June 28, 2009

Colonialism in Friday's Child

I just watched the Friday's Child episode of Star Trek (the original series) for the umpteenth time. Here's a summary:The Federation is in competition with the Klingons for an alliance with the inhabitants of Capella IV. The Capellans are a warrior tribe and there is dissension among them as to who to sign the mining rights treaty with. McCoy is familiar with their customs having once spent several months there. When a Capellan, who clearly favors the Klingons, stages a coup, Kirk, Spock and McCoy flee with the now dead leader's wife, who is about to give birth.Friday's Child is a thinly veiled study of European colonialism. The Capellans could represent Indians or any other indigenous people. The spacefaring races could represent the British, French, or other colonial powers.

Kirk takes charge

Here are a few problems with the episode:

  • Kirk calls the Federation the "Earth federation." He (or writer D.C. Fontana) doesn't even pretend that the Federation is a union of various species. As Azetbur put it in The Undiscovered Country, "The Federation is nothing more than a homo sapiens only club."

  • The Federation supposedly was founded by humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites. How many times did we see Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites in positions of Federation authority? How many times did they give orders to humans? Once or twice in the 79-episode history of TOS, at most.

  • Kirk is offering the Capellans medical or agricultural help in exchange for mining rights. It should be obvious that simply appearing from outer space with advanced technology will be enough to influence the Capellan culture. Setting up a mining-based economy will change the Capellan culture more. But Kirk is offering to do even more than that--to explicitly upgrade the Capellans' technology. How is the arrangement not a blatant violation of the Prime Directive?

  • When the Teer (leader) is killed, his wife Eleen is supposed to die with him. She's ready and willing to do her cultural duty. But Kirk intervenes and saves her, and McCoy delivers her unborn baby. Instead of dying, this baby eventually will inherit the tribe's leadership.

    It's as if Kirk chose which wife and child of King Henry VIII should form the ruling house of England. Rarely if ever have the Federation's people violated the Prime Directive so egregiously.

  • The Capellans are holding Kirk and company captive because the Federation people have violated their laws or taboos. Kirk and company flee to the hills and fashion bows and arrows. They kill one or two Capellans with no warning, ambushing them from behind rocks.

    These Capellans were only obeying their leader's orders, enforcing their culture' laws. But Kirk and Spock clearly think their right to be free supersedes the Capellans' right to live. They react to the Capellans as if they're animals.

  • Moreover, the Capellans never developed the bow and arrow. Kirk has introduced a dangerous and destabilizing new technology to them, another massive Prime Directive violation.

  • Because the Enterprise is out of range, Kirk says he doesn't expect the "cavalry" to ride over the hills and save them. In other words, he's implicitly comparing the Federation's people to the US Army and the Capellans to Indians. In fact, the situation is vaguely reminiscent of Custer's Last Stand.

  • Eleen is or was ready to sacrifice herself. She has no feelings for her baby and wants to get rid of it. Maab the new Teer sacrifices himself so his aide can kill the villainous Klingon.

  • Clearly these savage Indians Capellans care little or nothing about life. They throw away their lives the way the rest of us throw away the trash.

    Federation imperialism

    What would happen if Kirk and the Federation didn't get their way? We saw an example of that in Errand of Mercy. Kirk couldn't conceive of the Organians not wanting to cooperate with the Federation. He was ready to go to war rather than let the Organians live in peace.

    Yes, he thought the Klingons would take over Organia. But the Organians made it clear they were choosing noninterference. Kirk had no right to say, "We know better than you, so you must follow our lead."

    Has an alien species ever simply refused to have contact with the Federation? In the ST novels, surely, but in the TV series? I think there were some in TNG, but some emergency inevitably compelled contact. After that, Picard and company's openness and goodness inevitably convinced the aliens to change their ways.

    For more on the subject, see White Super-Race in Paradise Syndrome and Noble Savages in Paradise Syndrome.

    P.S. The novel Ghost-Walker by Barbara Hambly may be the best exploration of colonialist issues I've seen in an ST novel. Check it out if you're interested.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    Trek has a hit-or-miss record. Most of it's unintentional.

    For some reason in Trek, Vulcans, Romulans, and Klingons are all the same species as humans. Someone will have to explain that. My theory? The same aliens that moved the Indians also used genetic manipulation to direct these species' evolution; moving the Indians was simply their last work.