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Friday Nerd Blogging

September 9, 2011

Alcohol (Battlestar Galactica) from Anno Superstar on Vimeo.

Though by right this post should be pure casual Friday nerd filler (as opposed to genuine literary commentary on representations of military affairs in science fiction), I feel compelled to point you to this highly academic and substantive essay by Jason T. Eberl and Erik D. Baldwin, “How to Be Happy After the End of the World” in which it is argued:

“Fans of BSG are sometimes frustrated with the characters’ actions and decisions. But would any of us do better if we were in their places? We’d like to think so, but would we really? The temptation to indulge in sex, drugs or alcohol… to cope with the unimaginable suffering that result from surviving the death of civilization would be strong indeed… Nevertheless we think that many of the characters in BSG would be happier if they made better choices and had a clearer idea about what happiness really is.”

But while the authors may be right about happiness in the philosophical sense and in the show generally, I don’t think their pessimistic view of the relationship between alcohol and happiness is generally reflected in BSG fan culture (the various alcoholic beverages of BSG are detailed here). Consider a comparative analysis of two similar “Starbuck Tribute” fan videos, both set to the same Pink song “So What?” yet each depicting different sides of Starbuck’s personality:

I don’t know how you’ll read these videos, but I briefly coded them (disclaimer: over a good glass of Müller-Thurgau and without any particular rigor) for whether Starbuck is depicted as “angry” “happy” “troubled” “kick-ass” or engaged in “flying” “fighting” “sex” or “love.” The first video shows her to be angrier, more troubled, less kick-ass, less sexual and loving, less happy and less involved in useful military activities. The second video has her primarily kick-ass, about twice as sexy/affectionate with her various males, and barely angry or troubled at all.

Which video has more drinking scenes? Obviously the second. While this is not a representative sample of the correlation between drinking scenes and affect throughout the series, it’s an interesting counterpoint to Eberl and Baldwin’s assumptions about the messages fans take from the subtext of drunkenness on the show. Rather I suspect the dominant BSG narrative as interpreted by fans stresses alcohol’s pro-social qualities as a functional coping mechanism in situations of existential stress. Of course the real picture is more complex.

Heading off now to enjoy the open bar at the UMass-Polisci Beginning-of-Year Department Party. Highly distilled Friday nerd nonsense will resume next week.

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Charli Carpenter is a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She is the author of 'Innocent Women and Children': Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate, 2006), Forgetting Children Born of War: Setting the Human Rights
Agenda in Bosnia and Beyond (Columbia, 2010), and ‘Lost’ Causes: Agenda-Setting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security (Cornell, 2014). Her main research interests include national security ethics, the protection of civilians, the laws of war, global agenda-setting, gender and political violence, humanitarian affairs, the role of information technology in human security, and the gap between intentions and outcomes among advocates of human security.