Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Posts tagged “Battlestar Galactica

Things We Got in the Fire

It’s that little voice in the back of our heads that never quite goes away; tinged with shades of guilt, fear, shame, and regret, we hide the things that remind us that we are fallible. We lock away the things that make us human. We transform, grow and stretch—we become—and we hide the traces of who we were. Desperate to be clean, we compartmentalize the worst and call ourselves civilized.

Clarice, still clinging to the one idea that she ever had (not, I would add, unlike Joe Adama from earlier in the season), chases after Zoe for all the wrong reasons. What Clarice doesn’t know—and will probably never understand—is that Zoe has already become a face of God. (The avatar has allowed her to achieve eternal life, but this is, as we know, not the same thing.)

Ultimately, the universe of Battlestar Galactica and Caprica has only ever really taught us one thing with respect to salvation:  God is love. The rub, however, is that we must learn to love as God loves:  without question and without discrimination; we must learn to love all of ourselves, which is, after all, the greatest love of all.


So far gone, there was no way out; she exploded in a burst of light, once again becoming beautiful.

As difficult as it is to watch someone die, it is, for me, always more painful to witness the depiction of suffering; growing out of an undergraduate career steeped in a study of Biological Science, I regularly ate while watching surgeries (don’t judge me) but never really learned to stomach pain. Now, as a graduate student, Horror has taught me to distance myself in order to study what I see on screen, at times necessitating a psychological barrier to keep from experiencing shock. Although I am certainly capable of comprehending the notion of anguish, recognizing the deleterious nature of chronic pain, it has taken an enormous amount of effort to actually empathize with the feeling. Looking at the picture of Gina above, I cannot help but but be overwhelmed with sadness–and this, I realize, is a good thing.

There has been much talk lately about the rash of suicides in America among gay teens–and suicide, for anyone who knows me, is a subject that strikes me at the core. Every life we lose is not just a travesty, but a failure that reflects back on us:  we, as a community, have failed our young people in some way for we have not helped them to develop coping skills and have not successfully addressed some of the core issues at play. We are, in some small way, all culpable for these deaths and although we are racing to change things, every life lost is one too many.

As I sat at my desk, I waded through Twitter feeds, RSS dumps, and e-mails from friends that mentioned, in various ways, suicides and their connection with Higher Education. I mulled over last week’s mention of suicide bombers in Caprica, and began to contemplate the connection between violence, religion, and media.

Our class has been exposed to a wide range of violences in media:  violence against others, violence against the self, violence against the material, and violence against the spiritual (categories iconic, perhaps, to Dante). We explored the uses of torture in 24 and Battlestar Galactica–which is where we were exposed to Gina–and began to understand the ways in which violence could be enacted. Caprica continues and extends our understanding, figuring religion in a context of violence against the self, violence against others, and violence against the natural order.

Although perhaps not surprising in a series that routinely deals with issues of technology, politics, and religion, we can understand Caprica to be a show that continues in the storied media tradition of aligining religion and violence (Stone, 1999). An important consideration in the history of these media is that religion was not juxtaposed with violence, providing a viable alternative, but instead conscripted in the service of religion; the melodramas present in television and film created a readily identifiable white hat and positioned religion as justification for a fight against some great evil, legitimizing the use of force in the process. Often, we see connections between overt displays of religion and violence (how many acts of violence have taken place in a church and who hasn’theard of The Passion of the Christ?), which makes some sense given that television and film are visual media–part of the story is the setting. While these connections are certainly valid, our class endeavors to incorporate other expressions of religion into our media studies and it is these, more subtle expressions, that I’d like to focus on.

In Caprica, we see individuals who are only too happy to pull a gun (or set a bomb) in service of their God (or, on the other end of the spectrum, attempt to wash their hands entirely). Although we can certainly read this in the context of traditional religion, I instead suggest that we look at the actions of “Retribution” in the context of a theme that I brought up last week:  what is the role of religion (and God) in the material as opposed to the spiritual? “Retribution” features a host of adults, clamoring about like so many crabs in a bucket, consumed with retribution that is anchored in the physical world. Is it our place to mete out retribution on God’s behalf? Additionally, what is the role of violence in religion and how is this depicted on screen? Is this particular use of violence anAmerican phenomenon and has its use changed as we have begun to adhere more closely to the myth of American exceptionalism in a post-9/11 world? Is violence becoming more normalized and is its incorporation into religion a product of this movement? Or, has religion, as Rene Girard suggests, always been steeped in violence (1977)?

