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Did Post-Colonial Guilt Ruin Star Trek?


I’m quoting Samira Ahmed who writes

“Captain Kirk was always encountering worlds where computers had gone mad and gained control and needed to be re-set to liberate a superstitious population. (Top tip: This can be reliably done by getting Mr Spock to ask the Master computer to calculate to the last possible digit the value of Pi.)

But look what happened to Star Trek. Fed, I think, by a post-colonial guilt for the treatment of Native Americans, in the 90s it fell increasingly in thrall to superstition. A Native American first officer in Star Trek Voyager has visions which get taken seriously. And let’s not mention the Bajorans of Deep Space Nine – a tribe ruled by “prophets” who live in a wormhole. For Copson it’s a strange development: “30 years ago we had science fiction that was rational and progressive. But more recently it’s irrational, mystical aliens with ancient wisdom.”

I’m not sure that post-colonial guilt was that big of an influence on TNG writers but I could be wrong. Journey’s End was a clumsy episode about Native American post-colonial guilt and it was written by Ron Moore.

It also set up the whole DMZ and Maquis thing and created Chakotay’s backstory.

Journey’s End was written by Ron Moore and it wasn’t responsible for Deep Space Nine, but Ron Moore was responsible for a lot of what happened on DS9 and you can spot the underlying attitude in Ron Moore’s hostility to Starfleet and the Federation.

Ron Moore’s quote about Journey’s End is revealing

I felt that there was a built-in contradiction in a character that we’d said was like Mozart in his appreciation of higher mathematics and physics, yet was just on the same career path as any Starfleet cadet. I didn’t get it – if Wes is truly special and gifted, what the hell is he doing at the Helm? It seemed like he was only going to the Academy to live up to the memory of his father and the expectations of Picard, not because it was his best destiny. “Journey’s End” also seemed like an opportunity to see someone walk away from Starfleet with their head held high and just say “It’s cool, but not for me.” I was tired of everyone in the 24th century saying, “All I want to do is wear the uniform and serve on a starship.” Hey, it’s cool, but it’s not for everyone.

Deep Space Nine became that “Starfleet isn’t for everyone” series. Some people want to encounter aliens. Others want to worship them as Prophets.

Some people want rational and progressive Science Fiction that explores the universe. Others want a story about a Chosen One who is picked by aliens to fight evil.

Deep Space Nine didn’t happen in a vacuum. Babylon 5 came first and it won over a lot of Science Fiction fans. Star Wars with its mysticism did better than Star Trek.

Star Trek was an older product. Its ideas were clean and uncluttered. It looked forward to a future where we could all meet on common ground. Deep Space Nine rejected that future, but TNG was already rejecting it in places. DS9 allowed TNG writers to toss aside the Roddenberry structure and make their argument against everything that Star Trek stood for.

Even when Voyager and Enterprise tried to put the pieces back together again, the writers and producers didn’t understand how to speak that language. There are online fan series that do a good job of connecting to those TOS assumptions and Manny Cotto had his moments on Enterprise, but most producers and writers didn’t get it anymore. And younger audiences also wanted something else.

The most popular space SF television show of recent years was Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica which was like DS9 without any of the restraint or last shreds of plot logic. It was all foretold and predestined and inconsistent and dark and never had to make any sense because making sense was one of those old rational and progressive things that Star Trek used to do.

Chosen ones, dark sides and mysteries that can never be solved told across story arcs dominate genre series on television today. If Star Trek comes back to television right now, I don’t think that will change.

Watching Star Trek: DS9 The Emissary

It’s rare that a series does its best work in its first episode and then never equals it again. DS9 The Emissary isn’t an extraordinary ride, but it’s a glimpse of what Deep Space Nine might have been.

The Emissary’s opening tells us that we’re going to a dark place. So does the fight sight of DS9. But then the Bajorans show up Emissary - 3and the show begins to die.

The Bajorans are Ds9’s true nemesis. They drag the show down with displays of self-righteousness and magic superstition. Like the Kazon, they’re a race that would ordinarily show up in an episode and be forgotten, that takes up entire seasons. Voyager was able to fly away from the Kazon, but Deep Space Nine could never leave the Bajorans behind.

There are stunning elements in The Emissary. A Borg attack that devastates a starship transitions to a devastated space station and a quest for communication and understanding with an alien race. There’s all that, and there’s the magic Bajoran priests and Kira delivering her “I’m just a Bajoran” speech.

The Emissary shows us how close to a powerful series DS9 could have been. It had the Wild West elements. A distant trading post under siege. The exploration of alien life in a distant part of the galaxy. There were other reasons that DS9 never came together, but the Bajorans took the wind out of its sails. Instead of the Wild West, DS9 became a Neo-Tibetan retreat. It could never be the show it should have been because it was too busy getting its ears felt up.

The producers might not have been able to predict that the Bajorans wouldn’t work on screen, but they could have hedged their bets. Turned Bajor into a concentration camp planet for the Cardassian Order where a dozen slave races were housed. And then focused on the race that works best. That mix of races and complicated problems would have made for a much better series.

Bajor as we know it was surplus to requirements. It was there because the producers wanted to leave Star Trek behind, but they could have done it much better with a genuinely interstellar trading post, than a Bajoran station.

But the Bajorans aren’t all of it. The Emissary had one of DS9’s few bold and big ideas, but within a few episodes, the series that gave us a captain communicating with aliens by using his personal experiences (a concept that Voyager tried and failed to pull off) was giving us magic alien hopscotch and a crude evolution debate.

Captive Pursuit was the closest that first season DS9 came to matching its potential. And it did that because it left the Bajorans at home and told a story about the weird and wild galaxy out there passing through the station.

Far Beyond the Stars and Race in Star Trek

“Science Fiction was a diverse field with both its racist and anti-racist elements. However “Far Beyond the Stars” positions Benny’s only hope as the emergence of Star Trek. “Far Beyond the Stars” further attempts to position Deep Space Nine as the true achievement of racial breakthroughs, but “Far Beyond the Stars” itself was an episode not written by a black man, but written by two white men. Deep Space Nine is a series with only two non-white cast members, one in the lead role and a completely white stable of writers and executive producers. What “Far Beyond the Stars” dishonest does, is create a black character to serve as their mouthpiece.

The value of role models is real. Nichelle Nichols recounts Martin Luther King telling her to remain on Star Trek. Whoopi Goldberg cited a similar desire for joining the cast of “Star Trek The Next Generation.” “Far Beyond the Stars” itself conveys Benny propounding the importance of a black role model for youth. But while Captain Sisko may be that role model, Benny is not. Benny is blackface painted on Ira Steven Behr, Hans Beimler, Rick Berman, Ron Moore and Michael Piller. All white men.”

Read more here Far Beyond the Stars Star Trek Deep Space Nine Speaks on Race

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