Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Gregory Wolfe on Pop-Culture and Battlestar Galactica

Gregory Wolfe (editor of the “highbrow” journal Image) offers some excellent perspective on the highbrow/lowbrow distinction and why "popular culture" is a bit of a misnomer (HT Jeff Overstreet):

The problem isn’t really Highbrow versus Lowbrow. That’s a simplification. The criticisms of pop culture I most resonate to are not the ones that decry pop because it’s not sophisticated and complex. No, the problem with popular culture these days isn’t that it comes up from the people. It’s that it comes from massive corporations, who produce it according to marketing statistics so that the end result is bland, lowest-common denominator schlock.

True pop culture came from the people; it was hand-made, plucked on guitars and sawed on fiddles. It arose out of common experience; it had a history, even a tradition.

He goes on to explain why, despite all this, he’s become a huge fan of shows like Battlestar Galactica, which defy that lowest-common denominator approach:
BSG has everything I’d always loved in sci fi—space battles, ethical dilemmas, and a certain grittiness that reminded me that those space-faring folks were still profoundly human. The retro elements of the series—the Battlestar is more like an aircraft carrier in WWII than a starship, there are no transporters, and they still use telephones attached to the walls!—keep it real. Moore has given us a series that contains three things that Star Trek had abandoned: politics, war, and religion.

Moreover, by having the rebellious robots (known as Cylons) evolve into biological entities indistinguishable from human beings, Moore came up with a perfect device to explore the ambiguities of the human condition.

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