See here for all parts of the “Star Trek: Progressivism and corporatism don’t mix” series.
What is the point of Star Trek? When examined under apposite practical context, the conclusion may validate the argument that Star Trek filmography cannot be separated from the business enterprise that created it. Consequently, it is no-brainer to deduce that special interests control the content, direction, and purpose of such films.
Star Trek (ST) sagas are fascinating—even addictive. One explanation could be that the modifier Star makes us feel good about a Trek that would take us far from problems afflicting our planet. Another may suggest that imagination, storylines, characters, costumes, etc. are put together in such a way that earned them enduring allure and a place in the cultural landscape. Those among us who, as if under “cultic” influence, enjoy watching the various Enterprise ships roaming between the stars may justify the “addiction” in terms of relaxation without guilt. Is that the whole story? No. Beyond the assumed relaxation, progressives would want to see their ST experience as a means to uncover possible new metrics denoting freedom, progress, and effective humanistic principles.
Yet, are we so delusional that we embrace fictional tales of dubious value despite our realization that the hyped trek is not only crudely fictitious but also a mirror for Hollywood greed, its false worlds of extraterrestrial civilizations where most are bad, and only the Federation is good? On a serious note: is it conceivable that all these treks among the stars are in fact subtle ways to spread and justify U.S. policies, ideology, militarism, and interventionism?
To be sure, delusion has nothing to do with our affection toward Star Trek. We well know that fictional space adventures cannot possibly ascend to any appreciable value except that of entertainment. We also know that what we watch is only a rendering of fictional tales made in accordance with the cultural and business values of producers and writers. Of course then, as we do not take this faking seriously, we still enjoy the twists to a story, seeing special effects and futuristic technologies in action, cinematography, and the visions for advanced societies.
Could Star Trek offer clues or means to examine social, cultural, and political situations? Highly improbable— such tasks are manifestly antithetical to the objectives of films that want to dazzle and entertain. Conversely, distancing from (or escaping into) filmic fiction while maintaining connections to it by other means is not vacillation of choice between two contrasting sets of behavior: adolescence coupled with nonchalant innocence and maturity tempered by discernment. There is no competition between these two sets. Proving this point, viewing a fictional story in space (in whatever set of behavior) could be much more gratifying than watching a documentary on, for example, the behavior of desert insects.
Ultimately, fiction will always remain fiction, and material reality will always remain material reality. Besides, neither fiction nor non-fiction has ever changed anything in the mentality and actions of modern states and societies where misinformation, disinformation, blatant political demagogy, gossip as culture, pervasive triviality, pomposity, and inconsequentiality dominate unchallenged—with no end in sight—every crevice of today’s culture.
Did a great movie such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest change anything in the behavior and ethics of hospitals, caregivers, and people toward mental instability? Did the U.S. prison system change after the movie Brubaker? In the book world, did Tolstoy’s War & Peace novel (1869) on the horrors of Napoleonic wars in Russia hinder the path to WWI? Did U.S. violence against countless nations of the planet cease after James William Gibson published his exceptional book: The Perfect War: Techno War in Vietnam? Did Ramsey Clark’s book, The Fire This Time (1992), stop the United States from invading Iraq in 2003?
Along the same lines, did ST stories influence anything important in the real world? The answer is no. Did they, at least, elicit intellectual response to certain topics relevant to empowerment and emancipation? The short answer is still no. Although some ST episodes or films could eventually stimulate some to engage in articulate debates, they are not the proper forums for intellectual tension and analytical drive (to be fair, a few productions do present topics deserving of reflection and respect). Meaning, they seldom contribute to achieving higher levels of consciousness in any concrete way. Does curiosity have a role? The answer is another no. Curiosity for how a plot would end is by no means equivalent to exploratory curiosity of the mysteries enveloping our outer space or the vast universe. Are there morality paradigms, ethical values, or philosophies we could learn from Star Trek? Once again, the answer is no.
To take on ST in a critical context, maybe it is a good idea to relate its significance vis-à-vis similar filmic and writing experiences. For starters, attributing to ST a science-fiction quality is deceptive. This cannot be otherwise. Star Trek is all fiction and just a very little science. Encyclopedia Britannica gives a terse definition for the concept of science. It states, “Science, any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.”
