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

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.

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