The Unreliable Viewer

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The Unreliable Viewer

Post by Metatron_Fallen on Mon Feb 27, 2017 8:13 pm

This occurred to me while reading about writing ;-)

We are familiar with the 'unreliable narrator' in fiction. Depending upon when the writer makes the narrator 'unreliable' the story changes dramatically. For example, if the writer saves this titbit until the end, then we have to go back and re-examine the entire story.

Fight Club is a such a story and I think it pretty much speaks for itself so I won't wast time there.

The Unreliable Narrator is such a convention in visual media that it is almost an over-used phenomenon and viewers will get angry if it is not done cleverly. Mr Robot, for example, sucks people into what the protagonist is actually doing and makes this so interesting (like Fight Club did) that we are completely unprepared when we have the rug jerked from under our feet. When it is carried off like this, people are generally happy.

In BSG, we have the opposite effect. There are no unreliable narrators. But the viewers themselves function as a form of unreliable narrator because many will simply invalidate things that explicitly stated in the series because they, themselves, do not believe them to be true (or not true in their world). Of course, here, I'm talking about the One True God and the Gods. Because many viewers simply tune these words out in their every day lives as 'rubbish' they do the same in BSG. And they can quite reliably be counted upon to do so by the writers.

Thus when we get to the end and one of the main characters simply disappears into thin air, many are forced (or at least asked strongly) to go back and re-examine the story, just as if they had witnessed a story with an Unreliable Narrator- like Fight Club or Mr Robot- but the difference is: they are forced to re-examine how or why they interpreted certain scenes or lines of dialogue the way they did, when if you simply took everything you saw or heard at face value, it would be quite clear by the end of S4 that 'God(s)' are real in the show.

I am not certain if I could point to other stories where this is true but would love it if others could provide examples. If BSG is indeed a lone representative of this, it would be great but either way, it ought to be considered as a valid literary device or perspective- the Unreliable Reader or Viewer.
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Re: The Unreliable Viewer

Post by throw-41 on Wed Mar 01, 2017 2:04 am

The 'God theme' was there clearly to see for everyone right from the very beginning.
There were plenty of instances where 'God' actively interfered to correct things the humans or Cylon did wrong:
- Baltar just 'by chance' picking the right spot in "Hand of God"
- New Caprica and the Cylon occupation were 'God's' measures to correct Roslin's theft of Sharon's baby.
- When Sharon downloaded to get her daughter back 'God' made sure that Caprica-Six was there and only her to welcome her. Other Cylons may have been hostile to her or had her outright 'boxed'. While it wasn't shown, to me it is quite obvious that Caprica's Head Baltar instructed her to rush over to the Resurrection Ship to make sure Sharon was safe and helped. Keep in mind that Caprica-Six was only moments earlier still over at the Baseship's control room, so she was for sure not just by chance over at the Resurrection Ship.
- The whole activation of the Final Five
- Starbuck's Viper giving the direction to Cylon Earth just in time to prevent a war between the Rebel Cylon and the humans
- The shared visions of Roslin, Sharon, Caprica (and Hera)
- Hera giving the 'coordinates code' for Earth to Starbuck
...
way too many to list all in detail here

And of course the fact that the original idea for the show came from a devoted Mormon should have been a big hint as well...

So I wasn't really shocked or surprised when Starbuck disappeared. Her unexplained reappearance in Crossroads and the discovery of her body on Cylon Earth kind of set this up clearly enough.
It of course also helped that I was never really a Starbuck & Apollo shipper and rather thought Apollo got in the end precisely what he bargained for. Apollo was a big screw-up who always wanted what he couldn't have and in the course of that screwed up the lives of several others as well. As a (previous) fan of the original BSG I really wanted to like him, but right from the start he was a self-righteous a**hole. The character that corresponded most closely to the original Apollo was actually Helo (In the Mini he just wasn't with the girl he needed to be with, though that got fixed in season 1 Very Happy )

As for other shows or movies... I don't know. I could imagine that there aren't too many. Most are rather using the "Unreliable Narrator" principle.

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Re: The Unreliable Viewer

Post by jock_tamsons_wee_brother on Sun Mar 05, 2017 1:24 am

The first time I had watched BSG, my favourite series was Babylon 5. In watching BSG for that first time, I was bringing in the preconceptions of why I had loved B5 and comparing it to BSG. With that first viewing, I couldn't take the fast pacing where it felt a lot of the story was missing and actions of characters unexplained. I couldn't get past the first series and gave up. A few years later I decided to give it another chance by starting on Season 2. I was feeling the way until I had got to the Home two-parter where I know there was something special going with this series. With that, I decided to stick with the series and put up with the deficiencies I had perceived of the series and got through to the end. I enjoyed the series that much that I had did a re-watch a while afterwards to watch it from the start. again. Soon that perception I had of the series disappeared as I had paid more attention to particular scenes which explained the latter 'story gaps' which had annoyed me on the initial watch a few years ago.

