Nostalgia, Narcissism, and the Only Thing I Want from Science Fiction

Squandered potential in the “Stargate SG-1” TV series

Angela Volkov
Aug 1, 2020 · 5 min read
Image by Ian Law

Wishing to ensconce myself in nostalgia and thereby transport myself into a better frame of mind, I sought out Stargate SG-1, a childhood favourite. However, I quickly realised how few episodes could scratch my particular itch. Imagine creating a show centred around an intergalactic portal to alien worlds — a nifty-looking rotary phone festooned with constellations— and then squandering it for various B-grade plots.

A way of exploring the human condition as much as the far reaches of space, the appeal of science fiction varies from person to person. For some it might be that science fiction offers a glimpse of technological wonders beyond our ken — or even more pleasurably — those enticingly close to being within our grasp. Perhaps what draws you is the mirage of a better future, free of disease, conflict, injustice and material scarcity?

As for me, I’m all about the reflected glory of first contact with primitive aliens. (In fact, my favourite daydream is about First Contact… if only because I’m fairly certain we’d get a public holiday out of it.) My ideal version of Stargate SG-1 would have featured nothing but episode after episode of the heroes (the team with the designation “SG-1”) stepping through the iris of the Stargate, and alighting upon alien soil via a wormhole… to be worshipped like gods by its easily impressed inhabitants. (Or at the very least treated as esteemed VIPs.)

Typically, SG-1 would encounter Agrarian societies in suspiciously similar patches of forest — sometimes the special effects department would go the extra mile and superimpose a slightly larger moon into the skyline — while laden with impressive feats of human engineering: guns, Velcro fastenings, and, er, walkie-talkies. Probably also some nasty pathogens, but let’s not go there. (We come in peace… and to mine your Naquadah.)

Encounter a superior alien race? Not to worry, they too are inordinately impressed by humanity. Earthlings are a quick-study and those technologically — and morally, the two walk in lockstep after all — advanced aliens express the view that we will someday be a force to be reckoned with (probably shortly after we stop bombing and raping each other). Plus, we’re plucky, and in possession of that ineffable human je ne sais quoi — what’s not to like?

Imagine going to a place where you’re cool just because you were born on planet Earth. It’s the low-achievers’ dream, I tell you. And it was my main impetus for tuning in every Thursday night instead of doing my homework (due Friday morning), and again this week so many years later.

Stargate SG-1 was chewing gum for the mind, pure unadulterated narcissism fuel — look how great we are, we invented Velcro. Due process, forming orderly queues, and, er, hats. Not to mention, moral superiority, the power of friendship, and humour (every other alien race is the straight man to our comedy stylings).

Not only are we effortlessly awesome, we can tell benighted extraterrestrial folk the right way to live. For instance, take your barbaric custom of burying alive those over the age of forty. Well, have you tried not doing that? Ah, another civilisation saved, all in an episode’s work.

Unfortunately, as the show grew increasingly plot-heavy this type of formula was all but retired. Meanwhile, my desire for easily digestible, feel-good content did not diminish alongside with it. And what was I served up instead?

But first, it occurs to me that some of you didn’t tune into this late 90s wonder, perhaps you were even born after it’s 2007 conclusion, and therefore I really ought to explain the premise in a little more detail. In a nutshell:

Ancient Aliens. (2010). Retrieved from https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/ancient-aliens

All of the gods worshipped on Earth are real…ly aliens. Some of these (parasitic) aliens transported humans using the Stargate network as part of their intergalactic slave trade. These abducted humans then served as labourers, worshippers (what does one do when one is being worshipped? I assume it’s as awkward as sitting there while people sing Happy Birthday), and an easily replenished supply of host bodies.

When a Stargate is unearthed in Giza, we take one look at its hieroglyphics and put two and two together… humans didn’t build the pyramids, ancient aliens did! In search of advanced technologies and interplanetary friendship, MacGyver, a spunky blonde scientist lady, some guy you know is an alien because of his forehead tattoo, and a nerd who gets to tag along because palm-sized Ancient Aramaic dictionaries hadn’t been invented yet, go on star treks together.

Unfortunately, most episodes were dedicated to furthering the main story arc by waging war on those aforementioned parasitic aliens, whose vaguely Egyptian get-up, distorted deep voices, and budget-friendly glowy eyes wore out their welcome incredibly fast. Even more regrettably, precious screen time was dedicated to non-space exploration-related bullshit.

Instead of something fun and interesting like, I dunno, using the Stargate to explore the universe, we got time travel shenanigans, robotic replicants, rapid ageing, body swap chicanery, and visits from, in order of cheapest to film: an invisible alien, a sometimes invisible/sometimes human-looking alien in love with the main female character, and precocious alien children who understand nuclear fusion but not how to have fun (groan).

Here’s a tip, TV-show-that-ended-a-billion-years-ago, if you’re a bakery, you bake bread, that is your function. You just keep cranking out delicious loaves to sate the hungry masses. You don’t branch out into, for example, selling men’s Italian leather loafers on the side (or time-travel bullshit*) just because you feel you need to improve upon perfection. Stay in your lane.

Also here’s another quibble: there’s one Stargate in the Cheyenne Mountain Complex is the custody of the United States Airforce, then it transpires the Russians have one too, then there’s a Stargate in the Artic, one in Atlantis (I assume, never did bother with the spinoff). You get a Stargate, and you get a Stargate. Everybody gets a Stargate!

In conclusion, I watched the few episodes I could find of SG-1 wandering around the Canadian wilderness and running into leather jerkin-clad rejects from the Xena: Warrior Princess franchise. I was much pleased when those villagers oohed and aahed over our intrepid explorers, intrigued but appropriately fearful. Oh yeah, that’s the stuff.

Visiting alien worlds and impressing all and sundry just by dint of being from planet Earth—why couldn’t we have had more of that?

Footnotes

*Including the sort that featured quite prominently in Star Trek when holodecks would malfunction and the cast would end up in some tedious epoch of human history (often whilst suffering an amnesia of convenience). That’s why I’m watching a sci-fi show, right? Because what I want deep, deep down, is to be bored out of my gourd watching a show set in the mid-twentieth century… Hey, how about we make it a musical number too?

Angela Volkov is the editor of Sike! Psychology for World Domination — check it out, or read more of my humour here on The Slush Pile.

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