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- Guardian keeping up appearances of a war on terror – 3 item count in today’s edition:
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Pantomime Terror Lect Vid
- RMIT talk on 16 Dec hutnyk.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/tal… 1 day ago
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- I do not hold grudges (faulty memory for one thing) but sometimes I wonder why. is this naive? nave? nerve? (cannot even spell proper). 2 weeks ago
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Tag Archives: sci fi
And there I was thinking a sweet little love story between a couple of blue pixies on the Ewok planet might not be yet another Star Wares space parable of the pervasive militant fascism we cannot ever admit to having here…
Of course not..
David Price makes the salient points:
Fans of Avatar are understandably being moved by the story’s romantic anthropological message favoring the rights of people to not have their culture weaponized against them by would be foreign conquerors, occupiers and betrayers. It is worth noting some of the obvious the parallels between these elements in this virtual film world, and those found in our world of real bullets and anthropologists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since 2007, the occupying U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan have deployed Human Terrain Teams (HTT), complete with HTT “social scientists” using anthropological-ish methods and theories to ease the conquest and occupation of these lands. HTT has no avatared-humans; just supposed “social scientists” who embed with battalions working to reduce friction so that the military can get on with its mission without interference from local populations. For most anthropologists these HTT programs are an outrageous abuse of anthropology, and earlier this month a lengthy report by a commission of the American Anthropological Association…
From his text in CounterPunch here.
See the link below for pretty good-fun piece by Antonio Lopez on the final BSG (one among many – though I think people are holding back so as not to SPOIL it for others) – anyway, linking shamans and Hendrix and media and Dylan (but a pity the whole thing with the subterrainean cylons routine is lost)…
But really, the ending of the final episode was shit. I admit I loved the idea of a Lampkin Prez, and as someone suggested his mutt was going to have a great time munching antelope in Africa (see here). But you gotta agree the last half hour was awful. Yes, as expected they land on real earth …. gnnng… So, hunter gatherers who do not have language is anthropologically absurd. But hooray, the fleet will offer them language and sex – like some sort of twisted overseas aid program. Many set out to build bourgeois homes – Helo and Athena are going to start an Ikea store. Anders for no reason destroys all the floating mecano set – despite the Lego TM functioning FDL drives. Starbuck disappears right out of the film – does she join Bilbo Baggins and the Elves after leaving middle earth? Gaius becomes a film producer on sunset strip, not and angel, and though he hangs around till the 20th century, he has a job as an ad exec for Sony and is killed by double agents pretending to be anarchists protesting the G20 summit. Tyrel is just forgiven for killing his ex – and lives alone forever rewriting the chord progressions for cover songs by Nirvana, building another invisible viper and eventually becoming head of Exxon. Tigh and Ellen are what – going to live together on earth forever, making highland single malts or something? Adama is going to become Daniel Boon, selling stims to tourists outside Frontierland in Florida.
After all that death, what a surprise. Up till that two-thirds point I thought the last episode was superb. But then they end up in, I dunno, Happy Valley or something! Antonio is right to note ‘the ridiculous coincidence that the scenery looks like Window’s XP’s desktop pastoral landscape’ – see his screed on Reality Sandwich, and stay tuned for my chapter with Laura King, called ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Gaius Baltar’, on which we recently did the final edit, and which will appear in a US book next year.
Laura and I finished our article on BSG – called ‘The Eighteenth Brumaire of Gaius Balthar’. We decided we have a whole other chapter on Gaius’s sex life, so we excised this bit. For the record: Robots are sexy – the False Maria, the pleasure-bot in Bladerunner, 7 of 9, and the seductions of Caprica 6 that lead Gaius astray. Gaius in the ménage, Gaius pining, Giaus as parent? Gaius is a flawed hero, and his exile amongst the Cylons after the attack on New Caprica a farcical consequence of his pathetic despot-like complicity. A puppet and play thing of his masters. Aboard the base-star his exile involves him pleasuring himself with his assigned captors, not one but two of the female fashion-mag ‘skin-jobs’ in a sumptuous bed. Gaius imagines he might be Cylon, he might be their leader (he is even more deluded than Louis Boneparte). He cavorts with the sex-bot machine girls in the idle fantasy of teen-male SF fans everywhere. Patriarchal and sexist, in the end we are all rooting for his downfall. Then he becomes a free sex cult god. Go figure. He’ll have to die ingloriously at the end (no, this is not a spoiler – we really have no idea how Gaius will end up, but I expect it will be bad).
[anyone wants to read the piece in draft, send me an email. It assumes you've seen as far as episodes in the third series. Our comments on series four are still in note form, and/or as yet undigested - but since this has happened before...]
