Archive for June, 2008

Star Trek is about who we want to be, and Battlestar Galactica is about who we are

June 16, 2008

While reading the comments on BSG composer Bear McCreary’s blog, I stumbled upon this post which examines the differences between Star Trek and BSG. Having taken a shine to BSG criticism lately, I’ve decided to post an abridged version of the post below, which summarises the writer’s key points:

Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica have wildly different aesthetics and ideologies, and both aspire to very different goals. Fundamentally, it boils down to this: Star Trek is about who we want to be, and Battlestar Galactica is about who we are. Star Trek’s geekiness is part of Star Trek’s fantasy appeal, part of the idea that science and reason and the intellect will prevail. But we’ve been telling ourselves that lie for a long time now, [just like how] much of mainstream fiction is built on this kind of wish-fulfillment. In a very concrete sense, Battlestar Galactica descends from the sci-fi community’s realisation that darker and more complex times demand darker and more complex science fiction. 


Galactica is sci-fi without that BS [that was Star Trek Voyager]. Sci-fi with all the anger and stupidity and sadness that real people experience. Sci-fi without the conviction that we will conquer our own ugliness. Sci-fi for the age of peak oil and 9/11 and natural disasters compounded by climate change to the point where they can completely destroy major cities. Galactica’s message is that unless we come to terms with our own history, we are doomed.


These days, the idea of [the apocalypse, of] society’s total collapse obsesses us, [and] has broad traction across the political spectrum. Battlestar Galactica’s warning that technology and progress will bring us to the brink of total annihilation is far more resonant than Star Trek’s hope that technology and progress will solve all of our problems..


Star Trek doesn’t pretend that human beings are perfect, but it does take for granted that human beings are good, and that history represents a fumbling messy sort of progress towards perfection. What makes Battlestar Galactica so haunting is the existential question it poses to all of us: “Do we deserve to exist?” In light of Auschwitz and Darfur and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Tibet and 9/11 and Abu Ghraib and global warming, can we honestly say we don’t deserve total destruction? That we’ll learn? That we’ll change? And while Star Trek plotlines frequently boil down to a search for the best solution to a problem, the “best solution” on Battlestar Galactica is likely to raise all sorts of thorny moral questions.


I wish I could see the show as a clear sign that we’re ready to own up to the narratives of hate and violence and oppression that comprise our history, but that feels like a stretch. At the very least, I think Battlestar Galactica has been an overwhelming critical and popular success because we’re ready to be challenged. Midway through the final season, the survival of the human race clearly hinges on whether mankind will come to terms with what it has done. And while it’s simplistic to reduce the Cylons to an allegory for racism, or our oil addiction, BSG offers us a rare opportunity to examine our own culpability, and our own power to change.


Super Size Me: Globalisation and the Superclass

June 8, 2008


Globalization and Its Discontents

Finally managed to get down to finishing Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalisation and Its Discontents and David Rothkopf’s new one, Superclass.

While both authors show how globalisation has in the main benefited Western political, financial and business interests disproportionately, Stiglitz’s more institutionalised focus examines in detail the economic policies and workings of the IMF and World Bank (and to a lesser extent, the WTO), while Rothkopf’s socio-historical approach attempts to peel back Stiglitz’s institutional layers to flesh out a “taxnomy” of those 6,000 or so individuals who make up what he calls the globalised ‘superclass’, who are more than symbols of today’s economic inequalities. 

Not surprisingly, both authors advocate for considerations of social justice to make globalisation ‘fairer’, although their suggestions for “legitimate public governance mechanisms with real mandates” to set the priorities of globalisation somewhat differ in scope and spirit. While Stiglitz favours institutional change and reform, Rothkopf believes that current global governance frameworks may not be adequate to respond to and may be ultimately irrelevant to an increasingly borderless, transnational superclass.

However, I find problematic Rothkof’s suggestion that to survive and retain power, these elites have “to make the needs of those least able to help themselves its number one priority”.  Having surveyed the rise and fall of past era elites and invariably determined that increasing detachment and disengagement from the needs and concerns of ‘the little people’ led to their downfall, it seems contradictory for Rothkopf to then surmise that the superclass can preserve itself the way it currently is by introducing more social justice in the world.  Wouldn’t that be catalysing their own destruction, or at least transformation, since history has shown all too clearly that overreaching elites have been overthrown in favour of new, more equitable power structures?

Overall, good reads, and highly recommended for those with a penchant to find out more about the insides out of globalisation.