Week three, and we’re talking about Caprica’s representation of media, along with what might be a television first: the use of the word “apotheosis” to advance a plot. See here for the full list of discussions so far, or sign up here for the RSS feed.
Sunday, February 7.
What did you make of the centrality of the news to “Reins of the Waterfall,” this week’s episode? On an earlier post, I’d joked about Ron Moore’s nod to newspapers with the debut of The Caprican on the SyFy Web page. But this week’s clips from Cap2 News, the Caprica Tribune, Cubits and Pieces, and Backtalk with Baxter Sarno provided another glimpse at the porous boundary between perception and reality—and the media’s role in our befuddlement.
Who did what and why is central to the MAGLEV bombing. But interested parties hijack the story. Baxter Sarno sees it as a rating boon, police investigators leak info to cover up their own mistakes, and media companies churn out documentaries that get “inside the mind” of a teenage terrorist. What’s real? Zoe’s own parents accept the widespread perception that their daughter is a terrorist bomber. You can see shock, horror and sadness twist her face when she hears them say so.
Despite his own assumptions of his daughter’s guilt, Daniel initially resists becoming part of the story. Although he tells Cyrus he does not want to “drag his daughter” into the media circus, it’s more his pride and self-regard that Daniel wishes to preserve. But faced with financial disaster, the result of the public’s perception of his responsibility for the tragedy—both as a bad parent and the inventor of hardware that warps young minds—he agrees to go on Sarno’s show.
Caprica’s media, not unlike our own, thrives on spectacle and disaster. A terrorist bombing, whose alleged teenage perpetrator is the scion of a rich, privileged family, is spectacularly disastrous. The news story spills into sports, financial, and talk shows with the not-so-hidden subtext of retribution. The perception that a wrong needs to be righted plays out on the Buccaneers’ sports field, the stock market, and Backtalk with Baxter. But the reality of the tragedy remains hidden and no one—not the police, nor the reporters nor the families involved—seems interested in sussing it out. In each instance, using, pursuing, or bowing to perceptions is the more pragmatic course.
Overall it’s another bad week for Daniel. He’s not only harassed by the media, but he’s undone by his few unmediated bouts with reality. Daniel heads to the boxing ring for a few rounds as a pummeling machine. But when he’s waylaid by Sam Adama, he can’t land a connecting blow. It’s also a bad time for Tamara. Unaware that reality has become, for her, a perception—she seeks escape from virtuality. I’m not sure if she’ll up sacrificed or apotheosized, but she seems to be the avatar for the rest of us.
No show next week so will reconnect week after next…
I want a “Surge” (or is it “Serge,” like our GPS system, “Dolores,” so named by my wife after Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter books, because of her mix of purring submission and high handed insistence?). The robot butler seems to be tending pretty well to the information needs of the Graystone family: protecting them from outside intrusion, keeping track of their appointments, and now, functioning as a combination Tivo and Search Engine (that is, not simply recording programs they might like to watch but searching for references to the family and its interests across all of the channels and storing them for future viewing). I recall the early videos produced by cyber-advocates promising an age of intelligent agents who knew us, knew our regular contacts, knew our interests, and just made sure that things worked out in our best interests. Of course, I don’t know what to do with the mixed tech we see in Caprica, where the rich families have a robo-butler and the police are still using VHS tapes. Do our own contemporary police and security forces really store records on videotape or do they create digital records?
Diane asks about the representations of the news media in this week’s episode. The media blitz on this episode is by far the most interesting element this week. The train bombing and the Graystone family involvement are “media events”—that is, real-world dramas become the focus of a range of different stories that the culture wants to tell about themselves. I am struck by the image of zapping across channels and finding the story played out as news, crime, sports, business, and entertainment/media news; a phenomenon we’ve seen around countless news items in the age of cable and the internet. My mentor, John Fiske, argued that the stories which emerge in this transmedia space are stories that point to core fault-lines in our culture, which allow us to talk about contradictory expectations about class, race, gender, generation, sexuality, and especially about power.
So, I wonder if we could use the news stories to help figure out what are the fault-lines in the society being constructed on Caprica. We already have hints at ethnic differences (if we can use such terms to refer to contrasting planets), religious differences, and class differences. It is interesting that the advice given a public figure in such a situation have changed very little from what PR people would advise a celebrity in our own culture (Tiger Woods, say) as they seek to redeem themselves in the public eye before they fall prey to a total economic meltdown.