Goldsmiths ‘Staff Hallmark’ newspaper noticed Laura King’s, and my, recent article on the excellent television series Battlestar Galactica, published in the second (print) issue of Stimulus Respond. You can click on the image alongside here to read the Hallmark story, or click on the Stims link for our original article (the hallmark story has a little item on the previously mentioned nursery ‘expansion’ beneath – have a look and read between the frakking lines).
Update: We’ve just had a longer essay on BSG and colonialism accepted for a book in the US, but we’ve not yet done the proofs. We will soon. In the meantime, people are are breathless as if they’d been airlocked about the impending end to the series. See here (spoiler alert if you’ve not seen as far as S04e17).
There is a longer promo clip here (well, longer than any of the others I have seen – and I have also been reading the spoilers which [claim to] give away much more than this little snippet). http://www.scifi.com/index.php
The newest issue of “Stimulus Respond” is out also – the Utopia issue – with Laura King’s and my piece on comets/bsg for your edification.
Given the current fiscal crisis and the nationalization of Northern Rock (and personally, our surprisingly pleasant treatment at the CO-OP Bank where we have shifted our accounts, this guide to alien cash exchange, while not exactly ‘Marxist’, is a handy starter:
“Don’t get ripped off by unscrupulous intergalactic exchange bureaus! Consult our guide to alien money, including exchange rates with the U.S. dollar. Click through for a listing of currencies from Dune, Red Dwarf, Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and others.”
See the guide here.
This pic shows the now empty set of Galactica where shooting for series four stopped at episode 4.13 because of the Hollywood writers strike. Ronald Moore’s site has some reports on what Galactica writers have (not) been doing for the strike. Pencils anyone? A ball game ticket with the Chief…? Recall his problematic negotiations with Admiral Adama in the strike episode in series three (3.15, discussed here), but before they get to earth, lets sort the workplaces out. Police in UK going out too – for all the wrong reasons, but in any case, Support the strikers.
So this is Kendra Shaw the adorable space junkie in the Battlestar Pegasus kitchen having a bit of a snack. Its from the new BSG Razor telefilm (which I just got to see thanks to my dealer Terrence or Torrent or whatever he’s called). The film is full of surprises related to the Pegasus and its crew though I’m not telling. You find out Kendra is a powderfiend at the very start, so this is not spoiling – though there are lots of things to spoil, which means I guess I will refrain from commenting on it for a while. I did think the first half was better than the second – but perhaps that’s my preference. Laura K and I have been commissioned to write still more on the entire thing when the final series is aired in 2008 – we get a whole month to polish our chapter after the last episode, which goes to air in the US in August or so (starts April, so 20 weeks from then I guess). We will have more to say about Gaius and the Hybrids seem pretty interesting. Anyway, cute junkie trash as Kendra is, she is no Bill Burroughs, though I do wonder what she might have scribbled in her flight diary, doodling in her rack, ravings of note [stardate 23475.3] – yes, there might hang a tale. And just what kind of happy juice is she injecting into her neck? The Battlestar Wiki [all the spoilers you can eat] does not seem to know. Whatever it is, it certainly seems to ease the pain.
“One cannot imagine any fundamental change in our social existence which has not first thrown off Utopian visions like so many sparks from a comet”
Jameson 2005: xii
Earthlings experience dystopia in a variety of ways. Yet we all have visions of a utopia which is in some way designed or designated as ours and for us. Fear and hope. Hope and fear. No doubt, we get such things from TV. One way of understanding the constellation of the dystopic, and therefore the utopic, is to go searching among the stars – a projected vision launched from the living room, blasting up up and away towards science fiction (SF) futures.
The fantastic future as utopia/dystopia is an old routine, but nowhere in popular culture do we find the recurring (neo-colonial) atrocities of today, and the subsequent escape to paradise, explored in such depth as in the re-imagined version of the television show Battlestar Galactica (2003, USA). This series delves into the need for refuge and redemption, conjuring the idea and ideal of a safe home, the Earth as sanctuary. The basic premise of the show is that the robot creations of humanity evolve and return to destroy their creators, who in classic SF fashion, had tried to restrict the autonomy and rights of the previously servile machines (called Cylons). After the Cylon revenge attack, the few survivors take flight in a rag-tag fleet of space ships and are hunted through the galaxy. Among the refugee survivors a flawed genius-scientist battles for political leadership with a former Government functionary of the now destroyed home worlds. The military commander, of course, remains ostensibly neutral but plays his part in both political intrigue and the family-narrative that drives each episode – heroic soldiers/viper pilots Starbuck and Lee Adama (the Admiral’s son) play out the conflict as last ditch heroic defenders again and again. The Cylons’ mission is to destroy. The human mission is to find the 13th Colony of Kobul, which is, of course, the mythical rumoured but unknown planet called ‘Earth’. Amidst the fleet, fear, anxiety and paranoia reign – the escape is threatened from within, the search for home, safety and the future-perfect family hang in the balance (sit-com style relationship dramas and the commander’s marital redemption also anticipate the ‘utopia’ of a reunited humanity). But its not on this show that we’ll find a harmonious Borg-like vista of all people joining together in one struggle, Galactica takes us further and projects a unity in fear that strives for its opposite. The utopic is defined by and thrives upon its antithesis, and is thereby unachievable. The search for Earth as a refuge from terror reproduces terror itself.
