Battlestar Galactica

If I don't get flamed for this one, I may well get depressed.

Today I feel I should discuss a show that is certainly worthy of note--if for no other reason than that it compares unfavorably with the Satanically annoying little kid with the constantly-errant robot dog, shrieking "Muffet, Muffet! Come back Muffet!"

I mean, of course, the new Battlestar Galactica.

I would like to keep to my practice and first list the good things about the show...but in this case there are no good things about the show itself. I will say, however, that at least Edward James Olmos gets a paycheck out of all this horse-hockey. I'd prefer he just mailed the Cylons a few origami unicorns, but even he seems to have forgotten Blade Runner was ever made (probably he was just too nice to tell the writers), considering how original everyone seems to think BSG is.

Now for the bad. Hunker down, kiddies, this here's a long list. First, the minor quibbles.

The camera work (this is almost not minor): I understand that many modern filmmakers decided, on scanty evidence at best, that handheld shots made the subject more immediate or visceral or some other word they try to use to describe the indescribable, and so decided to use handheld shots as a substitute for any kind of composition or artistry in their shooting. But that is no excuse to have a show exclusively made of handheld shots. And if, having decided not to do any work on your cinematography, you then decide to have handhelds in space...I for one think you should be honey-dipped and buried in an anthill. Whose POV is that, an EVA astronaut floating off into the void, still filming while he prays that hard vacuum or suit overheat gets him before dehydration does?

The guns: this is what happens when a bunch of liberals write a war story. They can't be bothered to look up a damn thing about guns, and so you get rail guns--identified as such in dialogue!--shooting out clouds of smoke! "Gee, Adama, maybe we need to move the smoker's break room away from the gunnery deck, the clouds're getting caught in the accelerator." And I do believe, also, that the pistols (whose bullets, doubtless supersonic since they penetrate Centurion armor, somehow don't make any kind of big noise) have shell-ejector gates, but I've never seen one spit a shell, despite the fact spent casings flying out are cinematic gold! John Woo's whole career is based on shell casings and pigeons, not counting one innovative idea about shooting cop movies like wuxia--and his American audience isn't acquainted with wuxia! I won't lucubrate on the wastefulness of using nukes for a space-to-surface bombardment (what, Cylons can't build magnet-guns big enough to lob meteors?), or the fact there's no space for bullets to feed into Centurions' arm-mounts, but I expect to be treated with more respect than this. Law and Order writers know more about weapons than these hacks!

The tech: that whole, no networking the computers so Cylons can't hack them, thing, is kinda neat, actually (though I doubt it'd be necessary--all you gotta do is put the comms on a computer with no access to the others, and make all your other networks wire rather than broadcast, and you're good). But otherwise, there is no excuse for the tech in the show. Nobody that can go at FTL velocities is dying of breast cancer, okay? That's not always, or even I think most of the time, deadly for us, and we never made AI. Similarly, decent liquor, not to mention food or sanitation, is not a problem for anybody to whom the phrase "space fleet" is not a television reference! If you can put that many ships in space for any length of time, you can make food in the lab that'd fool Alton Brown. Also, I know the idiots promised us their "naturalistic SF" would not use the deus ex technobabble from Star Trek (which cliche doesn't even exist outside Trek anyway--nowhere in Farscape, Firefly, Bab5, or even Andromeda), but that doesn't let them off discussing the tech as military techs, in space, really would. "Wireless" will cut it on earth because we only use radio, but in space it could be radio, lasers, masers, and possibly gravity "waves" sent directly...to say nothing of FTL comms. If your fleets have FTL drives, I wanna know what kind. We talking jump-drives a la Traveller, or hyperdrives, or warp, or spacefolding? They wouldn't just call it "FTL". At least have the decency to make up a name!

The vaunted originality: whatever TV Guide writer called a remake of a show from the early 80s "the most original show on TV" should be subjected to death by a thousand cuts. Especially considering the original BSG was just a Mormonized re-tread of Fred Saberhagen's "Berserker" series. And, of course, the human-looking Cylons are nothing new; they're called bioroids. Edward James Olmos used to hunt them, remember? Tigh (or however you spell it) even called them "skinjobs," which is slang for replicants! Remember Armitage III, back in '94? She was a bioroid (with mechanical parts) that could breed with humans! And BSG's space combat, that the critics were so impressed by? It's just a sad European clown version of the Itano circus. Been there, kids, done that.

