Sensor Scan: Red Dwarf


This is going to be another of those essays that crop up every now and again where I am 1000% confident my readers know far, far more about the subject matter than I do.

I never watched Red Dwarf. In fact, I’d never even *heard* of it until I started hanging around niche sci-fi analysis blogs four years ago. Apparently, this is something that’s been a huge part of a lot of people’s lives for many years now though, and given there are ten (going on eleven as of this writing) seasons of this show plus a fair amount of tie-in material, there’s no way I could be expected to put together a comprehensive retrospective of this thing, so, sorry in advance. What I’ll try to do instead is briefly take stock of some observations I’ve made about Red Dwarf‘s fandom and how they feel the show fits into the larger narrative of voyaging starship stories.

The curious thing I’ve noticed about Red Dwarf fans, at least the ones I’ve read and from what I’ve been able to discern through my admittedly limited interactions with the fandom, is that they seem to spend more time talking about Star Trek than they do talking about their own show. I have seen Red Dwarf labeled more than a few times as an explicit parody of Star Trek, or as “Britain’s answer to Star Trek: The Next Generation”. The general argument seems to be that while the USian Star Trek: The Next Generation concerned itself with the pretentious, po-faced navel-gazing of a bunch of upperclass neo-colonialists, the British Red Dwarf follows the adventures of two chicken soup machine repairmen (one of whom is actually dead), a malfunctioning AI and the descendant of of race of hyper-evolved cat people stuck together on a ramshackle mining ship three million years from anywhere who are not particularly concerned with terribly much, and certainly not Seeking Out New Life and New Civilizations.

To me, this argument is merely an extension of a pre-existing cultural tension that separates the United States from the British Isles: The unflattering comparison to Star Trek: The Next Generation is typically accompanied by a(n at least implied) statement about the difference in values between the US and the UK, with a tacit premise that UK values are superior due to their self-effacing modesty and lack of jingoistic expansionist fever dreams. It is also, in my opinion, what we would refer to in modern parlance as a “humblebrag” and further evidence of the inane, self-conscious, warlike factionalism of science fiction fans that is but one reason among many that I hate science fiction fans. As much as I’d rather not, I’m going to take some of these accusations seriously, as there is at least one level at which they have something resembling merit.

Star Trek does, in fact, have something of a class problem and it’s one the future creative teams on Star Trek: The Next Generation do actually and explicitly make worse.…

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