September 07, 2015

How Star Trek changed after Roddenberry

Great read via The Claremont Institute titled "The Politics of Star Trek."

It's a topic I've covered numerous times before; however, I thought this nugget was particularly interesting:

This clear-headedness had evaporated by December 1991, when the movie sequel Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country appeared, only months after Roddenberry’s death. The previous films had focused on questions of loyalty, friendship, and Spock’s need for feeling to leaven his logic, but this one, written in part by Nimoy, would be the first devoted expressly to political subjects. It comments on the waning of the Cold War by portraying the first steps toward peace with the Klingons. Yet the price of peace, it turns out, is not merely to forgive past crimes, but for the innocent peoples of the galaxy to take the guilt upon themselves.

Star Trek VI opens with a shocking betrayal: without informing his captain, Spock has volunteered the crew for a peace mission to the Klingons. Kirk rightly calls this “arrogant presumption,” yet the Vulcan is never expected to apologize. On the contrary, the film summarily silences Kirk’s objections. At a banquet aboard the Enterprise, he is asked whether he would be willing to surrender his career in exchange for an end to hostilities, and Spock swiftly intervenes. “I believe the captain feels that Starfleet’s mission has always been one of peace,” he says. Kirk tries to disagree, but is again interrupted. Later, he decides that “Spock was right.” His original skepticism toward the peace mission was only prejudice: “I was used to hating Klingons.”

This represented an almost complete inversion of Star Trek’s original liberalism, and indeed of any rational scale of moral principles at all. At no point in the show’s history had Kirk or his colleagues treated the Klingons unjustly, whereas audiences for decades have watched the Klingons torment and subjugate the galaxy’s peaceful races. In “Errand of Mercy,” they attempt genocide to enslave the Organians. In “The Trouble with Tribbles,” they try to poison a planet’s entire food supply. The dungeon in which Kirk is imprisoned in this film is on a par with Stalin’s jails. Yet never does the Klingon leader, Gorkon, or any of his people, acknowledge—let alone apologize for—such injustices. Quite the contrary; his daughter tells a galactic conference, “We are a proud race. We are here because we want to go on being proud.” Within the context of the original Star Trek, such pride is morally insane.

Roddenberry was so bothered by the film’s script that he angrily confronted director Nicholas Meyer at a meeting, futilely demanding changes. He and those who helped him create Star Trek knew that without a coherent moral code—ideas they considered universal, but which the film calls “racist”—one can never have genuine peace. Star Trek VI seemed to nod contentedly at the haunting thought Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn voiced in The Gulag Archipelago: “No, no one would have to answer.”

The above is truncated a bit, so for the full meaning by all means click the link.

I had no idea Roddenberry despised the script for Undiscovered Country, and after this piece it makes quite a bit of sense.

However, despite my siding with Kirk's feelings about the Klingons, I've always considered ST VI along the lines of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty from the late 70s. Then, the leaders of both countries (Begin, Sadat) had to get beyond their own -- and their constituents' -- misgivings in order to make a lasting peace.

Granted, the analogy is far from perfect, but, overall, if any sort of peace is to be achieved leaders must go above and beyond grievances (past and present) in order to obtain it.

Certainly, in ST VI's case, the Federation easily could have made certain demands before entering into a peace agreement. Keep in mind that at the time it was stated that the Klingon Empire "had 50 years of life left." What were the Federation's demands? I don't recall them making any. Why not? Were they afraid of the Empire making a last-ditch "kamikaze" effort against them for their "insolence?" If so, that shows how (politically) weak the Federation had become even back then ... which is probably, partly, what the Great Bird (Roddenberry) was so cheesed at. After all, when the US had two of our greatest enemies beaten (Germany and Japan), we did indeed assist them in rebuilding themselves, but we didn't just send them cash and material assistance and have no say in the whole deal. We kept garrisons of military troops within their borders, and overtly guided the countries' transition to representative democracy.

Star Trek VI would have us believe that the Klingons had to give nothing, other than the promise of no further hostilities, for the goodwill of the Federation.

Posted by Hube at September 7, 2015 10:38 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.)

To be honest, when it comes to Cold War movies, I'd rather punch holes in "Superman IV: The Quest for Peace." It just makes it so easy.

Speaking as someone who loved Undiscovered Country (first Trek movie I ever saw in theaters), Spock was a real jackass. That actually bothers me more than the Klingons being let off the hook. Kirk recognizing he needs to put old views behind him in order to move forward was sensible characterization, though the "I was used to hating Klingons" line was overblown. He tended to respect Klingons as worthy adversaries; he never truly hated them until one of them killed his son and that was only a few years before STVI.

Spock was practically a Mary Sue. He screws up repeatedly. It's not just volunteering Kirk for the mission (a mission, I might add, that only occurred because Spock took it upon himself to open negotiations with the Klingons), but he's also indirectly responsible for Kirk and McCoy being sent to Klingon prison. It's also possible to criticize him for his overtures being hijacked by the conspiracy to nearly cause an intergalactic war. And yet, the story insists he's right. The only bad thing to happen to him was the betrayal of his protégé being involved in the conspiracy, but since it was someone invented for the movie and not Saavik, who cares? Perks of being played by the executive producer, I guess.

Also, the movie kinda cheats. By the time of the release date, TNG was well-into its run and had showed the Klingons as far more honorable and trustworthy than they ever were on TOS. It's like Nicholas Meyer was saying, "Well, the spinoff showed them turning out all right, so everything's fine." Speaking of TNG, I think it's funny that for all of Undiscovered Country's feel good proclamations of "a new era of peace has begun," the actual canon says that it still took decades for Federation/Klingon relations to improve. (It's times like these I realize I've watched a lot of Star Trek. Ah well.)

"Star Trek VI would have us believe that the Klingons had to give nothing, other than the promise of no further hostilities, for the goodwill of the Federation."

Now that I think of it, Team Obama's whole belief in the Iran deal may very well be predicated on "Well, it worked on Star Trek."

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