The constant rains in “Retribution,” along with the episode’s title itself, call forth echoes of Noah’s Ark (and deluge myths in general), a story that was, among other things, focused on divine retribution. God, it seems, can be vengeful, smiting the wicked and cleansing the earth; the myth itself speaks also, however, to notions of rebirth and regeneration in the aftermath. How, then, does violence purify us in the same way as ritual? We speak of heroes who have been forged in fire (and who also have messiah complexes and represent Christ figures), and many of our modern super heroes embody transformation through violence. Likewise, we see the birth of the Sixes and the Fours (in spirit, if not in body) through Daniel and Clarice; the Cylons learned all that they know from us.

Throughout “Retribution,” we see characters seeking (and obtaining) vengeance, but certainly not justice; we  can rationalize violence all we want, but we have lost sight of the fact that the majority of our story lies in the journey, not the destination. We are looking for simple answers to complex questions and create artificial binaries (e.g., you are a believer or a non-believer, you are with us or against us, etc.) that only serve to further divide us from one another. We have begun to confuse earthly justice with that of the divine. We have failed to recognize and honor autonomy, seeing others as means to an end and not ends in and of themselves. We claim to be working for God, but are most decidedly not doing God’s work.

Life on the Screen

Life has changed since Sherry Turkle published Life on the Screen:  modern American society has not only increased its awareness of avatars (helped perhaps by James Cameron) but is also seeing the emergence of adults who have interacted with avatars for most of their lives. This shift in technology has allowed for the experimentation in, and decentralization of, culture, identity, and the self by permitting the expression of multiple selves in digital environments.

Turkle depicts various stories of experimentation with gender identity throughout the chapter, focusing on the cognitive experience of users as they don various guises. Individuals imbue these digital representations with particular attributes and meanings, which in turn allows users to assert and practice acts of identity. The relative freedom of online environments permits users to work through various behavioral and emotional scripts while maintaining a sense of security—individuals instinctually that they can simply quit if things become uncomfortable.

In addition, the ability of users to develop multiple avatars presents some interesting opportunities as individuals can compartmentalize identity into discrete units (e.g., one avatar is aggressive, another excels at martial arts, and a third simply lurks). These expressions of identity may represent salient qualities of users but might equally result from aspirational thinking.

As Americans, we are still struggling to reconcile these manifestations of ourselves into a united whole; our Facebook presence clashes with our work lives and Twitter confounds the development of intimacy. Working with high school juniors and seniors, I see some of these identity crises as students transition to college, but I also recognize representations of our fight through popular culture. Shows like Battlestar Galactica[1] and True Blood[2] reflect the complicated and nuanced layers of identity that we negotiate on a daily basis.

[1] The show asks audiences to consider how humans have to forge a new identity for themselves in the aftermath of a terrorist attack (and attempted genocide), how particular characters have to renegotiate their positions in society due to changes in their surroundings, or how the Cylons see individuality emerge out of a collectivist society.

[2] Characters negotiate their ideas of who they are in light of stereotypes (i.e., “This is who you say I am”), religion (i.e., “This is not all that I am”), and stigma (i.e., “Are you now or have you ever been?”)

Diffusion of Innovation

In Diffusion of Innovation, Everett Rogers discusses the concept of “diffusion” as a subset of communication in order to highlight how communities acquire knowledge. Rogers’s opening chapter provides the reader with anecdotes to illustrate various strategies for this process, simultaneously providing a vivid reference point for readers while hinting at the complex array of factors that can affect the spread of ideas.

Undoubtedly building upon foundational theory created by Rogers, figures such as Richard Dawkins and Malcolm Gladwell have ruminated on the spread of messages. Using the preexisting schema of Evolutionary Biology, Dawkins likened information to genes (in the process, creating the term “memes”) in order to describe his theories regarding transmission and replication. Dawkins essentially argued that the fittest (in an evolutionary sense) ideas would go on to propagate in society, mirroring the activity of organisms. Gladwell, on the other hand, has incorporated Rogers’s model of adopters into his book The Tipping Point, describing the stages of diffusion in terms of people. Although Gladwell also goes on to describe individuals’ roles as agents of change, he continues to work under the philosophical framework provided by Rogers.

Daniel Czitrom’s Media and the American Mind addresses communication in a different manner, referencing media theorist Marshall McLuhan in its subtitle. McLuhan famously introduced the notion that “the medium is the message,” referring to the concept that the mode of communication has an inextricable relation to the content being provided. Although first coined in the 1960s, McLuhan’s thinking can still be applied to modern culture struggles to integrate the increased number of available media channels (e.g., traditional broadcast, podcasts, blogs and vlogs, etc.) afforded by advances in technology. Additionally, transmedia presentations of content (e.g., webisodes for Battlestar Galactica and Heroes or the narrative of The Matrix) challenge viewers and producers to reconsider established notions of media’s impact.