But I’m tired of explaining why so many bigoted stereotypes, bad representations, tokenism, and the rest are both bad writing and immoral behavior. I’ve written about them before and I’ll surely write about them again, but I’d rather talk about a show that treated its gay character right.
So let’s talk about Julie and the Phantoms.
If you’re not familiar, Julie and the Phantoms was recently released on Netflix, and it’s about a high school girl whose mother has recently died. An aspiring musician in a music program at school, Julie has been unable to bring herself to perform. After getting dropped from the program, she decides to clean out her mother’s music studio as a step in trying to move one. Among her mother’s things, she finds a demo CD for a band she has never heard of. When she puts it in the player, three ghosts are summoned from limbo.
The ghosts are three members of what was a four-member boy band. The three boys died in 1995 after eating bad street food on the night before they were supposed to debut at the Orpheum Theatre.
At first it seems that only Julie can see and hear the boys, but they soon discover that if she is singing with them, everyone can see them and hear their music. With a cover story that the boys are holograms, Julie embarks on a journey to find her voice.
Yes, it’s cheesy, yes it’s a teen musical show. But it is well done and in these troubling times, a story with a big heart is exactly what some of us need.
Warning: There are some spoilers below…
One of the three boys in the band, Alex, is gay. We learn this very early on when one of his bandmates mentions how Alex’s parents weren’t exactly supportive when he came out. That one line is the only point in the show where anything approaching the usual cliched approaches to handling a queer character happens.
Early on the boys meet another ghost, a skateboarding cutie named Willie. It is clear in just a few lines of dialogue the Alex and Willie are attracted with each other and awkwardly flirting. Alex’s two straight bandmates take it in stride. “He is totally into you!” “And he’s cute!” They treat their bandmate’s queerness very matter-of-factly. The dialogue would not have sounded out of place in a more typical show if the object of Alex’s flirtation had been an opposite sex character.
Which is how it should be.
The subplot that Willie is involved in (he is under the thumb of a villainous ghost who is trying to enslave the three band members) doesn’t cross into any of the gay cliches, either. Their roles in the story are based on their personalities, not their sexual orientation. Their orientation is just another fact about them, not the defining characteristic of everything they do and say.
None of the bad things that happen to either of them have anything to do with their orientation. Not even the villain says anything even vaguely homophobic about either one. Neither is killed (I realize they are ghosts, but it is made clear that bad things can happen to ghosts in this fictional world) at the end. Neither of them realizes it would be better to be with an opposite sex person.
If you don’t happen to be queer, none of those statements may sound extraordinary—but trust me, having all of those things be true about a queer character in most works of fiction that aren’t explicitly aimed at a queer audience is an extremely rare event.
Furthermore, neither the show runners nor the network said anything in advance about how “and we have gay characters!” and then expecting to get congratulated on their open-mindedness. That is extremely rare, as well. In fact, that other show I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, not only did the network and people running the show keep crowing about their gay character–they even put such crowing into the mouth of one of the straight characters in the opening episode.
Now, all of this isn’t exactly an accident. The director of Julie and the Phantoms is Kenny Ortega (who is also one of the producers). Ortega is probably most well-known at this point as being the director the first High School Musical TV movie and several of the sequels. You might also recognize his name as the director of 1993’s Hocus Pocus. He in much less famous as being one of a couple of actors who—in 1972 when this was a very risky thing to do in any career, even theatre—came out in the pages of The Advocate, one of the nation’s oldest gay and lesbian publications.
During the press interviews after the release of Julie and the Phantoms, when asked about the characters of Alex and Willie, Ortega has said, “Alex is the character I wish was there for me when I was growing up, and who never appeared.”
Which makes sense. Speaking for myself, as a scared closeted kid growing up I was not interested in seeing stories about gay bashing or coming out and being rejected or the other usual queer story lines. I wanted—needed—to see queer characters living ordinary lives, facing the same challenges and triumphs as all the other characters in those stories.
Which is what Julie and the Phantoms gives us. And I’m so glad it does.
