Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Nudity and Battlestars

The fact is violence is an extremely impersonal, public act. While violence can be made personal (reference any favorite action movie and corresponding heroic/villainous quips), but for the most part, violence has equal currency among strangers or friends. Nudity does not.

Now, yes, we've all lived past the 70s and 80s and dwell in a post-"free-love" world where we tell our sons and daughters that pleasure is the only relevant measure to use with their bodies - well, pleasure coupled with a slight nod to potential disease prevention. But however hedonistic we'd like to be, that the word "casual" must be added to "sex" to diffuse the latent intimacy of the act reminds us, linguistically at least, that sex is inherently linked to privacy.

To view sex, to view nudity, is to share in something private. And well mannered people don't do that without some awareness of the privilege and the trespass.

We don't feel tingly for nothing, after all.

The reaction to the Super bowl and Janet Jackson's oddly disarming armored nipple is that for an instant, a nation of sports fans were transformed into voyeurs, and while the US supports a more than healthy porn industry, Americans prize, above all else, their freedom. In this case, the freedom to partake, or not. Super bowl viewers chose to view public acts of violence. Whatever puritanical strain still thrives in this culture, Miss Jackson's crime is against the freedoms of those viewers (and yes, I was among them, though wasn't paying attention until the deed was done and the offense was bulging in her clutching hand). Baring her breast in a parody of Liberty herself, Janet robbed us of the freedom to choose, the very foundation of a democratic regime and the only autonomy a human being can have.

Overstating? Sure. But I'm disturbed by the misuse of the latest strain of media Puritan bashing. If we were really so Puritanical and prudish, why haven't we been flipping out about the semen and sperm lyrics of the rap artist who preceded Miss Jackson to the stage? Or wasn't anyone listening?

It's an odd phenomenon that we've gotten so eager to lash at ourselves for our sins, whether historical, cultural, economic... Take the recent remake of Battlestar Galactica, a perfectly decent sci-fi slash western series of ages past reduced to a milquetoast parasite of its former self.

I've heard it said hate is born of the same passions as love, and I loved, LOVED, the original series. I took up piloting Buddy-Holly planes because Battlestar Galactica (and the "high speed" trench flying in Star Wars) made me desperately want to fly. If I were a little girl now watching that bastardization, I doubt I would have run around playing the newly inane Starbuck or whiney Apollo today. It is little wonder Mr. Sam Raimi was compelled to leave the project, and I congratulate him for it.

The new Battlestar Galactica (and it pains me to call it that) is a Frankensteined version of all shtick sci-fi with a heaping scoop of Bladerunner minus the coolness. I suspected the worst when I noticed the production value was similar to SciFi's Dune miniseries, and was confirmed in my disgust when I saw the first installment.

The beauty of Starbuck is the beauty of Pirate's Jack Sparrow - he is a violent killer with a tortured, dark past, but all of that is bundled in an adorable, mildly sexual package with a quick smile, a clever sense of humor, and an affection for all human weakness (lust, greed, vanity, etc.). He is a cute and clever male slut and the tension in the character is that he must curb his impulses in the pursuit of noble aims, like saving the world, or children (in the old episodes, he's always running into innocence and having to set aside his base wants to protect it). To put those attributes on a female character is to make a slut, a typical slut, too, endowed with all the tenderness we sexistly assume all women have anyway. We expect compassion in a woman, are horrified by its absence in a female body. So, all the lovely surprises and tensions in a Starbuck disappear once he's made a she. And the miniseries seems to prove it because the new Starbuck is an emotionally unbalanced, violent, witless slut.

If anyone had to become a girl, since apparently I was wrong in my youth to admire male characters since girls can't possibly recognize their own value unless it's mirrored back to them in a female face, Apollo was the better choice. Both names reek of male and how anyone could name a girl child "buck" is beyond me, but there are plenty of Greek Goddesses to choose from, and the archetype would have been a feminist victory. Apollo is the heir apparent, must be noble, must be true, is the moral guidepost by which all other characters are measured, is the anchor that prevents the Starbucks of the fleet from running amuck and pillaging throughout the ships. I know what you're thinking, it's the Angel in the House, and I would say yes, except that Apollo is also an incredibly efficient killing machine. That all his kills are moral is a manifestation of his will, not a limitation of character. Make Apollo female. Suddenly, her being partnered and best friends with a notorious male slut gives her high value because she keeps his friendship without giving him sex (not that she should be virginal, necessarily. Apollo was a widower, single dad, etc., and there's no reason not to keep those complications). Then you have forbidden love, the lingering but never fulfilled promise of sex between the two lead characters, a woman in a position of authority, and all the conflict you could hope for with a female launching off into battle all the time. Great fun. Instead, Starbuck's a slut and Apollo is castrated. He mopes over his brother's death, giving Zach no credit at all for having a brain or making his own choices (it's one thing to feel guilty, it's another to paint Zach as an incompetent boob), and runs around looking for someone, ANYONE, to serve or follow. Pathetic.

Also pathetic are the Cylons. In the original series, Cylons were reptile aliens who built machine armies to wage war and died out before the war was over. The mechanical Cylons are intelligent war machines with no purpose but to exterminate human kind. They are smart and trick the humans into mass destruction by feigning interest in peace talks, but there is never a hope of negotiation, and it is an outright persecution, a contest of good and evil.

The new Cylons were made by people so their rebellion is a slave master dialectic and arguably morally deserved by those they kill. Yippee. So there is no tragedy in the destruction of worlds the lame Starbuck and lame Apollo are whining over. The new Cylons can also take over computers. Cylons are the only enemies the humans EVER had. The instant the Cylons left, the humans rendered their military useless against Cylons by flooding their hardware with computers. This is equivalent to Israel making itself helpless against Nazis, not Germans but NAZIs (because Cylons are homicidal machines of genocide by design, self-determined design in the new series, not political choice). At least in the original series, the humans operated on imperfect information when they offered their throats up to be slit. In the miniseries, I was rooting for the machines, and they weren't that interesting.

They are sexier, however. And the original show never boasted the sexual content of the new mini-series. Heck, back then, we were satisfied to watch the Vipers blow up the same three ships and the same four probes episode after episode since they couldn't afford to shoot new miniature stuff and had to resort to stock from the movie. Sex and violence wise, BG miniseries dominates. It's just the story that sucks. And the characters.

Geez, I'm hard to please. Maybe that's the puritan in me...
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