With its attention to suicide bombings, insurgencies and the tenability and ethics of long-term military occupation, this “Battlestar Galactica” season looks suspiciously like an allegory for Middle East politics. And that infuriates people.
But it’s not ideologues who get mad at “Battlestar.” It’s critics. For critics, allegories are a huge bummer. Who wants to be a translator of pig Latin? If — in a novel, say — there’s a gang of hoods who stand for the world’s disenfranchised, and a character who equals Jesus, and a nightclub that’s the garden of Gethsemane, where’s the pleasure in analysis? Reading becomes an umb-day ritual of cracking rote codes.
This notion of allegories as static and dull — an idea derived from 17th-century works of moral instruction like “Pilgrim’s Progress” that featured characters with names like Everyman and Sloth — turned 20th-century critics against them. For many of them allegory was a lesser genre, didactic and prim, and lacking sophisticated literary features like ambiguity, irony, dissonance, verisimilitude. Readers, on the other hand, continued to embrace allegory in all kinds of popular fiction by writers as disparate as Ayn Rand and George Orwell.
Ultimately, genre discrimination is not good for anyone. And it has been particularly hard on science fiction like the newest “Battlestar,” which has been snubbed by some critics who fear its didacticism and (scarier still) the ardor of its fans. The earliest practitioners of science fiction in literature, especially H. G. Wells, were known for clunky parables. With that as a partial excuse, many critics, including this one, have nervously dismissed the proselytizers who buttonhole them to rave about the importance of “Battlestar Galactica.”
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