Finally, the culture (there are really two problems with the culture, but the other's bigger): why are they all totally homogeneous, despite being multi-ethnic? Oughtn't Boomer's people (or rather, the people whose DNA she was bioroided from) have a different culture from Starbuck's, and both from...the cute but irritating black chick that used to be President Teacher's aide, whose name I never bothered to learn? Unless they engineered themselves to have different traits for different planets a la Niven (black skin for high UV, etc.), they wouldn't all be the same--and if they did, that needs to be mentioned. You get no diversity points if all the other races differ in is some Pier One furniture.

So much for the little quibbles. Now for the gaping, sucky flaws.

First off, the writers seem to think that religion doesn't matter--that is, that all religions are the same. Their Colonials who worship the Greek pantheon have the same religious issues as modern America. Um...leaving to one side how ridiculous it is for people we presumably left tens of millennia ago to worship a pantheon first recorded in the 12 century BC, it is nevertheless a fact that a people who worship those gods and never had Christianity, would not be anything like us. They'd be more like India--in fact almost exactly like India, since at some point the Devas and the Olympians were the same gods.

That religion, even in India, is not based on books. It is based on traditions, some of which get written down, and it is based on initiation into mysteries--that is to say, it has an exoteric and an esoteric component. But where are the Chthonics among the colonials? Where are the worshippers of Lykaon Apollo who eat Cylon bioroids (now that would shake up TV taboos!)? Where are the Eleusinians who see the destruction of their worlds as but a greater cycle of death and rebirth, as the Maiden is once again called back to the side of the Hospitable One? Where are the Dionysians who have to be restrained under arms from running, frenzied, through the ships? Where are the Orphics, for Eurydice's sake? Their metempsychosis with the possibility of final union with the gods, their esoteric asceticism, and their sacred texts are just about tailor-made for writers of shows of this quality (it can be dumbed-down easily into Hollywood Buddhism, being not unlike real Buddhism), and yet nowhere do they discuss the Grievous Circle, or seem to even have an inkling of the existential melancholy that is a part of all Indo-European religions--the best word for it is the Buddhist term, anitya.

A minor but related quibble is, nobody that worships the Greek pantheon objects to abortions on the same basis as Christians do. They objected because abortions introduced a death contamination into the womb, not because of any idea of the sacredness of life--they exposed infants, remember? Ten minutes with a damn encylcopedia might have brought that up, if the writers were actually here to write a show for thinking adults, not a morality play for eighth graders. Seriously, why not name the characters "Tolerance" and "Gender Equality," since it's obvious they're not there to be real characters? Actually, of course, it's because all the characters would be named "Post-Modern Self-doubting Yet No Less Self-Righteous Moral Muddleheadedness", and that's a mouthful, not to mention confusing.

Second, the characters. When Gaius "Sold out humanity to get me some" Baltar is the most likeable, sympathetic character, you have a serious failure as a writer on your hands. Most amusing of all, of course, is that the vermin writing it think they're being original--"Naturalistic SF," they call it--and claim to have done without SF cliches. Ignoring the fact that there is no literature, not even in England, that can wholly divorce itself from types, they're also full of it.

Why, unless my eyes deceive me, there's nothing particularly original about "Boozy Hardass XO Whose Personal Life is a Shambles", "Compassionate but Tough Captain Whose Career has Negatively Impacted His Personal Life (subspecies Workaholic Dad)", "Son Who's Trying to Live Up To and/or Distance Himself From Said Captain-Father, While Mourning Dead Brother (cross-breed with Brash Pilot)", "Compassionate Teacher Lady-President (much better than Bush of course, we wanted to make that very clear) Who Has a TV Movie Disease Despite Being From a Spacefaring Civilization, (subspecies, Religious Wacko a la Nancy's Astrology or Hilary's Talks With Eleanor Roosevelt)", "Brash Pilot (subspecies Feminist Mary-Sue Who's Better At Everything Than All The Men Despite Being a Dimwitted, Alcoholic Ass, crossbreed with Religious Wacko)", now is there?

And what's naturalistic about a civilization on the brink of destruction still bitching about civil rights? For that matter, what's naturalistic about a military--an Ancient Greek military, mind--where an insubordinate showboat like Starbuck wouldn't have been capped and shoved out an airlock?

