Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Politics of Continuum, Part III

In my previous post on the politics of the Showcase series Continuum I suggested that the future history of the series at least suggests sympathy on the part of the show's writers for the corporatocracy of the 2077 North American Union.

If anything, this seems to me confirmed by the depictions of the two sides in the show's central conflict. The roles of Keira Cameron as good guy/cop and Edouard Kagame's Liber8 as bad guys/rebels in 2077 are reinforced by the associations they form back in 2012, Keira aligning herself with the police, while Liber8 consorts with criminals--associates unambiguously treated as the good guys and bad guys in 2012. Additionally Keira Cameron's struggle to thwart Liber8 makes her a preserver of the timeline from those who seek to alter the course of history--roles normally allotted hero and villain, respectively. Put another way, Keira Cameron is in the position of Kyle Reese, Liber8 in that of the Terminator, in that series' original 1984 film. This conflates her role as defender of the social order in 2077 with a role as defender of the larger cosmic order.

The differing depictions of the characters themselves also seem noteworthy. Rachel Nichols' beautiful, clean-cut, comfortably upper middle-class heroine torn away from a husband and child toward whom she is loving and devoted, and up against a more numerous force of ruthless adversaries, is a natural to win the audience's sympathies--while Liber8's people generally lack that sort of appeal.1 The depiction of the group's two women (and it does seem notable that there are just two women among the eight) is a case in point. Luvia Peterson's tattooed, bleached ex-con Jasmine Garza conveys a threatening "punk" image. Lexa Doig's Sonya Valentine is more conventionally alluring, but her beauty is less glamourized than Cameron's is (or Doig's was on Andromeda), her viciousness instead played up at every opportunity.

More pointed still is the show's treatment of the group's leader, the curiously named Edouard Kagame.2 Made conspicuously foreign by his name, and physically passable as the popular stereotype of an Islamist terrorist (an image reinforced by the long beard he wears), such an association is strongly reinforced by his first and last scenes in season one.3 In the opening we see him making a statement to the world as big-city skyscrapers explode behind him (images clearly evoking popular memory of the September 11 attacks)--while in the season finale, "Endtimes," he becomes a suicide bomber.

The uneven depiction of the show's violence reflects the same tendency, and not just in those politically charged scenes which suggest an equivalency between Liber8 and al-Qaida. It is not merely the case that Liber8 is willing to kill the innocent to achieve its ends, but also that where Cameron's violent acts are merely in the line of duty for an action hero, their acts are consistently sensationalized--as when the Liber8 members attack a group of bikers in "A Matter of Time." (Sonya Valentine, conspicuously violent even by the standards of her comrades, beats an unarmed man to death with a crowbar, the camera lingering on every strike.)

The effect of such imagery is to uphold the conventional format of good guy cops and bad guy lawbreakers--and along with it, the 2077 status quo. The series may do so in shades of gray rather than stark black and white (such matters as the back stories of the various Liber8 members and the mysterious relationship between Sadler and Kagame keep things from looking too simple), but through the first season at least, it has that effect nonetheless. And so in the end what I see in season one is yet another exercise in postmodern muddle, evasive about whether it is saying anything at all (let alone what it is saying), appearing to be thought-provoking when it is really just pushing the viewers' buttons--but at bottom uncritically accepting of an extreme right-wing view of the world that most viewers seem to take in an equally uncritical fashion. In that it is rather like the show that did so much to set the trend for science fiction television during the past decade, Battlestar Galactica.

1. Upper middle-class, after all, is the strata in which television drama tends to find its protagonists--like its lawyers, its doctors and certain notorious ad-men.
2. The most obvious point of reference seems to be Paul Kagame, the former leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front and current President of Rwanda. A controversial figure who is obscure to an American audience (the politics of Central Africa having been shamefully ignored in the U.S. media in the 1990s and 2000s), it is hard to see what effect this name achieves besides making this apparently non-Rwandan character seem more "foreign" to North American ears.
3. It is notable that Amendola has played Middle Eastern characters before, as on the "Deadline" episode of NCIS: Los Angeles. Other notable roles Amendola has taken in the past, such as Salman Rushdie lookalike "Sal Bass" in the Seinfeld episode "The Implant," and Master Bra'tac of pseudo-Egyptianate Chulak in Stargate: SG-1, likewise have a "whiff of the east" about them.

My Posts on Continuum
My Posts on Battlestar Galactica
My Posts on Postmodernism


Anonymous said...

I used to have the same analysis you have at first (you're spot on on Galactica btw), but viewing season 1 again, things do not appear that clear-cut. And having seen most of season 2 now, I think you're wrong about the show being right-wing.
Cameron clearly strays away from the "good" path and is shown to have been brainwashed by the corporations, while Julian is made much more sympathetic.
All in all the writers seem to avoid black&white even more than before, though it may creep in further seasons with new factions...

Nader said...

Hi. Thanks for your comments (regarding both shows).
I do have to admit that my analysis of Continuum was based on just season 1, so it didn't really speak to events in later seasons. (That was all that had aired at the time of writing.)
I certainly agree that there is a fair amount of ambiguity in the show-but I'm not sure that simply being ambiguous about some things is the same thing as being neutral on a debate. (I have my say about that side of the issue in the preceding post, incidentally.)
I have started watching season 2, however, and do plan to revisit the issue in an upcoming post.


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