Revisiting Battlestar Galactica When I noticed that BSG was available to stream on Amazon, I mentioned the fact in passing to Stephanie, who said she’d never watched it. I was surprised, but also delighted, as it gave me an excuse to rewatch the series and introduce it to her.
It is such a good series, and it has far more in common with other such contemporary SF on television as Firefly or The Expanse than it does with its original, hokey 70s series that was derivative enough of Star Wars (its original title was to be Saga of a Star World) that George Lucas attempted to sue. The 2004 reboot maintained the original’s premise of a weathered battleship leading a ragtag fleet of humans who had survived a genocidal attack by the robotic race of Cylons in a search for the mythic planet Earth. It also kept the aesthetics of the battlestar and the Viper fighters, and the names of the main characters—Commander William Adama, his son and chief Viper pilot, Lee “Apollo” Adama, his second-in-command Colonel Tigh, hotshot pilot Starbuck, the treacherous Gaius Baltar, and so on.
But aside from maintaining such continuities, the new version is darker, grittier, and abjures the campy quality of the original (something that, to be fair, tended to mark a lot of 70s-era SF, Star Wars included). The new version is also more diverse with respect to race and gender, with the always-brilliant Edward James Olmos in the role of Commander Adama, a crew that seems more or less to have gender parity, and the crucial role of firebrand Starbuck played by Katee Sackhoff.
This last change did not sit well with the original Starbuck, played by Dirk Benedict, whom you may also remember as “Faceman” Peck from The A-Team (though you could be forgiven if you don’t remember him from anything else). Benedict seems to have gone the route of other 80s actors of limited fame who re-emerge as conservative culture warriors. Benedict penned a blog post titled “Lt. Starbuck … Lost in Castration” some time around 2008, in which he excoriates the new version for feminizing the cigar-smoking, roguish lothario he played, and for otherwise being the embodiment of a world in which “40 years of feminism have taken their toll,” and the “war against masculinity has been won.”
If you think you can stomach it, you should really read the post in its entirety, as it reads like a parody of butthurt masculinity; I remember reading it about twelve years ago and wondering at its ludicrousness, but in re-reading it today, it appears as prescient anticipation of the squalid online worlds of “men’s rights advocates,” incel culture, and Jordan Peterson acolytes. To give just one of the more egregious examples from the piece:
Women are from Venus. Men are from Mars. Hamlet does not scan as Hamletta. Nor does Hans Solo as Hans Sally. Faceman is not the same as Facewoman. Nor does a Stardoe a Starbuck make. Men hand out cigars. Women hand out babies. And thus the world for thousands of years has gone round.
(For the record, I cut and pasted this from his post, and only just now realized that Harrison Ford’s iconic character was German).
Benedict’s little temper tantrum is exemplary of both the kind of white male fan-rage that enveloped The Last Jedi and inspired the “Sad Puppies’” campaign against the Hugo Awards, but also the pathetic whine of a mediocre actor seeing one of the television properties that gave him his brief bout of fame being done better—and seeing a version of Lt. Starbuck played by an actor with greater depth and talent than him, though it’s fairly obvious that the fact that she’s a woman is what prompted his rage.
Watership Down Yesterday in my Utopias & Dystopias class we started Richard Adams’ Watership Down, which I’ve been looking forward to all semester. I first read the novel when I was in high school, and I loved it enough that it almost erased the traumatic memory of seeing the animated 1978 film adaptation in the theatre. For those who haven’t read Watership Down, it’s a story about a bunch of wild rabbits trying to find a new home. Lest that make you think it is thus a cutesy story about bunnies, remember that rabbits are basically prey animals for just about every conceivable predator, and so the odyssey to find a new and safe home is beset with terror at every turn. The 1978 film cranked this up to eleven, positively glorying in the blood and violence and death, and doing so in that creepy 70s-style animation that always leaves me feeling weirded out. A friend’s father took us to see it, probably on the same misapprehension that many adults had, that this would be a cute story about bunnies.
Not so much.
The novel doesn’t lack for the terror and fear, but at least it doesn’t have the graphic dimension of the film … and it is also quite impressive in its world-building, giving the rabbits their own mythology and folklore. In fact, their origin story is precisely about how their creator made them prey animals in punishment for out-breeding all the other animals, but also gave them cunning and powerful hind legs that let them outrun their predators. Adams walks an interesting line between straightforward anthropomorphising á là Disney animals, and emphasizing the limitations rabbits would have (even these versions of rabbits with language and lore) in making mental connections or simple counting; there is, however, a necessary amount of anthropomorphizing, and the rabbits all have subtle and nuanced characters.
When I asked my students what they thought of the novel, the consensus was that they did not expect the story they encountered, but that they liked it and found it compelling. (Which was a relief—I’m always leery of teaching a text I love for the first time, as it is often very disheartening when a balance of students express dislike or, worse, indifference).
But why is a novel about rabbits on a Utopias & Dystopias course? Well, because it embodies both kinds of story—it is about the rabbits leaving a home that the oracular character Fiver says is in danger (it is ultimately, we learn later, destroyed in the process of humans building new houses), and seeking out a place where they can live in peace and utopian safety. But the journey is markedly dystopian, as they must venture out into a hostile world populated by the thousand animals that want to eat them, but also by antagonistic rabbits who end up being the bigger threat (in this way, as I have blogged before, and as I suggested to my class, Watership Down is sort of like a zombie apocalypse narrative).
Also, I just love the novel, and sometimes that’s sufficient excuse to put it on a course.