Last night, I sat among the Twelve Colonies with Admiral Adama and President Roslin at the United Nations' ECOSOC Chamber, to talk about human rights issues, and fill the space with "So Say We All."
Backed by the bizarre red-and-white U.N. curtains, Ronald D. Moore, Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell and David Eick gathered to discuss the direct correlation between Battlestar Galactica and the present day work at the United Nations. Whoopi "Guinan" Goldberg moderated the entire panel and I have to say, even though I'm not the biggest View supporter, Goldberg's grasp of current issues and encyclopedic fan knowledge of BSG combined perfectly to give a bit of levity to the night's presentation.
The panel launched into a moving discourse, prompted by a collection of retrospective clips from BSG about human rights in both the science-fictional and modern day worlds. United Nations workers sat next to the Admiral, and spoke from the heart about extreme human rights abuses around the world, after viewing a scene from the first season, with Starbuck torturing Cylon Leoben with a water bucket and a smirk, and the brutal abuse of Pegasus Six. For every clip, the "real world" speaker shared how these shameful and violating acts continue across the globe, and sadly aren't limited to dark space operas.
Human Rights Deputy Director Craig Mokhiber lamented that even the utopian ideal the United Nations was formed around was considered, by some, science fiction. "We look at it in a different way," Mokhiber explained. "It's true that we are an idealistic organization... but we are focused on international law and diplomacy to settle disputes. We don't see it as utopian, we see it as the only reasonable alternative to what inevitably would be a horrific dystopian society."
At one point the discussion lit a fire under the Admiral, and the talk of human rights turned personal for Edward James Olmos. The "Old Man" launched into a passionate speech about casting off the idea of race as a cultural determinant, and said we were one race, the human race. His voice echoed throughout the chamber growing louder until - I kid you not - he was yelling, "So Say We All," and the crowd answered right back. Hell, even I yelled it, I was in the fraking United Nations with Adama, the gods themselves could not have stopped this moment. It was surreal - the entire audience turned into one massive optimistic/role-playing/saddened goosebump, because who knows when we'll ever hear those words again? And then we were doubly geeked out when, as if on cue, Mary McDonnell turned to Olmos and put her hand on his cheek. But the real chills came from realizing that this treasured television show had actually opened up the lines of communication between the audience and the United Nations. BSG has made people think about the troubling deeds happening in darkened rooms in the present day, not just on a spaceship in the future.
And this was just the beginning of the night. The UN continued to screen clips from BSG and the conversation moved on to outlawing the right to choose aboard the Galactica, and how difficult it was for Mary McDonnell to get through filming those scenes. And then, to suicide bombings in the resistance on New Caprica. The show's producer, Ronald D. Moore, discussed writing Saul Tigh's troubling pro-suicide bombing lecture where he tells the ex-president to leave her moral scruples about his terrorist actions at the door, because he's got a war to win. The rationale that they gave Saul to justify his actions was, "more frightening and more disturbing because he wasn't crazy," Moore said. "I felt like it was important to put that idea out there and make people think about it because people who do these things are human beings." And he was right.
The Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, Robert Orr, admitted that he hasn't talked about terrorism or nuclear armageddon in a social situation since 1982 (although he talks about those issues daily at work). "We don't like to confront these issues in our lives, but they are real," said Orr. "If a show can get us thinking about it and talking about it, then Amen, because it isn't easy." Ahem, I think you meant, "Thank the gods." But he's got a point, and I don't think there is another show on television that could recreate last night at the United Nations, by addressing current issues in such a manner.
It was chill-inducing to see how far BSG had come. What was once a struggling miniseries now sits front and center in the Chambers of the United Nations, creating a dialogue amongst fans, 100 attending high school students (who all came prepped with astounding questions), politicians and activists. Let's hope that BSG's night inspires future scifi series to at least attempt to address the reality of the world we live in today, you'll be missed old girl.
Pictures from Brian McDermott/SCI FI Channel, and Getty Imgaes.