In such intergalactic dreamscapes as this, utopia exists as a reverse-tooled set of vampires and villains; slaying one leaves a void in which new enemies must be invented. Rather than an attained, liveable, realisable utopia, utopia itself dwells only in its own imagining. No-place. It is this that we find particularly evident in Galactica; unachievable goals are the prime drive for the human fleet, and it is this same drive that keeps the Cylons at the chase. The robotic ‘bad guys’ do not give up because they fully recognise that humans are no good, they must be redeemed and restored to the machinic-digital ideal, and so because of their destructive ways, they must be destroyed. This impeccable but contradictory logic justifies human efforts not only to escape and survive, but through a dialectical embrace, to return and fight again.
The first premise of Galactica – that Cylons rebel against their creators – is born of the same concern that drives science fiction utopianism from its earliest beginnings, and perhaps its highest point of articulation is found in the work of Isaac Asimov and his three laws of robotics. Thus we remember Asimov would have robots always help humans without complaint:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
(Asimov 1940 I, Robot)
Helpful robot heroes of SF begin with The False Maria of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. We might also think of Roy in Bladerunner, more human that Deckard by some distance. And the character Bishop in Aliens, played by Lance Henrikson; or Cal in Alien Resurrection, played by Winona Ryder. Think again of the Borg (go team), willing to improve humanity by way of assimilation. We may wonder why these beings are given such a hard time. Is it because our concern is that as artificial intelligence exceeds human thought we are doomed as obsolete and redundant? Or is it guilt at the residual slavery narrative that lurks behind these future space-scapes? We suspect something more sinister is really behind the fear of manchines. The future cleansed of all danger and threat, the dark misogynism that quakes at the idea of human-machine intercourse, the Cylon baby, the new evolutionism, are all symptomatic.
Isn’t it also perhaps a worry that there might be something about machine knowledge (collective intelligence, techne, logic, wisdom) that extends the organisational capacities of an individual mind, and thus suggests the collective rules. This might also be taken as the utopian drive buried within the circuitry of A.I – the design society, the sleek sharp curves of both a Centurion or a Sharon (the first Cylon to switch sides). The planned economy is targeted here also. If we allow that science fiction is a fantasy projection of real world concerns into space, one other consequence is that the collective might be a potential brake on rampant individual profiteering. If so, isn’t it the case that fear of robotics is merely the distorted manifestation of fear of an organisation of life and labour that would harness the general intellect for the good of all? To worry about this is a bourgeois anxiety, but to actively fear it and project it off-world is perhaps already an ideological concession that abandons both individualist and hierarchical thinking: and so no longer promotes the good of one over the well-being of all. Admiral Adama leads the fleet in the chant: ‘And So Say We All, So Say We All’.
Thus the Cylon quest also questions what it is to be human even as it is the humans who are searching for Earth. It is never a precise search – the human utopia exists only as an oblique reference in an obscure religious text, and is fuelled by the rallying hype and lies of the pragmatically wise military leader, Adama. Utopia here is by definition unreachable, uncertain and false. The effort to find the new non-hierarchical terror free terra firma is, however, tangible, and it provides the humans with an abstract but motivating goal. We are intrigued by this new fold in the survivalist text; and we suggest that it is rare in SF for utopia to present this as possible only in the imagination. Ever since Things to Come (William Menzies, 1936, UK) utopia has been posed as a spectacular achievement which must be defended; it has been realized, but it is under threat. Here it is an aspiration.
