Skip to comments.James Lileks: A Conservative Trek (On Conservatism In Star Trek Alert)
Posted on 09/28/2007 9:42:37 AM PDT by goldstategop
Trek is often held up as a shining example of post-JFK liberal idealism, mainly because Kirk kissed Uhura. Supposedly this caused green gouts of bile to shoot out the ears of everyone below the Mason-Dixon line, because we just werent ready. Well, neither were Kirk and Uhura. The clinch was forced on them by lazy immortal Grecian-wannabees with telekinetic power, who amused themselves by testing the boundaries of the Networks Standards and Practices regulations. Uruha even protested, somewhat she confessed she had a little sneaker for the captain, but this moment lacked magic. Kirk understood, but he went along. You could say he did his part for God and Country, but of course Trek believed in neither.
Nevertheless, the best Trek was conservative: it was rooted in the unchanging nature of man, be they hooting hominids on the plains of Earth throwing rocks at prey, or civilized spacefarers Money, power, lust, war: These were the constants, and Star Trek knew theyd follow us to infinity and beyond. At best we could find enlightened, savvy ways to avoid the pointless fights. But some people only understand a photon torpedo up the dorsal vent port, and wed best be prepared to deal with them. The Federation, after all, had something called General Order 24, which called for the total destruction of a planets surface if the civilization was considered a threat to the Federation. As Vader might have said: Impressive.
Kirk actually invoked General Order 24, in A Taste of Armageddon. He used it as a threat, and didnt carry it out. You can imagine his relief; the paperwork alone would have been a nightmare. But he would have done it if he had to, and not just for the reputation you get back home at the Officers Club. Not for Kirk the niceties of diplomacy: If he had to violate a treaty, hed do it. If he had to save a civilization from the lifeless machinations of an ancient operating system, hed harangue its computer until it smoked and crashed. In The Arena, Kirk didnt win the battle against a rubber-suit Gorn because they hammered out a six-point Roadmap to Peace. Granted, he got the thumbs-up from the League of Judgmental Effeminate Aliens because he didnt cave in the Gorns head with a stone. But prior to that, he nailed him in the chest with an improvised cannon that shot diamonds. In a cannon-free zone, no less.
Or consider The Immunity Syndrome. The episode had a high-concept appeal: a giant simple organism floating in space sucked the life energy out of everything it passed, like a six-parsec-wide anthology of structuralist philosophy. Faced with such a nightmare, Kirk had a sensible approach: blow it the HELL UP and warp away. Picard, you suspect, would have wanted Troi to ask the organism what it wanted, and what it was feeling, and whether it had childhood issues, and felt alone. And then he would have towed it to a special Federation preserve for giant life-sucking single-celled organisms. But Kirk was a frontier runner with a git-er-done approach. If there were reservations to be voiced about destroying a one-of-a-kind giant biological marvel, it would come not from the Ships Ethicist, but Spock, the ultimate Mister Science:
Kirk: if we dont kill that thing with ninety gigadrams of antimatter, itll suck the life out of the entire quadrant.
Spock: True. It is, however, a pity we cannot study it.
Kirk: Theres no time for science, Mr. Spock. Millions of lives are at stake.
Spock: Of course, Captain. I was merely lamenting the loss of an opportunity. I believe that 87 point nine gigadrams will suffice.
No, they were practical men. Sensible soldiers. Which leads us to the two worst liberal moments of Trek:
Omega Glory. This was one of the first scripts Roddenberry wrote for Trek, so you cant blame the old third season curse. The Enterprise finds an empty starship around the usual Backlot Planet, where two groups compete for power: the Yangs, and the Coms. After much hugger-mugger Kirk finds himself in the presence of the tribal elder, He Who Speaks Without Contractions, and the sacred founding documents of the tribe is produced. What do you know: its the Constitution.
Kirk: Spock, what are the odds that another planets evolutionary process would not only yield bipeds who speak English, but wrote a complex assertion of individual rights on parchment?
Spock: Theoretically, it is possible, Captain.
Kirk: Well, that settles it; Id best reorder their society with some overemoting.
Kirk upends their entire worldview by pronouncing the Constitution correctly, and sweatily insists that the words are not just for Yangs, but for the Coms as well, or else they mean nothing. Do you understand?
We will try, Ham Who Rants, the Chief says, and thats that. But really: If theres one thing we know about Coms, its that they use the freedoms guaranteed by E Plebnista to take power and put the Yangs against the wall. Of course, in this episode, the Yangs and the Coms had forgotten the ideas that had led to their all-consuming war. (No one in Trek ever had regional wars; everything came down to great planet-wide Manichean conflicts.) It would have been nice if Kirk had asked the tribes what they stood for.
