Sunday, January 25, 2009
I admit it. I'm slow. Despite the fact that I sort of have a fan site going on here, I never really troll the gossip sites. I rarely pop in on Perez Hilton, though I admit to taking a gander now and then. Not often though. Really. So I'm really late in reading this article written by Dirk Benedict back in 2006 regarding the new incarnation of "Battlestar Galactica" that we fondly call BSG around here. Here's a little of what Dirk had to say about the new show and the casting of Starbuck. Starbuck: Lost in Castration Once upon a time, in what used to be a far away land called Hollywood but is now a state of mind and everywhere, a young actor was handed a script and asked to bring to life a character called Starbuck. I am that actor. The script was called Battlestar Galactica. Fortunately I was young, my imagination fertile and adrenal glands strong, because bringing Starbuck to life was over the dead imaginations of a lot of Network Executives. Every character trait I struggled to give him was met with vigorous resistance. A charming womaniser? The "Suits" (Network Executives) hated it. A cigar(fumerello) smoker? The Suits hated it. A reluctant hero who found humour in the bleakest of situations? The Suits hated it. All this negative feedback convinced me I was on the right track. Starbuck was meant to be a lovable rogue. It was best for the show, best for the character and the best that I could do. The Suits didn't think so. "One more cigar and he's fired,"they told Glen Larson, the creator of the show. "We want Starbuck to appeal to the female audience for crying out loud!" You see, the Suits knew women were turned off by men who smoked cigars. Especially young men. (How they "knew" this was never revealed.) And they didn't stop there. "If Dirk doesn't quit playing every scene with a girl like he wants to get her in bed, he's fired!" This was, well, it was blatant heterosexuality. Treating women like "sex objects". I thought it was flirting. Never mind. They wouldn't have it. I wouldn't have it any other way, or rather Starbuck wouldn't. So we persevered, Starbuck and I. The show, as the saying goes, went on and the rest is history – for, lo and behold, women from all over the world sent me boxes of cigars, phone numbers, dinner requests, marriage proposals... The Suits were not impressed. They would have there (sic) way, which is what Suits do best, and after one season of puffing and flirting and gambling, Starbuck, that lovable scoundrel, was indeed fired. Which is to say Battlestar Galactica was cancelled. Starbuck however, would not stay cancelled, but simply morphed into another flirting, cigar-smoking, blatant heterosexual called Faceman. Another show, another set of Suits and, of course, if the A-Team movie rumours prove correct, another remake. There was a time – I know I was there – when men were men, women were women and sometimes a cigar was just a good smoke. But 40 years of feminism have taken their toll. The war against masculinity has been won. Everything has turned into its opposite, so that what was once flirting and smoking is now sexual harassment and criminal. And everyone is more lonely and miserable as a result. Witness the "re-imagined" Battlestar Galactica. It's bleak, miserable, despairing, angry and confused. Which is to say, it reflects, in microcosm, the complete change in the politics and mores of today's world as opposed to the world of yesterday. The world of Lorne Greene (Adama) and Fred Astaire (Starbuck's Poppa), and Dirk Benedict (Starbuck). I would guess Lorne is glad he's in that Big Bonanza in the sky and well out of it. Starbuck, alas, has not been so lucky. He's not been left to pass quietly into that trivial world of cancelled TV characters. "Re-imagining", they call it. "un-imagining" is more accurate. To take what once was and twist it into what never was intended. So that a television show based on hope, spiritual faith, and family is unimagined and regurgitated as a show of despair, sexual violence and family dysfunction. To better reflect the times of ambiguous morality in which we live, one would assume. A show in which the aliens (Cylons) are justified in their desire to destroy our civilisation. One would assume. Indeed, let us not say who are he guys and who are the bad. That is being "judgemental". And that kind of (simplistic) thinking went out with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and Katharine Hepburn and John Wayne and, well the original Battlestar Galactica. In the bleak and miserable, "re-imagined" world of Battlestar Galactica, things are never that simple. Maybe the Cylons are not evil and alien but in fact enlightened and evolved? Let us not judge them so harshly. Maybe it is they who deserve to live and Adama, and his human ilk who deserves to die? And what a way to go! For the re- imagined terrorists (Cylons) are not mechanical robots void of soul, of