Totally evolved, except for the whole race thing (TW: racist dipshittery) (S01:E03 and S01:E04)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Code of Honor
The Enterprise makes contact with a new race to receive the desperately needed vaccines they can provide to an epidemic in a nearby system. But when a crewmember is abducted by the alien leader and roped into a fight to the death, Picard must proceed carefully.

The Last Outpost
The Enterprise crew finally meets the much talked about but never seen Ferengi, when their two ships are taken captive by a mysterious power on an alien planet. Members of both crews must confront the remains of a long-dead empire to free their ships.

Each of these episodes had one interesting thing that stood out, amongst stories that were otherwise boring for my young self. In the first, I remember hot chicks fighting in an arena of metal bars and laser lights. 1 In the second, we get a glimpse of Brent Spiner’s talents for physical comedy when Data meets a woven paper “finger trap.” Otherwise, they were skating by on enjoyment I had found in previous shows.

As I watch COH now, I see some appealing characteristics. I see a kickass female security chief doing Aikido 2, I see the female counselor actually providing information of value to the captain, and I see Picard’s diplomacy showcased. I see the first of many new cultures that we’ll meet, and I see a crew centered on intentions to accept and respect this new culture. This is our first look at this crew really grappling with General Order #1 of Starfleet, usually referred to as the Prime Directive: there can be no interference with the internal development of unallied alien civilizations. The implications of the Prime Directive are complex, and we’ll visit them again. But my most visceral response to how it’s presented here is the idea of a whole community built around a particular value. A whole group of people stopped and truly reflected thoughtfully on the question, how do I act from this ethical code? How do I balance my relationships to my friends with my responsibilities to respect this group of strangers and treat them well? That stuck with me.

Past all that, both episodes are PROBLE-FUCKING-MATIC. Each presents a new alien race, and each borrows painfully from our own history with demeaning and destructive stereotypes. In COH, the alien race is comprised entirely of Black actors in harem pants and turbans, with booming voices and exotic accents. Their culture is stereotypically tribal, backwards and devious, and they kidnap a woman to replace the leader’s current wife with her. In TLO, we finally meet the Big New Enemy for the series 4, and they just happen to borrow extensively from grotesque old European stereotypes of Jews: short, swarthy, primate-type creatures with big ears, hook noses and pointy teeth, who are rumored to engage in cannibalism and are only motivated by financial profit. They also manage to raise the bar on deviousness even further than the previous episodes’ Ligonian race. Both groups are named in the show as specifically being unevolved barbarians (AGAIN with conversations about who’s civilized and who’s not). And, with the probable writers’ intention of commenting on treatment of women in various Earth contexts, they BOTH have some icky, icky, ICKY gender stuff going on. Apparently the 24th century is going to be AWESOME for civilized people in the Federation, and absolutely no one else.



 

I wasn’t capable of seeing this at 13, but it makes me very, very sad to see now. The grand intentions and self-congratulatory moments alongside this kind of racism feels like the most painful limitations and blind spots of a lot of communities of activists I’ve been a part of. It certainly reminds me a lot of this song (which, with the talk intro added in, has its own disconnects as well). This could have only reinforced my own racism and blind spots, and those of other idealistic kids and many adults watching. It was much more difficult then to call a fandom out on problematic behavior than it is now, and I’m grateful at least for that gift the internet brought us.

Unfolding characterizations of crew members were mostly appealing to me. Data and Geordi get to portray the first real moment of their friendship in COH, as Data explores human humor. It’s a bond that will serve the show well, and then and now it makes me all gooey inside. Picard calls for many meetings, suggests a strategic retreat and offers the second surrender in four episodes. While this did not endear him to fans wanting ACTION DAMMIT, I thought it made him look more like a diplomat and explorer, rather than a warrior, and I related to him that much more. Unfortunately, we see Riker turn into a huffy, condescending douche for the duration of TLO, which makes me realize why it took me so long to warm up to him. I suspect, lacking any characterization from the writers, the actor is aiming for a decisive and strong presence at this point, and misses.


1. Yet I really wouldn’t figure out I was omnisexual until ten years later. Yeah, I can’t explain it either.
2. I find it worth noting that this is far more empowering to me now than it was then, as I consider what she’s doing far more accessible to me now at 38 than I thought it was at 13.
3. Picture from Memory Alpha.
4. This was another common complaint that went entirely over my young head (and mostly over my older head): with the Klingons as allies now, we apparently needed a compelling new major enemy race. Because there’s no other way to build narratives?
5. Ferengi image from Memory Alpha. The image on the left is from a bit later historically than what I intended to draw from, but my stomach was already well past done looking for these kind of images. I wanted to include this, though, because I run into a lot of folks unaware of some of the imagery that Western culture has created over the centuries to spread misinformation about people of Jewish descent (hint: it didn’t start with Hitler). The source site for this image posted it not for historical purposes but for its supposed truth, so I really don’t want to link to it or name it here. Contact me if you want the site address.

Published in: on May 26, 2012 at 6:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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