Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Capricology: Week 4 - Extra-terrestrial kitsch

Here is the continuation of the dialogue over science, technology, and the sacred in the television series, Caprica at ReligionDispatches. Check out earlier episode discussions here.

Below is a teaser for the Week 4 discussion (I did not participate in the discussion this week). I'm fascinated by the details picked by the panelists - especially the discussion over a bobbleheaded bull on the dashboard of a Tauron's car. However, like Anthea's comment below, my favorite part was the dance scene between Zoe and her "admirer". The expression on her face getting lost in music was priceless - and does more than anything else to establish the humanity of the Cylon precursor and a disjunction with its menacing exterior.
Capricology: Week 4 - Extra-terrestrial Kitsch
Among other clues to this sci-fi opera, our Caprica watchers took particular note of a bobbleheaded bull on the dashboard of a Tauron killer. What can we learn from the possibility that Capricans can be as kitsch-obsessed, cigarette-addicted, and as reckless with civil liberties as earthlings can be?
Henry Jenkins:
Caprica seems to walk a thin line between trying to deal with the alienness of its various cultures in a matter-of-fact way—dropping casual references to the legalization of drugs, the corporate ownership of the Internet, the Tauron’s moral obligation to seek revenge, or the sleeping and sexual habits of polyamorous couples—and touching on hot button issues which are very much of our time and place, such as the recurring exploration of how societies respond to the persistent threat of terrorism, the tendency to blame social problems on teens’ relations to new technology and popular culture, or the media strategies by which public figures seek to extract themselves from scandals (hard to watch those scenes without comparing them with Tiger Woods’ press conference this week).

The first invites us to read science fiction as speculative fiction—asking what if questions, considering alternative social norms and cultural practices, and imagining how these differences would impact other aspects of our everyday lives. The second invites us to read science fiction as allegory—with the characters and situations reflecting more or less directly our culture and its values. The first teaches us what it would be like to live in another world while the second can teach us something about what it is like to live in our own. The temptation is to overstate one side or the other: to go for radical difference which is not recognizable to a contemporary Terran viewer or to go for such clear match-ups between characters and their real world referents that it becomes a kind of agit-prop. So far, Caprica is walking that line pretty well.

My favorite background detail this week was the bobble-headed bull which sits on the dashboard of Uncle Sam’s car—which seems like such a banal marker of cultural identity compared to the mystique being created week by week around his tattoos. Here, I am reminded of Erica Rand’s The Ellis Island Snow Globe, which describes the commodification of history of immigration to the United States.

Diane Winston:

Henry: I saw that bobble-headed bull too. I saw it and stared, surprised (disappointed? relieved?) that Capricans liked kitsch as much as 21st-century earthlings do. Watching “Gravedancing,” I also wondered why so many Capricans smoke. Is one of the twelve colonies a tobacco plantation? What about the health risks? (Or do they puff on something different than we do?) And when can we see the cigarette packaging? Caprica must have its own Mad Men designing all those great looking signs, ads, and interiors.
We’ve touched on Caprica’s mash-up of sci-fi and soap opera—which speaks to Henry’s observations about worlds we can learn from versus the world we live in—but I like that about the series. I like being disoriented by the bobble-headed bull, first because it comes from my world and then because it means something different on Caprica. I felt similarly when Baxter chided the “destructo God” in the sky. The distance/no-distance between Caprica’s God and our own gave me pause.

Anthea Butler:

This week, the most titillation I received from Caprica was the foursome at Sister’s house waking up in the morning and flipping over to switch to other partners! That was my last moment of fun, unfortunately. I’m tempted to quote a phrase from BSG: “Everything has happened before and will happen again.” Why? Because I’ve have seen this show in composites of other shows. I am not quite sure about the “film noir” feel of Caprica. It’s a cross between a 1930s pre-code movie and Metropolis. The cops, the smoking, the old-fashioned cars; I thought Caprica was supposed to be technologically savvy, not a cross between the future and the past. What does this say about its inhabitants—and the show’s creator?

I agree with Diane, this week seems to be a placeholder for something to come, but in the process, I did not learn much. To be fair though, this week’s plot revolved around moral themes: love, unforgiveness, and forgiveness. What struck me as especially poignant was the scene with Zoe and her “admirer” having a dance together. The idea of her seeing herself as lithe and rhythmic, and the juxtaposition of the Robot doing moves that looked a bit like Tai Chi were funny and touching. The scene for me evoked the unsettledness of seeing Zoe as a tripartite being, one that is very engaging as a human, but as a robot, unwieldy and foreign.

Read the full discussion here.

Related Posts:
Capricology: Week 3 - Apotheosis Anyone?
Capricology: Week 2 - The Soul of a Robot

Capricology: The Pilot Episode - Television, Tech, and the Sacred

The Purple Interview: Faith, Hope, Science, and Caprica

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