Of course, the documentary that promises us to see inside the mind of a teenage terrorist is at once a spoof of contemporary tabloid practices designed to feed and profit from moral panics, and a hint at the way Caprica itself uses the construction of virtual worlds to allow us privileged access into the memories, social ties, and fantasy lives of the young protagonists. After all, we have more access to Zoe’s mind than any other character, and she has access to aspects of her family life that she might prefer not to see. Yes, I am thinking about the supremely awkward moment when her parents start to make love in front of her and the Cylon has to discretely avert its view.
On the other hand, I wasn’t thrilled by the glimpses we got this week into the mind of Amanda Graystone. Her husband seems to be accepting the explanation that her public outbursts (which are the root of all of this media buzz) were the result of shock and stress, that she didn’t know what she was saying, and he rolls his eyes as if to suggest a typically patronizing view of women who don’t know how to hold their tongue, hinting that he has suffered the consequences of her outspokenness before. Come on! I am hoping there is more to it than that, because at that point, it becomes a plot device and little more. I am hoping she knew what she was doing and that there’s a certain degree of calculation behind the public confession.
It becomes clear with each installment that Caprica is a soap opera with science fiction elements, while Battlestar Galactica was space opera with melodramatic elements. It’s hard to think of very many cases where two connected series operate in such dramatically different sets of genre conventions; the shift from Mary Tyler Moore to Lou Grant is the other example which comes to mind. The producers have talked about using this to broaden the viewership of the series, though it may have the opposite impact over time, since male science-fiction fans are notoriously disrespectful of the melodramatic, having fashioned their culture for almost a century now around a cult of rationalism. And as for the female science-fiction fans, they tend to be drawn toward series with strong themes of partnership (of men and women achieving intimacy through their professional lives) and of utopian community (of groups of people working together for a common cause, one higher than their individual interests.) So far, we get very little of either theme in this series. Instead, we get the pleasures I associate with a good soap opera: a complex web of characters whose relationships get intertwined over time, a strong emphasis on their reactions, a movement between public and private behavior, and so forth. I’m in for the ride no matter what, but the role of genre here is worth paying close attention to.
This week on Caprica, ethical choices and the need to confess face most of the main characters. The Greystones are reeling after the realization that Zoe was a part of the STO (Soldiers of the One) have to deal with the aftermath of Amanda Greystone’s hysterical and narcissistic reveal of her daughters supposed betrayal. Can I say I really, really dislike Amanda Greystone, folks? Honestly, she is the most vapid character on Caprica so far. In a week where everyone is forced to make more choices based on their loyalties, it seems that Mrs. Greystone’s only loyalty is to the part of her brain that only acts on extreme emotions, the sub-lizard: I am hurt, I’m confused, I want a good frak. No wonder Zoe wanted to run away from this excuse of a mother.
Meanwhile, Daniel Greystone deals with the fall of his corporate stocks, and his desire to remain in private life, unrepentant about his daughters “actions.” Unfortunately for Greystone, he must enter into the court of the public confessional, and by the end of the show, has agreed to appear on Baxter Sarno’s talk show—to confess in order to shore up the plummeting company stocks.
Confession is also prominent in the story line of Sister Clarice. She wants to be Lacy’s confessor, but Lacy (rightfully) doesn’t trust sister Clarice. Lacy squirms her way out of Sister’s clutches, but can’t manage to escape Zoe. Zoe, after having to endure her parents having a frak right in front of her (this is the definitive nightmare for most of us, young, or old!), has figured out how to appear to Lacy as her “avatar” human self, rather than the one ton, six-foot-tall Cylon prototype that her essence is trapped in. She’s also managed to access Adama’s daughter Tamara, and takes Tamara along to Club V with her and Lacy. The decision to let Tamara go off on her own in Club V without Lacy and Zoe will definitely have some interesting ramifications, since she does not seem to be aware of her “avatar” status, and still thinks she’s human—even though she can’t feel her heart beating.
Sister Clarice, meanwhile, uses the holoband to go into a virtual place to enter what looks like a Catholic confessional to have a discussion with someone “behind the screen.” Here’s where things get interesting, religiously. Clarice’s claim that Zoe is going to be the apotheosis was interesting from a religious point of view. “Apotheosis” in its most basic definition means making someone human “divine.” In the world of Caprica, who knows what apotheosis means. Even the figure behind the screen says to Clarice: “Not everyone shares in your view of apotheosis.”
