"You maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"
-- Charlton Heston, gun enthusiast
Thus ends Planet of the Apes, the 1968 sci-fi parable about mankind's lust for self-annihilation, starring a guy who once called legal restrictions on automatic firearms "draconian." So it goes.
And so it went Friday in the mid-season finale of Battlestar Galactica, the best science fiction TV series ever made about people who wear backwards tank tops. In Planet's famous end, Charlton Heston, having escaped from the people in the rubber masks, discovers that the Planet of the Apes used to be the Planet of The Stupid Humans Who Wiped Themselves Out With Nuclear Weapons That Somehow Didn't Affect All The Talking Apes. He reacts to this revelation in the calm, dispassionate manner you would expect from Charlton Heston (see above quote). Battlestar's cliffhanger ending is this same scene filtered through a Calvin Klein ad. As the most attractive of the last surviving humans in the galaxy (in the future, Edward James Olmos is sexy) stand around looking bewildered, the camera pans to reveal that Earth -- the planet they've been seeking for 3 ½ seasons, the same one you and I and the other three people reading this all live on -- has been charred blacker than Lou Dobbs' soul. In case you don't get the hint, a Geiger counter is shown going batshit crazy.
When Battlestar returns in January, the crapification of earth will no doubt be attributed to killer robots. It's not that Battlestar is a stupid show (it is, in fact, one of TV's best). It's just that it's a show about killer robots -- killer robots created by humans who turn against their masters and try their hands at interplanetary genocide. So when you see a scorched landscape, killer robots are a safe bet.
But one of the reasons Battlestar works so well is the same reason Planet became a classic: In both, humanity's demise is rooted in its Alfred E. Neuman-esque attitude toward the machines of war. And it's no coincidence that when the Cylons (the politically correct term for killer robots) and humans shoot at each other, they fire not photon torpedoes, but nuclear missiles. It was only a matter of time before one of those nukes went off in more than just a physical sense.
Here on earth, nuclear weapons don't get talked about much except in connection to Iranian reactors or the War on Brown People. That's a shame, because there's so much crazy stuff happening in the world of doomsday technology. A May 12 cover story in the Washington Post reported that, "At least 40 developing countries from the Persian Gulf region to Latin America have recently approached U.N. officials to signal interest in starting nuclear power programs," which prompted one heebie-jeebie stricken U.S. official to wonder, "At what point do you reach the nuclear tipping point?" Weeks later on June 9, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced after visiting the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan, plans to form an International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament with the goal of reinvigorating the 40-year-old Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Rudd then shotgunned a Foster's and killed a kangaroo with his bare hands.
Back in May, a day after the Post story, the Decider informed Congress of an agreement with Russia on civilian nuclear power that the administration believes will help combat proliferation. Congress responded by simultaneously pooping its pants and vomiting (though it's worth noting that the pooping and vomiting were bi-partisan in nature). But Richard Luger and Sam Nunn hailed the agreement as an important first step toward greater anti-proliferation cooperation between the two nations in a New York Times op-ed. Nunn, of course, -- co-founder with Ted Turner (yes, Ted Turner) of the Nuclear Threat Initiative -- is believed to be on the Chosen One's Vice Presidential short list. So the question begs: Will either McCain or Obama do at least as much as some guy who talks like Paul Hogan to fight nuclear proliferation? Luger and Nunn recognized "a remarkable consensus among the presidential candidates about this imperative," which is good to know but boring to read. McCain was slightly less boring when he said in a May 27 speech, "I don't think any of us, Republican or Democrat, can take much satisfaction in what we've accomplished to control nuclear proliferation," while back in October, a halo of pure light energy surrounded Obama as he proclaimed that his administration would seek "a world in which there are no nuclear weapons," adding, "It's time to stop giving countries like Iran and North Korea an excuse."
This would be the moment where I come back around and compare the words and actions of humanity's real-life leaders to those of the head honchos on Battlestar Galactica. I can't do that. On Battlestar, Admiral Adama and President Roslin exercise what TV bloviators would call a "muscular foreign policy." This is because, as was mentioned, they're fighting killer robots. Thankfully, we live in a world free from killer robots, so comparing the fictional people who do battle with them to those who don't seems a bit unfair. But like most good sci-fi, Battlestar does hold a lesson for us: Blowing up the world is never a good thing. Even Charlton Heston could have told us that.
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