MIT 5: TV 2.0 – Remixing Battlestar Galactica

OK, now it was over two months ago; great googly moogly! I’ve finished my summer session class, and, while I’m neck deep in writing projects, they are, indeed, writing projects. Which means I’m writing. So here I am. Writing.

Two months on, and MIT 5 is still relevant in this post-iPhone age. Not only that, this panel, on Battlestar Galactica (BSG) and its fandoms, was the most intriguing panel of the weekend for me, and has given me a lot to chew on as I work through my own issues with authorship and fandom.

Before I get into it, though, I want to point to Julie Levin Russo’s podcasts of the panel. She organized, moderated, and presented on the panel, and recorded it all for posterity. I found these ‘casts to be immensely useful in revisiting these papers. All too often, conference papers recede from memory all too quickly once you’ve left the airport back home on Sunday night. They only function from that point out not as memory, but as a vaguely documented trace of scholarship (i.e., a line on the vita). True, they’ll hopefully also evolve into something more permanent, like an article or book chapter. However, the moment itself is gone, unless recorded. Maybe I’ve just got a thing for reruns, but I really appreciate being able to hear this panel again. Thank you, Julie!

Melanie Kohnen opened the panel with an overview of BSG’s much-discussed war-on-terror iconography and thematics. She argues that the series complicates default media constructions of terrorism and religious fervor by remixing its elements. For example, in BSG, it is the ostensible “bad guys” (the Cylons) who are evangelical monotheists, and the “good guys” (the humans) who (in S3’s “New Caprica” arc) mount an insurgency and plot suicide bombings. Such “remixing” occurs throughout the series, over axes of politics, gender, religion, ethnicity, and technology, questioning the strategies of power, and the tactics of resistance.

Next, Sarah Toton described the history of online BSG fandom from its “old school” roots in single-edited webistes of 1990s webrings (maintained by fans of the original 1978-80 series) to the more open-source, collaborative communities inspired by the new series (link to full paper). Along the way, and in addition to this generational split, fan expression has been gendered. The parameters of BattlestarWiki, for example, are only relatively open in that it seeks to assemble “factual” information about characters, places, events, and objects within the BSG universe (and as if it itself existed in that universe), and marginalizes more interpretive and speculative arguments and accounts of the series. Still, it, and other sites, are potential sites of collaborative canon (or at least “fanon”) generation, and for that reason, should continue to be explored and expanded.

Toton’s paper commanded most of the Q&A, but I can’t recall what transpired. Julie did record it as well, though, so maybe I’ll go back and hear it again!

The final two papers were most interesting to me in exploring the interface of the “sourcetext” (fanspeak for the actual TV episode, in this case) and fan desire.

Anne Kustritz examined the issue of relationships in long-running media texts, arguing that possibilities work best for fans when they remain possible, i.e, left open. BSG, over its first two seaasons, developed an intricate network of possible romantic entanglements, as most of its characters regularly interacted with each other. However, these possibilities, Kustritz argues, began to be shut down as the series went on, with definitive, and heteronormative, relationships becoming the norm into S3.

My observation for Anne (two months later!) is that sustaining openness, on a tightly serialized program like BSG, strains its realist conventions. In other words, while some fans may want the possibilities to linger, others, and the writers, may want to move the story on. There’s no narrative movement, no decisions, no regrets, if nothing tangible happens. That said, I agree that it’s sadly conventional in most of its choices in this regard (though there’s still going to be a lot to say/write about Kara Thrace and her passions when it’s all said and done next spring…).

On a similar path, Julie Levin Russo explored the queer possibilites the series has opened up thus far, revealing tensions between fans’ desires (their multiform love for the characters and its possibilities) and authorial actions that complicate that love. She donned her “girl slash goggles,” her chosen love technology, to show how queer modes of love could be found in the gaps and interstices of the text. (Note: you can see Russo, and the BSG GSGs, in the video clip of her paper). Most persuasively, she pointed out how the video clips made available on the official BSG site for fanvid production were generic and CGI-centric, favoring a particular kind of fanboy techno-love, in contrast to the fangirl-produced, character-centered fanvids at iMeem and elsewhere.

This paper was as compelling an account of queer online media fandom as I’ve ever read or heard. The primary point, about whose love is validated, and how, was particularly relevant to ongoing debates about the parameters of fandom. While at the time I thought she was a mite unfair to Ron Moore when she criticized his excuse for not having any gay characters on BSG, in retrospect (i.e., in “watching” the rerun of her paper), I can see her point. He is fighting the “good fight” on many fronts (as Kohnen argued), but obviously taking on heteornormativity isn’t one of them. It is telling that the one definitive space opened up for a “queerer” love on the show – the quaintly domestic and sorta Pottery Barn-ish threesome of D’Anna, Caprica, and Gaius – while vaguely utopian (as with much of the Cylon ethos, to the show’s credit), was also limited to these three “baddies,” and fell apart anyway pretty quickly (though it has to be said, that was all Gaius’ fault!).

So, a strong, thought-provoking panel overall, and one I was glad to revisit. This meta-issue about the boundaries of the “official” text and fan desires/creativity is particularly relevant to my work right now, as is the problematic gendered constructions of “fans” (“girls” and “boys”) and “The Powers That Be” (by the media, by fans, by academics, and by acafans). These papers gave me a lot to process.

Next up, the final MIT 5 retrospective!: Getting Lost (or “where the hell is Building 1?!?”)


2 Responses to “MIT 5: TV 2.0 – Remixing Battlestar Galactica

  1. julie levin russo Says:

    Thank YOU for this flattering recap — it was totally worth the wait. I’m so happy to hear that my obsessive archiving was helpful in this regard, too. I adore the term “love technology” — not least because it also seems an apt description of the cylons themselves.

    And hopefully without spoiling anyone too much, I’ll just mention that I may have to rescind my every complaint about queer representation on BSG after Razor airs!

    Let me know if you want me to email the Q&A audio — I think the quality is pretty atrocious.

  2. dkompare Says:

    Oooh! I’ve been steering clear of spoilers for Razor (and in general, for everything), so I hadn’t heard that. Very interesting. It’ll be interesting especially to see how the GSGs handle canonical girlslash (though I guess if it’s not canonical, it’s not quite slash, is it? 🙂 ).

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