Accordingly, while Star Trek fits all formats of fiction, it does not conform to the definition of science. However, dubbing the science of ST and similar stock as pseudoscience is acceptable. Regardless, ST remains a fictional menagerie of good and bad—even contentious— scripts. To evaluate ST, it is relevant to point out the basic feature epitomizing the film industry. Together with the vast entertainment, music, and sport industries, the film industry is the highest expression of vulture capitalism where astronomical-paying jobs and moneymaking machines are the norm (in 2018, the global film industry was worth $136 billion).
Within such an environment, the ST franchise (like all similar widescreen and TV movies) is out there to sell a product and make good profits. Concerns for productions conducive to cultural or political debates rarely figure in the calculation of producers. Simply, the gluttonous underpinnings of such industry where business decisions start and end with eyes fixated on advertisers and box office cannot possibly be a voice for social progress through fictional dialog. Even independent filmmakers cannot escape this fate. At the end of the day, they need money for production, for living, and for lifestyle.
About fact-based films, Konstantinos Gavras’ great American film Missing (starring Jack Lemmon) went into fast oblivion despite all awards it garnered. Observation: Generally, American moviegoers are not interested in serious topics such as the abduction and killing of an American journalist in Chile (in the aftermath of the fascist military coup of Augusto Pinochet, 1973) that Henry Kissinger abetted and helped organize. By understated indoctrination, most Americans disproportionately look for entertainment over content.
Another great fact-based film that remained obscure is Z—also by Gavras. U.S. moviegoers and critics have no inclination to see political dramas in foreign lands—Greece in this case. Then there is Gillo Pontecorvo’s outstanding fiction-based film: Queimada (Burn!) that encapsulated the core and modus operandi of British colonialism. It went unnoticed despite an outstanding script and superlative performances by Evaristo Marquez and Marlon Brando.
It is an empirical fact that made-for-high-profit U.S. film industry is resistant to produce quality films in terms of progressive humanistic, artistic, political, or social values. Factors such as the type/size of prospected audience and expected revenues play fundamental roles in the decisions to make films. Consider Finding Forrester. This greatly distinguished film had no success at market level. Despite an impressive thematic value, the system will falsely claim that such movies are not what the moviegoers want.
Because so-called science fiction films have no inclination for intellectual subjects of any sort, filmmakers of this genre compensate by wrapping their productions with attractive illusions of technology with the intent to slide over all other deficiencies including poor dialogs. In addition, because producers follow pre-established financial-ideological guidelines, one specific consequence is notable: their pervasive tendency to treat the audience like kids. That is, to count on viewers’ intellectual passivity versus the meaning and purpose of films. The quid pro quo is apparent: visual and narrative “excitement” in exchange for intellectual indifference to the value of films.
What is preponderant in this context, therefore, is the viewing experience as an end. Mind you, the audience does not accept everything—people are not stupid. What appears to be working though is this: as we close our eyes to stupidities, we open them wide in the attempt to enjoy and understand the story. The keyword, therefore, is “enjoyment”. We enjoy, so to speak, seeing Leonard Nimoy pretending to be a logical person from Vulcan while knowing that nearly none of his “logical” remarks relate to the rhetorical craft of logic; and we like to see William Shatner exude “toughness” in the execution of his agenda as Captain Kirk, and so on.
In the same vein, Picard, Janeway, Sisko, Archer, McCoy, Ryker, Data, Worf, Crusher, La Forge, young Kirk (Chris Pine), etc. all had their big share of people’s affection for no other reason than being fictional characters with certain appeal. With the exception of Picard (Patrick Stewart, a fine Shakespearian actor, contributed to make the character excel in the delivery of the act), most other ST characters offered no serious intellectual provocations meant to challenge the mind.
If pertinence matters, Star Trek tales are not liberating experiences either. Gene Roddenberry, creator of the original series, put his ship in orbit and loaded it with topics borrowed from mentality, cultural, political, and military matters typical of his time. Unlike other fictional writers of the caliber of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and others, and despite his visionary approach to the future of humanity, Roddenberry, being a TV producer, appeared to have been inclined to tell commercially appealing adventurous stories. In practice, he sacrificed substance for commercial success.
What is relevant to the analysis of ST is that unlike Wells, for example, whose impassioned anti-imperialist impulses are known, Roddenberry chose the safe ground of the self-centered American culture. He imbued Star Trek with many problematic plots that, when interpreted rigorously, appear to be glorifying American colonialism, imperialism, militarism, racism, unilateralism, and gratuitous violence. Despite all that, Roddenberry redeemed himself in several valid episodes in the original series and in The Next Generation.
