Recent Comments

Ellen Rigsby

Michael,

I think the white on white violence you refer to in BSG (the water boarding and the torture of Balthar by D’Anna) shows the audience what BSG means to have as its racial politics: race becomes important when it is expressed as an essence. The ultimate example of this is genocide. “Race” as such does not matter except when someone asserts that it does, and then the appropriate rhetorical response is that it matters as a means to personhood (as in a rights-bearing legal entity), not as a means of making distinctions. (I believe you’ve gotten at this in an earlier post this week with regard to Arabs and Islam and the ways that Americans elide these groups and link them.) The problem here, is that at least in the American context, the legal concept of personhood is thoroughly tied up in race. So my question, perhaps to the writers of BSG, but certainly to all of you, is if we have reached a point where essentialist conceptions of race are back doors to racism, then where do we locate those inalienable human rights? Arendt asks this in _Origins of Totalitarianism_…

Thumbnail

Kathleen Fitzpatrick

If she’s had a fight scene like the one between Cara and Six on Caprica, I’ve missed it

No, if anything, Sharon has been repeatedly put in the position of passively taking physical abuse, such as in the scene on Caprica early in season one in which Six beats her up, so that she can pass as having been captured by the Cylons.

Thumbnail

Michael Peterson

Related to your point, Lisa, is the way Starbuck has available to her a relatively broad scope of “female masculinity” while Sharon’s power rarely gets beyond “feisty.” If she’s had a fight scene like the one between Cara and Six on Caprica, I’ve missed it (this complaint may contradict my arguing on Monday that Sharon is a hero figure some of us want to identify with). On a different note, is it possible to argue that this multiracial dilemma Brander sums up here is somewhat interesting to the extent that it trains the audience in a kind of binocular vision, constantly seeing how our ‘verse is different from BSG’s? If race as we know it is dehistoricized (well, ahistorical would be better) in the show, couldn’t that mean that it’s actually historicized on our side of the screen?

thumbnail

Avi Santo

I wonder if Lisa’s point can be extended to suggest how African American struggles for recognition/equality have been displaced in the digital era by more supposedly tech-savvy minority groups? What I am thinking about here is, on the one hand, how the episode positions Bulldog as Adama’s best pilot from an era gone by, before things got fuzzy, whose return opens up not only opportunity for Tigh’s rehabilitation, but also reveals Adama’s betrayal/abandonment and selective memory (suddenly, he remembers a past Cylon encounter). Bulldog is a casualty of shift in “us versus them” mentality that the digital, much like analog radio beforehand, has complicated. In this sense, perhaps digital has killed the broadcasting star, or shifted the previous regime of representational politics where Blackness was foreground? On the other hand, the digital divide remains most apparent in poor Black neighborhoods in the US, excluding many African Americans from participating as netizens in articulating their place within a multi-racial society. Bulldog is a man out of place in the post-Cylon invasion era, who functions to remind Adama of past mistakes and to help Tigh come to terms with his own grief, but is largely shut out of any larger conversations about the politics of being human that BG seems so invested in.

Thumbnail

Lisa Nakamura

Birgit: I also noticed that the crew of the Pegasus is not racially diverse in the same way as Galactica, and that that seems to be of a piece with its masculinist, brutal, and uber-military culture. The Pegasus also had a female commander who I remembered from Star Trek: Next Generation as Ensign Ro, who was really popular with female viewers because she was an identificatory figure for queer women. So it seems that the Pegasus’s difference has to do not only with a lack of racial diversity, but with feminism gone awry.

I agree with you that racial “tolerance” is prioritized in BSG on the level of the show’s discourse about itself, but that of course the type of casting and the deployment especially of the female characters are extremely racialized. Adama’s assistant, “Dee” is basically a pretty black receptionist like Uhura was in the old Star Trek, and as we’ve discussed already, Sharon is a bridge between the humans and the Cylons, since she’s a sexual and reproductive point of connection between the two groups. Interesting how Cylon women and human men can get it on successfully and are extremely hot for each other, but it doesn’t work that way with Cylon men and human women; Leoben is just gross and Cara kills him several times before he will finally go away. This mirrors the exoticization of women of color in Western societies, but the invisiblity of men of color as sexual creatures. This is really well documented in regards to film: I’ve shown “Slaying the Dragon” about the representation of Asian women as hypersexualized, and there’s a new one called “the slanted screen” that i haven’t yet seen that deals with Asian masculinity on screen.

thumbnail

Lisa Nakamura

Really interesting clip: I agree that the race of the liberated pilot Bulldog is key here, partly because there are no other black pilots in BSG, and his loyalty and authenticity as a human are immediately in question from the beginning to the end of this episode. BSG is pretty relentlessly serial, maybe not in comparsion to _lost_ and _24_, nonetheless, this show is an anomaly in that it introduces a one-off character whose loyalty is in question from the perspective of the viewer as well. After several instances of new human ‘arrivals” to Galactica to later turned out to be Cylons, it is only reasonable that the viewer would have to suspect any new introduction.

I agree with Ellen that Tigh’s story of trauma and violation is cathected through Bulldog’s: Buldog is only there to enable and ratify Tigh’s rehabilitation, not to have any of his own. As Ellen remarks, Bulldog’s rehabilitation happens offstage. In this sense he does the same work that Whoopi Goldberg and other black characters do in more conventional narratives.

