By Hayden Cooper
Star Trek has gained a reputation for radicalism on an intergalactic scale. But as Hayden Cooper discovers, this universe is a little less inclusive than it seems.
Defining a Genre
Star Trek for many is the quintessential Science Fiction. It invented (or popularised) many of the things that now are staples of the genre; teleporters, shielding, warp speed, laser based weapons.
It is also the quintessential utopia: a world without pursuit of capital, with racial harmony, that can defeat any evil.
Utopianism fills a funny place within Science Fiction. Traditionally it has been argued that Science Fiction is merely a subset of utopianism. The goliaths of Sci-Fi theory have been extremely hostile to dystopian works being included, most notably 1984 and Brave New World.
Jameson (Archaeologies of the Future proving a seminal text in the field) describes trends towards utopianism as running parallel to dialogues about politics. Jameson sees Sci Fi as a political movement in and of itself, built upon the desire to create a better world by drawing parallels with our own (and embellishing them).
However he sees it as a failed movement, much as how he saw communism. It should be noted he is specifically referring to the academic concept of “communism” that was popular in discourse during the early years of the soviet union, rather than communism as a political philosophy as we understand it today.
Anti-communism, much like anti-utopianism is worse than the movements they critique. He argues that we should aim for anti-anti-utopianism and anti-anti-communism. In practical terms, we should use our arguments with liberals to forge our own ideology.
Star Trek is inherently liberal. Fans of the show, myself included, preach of its radicality; but this simply isn’t the case. The show talks about a world without money, with racial harmony. Behind the scenes it had the first ever interacial kiss on screen; it had nonbinary characters; diversity was always the aim.
These radical aims are what made the show famous. Spock was placed in the show as a commentary on racial acceptance: he became so popular some cite the character as the reason for the renewal of the second season.
But Star Trek was never radical; merely it posed itself as radical.
Behind the scenes PoC actors were forced out of projects (such as voicing their characters on the animated show). On screen most captains are white, militarist, men. Queer storylines are almost non existent, and those that exist are either executed poorly or done in sweeps week for ratings.
It is this liberalism that made the show possible in the world of capitalist television. Producers could exploit radicality for its marketability, whilst still keeping it safe.
Bringing this back to Jameson, Star Trek was highly dialectical due to how the show was run. It was based upon the works of Roddenbury (utopian/communist); shaped by executives (anti-utopian/communist); and often featured radical show writers arguing against the system that created the show (anti-anti-utopian/communist).
A great example of this is several episodes of Deep Space Nine where Sisko writes the story of DSP in the 1950s. As a black Sci Fi author he is denied credit, and he is told to rewrite his story to exclude a black main character. It is clearly a jibe at the television industry.
Red Flags on Sale
So what about where Star Trek didn’t fit this narrative? Plot lines seen on Deep Space Nine and later seasons of Enterprise were as close to radical as the show ever got. Harsh critiques of the Federations inherent militarism were shown with internal nationalist uprisings in the form of the Marquis; repeated war crimes were committed by the Federation (including genocide) and an unofficial secret police was revealed in the form of Section 31.
This is internal conflict in its highest form. Yet Spock and Picard proved more marketable. They appeal to liberals by preaching nonviolence; they appeal to leftists by espousing socialist rhetoric; but most of all they appeal to marketing teams for having a wide base of support. Sisko is an angry war criminal, and not least of all played by a black man. By whitewashing Star Trek as a show without conflict, the new showrunners have romanticised their potential for radicality whilst also accepting the (forced) liberal reputation and appeal of the show.
Pictures from: http://redshirtsalwaysdie.com/2017/05/05/why-is-cbs-hiding-star-trek-discovery-information/ and http://www.holbergprisen.no/en/fredric-r-jameson.html and http://www.startrek.com/database_article/star-trek-deep-space-nine-synopsis and