Case Study: “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968)
Roddenberry’s interest in defining the problems of whites in a modern world, here both metaphorically and literally represented by Kirk, is ultimately pursued at the expense of Native-American peoples and cultures.
The NBC censor was also concerned with the notion of the “paradise syndrome,” but in the way in which it might affect the star persona of Captain Kirk. A letter from Stanley Robertson, manager of film programming, noted:
Clearly mindful of the twentieth-century audience, the NBC censor, though aware of the logic of science fiction, was less interested in the stereotyping of Native-Americans than with maintaining the “superior” morality of the white hero—another instance of network conservatism protecting a white bottom line.
This interest in representing whiteness as morally atop the evolutionary ladder goes beyond the goals of the network censor. In the memorandum to Freiberger, Roddenberry goes to great lengths to rationalize the benevolent super-race:
Roddenberry’s interest in the super-race, a logic derivative of the social Darwinian notion of “survival of the fittest,” continues, as he makes a weak effort at explaining why the Indians believe Kirk is godlike: “it is obvious that the Indians have never seen an Enterprise landing party member before and, therefore, more believable they believe Kirk is a sort of god.” The “demonstratable law of progress” implicitly assumes that “white” phenotypes, which is all that separates Kirk from the Indians at this point in the story, would be construed by “primitive cultures” as godlike, thereby linking Kirk not to the Indians, and thus to members of his own species, but to an alien super-race: Kirk is more alien super-race than human Indian. The discourse of white superiority, “not there as a category and everywhere as a fact,” as Richard Dyer argues about whiteness, is stretched into the future by the science-fiction notion of an alien super-race and a heroic white captain.