The Human Rights of Cylons “as a Race”
by Michael Peterson — University of Wisconsin, Madison
July 12, 2007 – 12:03
BSG often simplistically asks whether the Cylons have rights (every time a human says “she’s just a machine!” the flattered audience knows better). The question is so loaded that any competent viewer surely extends basic human rights to Cylons (indistinguishable-from-human ones, anyway—Centurians and Raiders are a “slippery slope”).
A liberal politics of “race” is deployed to make that move. BSG speaks often of human and Cylon “races” (as does discussion of the show: for example, one legal blogger discussing genocide compared humans and Cylons to Hutus and Tutsis). The show believes that race is meaningless (demonstrated by “colorblind” casting and characters), yet uses the concept to argue for the personhood of Cylons. If they’re a race, killing them all is genocide.
And waterboarding, rape and electric shock(?) is torture. From ep108 (the first two parts of my clip): “Flesh and Bone”: Starbuck’s water torture of the Cylon Leoben. She offers the machine rationale with gusto, but as she witnesses his suffering (and “touches” him through the airlock glass), begins a disturbing relationship that includes her captivity in season 3 and appears to culminate in his faking their reproductivity with little Casey.
Ep307 repeats the overworked motif of Balthar saying something to Six-in-the-head that means differently IRL: “don’t stop!” (second part of clip). This time, however, it’s actually interesting, as he seems to be pleading for torture to continue, because he wants to be believed in.
These examples of are “white on white” violence, if you will, but Sharon’s survival of attempted rape in ep210, which I didn’t feel like recirculating, is racially coded: white male soldiers fighting over the body of an Asian woman. Is torture of white humans by white Cylons (and vice-versa) used to “prove” their mutual capacity for suffering, and thus shared rights? The rape-based torture of the Six held captive on Pegasus fits into this pattern, eventually pairing with Balthar’s torture (though note the radical difference in the “sex” involved in their tortures). But Sharon has already actively demonstrated her worth to and worthiness of humanity; is her “interracial” love, and the still-unresolved outcome of this “miscegenation,” not trivialized, pruriently instrumentalized, by the scene in which Helo heroically saves her from what they used to call a “fate worse than death”?
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