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Honor, Duty and Sacrifice

Tuesday 24 June 2014, by Van Quynh

Keywords:  |  essay  |  stargate  |

Let’s confess a natural tendency for attaching myself to female characters because fundamentally being a female I am bound to feel empathy for those, but more in the end, as an expression of my own questioning on myself than by simple desire to identify with my fellow female brethren. Thus, because I happen often to question my own gender I have a prompt and acute fondness for those female characters who don’t define themselves first as female.

My personal fondness is confirmed indeed in Stargate and you would have guessed, in the only recurrent female character - that of Sam Carter. But before diving into this particular focus of mine, I feel obliged to come back on the basis of any affinity people have towards the show - Stargate SG-1, thus by explaining my ambivalent relation to Science Fiction in general.

Although I do like the extrapolations and anticipations in science and society, what I have always found lacking in the genre of SciFi was something akin to Pathos. Science-fiction stages mostly cold and artificial worlds where people are not People, not as unpredictable, not as unfathomable, not as 3D living - that is justified by the full comprehensiveness inherent to any extrapolation of the future which does not allow the eluding nature of people - for sure within this frame of mind, people and events are to be made predictable.

But that basis had changed. The distant, almost purely intellectual and superficial approach of people is no more a reality as displayed in shows such as Battlestar Galactica or Firefly. You watch these with the whole of your being, not only your brain but mostly your guts, that to be achieved by fits of wit or passion; in the end those are organic people living in an organic world no matter how scifi are the settings.

Sure, that recent trend participates in a more generalized shift induced by the natural evolution of such medium as Television. Shows have indeed gained depth; becoming serialized, they have to grasp and keep the audience’s interest, week after week, year after year.

And thus, I made peace with the genre.

But Stargate does not fit this new mold of Sci-Fi either. Episodes are vastly individualized, although it does have recurrent arcs, those are simple and involve a very basic rule of "impending doom" - the alien menace is never to change of nature and be removed but only change of form - with the injection of just another alien race here and there to make it fresher (the Wraith or the Ori).
But despite this considerable lacking (which it does achieve to let us forget), Stargate has another major appeal as Sci-fi.

"The near future" involved in the extrapolations of the genre is not at all in the future, it is right Here and right Now, and that my friend is enough to sell me the whole deal. Consequently the questions that Sci-fi as a genre asks are being addressed now, in the Present. Although it is true that the issues are only projected on the worlds that the Gate connects (thus by proxy), nonetheless it makes it that much more real to have it happen not in the hypothetical future but in nowadays society with nowadays people.

And the ordinary and contemporary are to be faced with revolutions in technology, politics, strategy, culture (etc.) not as a gradual evolution but as a shock with all that it entails Earth-side - secrets, power struggle and greed.
But ultimately, it is a fictional opportunity to challenge our identity; being confronted with the Other/Otherness raises the question of who we are by contrast and where we go with it.

Sam Carter as well as her teammates represents this cry for identity and the response to this cry, but because the show does not deliver answers, this response can only be understood at the energy level, a response as so many reactions as diverse and plural as there are individuals different in personalities and backgrounds.
So here, I come back to Sam Carter who I happen to be fond because she does not define herself first as a female.

What comes first for her character is being an officer and a scientist, that much is evident from her choices of/in life. Although I am neither of these, nor a scientist nor a soldier, I share this particular point - it’s true, being or feeling female ranks rather low on my list of priorities so I tend to like those characters that reflects that, because I can better relate to them.

"On ne naĆ®t pas femme: on le devient," (One is not born a woman: one becomes one), those were the words of Simone de Beauvoir which I always put in balance with the "Anatomy is destiny," from Sigmund Freud. The two of them are right of course, gender is indeed cultural and the body does dictates self response. I’ve been wondering and maybe also struggling with those two concepts, and it’s an ongoing issue that would not let it be settled. Mostly, I don’t like to be told, I only follow what I thoroughly come to believe is right or true but even that I realize is completely subjective in nature and form. Becoming myself has thus been a life challenge.
But the issue of Sam is not about questioning her female identity (although it could have been an issue in her past seeing as she is going up into a male career from more than one point of view).

It appears that the more than blatant rift for Sam is to be found between the personal and the professional and we are at last coming to the point which was exemplified by the title of this study.

One of the major pivotal issue of the show is that of the Military, it is also a matter of true interest because it is quite original in its treatment. Other shows such as JAG or NCIS broaches the subject from the particular and/or individualistic realistic approach. An event happens, a flaw in the system is explored and ethics are to be argued, error is human and crime comes from humans. The system is no worse than the people that it is made of and people can be either monsters or heroes (and because of dramatic function, sheeps are to be completely disregarded).

Stargate is Sci-fi in which the main characters are full-blown heroes and this is most particularly true for soldiers. The focus is different in that the system is inherently good, humans are inherently good except for a few black goats but they don’t count. Evil is a disease that must be eradicated. Aliens are either evil or from an endangered species and the human race is gonna save the entire universe because they are the best and most deserving and they are made of heroes - more cheese than you ever thought you could digest. It is a rather grandiloquent picture and is one of the reasons why while I do like Stargate, I don’t love it.

That said, one of the redeeming qualities of the show is the characters (who are quite likable), the other is a true coherence in the franchise. In the end the show is made by intelligent people who share a common passion for Sci-fi and the art of making tvshows. Stargate does promote and promise a good time which it delivers.
So what if the American Military is being redeemed and made into a Myth? Sure, but what else is new? You have simply to keep in mind what "Honor, Duty and Sacrifice" stands for and as long as you do, you can accept that they are pretty good values nonetheless, even if they do not apply to the American Military in real or in fiction but that belongs to another debate.

In the end, what matters are people, characters in Stargate are indeed heroes and the ones who exemplify the best these values are Carter and O’Neill, Sam and Jack... on every level... meaning personally, militarily and romantically.

Everything they do or don’t is because of Honor, Duty and Sacrifice.

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