sexuality, but rather humanoid six-foot-tall former lingerie models who f**k you to death. (Poor old Starbuck, you were imagined to early. Think of the fun you could have had `fighting' with these thong-clad aliens! In the spirit of such soft-core sci-fi porn I think a more re-imaginative title would have been F**cked by A Cylon. (Apologies to Touched by An Angel.) ........... The article continues on in this vein for a while-- click on the link above if you want to read the rest. To be fair to Dirk, this was written in '06 and the show hadn't grown into what it is now. There are also those who suggest that this particular article was written by a bitter actor who saw his former co-star written into the new show while he was not given a part-- but I don't know the accuracy of that conjecture. And let me also state for the record that I cannot be fully objective regarding Benedict's particular view because I am a woman who was less than 10-years-old when the original show first aired; my world view doesn't exactly match Benedict's. But even with all the caveats I have to say, I think Dirk got it wrong. I was one of those people who, when the show first aired, thought the decision to cast Starbuck as a woman was a big mistake. Over the show's run I have gone back and forth over whether or not I think Starbuck should have been cast as she was in the new show. I like Kara Thrace and I like Katee Sackoff's portrayal even more. But whenever they throw a Lee Adama/Kara Thrace romance at us I cringe. I like the friendship between the characters in the original show and I viewed Kara and Lee as having a sibling-like relationship when the show first aired. The whole romance angle seems wrong to me somehow. But I don't agree that the casting was sort of a feminism-gone-wrong bit of stunt casting-- at all. The thing that Benedict's article really doesn't take into account is the fact that the shows have an almost twenty-five-year gap between them. The world of the original "Battlestar Galactica" doesn't really exist anymore and the TV shows of today reflect that. The fact is, the new BSG is a far more relevant show than the original "Battlestar" ever was. Despite the fact that I really liked it as a kid, the show only ran one season-- 24 episodes. I think it's easy to try to give the original more weight than it deserves since the re-tooled version has become an almost iconic show during it's own run. But the original "Battlestar" never garnered the following of a show like "Star Trek." In fact, I think the original show was viewed as being in the same basic realm as "Buck Rodgers." A fun show but not of earth-shattering importance. I don't know why Benedict thinks it's so important to remember the original Starbuck as the cigar chomping womanizer he was; I don't personally see sexual conquests as a measure of manhood-- but like I said before, I'm a woman. But Benedict likes to make the point that by taking away the womanizing aspect of Starbuck's character BSG has somehow caved to a feminist agenda and the show is nothing more than an example of male castration. But if that was indeed true then where does Gaius Baltar fit into the equation? If you want to see a womanizer, look no farther than Gaius Baltar. I think Baltar, as the resident male-slut, is a far more intriguing character than Starbuck ever was. Baltar, in his need to impress and conquer the opposite sex, brings humanity to its knees. But he isn't a cookie-cutter character. He's brilliant, crazy and magnetic. He not only seduces women from both the Cylon and human race, he seduces the remaining population of mankind into believing he can offer them a better life than a woman president. He ultimately fails, spectacularly, but he creates a whole new persona for himself as a cult-like leader who may actually believe what he is preaching. Benedict only wishes his Starbuck had that kind of charisma. Baltar has been more on the periphery in the last season but you could never, ever claim he has been an insignificant character. But just looking at Baltar does avoid Benedict's main point; that the new BSG is simply an exercise in male castration. Au contraire, mon frère. First, let's look at the whole Cylons just f***-you-to-death issue. The Cylons in BSG bear little resemblance to the machines of yesteryear. The new Cylons not only have a human-like appearance they have similar desires. But the Cylons have one crucial difference from humanity, they have, until recently, been unable to reproduce through normal means and continued the race through transferring their consciousness from one body to another-- rendering monogamy virtually meaningless. There are only 12 models so I imagine sex isn't exactly a unique experience for the Cylons unless it's of the human-Cylon variety; and monogamy would still seem like a completely unfathomable idea to a race that would have no need to rear children. And in the new show, as