Third, the "ripped from the headlines" quality of it. All the nonsense about the Cylons being undercover in the Colonials' ships (as though anything not detectably different from a human, would have remotely different abilities from a human), was obviously the writers' oh-so-imaginative portrayal of fears about terrorist cells in the US. The lame-brained (and culturally laughable) debates about the civil rights issues raised, obviously the writers' take on the Patriot Act (which they, of course, have never read). They had an election (which is suicide in that situation) at the same time we had an election.

The whole debacle on the planet, with the Cylons taking over and the government being viewed as collaborationist, the training a new police force, the bandying about of the word "insurgent"...all of it is a not-even-bothering-to-hide screed about their illiterate view of the Iraq War. 'Scuse me, you hopped-up soap writers, but do you think you could ease off comparing our soldiers to genocidal assassin 'droids? Just a thought, a quibble really.


In any event, though, I am not as bitter as I might seem. For I have been vindicated. You see, as my mother and I were in Wal-Mart buying my little brother a birthday present, we happened to spy the magazine rack. On this rack was a Soap Opera Digest, and on the front page were the words, "Battlestar Galactica Preview." It's officially a soap opera.

Bet Roy Batty wouldn't be sad about the memory of this vanishing like tears in rain.


Possible change of direction

It occurred to me, it's something of a failing as a follower of the Common Master (be seated, be seated--it's a title Socrates used to refer to Reason), that this blog named after Lady Sophia is only about pop culture.

So I thought I'd also use it to discuss philosophical ideas as reflected in pop culture. Sure, I'll still have what are basically reviews, like that of Firefly, below (or above--I think that's an option too, but where I sit it's below this one), but I'll also have more general dissections of philosophical thinking (or more typically the lack thereof) as reflected in pop culture. I'll have, you know, discussions of the problem with energy beings in SF shows, or mind uploading, or the whole logical=material nonsense that makes the literate person want to shoot himself (or someone else, actually, in my case).

Very good. Come, let us reason together...and smirk at people who aren't reasoning, especially when they think they are.


To start off, I'd like to discuss a show that, though not wholly without merit, is severely overrated.

I mean, of course, Firefly, and its movie tie-in, Serenity.

First, I'll start off with the positive. It's certainly interesting to see a space-show that's a little more up-front about the Western-ness of it all. Every space show other than Star Trek (and even that, sometimes) has gunslingers, rustlers, and range wars, they just usually pretend they're something else. It's refreshing that Firefly isn't ashamed to be a space-western.

It's also interesting that the dialog is all in 19th century English, although they do mix dialects rather sporadically (and sometimes say things that are more 18th century, too).

There is some excellent writing, dialogue-wise, and Jayne and River are both rather fun to watch. Simon's awkward nerdiness and big-brother complex are cute. The Shepherd is an interesting character, although he does suffer from being a clergyman in a mainstream show: i.e., he's rather too much of an English vicar from a late Victorian farce.

Now for the negative.

First, some minor quibbles. Mandarin is not English, and profanity works different in Chinese culture than it does in American (hell, it works different in British than it does in American).

The production design is rather lackluster; half the fun of a future setting is, "What will salt shakers/syringes/tables/tennis rackets look like in the 26th Century?" But most such properties in Firefly look just like their modern equivalents.

The Reavers are nasty, but they're also boring. Why not have aliens who, for instance, consider themselves the only people and all other races enemies, who can be raided at will? A Western's none the worse for having Apaches, if done right. I'm guessing Joss Whedon can afford Grenville Goodwin's books.

Whedon is famous for creating Mary Sues--Willow from Buffy is practically synonymous with Mary Sue--but River (also a nature-name, I notice, with a short I in the first syllable), Kaylee, and Inara (which is not, I'm fairly sure, even a word) are even more irritating and unbelievable than Willow is. And in fact, Whedon just needs to let other people name his characters.

Finally, I don't care what the tagline from the movie was, it's comparatively easy to stop a signal. It's called "jamming."

Now for my three major complaints. First, Inara. A courtesan being "respectable" is not something with which I'm acquainted, in any culture--they might have had a certain degree of status, but it was not respectability. A drug dealer might have status: he is nonetheless not respectable. Similarly, the "mysteriously wise prostitute" trope is incredibly overdone. And to pretend that a courtesan can also be Buddhist clergy would be hilarious, if it wasn't so damn offensive. Buddhism, as actually practiced by real people, is not exactly ambiguous in its stance on sexual morality. Which stance is...indistinguishable from Christian, Jewish, or Hindu morality. Yes prostitutes/courtesans/gisaeng/oiran/etc. can practice Buddhism, just as they can and do practice Christianity, but when one becomes a Buddhist priest (to the extent there is such a thing), one takes vows of chastity along with those of nonviolence, vegetarianism, poverty, and abstinence-from-alcohol. They can no more be courtesans than they can be executioners.