There is no doubt that other Star Trek series after Roddenberry such as Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Discovery and all spin-off series could have merits under certain circumstances. My focus is ST: The Original Series, and ST: The Next Generation. These two series represent the foundations upon which all other series were fashioned, not so much in terms of characters but rather in terms of the ideas that propel the ships and their crews into the infinity of space. Compare Star Trek to George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise. Lucas remained a prisoner of superficial characters and storylines à la Edgar Rice Burroughs. In contrast, Star Trek evolved far beyond the intent of Roddenberry.
Are there critical issues to debate about Star Trek: the Original Series (ST: TOS) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST: TNG)?
First things first, the history of post-WWII science fiction filmography is disappointing. From the moment in which Hollywood took firm control of the genre with its impressive, high-tech production capabilities and computer-generated imagery, filmic artistic values literally went down the notorious drain. There was one superlative exception: Kubrick’s film: 2001: A Space Odyssey (novel by Arthur C. Clark). From its release in 1968 until present, no film has ever matched it—not even close. (Of less artistic/intellectual value but with significant science fiction appeal are Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg and Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón)
As for Odyssey, who could ever forget the spectacular scene when one among the fighting man-apes threw a large bone (weapon) up into the sky, which then transmuted into a future artificial satellite? With that scene, a glimpse into the marvelous evolution and accomplishments of the human species was depicted to a lofty pinnacle of expression. Kubrick’s cinematography of 2001: A Space Odyssey elevated the film into a unique standard by which all science fiction films are measured. The appendix to this thought cannot be more direct: when the force propelling a film defines its trajectory by embracing the evolving purpose of humanity, the outcome would be another chapter celebrating life and the riches it offers. Do socio-humanistic and progressive cultural values propel so-called science fiction movies (e.g., Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Armageddon, Aliens, etc.)? That is, do they fit the evolving purpose of humanity? Does our “revered” Star Trek fit the purpose of humanity?
The answer to the first question is a resounding no. Films such as these are essentially void of intrinsic values that could promote equality, peace, and social progress. When films concentrate on special effects as substitutes for the story itself, on glorifying wars in space, on creating conflicts with imaginary space nations, on extreme violence, and on simplistic storylines, they cannot possibly be ascribed to having any valuable purpose except unspecified excitement. To answer the question whether Star Trek fits that same purpose, we need to examine the situation with unbiased feelings and approach. This is understandable: despite our unapologetic, strong affection, the answer is no.
Earlier, I stated that Roddenberry imbued Star Trek: The Original Series with problematic plots that one may interpret as glorifying American colonialism, imperialism, militarism, and even violence as a means to resolve problems. Is there any truth to this assertion? Were these plots a conscious effort to tell a story as a means to re-write history, justify events, or maybe to perpetuate certain ideologies and social philosophies? Could it be that plots’ development was no more than “innocent” expedients meant only to excite, hence people should accept them face value? Either way, we should never stand for unclear agendas—doing otherwise means that our intent to examine Star Trek has failed.
Was Star Trek: The Next Generation any different from The Original Series? Yes. Keep in mind that 19 years separate the two, which is a long period where daring technical innovations had taken place. Second, with an excellent team of producers, executive producers, directors and writers such as Rick Berman (who later became the head of the franchise), Michael Piller, Brannon Braga, and Ronald D. Moore, the franchise flew to a higher level of quality. (Roddenberry was also a consultant to the new series for some time). Most important, ST: TNG was superior vis-à-vis the original in a very specific way. It induced the demanding viewers not only to interact with the plot, think about variables, and investigate contradictions, but also to react on plot development and conclusion. The following are a few observations with focus on certain episodes from both series.
“Where no man has gone before,” announces captain Kirk. Is that an indirect tribute to so-called American exceptionalism? You bet. With the exception of Spock, Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura, most other recognizable crewmembers appear to be and are Americans. The mission is American; the Starfleet command is in San Francisco, the computer and medical sciences aboard the ship are American, and many of the stories are replicas of American stories. To stress the American-ness of ST, when a strange magnetic storm catapults the ship back to the 20th century (episode: Tomorrow is Yesterday), it does not end up flying over China, Senegal, or Argentina. It flew over an American base on U.S. soil. In short, “To boldly go where no man has gone before”, was supposedly a “modest” American way to declare the “prowess” of Americans who “dare” to challenge the odds of galactic travel.
