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Ellen Rigsby

Roberta, I see why you went with captivity narrative—it’s actually a typo. The rest of the post is about narratives of reconstruction. The last time I mention it, I say “captivity” in error. I’d agree that this clip does not make any reference to the captivity narrative. I would point out, though, that there are aspects of this Tigh story line that do, though. On New Caprica, he spent time captured by the Cylons, and was only released when his wife promised to spy on the resistance movement for the Cylons. The release from his captivity only becomes clear to him in this scene, but it isn’t directly referred to.

I’m so excited to see a post about this — BSG raises particularly compelling questions about race and representation. I’ve written:

I’d argue that BSG’s whole approach to race is hybrid: it complexifies racial categories by refusing bad scifi’s one-to-one correspondence between “alien” and “ethnic,” and then reinscribes them in casting and mise-en-scene; overdetermines them through these myriad details of lighting, scoring, costuming, and then effaces them by refusing to give these choices a narrative basis that is acknowledged as racialized. That is, it displaces race, in typical scifi fashion, onto an apparently racially-neutral human-machine enmity. But the show’s racial metatext is unavoidable: as Grace Park points out [in a clip from Attack of the Show, which has unfortunately been pulled from YouTube] it’s telling that Boomer, the character subject to the greatest physical and psychic violence, the greatest indeterminacy and uncertainty about her own identity, is played by an Asian-American actress. In North America, Asians are the immigrant group with the most ambiguous and fluid status, always suspended between white and ethnic, assimilable and alien (an insight I owe to Wendy Chun).

And Grace Park too discusses that last point in this interview: “Something similar [to Sharon’s situation] is immigrants and their children growing up in another country. Like myself , I’m a visible minority. In one way, this is my home. But I’m not white. So there’s still a difference. And if I were to go to Korea, I wouldn’t fit in there, either. Basically, you’re almost like a bridge. It’s like you’re between two kinds of established cultures or heritages or schools of thought.”

It’s the tensions and intersections between essentialist constructions of ethnicity and the more cyborgean formation that has been called “technicity” that I think Sharon’s portrayal particularly highlights. More in my vlog about Sharon.


Roberta Pearson

As with my response to the post on Sharon’s Asianess, I’d want to provide a couple of other intepretatory frameworks here. When I hear captivity narrative, I think not of African-Americans and the Civil War (and perhaps Ellen can clarify this) but of white women and native Americans as in The Searchers and the 17th century capativity narratives from which it stemmed. The gender of the captives brings in issues of rape and defilement perhaps not applicable to Bulldog. They might however be applicable if the Cylons have tried to turn him into one of them, as with Picard and the Borg. I also think of the captivity narratives of American pilots held by the VC during the Vietnam war, the obvious filmic reference here The Deerhunter. I’d like to know more about why Ellen thinks that the actor being African-American is so crucial here.

More generally, what’s interesting is the multiple reading positions that are being brought to bear on these clips, reminding us of the polysemic and contradictory nature of popular culture, an argument which John Fiske made with regard to television twenty years ago.

Ellen Rigsby

Avi, I think you may be on to something here, when you suggest that Sharon’s frustration works to comment on the liminal space Asian Americans occupy. I haven’t thought about this enough, but your comment reminded me of the scene where Sharon gets her new call sign, Athena. The names that get called out run the gambit from “toaster” to the one she eventually chooses—Athena. One might want to read scene as more meta-commentary on the range of possible subject positions for Asian Americans. Yes, it’s all representation by a majority/dominant culture, but there are qualitative differences and subjectivities in that range of representation.

While I haven’t really thought the symbolism through, I can’t help but compare the representation of Sharon/Athena here with that of the Cylon Hybrid (the female figure that pilots - or really IS the Cylon Basestar). The hybrid is treated almost as a religious prophet in some scenes, but looked down on by the Significant Seven (the humanoid Cylons) at other moment (D’Anna, for example, says the Hybrid doesn’t get a vote during the episodes with the Cylon Virus). I wonder if the ethereal representation of the Basestar interior and the religious overtones make the Hyrbid a Virgin Mary type figure (and perhaps D’Anna’s fall begins when she derides the Hybrid?).