I had explicitly planned to write my review of the third episode of Star Trek: Picard before I read any reviews by other people. But the night after the new episode dropped, during a wind storm (after five weeks of record-breaking rain here north of Seattle), several large trees went down about a block from our house. And those enormous evergreen trees took out a bunch of power lines. The upshot was that literally while I was writing the first sentence of what was to be my not-influenced-by-others review, suddenly the lights (and most everything else electronic) went dead here. By the time I had shut down the devices plugged into Uninterruptable Power Supplies in our house, reviewing the latest episode was the last thing on my mind. Our power wasn’t restored for about 16 hours, by which time we were off at a social event with a bunch of friends… so I have once again read a couple of other people’s reviews of the episode before I completed mine.
First, the non-spoilery review: Another good episode. The story continues to grow more interesting. We get a lot of good character development. We see more ways that the intervening years have changed Jean-Luc. There was an exciting fight. We see a new starship. And at the very end of the episode, Jean-Luc and his new motley crew go to warp speed.
Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
I get really tired of hearing certain fans yell about politics in science fiction. There are multiple reasons I find it annoying. The most important reason is that all of the sf/f that those people hold up as examples of politics-free sci fi is actually loaded with politics — usually white supremacist, misogynist, colonialist, homophobic politics — which they don’t notice because all that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and heterosexism reinforceses their own beliefs.
The next reason is that these same people inevitably hold up older sci fi works as examples of so-call non-political writing, which was sometimes even more loaded down with a lot of politics than the newer stuff they are decrying — but unlike the other example, the reason they don’t notice this time is not so much because the politics are favorable to them, but because they are ignorant of the social-economic-political landscape that was prevalent in the world at the time those things were created.
For instance, let’s look at Star Trek: the Original Series which broadcast from September 8, 1966 through June 3, 1969. That was a total of 79 episodes while the U.S. was in the midst of the Vietnam War (and protests against it), the Civil Rights movement (including a fight for racial equality, a separate fight for equal rights for women, a separate fight over any rights at all for gay people, and the fight for religious equality for such a distant dream it was laughable).
I mentioned last week that the original Star Trek series had episodes that commented (sometimes ham-fistedly, yes) on the civil rights issues playing out in the real world at the time. For example, the original draft of “The Enterprise Incident” (September 27, 1968) was such a scathing indictment of the real world Gulf of Tonkin events (America’s excuse for invading Vietnam), that the network censors pressed for rewrites that watered it down… but even watered down it was still recognizable as a commentary on the Cold War with the Soviets and China in general, and how that Cold War was playing out in Vietnam in particular.
For another example, the sixth episode of the series ever broadcast, “Mudd’s Women” (October 13, 1966) delved into many issues related to the social and economic disparities between men and women and related topics.
The “Balance of Terror” (December 15, 1966) was an extemely obvious commentary on the Cold War in which the U.S. and allies were deeply embroiled with against the Soviet Union and allies at the time. There were also more than a few bits of the story that commented on the racial aspects of World War II.
And then there was “Plato’s Stepchildren” (November 22, 1968) which involved a lot of arguments with the network censors because Captain Kirk and Lieutenant Uhura kiss! Oh, em, gee! A white man kisses a black woman! How will civilization survive such a thing?
And let’s not forget “I, Mudd” (November 3, 1967) which includes the scene where Uhura appears to be acting out the expected sexist trope of elevating her own vanity above other issues, but instead it is a trick she and the captain worked out in advance, and more importantly, not of the stereotypical sexist tropes related to the notion of a woman doing the right thing instead of the expected thing played out, either. That couple of minutes in the middle of that episode was an incredibly radical political statement for the time, believe me!
I could keep going, but it just becomes a pile on at this point.
Politics isn’t just about squabbles between elected officials. Politics is about public policies the govern the way the ordinary people are allowed to live within the society. That does far more than cause an occasional inconvenience. Politics can and does have profound impacts on quality of life including our health. It quite often has life and death consequences for several groups within the population.
Science fiction has sometimes been described as the literature of change. And changes made in societal attitudes, policies, and laws are certainly a legitimate topic for sf/f stories. The very oldest tales we have the people classify as the roots of sf/f do precisely that. It’s part of the genre from the beginning. And there is nothing wrong with keeping that tradition going.
“Maps and Legends” takes Picard into the world of espionage, or, an original Trekkie is still loving the new series
I don’t know if I really want to do an episode-by-episode review of Star Trek: Picard in part because more than one fan writer that I admire are already doing that, and I’m not sure I’m adding much to the conversation. On the other hand, I have been a Star Trek fan since at least 1966, when the original series was being broadcast for the very first time on NBC.