Again, “Space, the final frontier,” the solemn voice of Captain James T. Kirk intones. But what was the first frontier? Is there a correlation between the first and the final—why frontier in the first place? Could a word such as destination (or any other appropriate synonym) have been more expressive of the intent?
There is a distinct possibility that Roddenberry did not consider that he was juxtaposing the so-called American frontier, which is the conquest of what is now the United States, with the proposed final conquest of the space and its planets by the same colonialist power. Did he overlook a basic fact about the first American frontier expansions—the near extermination of the Original Peoples? If so, why did he not care to set the record straight? On the subject of recorded history, it is of no use that someone would try to minimize or void the juxtaposition, because in both cases the intent and its linguistic expression (final frontier) denotes a planned conquest of the outer space in emulation of the old conquest of Turtle Island—North American continent.
Generally, in the histories of British colonialism and its successors American, Canadian, New Zealander, and Australian colonialisms, for example, the notion of frontier was synonymous with never-ending geographical exploration—all of which are euphemisms for bloody conquests. In the so-called American experience, Manifest Destiny was the embodiment of a frontier always in motion to accumulate one conquest after another.
They wanted to discover new worlds. So they say. It is verifiable history that once European explorers landed their ships on the shores of these new worlds, they started to destroy them, remove and exterminate their indigenous populations, put their own populations in control, and create rules and laws to dominate and govern. Second, what is the purpose of discovering a new life and new civilizations only to destroy them? This happened in many science fictions movies—including Star Trek.
In The Man Trap episode, Kirk and crew did find such a life, a shapeshifter who needs salt to survive. Soon enough, they ended by vaporizing its molecules because the shapeshifter was effectively killing some crewmembers to get their body salt. Strange thing is, Professor Robert Crater and his wife (the creature in a shape-shifting mode as a former flame of McCoy), did ask for salt tablets without explaining the reason. Had the creators of ST envisioned a different course of action for the shapeshifter—and for humanity as an altruistic model—, an ideal ending could have been the following.
Instead of killing the new life, for which the crew traveled from planet Earth to find, Kirk could have provided the needed salt (ship replicators can replicate any food item) and deliver tons of it to the surface? Are we missing something? Yes. What lurks behind the concept of killing as entertainment?
Why is it important to discuss the fictional killing of a space lifeform? First, the concept moving the fictional killing is dialectically tied to the justification for real killing under similar but often invented premises. Second, this raises the question whether killing, as a solution for a problem, could be unilaterally justified by the killer. The answer is no. Killing is an objective-centered action. It is a rationalized act taught by humans to other humans throughout the ages—modern war colleges are an example. Alternatively, could it be that killing is intrinsic to the human genetic code? The answer is still no. Killing is a complex act that involves countless supporting factors including conditioning, thinking, prevailing societal patterns of violence, and ideological motivations. In addition, humans have evolved and eventually learnt to co-exist without murdering each other—ancient villages and cities, and modern urban living could attest to that.
Let us consider the issue of the shapeshifter under this light: do we kill sharks because sharks attack humans? Essentially, sharks attack humans only in water—it is their natural habitat and they need to eat to live. Humans, who cannot live in water, kill sharks either for flesh and fins, for “medicinal” cartilage, or, hypocritically, to fend off potential danger to humans. However, the empress of all universal truths is that killing to feed exemplifies the food chain in nature. With that, it is a common sense to state that the shapeshifter was exercising her or his right to live—does anyone blame the lions for hunting zebras.
Surprisingly, the murder of the shapeshifter on board of the Enterprise was not the end. In the episode The Squire of Gothos, the salt-sucking lifeform appears again but this time as a mummified body placed in a wall niche for exhibition by the villain of turn, the alien Trelane. There are two possible explanations as to why the producers decided for the “macabre” exhibition. The first: may be due to poor budget or poor taste in trying to fill the castle hall with trophies for the childish Trelane. The second is more complex. It is reasonable to speculate that the exhibition had an ulterior motive. It conveys the impression that not only Earth people could kill the “obnoxious creature” but also other space species such as Trelane’s people. To wade into a wider interpretation, it is as if ST producers are saying that killing is normal if the killer “declares it justified”. (U.S. imperialists call it collateral damage.)
