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New York, New York

An Evening With the Twelve Colonies

On Tuesday, post-apocalyptic refugees from Battlestar Galactica—which airs its final episode tonight—spent an evening at the U.N. swapping war stories with rights activists. It was a convincing trailer, even for the uninitiated.

I’m an on-again off-again viewer of ECOSOC proceedings. Over the years, I’ve tuned in for a few Working Groups on Gender Parity and the occasional Inter-Agency Executive Board Meeting on MDG 5. I’ve watched proceedings from the press gallery—once from the Arabic translators’ booth. ECOSOC is the U.N. chamber with the deep-red Navajo-style stage curtain; it’s next door to the meeting hall with the lime-green décor; it’s the venue for Economic and Social matters. That’s what I know about ECOSOC.

It’s a good deal more than I knew about Battlestar Galactica, which, when I took my seat in the standing-room-only ECOSOC chamber Tuesday night, I had never seen at all. No matter: Now I know that, as far as the Deputy Director of the U.N. Human Rights Council is concerned, “every one of us is a Cylon.”

Though I was sitting in a seat claimed for this night by Aquarion (I believe the Bangladeshis usually settle there), and surrounded by delegates from Libron and Leonis—members all, as my BSG guide for the evening had informed me, of the 12 colonies destroyed by Cylon colonizers—I was unconfused. The UNHCR official who warned of “today’s victims becoming tomorrow’s victimizers” was just echoing the anguished cry of a trooper who lay prone on a spaceship floor in the series excerpt we had just watched: “We’re going the wrong way!”

The premise of the evening—an unexpected UNDPY/SyFy collaboration (that’s the United Nations Department of Public Information and the newly re-branded SciFi channel)—was to tackle the contradictions inherent in building societies while ensuring survival. Doing this, I learned from three short clips and two hours of talk, was a tough double act. One was always getting in the way of the other.

The lights in the chamber went down and we saw our perky hero Captain Starbuck conducting an interrogation with a heavy reliance on a bucket of water; we saw a one-eyed rebel send another woman, as delicate and determined as Starbuck, to the marketplace with explosives; we saw the BSG high command make the decision to blow up the planet of a little girl who we then saw playing with a doll as her home, light years away, exploded into an annihilated corona behind her head.

Mary McDonnell and her character, President Laura Roslin, were asking aloud if maybe the human race should, in fact, NOT survive—if maybe we shouldn’t call it quits on the grounds of supreme fatal frakking flaws. At least, I think that’s what we saw. A montage is an imperfect shorthand guide to a complicated cosmic soap opera, but I’m confident we saw victims become victimizers. We saw national security and torture, terrorism and freedom fighting, good people creating orphans. Then the lights went back on and a high school kid in the audience asked Commander Adama if we risked being destroyed by our own addiction to technology.

“Ever since the beginning of man, we have been told that you are what you eat, you are what you do, and you are what you think,” answered the actor Edward James Olmos. The Native Elder meets Crabby Uncle response struck me as in character, and I will never be able to watch the show without thinking of the Admiral as more peace pipe than joystick.

The President of the Twelve Colonies was also there. She said she was haunted by her decision to impose capital punishment and wondered, “if we aren’t going to do it right, then what are we doing?” In this rhetorical question, both Mary McDonnell and her character, President Laura Roslin, were asking aloud if maybe the human race should, in fact, NOT survive—if maybe we shouldn’t call it quits on the grounds of supreme fatal frakking flaws. What could have been a geeky self-absorbed existential moment as BSG draws to its final end-is-nigh episode became instead the introduction for the Secretary General’s Special Representative on Children and Violence.

Radhika Coomaraswamy apologized for having no working knowledge of the series narrative arc. But since the SRSG regularly tours scenes of cataclysm less televised than BSG’s, she had stories of her own. She told one about a 13-year-old sex slave in D.R. Congo. She told another about a child soldier in Sierra Leone who despaired of “knowing nothing but fighting.” She talked about the Afghan girls who were burned with acid when they tried to go to school. She announced that there had been progress: Some abusers on trial, a resolution from the Security Council, “that most reticent of bodies” calling for sanctions on governments that engage child soldiers. These developments, hoped Coomaraswamy, showed that maybe we were, in fact, doing some things right.

I wondered if perhaps the airlock were still a better option than Resolution 1612.

That was the sort of evening it was. One in which Whoopi Goldberg greeted ambassadors with a flirtatious “hey” and high-ranking officials were seen slipping the Caprica delegate plaques into their briefcases as souvenirs.

A harebrained scheme by a fan in the U.N. Film Society had traveled up and down executive offices and had come to pass—three days before the show’s end; three months into a fractious New Year marked by persistent global violence and an exaggerated notion of the role of financial survival; and much to the surprise of the seasoned U.N. Public Information officers.

“I thought it was kooky,” said one much-relieved press agent when the evening ended late and the crowd headed out talking of treaties and impunity and collaborationists and prequels. But it wasn’t. It was surprisingly apt, unexpectedly relevant, and only slightly self-congratulatory.

Plus, the cold cuts at the reception following were octagon-shaped. I’m told that this shows admirable attention to detail. Maybe I’ll have to tune in tonight to find out why.


TMN Contributing Writer Elizabeth Kiem is the author of Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy. More by Elizabeth Kiem