Perhaps the Hybrid’s obvious permanent visual connection with technology makes her a more stable figure, whereas audience identification with Sharon/Athena in this sequence means that the insertion of the cable is symbolically an unwelcome (even if self-inflicted) penetration and thus disruption of her humanness. (Of course, I guess if we were to think in Haraway’s terms, that instability is still enormously useful in challenging boundaries and supposedly stable signifiers…)

- Tama Leaver

Michael Peterson

I think Lisa’s last question is precisely the right one. I actually think it may be the _overt_ meaning of the scene and of much of her (plural) characters’ part of the narrative. Sharon is both martyred and sexualized here (does the very last shot in the clip show her in an orgasmic pose?), and, following Brander, I wonder if an underlying theme of the show is that sex with the femininized other will save _man_kind? But the show believes it has progressive racial politics, and invites viewers to root for Sharon: she is tougher and more moral than many of the human characters—“in spite of” being female, “Asian,” and, um, a Cylon, she’s NOT an alien threat. I didn’t find this a gross-out, and in contrast to the attempted rape scene, this seemed to me volitional, empowered—though that might be a measure of how much the Sharon-as-hero reading works on me. I also wonder if another fantasy may be available alongside the straightforward sexually objectifying one. I’m seconding Ellen on identification here. When Sharon does that, I go, “cool!” (Even though I also found it an infuriating instance of the show’s inconsistency about the actual physical makeup of the Cylon body). Lisa, isn’t Sharon “jacking in” in virtually the same fashion as William Gibson’s cyber-cowboys?

This is a really interesting scene and I also think it is notable how much attention is paid to Sharon’s suffering (does that make her more “human?”). Part of what struck me about it also the weird, voyeristic pleasure of seeing the long-drawn out physical violence she does to herself… cutting herself, which we see up-close, and then inserting the vire. It seems to me that the insertion of the wire has sexual overtones as well, and that makes me wonder what the drawn-out, close-up insertion is about. If her suffering makes her more human, does her ability to interface with (have intercourse with) the computer similarly, and at the same moment, mark her alien nature? Is this how her “Asian-ness” functions as well? Making her both assimilable (good model-minority) and always different? Obviously here, the “asian-ness” is entirely phenotypical, there is no asian culture element as such because they aren’t from earth. Also, what does it mean that both of the major cylon characters are women and that sexuality in some way is so foregrounded (either Baltar’s hypersexual-fantasy Number Six, or the raped and violated Number Six on Pegasus, or the pregnant and almost-raped Sharon Valerii)? Is women’s sexuality the enabling condition for some kind of “cross-cultural” (human/cylon) connection and how does race then affect that?

Avi Santo

While I agree that the series does engage stereotypical representations of Asian women in order to illicit either empathy or suspicion from the audience, I also think that the series provides an interesting critique of the Asian American experience of always “having just arrived” no matter how many generations particular communities can trace back their ancestry in the US. Sharon Valerii must constantly and repeatedly prove to the crew that she belongs even though all of her memories tell her she’s always been a part of the twelve colonies. Does the fact that the series allows the character to voice these frustrations over where she belongs and have these linked to her horrific treatment by her friends and co-workers rather than simply some “inscrutable Asianness” actually work as meta-commentary on the liminal space Asian American’s occupy, or is it just a case of have your cake and eat it too?

Roberta Pearson

Lisa’s reading of the Sharon character within the intertextual frame of dominant stereotypes of Asian women is useful and compelling. I must say that until now this was not a foregrounded element of my own reading of the character. I had thought of her more in terms of the classic science fiction question, “What does it mean to be human?” as played out most prominently in the Star Trek series. The Trek characters who embodied this conundrum were Spock (white male), Data (white (golden) male), the Voyager Doctor (white male) and Seven of Nine (white female/babe). Seven of Nine’s being female enabled some new riffs on this classic theme. I’m wondering how Sharon’s being both Asian and female may be enabling even newer riffs? Do the contemporary identity markers of the human/hybrid character significantly alter the approach to the question?

Ellen Rigsby

When I first viewed this episode, I was surprised by the length of time spent on showing Sharon’s suffering while interfaced with the ship’s computer. In the context of the plot of the series, I do think that her suffering is supposed to get the audience to begin to identify with Sharon, and it does use the stereotyped current media image of Asian women to bolster this identification. Another aspect of the Asian stereotype is that of the “model minority”—Asians are supposed to integrate more easily and seamlessly into American culture than Hispanics or Blacks. This scene depicts Sharon in a model minority moment: she is obviously suffering for the good of humanity (which is figured as white). The audience identification with Sharon comes, I fear, not so much from empathizing with her pain, but rather from acknowledging that she is paying her dues to join the [del] white [/del] human club. The human club is still figured as white in mainstream narrative forms, but one can earn one’s way in, as did Ohura and Sulu back in the original Star Trek series, and as Sharon Valeri does here.