Fear of a Monotheistic Cyborg Planet

by Scott McLemee on October 6, 2006

If someone hinted two years ago that one day I would be eagerly awaiting the third season of a remake of Battlestar Galactica, my response would have been something like, “Get away from me, crazy person, because that is crazy, what you are saying to me.”

The original series ran in the late 1970s and was very, very dumb. Sure, it’s interesting to learn that bits of Mormon theology were embedded into the show. And I suppose some people will now be entertained by those vintage haircuts. But don’t be fooled by the sickly glow of nostalgia. The show was junk. Let’s put it this way: There was a robotic dog.

Looking back, it was probably Tim Burke’s recommendation that made me give the remake a try. He called himself “probably the last geek out there to discover Battlestar Galactica” but actually, no, a few of us were left to follow in his wake.

The new series is often said to have “reimagined” the original, but I don’t think that word quite cuts it. There must be some bit of alchemical jargon that would do the trick. An article from the Newark Star-Ledger by Alan Sepinwal sums up the first two seasons:

Since its revival in 2003, “Galactica” has been one of the most overtly political shows on television, albeit one with spaceships and robots. The human heroes were set up as America; the robotic Cylons, who were created and trained by the humans only to rebel and become religious fanatic mass murderers, were stand-ins for Al Qaeda. 9/11 imagery abounded, characters debated the merits of security versus civil liberties and leaders on all sides invoked their respective deities as justification for their actions.

But there’s more in play than just contemporary geopolitical allusion. The humans are polytheistic. Some come from a colony known for its rather fundamentalist attitude towards the gods, while others are completely secularized. And there is a retro feel to some (but not all) of the technology they use (big, clunky telephones for example) because of a certain quasi-luddite phase human civilization underwent in the recent past.

The Cylons, by contrast, have moved beyond the computerization and artificial intelligence that created them, towards the development of biotechnology. And they are strict monotheists. They believe in both holy war and mystical communion with their God. One of the intriguing developments in the somewhat uneven second season of Galactica was the emergence, among some Cylons, of questions about whether it might be possible to love a human — who is, after all, an Other, and presumably unable to commune with the one true (robot) God.

Another of the show’s defining tensions is that between military and civilian authority. It raises the question of what elections might mean in an extreme situation — a “state of exception” in which the legitimacy of constitutional democracy is itself in doubt.

The finale of the second season (discussed by Tim Burke here) involved a different and unexpected jolt of topicality. A decision was reached among the humans to settle on an uninhabited world. Quoting from Alan Sepinwal’s column again:

The human fleet settled on an obscure planet they dubbed New Caprica, lived there for a year in relative peace, then faced an invasion by the Cylons.

The new season picks up four months into the occupation, and despite the Cylons’ claims of benevolence, the largest structure visible anywhere is the new jail. Humans are routinely rounded up without cause, others are branded as traitors for joining a Cylon-organized police force, and the resistance, led by former prisoner and torture victim Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan), is trying out suicide bombings.

If the humans were originally us and the Cylons were Al Qaeda, how did the Cylons become America while we became the Iraqis?

Sepinwal interviews Ron Moore, the creator of the show, who surprisingly indicates that working on Galactica actually made him somewhat sympathetic to George W. Bush: “I don’t hate the man. I disagree violently with many of his decisions, but I can kind of go to a place where I understand where he’s working from, the pressure of that office, the security of millions riding on your every decision.”

Not that anyone watching the new Galactica is going to confuse it with political analysis. But its way of breaking down and juxtaposing elements of the post-9/11 world in combinations then held together in a science-fiction framework has a defamiliarizing effect.

More from Sepinwall’s interview with Ron Moore:

“The fact that we’re not saying, ‘These are the Republicans and these are the Democrats and this is Al Qaeda’ means we can get to the heart of the drama, and examine it from many angles, make the audience question whose side they’re on, in a way you can’t in a docudrama.

“I think the show is relevant and is trying to do what science fiction is supposed to do, which is to examine society through a different prism. I like the show to raise questions, to provoke people and get them to question their beliefs — and if they come out the other side of that with their beliefs affirmed, that’s fine. The show raises questions. It doesn’t try to answer them. We don’t try to say in 90 minutes, ‘Here’s what the solution to Iraq is.’ I think the show tries to get you to examine these issues and decide for yourself.”

To fellow stragglers, I also highly recommend Battlestar Wiki, quite the monumental labor of geek love.

