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Stargate SG-1 never filled me with the humanist awe and wonder of the Star Trek series or the depth and cleverness of Firefly, but it is a good and interesting show that ran for 10 years with a series-long story arc highly relevant to American politics today: A team of intelligent, honest, decent people trying to defend the human race from an exploitive alien civilization ruled by narcissistic feudal overlords, the Goa'uld.  As a series, Stargate SG-1 is practically a parable about the evils of feudalism and the monstrous personalities it rewards, and as such I find it a timely metaphor for the Republican war on American civilization and our struggle to preserve this country despite them.

First, some general background about the fictional universe in which the series occurs: It's based on the 1994 Kurt Russel / James Spader film Stargate, which is about the discovery of an ancient Egyptian artifact that is found to actually be a piece of advanced alien technology that creates portals to other planets.  The premise is of course preposterous - which is all too often the case with "science" fiction in mass media - but it is an entertaining film with some edumacational value in that it vaguely imagines how an ancient culture would relate to modern values.  

In the film, what they discover on the other side of the gate is a planet of illiterate slaves terrorized by the technologically superior forces of an alien being who inhabits the body of a human and represents himself as a god.  We learn from the TV series that this alien is part of a species of psychotic intelligent parasites, the Goa'uld, who are almost all compulsively driven to subjugate others, scheme for power, and wage unending war against everyone not under their control in the absolute belief that they are personally entitled to rule all life.  These are analogous to the oligarchs whom the Republican Party exclusively serves, and like them, their evil and narcissism manifests itself to varying degrees and with differing styles: Some are theatrically cruel and malicious, while others are pragmatic in applying their power, but all are remorseless tyrants with no capacity for morality.

The only exceptions among their species are a dwindling, hunted, hated dissident sub-culture (the Tok'ra) that preaches cooperation and respect - symbiosis rather than parasitism - which is an obvious analogy for moderate, statesmanlike Republicans.  And like moderate Republicans, they are a skittish, secretive element who stay just one step ahead of total annihilation from their kind by keeping their heads down and avoiding risks.  Also strongly analogous is the fact that their significance continually declines as the series progresses, because the tightrope they walk is simply too narrow.

Those Goa'uld with the greatest power and who serve no other are called System Lords, and their will is enforced by a human-derived subspecies of warrior-hosts known as Jaffa who perform two critical functions: Serving as the military of their Lord - whose symbol is tattooed on their forehead - and carrying juvenile Goa'uld in an abominal pouch until they're mature enough to be implanted in a human host.  The symbolism of the latter function can't be overstated - Jaffa carry within them the seeds of hate and subjugation, and serve as delivery vectors for their realization while also being enforcers for the current generation of monsters.  And yet they are not loved or respected by their masters, whom they worship as gods - their lives are utterly disposable, and survivors of an ill-fated mission may be executed for saving themselves rather than dying in battle for their Lord.  

Clearly the Jaffa are analogous to the various groups of middle-class citizens, professionals, union members, teachers, government personnel, and minorities who for whatever reason align themselves with the Republican Party despite its obvious contempt for them.  They teach their children the poisonous doctrines that enslave them, teach them to worship the monsters and criminals who deprive them of freedom and dignity, and to excuse any atrocity committed in the name of their master - whether that master is money, race, power, or an alien parasite.  In this way, the carrying of the Goa'uld young symbolizes the way they fertilize the future for more atrocity.  But led by one of the main characters of the series, a rebel Jaffa called Teal'c, more and more Jaffa come to fight for their freedom, whether openly or clandestinely.

One of the most insightful things about Stargate SG-1 is that it realistically depicts the basic difficulty of defeating a feudal system: When you defeat one villain, another immediately springs up in their place, now empowered by having absorbed the resources of the competitor you just toppled and freed from having to defend themselves against that competitor.  This is what makes it so profoundly difficult to check the advance of corporate/oligarchic power in America, let alone to roll it back from areas where it's already gained control: Inroads against one corporation or individual Republican merely opens the door for the remainder to usurp their position and be every bit as dangerous, if not worse, but doing nothing is not an option either because they are always on the move to increase their power at everyone else's expense.  Feudalism is a corrosive solvent that dissolves and invades what it touches, and must be contained from all sides to be contained at all.

