Set Your Cathode Rays to Stun(ning)

Set Your Cathode Rays to Stun(ning)
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  Set Your Cathode Rays to Stun(ning) – Flow[6/2/2017 9:23:14 AM] ฀ SIDEBAR ฀ MENU SET YOUR CATHODE RAYS TO STUN(NING) February 18, 2005 Brian L. Ott / Colorado State University   7 comments 0Shareby: Brian L. Ott / Colorado State University I’m coming out … and I’m doing it on FLOW. I suppose that, in some ways, I’ve always known that Iwas a bit “different.” But the real signs started to emerge in high school, where I was frequentlyteased by other students. It was my taste in media, fashion, academic interests, and careeraspirations that gave me away. Despite years of attempting to “project” otherwise, the truth is I am abona fide flaming … nerd. What can I say, I loooove the sci fi, think space suits are sexy, enjoyreading about physics, astronomy, and mathematics, and desperately wanted to grow up to be anastronaut. Not long after I “graduated” with my wings from Space Camp in 1984, I quickly earned thenickname, Astro-Ott. Although I hated it at the time, in retrospect, I think it’s kind of a clever pun. So,today, I proudly announce and embrace my nerd-dom. In that spirit, this column is about what I liketo call, “The best damn three hours of television in the known galaxy.” That’s right, the Sci FiChannel’s Friday night lineup of Stargate SG-1 , Stargate Atlantis  , and Battlestar Galactica  . Stargate Atlantis  Science fiction (not unlike myself in high school) frequently takes a beating from “popular” critics.When Stargate Atlantis   premiered last season, New York Times   critic Virginia Heffernan describedthe pilot episode as “tedious” and “dull,” adding that it is destined to become “nothing more than a   Sidebar Menu  Set Your Cathode Rays to Stun(ning) – Flow[6/2/2017 9:23:14 AM] relic of our own unenlightened time” (p. E22). Ouch! That hurts more than a Wraith bite or a Goa’uldZatn’kitel Energy Pistol blast. Ok, I’ll admit that some of the criticisms of science fiction are well-grounded: the “science” is often not very scientific, the plotlines are as improbable as they areformulaic, the dialogue is filled with ridiculous techno-babble (though I am still determined to build aphase-converter), and the acting is frequently wooden. Heck, William Shatner owes much of hisstatus as a cult-celebrity to his “unique” acting style. “So … perhaps it is …time … for us sci fi nerdsto … activate … our own … self-destruct … buttons.” Not!!! No, instead, I’m going to try to make afew converts … and without the aid of my brainwashing device, the neural neutralizer. My love ofscience fiction is pretty simple: I believe that it stages contemporary social and political concerns in amanner that allows for critical self-reflection better than any other television genre.Despite its spectacular spaceships, exotic aliens, and dazzling special effects, science fiction isabout the present, and in particular, the social and political concerns of the present. Take Stargate SG-1 , for example, a series that will soon surpass The X-Files   as the longest running sci fi series intelevision history. The “Welcome” on the official SG-1  website reads, “Step through the Stargate withGeneral Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) and his SG-1 team of soldier-explorers as they travelinstantaneously to other planets–meeting aliens, forging diplomatic ties, establishing trade … andbest of all, kicking intergalactic-terrorist butt!” (See Stargate   on SciFi). Sound like the foreign policy ofany nation you know? The U.S. deploys its soldier-explorers (read: just soldiers) around the galaxy(read: globe), meeting aliens (read: anyone who is not an “American”), and kicking terrorist butt(read: sanctioning and sometimes bombing those who reject American ideology). By “staging”contemporary foreign policy in a fictional intergalactic setting, Stargate SG-1  allows us to reflect onthe ways we name and respond to “cultural difference.” It raises questions about when and if weshould become involved in the affairs of other worlds (read: nations). You may not agree with thepolicies of Stargate Command every week, but you can’t help but reflecting on U.S. policy as youwatch.  Set Your Cathode Rays to Stun(ning) – Flow[6/2/2017 9:23:14 AM] Battlestar Galactica  Still not compelled to release your inner nerd? Let’s reflect for a moment on the Sci Fi Channel’slatest venture, Battlestar Galactica  . This program is not so much a staging of current U.S. foreignpolicy as it is a staging of current U.S. fears about global politics. On the surface, the series appearssimply to be a re-hashing of the short-lived 1978-79 series by the same name. Although bothversions story a clash between humans and robotic Cylons, their narratives differ markedly. In thesrcinal series, the Cylons were obviously mechanical; they symbolized the fear of losing ourhumanity to technology (at a time of rapid technological innovation no less). In the new series, bycontrast, the Cylons “look” human — a fact that viewers are reminded of at the outset of everyepisode. Describing the premise of the new series, Ned Martel writes, “The Cylon attack is sudden,in violation of a shaky truce, and perpetuated by sleeper agents. The eerie onset of cataclysm on thevarious planets … deliberately evoke[s] Sept. 11 horrors” (p. E10). In the new series, the whole ofhumanity is threatened by a few Cylon sleeper agents (read: terrorists and insurgents) who “look”human (read: but aren’t “really” human). Battlestar Galactica  , then, is a symbolic “working out” ofsocial fears, namely the fear that a network of not-really-human agents could suddenly and withoutwarning destroy us and our world. But as Commander Adama (played brilliantly by Edward JamesOlmos) intones in the premiere episode, “We still visit all of our sins upon our children”–a statementthat Martel interprets as a warning to viewers about the dangers of “colonialism or any paternalisticform of arming future enemies” (p. E10). Now that’s a message worth reflecting on–one thatresonates, I hope, as something “more than a relic of our own unenlightened time.”So, yes, Stargate SG-1 , Stargate Atlantis  , and Battlestar Galactica   do rehearse the tired conventionsof science fiction. But chief among those generic conventions is the staging of contemporary socialand political concerns. Star Trek   storied the Cold War, The Matrix   storied anxiety over simulation andnetwork culture, and the Sci Fi Channel’s Friday night lineup stories contemporary global politics. So,I watch. Not because of some childhood dream of blasting into outerspace, but because I want tobetter understand how our culture expresses its concerns, fears, and feelings about the world and“our” place in it. And it is why I urge you to watch as well. As Captain Kirk might say, “Set … yourcathode rays… to stun(ning).” References Heffernan, V. (2004, July 16). “Atlantis mystery is solved; Now, about the wormhole.” The New York Times   (Late Edition – Final), p. E22.Martel, N. (2003, December 08). “The Cylons are back and humanity is in deep trouble.” The New York Times   (Late Edition – Final), p. E10. Image Credits: 1.Stargate Atlantis2.Battlestar Galactica Links of Interest: Alien Nation   Set Your Cathode Rays to Stun(ning) – Flow[6/2/2017 9:23:14 AM] Star Trek  Time TunnelGuide for Babylon 5  Famous actors in Sci Fi Hall of Fame Stargate Buck Rogers   in the 25th Century Please feel free to comment. tagged with Fandom, Pop Culture, Science Fiction, Television
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