Sunday, 15 May 2011

Correcting a Revisionist theory about Star Trek

This ones only half serious. Now we all know what about Star Trek, its one of those "franchises" that became so popular and omnipresent that even if you've never watched a show, you'll know about the Enterprise, Captain Kirk, Spock, Picard (pictured) and maybe Worf and Data (a Klingon and Android respectively). The show is also well remember for its positive political messages, especially the first serious that despite airing in 1966 a time when racism sexism and homophobia were very common to the point of normality even in liberal commie Hollywood. So to make a show with a diverse cast of ethnics and mixed gender was quite ground breaking stuff. Though of course there were limits placed on it, the The three mains Kirk Spock and McCoy where white, and the female characters Uhura and Chapel where essentially a receptionist and a Nurse, and the female uniform was a lot more revealing then the male one so yeah. You might also have heard the story that Star Trek was the first show in America and probably the world to show an interracial kiss, thats true however again there was a bit of a cop out, you see that famous civil rights milestone takes place in the episode Plato's stepchildren, where a race of mentally powerful aliens force Uhura and Kirk to kiss for there amusement while both actors kick and scream and make it clear that they ain't consenting, essentially making the message be less, love is colour blind and more only a depraved alien intelligence would be pleased by "race treason". But to be fair most of these qualifiers where studio mandates, Gene Roddenberry the original idea man for the show stated that he wanted to go further, saying if he could of got away with it he would have made Kirk and Spock gay lovers, (which might explain how this video was made).

However in the States the shows political message has also garnered some criticism, more then a few have come to believe that the USS in Enterprise stands for United Socialist Soviets and that this great new world state is run on the principals of Marx and dear old Lenin. For example the above review, where the reviewer(Chuck also known as SFDebris) spends a could chunk of time railing against the hypocrisy of the "Marxist" writers. Now I happen to like Chuck also known as SFDebris reviews a lot I think he's very clever and witty, and his jokes often hit the mark and are very dark and cynical much like my own sense of humour. And if you like Star trek or any televised science fiction you should check his reviews out and can do so here.

However on this issue Chuck, and anyone who genuinely thinks that Star Trek represents a Marxist or even a socialist future show that they really don't know what those words mean. The main evidence for the Federation are a bunch of Bolsheviks is the absence of money first explicitly stated in the reviewed episode the Neutral zone. Again this just shows a glaring lack of knowledge of Left wing ideology. Socialists and Communists, do not hate money as a concept, they argue against making the private accumulation of money as a overriding goal, and against what are called artificial or surplus profits, which are the portion of sales that go to the Capitalist (the boss/owner)1. If anything Socialists accept money as a necessary and efficient method of standardising exchanges of goods and services. In the 1900's and early 20th century there was a debate in many nations as to whether to make paper currency the norm rather then metal coins, some of the most vocal advocates of this position where members of communist and socialist groups. Owen in the Ragged Trousered Philanthropist makes a similar argument in an early chapter, as does Ernest in Iron Heel, if I remember correctly. The reason for this is simply paper is extremely cheap and renewable therefore no risk of running out, or scarcity driving up the value of the currency and thus every commodity.

Some Anarchist do want to abolish money, however they are mostly of the Natural or primitivism school of thought and advocate scrapping industry and returning to a more "natural" agrarian existence complete with the barter system of economics. So does that mean the Federation is an Anarchist Federation? no thankfully. Star Trek is not really any form of political radicalism at all. It is in fact an example of Liberal Utopianism, more closely linked to the works of Rousseau.

Now I'm going to simplify here, the basic crux of Liberal Utopianism is this, humanity is at heart "good" and strive to be better. Our "flaws" are the result of living in an imperfect environment and having incorrect education. Therefore as humanity continues to develop better technology and education we as a whole will advance until finally reaching a point where all worldly vices are controlled and then eliminated. What was the biggest impediment to enlightenment facing an American audience when Star Trek was first made? discrimination, hence why Roddenberry made the cast as diverse as possible to both show that prejudice was stupid and show that a future where we've overcome these roadblocks is possible and desirable.

Fast forward to the 1980's and we have the next generation (the one with Sir Patrick Stewart) and the Neutral Zone, I should point out that I'm not defending the episode, I hated it myself but I feel some of the criticism is misplaced and it fuels the mistaken beliefs about the shows political orientations. A big complaint about this episode is that its odd how 20th century man is not only looked down upon as primitive barbarians but where essentially only guilty of avarice. Where not even given the excuse that the Stock broker's greed caused misery and suffering to others, he likes money (a lot) and should be sneered at. Well the answer to this seemingly bizarre choice of villain? lies in its Liberal subtext, since day one the Star Trek creative team saw it as an educating tool as well as entertainment hence all the social commentary, and like all good social commentary it should be relevant to the audience which in this case where Reagan era Americans. Which is why the object of scorn for this episode is essentially a Yuppie, rather then a warlord, terrorist, bigot or religious fundamentalist, the writers probably believed that America had at least progressed past those vulgarities, and was just having problems getting of its money obsessions. This is also probably why the Next Generation shows started explicitly stating money is gone and we all work to better are selves, to once again show the humanity is with a little patience capable of "evolving" beyond this flaw just like all others before it to show the audience that life is not purely a pursuit of monetary wealth, and that the alternative may well be desirable.

TL:DR Star Trek is not Socialist or anything of the sort, get over the Red scare and next time actually read a political ideology before you start slagging it off, otherwise the only one who looks bad is you.

1: Actually looking back this isn't completely accurate a large number of Communist groups do advocate the abolition of money eventually. However at the time this was written most of the active Marxist groups I was reading about advocated several alternatives like Labour Vouchers, or credits, which to me was just another form of money with a different name. But even these groups believed in the fundamental restructuring of the economy to remove things like surplus value, and the boss worker relationship. Marxism is not "right lads and lasses same as normal only your not getting paid/ enjoy your vouchers" its about the common ownership of the economy and the abolition of economic and social hierarchy.

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