Beeler, Stan, and Lisa Dickson eds.: Reading Stargate SG-1.
According to the editors, Stan Beeler and Lisa Dickson, Reading Stargate SG-1 "is a collection that will be of interest to both academic and popular audiences" (2). While many critical anthologies make this claim, this volume does attempt to engage scholars and fans alike with essays, referred to as chapters, which "read" the series from a critical stance as well as through fan's responses to the series, role playing games (RPGs), and fan fiction. This multiple engagement may be one reason for the generally uneven quality of the volume. The anthology has some strong chapters. However, others are weaker and less convincing as they either try to cover too much ground and end up covering none of it effectively, or list episodes instead of using specific examples, or are based on insufficient data collection to support the claims they make. The anthology, covering seasons one through eight of Stargate SG-1 , is divided into two sections; "Part 1: The Host offers textual studies of the series itself, and the chapters in Part 2: The Symbiote explore Stargate SG-Vs cultural role as both artefact and capital" (2).
The strongest chapters in part 1 include chapter 1, "Seeing, knowing, dying in 'Heroes, Parts 1 and 2,'" by one of the editors, Lisa Dickson; chapter 3, "'Way smarter than you are': Sam Carter, human being," by Stephanie Tuszynski; and chapter 4, Christine Mains's "'You know that "meaning of life" stuff?' Possessed of/by knowledge in Stargate SG-1." Through a careful and clear analysis of cinematic form in season seven's "Heroes," Dickson examines the effects of filmic techniques such as shallow and deep focus, shot-reverse-shot sequences, and the use of various "cameras" outside and within the episode to uncover the way the series cues viewers concerning who to identify with, how the characters' subject positions change over time, and as Dickson puts it, how "Heroes" and the series more generally disrupt the "notion of objective truth" (10).
Tuzynski's goal is to "find a more productive approach" to analysis of female characters in science fiction than the ones she sees more commonly used (one even appears in this anthology) "emphasising the employment of stereotypes for female characters" that are "ultimately negative" (48). Using Samantha Carter's character and her development over eight seasons, Tuzynski looks at Carter's good points and shortcomings and suggests that perhaps too much focus is placed on finding model female characters rather than good representations of humans. Without directly dealing with the continuing problem Hollywood and TV have with creating strong female characters or even the difficulty of defining what that means, she offers Carter as a more "fully fleshed-out human being" and therefore a significant and perhaps improved example of a science fiction character who happens to be a woman (62).
Christine Mains's well-written contribution to the anthology more than any of the others makes connections between the ethical issues of the program's narratives and the cultural landscape that produced them. In particular, she focuses on "the show's depiction of ethical concerns surrounding the subordination of the pursuit of knowledge to military needs" (65). By analyzing episodes across the show's seasons, Mains argues that there has been a distinct shift in the mindset of all the human SG-1 members regarding the function of knowledge, especially in the episodes made since the US "war on terror" began. She notes that even "Daniel's search for enlightenment, like Sam's pursuit of scientific advancement, is subordinated to military power, despite ethical concerns" and suggests that not only in the fictive world of Stargate, but in our world with its war on terror, knowledge must be used more carefully and ethically (78).
Other chapters in part 1 are less clear or not as well written and, while they contain some interesting ideas, they fail to form strong arguments. For instance, chapter 5, "Sam Jarred: The Isis myth in operation," starts out with an interesting idea placing Carter's character in relation to the mythological Isis, who appears as a dead Goa'uld in season four's "The Curse." As the chapter continues, however, the argument gets confused as the author moves from the comparison with Isis to issues of market demands and then to fairly standard rhetoric regarding Carter as a safe construction of hegemonic forces. She states for instance that Carter "enacts autonomy only when it is constructed in collusion with the male (usually sexualised) gaze" (84). The chapter is problematic, as it seems to go in three directions at once and all of them paint Carter only in a negative light. While it may offer balance or a counterpoint to Tuzynski's chapter, its unfocused argument makes it less than effective.