Yet the promise of Galactica is dark. Utopia cannot be achieved, it alienates. Utopia becomes viable merely as an appearance of coherence and wholeness that is to come only after a violent resolution that will destroy the motivation of all. This repetition recurs throughout the (ongoing) series of Galactica. Appeasing all politics, all morals and all desires is the never-ending impossibility of our protagonists. Earth as destination becomes a fetish, it is the mirage of a united front. Thus, there is also a certain dystopian pleasure in this for us as viewers who ‘already’ live on Earth since we know that the Earth we have now cannot ever offer the fleeing Galactica fleet sanctuary (the State would build a detention centre somewhere in Kent perhaps…). That this planet can be (re)imagined as a place of asylum is cleverly knowing – we are fully aware that this neo-colonial war-ridden, pollution-choked, automotive-industrial-psychologically unstable, inhospitable planet cannot provide anyone with the utopia they desire, and therefore the show underlines for the viewer the prospect of their own impossible utopias….
Our politics are thereby deferred, as in episode after episode we see the good guys and bad guys change sides with alarming frequency. Our heroic leaders may turn out to be Cylons in the end, our president of the colonies bans abortion, and just as we begin to find hope and heroism in the military, they go and shoot into an unarmed crowd. The Cylons also share such schizophrenia; we should hate them for their destruction, their violence, their cold calculus, but then they surprise us with philosophical interjections that demand a rethink. The Cylon vision of utopia lies both in the annihilation of the human race, and the creation of a hybrid human/Cylon child who can lead them towards another version of this same denouement. Such an obvious dystopia to the humans, a prospective resolution that cannot be countenanced, a hybridity too far, it seems the only solution. Yet both Cylon and human visions drive each other on exponentially and Earth remains out of reach (at least as of series three; the final series screens in 2008). The blue planet does not appear on ‘dradus’ (radar) and we have a sneaking feeling that if the Cylons in the end prevail, this would not be all that bad…
Fear and revenge animate televised ideals. Galactica’s search for Earth would not exist without a dystopic threat that includes the destruction of civilization; the path to freedom must pass by way of violent death for most, breeding farms for the rest (the population must grow). Conversely, the Cylons are concerned that the possibility of the fleet reaching Earth would mean a disruption of their well-made plans for human destruction, in turn spurring them towards a more comprehensive terror. The imbrications of dystopia and utopia find their places within each other, both becoming unachievable as the one cancels out its opponent. As the series themes it: ‘This has happened before, it will happen again’.
Asimov, I. 1968 I,Robot, London: Grafton Books (short story ‘Runaround’ from 1940).
Jameson, F, 2005, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire called Utopia and Other Science Fictions, Verso Press: London
And if your so frakked up must needs want Galactica Slash, try here.
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.
From the fine folk at Needham High School’s History Crib
The Launch of Sputnik
“Never before had so small and so harmless an object created such consternation.”
- Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The Democratic Experience
The launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite, brought the dawn of the space age, and increased conflict between the United States and the U.S.S.R. The people of the United States had begun to feel as if they were unsurpassable in every aspect of life. However, the launch of Sputnik alarmed society and created a wide spread panic in suspecting that their country was vulnerable and could be outshown.
The Story of Sputnik
Sputnik, the first man-made satellite, was launched on October 4, 1957 by the U.S.S.R. It was little more than the size of a basketball and weighed 184 pounds. Sputnik was not equipped with any scientific instruments, but orbited the earth once every 98 minutes. It contained a single radio transmitter, which did little more than issue an incessant beeping that allowed even the most primitive instruments to track it. As an instrument used for gathering data, Sputnik was relatively insignificant. However, Sputnik did usher in the new age of space exploration, and initiated the U.S./ U.S.S.R. space race that would lead to the creation of the manned space shuttle and utilization of the space station.
Why the U.S. Did Not Beat the U.S.S.R. into Space
Conflict between military branches had hindered the progression in creating a satellite before Sputnik’s launch. Also, it was not until the U.S.S.R. got Sputnik launched that the U.S. saw their own space program as something more than a leisurely hobby. Satellites were predicted to have no military value to the U.S., and so sufficient funds were not put into the Vanguard project. A lack of qualified personnel contributed to the slow progression of the U.S.’s satellite projects as well. After Sputnik’s launch, however, money was pumped into education and satellite projects.
continues here if you want to read what Eisenhower did next.
but better might be to seek out:
“Soviet Claiming Lead in Science.” The New York Times. 5 Oct. 1957: 2.
Happy Birthday, ball of tin. Erm, RED ball of tin. Yaay!
