|Justin B Rye 1992–1998|
As Trekkies regard Star Trek philosophy with near-religious
adulation, and constantly praise its contribution to Global
Niceness, it may come as a shock to them that I regard it as
deeply suspect. Roddenberry picked the wrong subgenre of SF
for preaching neophilia and tolerance: a Space Opera setting
suits Kirk's human-chauvinism, black-and-white ethics, and
anti-intellectual distrust of technology much more naturally than
any rational conceptual extrapolation. Space Opera isn't an
automatically evil and fascistic genre (read Iain M Banks'
Culture novels!), but it takes an effort
to make it intelligent and xenophile.
Remember Kirk's little lectures on Liberty, Individualism, and
Mom's Apple Pie? His personal endorsement of US involvement
in Vietnam (
A Private Little War, ST:TOS2)?
The episode (
The Omega Glory, ST:TOS2) where he
gets to recite the constitution of the USA? And speaking of
which, there's the
Enterprise, with its US-Navy rank structure… yes, it's
the good old U F of P: a cultural melting-pot in which every
bridge-crew (like a war-movie platoon) is a careful blend of
token minorities! … Spotted the subtext yet?
I have already (5.3) expressed doubts
about the Star Trek Universe's
metaphor; if the intended message was that differences are only
skin-deep, why all those bad-guy species whose differences are as
profound as they could get? Why the organism-chauvinism and
contempt for clones (1.5,
1.6)? If the United Federation of
Planets is so tolerant and equal and cosmopolitan, why is it run
by English-speaking Terrans? When was the last time anybody
detected any menacing entity heading straight for, say, the
Andorians' homeworld? (er, Andora?) How is it Q can
declare that he's come to put humanity on trial without the
Klingons, Androids, Betazoids, and so forth saying
I'll be off,
then!? And above all, what about those stereotyped
comic relief foreigners, like Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, or
that planetful of appalling stage Irishmen in
Up the Long
Judging by Kirk's interpretation, the Prime Directive says
never be helpful to aliens unless it's convenient, profitable,
or fun; cf. the Monroe Doctrine. By ST:TNG
times it has become an absolutist dogma, which you may furtively
break but can't appeal against, that Charity is Evil (those
aliens whose planet is about to explode ought to learn to stand
on their own two feet –
ST:TNG2). It also seems to have become more
universally applicable. The Prime Directive used to crop up
only in connection with
primitive societies; but in the
ST:TNG1 drugs episode
Symbiosis it forbids
dropping hints to spacefaring races who beg for Federation
aid. All for Their Own Longterm Good… Surely, by the
same logic, Starfleet has no right to interfere in Romulan
Note also that the Prime Directive is based on the (inferred)
ethics of the benign alien observers imagined by
UFO-cultists. The oddity of this is highlighted in the
episodes when the Enterprise becomes a UFO; like
Contact (ST:TNG4), with its brave UFO-spotters
versus a Malkorian government coverup. But hang on;
twentieth-century Terran Ufologers never were being watched
by the United Federation of Planets! Are we the only race in
the Star Trek Universe with such sad delusions?
Life in 2370 is perfect. We know, because they never stop saying so.
The Neutral Zone, ST:TNG1). So what are all the obsessive traders and gamblers doing, then?
past it, not expected to lead active lives; see
…And so on. ST:TOS by contrast displayed
rampant capitalism, alcoholism, intolerance, sexism etc.; the
movies (e.g., the start of
The Search for Spock,
ST:TMP3) hinted that it was a militaristic
bureaucracy. But by ST:TNG, the United Federation of
Planets has become a 1980s-American vision of paradise, with
revealing blindspots. Note for instance the peculiar sanctity
with which Starfleet officers' ranks and duties are imbued.
Acting Ensign Crusher may not see how he's entitled (as in
Pals, ST:TNG2) to issue commands to people bigger,
smarter, and more experienced than he is, but it's simple enough;
he outranks them.
Uhura is, despite her soft-focus, as close as Star Trek has got
to a sympathetic female, content in a non-
with no man in her life. It's been downhill ever since;
name the highest-ranking woman on the NCC1701D! Dr
Crusher (née what?) is a mother-figure; Deanna too is a
sexual stereotype, and outside their ordinary
chain-of-command. Notice also that aliens, especially
superbeings like Q, are invariably male.