For a bit of context: my sixth birthday happened between the airing of the third episode of the original series (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) and the fourth episode (“The Naked Time”). I don’t know how regularly we watched the first season. My very vague recollection is that Dad insisted that we watch “Daniel Boone” on Thursday nights, and if the promo for “Star Trek” came on before Mom realized the “Bewitched” was happening over on ABC, then she might feel conflicted about whether to switch over (because both she and I loved Bewitched, but also loved sci fi). I also know that between Star Trek and Bewitched in the 1966-67 TV season is the reason that I remember the first half of every Batman two-parter (which for two years aired on Wednesday, then the second half on Thursday), but often never caught the second half until years later in syndication.
The point is, I have been a Star Trek fan for more that 53 years (and I started reading only-available-through-obscure-snail-mail-subscriptions fanfic 47 years ago) and sometimes I feel as if I’m not holding up my end of the fandom elder bargain by not weighing in more often.
This is complicated by the current streaming environment. A lot of people who would love to sample the new Trek series are reluctant to sign up for yet another streaming service—and I really understand! It irritates me that all the people who love Trek can’t easily access this series.
Side Note: if you happen to be in a position to come visit my husband and I in the suburb where we live just north of Seattle, we are more than willing to host a viewing party. You can come over and watch episodes on our 4K TV and (older) surround-sound set up, because I love sharing this sort of thing… and as many of our friends will attest, we love cooking for large groups, so… I guess I should keep posting at least some sort of review.
Okay, so first, once again, I start with the non-spoilery review: I don’t just like this show, after seeing episode 2 I can safely say that I love it. This episode takes several interesting turns away from Standard Plot Points and continues to allow the actors a lot of room to flex their acting muscles. There is a particularly awesome use of an editing trick where we keep cutting back and forth between three characters discussing an issue, and another place where two of those characters are actually gathering evidence at a distant location that works really well.
This is a really good episode. The series continues to be extremely engaging. Before I more into spoiler territory I want to mention one more thing. While in the first episode it was unclear whether the main thrust of the series would be the mystery or action/adventure, if this episode is indicative, the series is diving deep into epsionage/intrigue. I have a really strong suspicion that the overall arc is going to be more heist/capter/espionage-flavored, aka Leverage/Ocean’s Eleven than space battles. But I might be wrong. Still, this episode is much more Alias/Leverage/Mission: Impossible than any variant of Battlestar Galactica.
And I think that’s a good thing.
Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on. Don’t read any reviews I link below, either, because they also have spoilers.
A new Star Trek series premiered last week on CBS’s streaming service. It is called Star Trek: Picard and focuses on the character of Jean-Luc Picard, former captain of the Enterprise during the series Star Trek: the Next Generation portrayed by Patrick Stewart. It has been just over 20 years since the last movie using the TNG cast, and this series is set about 20 years after those events, letting Patrick Stewart play the character without any awkward de-aging.
Before I get to any spoilers, here is my quick review: it is good. The story is about a man not entirely happy in his retirement, haunted by regrets. There is some action, though one of my favorite moments in the show was when a group of bad guys beam in and a younger person is trying to hustle Picard to safety, he is acting like an 80-year-old. That look on his face, panting, at the long set of stairs was a bit heart-breaking, but also heartening. This story isn’t going to pretend that he’s super human.
You don’t have to been a megafan to follow the story. In one of the early scenes features an FNN (Federation News Network, I presume) reporter interviews Picard about the anniversary of a major event which happened ten years after the last TNG movie, and the course of the interview gives you the information needed to follow the rest of the tale (and explain why Jean-Luc is not happy in retirement).
It does help to be familiar (but not to have watched) the last TNG cast movie: Star Trek: Nemesis, but fortunately Camestros Felapton had posted a nice summary here:
And if you never watched the reboot movies, there is one other detail that will help you follow this series (which is not a sequel to the reboots, but…) the internal justification of the re-boots (and the reason that in the first of the reboots Spock was played by original series actor Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto), is that when a supernova threatened to destroy the Romulan homeworld, Ambassador Spock took an experimental craft out to try to stop the supernova, but instead his ship and a Romulan ship were thrown back in time (literally to the day the Captain Kirk was born), and thus changed history. So the reboot movies exist in a different time line than any of the TV series.
