Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Techno-Butterfly: Orientalism Old and New in Battlestar Galactica

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Techno-Butterfly: Orientalism Old and New in Battlestar Galactica

Article excerpt

Cylons and colonials: Battlestar Galactica and the 'imperial perspective'

Since its 'very origins' in the adventure stories of such authors as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and H. Rider Haggard, sf 'has been part and parcel of imperialism' (Wetmore 29). It has always 'engage[d] in real world political and colonial parallels' and while 'post-World War II' sf texts do not necessarily 'promot[e] imperialism', as almost all earlier exponents of the genre did (29), they 'continue . . . to explore the meeting of cultures and the variety of violent and military responses to that meeting' in a way that 'mirrors the intercultural and inter- societal relations of our world' (32). This is epitomised by the premise of the 'reimagined' Battlestar Galactica (US 2003-9). A community of humans once colonised 12 apparently unoccupied adjacent planets and built a society very similar to present-day terrestrial Western ones. The Colonials - as the settlers unashamedly refer to themselves - built a race of slave-robots, the Cylons, to act as soldiers, servants and labourers. Forty years before the series' narrative begins, the Cylons rebelled against their masters and, as an intertitle in the pilot 'Miniseries' (8 December 2003) informs us, 'after a long and bloody struggle, left for another world to call their own'. The events of the miniseries see the Cylons - many now 'evolved' to the stage where they are indistinguishable from humans - return and mount a surprise nuclear attack on the Twelve Colonies, instantly killing most of the population. The handful of survivors are forced to flee for their lives, protected only by the one remaining warship, the eponymous Galactica. While some Cylons relentlessly pursue the human escapees, the others take on the role of colonisers, occupying the Twelve Colonies and, later - at the end of the programme's second season, in 'Lay Down Your Burdens, Part Two' (10 March 2006) - another planet, New Caprica, on which some of the humans have settled.

Even this extremely brief synopsis indicates the prominence of colonialism as a theme in BSG, and many critics (e.g., Weiss, Ryan and Ott) have been quick to draw parallels with contemporary American imperialist activity. However, the series' creator Ronald D. Moore is critical of those reviewers who try to pin down exactly which real-world situations events in his series are meant to 'represent'. In his commentary podcast for the episodes dealing with the Cylon occupation of New Caprica and its opposition by human insurgents, he says,

I'm asked quite a bit about the parallels to Iraq. I've done a lot of press in the past couple of weeks and I get a lot of questions about how, 'Boy, it seems like you're really doing Iraq finally. This is the occupation and the whole thing.' There's certainly elements of that . . . but the truth is we sat in the writer's room and there were a lot of discussions of Vichy France and the West Bank and various occupations, even the American colonial era. ('Occupation/ Precipice' podcast)

It therefore seems clear that Moore wanted his series to comment on imperialism in general rather than simply to portray allegorically a specific instance of it. In the same vein, my intention in this article is not to draw attention to similarities between events in the series and 'real' world politics, either contemporary or historical. Rather, I want to consider how BSG engages with what Edward Said refers to as the 'imperial perspective' (qtd in Wetmore 19). That is, the ways in which imperial powers represent the people of the countries they wish to colonise or otherwise exert authority over in order to justify and enhance that authority. The groundwork in this area was, of course, laid by Said's Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient (1978), which describes in detail the West's strategies for 'dominating, restructuring and having authority' (2) over the lands they colonised or sought to colonise during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly those countries of the Eastern Mediterranean - commonly referred to at the time as the Orient - where Islamic empires had historically often 'dominated or effectively threatened European Christianity' (74). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.