March 30, 2008

Cherokee-class starships

In the future, spaceships will be named after Indians to prove how brave the white man is. At least, that's the message you get from Star Trek.

Captain April's EnterpriseThe Ship--USS Enterprise NCC-1701, Constitution Class Starship. The newest of twelve ships in this class, with three more currently under construction. Six of the ships are Cherokee class vessels upgraded to Constitution specs. One is a Constitution prototype upgraded to the final Constitution specs. The Enterprise has a crew complement of 220. It is armed with lasers and photon torpedoes. This is it's first five year mission. Since it is twenty years prior the Kirk era, the ship may look somewhat different internally and externally, but should be identifiable as the same Enterprise from the original Star Trek series.Comment:  I hadn't heard this tidbit of Trek lore before: that the Constitution class was formerly the Cherokee class. So even in the future, military vessels are named after Indians because of their stereotypically warlike attributes. Sigh.

For more on the subject, see Indian Nicknames for Military Craft.

Also note the egregious Eurocentrism of this class name. The Federation is supposedly an interstellar alliance of dozens of alien races. Can you imagine the justification used to select the name "Cherokee"?Earth has 20 billion people. Yes, we know each of your planets has 20 billion people too. But never mind that. We'd like to honor this small group of about 1 million people on our planet. They're awfully important...a lot more important than anybody on your planets.

What did they do? No, they didn't found a vast empire or make startling scientific discoveries. In fact, only about 5% of the Earth's population has ever heard of them. Most people couldn't tell a Cherokee from a cherub or a cheroot.

Cherokees are important because the white-skinned humans who dominate the Federation almost exterminated them once. No, wait, this will make sense once I'm done. The Cherokees were proud warriors, and by almost exterminating them, we proved the white-skins are proud warriors. By extension, everyone on Earth and throughout the Federation is a proud warrior also.

Because we "honor" the Cherokees, we don't have to think about how we almost exterminated them. Similarly, when we offer assistance and technology to primitive worlds in exchange for their resources, we don't have to feel bad about corrupting their indigenous cultures. Once they join the Federation, they'll become honorary Cherokees too.

Now do you understand why we're naming the starship class after the Cherokees rather than one of the thousands of warrior cultures on your planets?
We could apply this kind of analysis to many of the starships too. For instance, the USS Yorktown, the USS Lexington, the USS Farragut, and the USS Excalibur. What are the odds that these Euro-American persons, places, and things are the most exemplary choices among dozens of alien races with thousands of years of history each? Not good, I'd say.

15 comments:

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
But writerfella's continued connection with the STAR TREK Universe is that ST is an ongoing phenomenon. Those who have NOTHING to do with ST as it has come to be, merely are wannabees, period, with alleged contacts bogus. If they ever were to meet with writerfella, they would be told by how much they have lost...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

Wow, thanks for telling us Trek is an ongoing phenomenon. I didn't know!

I have no idea who came up with the Cherokee class designation and neither do you. For all we know, it was someone intimately involved with the TV shows or movies (e.g., Rick Berman). Therefore, your comment is premature at best and irrelevant at worst.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
For one matter, the ostensible "Cherokee-class starships" sound more fan-oriented in derivation or even someone's purported Trek history for their original STAR TREK 'novel,' about which for the greatest part very little either ever is historical OR original. writerfella was tempted to ask Dorothy Fontana about such a matter but the material seemed just too spurious and preposterous. And writerfella just is enough of a solipsist to let it all slide back under the rock from which it arose...
All Best
Russ Bates
'writerfella'

Rob said...

The Cherokee class may have come from a fan. Or it may have come from someone like Michael Okuda:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Okuda

Okuda also served as a technical consultant on the various TNG-era Star Trek series along with Rick Sternbach, advising the script-writers on the technology used throughout the Star Trek universe such as the transporters and the warp drive. This work resulted in a technical manual which was distributed to prospective script-writers along with the series bible. The manual was later published in revised and updated form as the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual by Pocket Books.

Rob said...

If it did come from a fan, so what? I've commented on people's assertions thousands of times. Why should I treat an assertion about Star Trek any differently?

Since we've named ships for Indians before, the practice is obviously ingrained in our culture. If anyone thinks naming a (star)ship class after the Cherokee is a good idea, I feel free to comment on it. That's what I do here: address the intersection of Native America and pop culture (including thoughts about Star Trek).

Rob said...

In your rush to shill for the man and snipe at me, you said nothing about the Eurocentric choices your Star Trek buddies made. The Constitution class...the Yorktown, Lexington, Farragut, and Excalibur...etc. Now that you've dodged the issue, would you care to address it?

I'm watching the first season of Deep Space Nine at the moment. Their runabouts are named after Earth rivers: Yangtze Kiang, Ganges, Rio Grande. I guess no other planet in the Federation has rivers worth mentioning?