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given to it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
The first premise of Battlestar Galactica – that Cylons rebel against their creators – is the same concern that drives science fiction from the start, and perhaps its high point is Asimov and the three laws of robotics. Think of Roy in Bladerunner, more human that Deckard by some distance. Think of the character Bishop in Aliens, played by Lance Henrikson; or of Call in Alien Resurrection, played by Winona Ryder. Think of the Borg (go team). Why do such beings get such a hard time? Is it because we worry that if artificial intelligence can exceed human thought we are doomed as obsolete and redundant, etc. I suspect something more sinister is really behind this fear of manchines. Isn’t it a worry that there might be something about knowledge (intelligence, techne, wisdom, meaning) that exceeds the capacities of an individual mind, and thus suggests the collective rules. To worry about this is valid, but to fear it is perhaps already an ideological choice that favours both an individualist and simultaneously hierarchical opportunist thinking: that promotes the good of one over the well-being of all. Marx offers a notion of the general intellect. This might be taken as a simile of A.I., if we allow that science fiction is a fantasy projection of real world concerns into space.If so, isn’t it the case that fear of robotics is the distorted manifestation of fear of a planned economy that would harness the general intellect for the good of all. The struggle over new media today is also about the deployment of ‘artificial’ – general – intelligence in the service of some (corporate power) or all (planned economy). So far the robots are caught within Asimov’s constraints.
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.
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)?
OK, I’m having a Lost in Translation moment here in my hotel. Boring. Despite a wonderful dinner with Toko (oysters, crayfish, more oysters), later here in my room I’ve been sucked into the vortex that is internet TV replays of old Doctor Who episodes. Specifically the “Destiny of the Daleks” with Lalla Ward (oh, and Tom Baker in a supporting role). Lalla Ward is just excellent, and this episode is her first. Not her best, but evidence that she will triumph. By far the smartest sexiest timelord to have ever left the fabled shores of Galifrey. Tom Baker cannot be resurrected, reimagined, reanimated, as the new BBC bland series proves, and the assistants are usually smarter, but it took Lalla to go one better than Tom. About ten years ago he was writing evil children’s (?) books of not uncomplicated quality…
This episode is crucial. It even predicts the future reimagined version (with Billie Piper) where Daleks can levitate – though it does not yet let them do so. All sorts of discussions here are possible that would rehabilitate the Daleks as resistance, as hybrid beings, and as an organised political force (we have so few examples of that). What it does have that boggles the mind though is the Daleks as suicide bombers. Provoked, no doubt, by the opposition and the antics of the fabled Doctor, but fanatical nonetheless. Of course they fail, but Davros lives on…
I cannot recall what geo-political context would have been relevant to the making of this particular episode, but Davros resurrected, and the Daleks caught in a fratricidal stalemate with another race/brand of robots, might make some people wonder if we do not have a commercial conflict allegory here. Oooh, or a stalemate between two superpower android races, fighting it out with missles in space – I expected Gorbochov and Reagan to appear as extras at the end (or maybe doing the voiceover on the extras dvd). Anyway, before despatching the kamakaze robots with a twist of his screwdriver, the good doctor had proposed peace, though he also offers an endgame option: the first side to turn off their computers and act ‘illogically’ will win. End of the evil empire assured then.
Daleks come from the planet Skaro/Skaled – it seems obvious now – and they are fanatical ideologically programmed automatons that clearly have no good reason to still want the service updates the time-ravaged (secondary life systems operational, suspension of organs, thousand year sleep) computer nerd Davros can offer them. So, while the anti-Soviet parable is a bit thin today, back then I guess it worked as some sort of parody of detente, but its more interesting now to maybe see it as an indictment of the militarization of all defence forces, cyborg enhancements, and new media regimentations, tooling the troops up as mere secondary content for a machine philum wanting to take over everything, crazed calculations of a Dr Strangelove like figure trading longevity for human primacy, and eventually the consequence that google rules all/uber alles.
Nothing will survive, the Daleks will Exterminate, Ex-ter-MINATE, EXTERMINATE…
So, with Laura, a paper for the conference on bsg planned for end of the month. My notetaking has been so frakking slow I cannot tell you, but parts of the plot now seem to show up on Draidis. So say we all. (Mere notes, sorry, see other Sci Fi bits in labels for more):
The Eigteenth Brumaire of Gaius Balthar
Repetition is the key to both the opening of Marx’s great text The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Boneparte and the back story to BSG, this has happened before and it will happen again. We are cylons, we forget we are, we build cylons, we repeat the forgetting…
Things repeat themselves, says Hegel, but Marx adds that he forgot to say the second time round it happens as farce. Hence Gaius, the comical hero of the new Battlestar Galactica remake (3 series done, the final one starts again in Jan).
So, I think this gives us an opportunity to demonstrate how a dexterous analysis from Marx’s text can make sense of the changing fortunes/opportunisms of both Gaius Balthar and the Mentat Roslin. And deploying this reading of bsg might then further show how the nuances of Marx’s class analysis in his book from 1852 – no simple binary plottings – can help us make sense of the convoluted violences of our lives today – in 2007.
