Watching Caprica with Baruti

I was over at Baruti’s place hanging out, talking about web back-linking and SEO, and checking out his new Computer Entertainment setup when he asked me if I’d ever seen Caprica. I never heard of it so he popped it in and we started watching it.

I really got into it, I didn’t realize the movie is essentially the pilot/first few episodes of the intended long run series, that was later canceled by the Sci-fi network. It was intended to be a prelude to Battlestar Galactica, 58 years in the past.

The first thing I found interesting was stylistic; the way that the storyline obviously takes place in a distant future but the “mood” of the colonial world, in the fictional universe of Caprica, resonates sympathetically with our own because of the characters dress, habits, surroundings, and so on.

The second thing I found interesting was the way the youth took and subverted technology in the movie. You had young students in the narrative taking adults and older generation’s virtual reality tech, and hacking it, rigging it, creating for themselves their own spaces, a surreal bacchanalia of virtual sex and violence, a perpetual peasants party complete with muggings and obligatory feme lesbian grope fests and blaring quasi-metallic background music noise. Like a rave in a dungeon. But they also took it and used it as a support for their religious and spiritual longings and yearnings – tragically so.

The Virtual reality aspect of it begged the question, of a dream consensually shared, of the consequences of just “checking out” of “real life” and checking into a virtual world of play, wonder, pleasure, depravity, violence, whatever you want. Like a Matrix world you can safely enter and leave wherever you want, and that’s encrypted and only open to those in the know and their avatars. This evokes the Floating City idea of William Gibson (yeah, I read Gibson, what of it..), I think it taps into the popularity of lucid dreams, astral projection, or drug induced visionary states, and our culture’s increasingly popular experiments with these things. Viewed by some people as escapist and irresponsible, it’s no doubt that there is something powerful in this theme, or retreating to a safe dream world that’s ultra vivid and seemingly more real than “real life” but without it’s limitations.

This made me reflect on how much of our perceptions of “the future” are molded by surface forms, to establish a “futuristic milieu” in fiction all one has to do is break out strange sweeped designs, and fabrics, but our idea of the style and mood of “the future” is always determined by our ideas of the past and present.

Take today, we live in a world that only 20 years ago would have been considered a Cyberpunk science fiction world to many. So here is the future, and it’s pretty mediocre and normal and banal. But this is our present, what was our future 20 years ago when we were younger, and that was our past – and to our children that would be almost like an ancient past. The “future” integrates seamlessly into our past and preserves the older forms of our past.

I think Rene Guenon had some controversial but thought provoking insights into the fascination with the future our society has, in this age. Certainly worth reading and considering even if holding back judgment and considering that he too was profoundly affected by his times (more on this some other day though).

Things are updated with fresh new forms but at the end of the day men still wear Suits, sack suits and other various jackets descended from frock coats, women still wear formally dresses – cut much differently, the sexual display, and fashionable display in bot differs, we still wear jeans but we wore them 150 years ago. The meaning assigned to the garb changes. We still have phones and TV’s after 70 years, the basic forms alter and we recognize “the old fashioned” and experiment with blending “old fashioned” or “classical designs” (that in their day weren’t classic at all, but were new) with newer novel and “modern” forms. Creating a synthesis.

Style-wise and design-wise, dressing the denizens of Caprica like middle 20th century Anglo-Americans could be seen as an act of design laziness. However on a deeper level, the more communication and information technology y we acquire, the more our past forms seem to resurface, past present and future blends. You have the artificial and conscious affecting of older styles with newer twists. Will this is something that went on in Victor Hugo’s time, or Percy Shelly’s time, Romanticists and Bohemians would often take older styles, and camp them up, make them more colorful in ways that were shocking to their society at the time, but in looking back on today simply seem nostalgic and all old fashioned, without differentiation.

I suspect that as our information technology reaches a critical mass you will increasingly see blending of styles in an amorphous pop culture sea, borrowings of idioms of past styles re-contextualized, kids in inner city ghettos appropriating prep school style, middle class kids in the suburbs appropriating urban gangster and thug styles, kids in trailer parks dressing like Chinese peasants, Tunisian and Algerian unemployed shabab dressing like London Chavs, hell in fact I expect to see the return of frock coats.

This has been happening for some time, look at the style of old Jamaican rude boys, or of London Teddy boys, or of the style of early 80s B boys. Musically I expect Hip Hop and Rock, RnB, Electronica Dance music, post-Industrial

Madison avenue will take anything you trow at it, chew it up, make a billion bucks selling it back to you in Hot Topic like boutiques, then getting the cash outta Dodge, before the shell game explodes. Then doing the same thing in Mumbai or Shanghai.

So it goes.

5 Comment

  1. falkenberg says:

    Errr…. Caprica is set 125,000 years in the past. The major theme of the series is “all of this has happened before, all of this will happen again.” (with a possible exception at the last 10 minutes of BSG).

  2. Well I’ve got to slap my head there, somehow I completely forgot that the entire premises of Battlestar Galactica was that this all took place a long, long, time before.

    This strikes me as even more profound though, in a sense. The idea of a sort of eternal return of humanity, growth, development, and catastrophe, and setting a mood of familiarity in the depiction of a distant age.

    That “this all happened before” was sort of a theme in the original series, wasn’t it?

  3. The interesting segment that caught my attention when watching Caprica was the end of the movie. How many viewers noticed that the end of the movie manifested the unity between human and mechanical engineering where the girls avatar is somehow incarnated into the cylon.

  4. Baruti, that’s a good point.

    The whole thing about the unity of human and technology was interesting.

    After seeing that I wish they went ahead and kept the series on the air, I went and read up on the plot of the series on Wikipedia, and was like “damn, how could they shove this one in the can?” It did make me want to sit down and start watching the full Battlestar Galactica series. Both the old and the new, I”d completely forgotten a lot of the first one’s plot. Time to raid Bittorrent !

  5. Before the end of the 21st century, if not there, we should be close to an efficient merging of human and mechanical engineering. It could possibly lead to 22nd century synths populating Mars. Keep in mind the old 19th century Frankenstein story is very much alive in 21st century thought. I’m happy to be apart of the 21st century and wish I could see the 22nd. lol.

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