skywaterblue: (Sisko laughs!)
[personal profile] skywaterblue
Today, Slate's Matt Yglesias writes a long piece about the value of the Star Trek franchise focusing specifically on the message. That piece is entitled I Boldly Went Where Every Star Trek Movie and TV Show Has Gone Before and it is mostly a fine piece that I am mostly in agreement with that argues that Star Trek needs to come back as a DS9-like cable show in the vein of "Mad Men" to argue for a utopian progressive future.

I mostly agree with that assessment...except for this minor line: "Some of these one-offs—those set in the Mirror Universe especially—are fun. But others are dreadful (Sisko has to train his crew to beat a bunch of arrogant Vulcans at baseball) or simply bizarre (Sisko fights racism in the sci-fi industry of the 1950s)."

*record scratch*

SIMPLY BIZARRE?

Aside from being one of the best episodes of television on race ever filmed, "Far Beyond the Stars" is about the enfranchisement of black and female voices in fiction. It says more about racism in America in an hour than the entire series of Mad Men has in six seasons, because its point is simple. It says, quite simply says that our stories matter. OUR stories. To dismiss it as 'simply bizarre' is to show that no, you don't really get Star Trek at all. You're comfortable with a black male lead... so long as that black male never opens his mouth about race.

So yes. Star Trek needs to come back. And it needs to be a cable-drama in the vein of Mad Men.

And writers and fans like Matt Yglesias should have absolutely nothing to do with it.

Date: 2013-05-15 04:56 pm (UTC)
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
From: [personal profile] pauraque
Sadly that's an attitude that I've run into more than once among Trek fans. It's that hoary old "colorblindness" pitfall -- the idea that the way to get rid of racism is to get rid of race as a concept -- just disguised by the flimsy excuse that Trek is set in the future. But there's nothing admirable or hopeful about a future world where differences are erased rather than celebrated. That's not a utopia, it's a dystopia.

Re: Still bothered.

Date: 2013-05-15 07:31 pm (UTC)
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
From: [personal profile] pauraque
I get what you're saying. I guess sometimes I feel it's presented as a false dichotomy, where you can either have race and racism, or you can't have race at all. I do feel that ep succeeds at breaking down that dichotomy to some extent, as Sisko notices how the past affects his present and engages with that, just as you say. It acknowledges that the past is something that enriches our understanding of the present, not something to be dismissed as too long ago to matter, which is precisely what many people do NOT want to believe about the history of race relations.

For me it starts to come down to the question of how valuable cultural differences are, to us and to the characters in our fiction, because obviously race is not just a matter of appearance. Trek seems to struggle with how much it wants the human species to be a monoculture and how much it doesn't. Kirk is from Iowa, and being from Iowa means something to him. Earth still has regional differences. Nobody in fandom goes around complaining that his being from Iowa "shouldn't be an issue anymore" and thus should never, ever be mentioned.

I mean, this is fiction. Sure, it's possible that in the future race will dissappear as a meaningful cultural construct. But intentionally putting that in a work of fiction, especially one with the utopian aspects of Star Trek, is making a statement about what one believes should be the case, which is very different from just saying it's one possible future. Especially when we've already got people who want race to just go away, which to them basically means they want POC to stop talking.

As something of a side note, several times I've had this discussion as it relates to trans people and why there aren't any in Star Trek (non-human experiences like Trill hosts and 'The Outcast' aside, and that's a whole can of worms, but trying to stay on one point here). On one hand, I can appreciate the argument that in the future gender transition may be so routine that it's no longer an issue. Again, that's possible, but do we want it? I think we can all agree that it would be good if nobody considered being trans to be a bad thing. But do we really want it not to be any kind of a thing at all? Some would say yes, but I'm hesitant. There are good things about being trans. I like and value the perspective I've gained from experiencing different gender roles. How sure are we that our gender histories are a bug, and not a feature?

Of course the idea that we never see trans people in Star Trek because they all transitioned already becomes even more of a problem when you think about non-binary identities, but I've already written far too much! I agree that these are very complex issues.

Re: Still bothered.

Date: 2013-05-16 02:44 pm (UTC)
pauraque: bird flying (Default)
From: [personal profile] pauraque
There's been a lot of ink written about how Trek is sometimes more comfortable with its PoC being cyphers rather than characters. (Something you can't say of the Siskos, but maybe you can say about Geordi and/or Uhura to some degrees.) Star Trek is comfortable with having PoC but not always the best about letting them have their voices.

Yeah, I agree with this. And it's sad because TOS was definitely a pioneer in representation of POC on television, and you'd hope that as decades passed, the franchise as a whole would have stayed closer to the cutting edge in that area, but sometimes it seems instead that they've been content to just tread water. Just showing a black woman as a competent professional was to be applauded in 1966, even if she rarely got to say anything but "hailing frequencies open", but you expect more in 1987 and so on.

DS9 did better with this than any of the other series, and it's frustrating to me how the fandom as a whole seems to lack enthusiasm for that fact. Matt Yglesias seems to be right where a lot of the fandom is on this -- you want Star Trek to be progressive, but you know... in a comfy, 1966-ish way. You don't want it to actually push into what progressivism is right now, or do anything that takes you out of your comfort zone.

The problem with the erasure here is that surely in the future yes, transitioning will be so good that the folk who opt for it will slide into society with no problem.

See, this sounds so reasonable on the face of it, but I actually question it. Today, yes, there are many trans folk who transition and then disappear. But if we're going to extrapolate that out into the future, I think we need to ask why people are choosing to disappear and whether those factors will still be around. A huge part of why it's tempting to go stealth is that it protects you from being a target of transphobia. In a culture without transphobia, where would the motivation come from to hide your gender history? Mightn't your gender transition be something you'd be just as likely to be comfortable talking about casually, like saying you're from Iowa?

One thing that I think is important about "Far Beyond the Stars" is that it's the women who are first to come to Benny's defense. It's mainly an episode about race, but it gets in some solid swipes on gender in fandom too.

Great point! I need to go rewatch the ep, it's been too long.

Date: 2013-05-15 04:57 pm (UTC)
raven: Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, wearing green and red and looking up (Default)
From: [personal profile] raven
AMEN, my god. This is SO RIGHT.

Date: 2013-05-15 06:09 pm (UTC)
selenak: (Default)
From: [personal profile] selenak
I suppose he thought Sisko's argument with Kasidy about Vic's and the way holo Vegas erases the period racism was "simply bizarre", too. What spectacular cluelessness!

Date: 2013-05-15 08:59 pm (UTC)
sarken: spock, kirk, and mccoy on a striped background ([star trek] kick it old school)
From: [personal profile] sarken
I have nothing constructive to add, but after reading that article, I will happily drink to this: "And writers and fans like Matt Yglesias should have absolutely nothing to do with it."

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