Anyway, the aftermath of that stellar disaster also figures into Picard’s situation. But again, none of the events of the reboot movies are part of this series’ history. (Cue timey-whimey music)
One final thing that you might need to know if you aren’t a diehard Trekkie but are interested in the show: Romulans and Vulcans look virtually identical. In the first episode, at least, all the pointy-eared characters you meet are Romulans, who are not cold master of logic like the Vulcans. In other Trek series if you see what appears to be a human with pointy ears, you can assume it’s probably a Vulcan and will be something like Spock. Given other things we learn during the first episode, it is probably safer in this series to presume that any pointy-eared character is a Romulan, rather than a Vulcan.
Past this point there be many plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on. Don’t read the two reviews I link below, either, because they also have spoilers.
Yep, it’s a weekend.
Even though I love the show and have watched it faithfully for five years, I wasn’t very surprised when Brooklyn 99 was canceled by Fox. One of the things the show excelled at (besides doing diversity right) was tackling important issues in a thoughtful way that was still funny hell. And let’s face it, diversity, thoughtfulness, and nuance are not exactly in Fox’s wheelhouse. Which isn’t to say the Fox’s entertainment network doesn’t carry diverse show. What I mean is that the people who make the business decisions are less likely to feel sympathy for such shows. No matter how much executives (at any network) may insist that it’s just about numbers and the bottom line, you can point to many examples of shows with worse numbers being kept around. Bias and sympathy do figure into how they see the numbers.
Goodbye, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine.’ And thank you. It is a great show it is funny, and I agree with Mark Hamill who said on twitter that it was one of the great workplace comedies of all time, up there with shows such as The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi.
Fortunately, the twitter storm and fan petitions and praise from famous actors and comedians seems to have paid off: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ saved by NBC and Brooklyn Nine-Nine Cast Praises Fans After NBC Saves Canceled Fox Show: ‘You Did This!’.
It is worth noting that among the NBC executive comments quoted in the various articles about the show is a reference to the fact the Brooklyn 99 was a show created and produced by a division of NBC-Universal, and sold to Fox originally. Not being a show that Fox made internally means that profits from syndication deals for reruns are not as high as they would be for a show of similar popularity that had been wholly owned by Fox. This also probably figured into NBC’s decision to give the show a 13 episode sixth season. They get a lot of good PR out of the move, will presumably get acceptable ratings for those 13 episodes, and will get just a little bit more out of syndication having these additional episodes int he can.
I fully expect this to be the final season of the show. I suspect the writers and show runners will think of it that way: write a good send-off that leaves a possibility for continuing, but don’t count on it.
Related: I think it was not good that a number of fans who were screaming, before the NBC announcement, about their fave show being removed were doing so by denigrating other shows. First of all, come on, don’t attack things other people like merely because you don’t. It doesn’t matter how much you may dislike another series (whether it be movies, TV shows, books, whatever), that doesn’t mean that there are not people who genuinely like it. It’s okay to critique, especially if a show is overtly racist (I’m looking at you, Roseanne reboot) or gratuitously misogynist (and now looking at you, Supernatural), but dismissal is not the same as critique.
There other thing, it isn’t really relevant. The shows most people were mentioning were not Fox shows. At least if you’re going to make an observation about, “How dare they cancel my fave while keeping X on the air” choose something that involves the same they. Pick something that Fox is keeping on the air to make your comparison to, like the very derivative 9-1-1, for instance.
Anyway, at least those of us who love the show will get some more Brooklyn 99. I can just quietly sob in the corner over hear that we can’t say the same for another of my favorites: Fox Cancels Fan Favorite Lucifer After Three Seasons.
Now let’s have a couple things that are more typical for a weekend update: Anti-Gay Former Michigan Assistant AG Loses Appeal To Keep His Law License. I’ve written before about this self-loathing closet case who target, stalked, harassed, and encouraged others to harass and send death threats to a young gay man who had been elected student body president of the same university the assistant attorney general had graduated from years earlier. Note that the guy used state equipment to do the stalking and to post the online harassment, as well as doing a lot of it when he was supposed to be working. In one incident, when neighbors had called in the suspicious car that had been circling the block where the student lived, the guy lied to police saying that he was staking out someone for a legitimate investigation.
