Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Downloading Doppelgängers: New Media Anxieties and Transnational Ironies in Battlestar Galactica

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Downloading Doppelgängers: New Media Anxieties and Transnational Ironies in Battlestar Galactica

Article excerpt

Battlestar Galactica (US 2004-2009) has become a phenomenally popular fictional show in an age of 'reality' programmes. A pointedly post-9/11 updating of Glen A. Larson's 1970s broadcast series of the same name, the new Battlestar has produced ardent fan communities across the US. Thanks to its international circulation, it has also generated a strong global audience. Much of its popularity derives from the creative liberties that executive producers Ronald D. Moore and David Eick have taken with Larson's series. Far from being a niche sf programme, it reworks the original with more and stronger female characters, and has season-spanning serial drama storylines every bit as soap as they are space operatic. It consistently and creatively elaborates on its premise as an allegory of the US's twenty-first-century 'war on terror'.

There is, however, another war being fought in the remade Battlestar, a guerrilla- style culture war that is, in its articulation of cultural economic problems in intellectual property (IP) and transnational productions, as timely as the show's post-9/11 theme. In this article I will triangulate Battlestar's storyline, especially its characterisation of the Cylon antagonists, to the Canadian contexts of the show's production and the globalised contexts of its distribution - both formal (on cable TV) and informal (on the Internet). While the series speaks strongly to US and UK audiences about homeland security and 'homegrown' terrorism, it speaks less obviously but just as compellingly to global debates over new media and IP law. In Canada, which provides Battlestar with several of its star actors and its outdoor scene locations, these debates have been recently galvanised by the conservative Harper regime's introduction, in June 2008, of Bill C-61: IP legislation that has been widely criticised as Canada's answer to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) - complete with allegations that it answers not to Canadian media consumers but to US entertainment interests. In this context, the new media anxieties that drive Battlestar's narrative produce interesting transnational ironies of nationalist ideology and cultural economy between the US and Canada. These ironies - and Battlestar's thematisation of current globalised debates over new media and cultural trade wars - become apparent in reviewing its adaptation of the original series and its production history from the perspective of the Canadian experience of media imperialism.

A twenty-first-century Frankenstein

Battlestar Galactica (US 1978-1979) originated as a prime-time network television series one year after the box-office success of Star Wars IV: A New Hope (Lucas US 1977). The story begins as the Cylons break a forty-year truce and devastate all twelve human worlds. Only one military spaceship - a 'Battlestar' - and a few thousand civilians escape. The Canadian actor Lorne Greene starred as Commander William Adama, who leads the 'ragtag fugitive fleet' in its quest for humanity's fabled 'thirteenth tribe' on a planet called Earth. It was a shortlived series, ridiculed for campy acting and recycled special effects footage; but it built a hard-core fan base, periodically reinvigorated by the efforts of Richard Hatch (who played pilot Lee 'Apollo' Adama) to remake the series. When the series was re-branded and re-cast for a new decade as the even shorter-lived Galactica 1980 (US 1980), it descended into farcical self-parody. The Galactica found Earth, only to occupy it covertly and continue its cat-and-mouse war games with the Cylons, and the plots became little more than extended gags about US popular culture, with cameos from celebrities such as Wolfman Jack. The series' heavy biblical borrowing from Genesis and Exodus has also provoked speculations about its religious and ethnic subtexts: some critics read Battlestar's story of the search for a thirteenth tribe as a link to Mormon theology; others read in the original series' adoption of classical and Egyptian tropes an extension of Nazi Aryan ideology. …

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