Cylons evolve into a race that seems to have made the evolutionary jump into a race that can bear children we are also seeing the characters evolve into more monogamous behavior-- a natural transition that I think is coming across as we see how Six and Sharon have reacted to motherhood. It's true that we have seen more of the female Cylons and their sexual behavior but it was part of the original plan to destroy humanity. It does make sense. We have also seen the lengths the Cylons will go to in order to succeed in breeding a human/Cylon hybrid so, in my mind, that further explains their sexual behaviors. But Benedict doesn't just take issue with Cylon sex, he takes issue with all the male/female portrayals. He does make some valid points as he brings up the modern man-is-a-clueless-idiot characters we see in modern comedy and even TV commercials. I completely agree with him on this point. But male-female interactions both on-screen and off may be somewhat in flux for awhile. Women have spent many years being marginalized in film and I think we may see a sort of super-aggression in our female heroes while we try to prove that we can, indeed, do anything a man can do. I think this may continue for awhile because the fact still remains that most of the "strong" female roles in Hollywood still feature prostitutes quite heavily (Charlize Theron in "Monster," Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman," Mira Sorvino in "Mighty Aphrodite," Kim Basinger in "L.A. Confidential," Jane Fonda in "Klute," Elizabeth Shue in "Leaving Las Vegas," Billie Piper in "The Secret Life of a Call Girl," Elizabeth Taylor in "Butterfield 8,".... and I could go on). I, for one, really appreciate the complex female characters that BSG has offered. Kara Thrace might have seemed to be a hyper-aggressive nut job in the early episodes but her character has gone through some real growth and her resilience and perseverance is amazing. I think Kara will come through the final episodes as one of the characters who are still standing strong because I think she is stronger than virtually everyone else. But that said, I don't think the male characters have gotten short-shrift. Admiral Adama, or the "Old Man," has been the bulwark of the show. He's flawed, strong, sensitive, angry, petty and pretty much everything we all are at one time or another. But I would never call him a weak character. Lee Adama, or Apollo for those of you who may not know the newer show, is a character that I am sometimes on the fence about. He's strong but not as fierce as Kara. He's steady. He's, generally speaking, the good guy. But does not being the "bad boy" make him weak? I hardly think so. I think Lee is a man who is always trying, if not succeeding, to do the right thing-- and that takes more strength than throwing an angry tantrum any day. Baltar, like I mentioned before, gets to be the "bad boy" of this show. If he doesn't have some illegitimate children floating around then we can only assume he's infertile. And I could go on and on. From Helo to the Chief-- we have excellent examples of men who make the tough choices and are perfectly able to stand up to the women in show just fine. Just because the women featured in the show are strong does not mean that the show is sexist. It just means that it's real. And if I may make a final point. Despite the fact that Benedict may feel that Starbuck, his Starbuck, was disrespected by being made into a female character, I have to strongly disagree. When you watch Kara Thrace smoke a cigar, throw back a shot of whiskey, play a game of poker or start a fight, you must realize that all of those things are an homage to the original Starbuck. I always saw it that way and I don't see my opinion changing anytime soon. The creators of the new show may have recast Starbuck and Boomer as women, but I don't think they ever lost sight of the original characters and how they were portrayed. In fact, I think they honored those portrayals. I'm sorry that Benedict doesn't see it that way. I think he's missing the point by coming to too many conclusions about the new show. I think BSG has been one of the most consistently great shows on TV since it first aired. I also think that you cannot miss the irony that the new show, the one with the female Starbuck, has far outlasted the original. It has received far more praise, both critically and commercially. Starbuck has had a much longer life as Kara Thrace. Obviously I think about the show and how it has been written but I think it deserves that kind of consideration. If every show on TV was given the same kind of attention that has been give to BSG, well, I'd be a much bigger couch-potato than I already am. So maybe it's a good thing there's a lot of crap on TV. So, while I love you still Dirk, this has to stand as my little bit of dissension. I understand where you're coming from.... but I must, respectfully, disagree.