The University of Liverpool is ever a joy to my heart with its policies and practices designed to make life for postgraduate students a living hell. This past Friday, while I was talking to Laura over Skype, the Internet connection went down to Melville Grove where many postgraduate students live. Unfortunately for us, the university’s IT staff only work Monday through Friday. That meant no research, calling friends and family across the ocean, or sending and receiving emails. You might say, “why didn’t I go to an Internet cafe?” Well, Internet access over here at every place I’ve checked out is insanely expensive compared to back in the States. Also, I couldn’t use the library facilities, because they changed the hours without so much as a whisper. That meant the Sydney Jones closed at 1pm on Saturday and wasn’t open at all on Sunday. As a result, I stood outside the library with my laptop to pick up the wireless signal from inside the library to check my email. With the constant passage of rogue hoodie kids, this wasn’t a very good solution. At least it’s back up now, but the university should be more obliging to students and their needs particularly with how integral Internet access is to us professionally and privately for maintaining contacts with our friends, family, and colleagues back home. I have things to catch up on, so I might not make another SF post until tomorrow. Thanks for your patience!
Since I’m beginning my analysis of BSG with “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down,” I’ve been doing some research on humor. I’ve read before, or it might have been something I remember from Professor Philip Auslander’s “Introduction to Performance Studies” course, that one explanation of humor involves its utility in allowing people to confront fears and anxieties that they might not otherwise be able to do so. I found this good quote from Jerry Palmer’s Taking Humour Seriously as an ebook in the University of Liverpool’s catalog:
A commonplace observation among recent psychological analyses of humour has been that it has the capacity to reduce anxiety. As a result it has started to take its place among therapeutic measures. On the other hand, there is some evidence that humour is only successful in alleviating anxiety if the level of anxiety in question is relatively low; in cases of high anxiety it may even have the opposite effect, increasing it (Ziv, 1992). (58)
I’ve written about ten pages so far on this one episode and I use the quote above in the introduction. I think it’s important to talk about this episode in an overall discussion on identity in BSG, because of the way the producers decided to approach the breakdown of trust in others’ identities among the human survivors. Perhaps they wanted to use humor to reinforce the futility or farcical nature of second guessing the people that you’ve learned to trust. However, this trust is broken later when the sleeper Cylon known as Boomer attempts to assassinate Commander Adama later in the first season.
I’m beginning to write my MA thesis by analyzing the first season episode of BSG titled “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down.” This is the only comedic episode of the series, which I think adds to the ways in which identity construction and fear of enemy infiltration is approached in general by BSG. As Patricia Mellencamp writes in her book, High Anxiety: Catastrophe, Scandal, Age, and Comedy, “The similarity between comedy and catastrophe is a fascinating one, suggesting a relationship between laughter and shock” (84). This episode of BSG engages both of these issues by presenting a comedy on top of the catastrophic backdrop of the near-annihilation of humanity.
David Seed asked me to formulate some questions to help guide the development of my MA thesis. The following is what I developed to help guide me through the initial stages of my research for my paper currently titled, “Subversion of the Self in the Re-Imagined Battlestar Galactica.”
Does SF change following the end of the Cold War? Is Post 9/11 SF significantly or subtly different than Cold War SF? How is personal identity dealt with in Cold War SF? What differences are there between identity for the good guys versus the bad guys?
Does the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica (BSG) represent a shift in SF from a Cold War mode to a new, Post 9/11 mode? How is identity portrayed differently in the Post 9/11 re-imagined BSG than in the Cold War era original BSG? How are enemy identities portrayed in these two series? Are there significant differences between the two series, or is the new BSG merely a continuation of Cold War narrative?
