As the midterm elections approach, many conservatives are feeling betrayed by one of their most important allies in the war on terror: Battlestar Galactica.
To which I thought, WTF?
I just recently got into Galactica. I’ve been following season 3 while catching up with seasons 1 and 2 through Netflix. It’s entertaining. However, it has never occurred to me to incorporate Galactica into some inner political fantasy life. I keep real current events and television fiction in separate boxes, thanks.
I guess I just don’t think like a rightie.
In the series, a fleet of space ships carrying about 50,000 humans is fleeing evil killer robots, called Cylons, after the Cylons massacred most of the human species. Apparently righties came to identify with the fleeing humans and to associate Cylons with the dreaded Islamofascists.
National Reviewâ€™s Jonah Goldberg, who writes regularly about Galacticaâ€™s politics on NROâ€™s group blog, The Corner, also picked up on parallels between the show and the war on terror. Goldberg took particular glee in attacking Galacticaâ€™s anti-war movement, which he said consisted of â€œradical peaceniksâ€ and â€œpeace-terroristsâ€ who â€œare clearly a collection of whack jobs, fifth columnists and idiots.â€ Goldberg also praised several characters for trying to rig a presidential election. â€œI liked that the good guys wanted to steal the election and, it turns out, they were right to want to,â€ wrote Goldberg. Stolen elections, evil robots, crazed hippies â€¦ what more could a socially inept right-winger want from a show?
I must not have gotten to the part about the anti-war movement. Season 2 did have a storyline about a couple of Cylon prisoners who were subjected to Abu Ghraib-type abuse, but otherwise in the first two seasons I didn’t see much resemblance to the Global War on Terror. At the very beginning of the series the Cylons, with huge technological and military advantages over the humans, won a total war over humans. The few humans who escaped are trying to haul their butts out of harm’s way, but the Cylons keep catching up to them. An intriguing twist is that the humans lived in a distant star system, and they are trying to get back to Earth, which they know about only from religion and myths. And that’s the series. That doesn’t seem to me much like our current asymmetrical war against Muslim extremists, particularly if you assume humans = Americans and Cylons = terrorists. (But what does it tell us that righties associated America with characters who are already defeated and helpless to do much but flee their more powerful enemies? Hmmmm?)
Brad Reed continues,
But alas, this love affair between Galactica and the right was not to last: in its third season, the show has morphed into a stinging allegorical critique of Americaâ€™s three-year occupation of Iraq. The trouble started at the end of the second season, when humanity briefly escaped the Cylons and settled down on the tiny planet of New Caprica. The Cylons soon returned and quickly conquered the defenseless humans. But instead of slaughtering everyone, the Cylons decided to take a more enlightened path by â€œbenevolently occupyingâ€ the planet and imposing their preferred way of life by gunpoint. The humans were predictably not enthused about their allegedly altruistic rulers, and they immediately launched an insurgency against them using improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers.
I could be wrong, but I don’t think the screenwriters set out to make Galactica an allegory of the war on terror, one way or another. I think they set out to tell a good story. (Of course, I’m also one of those purists who insists The Lord of the Rings is not an allegory of World War II.) It is worth noting that the series is based on an earlier (and dreadfully boring, as I remember) series produced in 1978. Certainly the screenwriters have added elements from current events — torture of prisoners, suicide bombings — and some storylines do seem allegorical. But interpreting the overall series as pure allegory just doesn’t work, whether you are rooting for the humans or the Cylons.
Anyway, “Galacticons” like Goldberg and John Podheretz are mourning the program’s betrayal of their fantasies. And a rightie fan named Michael who has dedicated a blog to Galactica wrote:
Has this show jumped the shark? The writers are using current events in the Middle East as the source for their material, but putting the humans in the position of being the terrorists. The humans even resort to suicide bombings.
Terrorist tactics only work against the United States and Israel because we’re too good to wipe all of them out. The Cylons, on the other hand, had no problems with destroying twenty billion humans, why wouldn’t they destroy the remaining fifty thousand?
Terrorism also requires that the side being terrorized cares about dying. But the Cylons don’t care if they die. They just get reincarnated into a new body.
Why are people so pissed if the Cylons “massacre” two hundred humans? Hello McFly! The Cylons already massacred twenty billion.
I don’t think this storyline works at all.
I think somebody needs a more active social life. I also think the season 3 storyline works fine, if you aren’t married to the idea that the program is an allegory of the war on terror and can just enjoy it as science fiction. But that’s me. (BTW, if you’re familiar with the series, this post will amaze you. Not in a good way, however.)
Brad Reed documents a number of other recent connections between rightie politics and popular fiction, and concludes,
The most notable thing about the Galacticons is that even when they arenâ€™t directly referencing science fiction, they still sound like total space cadets when discussing American military power. As they understand it, America is an omnipotent level-20 Warmage with 19 Strength and 20 Charisma who can wipe out entire armies of mariliths, gold dragons, and goblinoids with the flick of a wrist.
