Wishing upon a Battlestar

Art has always been a way in which humans explored their social surroundings, not just described them. This makes it even stranger that television, one of if not the most prevalent cultural means of entertainment, is usually left out when literature or music is discussed.

Those who paid attention to their mothers when they were young know that “television is bad for you.” Naturally, TV can never replace the social interaction that makes people tick, but as time wears on, generations of mothers (and fathers, too) have learned that television is here to stay.

But not everything on the “boob tube” is bad. There is, for example, Battlestar Galactica, a remake of the Glen A. Larson-produced science fiction show that in the late ’70s and early ’80s followed a ragtag fleet of refugees who had survived an attack on their home planets and were now in search of a long-lost colony that went by the mythical name “Earth.” The show offered pop culture-friendly storylines and space combat, yet never managed to find a wide audience and was finally canceled because its budget of $1 million per episode was cost prohibitive. There was a 1980 spin-off show that would best be forgotten entirely, though I distinctly remember getting quite a kick out of the episodes when I saw them for the first time. The show never lived up to its potential, both creatively and commercially.

The show’s newest incarnation, also named Battlestar Galactica (BSG for short), had its debut in 2003 with a successful miniseries jointly produced by U.S. cable channel SciFi and British-based station Sky TV. Under the leadership of Ronald D. Moore, a veteran writer and producer of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the show has quickly evolved into one of the best on television.

Much like the original show, the weekly episodes follow the roughly 50,000 survivors on the run from “cylons,” a machine race the survivors created earlier.

The initial premise sounds hokey, I know, but it’s in the execution of these storylines that the show begins to shine. The nuanced, realistic characters easily draw viewers in and the non-stop action and clever plot-twists make sure viewers come back. After a few minutes of watching it becomes evident that this is not a show for kids, but for adults.

Episodes deal with civil rights issues just as much as the chaotic surroundings the characters find themselves in on a daily basis, drawing on contemporary problems to bridge the gap between the fictional universe depicted and the post-Sept. 11 world.

It’s an extremely well written, produced and acted show. On that basis alone, it’s great that such a show is being so successful.

But the main reason why I am thankful for both the show and its success are the themes raised by it every week. Torture and the rights of prisoners of war, for example, have been discussed with so much candor and openness on the show that it makes the hard-line views dictated by U.S. foreign policy even more bizarre.

The show is making an excellent effort in avoiding cliches and preachy-ness while the discourse in the “real world” seems to rely almost exclusively on such methods to “stay on message.”

BSG is one of the many undercurrents that should always exist in a democracy as it carefully re-examines topics that are largely, or even entirely, avoided elsewhere.

I can’t wait for the day when I can pop in an episode of BSG with the words, “Remember the time when we didn’t even manage to have civilized discourse, let alone agreement?”Oh, how I long for that day.

Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in political geography and a former Oracle opinion editor.

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