Part 2 starts with two chapters that examine the series as a product that is "American," but also distinctly Canadian. Though both chapters fail to discuss Canadian union regulations that require specific ratios of Canadian actors, crew, etc. on productions filmed there, they still offer insights into US and Canadian ideologies. The first one, Gaile McGregor's "Stargate as CanCult?: Ideological coding as a function of location," compares Stargate the Hollywood film to the series produced in Vancouver referring to them as "artefact[s] of [their] location" (131). The chapter focuses on the different applications of cinematography, aspects of the mise-en-scene, and lighting as well as character representation and how they represent either US or Canadian ideologies. She notes that the series is "greyer, gloomier and altogether more claustrophobic" and has more "'relaxed' camera work" and "greater depth of field" (136-37). In addition, rather than focusing on "American" individualism, it places "emphasis on collective problem solving" (139). For these reasons and others the series has a certain "Canadianness" that has contributed to its success (149). The second chapter, by the other editor, Stan Beeler, "'It's a Zed PM': Stargate SG-1, Stargate: Atlantis and Canadian production of American television," makes a similar argument about Stargate SG-Vs Canadianness, but focuses instead on the use of local talent and locations. Beeler extends his discussion to Stargate: Atlantis which features Canadian actors such as David Hewlett, who played Dr. Rodney McKay on Stargate and continues the role as a central and distinctly Canadian character on Stargate: Atlantis.
Several chapters in part 2 examine textual appropriation of the show by fans. For example, Melanie Manzer Kyer and Jeffery A. Kyer's chapter on the Stargate RPG, "Reading Stargate /Playing Stargate: Role-Playing Games and the Stargate franchise," is interesting as it discusses the communities established through the game and the way the game feeds back in to the show whose writers use the RPG books as reference materials. One weaker chapter on fans and Stargate SG-1 is "Sam I am: Female fans' interaction with Samantha Carter through fan fiction and online discussions," not only because it again sees Carter in only negative terms, but the survey sampling of thirty-four female respondents--and then further questioning of thirteen female fan fiction authors regarding a show that is watched internationally and has a large fan base--seems just too small to make any solid conclusions regarding overall fan reaction.
Other features of the anthology include pictures, an episode guide for Stargate SG-1 (seasons 1-8) and Stargate Atlantis (season one), a glossary of terms from both series, and an index. The pictures included in the volume are another factor in the collection's uneven or odd quality, since they have little or nothing to do with the chapters they appear in, the points being made, or the episode being discussed. Other than one picture of a fan in SG-12 regalia in the RPG chapter, the pictures are of conference sites; Stargate products, such as magazine and DVD covers; and fan's refrigerator magnets and living room posters. Though it is interesting to see what fans do with cultural artifacts and nice to have pictures in a book such as this, the fact that the pictures are not integral to the chapters or the anthology's overriding theme makes them seem superfluous as best. The episode guides include the title, writer(s), director, and a brief synopsis. Though now incomplete, the guides are nice to have in the volume for quick reference while reading the volume or for further research. While I didn't check every entry, the ones I spot-checked were accurate. The glossary terms are also useful, but more for spelling and academic reference since most fans are well acquainted with the Stargate universe's language and terms. The index is well done, useful, and clear.
Overall, Reading Stargate SG-1 is not a stellar work. It has some good chapters and information, but is not a very strong offering on a series which, as the editors note, is "one of the longest-running science fiction series currently on television" and has not received the attention from scholars that other series such as Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, X-files, and now Battlestar Galactica have received. Some chapters will be of interest to fans, scholars, and educators (2). For example, chapters 3 and 5 on Samantha Carter could be used in a methods or composition class to demonstrate how similar examples (in some cases the same exact examples) can be "read" in completely opposite ways to construct opposing arguments about the same character and/or texts. Though I would not recommend this anthology to most of my colleagues, college and university libraries should probably add it to their collections as a place where instructors and students can start their research on Stargate SG-1 .
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|Author:||George, Susan A.|
|Publication:||Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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