A correlated topic: what is the nature of the five-year mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations”? Was the USS Enterprise travelling through space as a warship or as a peaceship? Rodenberry did not specify. Let us assume that the Enterprise was on a peaceful mission. If that were so, how could one explain the frightening weapons it carries? To be clear, there is no such thing as offensive or defensive weapons—only intent can determine their use. So where does the starship stand on this issue?
For those who are unfamiliar with the making and naming of the various American military divisions, suffice it to say, that the starship has a military hierarchy. The top is captain (also used in civilian ships), but admirals and commanders are everywhere in space—they give orders, expect obedience, and can, at will, remove captains from the chair of command. In this case, what gives away the military nature of this ship is the presence of cadets. A cadet is a junior trainee in an army. For those who are familiar with the naming processes of the American Navy, they know that the prefix USS and number in the name of the Enterprise stands for United States Ship followed by the numerical sequence of its deployment. (In real context, the U.S. navy has had many maritime ships named USS before the creators of Star Trek introduced a ship sailing through space and named it United Space Ship (USS) Enterprise, NCC-1701.)
To make a comparison, unlike American warships that navigate through our oceans to intimidate nations they deem adversaries, Federation/American fictional starships roam the outer space ostensibly to explore “new worlds”. In more than just one situation though, USS Enterprise ships do use their “shock and awe” weapons to intimidate “stubborn” newly encountered space nations and individuals. In the episode: A Piece of the Action, a tough Kirk forced two gangster groups (by demonstrating, through Scotty, what the ship can do) to stop fighting among themselves. In effect, he imposed Pax Americana in space on behalf of Federation. A question: what is the positive in making peace between criminals? Did the city-planet benefit? Who knows—we only saw squabbling gangsters.
What kind of weapons do Starfleet ships have, anyway? Memory Alpha (MA) at Fandom dot com gives “serious technical details” on these weapons. Starships, as told by MA, have an impressive array of offensive weapons from phasers that vaporize people, all the way to the formidable photon torpedoes that vaporize ships, asteroids, and small planets. Now, why arm ships with such weapons if the intentions are peaceful? Why take all these imaginary weapons to the stars unless the Federation wants to use them as “torpedo” diplomacy against space species not yet discovered? Was that because this enemy has no interests in establishing diplomatic relations with the Federation?
More intriguing, how do we interpret the stubborn ideological tendency of ST writers to characterize the various space nations as being inherently hostile to the Federation? To push further, did Kirk or other captains of the Federation ever try to invent adversaries and enemies? Star Trek procedures never stated that directly in any episode. It often happens though that those the Enterprise encounters are often portrayed as unfriendly, bellicose, treacherous, and, more than often, imagined as having human or human-like bodies but with strange-looking heads and weird facial anatomy.
If observed closely, the message that ST tries to convey about the species populating the universe invariably dances to the Earthly tunes of racism, chauvinism, and imperialism: only the Federation and its implied boss, the United States, are good. In this guise, most space nations, be they Romulans, Cardassians, or Ferengi, etc., are naturally bad, while those who joined the Federation (does NATO ring a bell?) are good. Among these, you find Vulcans, Bajorans, and Klingons. (The latter incessantly dub the Romulans as having no honor. However, are the Klingons themselves honorable people according to the makers of ST? In the episode, Sins of the Father (ST: TNG), producers implicitly conveyed the judgement that the Klingon ruling establishment is conniving, traitorous, and without honor—they colluded to punish Worf to cover up for the misdeeds of a warlord.
Countless viewers and the media celebrated when Kirk kissed Uhura in the episode: Plato’s Stepchildren. Eventually, that kiss entered the racial history of the United States. The uproar was possibly due to the perception that racial segregation and miscegenation in American society, at least in Hollywood, was on its way out. Those who jubilated placed the kiss in the context of changing U.S. race relations.
One moment please: but the episode was supposedly taking place in the 23rd century where race problems were supposed to have been resolved at least two centuries earlier! Then why celebrate a fictional kiss in the future (in outer space, nevertheless), but, in the process, convert it into real progress on Earth? One more thing: Kirk and Uhura kissed under duress by means of the kinetic power exerted on them by the “stepchildren”. Consequently, that kiss was not genuine, not valid, and was not a product of passion or love. By force of this argument, it is outlandish to claim it has any value in the exercise of willpower in normal human and race relations just because actors of different skin colors kissed on the set in the performance of their work.