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Matt 10.06.06 at 6:03 pm

I’ve never seen the new BSG. I don’t watch TV and even if I did I couldn’t afford cable. But all I’m saying is, I liked the old show a lot and think you shouldn’t knock the hair. The hair and the dog, they were great.


Ancarett 10.06.06 at 6:45 pm

Have you seen the official site’s tongue-in-cheek music vid comparing the old show (TOS) with the new (TNS)? A New Crew in Town

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the old series, but in the way I loved all the cheesy SF TV of my youth (who else remembers Buck Rogers with Gil Gerard? Come on!). But the new series is simply the best TV around and is poised, with the start of S3, to deliver some shocking and powerful new storylines. (Yeah, I’m so seriously spoiled, it isn’t funny.)

Almost makes me wish I wasn’t a history prof but a media/cultural studies professor so I could have a professional excuse to do more with this show.


Backword Dave 10.06.06 at 7:41 pm

I dunno. I picked up some of the hype, but then I watched three of the catch-up trailers on the Sci-Fi channel website – and it struck me as absolute hackneyed junk. There’s the all-American cliche of the ace pilot (the best in the fleet, sir) who’s a bit of a rebel. I never thought I’d regard ‘Top Gun’ so favourably by comparison. There was some tosh about a prophecy. A what? Jebus. And nonsense with an arrow. Holy cow. And for some reason the best design robots could come up with after 40 years was Stepford ninja-geishas.

I’m going to take a lot of persuading that everyone saying how good it is isn’t some kind of mega-elaborate internets jape. And are there *any* black characters? I used to think Star Trek was bad after we left the bridge crew.


urizon 10.06.06 at 8:18 pm

All I can think of is Lorne Green frozen in that ridiculous pose.

Buck Rogers was even worse. Dr. Theopolis, anyone?


Henry 10.06.06 at 9:01 pm

I’m an even later geek than Scott is; in fact I finally started to watch it as a result of Scott urging me to some months back(my bad: Jim Henley had told me a year before that it was good serious stuff).


Doctor Memory 10.06.06 at 9:07 pm

Not only did the original Galactica have a robotic dog, it also had a Cute Kid and (in at least one episode), a SPACE DISCO. Never forget.

Dave: BSG has two major black characters so far (one member of the deck crew on the Galactica, and the de facto religious leader of the fleet), but they didn’t get much screen time in the episodes you refer to. (Honestly, both characters are still rather underdeveloped, and that’s not to the show’s credit.)


Another Damned Medievalist 10.06.06 at 9:38 pm

I thought Dualla was more Indian?


Jacob T. Levy 10.06.06 at 9:39 pm

Buck Rogers was far, far worse than BSG v. 1.

(I’m a bad geek twice over– haven’t started either BSG v. 2 or Veronica Mars yet. About ready to do both, but there hasn’t been time– and before I moved my building didn’t get Sci-Fi.)


eweininger 10.06.06 at 10:13 pm

Who remembers Space: 1999 from their youth? Now, that was a hell of a show.


rm 10.06.06 at 10:31 pm

I’m here to second that Space:1999 rocked. I feel cheated of the future we were promised. Where’s my lunar colony? I want a lunar colony!


Matt 10.06.06 at 10:39 pm

You’re all wrong. Buck Rogers was great. There will be no knocking Twiggy (or whatever that cute little robot’s name was) while I’m around. It was great, I tell you.


Jackmormon 10.06.06 at 10:51 pm

Clearly, I need to start watching this show. From where I’m sitting (in complete ignorance of the plot arc BUT! with an excellent grounding in Mormon theology), the Cylons will obviously be cast into some version of Outer Darkness to plague the future projects of humanity. Since those future projects of humanity will basically be like the Cylon project but with free will, I’m guessing that some infiltrating character is going to need to get his or her hands on some secret lore–hybrid, overthrow, exile for the baddies, and then the great instauration of messier living. Towards Godhood.

Anyway, if it’s really a covert Mormon show, that’s how it’ll go.


grackel 10.07.06 at 12:31 am

Well, I don’t know about aspersions cast on robotic dogs! K9 was a perfectly respectable robotic dog, after all!


Rich B. 10.07.06 at 12:52 am

Apparently I once qualified as a “good geek” because I TiVoed the Series premier two years ago.

