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From Battlestar Galactica to BSG Studies?

There's a whole panel on Battlestar Galactica here at MiT5 - how could I resist? Melanie E. S. Kohnen is the first speaker, presenting on Battlestar Galactica and the Reimagination of Contemporary American History. She begins by noting the connections between the BSG story of a surprise attack on the twelve colonies, and the 9/11 attacks (although strictly speaking, in a full analogy, it would have been only the people within the Twin Towers who had survived). Different from the black-and-white positioning of the U.S. adminstration, however, the question of who is on which side is problematised strongly within BSG; it is almost impossible to determine who is human and who is Cylon in the BSG story. Melanie now describes the BSG scenario after settlement on New Caprica, where humans under Cylon rule are caught between collaboration and resistance (through suicide bombings and other oppositional actions) - this is personified in the opposition between Baltar and Roslin in the show.

Such portrayals break down simple binary oppositions, simple 'us vs. them' descriptions of political struggle. They can be seen as a direct commentary on the "War on Terror", of course, and also speak to other current themes within American politics. Side-stories within the BSG text address issues around civil liberties, the rights of prisoners of war, and the legitimacy of torture; the prominence of 'outdated', non-networked technology in the show also connects to present-day fears around the role of networks both as tools of oppositional organisations and as tools of warfare itself.

Sarah Toton is next, speaking on Reimagining Fan Culture: The Long Journey of Battlestar Galactica. She focusses on the online presence(s) of Battlestar Galactica, and here especially the BSG wiki, which exemplifies the reworking and remixing of BSG content by fans for fans. Indeed, Sarah credits fans with keeping the series alive after the initial television show was cancelled after only 17 episodes. BSG Websites are in essence analogous to the handful of ships which made up the Galactica fleet - a last remnant of community on the search for new horizons. The new version of BSG which was eventually produced also divided this community, however, as it was seen as an outside threat on the existing fan community. Some fans, in fact, called for a boycott of the new series; fans worried about their place in the new series and produced extremely negative commentary on the initial few episodes of the new series. And yet, the new show did become a success, especially after approval in the critical press - a new generation of fans flowed into the existing community.

Additionally, fans began to remix the new series in order to bring it into line more directly with their view of how the show should work. The Battlestar Wiki is one of the most exciting spaces in this context, but interestingly, in its strongly male contributorship it is also highly non-representative of the new BSG, which has a comparatively large number of female fans; this may be due to continuing wider gender divides in general online use, as well as especially also in the use of advanced technologies such as wikis. This also means that some important themes in the wiki remain left out so far - including, for example, any coverage of potential homosexual relationships within the BSG world. Creative interpretation of the BSG text in this environment still has some way to go...

Anne Kustritz is up next, presenting on Ownership and Desire: Fans' and Producers' Manipulation of Fictional Love Triangles. She begins by taking a detour to the Star Wars universe, where there was a strong fan call for introducing a female Boba Fett character, and the community of Lost fans where there is a collaborative but also competitive effort of fans to uncover the mysteries embedded in the text. Focus on such puzzles in the text ignores other potential fan uses of the text, which may be more interested simply in the stories of individual characters rather than the underlying mystery; this, however, is why there are increasing gender-crossing trends in many television genres, as it provides a wider range of motivations for continued fandom.

The new BSG provides such alternative motivations through its strong focus also on romantic triangles amongst its characters. Fans take this even further by introducing other romantic possibilities not sanctioned by the official text, and the rich range of characters in the new show provided ample opportunity for such imaginings; this was complicated, however, by a canonisation of some key relationships between characters, but also by a soap opera-like continuous recombination of emotional attachments. Such layered structures also run the risk of continually offending committed viewers by privileging or terminating the wrong relationships, however.

Julie Levin Russo is the last speaker, on Labors of Love: Capitalizing on Fan Economies. She notes the reliance of television on mass culture's ability to reproduce itself, which both provides ground for cultural expression and for the ensnarement of audiences in the continuous change of familiar texts. Like the cylon/human baby produced in the show, then, cult television is 'the shape of things to come' - television's offspring is most successful when it combines both professional production and fan culture, and indeed the BSG Website offers a number of opportunities for fans to become involved in content production (through participation in blogs and submitting user-created fan media, for example).

Such active reinterpretation by fans rescues the narrative orphans of the BSG storyline, offering for example an opportunity for the identification of queer desire buried within the show. This is particularly prevalent in the creation of fan videos for BSG, many of which are shared on the iMeem site; many of these are created by female fans, and they differ markedly from the fan video content shared through the official Galactica Website, where the stock clips available for remixing consist largely of explosions and space battles, rather than any of the more interpersonal aspects of the show.

At the same time, in the show itself, systems of heteronormative containment are also in operation, when any form of sexual 'deviation' is associated with alien, cylon sexuality. These are undermined by fan intervention, however, as fan produsage of additional materials fills in the blanks left open by the source text.

