Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

'Nothing Is What It Appears to Be': Event Fidelity and Critique in Battlestar Galactica

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

'Nothing Is What It Appears to Be': Event Fidelity and Critique in Battlestar Galactica

Article excerpt

Science fiction has historically and consistently been recognised for its capacity for producing cultural and political critique via shifting contemporary political issues and concerns to another space and time to achieve an estranged and critical perspective. The appeal of sf on screen, in film and television lies in significant part in its capacity for spectacle (Kuhn), such as shootouts in space, exotic planets and technologically advanced futuristic iconography, but also in this potential for spatio-temporal critique of our social reality. Sf television in particular has 'a track record for addressing moral, ethical, political and philosophical themes' (Hockley 37) arising out of 'an extrapolation of the social, economic and cultural policies of its present' (Wegner 200). This essay explores the contested form of sf television, examining both the spaces of critique and the ways in which the dominant paradigm is reinforced, and critique closed down, in a comparative reading of Battlestar Galactica (US 2003-9) and Dollhouse (US 2009-10), which present two very different journeys to posited utopias.

Battlestar Galactica (BSG) and Dollhouse both feature dystopic narratives brought on by a crisis event. In the case of BSG the crisis has already occurred: the near-annihilation of the human race by the Cylons. In Dollhouse, the series anticipates a crisis which takes the form of the brainwashing of humanity. Yet while both BSG and Dollhouse depict a dystopian setting (albeit one not immediately evident in Dollhouse), the capacity for critique which dystopian narratives can offer differs crucially between the two. Tom Moylan makes a distinction between 'an open (epical) dystopia that retains a utopian commitment at the core of its formally pessimistic presentation and a closed (mythic) one that abandons the textual ambiguity of dystopian narrative for the absolutism of an anti-utopian stance' (156). I suggest that, although it appears to incorporate moments of critique within its four-season run, BSG ultimately functions as a closed, mythic text. The collapsing of the multiple, contradictory and competing perspectives of human and Cylon, the simultaneous coalescing of diverse faiths into a dominant monotheism at the end of season four and the ongoing foregrounding of military rule as the normative paradigm result in what Moylan identifies as an 'anti-critical' dystopia (188). While its dystopic setting and storyline, induced by the crisis event of the Cylon attack on the human colonial planets, opens up the potential for critique - a potential which is nominally explored - ultimately BSG reverts to a closed narrative privileging faith and fate above individual or collective action.

In contrast, I argue that Dollhouse, which at first and second glance does not appear to be a dystopian narrative, nevertheless embodies the formal qualities and capacity for critique of the critical dystopia. Critical dystopias, a term coined by Lyman Tower Sargent and further developed by Moylan and Rafaella Baccolini, operate as refunctionings of the dystopia, informed by cultural, economic and political contexts that 'interrogate both society and [dystopia's] generic predecessors' (Moylan 188). In its depiction of a recognisable present containing futuristic technology with the potential to destroy the world, Dollhouse functions as a dystopia at the level of sf iconography as well as sf imagination. In its depiction of a prefigured paradigm break and individual and institutional responses to this (looming and eventually realised) crisis event, the series works as a critical dystopia that embodies 'an open, militant, utopian stance that not only breaks through the hegemonic enclosure of the text's alternative world but also self-reflexively refuses the anti-utopian temptation that lingers like a dormant virus in every dystopian account' (Moylan 195), a temptation to which BSG eventually succumbs.

In both BSG and Dollhouse, the figuration of an Event serves as the narrative's point of departure. …

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