A New Reconstruction Narrative: Race and BSG

Curator's Note

Scarred from the civil war on New Caprica, Col. Tigh has effectively abandoned his position as Executive Officer on Galactica to drink himself to death in his cabin. The episode “Hero” paves the way for Tigh’s redemption through his appropriation of the captivity narrative of Bulldog, a pilot held by the Cylons. This scene can be read as a classic reconstruction narrative from the end of the American Civil War, in which the citizenship of the newly freed African slaves is sacrificed for the reconstruction of the nation. In this scene Tigh begins explaining that Bulldog himself is carrying out Cylon plans by attacking Adama. Tigh exposes Bulldog’s false captivity narrative (in which he overpowered the Cylons and escaped) for the true one (in which the Cylons let him escape to return to the humans to cause trouble). And then Adama interrupts and asks Tigh how he (not Bulldog) can recover from the effects of his capture. Adama seems to realize that Tigh’s narrative has shifted and that Tigh is now speaking about himself, and encourages him to continue. Before Tigh responds, the camera pans to Bulldog for a few seconds, providing an implicit answer. The race of the actors is absolutely key here. Tigh pulled himself out of his stupor to save Adama, having put him into danger in the first place. Rather than continuing Bulldog’s story, Tigh begins to tell his own: that he has been used by the Cylons and that he is wallowing in the shame of this fact. The metaphor Tigh uses is that of alcohol to ease the pain of the shame, once again making an explicit reference to Tigh rather than Bulldog. The narrative of captivity--and the chance for redemption--is now Tigh’s. In the final scene of the episode (not depicted here), Bulldog is sent away from Galactica for treatment and Tigh is on the road to recovery.


As with my response to the post on Sharon's Asianess, I'd want to provide a couple of other intepretatory frameworks here. When I hear captivity narrative, I think not of African-Americans and the Civil War (and perhaps Ellen can clarify this) but of white women and native Americans as in The Searchers and the 17th century capativity narratives from which it stemmed. The gender of the captives brings in issues of rape and defilement perhaps not applicable to Bulldog. They might however be applicable if the Cylons have tried to turn him into one of them, as with Picard and the Borg. I also think of the captivity narratives of American pilots held by the VC during the Vietnam war, the obvious filmic reference here The Deerhunter. I'd like to know more about why Ellen thinks that the actor being African-American is so crucial here. More generally, what's interesting is the multiple reading positions that are being brought to bear on these clips, reminding us of the polysemic and contradictory nature of popular culture, an argument which John Fiske made with regard to television twenty years ago.

Roberta, I see why you went with captivity narrative--it's actually a typo. The rest of the post is about narratives of reconstruction. The last time I mention it, I say "captivity" in error. I'd agree that this clip does not make any reference to the captivity narrative. I would point out, though, that there are aspects of this Tigh story line that do, though. On New Caprica, he spent time captured by the Cylons, and was only released when his wife promised to spy on the resistance movement for the Cylons. The release from his captivity only becomes clear to him in this scene, but it isn't directly referred to.

Really interesting clip: I agree that the race of the liberated pilot Bulldog is key here, partly because there are no other black pilots in BSG, and his loyalty and authenticity as a human are immediately in question from the beginning to the end of this episode. BSG is pretty relentlessly serial, maybe not in comparsion to _lost_ and _24_, nonetheless, this show is an anomaly in that it introduces a one-off character whose loyalty is in question from the perspective of the viewer as well. After several instances of new human 'arrivals" to Galactica to later turned out to be Cylons, it is only reasonable that the viewer would have to suspect any new introduction. I agree with Ellen that Tigh's story of trauma and violation is cathected through Bulldog's: Buldog is only there to enable and ratify Tigh's rehabilitation, not to have any of his own. As Ellen remarks, Bulldog's rehabilitation happens offstage. In this sense he does the same work that Whoopi Goldberg and other black characters do in more conventional narratives. The Bulldog episode did make me wonder what BSG would be like if it had more black characters in roles that involved machine-human interfaces, such as piloting and so on. STarbuck's ability to pilot a Cyclon raider using a biologically based interface has led to lots of speculation on bulletin boards that she might be a Cyclon herself. It's kind of typical that if Asians are figured as always-already digital, that blacks are figured as transcending the digital, or not-digital.

I wonder if Lisa's point can be extended to suggest how African American struggles for recognition/equality have been displaced in the digital era by more supposedly tech-savvy minority groups? What I am thinking about here is, on the one hand, how the episode positions Bulldog as Adama's best pilot from an era gone by, before things got fuzzy, whose return opens up not only opportunity for Tigh's rehabilitation, but also reveals Adama's betrayal/abandonment and selective memory (suddenly, he remembers a past Cylon encounter). Bulldog is a casualty of shift in "us versus them" mentality that the digital, much like analog radio beforehand, has complicated. In this sense, perhaps digital has killed the broadcasting star, or shifted the previous regime of representational politics where Blackness was foreground? On the other hand, the digital divide remains most apparent in poor Black neighborhoods in the US, excluding many African Americans from participating as netizens in articulating their place within a multi-racial society. Bulldog is a man out of place in the post-Cylon invasion era, who functions to remind Adama of past mistakes and to help Tigh come to terms with his own grief, but is largely shut out of any larger conversations about the politics of being human that BG seems so invested in.

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