I will not be watching it; may the gods of speedy iTunes download smile upon me in my hour of need) I would like to introduce all of you non-nerds to its wonders. You are already on the Internet, people! That is the first step! So here, for those of you who have missed out, are the key lessons to be learned from Battlestar Galactica

#1: OLD STARBUCK IS A TOOL; SO IS THE NEW ONE, BUT AWESOME! 
Did you know there was a really bad show called Battlestar Galactica in the ’70s? Crazy, right? Anyway, such a show happened, and at its creamy, poop-flavored center was one Dirk “A-Team” Benedict, playing a Han Solo-esque douchebucket by the name of “Starbuck.” 
Here, Face details his epic struggle to bring this character to life. He smoked, like a rebel! He drank, like a rebel! He slept around with sexy ladies, like a rebel! Like a rebel, and perhaps more importantly, like a real man. “But 40 years of feminism have taken their toll,” he informs us, rebelliously. “The war against masculinity has been won. Everything has been turned into its opposite, so that what was once flirting and smoking is now sexual harassment and criminal.” Benedict’s main support for his theory? Well, in the current version of the show, Starbuck has all of the original character traits (and oh, so many more) but is played by a lady. 
OH MY GOD STARBUCK IS A LADY YOU GUYS IT IS AMAZING. She is the primary action hero of the show, she is tough and blunt and doesn’t shower all that often, she throws punches and drinks and smokes all the time, she doesn’t wear dresses or makeup or want babies or feel the need to be a gentle civilizing influence on the folks around her, she takes obvious and obnoxious pride in being stronger and braver than anyone else, and she continually hooks up with dudes because she thinks they’re pretty but is never, ever, ever soft and squishy about it (Apollo, the dude protagonist/foil, has had about 50,000 scenes with her where he is like “but I loooove youuuuuuuu” and she is like, “tough nuts, thanks for the intercourse,” and no matter how many times this happens it is never cheesy like it was when Cameron inexplicably did it on House that one time. It is great). 
EXHIBIT A: Yeah, she does this a lot. 
The second I saw new Starbuck, with her biceps gleaming like salvation, I knew that it was insane and awesome and fabulous that a female character with zero traces of conventional femininity was not only in a television show, but was one of its central characters. There is a reason Starbuck is pissing Dirk Benedict off, I am telling you. (“Faceman is not the same as Facewoman. Nor does a Stardoe a Starbuck make. Men hand out cigars. Women ‘hand out’ babies.”) That reason is that, yeah, those “40 years of feminism?” They made her possible. 
Oh, and also, the President is a lady? And she is totally tough and competent and maybe the best role model you could ever possibly ask for? That can happen, in fictional TV shows set several thousand years in the future. Just so you know. 
 
#2. IN SPACE, NO-ONE CAN HEAR YOU PERPETUATE A HISTORY OF RACISM AND CULTURAL IMPERIALISM. OH, WAIT, THEY CAN, AND WILL BLOW YOU UP!
So, Battlestar Galactica begins with killer space robots, AKA Cylons, destroying 99.99% of the human race via nuclear Armageddon. This, unsurprisingly, leaves both the viewer and the surviving characters with distinctly unfriendly feelings toward the Cylons! They are scary and unfathomable and alien and They Want to Kill Us All. 
Here is another interesting detail, tucked away in the beginning of the show: humans caused the Cylon war in the first place. Cylons were robots, and were used to do the things that robots do, like unpaid labor and such, and then at some point they looked up and were like, “oh, BTW, you created us to be self-aware. Also, this is fucked up.” So: killing. 
By the time we see the Cylons, they look and think like humans. They are basically indistinguishable from humans. Lots of them think they are humans, and have human memories, and have to deal with the whole Philip K. Dick mindfuck that entails. With all that in play, the show is less about the war itself than about how we deal with the Other. 
EXHIBIT B: I am just hanging with my non-robot husband, you guys, could you maybe stop yelling at and torturing and sometimes shooting me? 
The show doesn’t start from a Wire place, wherein we see that every person and/or robot has reasons; it takes time to get you there, and to let you realize that the side you’ve been rooting for can be – and is – sometimes pretty vile. It reaches critical mass somewhere around the episode wherein we learn that humans are actually raping lady Cylons as a war tactic. That one’s a downer. Then there’s the one where Starbuck waterboards a Cylon, or the one where the President commits election fraud to save humanity from the Cylons, or the extended run of episodes that are basically an allegory for post-”Mission-Accomplished” Iraq wherein our analogues for the American troops are the Cylons, or the one wherein the human race sees an opportunity to commit total Cylon genocide, and takes it. 
Yeah, it’s a space opera, with the requisite crap dialogue and space battles and futuristic melodramatic hoo-ha, and if you can’t deal with that, fine. Lots of people can’t. Still, people who think this is a show about good guys and bad guys are either not watching or maybe a little screwed up in the head. There are no good guys. There are no bad guys. There are just a bunch of guys killing the shit out of each other. They’ve all got valid perspectives. The thing is, they’re all going to die. 
#3: GAIUS BALTAR IS YOUR EX-BOYFRIEND. 
The principal antagonist of the show is Dr. Gaius Baltar. He is handsome; also, funny and charming. Furthermore, he is very smart, as evidenced by the fact that he has managed to invent both Communism and the Mormon religion in the last year and a half alone, in addition to being apparently the only scientist in the entire fleet and serving as the first Vice-President and the second President of post-apocalyptic humanity. Oh, and also there is all sorts of other stuff about him that is way less appealing! 