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I wonder if it's more that female BSG fans are taking their input elsewhere. E.g. on Livejournal, there are a number of extremely active BSG communities that have contributers who share their thoughts and analysis of each episode. This might be indicative of some typical trends in female vs male online participation.

The BSG wiki is an encylopedia for the most part--it describes facts and happenings of each episode and then lists a few popular questions that many readers might have post-viewing.

The LJ communities, instead, are communities--with a more personal identity attached to each post (since you post very visibly as a particular LJ user). Readers can respond by directly commenting on a particular user's thoughts; it is a much more interpersonal-relationship driven interaction, in my opinion. The LJ community posts also very prominently often explore homosexual/alternate-couple-undertones to the episodes, and mention analysis that goes far beyond a listing of what happened in a given episode.

Females also tend to dominate BSG fanfiction (also other fanfiction communities), again a popular outlet for exploring non-standard relationships. Again possibly a more creative outlet (possibly more appealing to females) for fans than the wiki?

I also question whether a wiki is more "advanced" of a technology than an LJ or fanfiction database site considering how LJ is exemplar of the current popular social network community concept, with "friends" "friends of friends" "communities/groups" etc. Fanfiction sites also often run on rather complicated databases (technologically-speaking)--and even though the average writer will never be involved in the technology behind the site, the average BSG wiki contributer will also never be involved in the wiki code either.

Some (not a complete list) of LJ communities:

This blog post is also being discussed at the Battlestar Wiki Blog, and the comment above has also been posted there.

Just so you know.

Hi, there. I'm one of many contributors on Battlestar Wiki, and am also one of its administrators. I'm not here to speak directly on behalf of the wiki (that right goes to our head wikipedian, Joe Beaudoin), but I wanted to add my comments and clarifications and my two cents to your insightful article.

Battlestar Wiki is an unofficial canonical encyclopedia of characters, situations and events of the 1978 series and the current series by Ron Moore. We also have articles on officially-licensed books, comics and novels (which we mark differently to keep these stories from conflicting with the canonical content). Battlestar Wiki does not host or link to unofficial fan sites or fan fiction. Since Battlestar is a work of fiction, we don't fully subscribe to the original research policies that Wikipedia has, but we allow some speculation to fill in gaps in the encyclopedia information. This speculation is required to have a source from an aired episode to support it, furthering the wiki's mission. Battlestar Wiki has been helped by many contributors to bring it to its current level, and are happy that a handful of the Re-imagined Series crew has assisted in correcting and clarifying the content of the wiki, such as Bradley Thompson, the series' co-producer and one of its key writers, who we greatly appreciate in correcting and clarifying our content in his periodic visits.

Currently, the wiki (now approaching its 3rd year of operation) has 13 administrators, 2,647 users, and 2,197 articles. Surprising to us is the low amount of female contributors on the wiki. Or, I should say, the number of contributors who identify themselves as female; the wiki does not require anyone to provide any demographic information. None of our admins are female.

Personally I believe the wiki would appreciate a feminine point of view in wiki policy and articles, and hopefully nothing indicates to the public at-large that Battlestar Wiki is some "guys only" wiki, when we certainly aren't. The new series has many facets, from action, romance, intrigue, and high drama. Shows such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, Farscape and Stargate have notably large female supporters, so maybe we have more female "lurkers" that just read the wiki and don't have much to contribute.

While Battlestar Wiki may not be quite germane to the discussions noted in this article on fan fiction, we are certainly a good resource on characters and events to help a fan define a story for themselves.

On homosexual content in Battlestar: I admit there appears little to go on, although I believe that the writers of the show have seriously considered a story line or two, but the need to work on the central storylines may have quashed that. One bisexual moment is in the new show: In the episode, "Hero", scientist and Cylon captive Gaius Baltar is in bed with both Caprica-Six and D'Anna Biers, played by Lucy Lawless of "Xena" fame, after was was obviously a "threesome." Cylons, apparently, have no hangups on this matter (or those two Cylons, at least). Lawless's Xena character, we know, has a strong fan base, particularly in the gay and lesbian communities because of the love and camaraderie of the show's central characters, which could be an interesting bit of discussion.

Thanks again for the article, and hopefully this helps further comments on what Battlestar Wiki is, our female members, and our little place in the BSG community.

Just wanted to let folks know that audio recordings from this panel have been posted here. In our presentations we (the panelists) address some of the comments and questions raised above. None of us had time to talk about livejournal fandom extensively, but I know that Sarah, for one, has an extensive section contrasting it with the BSG wiki in the longer version of her paper. I'd like to thank Snurb for this cogent recap of our panel, but keep in mind that he's just the messenger. Please address any points of contention to us!