The Works of Philip Kaveny
Theology of _Battlestar Galactica: American Christianity in the
2004-2009 Television Series_ by Wetmore, Kevin J., Jr. ISBN13: 9780786465507
ISBN10:0786465506 Format: Paperback Pub. Date:6/1/2012 Publisher:
McFarland Publications Box 611Jefferson NC 28640 PubList Price: $40.00
I sit at my laptop working on this review at my dining room table linked by my home wireless network to the now almost archaic sounding World Wide Web and “The Cloud,” with the first episode of the Battlestar Galactica mini-series running in the background (after discovering that entire series is available as free streaming video though Amazon to Prime customers) it is time for a little reflection on the technological enhanced changes which are tectonic in scale, yet morphing into invisibility. One is forced to reflect that in a sense, this world of the commoditization and instant delivery of mass cultural products which Walter Benjamin first discussed in the mid-1930s in his Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Yes, that essay is available full and free in a number of online sources, and links our present with a historical context past memory’s reach.
We are well into the second decade of the 21st century and only four years from 2017, the Year that Ridley Scotts’ Blade Runner is set. Kevin Wetmore’s book is nothing less of a paradigmatic signifier of a seismic shift in scholarly production in which he breaks out of the typographic cell in the prison house of language. Myriad aspects of the setting of Blade Runner are realized in our world, as we study Battlestar Galactica. For example, I leaned a few Days ago in a PBS Nova special on combat drones that more armed forces personnel are being trained to drive drones sitting with X-Box controls seven thousand miles from the combat centers. Incidentally, though drone drivers are still called pilots, actual pilots are not taken into the drone program, according to Nova, because the cost of taking combat skills away is twice that of training a novice with no flight experience. Earlier I stated we are well into the world of Blade Runner; upon reflection in many ways we have exceeded it. How far is it for example, to go from combat drones with discretionary targeting capabilities, to the rebellion of the Cylons?
Even a cursory search shows that there are at least sixty books on the Battlestar Galactica series and literally hundreds of citations in academic databases; I suppose the question we must ask is why we need yet another book on the topic. The answer is this is one of the best books on the topic, both academic and interesting to a more general readership. Wetmore’s book is similar in its high quality to Battlestar Galactica: Investigating Flesh Spirit and Steel edited by Roz Kaveney and Joy Stoy, though it differs from this collection which really examines the series on an ideological basis. Kaveney and Stoy investigate the series, asking among other questions, to what extent does it support patriarchal hegemonic multinational capitalism, and to what extent does it critique those institutions? Wetmore’s book is more mainstream, and makes a great companion to the other best scholarly book on this topic, Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy, also an essay collection edited by Jason T. Erdel. What I like about all three books is that all keep the subject text, which is the series itself, in sharp focus using critical methodologies which explicate rather than obscure.
Kevin J. Wetmore, Jr., who is a professional actor and director and also an associate professor of theater at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California, brings something special to his project in that in his chapters as he argues convincingly that Battlestar Galactica is, in and of itself, a theological text. Over the course of 87 episodes and two television movies, the series’ narrative arc explores the meanings of salvation, prophecy, exile, apocalypse, resurrection, messianic trajectory from prophecy to enunciation, and clearly demonstrates the working of a divine will in a material world. Upon engaging with his text I think he is acutely aware, because he works in theater as an artist, actor, and director of the great dramatic force which is embedded in the very structure of the series. This brings to mind something American film director Cecil Blount DeMille (1881–1959) said about the greatest book ever written (the Judea Christian Bible), after all it was written by a team of writers, and of course Battlestar was written by a team of screenwriters also.
Wetmore’s assertion that media are serving a religious function in contemporary American society is an open question. I am more than a bit skeptical about America being the most religious of Western industrial societies, but that may be because of my blue state sensibilities. Yet, he may be right in the sense that media is kind of public space where groups trapped in their ideological silos of the liked minded can dialogue, as around reproductive choice in the series.