6/7/12

Why Kara "Starbuck" Thrace Still Matters



The hard-living fighter pilot Kara Thrace.
I recently finished Battlestar Galactica. I missed everything about the show when it was airing. It just wasn't in my consciousness. I didn't have cable at the time, I didn't know anyone who watched it. So I watched it with a completely fresh perspective recently on Netflix. And it seems like many other critics in the world felt what I felt when the show was said and done, that Katee Sackoff's "Starbuck" character was the true beginning of the end for outdated gender bias on TV.

Check out the Casting and Critical Response sections of her Wikipedia page to be lead down the rabbit hole on some of the important discussions that happened about her character back when the show was airing.

The original Starbuck was a male. When the reboot of the show cast a woman in his place, there was (I'm sorry to have to use this qualifier, but "as usual"...) the initial outrage that a woman was cast in a "man's" role. But Sackoff's performance proved that the gender of that character didn't necessitate innate masculinity. What mattered was the performance, not whether she was a man or a woman.

Now, being a woman added interesting layers of complexity to her interactions with the other characters on the show. But what a refreshing difference it made! It proved something. That toughness doesn't have to be masculine. It's the day after mother's day as I write this after all, and if anyone has to be tough in this world, it's a mother. And I don't say that in a patronizing or anecdotal way. I mean it.




Thrace's gambling, drinking, aggression
& promiscuity were not given a slick
or glorified portrayal. On the contrary,
Starbuck's self-destructiveness was a pitiable
trait prompting her frequent isolation.
I can point to endless intelligent female characters from TV, but most of those were originated as women. Starbuck was one of the first characters who replaced a male character. And she's no angel. That's for sure, which offered another wrench in the gears. How can we love a female hero who isn't innately righteous, but who is in fact, deeply flawed in many ways?

Again, I'm used to seeing renegade male characters who have problems with drinking, with women, with a bad attitude. That's kind of the standard scoundrel/reluctant hero template. But a woman with similar problems? Is she worse? Is she better?

The truth is, TV is just like movies. Same goes with books. Whatever you watch or take in only serves to hold a mirror up to what you believe or how you feel. So the really important question to keep asking yourself, whether you are male or female, is how do you feel about a character and why do you feel that way? Especially if you have a strong reaction.

If you are a woman, you don't have to like every female character. If you are a man, you don't have to like every male on TV. But pay attention to that gentle bubbling of disgust under the surface that pops up. When does it happen? Why do you hate the characters you hate? Do you stop to ask yourself those questions as an observer of pop culture?

If you don't you should. Start to count the number of fully clothed women on any given TV show who can speak intelligently and then compare that to the number of male characters who do the same.

And then start to pay attention to the world around you. If you go to conventions, start to count the women in costume who are baring it all vs. the male costumes that draw focus to the body. Pay attention to the publicity photos of famous female geeks to male geeks. Do Wil Wheaton or Jon Hodgman have to post in a slave Leia bikini for fan photos? Well...it would be hilarious if they did. But the answer to that is obviously "no". Because it's not expected of them. Their star power isn't innately connected to their gender.

And when the same can be said to be the norm for lady geeks, I'll stop talking about things like this on my blog.

And for a lot of people, that will be a very good day.

2 comments:

Daniel said...

Well said, Kara was one of my favorite characters on there, along with the XO because they were so incredibly flawed.

Personally those type of characters, male or female are more interesting in general.

Anonymous said...

You are right about Kara. I wouldn't have even started watching the show if it wasn't for her. I loved that she was flawed... so human. And deeply in need of a hug. By watching her character you knew that gambling, drinking, aggression
& promiscuity was the outward expression of the turmoil in her.