Gender in the Vacuum of Space
Warning: there is a serious BSG spoiler toward the end of this post. If you care, don’t scroll down till you watch the new episode that aired Fri, Jan 16th, 2009.
The continuation continues tonight. Just cuz I’m feeling a little vapid for my Battlestar Galactica post, I’m revisiting the issue, but like for real this time. Part of what fans like myself find compelling about BSG is that it actually IS that deep sometimes, and also offers, through the magic of television, a visualization (as sci-fi is wont to do) of a radically different world. With BSG, for example, we get to see on screen, in the flesh, women in real positions of power (not sidekicks or tokens), which, at a more fundamental level, can be a glimpse into our own world, where that power already exists all around us- after all, what is science fiction but the projection of our own cosmology just a few steps beyond the present moment? Here we are in 2009 and almost everything that Philip K. Dick, (or even Kurt Vonnegut for that matter) wrote about (aka “foretold”) has come to pass.
So about a year ago, I was in New Orleans visiting a friend and had all this gender stuff punch through in an interesting way. I was playing catch-up somewhere around the end of Season 2 or the beginning of Season 3 on her roommate’s BSG dvds, when out of nowhere my befuddled friend, who was in the kitchen, heard me shouting from the living room “Holyfuck this is SO intense!”
I was so overwhelmed that I had to pause the dvd and physically get up and walk to the kitchen just to release some nerves. It was right at a moment where Admiral Cain (a woman, and awesome butch lesbian at that!) had shown up outta the blue, immediately out-ranking Bill Adama who had worked more than a season to gain the trust of President Laura Roslin. Gender and power. It got crazier. Adama had just deployed Kara Thrace aka “Starbuck”, as his best fighter and most trusted maverick, to assassinate the cutthroat Admiral Cain (for the good of the fleet and all surviving humanity).
The tension on screen between the two heavy hitting women (Cain and Starbuck) was palpable, complex, and extremely fraught. But for the audience, seeing two women dominate the screen time, and the power plays of the plot was a whole other mind trip. It was good fun.And this was wholly apart from the chief executive power of the fucking awesome female president, Laura Roslin (seen here being sworn in).
I guess you have to see the show to appreciate the depth of how gender is playing out in the post-apocalyptic vacuum of space. But it really does keep unfolding in brave and complex ways. Can I reveal one more spoiler?
Caprica Pegasus Six? Gay (well, queer or at least bi or something). Admiral Cain? Hella Gay. And now Lieutenant Felix Gaeta? He’s the gay too! (Not that we didn’t see that coming since fracking season 1). So much gender and sexuality to muse about… let alone, questions of how to gender a cylon….
Here’s an excerpt from a 45-minute long Brown University interview with Mary McDonnell (who plays Laura Roslin). Its an opening reflection on gender i
n the fleet on the show.
Stephanie Nicora noted that Battlestar Galactica is superficially feminist, with women in charge — but this seems to be true more of the Cylons than of humanity. In fact, Rousseau’s notion of separate spheres seems to be entrenched in the show: Roslin is President, but she can’t do anything much without the support of Galactica — headed by Commander Bill Adama, a man. When Admiral Helena Cain arrives, a female military leader, both Roslin and Adama agree that she’s a dire threat. Roslin doesn’t even have control over her own body — no one asks her whether or not she wants the cure from Hera’s blood — and by extension she is forced to adopt a pro-life stance and ban abortion. Her question: as a feminist, what’s your interpretation of these narratives?
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So Say We All?
ooooooh, and just for kicks and cylon invasion preparedness, check this fracking thing out: