Home > Cultural Hegemony, Game Theory, Role Playing > Cultural Hegemony Within the World of Mass Effect, part 2

Cultural Hegemony Within the World of Mass Effect, part 2

Last time I wrote about how the organization Cerberus challenges the hegemonic rule of the Citadel Council in the Mass Effect franchise.  This time around we explore some of the finer points of cultural hegemony and how some different readings of ME point to inclusion of hegemony in these two BioWare games.

In ME mythology, the Council was originally made up of the Asari and the Salarians.  The Turians were allowed to join after they unleashed the genophage on the violent Krogan, thereby keeping them in check due to the new genetically controlled birthrate. Humanity joined the council after the Battle of the Citadel (as Sovereign’s attack came to be known).  Both times the race that saved the Citadel from demise  became a member of the ruling council. In the world of Mass Effect, the most relevant challenges to hegemonic rule are a) those great threats that come from the outside and b) an uprising so strong that the regular fleet cannot prevail.

In the case of the Krogan Uprisings, the Citadel nearly destroyed itself. After all, they enabled the quick-breeding Krogan to escape the confides of their predator-filled home planet and as long as they could defeat the Rachni and win the Citadel’s war, the hegemony prevailed. However with the end of the Rachi War, the Krogan population ballooned at an alarming rate.  Hence the genophage and the Turian seat on the Council.

Humanity of course took the lead in fighting the Reaper Sovereign. Again we see the Council recognizing that a race was now powerful and influential enough to pose a threat if left outside the political inner circle. And so humanity became the fourth race represented on the Council.  Any member of the human race might think that, like the Turians, mankind had now reached the pinnacle of galactic government and thus had “arrived.”  Not Cerberus.

Perhaps if humanity had gained its proper position in the power structure after that battle, Cerberus would have ceased its operations.  However the Illusive Man believed that human interests were still not being served.  Why would he think that?  Let me refer back to cultural hegemony theory for a few hints.  Specifically, I will reference the Artz and Murphy book Cultural Hegemony in the United States.

These two writers remind us that the messages, ideas, and ideals of the dominant class are transmitted to and adopted by the marginalized (or oppressed) classes.  If we apply that to Mass Effect, it is reasonable to assume the ideologies of humanity are not transmitted via the extranet (Mass Effect‘s Internet) and to the masses.  We only get snippets of information while playing ME1 and ME2, so we don’t know if Shepard’s interactions with reporters are for the human press or the galactic press.  Likewise, the brief reports the player hears via “galaxy news” in ME2 could be customized for just for Shepard, just like the advertisements on the Citadel are personalized ala Minority Report.

Second, we know that hegemonic concessions must look like real progress for the oppressed classes. Otherwise they have little or no effect.  Genuine interest is an illusion that often times is enough to placate the oppressed enough to quiet cultural, economic, or political unrest.  We know that in the real world that having women on the Supreme Court does not automatically mean fair and equal treatment for both sexes; nor does having Barack Obama as President of the United States ensure that African-Americans now have equal access to economic, cultural, and political power.  So can we say that (in the Mass Effect universe) having David Anderson on the Citadel Council guarantees all of humanity’s concerns will be addressed?

We still know too little of the Illusive Man’s motivations to be sure, but it could very well be that he has recognized the power of hegemonic rule and knows that humankind must still fight in order to gain power. And so he has adopted an “end justifies the means” mentality.  We know from playing the two games that Cerberus has raised some hackles with both the human Systems Alliance and with the Citadel.  We also know that many in the Alliance do not trust Cerberus.  Even Ashley Williams, a self-professed xenophobic, berates Shepard for joining the Illusive Man when the two meet on Horizon in ME2.

But for all that, Cerberus seems more of a nuisance and a headache than a threat to rule of the Council races.  In ideology, the Illusive Man and his organization appear to be conscious of humanity’s actual place in the galaxy. Yet in practice, Cerberus by itself cannot pose any true challenge to that order.  And whether the writer’s of Mass Effect realize it or not, that is right in line with cultural hegemony theory.

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  1. January 13, 2011 at 15:59

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