October 22, 2006

"Calling Trek fascist overstates the problem..."

".... its biggest flaw is the unexplained and unexplored Utopianism that nevertheless informs almost everything about the various shows and movies."

Captain Ed thinks long and hard
about the TV show that gave him his name.


Edward said...

Ann’s post and the blog she links to perfectly capture the reason that I’ve never been a big fan of Star Trek or of most science fiction.

I find the social vision that informs Star Trek and a lot of other science fiction is extremely underdeveloped (to put it mildly), and that’s when it’s not overtly reactionary and nostalgic for a social system resembling medieval feudalism.

Democracy (along with capitalism in its various forms) is a rich, dynamic, and complex creation, one of the wonders of the modern world, maybe its greatest wonder. Science fiction creators seem enamored of scientific progress to point of being extremely careless with their handling of all things social, political, and economic.

Another huge gripe I have with Star Trek is a common one among gay people. As far as I’m aware, gay love has never really been depicted in any of the Star Trek films or TV shows. So what are we to conclude from this absence? Gay people won’t exist in the future?

I heartily disagree with that prognostication.

quietnorth said...

If Captain Ed saw the Trek universe as too Utopian, I am surprised that he lost his interest during Deep Space Nine, which portrays a much more complex world of alliances and betrayals against which individuals have to find their way.

I agree with him about Firefly. Shiny Bright! My wife and I are watching it for the first time on DVD, one episode every few days, to make it last.

Ann Althouse said...

Oh, so that's the problem with "Star Trek" -- insufficient gay love!

quietnorth said...

" Science fiction creators seem enamored of scientific progress to point of being extremely careless with their handling of all things social, political, and economic."

I am by no means a science fiction geek, but most science fiction I have read is all about exploring the social consequences of technology and utopianism. I can only begin a list:

Fahrenheit 451
Brave New World
The "Borg" arc on Star Trek
Do Androids Dream of Technicolor Sheep? (Blade Runner source)
Battleship Galactica
Woman on the edge of time
The William Gibson novels

Oh, God, maybe I am geekier than I thought.

In fact, large swaths of science fiction and fantasy explore broad gender possibilities: Google the Tiptree prize and the Madison based Wiscon convention.

Jonathan said...

Come on. Everyone knows Kirk, Spock and McCoy had some kind of triangle thing going.

George said...

The original show was about warships patrolling an anarchic galaxy where totalitarian regimes threatened a federation of worlds, not perhaps unlike an American fleet defending NATO countries against the Soviet Union and Red China.

The original show is replete with references to entire planets enslaved and turned into death camps by the utterly merciless and rather Asiatic Klingon Empire, not to mention episodes in which the federation literally fights Nazis and Communist Chinese.

There were also more than few episodes about mercy missions to save vast populations of people from plagues and the like, again not unlike the post-catastrophe rescue work our Navy performs overseas.

If the show seems "fascistic" in the popular (and incorrect meaning of the word), it's because it focused on life aboard a military vessel whose commander, like a sea captain, has near absolute life and death authority over his crew.

JorgXMcKie said...

quietnorth, you include Dhalgren? The most preciously 'literary' pointless POC ever published as SF? How did that career change work out for Delaney, anyhow?

I finished it (slogged thru the entire 90,000 or so pages of hinted at storyline), thru it across the room and vowed to never, ever let Delanery have one cent of my hard-earned money nor any of my time spent reading. Haven't missed him or his 'work' since.

Joyce Carol Oates does it better and shorter and I don't read her anymore, either, but she never lied to about her intentions.

So, good-bye Mr. Chip.

Anonymous said...

oh, there is sufficient gay love on star trek.

Joan said...

There was an episode of The Next Generation that featured a planet where everyone was androgynous, and one of them fell in love with Ryker and decided she was female, and got into all kinds of trouble for it.

It was stupid.

As for the Trek universe overall, the whole "there is no money" thing really only came up in The Next Generation. The original series had more than a few shows in which someone was focussed on accumulating wealth -- the Harry Mudd episodes, the "Devil in the Dark", and others. So the misguided utopianism discussed by Capt. Ed isn't as pervasive as it appears to be... and that's one reason I like TOS best among all the series, although there are some story arcs in TNG and DS9 that are excellent -- but there's a lot of chaff in there, too.

Glenn Howes said...

Fascist is not the term I'd have used. Socialist utopia, would be more appropriate.

I often think of the one instance I can think of seeing a civilian going about his daily business. Captain Cisco's father, who apparently ran a New Orleans eatery as a hobby. I just cannot imagine doing such a thing without a profit motive; dealing with cranky patrons, picking up an endless number of dirty dishes, etc. And yet, he was portrayed as being as polite and deferential as I would expect an American restaurant host. If I ran a restaurant as a hobby, there'd be no menus; people would eat what I wanted them to eat. He that pays the piper calls the tune.

I look at that, and I wonder if they've engineered a few social insect genes into the human species.

dick said...

Fascism is a start toward a Socialist Utopia as is Communism. Work makes you free. Support the Party at all costs. Don't even think of being a dissident or we will kill you. If you are not working for the good of the state we will put you in a concentration camp or a gulag or a gas chamber. How is that different?

Zach said...

