December 26, 2009

Liberal Trek?

John Hood at The Corner writes the following comparison between "Star Trek" and "Star Wars":

In Star Trek, evil characters are frequently considered to be the product of a poor environment, a bad childhood, misunderstanding, or miscommunication. It turns out that Captain Kirk and the other original cast members just didn’t understand the Klingons, for example, or the Romulans. The Gorn, a lizard-like race that does a Pearl Harbor on the Federation and kills many innocent people, are later excused from culpability because they say that they saw peaceful Federation colonists as “invaders” in their territory. Killer clouds of space gas or giant space amebas threatening the lives of billions turn out to be lost children or mindless things just trying to survive. Even the Borg, a great source of villainy from The Next Generation, are humanized in subsequent stories.

Kirk (and the Federation) "couldn't understand" the Klingons or the Romulans?? Since when??

In "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country," it is plainly evident that Capt. Kirk hates the Klingons; they murdered his son ("Star Trek III") and he tells Spock in "Country" that they "are animals." And, when Spock informs him that the Klingons "are dying," Kirk simply responds "let them die." Granted, we see the first-ever high level meeting for peace in "Country" where the Klingon chancellor's daughter chastises the Enterprise crew for their phrase "human rights" (which was stupid, of course, since it is obvious that by "human rights" -- an innocent slip of tongue by Chekov -- the meaning is "rights for ALL species") as if the Federation is implicitly racist and therefore no better than the Klingons, but overall I fail to see how Trek writers attempted to ... "equate" the Federation, Klingon and Romulan Empires in moral terms. The latter two are clearly military dictatorships, despite the Klingon "High Council" and Romulan "Senate," whereas the Federation is akin to democratic republic. Right there any moral comparison should cease.

The Klingons and Romulans routinely brutalize and torture their subject races and enemies. (Just to name a few: Kirk and McCoy on the dreadful Klingon prison planet in "Trek VI;" the murder of Kirk's son David by Klingons in "Trek III;" the attempted destruction of the Enterprise-A by a Klingon ship in "Trek V;" the torture of Geordi by Romulans in the TNG episode "The Mind's Eye;" the Romulan subjugation of its "sister" planet Remus as noted in "Star Trek: Nemesis;" the attempted destruction of the Enterprise-D by Romulans in TNG's "The Next Phase.") So, [whoever can] spare me the "bad childhood, misunderstanding, and miscommunication" argument. "Poor environment" may work, only in that their entire societies and cultures are "poor."

I really do not see all that much in Trek lore that excuses the Klingons' or Romulans' actions.

The Borg, on the other hand, are a different story. In TNG's "I, Borg," Whoopi Goldberg's character Guinan ridiculously falls for some of the crew's pleas that the captured Borg "Hugh" be allowed to go free with his newly developed sense of individuality, despite her initial protests. She even convinces Capt. Picard to go along. And the Enterprise crew does just that -- lets Hugh go despite LaForge and Data devising a logic program that would have decimated the Borg once and for all! But even with this "Aw, COME ON!" moment, in a subsequent episode a Starfleet admiral berates Picard for his decision on Hugh, ordering him to, if given the chance, to utilize that destructive logic program once and for all. This neatly balances Picard's bleeding heart (ie, stupid) act of letting Hugh go. (Besides, how could they have made the best TNG major motion picture "First Contact" if the Borg were toast?)

A lot of inconsistency in Trek is seen when it comes to that "lost floating amoeba" stuff. Several TNG episodes featured Federation types being chastised for not realizing (or ignoring) they were messing with [usually] a microscopic, yet sentient, lifeform. On the other hand, when the "Crystalline Entity" murdered thousands of Federation citizens, it was "misunderstood;" the Fed scientist who destroyed the Entity (in "Silicon Avatar") was taken into custody for doing just that ... despite the Entity's past actions. In another episode, a "two dimensional" cloud of intelligent particles almost annihilates the Enterprise-D ... because it was "merely" heading to its home -- a "cosmic string." No matter the thousands they were about to kill on the Federation flagship!