But then, I started to watch it and, I believe, right at the first commercial break about 20 minutes in, an Evil Woman killed a baby for apparently no reason at all while the mother had her back turned. There is a pan out and the mother’s scream is heard.

We had just had a baby a few months earlier, and killing babies suddenly didn’t sound like “entertainment” anymore. I turned it off and never watched any more of it.

I might have stopped being a geek, then, too.


Belle Waring 10.07.06 at 2:51 am

twiki, dude. bedee bedee bedee.


Brendan 10.07.06 at 5:36 am

Damn. I was going to do the Twiki thing. Except I thought ‘it’ was called Tweekee. Anyway in response to the poster above: you can still catch Space 1999 and the first series at least still stands the test of time, helped by the fact that Martin Landau is a great actor. The plotlines are also seriously insane.

Incidentally, robot dogs being synonymous with trash? K9? Blasphemy.


Daniel Nexon 10.07.06 at 6:46 am

15. We were almost exactly in the same position. We had a relatively new child and were horrified at what seemed completely gratuitous. We pushed on, and are glad that we did.

The scene makes sense given that we’re about to witness a genocide. In retrospect, FWIW, Six’s motivation for killing the child is less clear than it seemed at the time.


eweininger 10.07.06 at 8:13 am

“you can still catch Space 1999 and the first series at least still stands the test of time, helped by the fact that Martin Landau is a great actor.”

Where can I watch it?–is it shown on cable somewhere? Also, was there a second series (or do you just mean the first season)?

Martin Landau was excellent, as I recall. But so was the chick who, like, turned into animals and stuff. That was cool.

Robotic dog, robotic schmog. (Or is it schmobotic dog?)


Dave Maier 10.07.06 at 11:10 am

In the late 70’s, when I was a lad, I watched both BSG v.1 and Space: 1999. That is, I watched the former until Jane Seymour’s character married Apollo, thus signing her death warrant. It was pretty lame, as I recall, though John Colicos’s evil leer was amusing.

Space: 1999 had three things going for it, besides Martin Landau: 1) the aforementioned “chick [Catherine Schell?] who, like, turned into animals and stuff,” who was, as we did *not* say at the time, teh hott; 2) those Rudi Gernreich uniforms; and 3) the most jaw-droppingly ridiculous premise for a sci-fi show one could possibly imagine.

The new BSG rocks (doubters might begin with “33,” the first episode of the first season), but since I am a straggler sans cable (the DVD of season 2.1 has only now been delivered to me) I cannot read this post right now.


s.e. 10.07.06 at 11:48 am

I’d think it’s really more intersting, to those of us who are not and never have been geeks, that a show on American television is portraying suicide bombing as an option worthy of debate.
And the language and imagery on last nights show was more akin to Gaza than Iraq.

“I think the show is relevant and is trying to do what science fiction is supposed to do, which is to examine society through a different prism.”

All good literature or not does that “serious” or not. Science fiction spends most of its time on big generalizations and big toys, not on details and precise (and self-aware) observation. Why else would this thread devolve into a debate between teenage boys about Lorne Green and wanting to make it with a chick who can turn into a cheetah. (You think the ersatz irony changes anything?) Edward James Olmos put it well (roughly from memory):

“The last thing I wanted to be doing was science fiction on cable, but if they keep writing it like this I’ll do it for the rest of my life.”

The question is why should sci fi be the -apparently necessary- vehicle for such discussion. Why are our best political pundits a stand up comic, a sportscaster and a theater critic? The answer should be obvious to anyone who doesn’t follow “political-science” fiction.

This country lags behind others in so many ways; and this country’s academic elite follow behind the rest.
So fucking stupid.


Mike Russo 10.07.06 at 1:19 pm

S.E. — Forgive me, but I have no idea what the heck you’re complaining about. If it’s your feeling that “this country’s academic elite” aren’t engaged in meaningful discussion of the current political situation, it’s difficult to understand what this has to do with television shows (the “academic elite,” to the best of my knowledge, have very little to do with producing any form of mainstream entertainment). If the complaint has something to do with BSG — well, it’s a bit incoherent. That it’s “portraying suicide bombing as an option worthy of debate”? Suicide bombing’s a hell of a lot more than an option for very many people, so I fail to see how incorporating this into a work of fiction is per se objectionable.