Kim Petersen and I have discussed this matter. He writes, “I strongly disagree with much of the logic you employ here. For viewers, the fact that it is depicted as happening in the 23rd century and that it was telekinetically coerced is irrelevant. For 1960s racists, the mere acting of this was blasphemy and it broke a filmic barrier…”
My counter-argument: the notion that “The mere acting of this was blasphemy, and it broke a filmic barrier”, is of limited practical consequences. Yes, it might have broken a filmic barrier; but that barrier is situated in a world of moneymaking milieus where the games are played by the rules of the film industry and market response to them. In such milieus, actors can make it or break it based on numerous factors that are inconsequential when applied to those disadvantaged sectors of society where the paradigms for conducting a normal life without discrimination and prejudice cease to work.
Incidentally, before the airing of this episode in 1968, Stanley Kramer film, The Defiant Ones (1958; story by Nedrick Young) tested the grounds on race relations by chaining two prison escapees; one is white and a bigot (played by Tony Curtis); the other is black (played by Sidney Poitier). Despite winning many accolades, the film did not generate uproar, as did the kiss between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols. Why is that, especially knowing that the critical content of The Defiant Ones far exceeds the superficial plot of Plato’s Stepchildren? Possible explanation: while the tease generated by the scene of a kiss between a white man and a black woman might have raised the anger (or consent) of some, it only broke, if that what really happened, the taboo in a specific workplace but not in society. Consequently, in a complex societal structure, the PARTICULAR has no chance in transforming into GENERAL.
One episode (ST: TOS), A Taste of Armageddon, stands out for its peculiar script, for its ideological themes, and for the actions taken by Kirk. The storyline speaks of two planets at war. As for the plot, the episode unequivocally displays a type of decision-making favoring mass violence while apparently promoting a determined intention for unsolicited intervention. There are two points to argue:
First, the co-authors (Gene L. Coon and Robert Hamner) have politicized the script in terms favorable to the American idea of supremacist beliefs. Here is how I read the script: as typical of an overconfident Kirk (or the United States ideologically looming behind him), he decided unilaterally to transform that war from a war-by-computer but with real victims into a real war with real weapons and real victims as well—with the computer numbers resulting in people being disintegrated as per the numbers. In concrete terms, Kirk’s decision was a prescription for protracted violence. No need to say that Coon and Hamner made Kirk win his gambit and the story ended without further deaths. Was there any insinuation working behind the scenes? Of course, the United States, through Kirk’s action and despite it, was “successful” at “stopping” bloodshed from continuing. It seems that a rationale comes into being: Kirk-U.S. intervention “paid off”. Implication: “American interventions are good”. Mike Pompeo expressed the doctrine for intervention in naked terms. He dubbed American wars in the Middle Eat as follows, “The United States is a force for good …”
Second, they injected a biblical term into the script with apparent intent to reinforce and spread the ideology of the “born again Christian”. A question: what was hiding behind the decision to recycle into the future of humanity the mythology of Armageddon (the end of time battle)? Was that a veiled attempt to make the meaning of the term stick in the minds of viewers as a “prophesy” that should happen in the future?
The episode has another angle. It promotes the idea that the United States (the ever-belligerent former cop of the world on planet Earth before space travel) has evolved to become, again, the top cop of the outer space in the 23rd century. (Read how the imperialist media frame the issue of U.S. policing the world: 1) Should the United States be the World’s Policeman? 2) Should the U.S. use its military and financial power to act as the world’s policeman?)
Vilification of lifeforms in space appears in the episode: A Devil in the Dark. What is the reason for which ST producers call a lifeform, living in its own natural environment on planet Janus IV: devil (which is an evil force according to religious mythologies on Earth)? Was that lifeform evil because of its physical attributes? Some may argue that film titles are no more that rhetorical gizmos. That may be true; but experience taught us that derogatory name-calling is the ideological first step to dehumanize people in order to attack them—in the American ideology of wars and discrimination words such gooks, coons, ragheads, brown peoples, etc., are omnipresent.