Overall, I think what we see on Trek does make a lot of sense when you consider it. Earth (and the Federation at large) is a utopia. There certainly wouldn't be a need for physical punishment in an age where the chemicals in the brain can be altered so as to rectify any behavior. And, given such a mind-set, it would be natural to presume the "best" of any situation and grant the benefit of the doubt to another party in a dispute ("After all, look what we did," eh?). The Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, and Borg all have given reasons for Federation doubt, but that doesn't mean they won't jump at a chance to rescind that doubt (again, see "I, Borg," and the Enterprise-D crew's very first reaction to the Borg in "Q Who?").

Posted by Hube at December 26, 2009 09:39 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

Hmm, what about V'ger representing the "we create the seeds of our own destruction" meme?

(For those of you who actually had dates with girls in high school, V'ger was the villain in the 1st Star Trek movie, and turned out to be the NASA space probe Voyager 6, returning from across the galaxy to find its creator.)

Posted by: G Rex at December 26, 2009 06:18 PM

Hmmm ... is that a liberal philosophy, Rex?

(BTW, there is much speculation among geeks that the planet Voyager 6 came upon was the Borg homeworld. That planet *was* on the other side of the galaxy, after all -- Delta Quadrant.)

Posted by: Hube at December 26, 2009 06:23 PM

I am not so sure about the Federation being democratic. We are given no examples of that that I can remember. And all the decisions we SEE being made are made by military officers, with no clear evidence of any civilian power structures.

Posted by: Donalbain at December 27, 2009 03:04 AM

Not so, Donalbain. There are several examples off the top of my head where we see the Federation president ("Trek VI," and during the attempted coup in DS9) not to mention instances of the Federation Charter, which is much like our Constitution (see TNG's "The Drumhead," for one).

Also, check out here. Looks and sounds pretty darn democratic to me.

Posted by: Hube at December 27, 2009 08:30 AM

At the beginning of the Voyage Home the Klingon Ambassador calls Vulcans "the intellectual puppets of the federation" not much different from the language employed at the time to criticize neo-conservatives who were critical of the Soviet Union.

Klingon Ambassador: Vulcans are well known as the intellectual puppets of this Federation!
Ambassador Sarek: Your vessel did destroy USS Grissom, your men did kill Kirk's son. Do you deny these events?
Klingon Ambassador: We deny nothing. We have the right to preserve our race.
Ambassador Sarek: You have the right to commit murder?

Frankly, much of this dialogue strikes me as Palestinians justifying terrorism.

(Though the save the whales plot of TVH, was quite liberal.)

Posted by: soccer dad at December 30, 2009 09:55 AM

David: Agreed that the overall plot of TVH was an enviro-nut's wet dream. And GREAT example you noted.

FWIW, I read in the Trek Encyclopedia that Gene Roddenberry actually considered much (or all) of Trek IV and V as "apocryphal." I'm not sure why regarding IV; but V, OTOH, I can see -- Spock's half-brother, and the Enterprise traveling to the center of the galaxy with standard warp drive??

Posted by: Hube at December 30, 2009 10:02 AM

The commercials for STV:TFF were great. They had "the gravity of your situation," "I know the ship like the back of my hand," and third funny line. I remember thinking, this will pretty good because clearly those aren't the only good lines. Alas, they were the only good lines. (And the "back of my hand" comment was stupid. Scotty does know the ship that well; he'd never walk into a bulkhead. That was cheap comedy at the expense of characterization.) But what's more fantastic about going to the center of the galaxy than going to its edge ("Where no man has gone before.")?

There was a stupid incident in STIV:TVH. Scotty starts talking into the mouse. When he's told that the computer doesn't take voice commands, he starts typing like a demon. Huh? He's not familiar with manual input devices; his progress on the keyboard should have been halting. The fast typing was funny, but hardly realistic. (Inventing transparent aluminum was sort of like Scotty's transporter equation in the latest movie.)

Still your general point is correct: Star Trek may be PC (a lot more so in TNG than in other incarnations) but it hardly made a point of excusing evil as the NRO article charges.

Posted by: soccer dad at December 30, 2009 02:32 PM

Love the image of Kirk.

There were inconsistencies in Star Trek, but I'm still a huge fan. Not so much with Star Wars, I never could get into that one.

Posted by: Debbie at December 30, 2009 04:02 PM