The Bulldog episode did make me wonder what BSG would be like if it had more black characters in roles that involved machine-human interfaces, such as piloting and so on. STarbuck’s ability to pilot a Cyclon raider using a biologically based interface has led to lots of speculation on bulletin boards that she might be a Cyclon herself. It’s kind of typical that if Asians are figured as always-already digital, that blacks are figured as transcending the digital, or not-digital.

Lisa Nakamura

It’s interesting to see the range of responses to the fiberoptic cable insertion scene: I see in Birgit’s response a reference to female adolescent cutting, maybe, a sign of trauma in a postindustrialized context, but in Michael’s response a less grossed out and more interested perspective in how boundaries between the body and the machine are erased. I agree that the scene references jacking in, in both Gibson’s oeuvre and also in the Matrix films; in the Matrix films, however, it’s a pretty deodorized process (to use Iwabuchi’s term—kind of emptied out of grossness) because there’s no blood involved. The scene it reminds me of the most is one in the film _Alien: Resurrection_ when the android Call, also a human-looking artificial person, jacks into the mainframe computer using a port in her skin that looks like a mole. No blood involved in that one, but a similar uncanny look and feel.

The bodily means by which humans interface with computers is a really interesting and evolving area of study right now. Asians envisioned as having different, more privileged access in some ways is balanced in BSG by their figuration as permanent outsiders. I agree that Sharon Valerii represents the 1.5 generation in some keys ways, as Avi says, and that is a model minority.

I am also really interested in the idea of the Hybrid mapping onto sharon, because when I think hybrids in relation to Asian identity and race in this show, I think of Hera, “the shape of things to come.” Multiraciality is really feared in BSG, and I think that it’s pretty clear that we as the audience have to side against President Roslin, who was very close to airlocking the baby until her cancer was cured by her (again, ain’t BSG a great show!!!) The notion of a generation of hybrid humans with kickass Cylon mothers, hypercompetent females paired with sometimes feebler and always less vital male human partners, mirrors contemporary fears about changing family structures and threats to the patriarchy, I think.

Off to respond to some more of the fascinating posts about this show. Thank you to all commentators!!

Thumbnail

Ellen Rigsby

Birgit, The first part of your comment, that we can only represent that race doesn’t matter by representing a diverse group is a problem that is evident in a lot of science fiction, mainstream and not. I do think it racial diversity ends up signifying “enlightened” or “progressive” futurity. Bigots, slavery, and separatism tend to be signs of backwardness, sickness, or just plain evil. To some degree, the humans can be united in diversity because they are fighting the Cylons. BSG tries to complicate this by raising the question of whether the Cylons are really evil given that they were enslaved by the humans, and whether the humans are really good, given that there are racial and class tensions still alive and well in the humans. Avi calls this a representational quagmire in his comment below. His comment goes on to talk about race functioning at the level of values, but also that it lurks below the surface, as in the post 911 example of Arabs and/or Islam, in which the fear is that at any moment members of those groups might turn out to be terrorists. Or, as Birgit mentions, the Cylon Sharon might turn out to be an assassin. So at the level of representation we end up with ambiguity, or potential but not actual significance. I haven’t gotten beyond this when thinking about the representation of race in science fiction, though it feels like there ought to be more to say.

Avi Santo

I think Cyborganize has really hit the nail on the head regarding Sharon’s in-betweeness (unwanted/unclaimed by humans and cylons alike) as meta-commentary on the Asian immigrant experience, especially for generation 1.5. I am reminded of Lisa Sun-Hee Park’s “Consuming Citizenship: Children of Asian Immigrant Entrepreneurs,” which asks how these in-between generations struggle to fit in. Park argues that second generation Asian Americans try (but never fully succeed) to articulate their “Americanness” through consumerism. On BG, Sharon’s jacking in is an attempt to prove she belongs,but in the eyes of her crewmate (and perhaps the audience) only offers further evidence of her difference, even as she betrays her fellow Cylons as part of the bargain.

Thumbnail

Avi Santo

You raise a couple of interesting points, Birgit. First, I think you have successfully hit upon a representational quagmire when it comes to promoting notions of color blindness on television. To visually represent it, the audience must pick up on a particular set of visual cues, namely racial and ethnic differences. Since we, the audience, see race and the BG characters don’t (perhaps the twelve colonies were founded by Stephen Colbert descendants?), the BG universe is presented as more tolerant than our own. Of course, much of the narrative thrust of this series suggests otherwise, since the characters regularly react with mistrust, anger, fear, and prejudice towards “others,” now displaced onto the equally racially diverse Cylons. So what is the difference?

I think this is the second point that comes through for me in your comment — which also has a longstanding representational history — which is that as biological notions of racial difference become blurred (but not totally erased) by cultural/behavioral divisions, self/other antinomies break down and are reasserted along different ideological lines. We may know longer “see” race, but we “feel” it at the level of “values”. In the BG universe, these lines are often about religious zealotry. The cylons might look like humans, but their belief system codes them as other (as does their DNA, biology is still alive and well). For me, the clear parallel is with the re-imagining of the Arab/Muslim “other” post 9-11 as someone who on the surface can successfully pass for a member of the American melting pot, but lurking underneath is something frightfully “other” that can be traced back to a set of “cultural values” supposedly shred by all Arabs/Muslims (these terms are often interchangeable in Western popular rhetoric, though the fact that Islam crosses racial/ethnic lines is significant, since it makes visual cues even more difficult to detect).