In the 24th century, they don't have money, but they apparently do have absentee landlords of beautiful vineyards in Provence. Nice work if you can get it.

In Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun, a minor character compares the lifestyle on his planet to ancient Sparta, where citizens engaged in little commerce and spent most of their time training to be a warrior elite, because they were supported by a huge base of slave labor. He makes the point that on Solaria (the planet) the slave labor has been replaced by robots.

You could probably make a decent case that political economy in the Star Trek universe is feudalism with the serfs replaced in some unspecified way with technology.

Christy said...

Star Trek is the romance novel of science fiction. The main problem with it is that it has given most people a very shallow vision of science fiction. The good stuff has always used the alien environments to examine current societal issues, or to wonder what happens to society when technology changes the way we interact, or earn a living, or procreate or....

I don't think it is particularly fascist. Wasn't there an episode where the bad guys re-educated independent thinkers? I know Farscape stole the idea for an episode or two.

DS-9 was my favorite Star Trek because it had a harder, more realistic edge. It didn't assume human nature changed.

QuietNorth, I love the Firefly universe, too. The good news is that Tim Minnear has written a screenplay for Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

I remember a short story years ago by, I think, Ann McCafferty speculating that we would share much more intimate thoughts when faced with a computer than with another human being. Isn't that what much of blogging all about?

Yeah, I'm a sci-fi geek.

quietnorth said...

"quietnorth, you include Dhalgren? The most preciously 'literary' pointless POC ever published as SF? "

jorxmickie; Wow, I haven't had a discussion about Dahlgren for 25 years! I hope someday Ann has a thread about people's favorite books to throw across a room.

You know, I don't know anything about Delaney or what he says he was up to in writing it. And I would agree with what you said about Joyce Carol Oates.

There was something I liked about Dahlgren, though, some sense of living in an undefined and undefinable world, that resonated with me when I was younger. Who knows what I would think now.

OddD said...

All fiction authors are terrible cheats, but they can be excused in many cases because they're not writing text books. They're telling a story which the reader is supposed to empathize with.

I really dislike all things Trek (and Wars, for that matter), at least in part because of its own inconsistencies. But from what I've seen, it's always been capital-phobic. Somebody mentioned Mudd, but he wasn't a lauded character. He was like the Ferengi.

It's grossly inconsistent with its own utopia, as well. The very last episode of the original show, an Ed Wood-worthy crapfest, has a (literally) hysterical woman switch bodies with Shatner because women can't be Starfleet captains. (What the--?)

The irony of the whole anti-money thing being that Roddenberry made Nimoy wear some stupid jewelry in the second season so he could hawk same to Trek fans.

Next up: How Lucas botched Star Wars.

Rick Lee said...

"unexplained and unexplored Utopianism" I'm not sure what he means by that (didn't read the original post) but it's no big mystery. Gene Roddenberry was an avowed Secular Humanist who believed in the perfectability of human nature. From Wikipedia: "Secular humanism is an active lifestance that holds a naturalisic worldview and advocates the use of reason, compassion, scientific inquiry, ethics, justice and equality." All the shows made under Roddenberry's watch held close to that utopian standard.

Bruce Hayden said...

Star Trek wsa ok, but Firefly is great. The science is extremely questionable, but so what? And they play so many games with standard plot items.

One of my favorite Firefly scenes was where a bad guy had come on board and had someone as a prisoner. Then the capt. shows up with his side kick. The bad guy, holding his prisoner, starts into the obligatory speech. The captain draws, shoots the bad guy, and reholsters, without breaking stride.

But it is also interesting because the civilization that they are running from is an apparent utopia. But the Firefly crew don't want any part of it. The members of that civilization can't understand that. Yes, we see some of the dark side of the utopian society. But mostly, it is just that it is too limiting of their freedom. The crew are mostly misfits who just don't want to fit in, and don't. For me, much better hero fodder than either Star Trek or Star Wars.

dreamingmonkey said...

It's annoying how they kept violating the Prime Directive. They were so....Wilsonian.

Anthony said...

Someone also mentioned the Planet Of The Androgenenes, which is the episode that really started turning me off to TNG (as the cogniscenti say it). So PC, predictable, and preachy. "Oo! As a hetero, I could have the same ire directed at me!"

Many were like that. There was one where the Lone Scientist "discovered" that warp drive might cause some sort of universal ecological damage to the fabric of space! Happily, the great and good Federation immediately curtailed travel at high warp speeds to avoid this dire peril. Gee, where have I heard that before. . .

But then the bit quoted in the article about there being no money really sealed it.

Bill Woods said...

As long as we're picking on TNG, there was the time the question arose of whether a Starfleet officer could be vivisected against his will ... and it took the entire episode to figure out the answer.

Werner said...

This comment is a little late but I just ran into your blog. The world of Star Trek at least in its original form was a reflection of the cold war atmosphere of that time. Remember that the author, Roddenberry, was an ex-policeman in California ... not an occupation likely to produce a liberal let alone a libertarian outlook. Under the circumstances the results could have been worse. The politics of ST are purposely vague for the same reason, I think, that the science is poorly portrayed. At best it's a parody, at worst expresses a lack of knowledge. Scientific literacy has never been a strong point in the film industry anyway. Also the whole approach is so worn out. I guess they just won't let the corpse die.