Puffing their way to the apocalypse

My friend, Cassie, asked me this morning why I thought everyone on the television show Caprica smokes. (Well, okay, not everyone on the show smokes. But many of the characters do.)

My first thought is that, well, if Battlestar Galactica was supposed to be set in some sort of “present-day,” and Caprica is set in the history of that show, then how does one show the audience that this is “past”? Using the signs and signifiers of our cultural near-past, the early twentieth century, is a good and clever way to do that. The hats, the coats, the drinking and smoking, these things all lend a subconscious air of “this is not now; this is then” to the show.

But my second thought was this: They all smoke because smoking is a sign of carelessness in modern American popular culture. Who smokes in media, these days? Villains, teenagers, and anti-heroes who have a death wish. Addicts, the depressed, and criminals. The characters in Caprica who smoke are not these things — they are successful people, people with money and power. (Granted, they end up engaging in criminal acts, but that’s not the start of the show.) So what is signified? Recklessness. Carelessness. Arrogance, perhaps. Possibly even hubris.

Fitting, for a story about the beginning of the Twleve Colonies’ fall.