Second, the self-deception all the characters live their lives in. Anytime anybody asks if something is true or real or good, or in other words tries to discuss ultimate questions, the answer that everyone comes up with is, in essence, "Go with whatever works for you." It's infuriating how often the show raises issues of ultimate import, and then just as quickly dismisses them with this sophistical pap.

Third, and I know this will make many scratch their heads, I cannot abide the total lack of moral ambiguity. "What?" you'll cry. "It's chock full of moral depth and ambiguity." No, I reply, it is not.

For instance, their war that's supposed to be like the Civil War (Browncoats are the Graycoats, you dig?). The big bad Alliance wanted everyone to be under their hegemony so they invaded everyone and everyone fought but they lost.

Only, see, the whole romance of the Civil War, the reason it's so much more interesting than the Revolutionary War or either World War, is the side that put up the heroic, gallant resistance and obeyed chivalry, was in the wrong on slavery. The side that was in the right on slavery, committed atrocities on a massive scale. In other words, there was serious moral ambiguity goin' on. Nothing like that in Firefly: Browncoats good, Alliance bad. And willing to show how bad it is, down to experimenting on doe-eyed little girls whose brothers love them, or killing its opponents in rather noticeable ways, like liquefying their brains, rather than untraceably shooting them in the head like any normal person.

Or how about the total lack of ambiguity inInara? Has Whedon never seen a samurai movie in his life? The whole romance of a courtesan character is her attempts to cling to her dignity despite how degrading her job is--think of the Plum-blossom girl in Zatoichi to Yojimbo, or Akesato in Peacemaker Kurogane. Make her respectable, make her like it, and you've simply made her one-dimensional and, frankly, creepy--like the girls at the Playboy mansion.


Welcome to my blog. In this first entry I suppose I ought to introduce myself.
My name is Tom, and I live in Flagstaff, Arizona. I am 23, single, and am currently in college.
I am Roman Catholic, straight, white, speak English very well, French decently, and Japanese rather erratically.
My political ideas are rather difficult to categorize, but I tend to support the center-right on most issues--not that I agree with them (my ideas are radically different from anything currently abroad in the land); their goals are just the least different from mine.

I am the world's biggest geek--no, seriously, in the geek-races I could give Alton Brown a run for his money and beat him by two lengths. I am a geek about, just off the top of my head:
Science Fiction
and so much more.

This blog is mainly going to be concerned with pop culture, and my mind-bogglingly picky opinions about same. Its name, "Lady Wisdom's Favorite," refers to Sophia, the Greek goddess of Wisdom whose friends the Socratics claimed to be--philosophia. Yes I'm sure you've heard it translated as "lover" of wisdom, but philia is the love of a friend, so "friend of wisdom" seems a closer translation.

I had considered naming it "Buddha-killer," referring to the Buddha-killing teaching of Rinzai Zen:

If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. If you meet the Patriarch, kill the Patriarch. Not held by anything, not bound, all there is, is simply to live your own life.
(as quoted by Tou Genjyo Sanzo, Gensoumaden Saiyûki, and translated by me)

What it means is, "disregard any ideas/preconceptions/authorities that keep you from seeing the truth." Now, I don't happen to think that what Rinzai thought was the truth, was the truth (not being a Zen Buddhist), but it is a very valuable attitude. There is, of course, a place for authority--to sound very Zen about it, "We ought to kill the Buddha. How much more, then, ought we to kill Rinzai Gigen?"--but letting ideas like prestige, rank, street-cred, or popularity blind one to simple facts (as, for instance, that a particular show sucks, no matter how critically-acclaimed it is) is the cause of most of our problems.

But I was slightly worried that hyper-sensitive illiterates would think I was saying something nasty against Buddhism, not that they'd know Buddhism from a hole in the ground.

So instead I chose the name Lady Wisdom's Favorite, slightly egotistically, because I consider philosophy the single most important thing of which humans are capable. It's more referring to me--yes, I realize I'm implying that I'm the best philosopher--than it is to the topic of the blog.

I shall try to keep the blog apolitical, save where politics enter into (i.e., whore out) the storyline of a work I'm discussing.