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If you want an image of the future as we desire it, imagine a boot stamping on Jonathan Jones’ face… forever

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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

10 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    October 28, 2013 @ 5:04 pm

    A reading that speaks very much to my own feelings about Plato's Stepchildren. It especially speaks to my memories of Plato's Stepchildren. Personally, all I really remember of this story was Kirk's relationship with Alexander, and the incredible hope and happiness Alexander has when it's clear that Kirk is taking him with them to the Federation. Alexander is literally a refugee, a person who in his homeland is inevitably and violently persecuted for who he is. Kirk not only gives him the message that there's a place where he can be free, but also follows through on it.

    When I was younger and more naive, I used to think that this is what we did in the West with refugees, because I had believed all the liberal democratic theory about democracies being safe places that would welcome persecuted peoples. Then I was no longer fourteen.

    Though I've started some (still very preliminary) research going back into Hannah Arendt's philosophy, which I remember as being one of the only philosophical traditions of the recent West that actually speaks to our modern hypocrisy on the subject.

    But until then, I'll still have my memories of Alexander.

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  2. K. Jones
    October 29, 2013 @ 8:35 am

    This is another example of a recurring trend in Star Trek. It's common in time travel fiction for there to be a lot more to events in history, a lot more "intervention", and therefore for the eventual diagetic links between characters to grow to insanely "chosen one" levels in something I've always called "The Snake Eyes Effect", where all histories are somehow linked to one character (Snake Eyes, of G.I. Joe fame), or in the case of sci-fi, particularly time travel sci-fi; Earth.

    Now, this is part of the inherent charm and a side-effect of getting to see a recurring cast of characters visit events in our own Earth history. It's become so staple to the narrative of Doctor Who, that the sheer weight of his interaction with Earth is constantly spitting out cosmic dangers to his life to combat paradoxes, or to combat how time itself collapses as he ties it in knots around human history.

    But in Star Trek, we've met a few non-Terran beings who took part, inspiring or being inspired by Earth history, and it's about to become a trend. Having obviously human actors in all-too-often human-shaped "alien" roles is another side-effect of the genre; one I love forgiving because the nature of these stories has always been exploration of human relationships, anyway. But all the aliens that seem to have interacted with human history appear very, very human themselves. And also linked intrinsically to the Classical Greco-Roman period.

    Apollo. The Platonians. Flint. At this point it's a recurring theme.

    On one hand I worry that in the Star Trek universe, Western culture's roots were basically founded by aliens – that human advancement is diminished because it was inspired by outside or extra-human forces.

    On the other hand, I adore the idea that Westernized culture, isn't the natural order on Earth, and that then, despite the trappings, once again behind the veneer, Star Trek is a pagan animal.

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    October 29, 2013 @ 11:43 am

    One could perhaps extrapolate this even further: The ubiquitous von Däniken-esque shaping of Western culture on Earth by extraterrestrials could itself be seen as a metaphor for the cultural imperialism, appropriation and genocide (religious, ideological or literal) that's a staple of real life Westernism.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    October 29, 2013 @ 11:47 am

    Also, it's imperative to remember when redeeming this franchise that the Federation =/= the world of Star Trek, and more to the point, the community of the Enterprise. That's going to become pretty important a series or two from now.

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  5. Adam Riggio
    October 29, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

    Getting into the shady underbelly of the Federation is one of my favourite elements of late-period DS9. At the time I first watched it, I found it very similar to what had already been explored in Babylon 5, and similar shows and books. Then I realized that this was fucking Star Trek, and they just had an entire season-long plot arc where the Federation had a secret police / CIA / Cointelpro / Operation Condor.

    And to the best of my knowledge, no one ever followed through on this total subversion of what had become the biggest linchpin of Star Trek's utopian vision of the Federation.

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  6. Josh Marsfelder
    October 29, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

    Late-period DS9 gets far too much credit for pioneering this theme IMO, largely because it was the loudest and most blatant about it. It is one of Ron Moore and Ira Behr's signature themes and arguably the most important thing they contribute to the franchise, but The Next Generation had already laid the groundwork as early as 1987, it's just nobody was looking for that kind of story back then. Which would make sense, as D.C. Fontana was still working on the show at the time, and these are really her and Gene Coon's themes.

    And yes, I do think they actually were followed up on afterwards. It's just it was once again in a place nobody was looking for it.

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  7. BerserkRL
    December 20, 2013 @ 10:41 pm

    a) What ruins the "first(ish) interracial kiss" aspect for me is that Kirk and Uhura are forced to kiss.

    b) The Plato connection has always bugged me, because there virtually is none beyond the name. None of the distinctive features of Plato's Republic — either the ones we might admire or the ones we might abhor — are present here. (And I'm sorry, but supposedly-enlightened-but-actually-tyrannical-society-ruled-by-an-elite-who-think-they're-better-than-everyone-else is not specific enough to pin on Plato; it's the dominant sociopolitical form throughout human history.) Starship Troopers actually comes closer to being a version of Plato's Republic (whether deliberately or by mistake I've never been sure) than anything in this episode.

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  8. Josh Marsfelder
    December 21, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

    "The Plato connection has always bugged me, because there virtually is none beyond the name. None of the distinctive features of Plato's Republic — either the ones we might admire or the ones we might abhor — are present here. (And I'm sorry, but supposedly-enlightened-but-actually-tyrannical-society-ruled-by-an-elite-who-think-they're-better-than-everyone-else is not specific enough to pin on Plato; it's the dominant sociopolitical form throughout human history.)"

    While I agree the Plato connection here is absolutely tenuous at best (this is, after all, ultimately another Freiberg/Singer special) I'm not so sure about this claim. As a model for the state, yeah, but this is reminding me a bit of the recent debate over Jared Diamond's shaky statements about violence being innate and the distinction between state and non-state societies.

    There are plenty of nonmodern, non-Western societies that simply do not operate this way, whether because they're hunter-gatherers or for some other reason. Without a fixation on agriculture and sprawling infrastructure people can't afford to divvy themselves up into classes: Everyone has to be treated as an equal because everyone is needed to contribute to the well-being of the social group.

    To call imperialistic Westernism the default because of how it effective it was at spreading around the world is…problematic to me.

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  9. Froborr
    October 10, 2014 @ 1:42 pm

    I think Plato is guilty of a specific form of "elite who think they're better than everybody else"–the elite who think they're better than everybody else in a measurable, objective way. Meritocracy, in other words–rule by the people who get to define merit. Plato's system is this, there's the civil service exams of medieval China, and capitalism; those are the examples that come immediately to mind.

    The key element is that there's some sort of test or competition to determine "merit" and therefore status, which is argued as being somehow fairer than being born into it. Of course in actual practice it ends up with people being born into it because the test is designed to measure what the people at the top like about themselves, and thus inevitably skewed in their favor.

    Plenty of societies don't have any such system. Feudal Europe's concept of "divine right," for example, or any sort of hereditary caste system, is clearly not an instance of meritocracy, though of course it is an instance of an elite skewing the system in their own favor. That happens anywhere that there's an elite, because of course it's how you get an elite in the first place.

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  10. Froborr
    October 10, 2014 @ 1:43 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

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