This intriguing storyline may hold the key to the future move of the STO into a full-fledged New Religious Movement. It also makes an interesting juxtaposition to the question that is asked by Zoe: Can you be free if you’re not real? I know this is a question of the virtual world, but as someone who teaches about race, and slavery, you can be free even if others don’t think you are, or are worthy of being free. The bigger question that goes alongside of this is: can you become divine if you’re not real? Hmmn. That brings up all sorts of issues, especially if, as it seems presently, the writers are making this new religion suspiciously like Catholicism. I hope that the writers won’t go in the easy direction of copying an already existing religious group; but since it’s early, I will hold my judgment until more is revealed.
Perhaps the most interesting scenes this week are those with the Adama brothers, Joseph and Sam. Joseph’s desire to see his daughter again has him falling back to his Tauron roots, having his brother Sam beat up Daniel Greystone to convince him to produce the avatar of his daughter. Sam continues to become more than just a one-dimensional hoodlum by taking the young William Adama underneath his wing, encouraging him to ditch school and hang out with the “mobsters,” fathering young William in a unconventional yet touching way. What is the most interesting development, at least to me, is that Sam also happens to be a gay man married to his longtime partner. The reveal makes for an intriguing sidebar, and perhaps sheds some light into the closeness of the later commander Adama’s relationship with Saul Tigh on Battlestar Galactica. Joseph however, compromises his brother with the request to “even the score,” inferring that Sam should take out Amanda Greystone. This moral dilemma will undoubtedly loom large for the brothers’ relationship. Kudos to the writers, however, for making Sam’s sexual preference and marriage a matter of course, not any different from any other relationship on the show.
What is both refreshing and puzzling to me so far about Caprica is the openness with which the monotheistic STO religious world is revealed, while the polytheistic religious beliefs of Caprica are talked about, yet not on visible display. It seems that on Caprica, polytheism is mouthed, but practice is about personal devotional activity rather than something that rears its head in the broader culture. Much like modern-day America, it’s the press that operates as the moral compass and judge of what is appropriate or not within the culture. Confessing on Sarno’s show then, is much more important than showing up at a temple.
Like Diane, I am curious to see how the role of the media will continue to function on Caprica, but honestly, it’s going to be hard to wait two weeks to see if Amanda Greystone will meet the Gods or not. Team Tauron, LOL.
Henry has brought up an interesting point about the role of genre here. Caprica does run the risk of being caught in a no-fan’s land — though I doubt that BSG fans will abandon the ship so easily. After all, we ended up seeing all three Star Wars prequels despite the awful The Phantom Menace. It is quite possible that the beginning of the series is aimed to reel in non-traditional sci-fi audience, but the role of militarized cylons will become more prominent and the series genre may shift a bit towards BSG. As far as the question of a genre switch within a related series, would Star Trek: Deep Space 9 count as a (milder) switch as the successor to Star Trek: The Next Generation?
As far as the media goes, they are doing a fine imitation (or is it full-fledged mocking?) of our times. I Googled “inside the terrorist mind” (all in quotes) and got 75,600 hits, from Scientific American to Fox News and The Rand Corporation — so no surprise that Caprica is mining this territory. Since the series allows for the possibility of actually peering into a character’s mind (or at least its creation of itself), it will be interesting to see if writers will explore the mind of Ben Starks — the bomber on the train in the pilot episode — and how will they depict his motivations.
It is the virtual world, however, that continues to fascinate me. I found it amusing that the copy of Zoe’s avatar is not only establishing its own identity independent of its creator, Zoe, but it is also capable of emotionally blackmailing Lacy into moving its robot body to Gemenon. But what about Tamara’s avatar? She doesn’t have a heartbeat, doesn’t know how she got there, and most importantly, she doesn’t know that there is no longer a real Tamara. She does want to escape — but where will she go? It is Lacy (of the three avatars, the only one with a human body in the outside world) that is left to wonder, “Can you be free if you are not real”? It will be fascinating to see what the writers do with Tamara’s avatar. Lost and without a real Tamara out there, she will rely on other imaginations to forge her identity. I suspect she will be apotheosized rather than sacrificed, and will probably end up as a rival to Zoe (mimicking Adama-Graystone family rivalry in the virtual world).
As far as we are concerned, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to escape the virtual world even if we are real.