Free exchange of goods and ideas, the Yangs might have said.
Subordination of the individual to the will of the collective duty, the Coms might have responded.
But no: This was one of those high-minded episodes in which the presence of conflict damned each side alike. Years later, Captain Picard would echo Roddenberrys philosophy, muttering in disbelief how the people of earth had once found themselves at odds over economic systems.
It takes a well-paid screenwriter to come up with something that stupid.
Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Frank Gorshin chases a criminal around the Enterprise. Their faces are half-black, half-white but one has a black left side, and the other has a white left side. They look like Cubist mimes. They hate each other and regard each other as inferior, even though outside observers dont see any difference at all.
Some have speculated the episode may have been a commentary on racism.
The shows much better when Kirk is running guns (A Private Little War), trying to get the locals to fight the Klingons before theyre all slaughtered (Errand of Mercy), or letting Joan Collins die so she doesnt go on to found a Hitler-enabling pacifist movement. (Yesterday is Tomorrow.) Unfortunately, goopy multi-culti cant seeped deep into Next Generation in the latter seasons, the writers actually imposed an intergalactic speed limit for ecological reasons. (Thanks to the efforts of Capt. Samuel Hagar and his stirring address I cant warp 5.5 the ban was eventually lifted.) Deep Space Nine got it right: We learned a lot about the bad guys, the Cardassians; we even heard professional Irishman Miles OBrien refer to them as Spoonheads, which was just the sort of epithet the enlisted men would say. We understood the Cardassians; we learned much about their culture, and knew a few fine examples. In the end, though, their culture had taken a horrible turn, and there was no getting away from that. Much blowing up had to be done.
Voyager? I know it was on for seven seasons, and I know I watched every episode, but nothing ever comes to mind, except Seven of Nine. Enterprise, the last show, as much maligned. Dont know why the last season was pure fan service, as good as Trek got. Perhaps it was the opening credits, which tempered the glories of mankinds first steps beyond the solar system with the knowledge that the power ballad will still be around 100 years hence. In any case, it was quite the neocon fantasy, right down to the Gallic Vulcans keen on restraining the brash Anglophones. One episode had the engineer, Trip 65 percent Kirk, 35 percent Scotty, filtered through a slab of hickory-smoked McCoy was taking a shuttlecraft trip with Malcolm, the bitter little Limey munitions expert. Trip, an American, was riding Malcolm about Englands faded glory, and noted just who came up with warp drive in the first place.
"Ah, if only Dr. Cochrane had been a European, says Malcolm, referring to the inventor of the warp drive. The Vulcans would have been far less resistant to help us. But no, he had to be from Montana. Probably spent his nights reading about cowboys and Indians."
Says Trip: "Well, I don't recall any Europeans knowing how to build a warp engine. No Brits, no Italians, no Serbo-Croatians..."
Its one of the few times a character in Star Trek defends America. Kirk may have been born in Iowa, but as far as we know that was a county in the Quadrant Six of the Northern Hemisphere Co-Prosperity Domain, or whatever the world government named it.
Trip and Malcolm had a systems malfunction, incidentally. They lost power, and spent what they believed to be their last minutes drinking a bottle of scotch and talking about the Vulcan science officers posterior. Men of the West, in other words. Not to say that drinking and objectifying slinky Vulcan chicks is a conservative trait. But Kirk would have approved.
To be fair: Conservative Trek had its lousy moments, too. In A Journey to Eden, the Enterprise is taken over by space hippies, led by a Timothy-Leary type guru whose ears look like theyre growing brass knuckles. The space-hippies detour the Enterprise to a paradisal planet, only to discover that the fruit of the land is instantly lethal. O Irony, thick as a Tellurites nose. Even the Goldwater Republicans may have rolled their eyes at that one. It would have been better if Eden had snakes, and the space-hippies begged to return to the Enterprise. Kirk would have put them to work during the trip back home. He would have made them do something useful.
Those photon torpedo casings wont polish themselves, you know.
"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." - Manuel II Palelologus
“Trek is often held up as a shining example of post-JFK liberal idealism”
Today’s liberals makes JFK look like William F Buckley.
Actually, Deep Space Nine was rife with conservatism.
In (I believe) the third season, Sisko goes on a minute rant that could be the perfect allegory for the UN about how Starfleet headquarters and its beaurocracy sits in lush and perfect San Fransisco and does not understand the situation out in the real world (of space).
I agree. DS9 was a welcomed detour from the Love-In that was STNG. Granted, there were some good episodes in STNG, but there were so many that made one gag on the Hippie-dippy crapola.
ST: Enterprise, was enjoyable while it lasted. I truly enjoyed the series.