If instead what you’re expressing is frustration that political protest is being most sharply expressed in marginal art forms, then I think the point’s just ahistorical. From Dada to the counterculture to the 80’s punk scene, the people most pissed off about the way things are are generally going to be the artists at the fringe. And as for despair at the choice of sci-fi as a genre — I dunno, I haven’t seriously seen anyone challenge 1984 as the single anti-totalitarian masterpiece. So we’re supposed to mount opprobrium against Orwell because he was too much of a teenage boy to write in a social-realist mode?

Not to say that BSG is doing the same things Orwell was, by any means — but it seems to me that the thrust of your comment is a degree of crankiness at a perceived deviation from some sort of orthodoxy of anti-establishment art, which seems entirely to miss the point. Sure, I’d be happier if people were more up in arms about the administration. And because BSG is a genre piece, there are some people it’s not going to reach as effectively as it might. But there’s a significant gap from that complaint to saying that the country/the academic elite are “so fucking stupid” because… I’m not clear on the because, actually — because we don’t have gritty prime-time dramas about American war-crimes in Iraq?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a recovering/recovered geek myself, and while I have something of a visceral distaste for most sci-fi these days, probably as a result of having glutted myself on it when in my youth, BSG is the pretty much the single exception to this general reaction right now (despite this, I still reacted negatively to your generalization about sci fi being overly given to generalizations). So possibly I’m not who you’re talking to. But again, I have no idea who you’re attempting to talk to.


Backword Dave 10.07.06 at 3:04 pm

“Why are our best political pundits a stand up comic, a sportscaster and a theater critic?” OK I know the first is Steve Colbert. Who are the other two?


Father Inch 10.07.06 at 3:35 pm

“Not that anyone watching the new Galactica is going to confuse it with political analysis.”

Producer Ron Moore’s commentary on this season’s first episode (301-302, available at http://www.scifi.com/battlestar/) makes it clear that BSG intends to highlight moral issues that are broader, or more universal, than current politics. IMO, most episodes are good entertainment — and they have to be, or the more serious side wouldn’t work.


TheDeadlyShoe 10.07.06 at 3:54 pm

The sportscaster would be Olbermann. Dunno about the theater critic. The stand up comic probably refers to Jon Stewart though, All Things Considered. ;)


The42ndGuy 10.07.06 at 3:59 pm

23: I’m assuming s.e. means Keith Olbermann and Frank Rich.


Cryptic Ned 10.07.06 at 5:07 pm

Frank Rich was a theater critic for most of his career.


The Constructivist 10.07.06 at 5:15 pm

Hmm, I was going to criticize Scott for making the thoroughly unnecessary “I’m into graphic novelists like Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, not mere comic book writers like Chris Claremont, Walter Simonson, and Stan Lee, so I can’t possibly be as big a geek as the proverbial teenage boy who likes DC and Marvel superheroes” move wrt to sci-fi and BSG, but #21’s response kind of illustrates my point of the pointlessness of this particular rhetorical gambit. Never mind the generations of feminist science fiction writers, never mind Samuel Delany or Octavia Butler, never mind that they saw something worth working with in the pulpiest of American genres, etc., etc., no, sci-fi is reducible to “big generalizations and big toys,” and thus unworthy of serious (or apparently even unserious) discussion.

Of course, by responding to #21 in this way, I’m coming close to drawing my own distinctions that end up not being so different from s.e.’s own “good literature”/”bad literature” (which itself is another version of Scott’s “good BSG”/”bad BSG”). Still, since distinctions must be drawn and V for Vendetta is a better and much more important movie than Darkman, my advice to Scott is to keep writing on what you find interesting minus the apologias and to the rest of us to outdo Stewart-Colbert, Olbermann, and Frank Rich!


eweininger 10.07.06 at 5:33 pm

So fucking stupid.

It’s certainly true that self-rightious indignation trumps ersatz irony everytime. But consider my dilemma: how to muster any in a thread titled “Fear of a Monotheistic Cyborg Planet.” How to muster…how to muster?

Happily, I now know.


Walt 10.07.06 at 6:14 pm

I assume the theater critic is Frank Rich.


s.e. 10.07.06 at 6:23 pm

Read Baudelaire on Alfred Rethel and “Philosophic Art”
Or just google Alfred Rethel. I’m sure you’ll find his graphic work shockingly contemporary.
The link could fit here as well.

Rethel was an illustrator, nothing more. Baudelaire tries to examine what that means though he doesn’t use the term illustration. Battlestar Galactica is not an illustration; is not written as illustration but popular theater. It is not “philosophic art’ though the interest in it here is based on an outward similarity.

