The Sapient Ape

Life as an employed MBA grad during an economic recovery. DISCLAIMER: Everything written here is fiction.

All Along the Final Watchtower

battlestar_galactica_intro

Is it a little fucked up that I get more emotional about BSG (Battlestar Galactica), a show about cyborgs and artificial intelligence destroying humanity, than I get about most human beings?

Perhaps, but I’m sure I’m not alone.  This is what happens when we, as viewers watch shows for years at a time, week after week, experiencing traumatic experience after traumatic experience with characters we’ve grown familiar with.  It is a testament to our own self-reflection and self-obsession as a society that we often don’t even interact with our own family members as much as we do with these fictional persons.

I was catching up on last Friday’s episode, and I found myself reacting very strongly to a musical score that includes a remake of All Along the Watchtower by Bear McCreary, which I suggest you play as you read this post for full effect (note the use of both Western and Eastern musical themes — may be cheesy but it matches the underlying primary theme of the show — read on).  As we draw near the end of the series, I can’t help but observe the parallels between my own life (although I’m not going to go into that today), our society, and the themes explored in BSG.

cylon

As is true of any good show, BSG is a reflection of our own society today.  Although the story itself may have a science-fiction setting that in the past may only have appealed to nerds such as myself, the emergence of the themes it explores — as the prevalent moral paradoxes of our current civilization — have given it a mass-market appeal.  Terrorism, suicide bombing, occupation, rebellion, xenophobia, xenocide, secularism, religious fundamentalism, and the dichotomy between technology and humanity — all are presented to us repeatedly throughout the series.  The protagonists who we grow to care about are often the ones who commit crimes, stifle free speech, judge with religious fervor, and engage in human rights abuses.  The lines between “us” and the “other”, as defined by intelligent self-aware technology, are blurred, as are the morals and values each society holds dear.  As viewers, we are betrayed again and again, when characters who seem morally unflappable display character deficiencies which shake our foundations to their cores.

But lets go back to the single major theme which I feel defines the show.  Us vs. them.  Man vs. machine.  West vs. East.  We begin with the premise that the differences between our societies can never be reconciled.  That we can never understand each other.  That the only choice we have is to destroy or be destroyed.  Sound familiar?  The series shortly came out after 9/11, and must have been written with much of the political turmoil of our nation and our planet in mind.  The machines represent a world-view that does not include humanity in its future, and set out to destroy us.  But throughout our relationship with them as our enemy, we see examples of reconciliation between the two cultures, and even mutual understanding and love.  It sounds much cheesier when I explain it than it really is — all I can say is go ahead and invest the 40-50 hours into the series that you do for other shows you watch and love, and you won’t be disappointed.  The acting, the storyline, the special effects — all of these come together to make a show which in my opinion is equal to the best out there right now (and perhaps, one of the best ever), like Lost or The Wire, and in many ways less thematically trite than both of those.

Human or Cylon?  Either way works for me.

Human or Cylon? Either way works for me.

The series isn’t done yet, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone — especially since with 3 episodes left, I don’t know what the hell is going to happen.  This season has been a series of glimpses into a bigger picture which is still somewhat unfathomable.   With the quality of the writing that has been prevalent so far, I can’t help but think that somehow, it will all be revealed in only 3-4 more hours, but I for one, remain totally clueless about how that’s going to happen.  But it is interesting that our own real world has seen the end of a political viewpoint where continued conflict with forces that are diametrically opposed to our own world-view was the only way to resolve our differences.  BSG is, to me, a direct measure of and reaction to the policies that have dominated global politics for the last decade.  But that story, and this one… is over.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that as a genre, the science fiction television show has given us many insights into our own civilization from a macro perspective.  I think this is due to the fact that by attempting to paint a picture of civilization as it may exist in the future or elsewhere in the galaxy, the writers of these shows are forced to extrapolate what the defining legacy of our species is going to be.  What issues are really going to write the future of humanity?  It won’t be the micro-societal interactions between drug dealers in Baltimore or individuals trapped on an imaginary island.  It’ll be war, love, understanding, and hate on a global scale that make or break us.

Next post will come from Bangladesh — as this post goes live, I’m on a plane.

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