HOWEVER, the series also illustrates a hopeful truth: Because the Goa'uld are utterly selfish and single-minded, virtually none of their time is ever spent exploring new ideas or learning from their own mistakes.  In fact, they are so narcissistic that the very concept of being wrong is alien to them - when something goes awry, they would rather blame and execute underlings than change their own strategy.  Now, this sounds like a villain cliche, but in the case of these characters and this social environment, it's an utterly justified one - feudalism creates and rewards exactly that kind of person: People who can do no wrong in their own minds, and thus do nothing but wrong in objective fact - people who would consider the whole universe flawed before they would acknowledge the slightest error on their own part.  As a result, they are inflexible, brittle, unimaginative, uncreative, and find it difficult to adapt to the unexpected: Something that truly free people specialize in delivering.

Our heroes of the series come to find that the compulsive selfishness of the Goa'uld ultimately makes them predictable, controllable, and vulnerable to defeat despite the overwhelming size of their armies and the technological advantages they enjoy.  Arrogant and complacent - or alternately spiteful and cowardly - the parasites can only ever advance by scavenging or stealing advanced technology from others, never seeking to discover new possibilities on their own initiative, and as a result they come to be outflanked by logistically inferior enemies.  They have no motive of curiosity: A mind that considers itself perfect, complete, and divine has no use to learn anything, and the Goa'uld fail to learn even as their own survival is threatened by this unaccountable solipsism.  This fact has also been the chief Republican vulnerability for some time now, and has kept America relatively safe even when Democrats were cowering in fear of uttering a peep against them.  

Free people can defeat overwhelmingly powerful villains, and Stargate SG-1 reminds us of that in ways that are disarmingly subtle despite simultaneously bashing the audience over the head with painful deus ex machina resolutions.  It also illustrates the societal dangers of being locked in a twilight struggle with demons: The tendency of institutions to increasingly resemble what they fight rather than starting every battle by rejecting the enemy from within themselves.  The heroes of SG-1 are often faced with human adversaries in the US government or private sector trying to take advantage of the situation, steal alien technology for profit, prey on other worlds under the excuse that doing so will help defeat the Goa'uld, or commit war crimes against populations captive to the enemy.  

These villains have no problem with the basic attitude of the Goa'uld, they just think their own species / race / country / self should be the ruler of all rather than anyone else.  In essence, they agree completely with everything the enemy says except who gets to wear the nametag that says, "Hi, I'm God."  Perhaps we can see some analogy to DLC / Blue Dog types in this - they may deny Republicans a seat by occupying it themselves, and may favor a more paternalistic approach to ruling over others than the Republicans, but their only purpose in being in politics is to be a player in the Oligarchy Game, not to affirm American democracy.

The eponymous Stargates through which most of the interstellar travel in the series occurs - superluminal spaceships also play a role, but take more time - are relics of a primordial galactic civilization known as the Ancients, whose technology is far beyond the comprehension of any of the present societies that come to use it.  Ancients are portrayed as a wise and evolved society that ultimately transcended corporeal form and became godlike energy beings that don't interfere in the affairs of later civilizations.  Humans are curious about them, but the Goa'uld don't give a shit except insofar as they hope to acquire more relics that might give them an advantage.  I would say this speaks strongly for an analogy to America's Founders: Greatly mythologized historical figures with a relatively well-deserved reputation for wisdom, whose knowledge of the art of government has ostensibly departed from the Earth except in the majestic legacy they left behind - our country, and all others that have ever benefited from its better nature.

