Analogy vs. Allegory

By writing this, I’m risking (again) becoming the target of numerous “keep your personal politics out of your podcast” emails, so if you’re firing up your mailer right now, hold on a second or two and read this post at least twice first. Agreed? OK — here goes…

Encarta defines allegory as “a work in which the characters and events are understoodas representing other things and symbolically expressing a deeper, often spiritual, moral, or political meaning.”Analogy, on the other hand, is defined (same source) as“a comparison between two things that are similar in some way, often used to help explain something or make it easier to understand.”

These two concepts are very similar, and it’s easy to mistake one for the other. But there’s one enormous difference between the two: All analogies break down at some point. When one makes an analogy, one’s simply indicating that the two things in comparison are “similar in some way” — then using that similarity to increase understanding of an entirely different item, idea, or situation.

Isuspect that BSG’s writers are using situations that remind us of current events as analogies –drawing on our understandingand emotional response to certain terms and concepts that we’ve seenin real life tocreate a deeper emotional landscape beneath the story — rather than as allegory, which would indicate that they’re making a direct political statement.

For example, when we hear Tigh’s group referred to as “insurgents” and see them carry out “suicide bombings,” we have a strong emotional response which is somewhat due to the connection in our mind withcurrent events in Iraq. However, the BSG/Iraq analogy breaks down — quite purposefully, I’d guess — as soon as we look beyond the similarity of events and terminology to the purposes beyond the acts. Are the BSG writers trying to argue that suicide bombings are OK in real life? Of course not. They’re simply using a subject we’re all familiar with to evoke a strong emotional response in a different context.

What I’m really asking here is for everyone to remember that it’s possible to make an analogy without offering political commentary. If someone talks about Duck’s bombing and Iraq in the same sentences, that doesn’t automatically mean that the speaker sees the Cylons as America and the Colonial insurgents as Iraqis. Don’t put those words in their mouths — they don’t always fit well, and shoving them in is uncomfortable for both parties involved!

There was one spot in the season three premiere, though, that seemed a bit allegoric: the scene where the imprisoned Roslin reminded Baltar that the Cylon were torturing prisoners, to which he responded, “No one was tortured.” Maybe that was a bit heavy handed, and it’ll be interesting to see the response to it in forums and user comments.

One Response to "Analogy vs. Allegory"
  1. Juwan Dickerson says:

    whats up guys, found the podcast last week and i love it. the talk radio roundtable format is great and i find myself talking back to my computer when one of you mentions something that i either agree or disagree with. good job.

    i see what you’re saying about battlestar being more analogy than allegory. i tend to agree with that. one of the things that i love about science fiction is how it can touch on topics of controversy and examine them in ways that can’t be done in conventional television because instead of talking about sucide bombers an al queda its colonialist againt cylons.

    no matter how much ron d. moore says that the show is not some kind of commentary on the state of the world today in regards to war. you can’t help but look at it in that way. from the miniseries up until now they have infused elements of our current conflict into the series and even using a bush quote and putting it into the mouth of president roslin. “the most interesting thing about being president is that you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone”

    however since battlestar has always blurred the lines between good and evil and is never black and white the creators and writers never take one side or never really want the audience to take one side. when you think want to think that the cylons are all just evil terrorists that want nothing but to destroy the humans. six and sharon become humanitarians. when you think the colonials are good and pious and just want to surive to make a life for themselves. they start suicide bombing and getting innocent people killed.

    it’s hard to choose sides when you have both that are now equally as good and equally as evil. but that’s the beauty of galactica and why it’s the best show on television next to hbo’s the wire of course which also has the same theme of blurring the lines.

    this season is going to be the best one.

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