It seems that many writers of Star Trek series (and other fictional stories in space) do not want—by design or by ideological attitudes—to imagine a future world without wars. You can see that clearly when some writers place an oversized emphasis on wars and mortal antagonisms between imagined extra-terrestrial civilizations. Is there any message here? Are they trying to convince us that wars are normal occurrences typical of all thinking species? Are we dealing with innate predilection for wars? There is no such thing as innate predilection for war. What exists though is a rooted ideological construct that sees wars as a glamourous showcase for empire, dominance, and control? The imperialist New York Times explained this horrific construct as follows: The Pitfalls of Peace: The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth.
In the first episode of ST: TNG, Encounter at Farpoint, an omnipotent space “alien” (Q) transports Picard to a quixotic, strange court and puts him on trial for the crimes of humanity.
The premise is fine. But ST writer Dorothy Catherine Fontana was eloquently leading the script to an impressive indictment of Picard representing the Federation and, by allegorical extension, its boss: the United States. Speculation: Q, being a god-like omnipotent, could have brought to trial not only a captain of an American starship, but also all other leaders of the planet. Given that Fontana chose only the U.S. rep, she might have wanted to put only the United States on trial. Or could it be that Q’s (Fontana’s) indictment of Picard because the crimes of humanity pale by comparison with that of the United States?
Picard gave his most memorable performance as a captain in the episode “The Measure of a Man.” (What made Picard shine was an exceptional script written by Melinda M. Snodgrass who was a lawyer and a novelist.) The script goes like this: when a federation scientist wanted to disassemble Data to study him, Picard prevented his transfer by arguing against slavery, and that Data, albeit being an android, has the right to decide for himself if he wanted to be disassembled and studied.
Before everything, expecting that fiction could resolve real problems is non sequitur. That is, winning a solid argument in fiction is not synonymous with winning the same in reality. At one point during the hearings, Picard declares, not in so many words, that slavery ended a long time ago. To beautify an imaginative future, Picard overlooked an important aspect of slavery. While open physical slavery with shackles has disappeared, slavery by other means has continued. In our world, racism, discrimination, poverty, violence motivated by ideology, raging wars by aggressive states (U.S., NATO states, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, and Israel) on militarily weaker nations are all different forms of slavery whereby the victims often lack effective means of resistance despite putting up strenuous fights.
Since I touched on the issue of slavery by other means, there is one peculiar form of slavery that I call Behavioral Enslavement. In such form, peoples, groups, individuals think, react, and take action in accordance with transmitted, fixated ideas about other peoples, their cultures, and their ways of life. You can see such a form of slavery of the mind in the episode: The Paradise Syndrome (ST: TOS). The script depicted Kirk and Spock encountering a peaceful oasis inhabited by a tribe of Original Peoples; most westerners still chauvinistically call them American Indians following the name coined by Christopher Columbus.
First, paradise is an idyllic imagination of a place. Consequently, dubbing it as syndrome is odd. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines syndrome as follows: “a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition”. A question: which group of signs and symptoms did the producers find abnormal about the place they depicted?
Aside from its absurdity as imagination, what is wrong with such a depiction anyway? Are we not dealing with fiction? This is fiction; so where is the problem? Consider the following sequence of events. A writer from the 20th century imagined a situation in the 23rd century. In it, the writer continues to see the tribe as still living in teepees. Still wearing the same attire of four centuries earlier, still motivated by irrational passions (as seen when a tribesman attacks and wounds Kirk in a fit of jealous rage), and still believing in the supernatural as the sudden appearance of Kirk from a shrine pushed them to think of him as a divine entity. It is reasonable to conclude that the writer was incapable of seeing the Original Peoples in any other way except that one depicted by Hollywood. Very little thought the producers gave to tribe’s other attributes like synchrony with nature, wisdom of the mind, peaceful relations, and much, much more.
American hyper-imperialism is distinguished for playing the pretext maker, the accuser, the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the executioner in international relations and wars. The undergirding for such a self-arrogated “extraordinary” role is sheer unaccountability—primarily due to its military power, aggressive impulses, and institutionalized gangsterism.
In one episode of ST: TNG, Commander Ryker reprised the role played by the United States on Earth but gave it the allure of a space backdrop in the 24th century. In that episode: The Vengeance Factor, a space woman was seeking vengeance against another group with who her people were at war (what else populates the mind of Star Trek writers except war?) Well, when the woman was lunging toward her designated target to kill him, Ryker pleaded with her not do it, which was a fine act of chivalry. To make her desist, Ryker—with a stony expression on his face and a phaser in his hand—kept stunning her. When she made her final lunge, the First Officer vaporized her with a phaser no longer set to stun.