Such an analogy works on multiple levels.  Most pertinently, the Goa'uld are only interested in the Ancients as a means to more powerful weapons - in the same way that Republicans form a cargo cult fetish around the Founders, trying to ventriloquist-dummy their corpses into mouthing tyrannical right-wing gibberish while completely repudiating everything they stood for.  Republicans see America's Founders as a powerful symbol, and they want to control that symbol regardless of the reality it represents.  Democrats, however, want to learn the wisdom of the Founders, as well as learning from their mistakes, and further build on the legacy they created - and likewise the heroes of SG-1, particularly the archaeology scholar Daniel Jackson, seek knowledge in order to protect and enlighten humanity, not to simply replace the Goa'uld with human tyranny.

Brief roles are also played in various episodes by benevolent species more advanced than us, and I think we can see these species as a metaphor for the uncommon strength that hope, good will, and creativity gives to free people in a righteous cause - if not also as emblems of our aspirations.  But the humans of the series don't become complacent or dependent on these friends in high places - they hope for help and guidance when necessary, but they don't confidently expect to be rescued from the danger and burden of maintaining their own freedom from the Goa'uld, and they don't blame these higher civilizations when they fail to send the cavalry.  That reflects our own ideal relationship to the leaders of our Party and our country in general, understanding that it is we the people who cause or permit the bulk of what happens or does not happen in this country, we the people who originate or tolerate most of the problems we face, and we the people who have to originate most of the solutions.

Stargate SG-1 is not the most engrossing show, and its characters are not very well developed or interesting, but in its broad sweep it carries some surprising sociopolitical insights that are more than worth exploring.  I'm glad I overcame my initial skepticism of the series - its early episodes are mildly painful to watch, although necessary to set the premise - and chose to watch it through.  I recommend it to anyone else considering doing so, although I'd put the Star Treks, Babylon 5, Firefly (definitely Firefly - you are not allowed to not see Firefly), Farscape, and Lexx ahead of it on their viewing list.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

    by Troubadour on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 11:04:34 AM PDT

  •  very fun. I watched both Stargate series -- they (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, radarlady

    were my go-to "watch while exercising" shows until I finished all of them.  I still have all the DVDs and keep meaning to list them on Craig's List!
    I never thought about the series as an analogy for anything in our politics, but I can see your point.
    About the Jaffa:

    Clearly the Jaffa are analogous to the various groups of middle-class citizens, professionals, union members, teachers, government personnel, and minorities who for whatever reason align themselves with the Republican Party despite its obvious contempt for them.
    I think the Jaffa are most like the angry white (often southern) men the Republican Party keeps targeting.

    One difference between the Goa'uld and Republicans -- the Goa'uld are honestly evil. They are totally comfortable with openly going after whatever enhances their power and wealth and there's no pretense that somehow it will improve the well-being of those they subjugate.

    We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

    by Tamar on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 11:39:13 AM PDT

    •  Good point. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Tamar, radarlady

      The Jaffa would most closely fit the angry Southern white men, but also anyone who ardently supports the GOP despite plain, overwhelming objective evidence that it constantly screws them.

      The Goa'uld are not honest - the show just doesn't spend much time delving into the religious cults they create around themselves to add mystical terror to the material violence of their military forces.  They do threaten disobedient subjects with eternal damnation.

      Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

      by Troubadour on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 12:01:33 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Who are the Asgard, the Nox, the Ancients? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, radarlady

    You left out some major players I think!

    "There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.".. Buddha

    by sebastianguy99 on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 01:27:35 PM PDT

  •  I want President Carter! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    radarlady

    Samantha Carter and SG-1 would cleanse the planet of Republican Goa'uld, Paulbot Replicator, and Taliban Origin influence in an hour (minus commercials -- ok, so maybe it'd be a two-part special) and fix global climate change and the energy crisis during commercial breaks.  

    •  I doubt she would "cleanse the planet." (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      radarlady

      That's NID thinking.

      Everything there is to know about the GOP: They're the Bad Guys.

      by Troubadour on Wed Sep 05, 2012 at 02:30:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We're talking Goa'uld, Ori, and Replicators! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour

        Heck, the NID is probably aligned with all of them.  :)  

        And it's not like Carter didn't have a hand in deploying that Replicator disruptor across the galaxy...  and the Ark Of Truth to unbrainwash the Ori across multiple galaxies.  By comparison, Earth is easy. LOL.

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