But there should be no simple reading-off from the text to ‘correlated’ examples from the real, or vice-versa. The search for one-to-one correspondences is forlorn, the borg are not Intel or Microsoft – though its helpful to sometimes see that resistance is not useless (Picard as open source/or Shakespeare)
We project contemporary anxieties into stories, into space, into the future (Feuerbach critique of religion here?). Our constructions of what we do and desire are played out as farce. Gaius is our faulty and insufficient image – a pale mechanism through which greater hopes than his declared intentions are filtered. Gaius himself is cylon (how did he survive the original nuclear destruction of Planet Caprica if not – he just forgets, this little nephew, that he is reborn).
So, its not so much a questiion of who represents who in bsg. Sure, there are elections and unions (both yellow) and so on, but the potatoes in a sack are the (number declining) ‘people’ in the fleet – represented only by Galactica, or in the figures of Starbuck etc. There is a confusion here, analysed so well by Gayatri Spivak, between darstellung and vertreten (two words in German for one – in English). In Gaius we have the (farcical) representative of the people (their president, because they cannot represent themselves), and the picture of them (their number, they must be represented).
Though suddenly reading CLR James on Moby Dick I am not sure that Adama isn’t really Ahab. As all captains are.
Can we plot the co-ordinates of bsg, 18th Brumaire and Melville’s novel…
‘What is the connection between science and fiction?’ asks Maurice Blanchot (in Nouvelle Review Française vol 7 no 3 1959 pp91-100, reprinted recently in Arena 25/26 2006). There is considerable material, good science and bad, to justify a long disquisition on the role of technological development among the stars (but breath easy, we’ll not enter that deep space vacuum today). In a future work (ha!) the science of Warp Drive, teleportation, dilythium processing and other tek-babble can be examined. What I am interested in today is where there might also be, as Blanchot points out, discussion of sciences other than physics. In the Trek series film Resurrection, the Federation is undertaking ‘ethnographic studies’ of apparently pre-warp culture, observing from behind an electronic hide-like screen. Due to a malfunction of the kiddy-point-of-view android character Data (I hate Data), the Federation’s voyeuristic documentary invasion and, as is later shown, its complicity with opportunistic exploitation, is exposed. The Prime Directive is once again in danger of violation.
But the violation of the pre-warp is not just a violation of the so-called pre-historical. There are other conceptions damaged along the way (path, trek, track). I’m thinking history and psychoanalysis have to be part of the array. There are many questions for the surviving philosophico-psych-anthrop-planning-film genre crit-political economy crew…
What has the militarization of space done to the imagination of planetary futures if not a foreshortening of possibility? We are presented with a uniform(ed) and hierarchical horizon of anxiety – spaces of fear; a star map of commerce. The key tropes of the Battlestar and the trade vessel (Ripley’s Corporation in the Alien series) might often be subject of critique in sci fi film, but the way we can think – of the possible and the impossible in space – is thereby transduced exponentially downwards.
What lifestyle does the techno-military power of the Federation defend? Up until the Voyager series it was unrivalled commodity abundance on demand, and perpetual travel. Subsequently the replication of ‘Earl Grey Tea Hot’ remains possible, but the boldly-go model of tourism in space is somewhat downgraded into a desperate flight for home. There was a time when the future was a promise of all things improved – new machines and new solutions. Cylons are superior humans, Data is a better robot (but why do Cylons feel pain, why do they want births? Data is the android with a electric sheep’s dreaming). Today the future becomes a worse version of war – an Iraq for all; an avian virus for all; universal ecological catastrophe. The future of solution is replaced by the future of war.
A film like Serenity is typical as a cowboy movie in the same way in which Star Wars was – good versus evil; justice versus tyranny; resistance versus brutality. Of course there is the rogue survivalist turned moral crusader for the worthy resistance; and hide outs; bounties; chase sequences, the earthy wisdom of the old hand; the strong leader and his loyal if rough hewn sidekick; the romantic interest, (though in Serenity this takes on a Buddhist aspect which is hard to reconcile, since the Buddhist herself, not anyone else really, is hardly serene); shootouts; last minute escapes; guns; shooting; last ditch stands; survival… There is something missing in this desperation – and we know its an accommodationist trick – we are limiting the future to put up witht eh present. This is more than a distraction, to be combated with ideology critique (I know its a western in space, but I believe we will prevail – ‘we will fight them till we can’t’ – says Kara Thrace).
