What the Frack?: Battlestar Galactica


We’ve been making our way through the first season of Battlestar Galactica.  I’d heard good things about it, but I’m not the biggest filmed sci-fi fan and it felt like a big commitment.  What finally inspired me was running into an old acquaintance who has pretty hip/smart taste who declared that he believes it may be the best t.v. show ever.

Not sure I’d go that far, but it’s definitely excellent.  It’s overwhelmingly a post-9/11 narrative: a comfortable, complacent way of life suddenly shattered; nothing will be the same; life in wartime; our way of life threatened by “others” who may be infiltrating our world; a return to wartime/military ways of thinking and feeling that had felt decades out of date, with the rise to prominence/call out of retirement of old military heroes; the enemy is like us but different/evil; strains of religious fundamentalism and old prophecies.

And of course, interrogation scenes.  There’s a painful one of the interrogation of a Cylon in which the interrogator gives a free rein to the most violent methods on the grounds that, of course, “he’s not actually human.”  The Cylons are, basically, robots who have “evolved” and surpassed human beings; one of their talents is the ability to mimic perfectly human form.  So they are not-human but human; the most interesting twist is that there are Cylons who have been placed as embedded spies in the human world and do not yet know that they are not human.

So, one of the clever aspects of this remake is the way this hoary sci-fi kind of plot is in effect re-purposed as a post-9/11 allegory.  It could be read as quite “conservative” in its literalization of the instinct that “the enemy is not really human” — certainly the interrogation scenes are disquieting in this way — although I tend to interpret it as self-aware in smart ways.

We got Grandma Suzy into the show on her visit last month.

I’ve been amused by the show’s neologism “frack.”  This is a substitute for the obvious curse word, as in “what the frack.”  What’s funny about it is that it comes across as a bleeping-out of “fuck” for network t.v., sort of like when Sex and the City or the Sopranos ran on non-premium t.v. they absurdly dubbed out the curses: “I’m gonna kill that [twerp]”, etc.  But I suppose the idea is supposed to be that in this futuristic society, “frack” is the form into which the original term has evolved.  (Since contemporary human society is the ancient, mythical past of the Galactica humans.)

But — doesn’t that mean that “frack” is to “fuck” as Cylon is to human?????