The libs loved star trek for its multicultural utopian society. What they missed was the rampant promotion of militarism which infected a generation of kids including myself with the right core conservative values. The writers were clearly more clever than they even imagined...
Oh, c'mon now, that's nothing that Thomas Jefferson wouldn't have done.
In total agreement with that statement.
“What they missed was the rampant promotion of militarism which infected a generation of kids including myself with the right core conservative values.”
One of the great contradictions of Gene Roddenberry was that despite his whacked out L. Ron Hubbard-style liberal utopianism, he was a great admirer of the military and of soldiers. He was constantly letting servicemen get married on Star Trek’s sets.
Seven of nine saved the series.
I believe it was competition with Babylon 5 that pushed DSN into the last few very good seasons.
Personally, my favorite episode.....
Voyager? I know it was on for seven seasons, and I know I watched every episode, but nothing ever comes to mind, except Seven of Nine
LOL! Jeri Ryan.... yum!
>Actually, Deep Space Nine was rife with conservatism.
My favorite series by far.
After a little tutoring by Nog, O’Brien even begins to understand a little about economics (Treachery, Faith, and the Great River).
The Dominion War was a great arc. They tried to make peace. Always a good thing to attempt. When it became obvious that the Founders weren’t here for a vacation on Risa, they turned on the war machine and blew things up.
I’ve often thought about how the Dominion is the perfect example of what the Lefties want. Oh, they may say they want the Federation, but the Dominion is what they will get.
THE SUBTEXT OF STAR TREK What has a big belly, translucsently pale skin, a woman he doesn't deserve, a schizophrenic relationship with his living room furniture, a love of non-poisonous food, two thumbs, and a hopeless love-hate relationship with Star Trek?
The correct answer, of course, is Helmut Kohl (Mrs Kohl what a fox!). But close readers of this column could be forgiven for guessing me. Now, there's always a news peg to talk about my thumbs or the woman and the couch needs no excuse to butt in (that's not fair!). But Star Trek, ah, sweet, sweet imperfect Star Trek, that's something different. We often get email from people saying "@#$$^%# with the Star Trek references already! More about Pabst Blue Ribbon!" (what's that from?).
But the boy can't help it. I sit here writing this column woefully pressed for time, drinking from a Star Trek coffee cup and not just any Star Trek coffee cup. It was specially made in China, where only the best coffee cups are made by the gross ton. Using special paint, some very talented political prisoners stenciled Kirk, McCoy and Spock in the transporter room. When you pour hot beverages in the cup the images suddenly "materialize." It's like Kirk and the gang transported right into my morning coffee! [Insert audio of an incredibly doofy laugh here].
Of course it doesn't work any more. They just stand there now, not quite materialized, not quite invisible sort of like Alec Baldwin's alleged brain. It's as if the obviously carcinogenic paint was intended to only last a couple weeks before it broke (sort of like their treaties). Assuming some Chinese censor is reading this column, I've probably cost some slave-laborer his special birthday-orange peel and grub dinner.
Anyway, I love Star Trek and now I've got a news peg! The United States Post Office that's right the government agency which proved the existence of Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street has minted a brand-new Star Trek stamp.
What? It is a news peg. It is too!
Anyway, the stamp depicts the starship from the original series number NCC-1701, not the subsequent NCC-1701-A thru whatever they're up to now. This is good because a lot of bad things have happened to Star Trek since the original series in general and since the death of Gene Roddenberry the show's creator in particular. Without belaboring the point (as if it was possible), Roddenberry had a profoundly optimistic vision of the future. He believed that man could conquer any obstacle through intellect and perseverance. In the not too far-flung future of the Star Trek universe, human values which were incontestably American values were not only superior to those of other races, they were the secret to our success. Values and intellect alone are pretty useless unless you have a working institution that can harness these qualities in the face of real resistance, be it ideological or simply a Klingon with a disrupter. That's why they created a semi-military organization with a dedicated officer corps committed both to an ethical code as well as a spirit of exploration.
Obviously, such thinking drives the Left nuts for the following reasons: 1) The Left is married to the notion that unless we let them fix things, the future will be a horrible place 2) they think that technology is deeply suspect and will in all likelihood be the cause of our future problems 3) to them "American" values are too racist, sexist, homophobic, meat-eating, whatever, ever to be the basis of a just and noble society 4) of course, militaries suck under any circumstance 5) institutions that limit human choices are evil.
Combine all of this with the obvious Cold War references, the fact that all the chicks had to wear really short skirts and carry clipboards around, Shatner's ridiculously macho over-acting, and wonderful American jingoism, and your are left with a show only a feminist could hate.
