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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.

5 Comments

  1. Froborr
    December 3, 2014 @ 2:11 am

    "Children's television for adults."

    Holy shit, it IS. brain explody

    Reply

  2. Ross
    December 3, 2014 @ 2:40 am

    Grumble. And there goes the central thesis of my ongoing blog-essay about why Captain Power is a better Star Trek-for-the-80s than TNG.

    (Not that I really mind all that much since, let's face it, any attempt to argue that thesis is going to end up relying on massive amounts of farce and kayfaybe)

    One of the things I love the most about this episode as an adult is that the reason Moriarty becomes a Real Boy is just as simple as "Because they asked the ship to make him one." It's a deliciously mad concept to just casually drop "Oh, and the ship can manufacture sentient beings at will if you just ask it to, only this never occurred to anyone until now," as a MINOR point in the episode. It feels very much part of the whole "Space is a magical and slightly insane place where anything can happen and probably will" mentality that gave us Abraham Lincoln in Space or Catspaw or Where None Have Gone Before, but which modern-era Trek seemed to spend most of the 90s trying really hard to forget about.

    Reply

  3. Adam Riggio
    December 3, 2014 @ 5:56 am

    Although the key phrase in the episode is cogito ergo sum, and this is the central phrase from the popular heritage of Descartes, which is rightly considered the focal point of a serious problem in Western culture and philosophy. In particular, Descartes' overall philosophy and scientific conception of non-humans is a huge problem with Star Trek's explicit vision. For Descartes, the human (which turned out to be restricted to the specifically Western) model of reason is the minimal standard of thinking at all, to the point where non-humans were considered automatons.

    Yet this episode would seem to be a subversion of Cartesian visions of reason and thought into a species-pluralistic world of Star Trek. Reasoning – thinking generally – is here conceived as something that any creature can do. More than this, Moriarty begins to think in response to a request from Geordi. Geordi calls to the Enterprise computer, and the ship/holodeck answers his call with a constitution of intelligence and a complete personality.

    In the works of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas (a concept that has a strong influence in Jewish thought), subjectivity arises as a response to a call, and that responsiveness to our call grounds a fundamental ethical obligation to the one who answers us. Levinas himself developed this conception of the foundation of person-to-person ethical obligation given his experiences in the Second World War, confronting the horror of the Holocaust and the post-war refugee crisis. Levinas was a Lithuanian-French Jew who barely avoided the Holocaust because he was an Air Force POW, and the Luftwaffe protected its prisoners from death camp deportation. Almost his entire family in France and Lithuania was wiped out. As well, after the war, he worked for the French government processing refugees, and was additionally traumatized and affected by having to listen to so many personal cases and pleas of displaced persons for help, and turn them away. His philosophy of the ethical call and response emerged from the wretchedness of having to judge and deny aid to some war refugees and grant them to others based on abstract, objective criteria. The response to the call renders abstract principles and criteria obsolete.

    So Moriarty is a response to Geordi's call, and in responding he constitutes the ability to think and reason. Cartesian reasoning and abstraction is subordinated to the call-response foundation of ethical obligation. Picard ultimately recognizes that when he ends the episode making the promise to Moriarty to find a way for him to be free. And Moriarty later calls him on having let that promise slide a few seasons later.

    Reply

  4. K. Jones
    December 3, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    It's interesting to see Geordi this way, because Chief Engineer jobs give an actor and character a lot of power in presenting the concepts being explored – his literal job on the ship is the same as his metatextual one – to ride along with us and explain things, and he's never better used than when he's doing just that (the same way as Pulaski metatextually being both a character's surgeon, and a character-surgeon … the overt narrative is becoming one with the subtext more and more with every episode.

    Of course I feel like this sort of culminates by Season 4 and the show sort of runs on its own artificial framework in later seasons, but that doesn't stop the standout episodes from still being able to tap into that diagetic edge here and there – particularly when we're dealing with characters who AREN'T our core cast but are rather supporting players, showing our family of core cast in a new light.

    It's interesting to me after Pulaski talk in the previous episode discussion to see that Moriarty's transition from "one-note character" to "fully rounded personage" doesn't just reflect Data, but Pulaski's rapid evolution as well, whether on fitting in, on the subject of Data, or whatever else. "Welcome to the Enterprise, you can be a fully realized person now."

    With a message like that, you absolutely need a guide like LeVar Burton to ride along with you and to be nowhere near patronizing.

    Reply

  5. Daru
    December 11, 2014 @ 10:05 pm

    "Froborr: "Children's television for adults."

    Holy shit, it IS. brain explody"

    My brain just exploded too. What an utterly obvious and beautifully made point. To be honest I would never have see it without reading this blog, as I had never heard of Reading Rainbow before coming here and also knew nothing of LeVar Burton's previous work.

    When I go back and re-watch I will be certain that I'll see the show differently. One of my favourite episodes this.

    Reply

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