November 10, 2014

Missing aliens in Star Trek

Back in February, a Facebook friend posted the following link with a note for me. This led to a Star Trek discussion, of all things:

On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael DunnInteresting. What do you think? Has America just "grown up" racist?Yes, you could say we've grown up racist. I think that the genocide of Indians and the enslavement of blacks are fundamental to our core mythology. Which goes along the lines of, "God gave the American wilderness to the white man to conquer, tame, and develop. Anything that happened along the way was just an unfortunate byproduct."So you'd agree with the author then that "devaluation" of black lives goes back to that?Yes. Basically America wasn't an experiment in creating a melting pot of multiculturalism. It was an experiment in setting up a continent ruled by a cult of white supremacy.

Only since the beginning of the 20th century have the two philosophies--white supremacy vs. melting pot--come into real conflict. We're somewhere in the middle of a transition that might take a few centuries. By the time the Star Trek era arrives, we may actually achieve the Star Trek ideal.

The ideal that didn't quite make it onto the screen, that is. White males still held a preponderance of the jobs even thought that shouldn't have happened in an egalitarian society.Star Trek was still an ideal seen through the lens of 1960s television.Right.

Just once, a Star Trek show should give us a ship with the actual demographics of Earth. Which would be half various kinds of Asians, or something like that.

Or better yet, a ship with the actual demographics of the Federation. Which might be a quarter each of humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites.

I wonder if anyone would notice either of these ships and the statement it was making. I.e., how contrived the white, European, human bias of Star Trek is.

P.S. Where are the Andorians and and especially the Tellarites? You could do several science fiction-based ST movies with wonderful new concepts and never touch the Klingons or Romulans.

Lack of aliens okay?The alien thing has never really bothered me in the demographics on Star Trek. I always sort of saw The Federation sort of like the U.N.--you have SOME individuals from different planets serving in cross-cultural roles, but generally ships would be crewed by people from their planet of origin. And you could excuse them for not perfectly mirroring human demographics if maybe serving in Starfleet isn't a top priority in all cultures.

However, you'd expect it to be better than it's been. Of course the original was hampered by broadcasting standards, but Next Generation was surprisingly not much better. Then you have Voyager at the other end of the extreme, looking like a J.Crew ad, with it's accidentally blended crew that just HAPPENED to include one person from each gender and ethnic group.
All of Starfleet's ships just happen to have Earth as their planet of origin. So they're all predominantly white (but not Asian, oddly). Convenient!

Sure, you could explain away the lack of aliens. Even the other three founding races of the Federation. For instance, the Vulcans are too busy with science, the Andorians with sex, and the Tellarites with commerce.

They actually gave an explanation like this for the lack of Vulcans. They're too dedicated to scientific pursuits, don't believe in Starfleet's miltary aspects, and find it too illogical to work with humans. Okay, we buy that.

But still, if you're going to explain the shortcoming, then explain it. In the stories themselves. Leaving it unexplained and implied is weak.

Someone, perhaps a Klingon, actually accused Starfleet of being the imperialist arm of the human race. He has a point. The Federation's military might is primarily controlled by humans.

If the other races are involved in other pursuits, then show it. For instance, if the Enterprise becomes involved in a scientific dispute, show a team of Vulcans in charge. If it becomes involved in a trade dispute, show a team of Tellarites in charge.

In short, whatever the other races are doing, show them doing it. Otherwise, the racial charges against Star Trek are valid. If Avatar can give us an entire planet of blue-skinned Na'vi, I think Star Trek can give us alien races that aren't humans with facial ridges.

For more on Star Trek, see Superior Powers Don't Change Society and Colonialism Inspired Science Fiction.

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