R. Budd Dwyer and the Re-Imagined Battlestar Galactica
I recently watched all 4 seasons of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series starring James Elmos and Mary McConn as the Commander and President of a fugitive fleet of humans from a genocidal war brought on by the revolt of their artificial intelligence creations, the Cylons. I’d been told on good authority that I’d love it while it was airing, but wanted to watch it from the beginning so I never saw it before. Its storyline included powerful references to extremes of the human condition as illustrated with religion, mythology, moral relativism/authority, the philosophical implications of creating Artificial Intelligence, and the politics of war (these writers were not pulling any punches when the human insurgency on Caprica 2 used a suicide bomber against the Cylon occupiers during the height of the real life War on Terror).
The Cylons themselves experience the paradox of existence paralleling the human experience, and struggle to reconcile their harsh reactions to their harsh reality with what they consider their true values. But beyond the immediate relevancy of religion, on both the Human and Cylon side, there is the running theme of Eternal Return (This has all happened before:This will all happen many times again). The theme is illustrated literally in the Battlestar Galactica narrative, as there have been cycles of generations of humans and their revolting Cylon creations before. The story’s arc explores a psycho-spiritual maturity on both sides in an effort to break the endless cycle of humans creating Cylons, mistreating them as slaves, then suffering destruction when they organize and revolt.
As with humans, not all Cylons were redeemable, and the worst Cylon and leader of the war against the humans, known as Brother Cavil or John, offs himself in the final shootout, shown here.
There was something familiar about that scene, and when I looked at the Battlestar Galactica wiki notes I saw they claimed it to be ‘shot and framed’ in a way that seemed to mimick the 1987 live press conference suicide of R.Budd Dwyer, PA State Treasurer, after being convicted of accepting a bribe.
I’d seen this on the news the day it happened and although they stopped showing the scene right before he aimed the gun, it made a big impression on me, and enough to recognize it somehow all these years later. So then I got curious as to his motive, wondering if it was actually safe to assume Dwyer was just another greedy, corrupt politician acting out of guilt and rage at getting caught, like I’d always thought. I was curious about the details of his conviction, and how I could understand why he made such a public spectacle of his death. Maybe in the back of my mind I thought that if he’d really felt guilty, he might not have wanted to humiliate himself and upset his family further in this grotesque manner, unless he was a psychopath.
I discovered this documentary, released in 2010. Honest Man: The Life of R.Budd Dwyer is the work of a young filmmaker who’d seen poor Dwyer’s demise on one of any infinite number of snuff websites and felt a similar curiosity. Although the film is biased, the portrait of Dwyer as a naive, ‘loveable bear of a man’ couldn’t have been drawn so convincingly if there hadn’t been a good bit of truth in it. There were three facts that stood out to me when researching R.Budd Dwyer: 1) Offering campaign contributions for delivering big contracts is Standard Operating Procedure in a world where political corruption has mostly been the rule, 2) R.Budd Dwyer never received any cash payout, and 3) The man whose testimony convicted him is not credible.
I think this young filmmaker has done a great thing by telling this story, and highlighting what appears to be his motive – Protest in hopes of reform. Reform has not happened, but I believe R.Budd Dwyer actually hoped it could in a violent, desperate attempt to ascribe meaning to his experience.
But, if Dwyer’s suicide was NOT the immature behavior of a sleazey, greedy, bloated ego, then I really don’t understand why the creators of Battlestar Galactica referenced it when bad ol’ Brother Cavil finally goes down for good!
Written by Bob Dylan, of course, the song All Along the Watchtower plays a pivotal role in Battlestar Galactica’s respective human and Cylon redemption and self-rescue. I like these words as a more fitting tribute to Budd.
“WHO are we supposed to love? Humans???” – doomed Cylon No. 8, aka Sharon