Romancing the Cylon, Revisited
March 27th, 2009
Those of you who have stopped by Cultural Learnings’ “About” page have likely noticed a rather auspicious little nugget that a few people have asked me to expand upon:
He recently completed his undergraduate honours thesis on the genesis of medieval romance within the 2004 re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica.
Some respond with disbelief, others with appreciation, and I have to presume that some people just raise an eyebrow and move on with their lives. However, as clearly evidenced by this week’s continued coverage of Battlestar Galactica’s Series Finale, I am not capable of moving on from Battlestar Galactica. There’s always a risk when you choose to write your thesis on a subject that you will leave with a fundamental hatred of said subject, but I left my thesis with even more appreciation for this series, and this blog has become the outlet for my continued engagement with those ideas.
And so, to cap off The Long Goodbye, I’m going to do something highly indulgent: I’m posting my thesis.
Romancing the Cylon, as my thesis is quite wittily called primarily because I thought it would look badass on the spine of the printed copy, is an exercise in connectivity. In order to justify my use of BSG within an English department, the first chapter establishes the traditional of Medieval Romance, and the second chapter draws the connections between Galactica and Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur. It is only through this exercise that I could move onto the third chapter, where I draw out the ways in which BSG’s use of the visual medium and its position within popular culture give its commentary, particularly in its establishment and deconstruction of the Hero/Other binary, greater power and meaning as opposed to diluting its “literariness.”
Of the ideas that emerge within the thesis, I think the most interesting and perhaps unique to what I’ve written is found within the second chapter, where I argue regarding Galactica’s continuation of the traditions of adventure, heroism and the quest narrative. While the religious conclusion in the Series Finale makes the biblical allusions particularly valuable, in many ways the series as a whole owes more to the divisive role religion played within a militarized and romanticized culture embodied by Malory’s text. The quest narrative, in particular, is something that explains the very foundation of the story: the series was never about the destination but about the effects of the Quest itself, much as Malory’s Quest for the Holy Grail is more about its role in shattering Arthur’s kingdom than in the actual transcendence of mortal life provided to its “winner.”
I wrote the thesis just before Season Four began, but I feel like it remains relevant: my discussion of Cylons and Humans in reference to the Hero/Other binary becomes more complex when you considering the Final Five and Starbuck’s unique, non-Cylon case, but it’s all within the same purpose of the show’s deliberate attempts to undermine this narrative starting with Boomer in Season One. There’s all sorts of things I’d like to be able to add, especially as it relates to the expansion of the Cylon narrative with their own ethical dilemmas, their own Civil War, but I kind of like where it sits, part observational and part prognosticatory.
I don’t expect many of you to read this, which isn’t really the point: people don’t write thesis to be read so much as to say they have written them, after all. I post this because, for me, the exercise was about proving a point about the validity of considering television alongside the great works of English literature, their principles of narrative different in degree but often similar in kind. And after devoting more time and words than I’d probably like to admit to this series over the past two and a half years (I started late), I guess part of me wants to be able to say I made that case as widely as I possibly could.
And so, for those who are interested, below is a PDF copy of my undergraduate English thesis. It’s my copyright, so I can do with it what I want, but I’ve nonetheless placed a light watermark on the thesis itself, mainly because I felt like I should do something other than just flinging it out into the wild.