This is on a space station in the remotest part of the Federation, far from Starfleet HQ. Logically, the runabouts would have Bajoran or Cardassian names. Yet DS9's creators thought it a good idea to make the station as Earth-centric as possible.

Perhaps not coincidentally, all the major characters except Commander Sisko--even the aliens--are white. The list includes Bajorans, Cardassians, Ferengis, and Odo. Only minor characters Jake and Keiko are non-white.

So Star Trek's tendencies are racist as well as xenophobic. Heck, several TV shows set in the present--e.g., Lost, Ugly Betty, Grey's Anatomy--are more multicultural than Trek is. In the future, if you're human and white, you're still ahead of the pack.

Jeff Stevens/Atlas Comics said...

Well I've pretty much always said that - Star Trek is white majority with added alien/minority characters being interchangeable. DS9 was remarkable for the fact that it technically had one ethnically white character - O'Brian, regardless of who the actors were playing the cast. Everyone else was an alien or minority. Bashir is an Arab, Keiko is Japanese, Sisko and son are black and everyone else is an alien. I think it should be given some credit for that - certainly more than Voyager or Next Generation.

Of course my other complaint about Star Trek in general is that they use white actors to prtray aliens with the exception of some Klingons played by blacks and some east asians playing Vulcans/Romulans. I always found Tuvok a joke because, like black americans, he has the same hair texture and amazinly the women all have straight hair! Wow - what are the odds?!

Rob said...

Was Dr. Bashir's ethnicity ever stated? If not, we can only assume he had the same ethnicity as Alexander Siddig, the actor who played him. Siddig is half English and half Sudanese (Arab, not black, I presume).

Also, wasn't Jadzia Dax at least part human? Although they called her a Trill, the human part seemed dominant. If she didn't refer to her age occasionally, you'd never know she was an alien.

Okay, Deep Space Nine was mostly minorities and aliens. Caucasian aliens, to be sure, but aliens. I give it credit for that much, if not more.

dmarks said...

You have a great point, Rob, about the starship names. I think there is even some Confederate sympathy too: wasn't there a ship called the Monitor OR the Merrimack?

About DS9: characters: Worf counts as one, even if he was a latecomer. A black Klingon. I think Bashir was a positive inclusion: he as obviously Sudanese (he shares his surname with the most famous Sudanese person of the era), but he was not stereotypical in any way. He wasn't trotted out as a token Arab.

Jeff Stevens/Atlas Comics said...

I recall the episode where Bashir's parents came and they were shown to be either Arab or Indian - I had assumed Pakistani due to the father's looks and the surname. It was a story where they talked about how they had given him some type of mental genetic enhancement as a child to give him an edge. But the point is that he was clearly non-white at that point, if it was still ambiguous
http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://images3.wikia.nocookie.net/memoryalpha/en/images/thumb/0/0c/Bashir_future_the_visitor.jpg/180px-Bashir_future_the_visitor.jpg&imgrefurl=http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Julian_Bashir&h=227&w=180&sz=8&hl=en&start=4&um=1&tbnid=14-Uq66wTIWgEM:&tbnh=108&tbnw=86&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dbashir%2527s%2Bparents%26um%3D1%26hl%3Den%26newwindow%3D1%26safe%3Doff%26sa%3DG

Rob said...

All of Star Trek's attempts at diversification have been positive. They just haven't been positive enough. ;-)

I mean, c'mon. Suppose you're casting Deep Space Nine and you have to find people to play Kira, Dax, Odo, Quark, and Bashir. What do you say to yourself?

"We already got a black guy, so we're covered. Besides, Bashir looks as though he's not totally white. And if we put bumps or ridges on characters, they're no longer white, right?"

Rob said...

Brian George, who played Bashir's father, was born in Israel "to Sephardic Baghdadi Jewish parents." Fadwa El Guindi, who played Bashir's mother, is Egyptian. From that we can conclude Bashir is supposed to be from the Middle East, even if he could pass for white.

Rob said...

Yes, there were starships named the USS Monitor and USS Merrimac:

http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/USS_Monitor

http://memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/USS_Merrimac_(NCC-61827)

I guess the Federation ran out of other people to honor and decided to give the slaveowning American South its due.

Sandro said...

I think you missed something about the ships names. All the Ships mentioned in your article and the other comments ar STARFLEET ships, not those of the Federation. This is a difference. Starfleet is a human organizationn with its origin on earth even before the Federation has been founded.
And to the Cherokee class. I think it was a research vessel and had to be upgraded with better weapon systems for deep space missions, but I'm not sure on that.

Rob said...

Starfleet was a human organization until the Federation's formation. Then it became the Federation's multispecies military and exploratory agency.

When we talk about "Federation ships," we're usually talking about ships owned and operated by the Federation government. In other words, by Starfleet, which is the starship-operating branch of the government. We're not talking about privately owned ships operating under the Federation's authority.

This posting refers to events 20 years before Captain Kirk's time. By then Starfleet was no longer a purely human institution. Its starship names should reflect that.