Illustration -“lit up”- is an image of something else. A work of art is a thing in itself. To see language as transparent is to use it to describe other things, as a geologist describes a rock (or as a philospher describes an idea). To see language as material is to use it to describe itself and what we perceive as its relation to the world: not to know what words mean but to ask.

Philosophic art – illustration- is an art of rules. Unphilosophic art -as art- is a record of their undoing in experience.
“BSG” is pop entertainment; but it’s miles ahead of most political commentary in this country simply because it’s honest.
“What’s Liberal About The Liberal Arts?”
Wrong question
“What Makes a Hit TV Show More Liberal than Brad DeLong?”



gmoke 10.07.06 at 7:09 pm

A stand-up comedian, sports commentator, and theater critic are our clearest political editorialists these days because American politics are entertainment not governance. It’s theater, bad theater, not the application of ideas and ideals to power.

And those three aren’t doing too bad a job.


Matt Kuzma 10.07.06 at 8:43 pm

Being raised athiest, I immediately made a connection between Cylons and fundamentalist Christians. I’m really not surprised the show has gone the way it has, with Cylons becoming the big-bad, technologically advanced American military backed by Christians who have no qualms with manipulating and killing to pursue thier agenda. Honestly, we’re scary.


s.e. 10.07.06 at 8:51 pm

“A stand-up comedian, sports commentator, and theater critic are our clearest political editorialists these days because American politics are entertainment not governance. It’s theater, bad theater, not the application of ideas and ideals to power.”

No. A stand-up comedian, sports commentator, and theater critic are our clearest political editorialists, because sports writers have historically been the best writers in the daily press and because comics and theater critics are skeptics who are capable of an ironic distance not only from others but from themselves. That’s their speciality.

But DeLong wonders about the neurochemistry of the people who still support Bush. Adult Europeans have been making laughing at pedants of his sort since the invention of the bourgeoisie.

Here’s Tyler Cowen on New Orleans:

Shantytowns might well be more creative than a dead city core. Some of the best Brazilian music came from the favelas of Salvador and Rio. The slums of Kingston, Jamaica, bred reggae. New Orleans experienced its greatest cultural blossoming in the early 20th century, when it was full of shanties. Low rents make it possible to live on a shoestring, while the population density blends cultural influences. Cheap real estate could make the city a desirable place for struggling artists to live. The cultural heyday of New Orleans lies in the past. Katrina rebuilding gives the city a chance to become an innovator once again.

You tell me if he’s playing this straight. I really can’t tell. When people are desperate they sing like they mean it and isn’t that something we enjoy? Isn’t that a “good.”

Here’s DeLong after I made a comment that he pulled from his site:

“Bullshit. You said things that were false. Hezbollah and Hamas are not “moderating.”
Look in the mirror, if you can.”

I sent him the USG reports that said otherwise. I’m still banned. And will someone explain DeLong’s Chomsky pathology? What’s DeLong’s ‘neurochemistry’ What the fuck is Cowen’s?

Consciousness is flawed. Theater critics understand this more than scientists, and certainly more than “political” scientists.
We need more theater critics, not less.

Again: “so fucking stupid”



bob mcmanus 10.07.06 at 10:43 pm

“Consciousness is flawed. Theater critics understand this more than scientists, and certainly more than “political” scientists.
We need more theater critics, not less.—-”

Ya know what’s fun? Reading (about) Adorno without understanding much for three hours and not knowing why, then encountering Seth on a CT thread.


Another Damned Medievalist 10.07.06 at 11:19 pm

Can I vote for that being the stupidest damned comment of the year?


bob mcmanus 10.08.06 at 3:04 am

Argue it out with Chun


Don McArthur 10.08.06 at 9:25 am

Arguing on the Internet is like competing in the Special Olympics. Even if you win, you’re still retarded.

And am I alone in the observation that people who claim “I don’t watch TV” generally turn out to be connected to the tube about 14 hours a day?


s.e. 10.08.06 at 9:30 am

Maybe you should be spending more time on the renaissance, the rise of humanism etc.


Backword Dave 10.08.06 at 10:12 am



bob mcmanus 10.08.06 at 12:15 pm

40:Damfino why, but I’ll think on it.

41:But since only Chun has bitch-slapped me from the faculty lounge with the finality of adm, I have lots of time on my hands. And apparently, hand lotion.