Klingons, Borg, Cardassians or even Afrofuturists; the threat to humanity in science fiction serves as a generalized fear that we, secretly, deserve. From the first interracial screen kiss on US TV, between Lt. Uhura and Ctn. Kirk (they were on a planet of psychotropic drugs – Martin Luther King visited the set), there has been a subtext worrying of racial mixture. Fear of a black planet has been the miscegenist anxiety against which ultra-conservative uniformity strives to defend (uniforms = purity). And where are the sociologists in all this – the people (unemployed future urban slum multitude beloved of Zizek) are a curiously hybrid undifferentiated mass of difference. The ground level multicultural scenario in sci fi is more often than not a predictably benign diversity. Bladerunner, Fifth Element, Serenity, and even Star Trek, invoke a world without cultural discrimination – at least insofar as this concerns the ‘federation’, the home worlds, planet prime, ‘us’ etc. The edge of space remains the space of difference and threat – Aliens, Cardassians, Bajoran resistance – all manner of threatening others, and the pre-warp underdeveloped hinterlands… suitable for mining…. So the prime directive permits some to fuck over or fuck with others, but the fear and threat kicks in whenever those others get close enough, or sassy enough – or humanoid enough – to threaten Prime itself.
As far as we seem able to imagine it, the answer to the question of the persistence of imperialism in the future will be a resounding, and depressing, yes. Inevitable exploitation by dominant group; technological inequality; refusal to redistribute wealth; expropriation of labour – the future is going to come true. And our imagination does seem to have faltered, if we take recent sci fi cinema and television as indicative of where we might now want to eventually be. Storm troopers on the march, hostile forces – meteors, rifts in time, dark lords – and any number of alien take-overs or rogue machines leave us wondering if there might ever be that promised utopia, where all Jedi commune in the force by the campfire (those annoying little Ewoks), where machines and humans productively engage (and procreate, not replicate) and where the doomed planet of gas and oil/food/water wars is a paradise regulated by intelligent planning…
But both BSG and ST.Voyager are sustained by denial of utopia. Home, or Earth, is the never attained goal for which all is endured (they will get there at the end of the series no doubt, but it will end in tears). What is endured along the never-ending way entails a systematic discipline, order, rule and regulation, so as to preserve the crew against threat (to Voyager, to the viper pilots, to the fleet, but with a certain attrition). It would be possible to ‘read off’ any number of episodes to glean parable-like lessons for life under global imperialism.
Yet for all its dystopia, the narratives of sci fi as fear surely promotes a subtext of refusal, revolt and revolution against the prevailing order. The only trouble is that any (too easy) one-to-one reading off of role models, means we have the limited vision of the borg or the cylons as blueprint for a revolutionary future. And this is not imaginary enough – we want more, better, dynamic hybrids surely.
Why do all commanders seem so keen to collect earlier vessels and sextants?
[Of all the products of sci fi here, its trek trinkets that leave me cold, though I've long been a fan of Ensign Ro Laren, Bajoran conscript - see the second pic, the first one is Lt Uhura of course). Also see Jean Luc's blog here. And of course Fred Jameson's book Archaeologies of the Future - Verso 2006 - is the sourcebook, and could have been written as the Encyclopaedia Galactica, praise the Lords of Kobol].
This post from Anti-Popper is brought forward to here to inaugurate a new series of ‘posts from the past’ – historical division – sci fi. Heh heh. The humanity of Adama and Jameson – is doggited.
“Saturday 16 December 2006
galactica: my friend the blob
“I can’t find my ancient copy of Battlestar Galactica 2: The Cylon Death Machine, and it hurts. Of course, because I’m such a fan of the current series, it doesn’t seem likely that a novelisation of the original, cheesy Battlestar Galactica would have a place in my heart, right? I mean, my brother got me Fredric Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions for my birthday — I couldn’t possibly like this kind of trash, which barely passes for “real” science fiction, right? But I was a big fan of the original Galactica, for two reasons:
While it was undoubtedly drab in comparison to Star Wars, Galactica was shown frequently enough on TV to simply work its way, on a rhythmic level, into my playground fantasies when I was seven years old. And it’s not as if I hadn’t found “finer” sf, either — I was also reading Isaac Asimov’s robot stories at the time.
By fleshing out all the aspects of the show that were atrophying under the family-oriented network TV regime of the day, the novelisations made Galactica seem so much better than it really was. Like many media tie-ins, Robert Thurston’s first couple of Galactica novelisations were based on the original scripts, and written several months before shooting. In Galactica’s case, this meant Cylons that weren’t clumsy walking toasters who couldn’t shoot straight (a last-minute change dictated by the network), but murderous lizards who (according to Thurston) thought bitchy thoughts about their superior officers, waited impatiently for promotions, and were driven crazy by the itches that developed under all that heavy armour!
