Television After 9/11: A Continuing Series
Part 5A: battlestar Galactica and the First Strike in the Pop Culture War
When the Sci-FI Channel did their reimagining of Battlestar Galactica in 2003, they managed to do something remarkable — take a purely science-fiction project that dealt with robots and turn into as realistic a portrayal of the approach to the War on Terror than any realistic drama in the post 9/11 era has ever done.
And as a reward for that, creators Steven Eick and Roland D. Moore have been viewed with contempt by fans of the original series to this day. The so-called ‘fans’ reactions is actually symptomatic of saying that has become a much larger factor in pop-culture during the post 9/11, especially on racial and gender lines. As would become a catchphrase on the series “All of this has happened before” but only this era did it become so pronounced.
Let’s start with an observation. The 1970s version of Battlestar Galactica isn’t a good series. It’s a Star Wars rip-off with bad production values and lousy costumes. It has big ideas and some pretensions that are just an excuse to show footage of the same space flights over and over again. It barely lasted a season. Now I completely understand why fans obsess over some series — there are people to this day who still want to see a new Firefly. But most of these series were, you know, influential or very popular for awhile. This wasn’t Kolchak: The Night Stalker or V; it was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. I have never understood why the obsession was so great for the original, especially in the pre-DVD streaming era.
What Eick and Moore wanted to do was a variation of something I have suggested many times over the years; take a series with an intriguing concept and flawed production and try to reimaginine in a way that the public will embrace. They had worked in the Star Trek would before and knew what worked (DS9) and didn’t (Voyager). Indeed, Moore actually wrote a manifesto that preceded the original script that used the words ‘Taking the Opera out of Space Opera’ in which he said they wanted nothing to do with the stock characters, techno double-talk, bumpy-headed aliens, thespian histrionics and empty heroics’ that dominated these series. (I’ll go into more detail about this when I get to the series itself). They wanted to try and make the series more relatable to the non sci-fi fan. This manifesto basically convinced the network executives and several actors to sign on.
Where Eick and Moore got into trouble real fast was when they decided to turn Starbuck, the pilot portrayed by Dirk Benedict in the original series into a female character (unforgettably played by Katee Sackhoff in the new version) The reaction from these fans was instantly hostile and pretty much from that moment, many of the people who had been advocated for this reboot were against it. The writers and the cast embraced after awhile, and Eick and Moore think that may have done the new series an enormous favor. But you can pretty much draw a straight line between the reaction from the ‘fans’ of the original and the pop culture world we live in today.
There are millions of people out there who will never embrace sci-fi, fantasy and so much of the pop culture world we live in today. They think (justifiably) that Star Wars ruined the film industry, that movies and TV care more about getting young viewers than their viewership and will shun it on principal. I do think a large number of these people are snobs (and far too many of them are in my chosen profession) but I understand them, sympathize to an extent, and can actually get along with several of them.
The people I have a larger problem with are the people who think that movies like Star Wars are the only things that Hollywood should be producing and that people who dare snipe against it — like Martin Scorsese or Denis Villeneuve — are hacks who should be shunned. And not satisfying with fundamentally being the loudest voice when it comes to pop culture, they think any other voices should be shut out and that any attempt to change any aspect of ‘their’ shows is offensive. They’re the kind of people who attack Brie Larson for being too ‘political’ about Captain Marvel, who think Black Panther worked best when it wasn’t in Wakanda, who — as Dean Cain said not long ago — think their making Superman too woke when he’s bisexual and in the same breath that he should be attacking Muslim nations. Basically, any franchise that has been known for having a white, straight male as the lead should never be changed. You don’t need a road map to draw a line from the people who were ‘outraged’ that Starbuck was a woman to an all-female Ghostbusters or a female Doctor Who.
Now it’s true that Battlestar Galactica wasn’t the first series where people were outraged about changes to the cast. But I don’t remember people being angry that there were too many black people on Oz or The Wire. No, there are rules for ‘popular franchises’ and then there’s everything else. African-Americans, women, LGBTQ, Asian Americans — the attitude among too many of the Battlestar Galactica type fans is ‘let them have their own shows over there’. The fact that they’ll then dismiss those series as ‘too political’ is not the point.
And that’s the reason why so many people were really angry about the Battlestar Galactica reboot — they wanted’ the stock characters, techno double-talk, bumpy-headed aliens, etc.” that Moore had railed against in his manifesto. Any changes in this kind of work — or indeed any of the franchises in any film or TV series that are ‘theirs’ — is offensive because they want the old stuff. It’s the nostalgia factor that pervades every aspect of our lives and takes up far too much problems that people have with TV. (There’s a longer article to be written her about institutional racism and sexism in television and one day I will write it. Just not today.)
And if you need any further proof that there aren’t political reverberations here, consider this. Many of the people who took to the net to criticize this show would refer to it as ‘Galactica in Name Only” or GINO. The idea that this might actually be a good thing doesn’t matter to them. The part of them that could never see what a lousy series the original Galactica was will prevent them from seeing how good the new version is. And they will stick with that argument all the way through. They’ve won the war, but they’re not going to be satisfied until everyone is a Cylon.
That ends the cultural reverberations. I’ll get back to the actual series in the next article.