Everybody has their biases and preconceptions about everything and BSG is no different. I would agree with throw-41 that the biggest problem with the series, if you can call it that, is that a lot of people bring the baggage of religion with them when watching the series. Myself, I don't have a problem with an individuals personal faith and I respect that. However, I do have a problem with organised religion and the effect it has on society due to being another force that separates people and creates a mindset of 'the other'. Many people feel a lot stronger than myself and unfortunately they can't get past that when they try to watch the series. It just simply turns them off and they have a negative perception of the series before they can ever give it a chance.

Going away from BSG, I have to be honest I do bring a lot of preconceptions and baggage to a lot of series and movies I have tried to watch and even not want to watch. I've seen that a lot of times for example with the rare times I do sit down and watch TV where I channel flick to a movie I had didn't like, sit through it and actually enjoy it, despite the preconceptions I had about it. Giving an example of one of these instances that comes to mind was the film The Caine Mutiny. It was on TV on a semi regular basis at a time and I just thought it was old, slow and boring. One time, being in a lazy mood, I had sat through it and I had found it gripping in a slow burning way, a very interesting idea and an amazing performance from Humphrey Bogart. If it is on TV anytime in the future I will watch. I'm sure there are a lot of other movies and TV series I would like if I had given them a chance.

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Re: The Unreliable Viewer

Post by Metatron_Fallen on Sat Mar 11, 2017 3:29 pm

What I generally find amusing about the whole religion thing is... OK, a lot of viewers simply couldn't take it in because, as you say, their own personal pre-existing baggage prevents them. But I imagine these same people think of themselves as pretty open-minded. After all, this is probably one of the reasons they like sci-fi.

But it illustrates just how difficult it is for people in the Middle East to move on and just become 100% westernized. If an 'open-minded' person can't set their own prejudice aside even for a television drama series, what hope that millions can do so in the day to day culture they live in?

It's the same if you go to reddit and burrow into one of the 'atheist v religion' sub-reddits. Atheists don't like the idea of powerful aliens or the idea that people on other planets might worship a being that actually exists. I actually saw one dude the other day specifically say that he preferred the same definition of 'god' as the Earth based mono-theists. He didn't go on to explain (and I didn't quiz him) but it is implicit that he prefers this because it allows his own world-view to continue to exist. To acknowledge a definition of god that is less than impossible would mean that god might exist plausibly.

Open-minded people are generally not nearly so open-minded as they like to believe.
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Re: The Unreliable Viewer

Post by throw-41 on Sat Mar 11, 2017 4:10 pm

I would go so far to say that there is no such thing as a truly "open minded person" - everyone has some form of preconceived opinion or ideology. The closest thing are people who are open to be convinced by arguments or facts.

Since there is no hard evidence for or against the existence of God or gods any discussion about the matter is purely based on believes and therefore pretty much fruitless.

Until proven otherwise the existence of a God or gods (or advanced beings we may perceive as such) remains a possibility that can't be flat out denied, but at the same time has to be questioned.
Taking a stance either way is a form of religion - atheism is as much a faith based religion as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism,... and all the other religious believes.  

And then there is the issue of defining what would actually qualify as a god.

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Re: The Unreliable Viewer

Post by jock_tamsons_wee_brother on Sun Mar 12, 2017 12:34 am

From my involvement on liberal/left wing political forums, it is a fair assumption to say when you scratch below the surface of a liberal, particularly the middle class ones, you expose a conservative. They are great at going on marches and sitting back on their armchair sipping overpriced Sainsbsury's Merlot, cheer-leading the revolution but when it encroaches on their lifestyle then it's a different story. Besides, it's part of popular culture to protest against the establishment, as long as it all it is. Apart from the obvious Trump protests, which in a healthy democracy as well as when there is legitimate grievance, I agree with, an example is the furore amongst film critics about the racism and misogyny against Mel Gibson with his new film, how many of these critics are woman and non-white?


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Re: The Unreliable Viewer

Post by jock_tamsons_wee_brother on Sun Mar 12, 2017 12:37 am

throw-41 wrote:

Taking a stance either way is a form of religion - atheism is as much a faith based religion as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism,... and all the other religious believes.  


I had come across an interesting observation online. These individuals don't like the idea of accepting orders, in the form of religion, from a higher power yet always go on about human rights which is laws from a higher power than them, in the form of the state. When you look at it, given the limitations that democracy really is, what is the difference between religion and the state?

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