Originally the Michigan Attorney General claimed to have investigated the instances and said the guy was merely expressing opinions. Then, after the parents of the harassed gay student were interviewed on TV about the incident, a prosecutor announced he would run against the AG to clean up the department (and polls showed he might win), then suddenly the AG asked an semi-retired judge to perform an outside investigation. While that judge couldn’t reveal the specifics of the original internal investigation, his own report indicated that all the evidence necessary to justify firing the assistant AG had been contained in the first investigation. Anyway, the anti-gay assistant AG was fired, then disbarred, and now he’s lost his last appeal of the disbarment.
Couldn’t happen to a more deserving guy.
Now, let’s hope that something similar happens to some school officials: Oregon school allegedly forced LGBTQ student to read Bible as punishment. Before anyone points out that there is a hearing coming up, please note that in the initial official report, the administrator who is disputing that these incidents constitute discrimination has admitted that the student was forced to read the Bible as punishment. So there isn’t really an “allegedly” there. The administrator and supervisor are only disputing that this and other incidents don’t count as discrimination. They aren’t denying that the things happened.
This is a public school, therefore a government-run institution, and the Constitution conservatives claim to love prohibits the establishment of religion, which means while acting in your official capacity you can’t use your religion to justify actions, and you sure as hell can’t force people to read your holy book to try to convince them to agree with you. Which, when you make a queer kid read the parts of the Bible you think condemn homosexuality as “punishment” of the crime of complaining about being called a faggot on school grounds, is clearly what the school official was doing.
The Oregon Department of Education has already made the finding that these incidents probably (duh) violate the state’s anti-discrimination law and the Constitution. I sure hope the ACLU is involved and these administrators get sued into oblivion.
So frequently friends will tell me about how awesome a particular horror film is, and I’ll just smile and nod.
There was one movie, however, that people kept bringing up again and again. Not just people I knew. Army of Darkness, I had been assured be even a few critics, was a masterpiece of cinema–hilarous and scary all at once. And the star is Bruce Campbell, whose work I had loved in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, for instance.
I should mention that for the most part, horror and related stories almost never cause me to have bad dreams. And I have written stories and designed gaming scenarios that has caused more than one friend to scoff mightily at the idea that I can’t watch scary movies without nightmares. What can I say? I don’t think it should be that surprising that things I see only in my own imagination will have a different effect on me than things I actually see with my eyes.
Eventually, my friend Sky and my husband Michael convinced me to watch Army of Darkness. I sat on a couch between them, and I am not ashamed to say that at times I was clutching both their hands, and I hid my face in a shoulder during some of the bloodier scenes.1
But I also laughed my ass off. It was wonderful! The film is a great and irreverent take on the notions of chosen ones, reluctant heroes, and merciless evil. It finds so many ways to put humor into situations no person would be expected to survive.
And, yeah, I had a few nightmares that week, but fortunately not the kind where I was screaming in my sleep or shaking my husband awake.2
In case you aren’t familiar, Army of Darkness is a sequel. In 1981 Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and a bunch of friends (include Sam’s brother, Ted) made a lowish budget film The Evil Dead, in which Campbell first played Ash Williams. The plot is that a group of five college students go to spend a weekend at a cabin, find an old tape recorder, play the tape which proves to be a voice reciting from the cursed Book of the Dead. The spell unleashes a bunch of demons that possess members of the cast, mayhem ensues. The mayhem got gorier and gorier as things when along. As the possessed cast kills each other off, their bodies (and sometimes only parts of their bodies), are reanimated and continue to cause ever more grisly, brutal deaths.
A few years later, with a bigger budget, they made Evil Dead II which begins with a reshot and re-edited summary of the first film then picks up where the first left off, with Ash battling both the demonic books (now renamed Necronomicon Ex-Mortis) as well as the demons it summons.
And then Army of Darkness follows Ash’s adventures when he was magically transported by the 1300 where he has to fight an entire army of the evil undead, now given the name Deadites. The third film amped up the humor significantly, with a lot of the horror elements used more for comedic effect. It was still scary, though. This film was by far the most successful in the series.