Writing about my loss of The Cylon Death Machine is particularly poignant for me because the event is so recursive. From what I can remember, the novel’s narrative was interspersed with extracts from Commander Adama’s personal log — The Adama Journals — in which he muses about all sorts of seemingly random and inconsequential shit in the middle of the tactical emergencies of the time. Adama’s log is, of course, very bloggy. In this log, he finds the time to mourn how so much Caprican culture was destroyed in the apocalyptic Cylon attack on the Colonies. But rather than honour high culture, Adama chooses to remember pulpy kids’ science fiction: his own favourite childhood book was called something like Sharkey the Star Rover, and featured the insterstellar wanderings of an orphan human boy, Sharkey, and his best friend, an alien blob called — of all things — Jameson. Adama requests of a search of all the archives in the fleet, but alas, the book is lost forever. Just as I’m not quite sure whether I remember this book correctly, Adama wonders if his memory of Sharkey The Star Rover is accurate. Sharkey loves his alien friend Jameson, who receives much racist abuse from other humans. And yet Sharkey also wishes Jameson were a real boy, instead of a blob, so that he could hold him, and thus physically express his love.
I miss The Cylon Death Machine, and thus, Sharkey The Star Rover.”
Posted by jebni at December 16, 2006 10:44 AM | TrackBack”
From: John Hutnyk – Academic Director, Centre for Cultural Studies
Thead our hero//Space as Final Frontier//The tendency for the rate of profit to flail about madly like a neon beam emanating from your skull.
Sci Fi literature over and over enacts the subsumption of everyday life before my very eyes, and more and more of my day is teleported into commodification. From the mundane tech of gadgets, phones and comm-sets, to regimes of control, underlying code and even the modalities of aspiration; myriad forms of life are morphed in transition towards a fetish-virtuality. Science as fiction = life as fiction here. The imperative of the galactic mode of production draws even our fables of the future into a calculated orbit. Life becomes ever more alien, it must be subjugated and rendered – fetishized – off-world. Bladerunner, Fifth Element, A.I., so many utopian adventured dramatize this transition. Everything, even fear – the Alien series among many – becomes product.
H. G. Wells – The Time Machine
Mikhail Bulgakov – The Master and the Magarita
Vincent King – Another End
Jeff Noon – Pollen, Vurt (in that order!)
Outside my capsule the commodification of everything proceeds apace, we only quibble about the schedules for the roll-out. The colonization of other worlds is then the displaced manifestation of the rapid and total colonization of ever more integrated aspects of our daily lives. We are astronauts of economic space. Everything is catered for in a vacuum, and screaming is pointless.
Thead is our hero from the works of Vincent King – aka Rex Thomas Vincen.
Sunday 19th November 6pm – 1am Radio Gagarin: Experiments in Sunday Socialism
Notting Hill Arts Club, 21 Notting Hill Gate, London W126pm – 1a.m. £5.
London’s only Balkan/Russian/ Baltic/Gypsy/Klez/ Mash/Thrash/ Trash/KULTURKlash!!!
Radio Gagarin’s’ bi-monthly Experiments in Sunday Socialism sessions fill Notting Hill Arts Club to overflowing with a tundra melting mix of live music, digital DJ prowess, performance art, east European cinema, poetry, puppetry, poverty, latkes, blinis and vodka. Live acts have included Gogol Bordello’s Eugene Hutz, Oi Va Voi, DJ Shantel, Sophie Solomon, Nayekovichi, Babar Luck, Mama Matrix, Luminescent Orchestrii, Geoff Berner, Ghetto Plotz & Mukka. The Commissar continues to pledge exclusive new music from DESTROYERS -100% Balkan Mania, EMUNAH …The Cut Chemist Crew of NW London’ and The Langham Research Centre Musique Concrete, performance from Friends of Gagarin, Marxist-Leninist alienation from art/animation/video installations for the Proletariat from state artists Adrian Philpott & Cathy Gale; frozen vodka & rakiya galore and resident DKs (Dancefloor Komissars) Max Reinhardt & Misha Maltsev sweating it out in the Gypsy Diskoteka til’ the road of excess has led us to the place of wisdom. Early evening come to feed your soul with autumnal home-cookin in the Kitschen and take a rest from your fight for Revolutionary Determinism for a few moments in the Kinodrom with new and classic shorts from Eastern Europe.
Co-Produced by YaD Arts / Adrian Philpott/ Oi Va Voi / The Shrine
For more info: tel 020 7629 5555
From: John Hutnyk – Academic Director, Centre for Cultural Studies