Quasisciences (1.0) work well in SF;
The New Age is the latest
Californian fashion in parareligious tosh, seeping into
ST:TNG whenever Deanna opens her mouth. (Any New
Agers offended by my comments should remember: let go of your
judgemental mindset, sucker!) It's a bizarre (but
profitable) syncretistic mishmash, incorporating:
naturally deadcorpsicles (see
The Neutral Zone, ST:TNG1) is wrong; clones, cyborgs, autopilots etc. are all
unnatural; and even Data (the ST:TNG Spock-figure) prefers irrationalism!
Home SoilST:TNG1)! Maximise your own physical wellbeing – live in sheer individualistic luxury (
Captain's Holiday, ST:TNG3) on a planet full of bronzed Californianoids where nobody who matters has to do any work! Never mind your consumer society's impact on the Third World, or the environment! After all, we can probably fix that later!
Where No-one Has Gone Before, ST:TNG1), or waiting for them to go away (every other ST:TNG1 plot)! Equally facile solutions are offered for such real-world problems as drugs, terrorists, or 'Nam Vet psychosis (
The Hunted, ST:TNG3: the answer, apparently, is to storm the White House!).
Skin of Evil, ST:TNG1)! Pain doesn't hurt, it's a learning experience! No need for charity towards disaster victims;
victim consciousnessdogma says they brought it upon themselves by putting out bad vibes!
highly evolved, as in
Transfigurations, ST:TNG3). And then there's Deanna's psychobabble
advice, with plugs for (late-twentieth-century) fad therapies like
directed dreaming. At least for once it's free.
ST:TOS was a respectable effort (for the sixties) to produce intelligent SF. It at least tried to make sense, and featured US TV's first interracial kiss. ST:TNG has bigger budgets but less integrity: it reuses the setting not because it was good, but to guarantee an audience for minimal risk and creative investment. So it can't imperil its ratings by depicting a world where most humans aren't WASPs, women are as important as men, and moral codes can be irreconcilable (Xyzons torture babies! Terrans eat dead meat!). The diversity-stifling corporate control of the media has formularised Star Trek into a soap-opera using sci-fi special effects; a genre in its own right, supplanting SF in the minds of the viewers and in the ecosystem of big-budget TV productions. Resistance is futile…
I hasten to add that the USA is a perfectly fine country, as
countries go. But I hardly expect Lincoln to be
an early Earth President(
The Savage Curtain, ST:TOS3).
|9.2||There is for a change one English-accented character who isn't a baddy; but despite his taste for tea, identification with Horatio Nelson, and willingness to take seriously a woman named Vache, he's supposed to be French! Deanna, meanwhile, is an alien, and therefore speaks with an Americanoid accent – even though the actress is a Londoner!|
|9.3||Note for those ignorant of American history: that's the nineteenth-century President Monroe, not Marilyn.|
|9.7||I remember the days (up until about 1985) when the BBC used to produce SF, as opposed to kiddy fantasy spoofs or half-hearted technothrillers. This will never happen again while they can get hot and cold running Roddenberry.|
|9.0||B5 has some themes I don't care for, but it evades criticism by refusing to endorse any cause unequivocally. Witness its handling of the Vorlon/Shadow war.|
JMS doesn't show the USA as dominating Earth, let alone the
Us/Good/Americans versus Them/Evil/Aliensdichotomy is one I'm glad to see the back of.
|9.2||Bizarrely, USS Voyager's token black officer is also its token Vulcan (raising the question of why all the rest were melanin-deficient).|
|9.3||B5 has several times pointed out the questionable ethics of the Prime Directive (usually via the elitist Minbari), and indeed made alien abduction jokes. (Note the unhelpfulness of ST:TMP8's second-hand title…)|
|9.4||Although the Star Trek Universe is free to discard Roddenberry's utopianist straitjacket, I have yet to see evidence of democratic elections, a free press, or Starfleet officers with unconventional opinions, let alone crime, poverty, drug addiction, evil corporations, bad laws, discrimination, biassed journalism… the Earth Alliance is far more interesting! The next step is some sign of subcultures cutting across racial boundaries – let's see some punk Drazi and/or G'Quonist humans!|
|9.5||USS Voyager's female captain is a cardboard Competent Bizniswimin; the Queen B is a ludicrous piece of misogyny. Still, this is one of the areas where B5 is itself open to criticism, since its aliens are patriarchal by default.|
The X‑Files strikes me as the perfect disproof of
postmodernism, which holds that today's media-literate
audiences are sufficiently sophisticated to play around with
genre boundaries (like
documentary) without getting them hopelessly mixed up. JMS uses religions as material, maintaining a clear quasi/pseudoscience divide.
|9.7||By now even the fans should see that the Star Trek Universe is being strip-mined beyond sustainable limits. Death to the Star Trek Collective! Long live the Resistance!|