But even I have to concede that in a future that was supposedly devoid of sexism the ladies did receive pretty shabby treatment in the original Star Trek universe. In episode # 79 the very last episode of the original series Kirk is hounded by an Anita Hill of the 23rd century. Dr. Janice Lester is furious that she has been denied a captaincy and is sure that it's because A) she's a woman and B) because she used to beam out to the point to watch the submarine races. Dr. Lester is of course depicted as a total nut case ("hose beast" in the vernacular of Wayne's World) for thinking she could be a captain of a starship.
But most of Star Trek's anti-Leftism was on more solid ground. In "The Way to Eden," a bunch of hippies who walk around in sandals and clearly reek of space-age bong water are cruising around in their faster-than-light VW bus in search of some sort of no-cover-charge Shangri-La. They're all cool and they can jam on their flutes and lyres, they just don't want to work for the man. They find their planet Haight Ashbury, only to discover that all the free fruit is poisonous. It's like finding a whole planet full of great looking chiba ganja only to find out its laced with some really bad junk (for older readers "chiba" is one of the slang words these kids today use for the dangerous narcotic "marijuana" a.k.a. the "demon weed" or canabis."). The lessons are obvious, dude, freedom ain't a place like Maine or Virginia freedom is a state of mind. (Now, when was the last time you read a reference to the musical Shenandoah?)
There were dozens of specific episodes that extolled, or subtly endorsed, the Declaration of Independence (54), the Truman Doctrine (45), Vietnam (45), racial equality without racial demagoguery (9, 70), Christianity (43), the moral superiority of classical liberalism (39, 30) and the ability of really cheap novelty vomit to fly through the air (29). (If you're wondering what the numbers are for, they are solely for the use of Trek-geeks who want to know which episodes I have in mind. These examples are not exhaustive).
But the new Star Trek(s) tried to counter-act the manly Americanness of the original series by among other things putting a Frenchie at the helm. Fortunately, at some point in the future, the French are finally conquered for good by the British, which is probably why the Enterprise wasn't surrendered to the Romulans. At least you have to assume that considering they hired a Brit for the role of Jean-Luc Picard. But they did other non-Trek things, many of which were very good. They emphasized diplomacy more than before. They gave women some real power. Indeed the ship's doctor was a woman and the ships ugh counselor was an empath who went around feeling everyone's pain. The new age writing was on the wall.
But most infuriating sign that revisionism was in the air was the fact they made the chief villains the Ferengi a race of ravenous capitalists with small teeth, bald heads and large noses (those noses are very wide rather than long which may be a sign that even the producers realized how Semitic these guys were). In the old series the villains were Klingons and Romulans, and both of these races were essentially Communists of one sort or another. In the new series the villains were charging everybody too much interest and trying to buy commodities at low prices.
By the time Gene Roddenberry died, the various spin-offs were becoming hotbeds of gender hand-wringing, environmentalist pot shots (it turns out that warp technology was creating too many interstellar potholes and humans would have to learn to live within reasonable limitations). The last remaining Trek show Star Trek Voyager regularly sermonizes about the fate of the American Indian (we saw that coming at the end of the Star Trek Next Generation), the interstellar environment, and the limits of technology. The most recent Star Trek movie Star Trek VIII: Endive Salad and Mineral Water on Hollywood Boulevard was an unrelenting screed about the need for baby boomers to drop out of the rat race, give up superficial things like age and beauty and "appreciate the moment." It was a gitchy-goo travesty.
I could go on forever about the crypto-conservative nature of the original Star Trek, the New Agey luddism of the later Treks, my problems with Federation policy etc. I am not exaggerating. But I will stop here because the Surgeon General has determined that people who go on too long about such things dramatically reduce their chances of kissing a girl ever again.
Oh yeah, my couch just reminded me about the news peg. There's this stamp with a space ship on it. It's part of a series of stamps that include such things as "bugs and insects" and "Irish Immigration." Go figure.
What the hell happened? Did we get back together in the future? Did we all get stupid again?
Or Strom Thurmond for that matter.
Heck do we know for a fact that old Strom never kissd Uhura?
Kirk kissed Uhura,... and a few more
Long time no ping! :-)
I’m glad to see Lileks is finding another outlet for his talent!
Wow, thanks for the Lileks!
i wish star trek: the restoration, would be made... which has an elite force that corrects all the intervening that kirk and his bunch got into... and with the technology today, they could use the original series as footage to include all the violations of the prime directive.
not to mention, all the little alien kirk babies out there... boldly going...
I truly enjoyed the series.
T’Pol helped quite a bit :D
There must be something in the water on Vulcan...
Is there some sort of Star Trek pundit convention happening? This is the third different take on the hidden political messages of Trek posted today.
Lileks is good, but he missed this one. The episode with Joan Collins was "City on the Edge of Forever", and the correct title of the one he referenced is "Tomorrow Is Yesterday"... /grin