Matt McIrvin 10.08.06 at 1:33 pm

Jackmormon, the original series was a covert Mormon show (to some extent, particularly in that two-parter with Patrick Macnee as Count Iblis). The new show’s going in completely other directions.

I’ve only watched the new BSG sporadically and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. The political stuff is generally pretty good, the soapy stuff involving hot Cylon seductresses not so great. I get the impression, though, that they’ve dialed down the soapy aspects from the early episodes.

The perceived grittiness and realism of the show seems to me to be at least partly due to a trick with the special effects: the use of simulated camera shake, jerky zooming and limited-depth-of-field effects to give everything a live-newscast, you-are-there feel. Once I realized what they were doing, the affectation of it started to bug me.


s.e. 10.08.06 at 2:10 pm

Bob McM. 43-
I was talking to the medievalist.


Alan Bostick 10.08.06 at 3:23 pm

A standup comedian, a sports commentator, and a theater critic walk into this bar….


bob mcmanus 10.08.06 at 3:40 pm

45:But surely the medievalist was talking about me. He couldn’t been talking about you.

39:I don’t seem to watch the TV everyone else does. No BSG, either version, no Sorkin, no Family Guy, no Chris Matthews.

60’s Euro-art movies, New Wave, Bergman, Jess Franco. Just nostalgia, reliving the youth I never had the time to enjoy. Anybody know where I can bet a Che poster? The Adorno fits, I was told Guy DeBord wasn’t a real thinker, so I stopped liking him. Trying to avoid Marcuse, such a cliche, but damn if somebody named Doug Kellner hasn’t put a whole book about Marcuse online.

But we are all neo-liberals now, huh.

“Why don’t we have movies like “L’Avventura” anymore? Because we don’t ask the same kinds of questions anymore. We have replaced the “purpose of life” with the “choice of lifestyle.” I used to think Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” was the saddest song. Antonioni can think of a sadder one: “More.”” …Roger Ebert

Bigger and bigger GDP, forever and ever. Everyone a consumer of geek shit.


Another Damned Medievalist 10.09.06 at 6:40 am

Bob, she was not talking about you. se is correct — I thought it was obvious that we were all reacting to that comment. And no, se. If I spent more time on the renaissance and humanism, I wouldn’t be a medievalist, now would I? That’s two incredibly stupid comments in one thread. With three, you get a prize.


The Modesto Kid 10.09.06 at 8:39 am

Having a robotic dog is no guarantee of a show’s lameness.


Seth Edenbaum 10.09.06 at 9:42 am

If you spent more time on the renaissance and humanism you’d know what the fuck I was complaining about.


Walt 10.09.06 at 10:01 am

I don’t see how the renaissance and humanism have half the relevance to my life that a robotic dog has.


Another Damned Medievalist 10.09.06 at 10:58 am

“I think the show is relevant and is trying to do what science fiction is supposed to do, which is to examine society through a different prism. I like the show to raise questions, to provoke people and get them to question their beliefs—and if they come out the other side of that with their beliefs affirmed, that’s fine.” — Ron Moore

“Science fiction spends most of its time on big generalizations and big toys, not on details and precise (and self-aware) observation.” — Seth Edelstein

Seth, science fiction has historically done much more of what Ron Moore is saying than what you believe. And really good science fiction doesn’t preach, it makes one think. There’s lots of serious literature (if, for example, one thinks of Booker Prize-winning novels as serious) that doesn’t ask us to examine important questions.

As for the rest of your comments, I have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about. How would studying the renaissance or humanism –Civic or Christian? does it matter for your purposes? — make any difference? Your whinge about political criticism coming from the realm of entertainment was both off-topic and incredibly ahistorical, where ahistorical refers to an ignorance of history. In the West, political and social commentary has come from the world of entertainment for as long as we have documented these things — or have you not heard of Aristophanes? (slight oversimplification of context, I know)

And again, since my main fields of study are the Medieval and Ancient periods, there’s no reason I should focus on the renaissance — at least, not the one you think is important. Me? I’ve got the Northumbrian, Carolingian, Ottonian, and 12th c. renaissances to keep me quite busy, thanks. As for that 15th c. stuff? I’m not sure you have a particularly good grasp of that either, if you think it somehow ties into Stewart/Colbert/Maher-Olbermann-Rich absent the political theory of the Ancient and Medieval world. But keep whingeing — trolls are always amusing when their heads get hot. Perhaps we should ask Lance-COnstable Cherry to make you a helmet.