A fourth film, titled simply Evil Dead is kind of a remake and kind of not. Bruce only appears as Ash in an after credits scene.
As time went on, I became a bigger and bigger Bruce Campbell fan. Not such a big fan that I went back and re-watched the earlier movies, nor the recent remake. But when a couple years ago it was announced that Starz would be showing a horror comedy series based on the series, I was quite excited. Because of the licensing and distribution deals that the Raimi brothers and Campbell had made to get the later films produced, they couldn’t make direct references to the most successful of the movies. They could reference the plot and characters of the original film, and use some elements (the name Deadites and Necronomicon Ex-Mortis), but that left them plenty of room.
Ash vs Evil Dead picks up the story of Ash as he’s well into middle age, using cheesy stories of how he lost his hand (in the first movie he had to cut it off because it was been possessed by a demon, while somehow he remained in control of the rest of his body) to seduce random women in bars. In an alcohol- and pot-fueled haze, he allows one of these women that he persuaded to come back to his small trailer, to read “poetry” from his old book, and evil is back.
What I love about the character of Ash Williams is just how much of a hero he isn’t. He’s a pathological liar (who is usually bad at it), he hits on women constantly, he says lots of casually racist and sexist things, he boozes too much, he drives while drunk and stoned, and so forth. He occasionally tries to run from the danger, but somehow he always manages to pull himself together and try to kick evil’s ass.
It’s a style of anti-hero with a long career in storytelling. I find it fascinating how closely Ash fits the mold of Samson (yes, the Old Testament Biblical character). The Biblical Samson is not, by any means, a holy guy. In the original Hebrew scripture, the word for “to have sex” appears a few dozen times in total–nearly two-thirds of the use of the word occur within the portion of the book of Judges sometimes referred to as the Samson saga.
Seriously, one of those Biblical stories involves Samson partying at a brothel for hours. The Holy Scripture literally says that he screwed every single woman in the brothel so many times that they were sore and some could barely walk and they pleaded with him to go home. Drunk, Samson staggers through the city. But the gates of the city have been locked, and the Philistines have set an ambush, intending to jump him while he is drunk and worn out from all the sex. But before they can, Samson simply tears the gates down and stumbles home.
And this is my favorite part: the scripture says he dragged the gate behind him for miles without remembering that he still had hold of it, and only midway home noticed, and he tossed it into the middle of the field before sneaking into his mother’s house and crawling into bed.
Ash Williams of the Evil Dead series doesn’t possess Samson’s legendary strength, but he manages to survive being beaten, battered, flung great distances, burned, stabbed, run over by demon possesed vehicles, et cetera, et cetera.
Yes, the series was crazy and gory, with literal buckets of blood being spewed all over the actors and sets. But it was also hilarious. Although the Deadites are undead, the show isn’t a zombie story. For one thing, the Deadites are fast. They aren’t mindless. The demons that inhabit the corpses are able to access the memories of the deceased, so they taunt the heroes along the way. They make plans and concoct schemes.
In other words, they aren’t a mindless threat, they’re actually bad guys.
I’ve had a lot of fun watching Ash’s adventures on the small screen the last three years. I was sad to learn that it wasn’t being renewed, but also happy for all the laughs we’d gotten along the way. Bruce has announced that he is retiring this character—if there are any more Evil Dead stories to tell, Ash Williams (or at least not this Ash) won’t be a part of them.
That’s okay. Ash showed us that you don’t have to be perfect to be the hero. He’s earned some rest.
1. I’ve learned there are things I can do to reduce the severity of nightmares I’ll have after watching a scary movie. Watching on a small screen helps. Being able to pause or walk away when things get too tense is extremely helpful.
2. I’m more likely to wake him up by saying something angry than to scream, truth be told.3
3. I also have gotten better and making myself wake up. Seriously, just a few weeks ago a dream started to have some elements from one of the gorier scenes in a recent episode of the series, and me in the dream said, “No, I don’t not want to have this nightmare! No!” And I woke.4
4. I didn’t wake my husband up in the process, so I don’t know if this was one of the times when I said outloud the thing I was saying inside the dream, but there have been occasions in the past where I did exactly that.