Let us debate the killing. Because Ryker, his captain, and the crew freely express the principles of the Federation—so-called Prime Directive—, why did he not use all other sophisticated means of the Enterprise to subdue and then expel her from the ship without resorting to total annihilation? Had he done that, the viewer could surmise that the humanity of the future had come a long way from the path of violence by implementing carefully crafted humanistic mentalities…. Yes; it is impossible to read the mind of writers; but it is quite possible to read between the lines of thought. So, what to make of a pretentious script that dispenses with elementary ethical concerns for the sake of slipshod story writing that varnishes senseless violence? Alternatively, was the script a subliminal attempt to slip in an ideological architecture whose undeclared end is providing acquiescence for U.S. imperialistic violence in its self-granted role as the world’s cop?
This leads to the foremost issues whereby fictional space stories replicate, reinforce, and rationalize acts of the system’s violence on Earth. The implication is straightforward: the impulse for rationalized killing seems deeply seated on the minds of those who think of themselves as the guardians of state powers and directives. In a word, one may conclude that in travelling from our century to the 24th, the trekkers of the Enterprise have paved no new paths toward peaceful co-existence or prevention of wars. On the contrary, they were enmeshed in terror and discord wherever they went.
Before closing, I must address how Star Trek producers and writers, from the Original Series to NuTrek, composed certain stories. William Shatner once tweeted, “What is NuTrek? Is that like simonizing?” Shatner’s sarcasm is incisive—he hit the nail on the head. Star Trek filmography cannot escape the “curse” of cheap commercialism, contentious writing, poor writing, ideological writing, and writings that cannot (or do not want) to deal with fictionalized space stories on humanistic platforms.
For instance, at the end of the film Star Trek: Into Darkness, a young Kirk gave a speech to a large audience gathered at Starfleet Command. He said, “There are always people who want to harm us …” Where did that come from? Of course, it came from post-9/11 atmosphere where the phrase, “Why do they hate us…” became an everyday ideological construct in the hands of American interventionists. In the same movie, Admiral Marcus, who was plotting a war with the Klingons, angrily asked Kirk, “When war comes, who’s going to lead us: you!” His words indicate one thing: he expected that his pretext would lead to a fighting war and that he would be the one directing it. In this context, it appears that fiction writers are often keen to start wars in space. Why is that?
Star Trek: The Original Series is replete with odd scripts. Among these is the episode: Patterns of Force. Not only is this episode highly ideological, but also very poor from the viewpoint of fiction writing. Why on earth (after all the Hollywood movies about the Third Reich), does one have to watch a space fiction story set in the 23rd century only to find Kirk and Spock fighting Nazi-like species and humans on a planet called Ekos? In political terms, Patterns of Force was a propaganda tool by the producers to keep the talk about Germany and Nazism going. To make the point, did anyone see a Star Trek movie having the landing party come to a planet where Americans have devastated places like Bear River, Wounded Knee, Dresden, Berlin, Korea, Vietnam, or Hiroshima, for example?
Kirk and Spock did it again in the episode: City on the Edge of Forever. In it, Spock points out that the death of Edith Keeler is necessary to end her pacifist campaign from stopping WWII (otherwise, Germany would have a nuclear bomb). Consequently, Kirk did not try to save her by letting her die under the wheels of a passing car. What is the deal with such episodes: fixation or indoctrination? (Remark: yet, it was okay, from the viewpoint of ST writers, for the U.S. to build a nuclear device and use it on Japan. Why is that?)
To close, Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and all successive spinoffs are interesting to watch. On other grounds, my opinion is that the franchise in its current forms and structures has no intellectual soul. From the viewpoints of reason and hope, it is not promising to see U.S. fictional starships drift in space only to engage in wars somewhere in the galaxy. It is one thing that the United States is ruining our world with real wars; it is another when it is ruining the outer space with fictional wars.
Then there is the nowadays reality: this summer is the scheduled official standing up of the United States Space Force, the U.S. army in space. Stand by!
B.J. Sabri is an observer of the politics of modern colonialism, imperialism, Zionism, and of contemporary Arab issues. He can be reached at: b.j.sabri [at] aol.com.