Another Damned Medievalist 10.09.06 at 11:17 am

Why is my comment being moderated? That’s something I’ve never noticed before.


Seth Edenbaum 10.09.06 at 11:45 am

I posted this somewhere else yesterday, but it fits.

“The Weimarization of the political life of this country is held in check not by radicals or reformers, but by popular culture.”

Scholasticism is a symptom; and Tyler Cowen’s abstractions are as absurd and grotesque as Rumsfeld’s.

That just about sums up my last four years of vitriol.


Another Damned Medievalist 10.09.06 at 12:23 pm

Scholasticism as in (again, partially, and in an oversimplified way) the attempt to explain God’s existence and other theological issues and quandaries through (especially) Aristotelian logic? Often associated with the 12th c. renaissance? Exemplified by such practitioners as Peter Lombard, Peter Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, and Roger Bacon? What does that have to do with the Weimar Republic?


bob mcmanus 10.09.06 at 2:12 pm

Well, all I know so far is the 14th, and not much of that:but Wycliff, Gerson, the Monk of St Denis, Deschamps, Christine were scholars who were in touch with the universities, the banquet hall, and the street fair simultaneously.

Our current scholars reach neither the places of power or places of the powerless, talking only to each other. Scholascticism?

Our political press is nothing but but Froissarts.
Sycophants and parasites.


Alleen 10.09.06 at 2:42 pm

No excuses for not getting caught up on BSG — no TV? no cable? no Sci Fi Channel?

Get a free month of Netflix.com and order up the DVDs. Watch ’em on your computer if you must. But you must.


Seth Edenbaum 10.09.06 at 3:40 pm

Scholasticism noun – the system of theology and philosophy taught in medieval European universities, based on Aristotelian logic and the writings of the early Church Fathers and having a strong emphasis on tradition and dogma. • narrow-minded insistence on traditional doctrine.

Technocracy noun – ( pl. -cies) the government or control of society or industry by an elite of technical experts. • an instance or application of this. • an elite of technical experts. ORIGIN early 20th cent.: from Greek tekhne ‘art, craft’ + -cracy .

Republic noun – a state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch. • archaic figurative a community or group with a certain equality between its members. ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from French république, from Latin respublica, from res ‘concern’ + publicus ‘of the people, public.’


ChristopherK 10.09.06 at 3:41 pm

Abou Number Six and killing the baby in the Mini-Series…

I don’t think she did it for “no good reason.” Or, rather, I don’t think it was on purpose.

She comments, as she looks at the child, how it’s amazing that the baby’s neck can support it’s head. And remember, *she’s never seen a baby before*.

I think she killed the baby by accident, because she was terribly curious about the child and didn’t know how to handle it.

Significant in that moment is Six’s CURIOSITY about human beings. That, ultimately, is what I thought the scene was about.

And Six’s relationship with Baltar in particular and humans in general have borne this out. The fact that her curiosity led to the death of an innocent is also vital to the themes of the show… they are tryingt to “help” the humans, remember.


Anarch 10.09.06 at 4:26 pm

I’d argue, contra 59, that she knew damn well what she was doing — but that she did it out of a twisted sense of compassion, to spare the innocent from the genocide to follow. [She’s got a few lines right before the act that indicate as much to me.] That tear rolling down her face in the aftermath definitely strikes me as an expression of regret and not so much an “Oops! I broke the baby!” reaction.


ChristopherK 10.09.06 at 5:07 pm

I’d go there, too!

Truth is, we’ll never know… It’s never explained and we only know her from her actions in the moment.

My point is simply this: whatever he cause/reason for the baby’s death, it wasn’t “for no good reason,” nor because the writer’s thought, “She’s really bad, so let’s have her kill a baby for fun… That’ll be entertaining.”

There’s a reason, and because it’s BSG, it’ll be an interesting one — one that is not clear, moralistically simple, and depends on turning a cliche over onto its head.


Another Damned Medievalist 10.09.06 at 7:04 pm

Sorry everybody, I didn’t realise I was feeding a particularly stupid troll.


Seth Edenbaum 10.09.06 at 11:39 pm

This is a site where I regularly find qualified defenses of Ayn Rand’s literary abilities, so lets just end the discussion of sci fi as such there.