Now, the things I misremembered about the series had almost nothing to do with the episodes or the storylines. And I’m at least a little bit curious as to why my brain made the changes in recollection that it did. The gist is: my recollection was that the series premiered shortly before my mom, sister, and I moved out to the west coast following my parents’ divorce (when I was 15 years old), that I initially liked the series but became dissatisfied with it as the seasons went on, and was slightly curious years later when the follow-up series Galactica 1980 was released, but was even more disappointed in how poorly the show had aged.
Which is all very, very wrong. And some of it was wrong in ways that are kind of flabbergasting. The original series premiered the same month as my 18th birthday and a little over a year after the worldwide premiere of the original Star Wars. It was only on the air for one season (24 episodes). And the gap between the ending of the original series and the premiere of the follow up was only 8 months.
Glen A. Larson originally conceived the series in the mid-sixties as a group of about three television movies called Adam’s Ark. It was a synthesis of space opera themes with Mormon theology (Larson having been raised in the Church of the Latter Day Saints). Larson had been unable to sell the idea to anyone. Even when a couple years later Star Trek became briefly a minor hit series. (Star Trek, of course, wouldn’t become a sci fi behemoth until later, after reruns had been running in syndication for several years).
Then, in 1977, the movie Star Wars was a worldwide blockbuster hit, and suddenly every network, movie studio, and anyone else in the entertainment/media/publishing world was looking to cash in on its incredible success. Larson’s pilot script looked very attractive.
They filmed the pilot, ABC bought it, put the series on the air with an incredible budget that wouldn’t be exceeded by any other TV show for many years, and we were off. The show did incredibly well in the ratings for the first month or so, until CBS shifted its schedule to put the very popular All In the Family and Alice up against it, causing Galactica’s ratings to slip a lot. Of course, the series might have slipped anyway. The initial spectacle of billions of people killed in the opening battle (not to mention the show’s willingness to cast more famous actors in roles that died within the first several episodes) really seized the imagination. Whereas a lot of the filler episodes were, well, pretty bad. And some things, like the robotic dog pieced together from parts to replace the real dog (killed in the pilot) that had once , were very cheesy.
And while those special effects were lightyears beyond anything seen on television before, they were very expensive. So the network expected not just good ratings, but unbelievably good ratings.
Still, the show had a lot going for it. It didn’t hurt that I had a big crush on Starbuck, of course. But I also had a different kind of crush on Apollo. It wasn’t until some years later, when I got to rewatch some of the original series after I had actually admitted to myself that I was gay that I realize I had the hots for Starbuck, but Apollo was who I wanted to fall in love with and settle down.
Hatch’s character was different than the typical leading man at the time. Unlike the reboot series, Apollo had a warm relationship of mutual respect with his father, Commander Adama. In the pilot he met and practically adopted Boxy (the young boy whose dog had died) helped reunite the boy with his mother, prompted fell in love with said mother, married her, and even though she is killed shortly after the wedding in a Cylon attack, remains a good father. Heroes had been family men before, of course, but unlike some previous fictional fathers, Hatch made you believe that he loved his stepson.
There was a lot to like about the original Galactica. Cool space battle, for one. The Cylon Centurions were a bit cheesy–their chrome colored bodies were always so shiny and unscuffed, even after tramping through a sandstorm on yet another planet that looked like a Universal blacklot generic Western landscape with inexplicable lights added to make it look spacey(?), for instance. But both individual Cylons and the fleet were appropriately menacing. The show did a good job of making it feel like the stakes were real. And the notion that even after the mass murder of billions of people, a group of survivors would claw hope out of disaster and look for a new home was more than just heartwarming.
The show had some problems, as well. Some of them are typical problems of producing a weekly science fiction television series with 1970s technology and practices. Others were more thematic. The fundamental premise from the beginning was that contemplating disarmament as a step toward peaceful co-existence was the most foolish thing people could do. Given the nuclear stand-off between the U.S. and our NATO allies on one side, and the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies on the other, and the very active policy and treaty debates going on at the time, the show was staking a blatant political position. Related, throughout the original series, the military leaders were shown time and time again to always be right, while civilians (particularly any who advocated non-violent philosophies) were always wrong–and not merely wrong, but naively and disasterously wrong again and again.
Remember that the next time someone claims that sci fi has only become political recently.
