Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Parallel Universes: Battlestar Galactica

For those who think the BBC is great value, mainly because people like me are forced to pay for the programmes that they like to watch, they may never have seen an episode of Battlestar Galactica, currently running on Sky One. Which is a terrible shame, because it's a great series. And what an episode we had last night, especially for the fans like me who love all the parallels between the people of the twelve colonies, with their quasi-US democratic constitution, and the current people of Earth, currently being subjected to a competition between an ever-expanding US-state worldwide hegemony up against rival hegemonies such as the Russian Federation, the EU, and the Chinese communist party.

Obviously, the chief baddie in Battlestar is an Englishman, once again proving the rule that quality programs always require quality evil Englishmen, but let's just run through last night's parallels on the joys of democracy, to get a flavour of the show:

  • The "good" president tried to steal the election by faking several thousand ballot papers, apparently for the people's own good.
  • The "evil" president won the election, by appealing to the lowest prejudice of the masses, simply because he wished to gain power for his own personal ends.
  • The entire population of approximately 45,000 were compelled, in a manner reminiscent of Uncle Joseph Stalin, to live on one particular planet, putting all their eggs in one basket, despite about 22,000 of them vehemently disagreeing with this policy.
  • The 22,000 were proved right when, at the end of the program, they became slaves to the Cylons (a sort of updated Cybermen race), because of the democratic decision to force everyone to settle on this one planet.
  • The presumably monopolistic state navy, having spent a year in orbit spending state-procured funding in preparation for a possible invasion by the Cylons, cleared off the moment the Cylons appeared, to save their own skins. What a waste of taxpayers' money that was!
  • Just before the Cylon invasion, there were, can you believe it, union problems on the ground, with thousands of workers threatening strike action, despite the constant threat of Cylon invasion.
  • Once in power, as president, the evil Englishman quickly became a debauched corrupt dilettante living in luxury, while the peasants lived below his window in cold pneumonic tents, as he threatened their union leaders with summary imprisonments for daring to challenge his rightful democratic rule.
Oh yes, it's all there in Battlestar.

So how did the people of these twelve lost colonies get stuck in such a mess? Because they all felt an ideological committment to their damned stupid constitution, despite this having been drawn up many centuries before in entirely different circumstances. Which sort of shows you the power of ideology.

So how did the twelve colonies get in such a terrible situation in the first place. Because the Cylons had nuked all twelve of their home planets in a sudden attack, wiping out virtually everyone, including 99% of the space navy. And how did they do this? Because all twelve planets and the navy were under the control of a single monopolistic defence agency, which had all of its single-network computers taken down by viruses just before the attack, rendering all their defence systems useless against the nuclear-armed Cylons. Merely as an aside, the evil Englishman was used by a Cylon agent to give her access to these systems to plant the deadly virus, but now I'm only quibbling.

So wherever you look on Battlestar, you find democracy, government monopoly, corruption, and failure, continuously working side by side, to create misery for society. 'Twas ever thus, I suppose.

So how would a free society have coped with all the challenges thrown at the 12 colonies? Well, for a start, there would have been at least 12 separate defence agencies, possibly many more, with no chance for the Cylons to take out the whole defence system in one move.

Even if the Cylons had managed this feat, and they're clever critters, why this need for the whole of humanity to keep sticking together all the time, in one big commune, making the life of the Cylon gunners really easy, with all these fish in one barrel? There's no compelling reason why the whole of humanity should stay together in one big lump. We evolved in groups of 500, or less, and so the 45,000 who survived could easily have split into 90 or so groups, confounding the Cylons with a Diaspora rather than a Moses-style crusade, to find a single promised land. And even if the whole of humanity had stayed together at first, when escaping, they didn't all have to live on the one planet. The 22,000 could easily have gone their own way, and away from the dangers of the Cylons.

For a final possibility, even if they had all decamped to the one planet, it seemed unlikely that everyone would continue living on the one cold damp site, especially if they felt oppressed by a ruling tyrant. Surely those union members, who felt so aggrieved to go on strike against the presumably communist government, would simply have walked to another part of the planet, to set up life there on a huge frontier of wilderness.

But hey, it is only a TV program, and you need democracy, government monopoly, corruption, and failure, to create all of the life and death tensions necessary to build up the anger, frustration, and drama required to get people like me to watch, I suppose, just like all those endless TV and hospital programs which feed on the same ingredients.

Now we could also talk about how the 12 colonies run themselves economically, or even what the economy of the Cylons could be based on, seeing as they are just lumps of metal or protoplasm that live forever; but we really don't want to get into the difficult territory of defining a human being as being any kind of self-defined individual that carries out purposeful action, otherwise we'd have to define the Cylons as humans. And that really would be going just too far!

Next week, apparently, the Navy will fly back and deal with the Cylons. I can't wait. Go Admiral Adama, go! (He's the Moses figure, by the way, as played by the splendid Edward James Olmos.)


cuthhyra said...

I liked the gratuitous 'Cylon' photo!

Shame I've missed so much of the series, I'll have to get it on DVD now so I can actually watch the episodes in sequence and know what the heck is going on.

Jack Maturin said...

Better watch them in order too. It gets very psychological, and very confusing, if you don't. As I found out to my cost, when I went away for a couple of weeks and got my recording programming all screwed up.

At least I didn't end up recording 'Lost'. What is that all about, anyway? ;-)