But still, maybe you should read Baudelaire on “philosophic” art; maybe you should read Anthony Grafton on what it was the renaissance left behind; maybe you should wonder at the persistent taste for systematic oversimplification in times of crisis: at the diminution of methodology over time into decadent formalism, internally consistent but describing nothing outside its own consistency; pure brittle logic ill fitted to a vulgar world.

Political Science is to Political life what “Law and Economics” is to economic life, what Literary Theory is to literature, and what Analytic Philosophy is thought. Should I add: what sociology is to careful observation? What documentary is to film? What the myth of objectivity is to newspaper reporting?
What’s missing from all these things?

Knowledge is not wisdom, erudition is not judgment, and self-awareness is necessary for emotional and intellectual maturity. Can someone tell me how Tyler Cowen could be so stupid? So arrogant and unaware? So Rumsfeldian?

I’ve run into shitloads of such stupidity over the years. I had a little fun hear at the expense of Donald Davidson, and Richard Dawkins and the “Dims.” At DeLong and Leiter and Posner. Do you think Rumsfeld or Cheney would be any less oblivious to their failure if they proclaimed atheism? I’m not going to go into the brittleness of Weimar.
Troll, at this point, maybe.
Stupid, no.

My stockbroker/doctor wants to start giving me blood pressure medicine. I have to give up on this shit.


Wax Banks 10.10.06 at 12:23 am

Oy vey!

…sports writers have historically been the best writers in the daily press…

No, sports writers have historically had the easiest job in the daily press. They describe the workings of a machine for generating dramatic confrontation. Baseball is a series of tableaux in which men carrying weapons stare one another down; football is synchronized gang violence; basketball is thuggish ballet, and each sport is measured in a vast array of statistics which generate frameworks for drama so simple that a 5-year-old can understand them.

Additionally, since what they’re describing is essentially meaningless, sports writers are given license to write entirely in metaphor and allegory. The sports section is a long advertisement for itself, a trailer for continuing highly-structured nostalgia-generating experience; how can it not be interesting?

The hard work is for the obit writers, no question.


ajay 10.10.06 at 6:39 am

I’ve run into shitloads of such stupidity over the years. I had a little fun hear



abb1 10.10.06 at 7:13 am

On Crooked Timber, a culture blog, poster Scott McLemee muses…

Is this a culture blog now? Look like it is indeed. Damn.


Bruno Mota 10.10.06 at 12:27 pm

To borrow from Tolkien, I would caution people against seeing too much allegory in the show, as opposed to aplicability. The Cylons are kind of like Al Qaeda-as-the-superpower, and the Colonials are kind of like the american-as-underdogs, but the storylines are not constrained by either analogy, which is what would define a proper allegory.

This last episode does come close to allegory, but so far BSG has (mostly) avoided lecturing its audience when dealing with moral dilemas. It is the difference between illuminating current issues in a different setting and making a contemporary morality play in disguise. The former is Middle Earth, the latter Narnia, so to speak.

Reviewise, I generally liked the episode, but I found both the ‘resistence’ and the ‘occupation’ a bit too generic. Except for the Kara part and the Cylons-in-love angle, I would like to see more of a BSG flavour in both.


bellatrys 10.10.06 at 4:07 pm

It was pretty clear to me at least, that Six was killing the baby out of a dark compassion, sparing it the coming nuclear holocaust that she was about to bring down on them all (including herself, in that incarnation, just like at the end of Platoon combined with “If The Red Slayer” – oh yeah, lifelong geek here. I watched Lost in Space reruns when I was a little girl, and had the honor of meeting the late Bob Sheckley at a con once.)

Horrible, yes, but if you were a warrior about to unleash radiation hell on your enemies, and you had the chance to humanely kill one child, rather than let it go through what the children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki went through – would that be an act of cruelty, or kindness?

There are a lot of consistency/plausibility/characterization problems that have developed in the show, but that was not one of them.


Another Damned Medievalist 10.10.06 at 8:21 pm

See, at that point, I was pretty sure that Six just didn’t care. It didn’t matter that she killed the baby because she knew everyone was going to die anyway. I don’t know that she had all that much compassion early on. I think the interaction with Baltar on Galactica started to make the difference — even then, she’s using him as a tool till well into the first season.


s0metim3s 10.12.06 at 1:10 am

On the monotheism.

And a series of other posts on BSG here and here.

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