This posted in honour of the 50th birthday (today, Oct 4) of the little RED Soviet tin ball that could (and was part of the provocation that got the Americans to move the Cold War into space (for sputnik, pictured, see the link at the end). Do not get me wrong, its clar the Soviets started it – ha – and though Yuri Gagarin did ok in some senses, it was not all easy, the Soviet masses no doubt contributed, as did our canine friends, a certain Leika for example. Still, the consequences now, with satellite sniping not far off, are well and truly well past any dogged calculation of beginnings. Systems are go Virgil, but international rescue seems stalled.
We are all Cylons, we just forget that we are.
Marx writes in the Eighteenth Brumaire that; “Unheroic as bourgeois society is, it nevertheless required heroism, sacrifice, terror, civil war and national conflict to bring it into the world” (1852/2002:20). The wars fought and blood shed by the expansion of Western states is a repetitive ‘heroic’ action of the self-interested bourgeois; not content with ownership of the lives and livelihood of people near to them, ‘sacrifice, terror and conflict’ must be produced in order to create control and have those others brought into the world. Where Marx discusses the ‘bringing into the world’, we can consider the ‘remaining in the world’? In order to continually hold its power, and remain as a constant presence, the unheroic bourgeois need to create heroes for itself by way of creating conflict. Elsewhere Marx had already declaimed, this time with Engels, that capital ‘It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production’ (Manifesto 1848:?? Chapter 1). For us, this mode of production has become digtal-genetic-machinic and military, and the Cylons are the manifest heroes of this mode – in a honoured tradition of SF, from the false Maria of Lang’s Metropolis, through the replicants of Bladerunner, to the clone/machine armies of Star Wars and Terminator.
The struggle of the Cylons with humanity is also part of the ur-story behind Galactica in the very first place. The war between machines and humans had come to an uneasy détente, and the Cylons had left the field of battle. Perhaps we might even consider the context of the first or original series of Galactica, the television apotheosis of Lorne Green as Admiral Adama – which ran amidst the last years of the superpower rivalry between the USSR and the USA. It seems appropriate to return today to new demons which must be manufactured, new clone armies to rouse the troops.
Can we argue that where Bladerunner and the later Alien films displace race issues into a blaming of the corporation (Tyrell Corp, The Weyland-Yutani Company) for greed, opportunism, evil, Galactica instead illustrates a later digital mode of the same argument, with corresponding post-apocalyptic mode of production and power? The reimagined, digital new model Cylons have potentials that belong to what many would call totalitarian, but with a general intellect, a planned total economy, decision making by think tank cabals, and shiny slick friends… spuriously called toasters by the obsolete humanoids. The question for the humans faced with extinction then has to do with Deckard’s old fashioned bad cop complicity/opportunity syndrome – do you kill all replicants without remorse, or look for your chance to escape on your own (with Rachel)? What Galactica does is add a gods-bothering dimension to this A.I. – which for mine is the equivalent of touching faith in open source. The parameters of individualism and hierarchy are not thereby disrupted. Maybe we are obsolete. The survivors on New Caprica, struggling to breed and scratching in the dirt, are dehumanized, life becomes barely worth living, suicide attacks become plausible (when the Cylons occupy). Only the organised rebels have agency, and yet they too send their own to death.
New Caprica became a nightmare refuge – the escape from Cylon pursuit was soon visited by occupying power. In a reversal of the game, President Gaius Balthar had led the fleet to a seemingly secure and shielded planet, only for the Cylons to finally track the settlers and arrive with plans to ‘manage’ their settlement ‘democraticaly’. Gaius becomes a compromised and proxy president, reluctant at tmes, but generally coerced into doing what the Cylons want. New Caprica becomes a police state, complicity thrives, alongside a resistance. There are suicide bombings – on the part of the resistance. Things are grim.
We understand this in the utopia/dystopia category as hinted above – a category we frame as first set out by Jameson where he comments:
“The Utopian calling, indeed, seems to have some kinship with that off the inventor of modern times, and to bring to bear some necessary combination of the identification of a problem to be solved and the inventive ingenuity with which a series of solutions are proposed and tested” (Jameson, 2005, p11).
But acknowledging that Linda Ruth Williams responds (to an earlier formulation by Jameson along such lines), that:
“Utopias operate dialectically by neutralising the (dystopian) world from which thy sprung. This is in keeping with a wider tradition of utopian criticism, but dystopias function in a similar way’ (Williams 1999:157)
Here, fear of others displaces a fear of the self that abuses power (over others). Jameson points out that often dystopian vision is a critique of those who wish good upon the world. Williams points out that the good, or the escape from evil, is deeply conservative. For example, in Nineteen Eighty-Four Julia’s protest against Big Brother is to dress up in a feminine makeover 1950s style as ‘Real Woman … cast by the film as only the latest act in a long line of rebellions’ (Williams 1999:167). Winston is our necessary hero, but his rebellions are meek and predictable, his ultimate defeat, and betrayal foretold. We can also see this over and over in Galactica as the heroes of the fleet – Admiral Adama, Lee Adama, Colonel Ti, become their worst enemies, both turning themselves and their democratic ideals into a military-fascist order, or, with Gaius Balthar, and the class that invented Cylons in the first place, creating technological systems that they fear, rightly, surge out of control and wreak awful revenge upon their creators.
So, though it remains a commonplace to say that SF works through the contemporary by projecting present problems into space, we can see that herein lies the foundation for repetition; the cycle of destroying an invented enemy leaves voids in the public psyche which must be filled. We must remember that this is our invented enemy, our invention as such (Saddam was a US puppet, Al Qeida and Osama bin Laden a part of the US funded anti-Soviet mujahideen). After all, once the war on terror has been ‘won’, and there is no more ‘terror’, who else is left to fear but the instigators of oppression? Remembering that Gaius Balthar remains president only through the compromise he makes with the force of the Cylon army – and we have not even begun to discuss the ways this army itself is bifurcated – there are reasons to concede that the twists and turns of political play leave both sides in disarray. Is there a parallel with what has happened in Iraq here – a compromised president (Talabani) struggling to manage the factions, and an escalating resistance, assassinations, torture, compromised military, constraints, betrayals? There is no Galactica Battlestar to swoop in to save the situation now – there is no quick exit that Bush is willing to contemplate, however much the US Congress should wish that might come to pass. To see this as a rerun of the Vietnam defeat would be difficult for the present administration, and so a new threat is pending – Iran? North Korea? (France?). Of course this leaves us guessing who is next on the hit list? In the messy aftermath of the Fleet’s subsequent escape from the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, there are reprisal killings (of Ti’s wife for instance) and Gaius’s sanctuary upon the Cylon base ship is brief …
For Sputnik birthday stuff see here.