EXHIBIT C: Baby, if you elect me President, I swear I won’t hook up with my robot ex-girlfriend and leave you to mount an insurgency against her occupying forces, resulting in a bloody and interminable ground war. 
Like, for example: he is totally selfish. Also, kind of arrogant? And petulant? And weak, and irresponsible, and has issues with women, and lies a lot? And he has these weird self-glorification/self-loathing issues stemming from the fact that he’s all screwed up inside, and so no matter what is happening around him, his main agenda is (1) to make everyone love him like Daddy and Mommy didn’t, and (2) there is no second point, EVERYONE MUST LOVE HIM? Basically, if you can imagine the worst boyfriend you’ve ever had, and make him a Communist Mormon President, in a spaceship, you’ve got Baltar. 
Yet you love him. Baltar, I mean; not your boyfriend. Battlestar Galactica is very good at casting interesting actors in interesting parts, and at handling moral complexity (within the limits of a show about ‘splosions and robots and why war is bad, obvs). A lot of that complexity hangs on Gaius Baltar. He’s relatable, he’s human, he’s even sympathetic: he tries to do the right thing, or tries to try, and yet he just keeps accidentally killing people. Lots of people. Like, “oh dear, it appears I’ve triggered a nuclear armageddon that has more or less ended the human race” amounts of people. He feels really bad about it, too. In the cliffhanger to the series finale, which involves black holes and space battles and visions from God, one of the most decisive factors is whether Baltar has managed to become a decent person. The fact that we’re even asked to consider this, let alone that it could very plausibly go either way, says something about the nature of the show. 
Because he’ll totally come through and save them all, right? 
Right? 
Or he could douche out and let them all die, like he did last time, and the time before that, and the time before that. 
Worst boyfriend ever.  
#4: THAT SPACESHIP DONE BLOWED UP! WOOOOOO!
Yep, it’s a show about space wars. Wars of the star variety! Get over it; it’s fun. 

6 Comments

  1. Crowfoot wrote:

    O.M.G.

    “Baltar is your ex-boyfriend”

    IT’S SO TRUE ZOMG.

    I was just trying my first post on BSG on the train today! And I agree – one kind of ends up rooting for everyone/no one at the same time. It is definitely NOT a clear-cut good guys/bad guys scenario. My friend and I have been watching it from the beginning and we’ve just gotten to the end of season 3.

    I find I’ve been having a hard time with how monotheistic/like Christians the Cylons are? It’s like I can’t believe that the writer’s are actually doing that – I keep expecting the usual one-note moralizing so when I see the Cylons spouting this very Christian One True God thing I don’t know how to react. Are they wanting to paint Christianity (and other monotheisms) as evil? Are they trying to make us relate to the Cylons on a deep level (which assumes the audience is Christian) to make us think that there is no Ultimate Good/Ultimate Bad?

    I am not used to moral complexity from American tv :-/

    Oh. I saw the original BSG when it aired and loved it (I was about 12). I also used to have a crush on Starbuck, I’m sorry to say. Dirk Benedict is a giant tool. When I got older I started to recognize the tool-ness/smarminess of him. And now? Of course I have a crush on the NEW AND IMPROVED Starbuck, who could outfly, outfuck, outdrink and then beat up the old one. Then laugh.

    Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at 11:20 pm | Permalink
  2. Sady wrote:

    Gaius Baltar IS your ex-boyfriend. He is also Pete Campbell from Mad Men… IN SPACE! And if I think too hard about why Pete and Gaius are my favorite characters in their respective shows, I will learn something unpleasant about myself, most likely.

    About the Christianity thing: I sometimes wonder whether “Battlestar Galactica” will have as much impact 5 or 6 years down the road as it does when I watched it, more or less from the beginning. The pull of the show is not just that it’s political commentary, but that it somehow manages to make that commentary very shortly after the events it’s reflecting have transpired.

    The show started airing in 2003, when the political climate was measurably different than it is now, and I know a lot of people read the Cylons as a direct analogue for Islamic fundamentalists. The “One True God” read that way at the time. Now, they’re making more directly Christian analogies, I think, and it comes across more as reflecting on religious and cultural imperialism as a whole. The Cylons are just what happens when political and religious power are conflated; one of the reasons they Kill All Humans is that they’re convinced the humans are Godless and morally inferior. I think that American Christians are encouraged to identify with the Cylon belief system, and I don’t think we’re meant to feel good about that. We’re also meant to feel slightly queasy about Roslin, who is continually legislating religion in her own way.

    Of course, in season four (SPOILER! OH NOES!) lots of humans actually convert to the Cylon religion, or Baltar’s very special interpretation thereof, which is just super fun.

    Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 11:46 am | Permalink
  3. Tangoing with Evita wrote:

    I *liked* how BSG handled rape – it IS a weapon of war, it IS an abuse of power, and the “Pegasus” episode was meant to upset us, not titillate us. Maybe it would wake us up to the reality in the world, that this is the experience of women in war zones. Mainstream media usually glamorizes rape, uses it as a plot point as you’ve pointed out, makes it titillating. And BSG drove home that there was absolutely nothing sexy about the rapes that it showed – it was about an abuse of power and so clearly NOT an act of attraction. For that I think BSG deserves a feminist thank you. At least for that one thing.

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009 at 11:49 pm | Permalink
  4. Sady wrote:

    I totally agree! I felt bad that I didn't talk about BSG in the other posts on rape in film & TV, because they did an excellent job.

    Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 12:01 am | Permalink
  5. BonnieBelle wrote:

    I’m so hot for this show it’s not even funny. It’s difficult to hear about the ending, because I’m only half-way through the second season! One of the rare times I lament my lack of cable.

    Monday, April 20, 2009 at 2:38 am | Permalink
  6. Goodday
    awesome post – i’m creating video about it and i will post it to youtube !
    if you wana to help or just need a link send me email !

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 12:21 am | Permalink