Using the re-imagined BSG as a test case, I want to answer the question: Does the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica represent a shift in SF from a Cold War mode to a new, Post 9/11 mode? BSG is a unique example to study, because it’s original “text” comes from the Glen A. Larson 1978 movie and subsequent ABC television series, which is deeply embedded within the Cold War temporally as well as narratively. The new BSG, even with Larson attached as a “consulting producer,” is a very different story than the original. Whereas the original BSG presents simplified characters in a dualistic struggle between humanity and machine mapped over the Cold War ideologies of West/democracy and East/communism, the new BSG is a loosely veiled retelling of the conflict in Iraq and the Global War on Terrorism. However, the new BSG also relies on Cold War narrative influences such as those pointed out by Tom Engelhardt in The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation. For example, both series rely on the sneak attack on democracy that was born out of World War II with the Nazi blitzkrieg and their disregard for non-aggression pacts, and more specifically, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In BSG, humanity is attacked by Cylon/machine invaders–during a peace conference in the original series and during years of cease fire in the re-imagining. Additionally, Engelhardt makes a connection between the merging of self and the enemy following the use of atomic bombs at the end of WWII:
The atomic bomb that leveled Hiroshima also blasted openings into a netherworld of consciousness where victory and defeat, enemy and self, threatened to merge. Shadowed by the bomb, victory became conceivable only under the most limited of conditions, and an enemy too diffuse to be comfortably located beyond national borders had to be confronted in an un-American spirit of doubt (6).
The original BSG follows this trajectory in part, because the machine Cylons resemble humanity, and in the latter part of the series, they develop uncanny human Cylons. However, the re-imagined BSG literally takes this much further by merging the “enemy and self” with the human doppelganger Cylon clones (“skinjobs”). Additionally, the overwhelming odds of the Cylon forces to humanity’s approximately 48,000 survivors reinforces the Cold War framework of overcoming staggering odds following the treacherous sneak attack.
Where the new BSG differs from the original specifically has to do with self and enemy identities. Characters in the new BSG are much more developed and are decidedly not archetypes as in the original series. Also, the human appearing Cylons have their own motivations and characteristics that place them above the status as targets as in much other SF. However, the truly interesting element of the new BSG is the fact that identities of both humans and Cylons is that they are both dealing with an identity crisis. Humans worry that they may be sleeper Cylons acting out their lives, unknowing about their “true” selves until the signal or time lapse occurs to activate their hidden programming. The Cylons are worried about internal dissention and individualistic concerns that run counter to the anarchistic commune ideology promoted by group consensus. Also, there is the threat of the final five Cylons, five unknown human form Cylons hidden amongst humanity. Who are these Cylons, and what will their presence mean for the existing Cylons? Other identity issues that concern both humans and Cylons are psychological issues with the human Gaius Baltar and the Cylon “Caprica Six.”
I will utilize the original BSG and re-imagined BSG series as primary sources, but I will also refer to ancillary materials such as DVD extras as well as sourcebooks and official guides. Several useful secondary critical sources are Englehardt’s The End of Victory Culture, Scott Bukatman’s Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Postmodern Science Fiction, David Seed’s American Science Fiction and the Cold War, and J.P. Telotte’s Replications.
I finished my utopias paper on Herland and “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” today, and I rewrote the introduction for my Le Guin paper on The Word for World is Forest, Haldeman’s The Forever War, and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. I’m editing the papers now, so I’ll be ready to print them out and turn them in tomorrow. Now, I need to turn my attention to my thesis on Battlestar Galactica.
I didn’t post yesterday, because I was making a lot of progress on my utopias module paper that is exploring the connections between the lives of Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Alice B. Sheldon/James Tiptree, Jr. and their respective works, Herland and “Houston, Houston, Do You Read?” This paper and my Le Guin paper are both due on Friday, so my postings will be erratic until then. I hope everyone has a great Hump Day!
Tomorrow, we’re meeting at the Taylor Room to give our MA thesis proposal presentations. I finished mine today, and I have a nice Keynote presentation with several short clips from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. My presentation clocks in at about 11 minutes including the clips, so I’m ready to rock-and-roll. I also have hard copies of my proposal along with a working bibliography/filmography.
As soon as we’re done with the presentations, I have to turn my attention back to my Utopias Module paper. I need to read the remainder of Julie Phillip’s Tiptree biography, and I need to begin making notes on the Tiptree story and Gilman’s Herland. I want to knock this out as soon as possible so that I can hit the ground running on my thesis.
Lots to do, and little time to do it all!