Almost immediately after the first installment of the web series Battlestar Galactica: The Face of the Enemy aired on December 12, 2008, a heated debate erupted on the Sci-Fi Network message boards about both the revelation that the character of Felix Gaeta was gay and the webisode’s inclusion of a very brief (and very tame) kiss between Gaeta and his partner, Hoshi. For some participants, the interactive forum produced what John Hartley has referred to as a virtual “republic of letters,” enabling posters to talk back to the text and amongst themselves in ways that enacted a form of cultural citizenship through textual engagement. A vibrant, if also at times, testy back and forth conversation took place, which used Gaeta’s outing as a launching point to discuss topics ranging from the Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage in California to the merits of depicting Gaeta and Hoshi’s relationship within the BSG universe as normal, rather than an issue in need of further narrative explanation within the series.
Of concern to me, however, was the oft-repeated position taken by opponents of the kiss, who employed what sounds a lot like a post-civil rights discourse of “relevancy” in justifying their objections (and possibly in masking their homophobia). Where some producers in the 1970s sought to make TV relevant by purposely engaging with taboo topics like racism, abortion, and poverty (and arguably, BSG’s producers have continued that trend by repeatedly telling thinly-veiled allegorical tales about the perils of class stratification, xenophobia, and religious zealotry on the series), these concerns mattered little to the anti-Gaeta/Hoshi posters, who complained that the relationship had no relevance to the BSG plot. This is perhaps best encapsulated by JonathonL’s assertion, “It holds no relevance to the show, and would take away from the important plot line of the 4.5 season, The fifth [cylon], Earth, and ect [sic]. It has nothing to do with moral views or anything”.
This valuation of plot over characterization and relationships not only selectively engages the BSG storyworld, where human emotions and beliefs often drive the actions taken by the characters as well as their ramifications, but also provides a slippery means of transforming possible bigotries into matters of personal preference – for the plot machinations over the relationship aspects of the series. As theenforcer2 summarizes, “it’s not bigotry to disagree that the show should or should not show gay relationships. I don’t like a lot of the Kara/Lee/Dee/Anders foursome either. I think it’s a distraction. That doesn’t make me a hetero-bigot. Some people want that stuff; some people don’t”.
In the end, many of the pro-gay posters found themselves unwilling to accept these criticisms as anything other than covert homophobia (simply not liking the story was not allowed) while others wound up defending the Gaeta/Hoshi coupling on grounds of plot relevancy rather than cultural inclusion. “But the relationship in question is the plot device that prompts the rescue that resolves the story’s conflict… You could have sent out a regular rescue party, but where’s the dramatic tension in that?” (maxbell, 12/13/08).
While the BSG webisode and the message boards certainly opened up opportunities for discussions about gay rights and representations, the recurrent focus on “plot relevance” and “personal preferences” inevitably reframed complex conversations about gay cultural citizenship as matters of consumer choice and individuated narrative pleasure.*
* Thanks to Hollis Griffin for his insights on how ideological beliefs about sexuality are often expressed through discourses of consumer choice.