Battlestar Galactica: The Downside
Originally a really LONNNNNG comment in the previous thread, I'll reprint it here as well, for those who just can't get through my rambling text in that kind of context:
I understand a possible counter argument to my pissy insistence on consistency with known physical law in a space based SF artifact on the movies or TV could well be: "Well, we can't simulate free fall conditions on our budget; do you just want us to not make futuristic space operas at all until a time comes when we have a way to accurately portray different gravity fields? You'll be a long time without SF in the movies and on TV then, buddy!"
I get that, I do. But I'd like some acknowledgement of it, however weak. I'd never hold STAR TREK up as an example of good anything, much less SF, but at least their technology is generally advanced enough that when they say "we have artificial gravity compensators, even on our shuttlecrafts", well, it's bullshit, but they have so much other incredibly advanced tech, you can roll your eyes and move along... and if STAR TREK actually had interesting characters, good dialogue, and intelligent plotting, it would work a great deal better for me.
But I'd still bitch about STAR TREK, because with all that advanced technology, the humanity they represent has not changed culturally in more than cosmetic ways over the next several centuries.
And this is insane. If you had all this stuff -- especially, but not limited to, the transporter technology -- your culture, and general standards of human behavior, would change enormously.
But TV and movie producers don't want to do that, because they don't want their target audience to be alienated. They want us to be able to find characters we can identify and empathize with, and they aren't good enough writers to present the kernel of essentially similar humanity in a radically different cultural presentation.
Most SF writers working in TV and the movies now realize this problem, so they do the opposite -- they keep the technology on their shows as close to ours as possible, or make it a little bit backwards except for very specific and essential plot devices, like, in BSG's case, that which makes space travel possible.
This way, they can keep the characters and their cultural surroundings, including behavior, very similar to our own, as well.
Thus, Adama and his son, Starbuck, the President, various other characters we've seen, all behave in ways that are recognizable to us.
Their relationships are all heterosexual monogamies. They have the same general attitudes towards good and evil as we do. Their culture punishes and rewards the same actions as ours does. They have the same modesty taboos and wear clothing much the same as ours.
They are not only human, but apparently, they represent 12 different human populated planets in distant space who only know of Earth as a legendary myth, who still all largely behave like 21st Century white Americans.
I understand the necessity for it, but one thing that has really been painfully obvious to me in what BSG I've watched so far (the pilot) is the complete and utter lack of anything like original thinking as far as wardrobe or set detail. Adama has what looks to be a samurai sword on the wall of his quarters. Their computer consoles look like something Earth humans would invent and use. They wear what are obviously business suits and military uniforms with minor changes to fashion detail.
Every single thing, every detail, every tool, every weapon, every item of clothing, every artifact of any sort, is all immediately obvious as to its utility and/or purpose to us, the audience. We think to ourselves "Oh, cool, Adama has a samurai sword", and probably most of us don't notice either (a) this is rather like Kirk's collection of antique pistols in STAR TREK II and (b) Adama isn't from Earth and his culture shouldn't necessarily have either samurai or swords in its history.
I would love, once in a while, to spot something truly weird in the backdrop of a show like BSG. A sword is a pretty specific kind of artifact. It is, in point of fact, a solution to certain engineering problems. But an entirely different human culture could, possibly, have created and implemented on a widespread basis a different answer to the same questions, namely, how can you kill another human being relatively quickly in hand to hand combat? A sword is one way to do it, sure, and a sword has a very significant emotional impact to us here in the audience -- but I wouldn't have minded if, say, we'd seen some kind of weird looking staff on the wall instead, and gotten thirty seconds of dialogue between Adama and Lee, or maybe his XO, on how much they miss the old days when men settled their differences with venom-thorns instead of blasters, or something. ANYthing, that would underscore for us that yeah, these people aren't from Earth.
And don't even get me started on how much I'd like to see modern make up technology brought to bear on creating a few obviously human, but just as obviously unEarthly, subraces among the general population. How about some short, tan skinned folk with epicanthic folds? How about a tall, generally thin albino race? Maybe we could have... no, never mind. Sorry. Didn't mean to get started.
But here's the thing -- no one aspect of technology ever exists in isolation; not in a growing, vibrant, healthy cultural matrix. We ourselves have benefited enormously from technological offshoots of the Mercury and Apollo programs; materials and devices that were created specifically to perform the tasks of space flight have also made possible various different advances here on Earth that we mostly take completely for granted, but which have changed our lifestyles, and thus, our behavior, in enormous, if largely unnoticed, ways.
If the Colonials have the staggeringly advanced technological capacity to dwell in space indefinitely with relatively large population bases, this should impact their lifestyles, and thus, their behaviors, enormously. How do they all manage to live together in such tightly limited environments without going insane?
Their military culture, at the very least, must be either far far more savagely conformist, or far, far more tolerant of individual variances in behavior, than our own. Yet it's neither; it seems to be much the same as our own.
I could go on and on, but the essential point that I'm harping on is, technological advances in one area inevitably lead to technological advances across the board, and advances in technology always, always, always alter the way that its users live. Usually for the better, because advancing technology allows increasing population density, and increasing population density forces humans to evolve social mechanisms to deal with it -- usually, but not always, leading to more liberal, tolerant, and permissive cultural behaviors.
Which brings me to my next rueful observation: in the original TV program, the Lords of Kobol (as I recall) was a pantheistic religion. And Colonial culture was different enough from ours back then that it had legalized prostitution, as represented by Cassiopiea, the 'socialator' who was Athena's chief rival for Starbuck's attentions.
Say what you will about the late 70s, or the lack of overall quality of the first BSG, but, still, back then the general culture was one that was willing to tolerate differences from the norm in even the blandest, most mass medium speculative fiction.
In the contemporary BSG, the central religion has transmuted into a very familiar seeming monotheism, and the only sexuality I've seen so far is in the deeply unhealthy relationship between the evil inhuman Cylon bitch and her Quisling partner/victim. As with the apparently unkillable LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, the message is pretty clear -- "only bad people have sex".
None of this will keep me from watching BSG, but it will keep me from thinking of it as good science fiction. It seems to be an entertaining space opera, but, in many ways, it's just as poorly executed, sloppy, lazy, and subservient to conservative intolerance as STAR TREK ever was. And that makes me sad.