While caught up in an individual episode it was easy to ignore those problematic elements. Besides, I loved Commander Adama, he was a hero and a great leader! And his son, Apollo, respected him, and we saw a lot more of Apollo in action on screen and he was clearly a good man, brave, loyal, and so forth. Even the sort-of-rebellious Starbuck respected Adama! Therefore our affection for Adama was not misplaced, right? Except, of course, that the examples of civilians who had a different opinion than the military command tended to be one-dimensional or transparently designed to either be unlikeable or pitiably naive.
So Galactica was hardly nuanced.
I liked it. The idea of fighting on against impossible odds is almost always appealing. People who snatch victory from the jaws of defeat with nothing more than hope, courage, and a bit of cleverness are fun to root for. And Galactica gave us that aplenty.
And you can hardly fault a story for that.
A week or so ago a prominent anti-gay person stated in an interview that 30% of all characters on TV shows now are gay. That’s horrible, he said, in part because clearly no more than 4% of the population is gay, and the huge numbers on TV were there to desensitize normal people to the existence of gay people. He also talked about how happy and loving gay people as shown on this TV shows are a myth, and went on to assert the gay people are too busy bullying kids to be living productive lives.
Setting aside the fact that even when a Republican administration looked into the issue of kids being bullied it found that the vast majority of the bullying was from straight-identifying adults and kids, and that it was directed at kids who were perceived as being gay or were otherwise non-gender-conforming, his claim is so ludicrous, I’m surprised that even the conservative publication who conducted the interview managed to recreate it without dying of embarrassment.
Also, we’ll just ignore the 4% assertion, as that topic is worthy of a post all of its own.
There are reasons I majored in Math in college, and one of those is that I can’t just leave wrong-sounding numbers alone. I feel compelled to try to figure out just how wrong they are.
I could simply accept GLAAD’s (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) report last year that found about 4.4% of regular characters on scripted network shows this last season were Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender. If GLAAD is correct, than the anti-gay guy’s number is nearly 7 times as high as it ought to be.
But I wanted to dig into the numbers a bit more.
So, I searched the web for listings of prime time network television shows this last season, and tried to figure out which ones should count (it seems obvious that sports and news shows shouldn’t be included, but then I noticed in the interview that the bigot seemed to be including contestants in talent shows as characters, so it wasn’t completely clear that only scripted comedies and dramas were what he was talking about). I decided that my calculations based on web searches weren’t very scientific on my own, (at one point I had a number of 4224 regular and recurring characters, and that seemed as ridiculous at the bigots numbers).
The GLAAD study has slightly more rigorous methods. They came up with 97 scripted programs on the five broadcast networks, and they only counted characters whose actors qualify (under union rules) as playing regulars. That led to a total of 701 characters, of which 31 were identified as non-heterosexual. If the bigot’s percentage was correct, that should have been 210 non-heterosexual characters.
Which next made me wonder where the bigot was getting those 179 characters from?
It’s possible, of course, that he simply made up the number in order to shock the ultra-conservative people from whom he is constantly pleading for donations. But since he’s the president of a federally registered non-profit that identifies itself as promoting morality, that can’t possibly be the case, can it?
Then I thought about what his life is like: giving all these interviews, sending out the constant emails and mailers pleading for money, leading protestors outside legislatures and such, staging press conferences in front of civil rights offices, pretending to be addressing a huge crowd of sympathizers as his employees record the speech for YouTube, and carefully hiding the fact that the number of reporters covering the event far outnumbered the crowd (and most of the crowd were his employees!), and thinking up new ways to repeat the same tired, debunked lies on cable news shows. All of that takes an enormous amount of effort. There is no way he has the time to watch TV shows!
Which led me to realize that he probably spends more time reading LGBTQ news sites and blogs than I do. And it is the case that when they cover pop culture, those sites disproportionately focus on queer characters, or actors and actresses who are either gay or allies. So if one’s primary source of information was from those, it would not be unreasonable to conclude that nearly a third of the characters in all these shows were non-heterosexual.
I hope he doesn’t ever wander into somewhere like FanFiction.Net or the like! Because if you believed all the fanfiction out there, less than 3% of any characters in any show or series in exclusively heterosexual. That possibility might give him a fatal shock!