Sunday, July 4, 2010

On Narcissism

Recently I watched through the run of the modern-day Battlestar Galactia. It is, as expected, quite different from the original in many ways. Very sensibly, characters are played with little if any similarities to the originals. Though it is great fun to watch Jamie Bamber as Lee Adama opposite Richard Hatch as Tom Zarek. Obviously the two Apollos work well together.

One of the most interesting of the new versions of original characters is Gaius Baltar. The original Baltar was a thoroughly rotten villain who deliberately sold humanity out to the genocidal robotic Cylons in exchange for power, alternately vicious and cowardly. John Colicos played the character perfectly, and is still great fun to watch in the role today.

In the modern version of the show, Gaius Baltar, played by James Callis, is weak, yes, but the defining characteristic of the character is his narcissism. Gaius Baltar has only one loyalty, and that is to Gaius Baltar. His narcissism blinds him to mistakes that he makes (which result in the genocide of humanity at the hands of the Cylons). James Callis portrays the character wonderfully.

Baltar is a villain in both versions of the show. But the modern Baltar is a villain because he is so utterly self-centred. At one point, discussing why Baltar did what he did, a character notes that Baltar always sees himself as the victim, never as the perpetrator. And that is the genius of the show's writers, they see this for what it is. The man who always sees himself as a victim is finally a villain, because his world revolves around himself. Only the man whose world does not revolve around himself is capable of doing truly heroic things - because he is the only man who is actually selfless.

It is therefore hugely ironic that modern evangelical preaching has tended to be self-centred, "be the best that you can be." But this is not the Bible's focus at all. The Bible focuses on God and what He has done, in Christ, for us. To Baltar, it is all his story, to the Christian, this is all God's story.

This is the first time I have written anything based on popular culture. It may well be the last.

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