During a recent debate on Meet the Press, Tim Russert asked former GOP House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich if having 130,000 of our troops stuck in Iraq had reduced our ability to deal effectively with Iran and North Korea. â€œOnly in our minds,â€ Gingrich replied. Glenn Reynolds, the prominent transhumanist conservative blogger, once wrote that the problem with Bushâ€™s approach to the war on terror wasnâ€™t that he got our military stuck in an Iraqi civil war, but rather that he â€œhasnâ€™t been vigorous enough in toppling governments and invading countries in that region.â€ And William Kristol, one of Americaâ€™s preeminent sci-fi foreign policy thinkers, said in the aftermath of Israelâ€™s failed bombing campaign against Hezbollah that American should take the opportunity to launch a preemptive strike against Iranâ€™s nuclear facilities. â€œWhy wait?â€ asked the dweeby Galacticon sage. Such fantasies of military conquest are particularly galling since the Galacticons really donâ€™t seem to think that waging multiple preemptive wars would have any adverse consequences. The world, it seems, is their Risk board.
Of course, itâ€™s easy to talk tough about invading multiple nations if youâ€™re not the one doing any of the work. The thrill the Galacticons get from watching the Iraq war on their TVs is the same thrill the typical Mountain Dew-swilling reject feels watching Battlestar Galactica; itâ€™s only fun for them because theyâ€™re not going through it themselves. But this is sadly what characterizes much of Bushâ€™s approach to the war on terror, which has been less about real sacrifice than cheap voyeuristic thrills and empty feel-good platitudes — combined with foolhardy notions of American omnipotence in the world. While the outright buffoonery of the Galacticon jingonauts is certainly amusing, the overall Galacticazation of American war policy is anything but.
Many have remarked on the rich fantasy lives of chickenhawks. See, for example, this Think Progress post and my comments on a Mark Steyn column. Digby wrote awhile back that many righties seem to be living a vicarious fantasy life of war-movie glory through the troops:
We are dealing with a group of right wing glory seekers who chose long ago to eschew putting themselves on the line in favor of tough talk and empty posturing — the Vietnam chickenhawks and their recently hatched offspring of the new Global War On Terrorism. These are men (mostly) driven by the desire to prove their manhood but who refuse to actually test their physical courage. Neither are they able to prove their virility as they are held hostage by prudish theocrats and their own shortcomings. So they adopt the pose of warrior but never actually place themselves under fire. This is a psychologically difficult position to uphold. Bullshitting yourself is never without a cost. …
… Playing laptop Pattons at full volume, supporting the president and the entire power structure of the government is their only way of proving to themselves that they are warriors. They are damaged by their own contradictory past and as a result they cannot see their way through the haze of emotional turmoil to seek out and find real solutions to the problem of terrorism. They lash out with trash talk and threats and constant references to their own resolve because they are afraid. They’ve always been afraid.
I’ve read that children like to pretend they are superheroes because it calms their fears. They can pretend they are not small and helpless. Some psychologists say that a retreat into superhero fantasies feels good to adults, too:
Legendary sociologist Norbert Elias suggested that in an increasingly structured society, fantasy books, games and movies create arenas for the “controlled decontrolling” of emotions. It’s not socially acceptable to duel that surly human resources director with a stapler gun at 20 paces, and destroying a castle with a trebuchet isn’t an option for the average white-collar worker. Instead, against a backdrop of magic and myth, heroic fantasy allows us to prove our mettle by saving some parallel world from easily identifiable bad guys.
But which bad guys? Let’s go back to Brad Reed for a moment:
Last year, a Star Trek rerun inspired Minnesota Star-Tribune columnist and warblogger James Lileks to concoct a plan that would eliminate any liberals who opposed abusing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. â€œItâ€™s time to institute Disintegration Chambers in our major American cities,â€ wrote Lileks, referring to a Star Trek episode that featured two tribes who preferred to fight wars by disintegrating their own people rather than sending them into live combat. Even though the episode was actually an allegory about the perverse methods governments use to shield their people from the brutal costs of war, Lileks took quite a fancy to the idea of forced disintegration, especially for his ideological foes.
â€œHereâ€™s the deal,â€ he wrote. â€œWe decide what constitutes torture, and identify it as the following: insufficient air conditioning, excess air conditioning, sleep deprivation, being chained to the floor, and other forms of psychological stress â€¦ Those who disagree with these techniques must sign a record that registers their complaints. When a terrorist finally spills the details on a forthcoming attack on, say, Chicago, the people who signed the register and live in Chicago are required to report to the disintegration chamber.â€
Lileks probably believes this column was humorous. But it isn’t. As David Neiwert has documented in this and many other posts, eliminationism has become “a dominating feature of right-wing rhetoric.” I infer righties spend a lot of time fantasizing about suppressing, ejecting, or terminating us. In truth, righties have little faith in the processes of democracy; they want control.
And why do they want control? Is it because, deep down, they are fearful little weenies who feel helpless and weak, and who want a superhero to save them from the scary Cylons and Muslims and liberals?
I once had a friend who listened to Rush Limbaugh three hours a day. He was a Republican operative. He sat in my apartment, wearing headphones, while I worked. He swore that if I put on the headphones for 10 minutes, I’d be hooked. So I put them on.
Inside the headphones was another world. Everyone in this world thought the same way, except liberals, and they were only cartoon characters, to be defeated as though in a video game. In the real world, my friend was unemployed and had been staying with me, rent-free, for two months. But inside the headphones, he could laugh about welfare bums instead of pounding the pavement.
Somebody said recently that the whole point of Rush Limbaugh is to help righties avoid reality. You can say that about the entire VRWC echo chamber, of course. But Saletan documents that Limbaugh has a hard time separating real life from stuff he’s seen on TV. Seems to be a common affliction.