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October 21 2006

Star Trek's ideology vs Firefly's. Article on the fascist nature of Star Trek. Author goes on to contrast it with the Firefly/Serenity 'verse, the "anti-Trek".

The article seems to have some sort of beef with Star Trek. I mean, nitpicking ranks and command levels? Implying racism because one alien race is more intelligent than other alien races? Turning a religion-free future into anti-Semitism? Then he deconstructs the whole TNG universe as economically impossible, as if that was in the forefront of the creators' minds when they wrote the series.

Finally, Star Trek becomes fascism, when a more appropriate term would be the secular humanism that the article flippantly mentions halfway through, with a negative connotation that humanism really doesn't deserve. Also, it only mentioned Firefly once :(
Tycho, if you read all the way to the bottom of the page, the author fairly seriously deconstructs the science of Firefly, too, in the same breath as praising the series. He does a bit of compare-and-contrast before moving on to the "science" of the show. Which I've decided I don't care if it works or not. I'm just saying!
Y'know, sometimes it's actually fun to just watch a television show and enjoy it for what it is at face value. Looking for hidden meaning in what appears on the screen (whether it exists or not) can spoil your enjoyment and make you come across as being very dull.

Somebody should let the author of this article know that.
This article is founded on overanalyzing and distorting elements of the show and the claims he makes against Star Trek are absurd. The author doesn't seem to understand that television is not about finding flaws in a fictional universe.

[ edited by JadeFire on 2006-10-21 18:42 ]
Err, Star Trek (The Next Generation anyway) has replicators which (at least on Earth) means no-one needs for essentials or has to buy anything, hence no capitalism (i.e. it's a post-scarcity future). I'm pretty surprised that the author isn't aware of this (though he mentions replicators in passing in the 'Firefly' segmemt).

Interesting article, i'm just not sure it's all that well thought out and there seems to be a pretty hefty dose of bending/ignoring facts to fit the author's thesis (i.e. an element of 'I prefer capitalism and religion, therefore, ... Firefly is better than Trek' - unless he's being provocative which is fine since he's a college lecturer so stimulating thought and discussion is kinda his job).

I think he has a point about families on the Enterprise though, that always bothered me since, exploratory mandate or not, life on board was frequently shown to be pretty dangerous. And a lot of the science on 'Firefly' was pretty suspect (which is a polite way of saying 'utter bollocks' ;) but that's not really Joss' thing and not why we watched. As mentioned above, almost all fictional universes will have flaws when analysed closely.
"Looking for hidden meaning in what appears on the screen (whether it exists or not) can spoil your enjoyment and make you come across as being very dull.

Somebody should let the author of this article know that."


Strange how I never saw anyone make these comments regarding the various academics who have written papers about BTVS.
Err, Star Trek (The Next Generation anyway) has replicators which (at least on Earth) means no-one needs for essentials or has to buy anything, hence no capitalism (i.e. it's a post-scarcity future).

Sorry, but there is no such thing as a "post-scarcity future", replicators or not. Obvious counter-example, what if I want to go exploring the universe but don't want to join Starfleet? Since there isn't any scarcity, I guess I could just requisition a starship. Not exactly likely, is it?

Plus, while I didn't watch enough of Deep Space 9 to know what kind of detail they went into this, if there isn't any scarcity then what are the Ferengi able to sell and why would anyone buy it? Not to mention the question as to why they would accept any payment in commodities if such commodities could be produced at will and without limits by a replicator?
rkayn, I've seen exactly those comments made about academics writing on BtVS, especially those in the more postmodern vein.

Re the article in question, I'm still trying to figure out how not supporting capitalism = fascism.
rkayn, there was definitely reference to the fact that humans have no form of money in DS9, although it was humorous. The captain's son wants to buy a baseball card from a Ferengi auction, so he has to borrow latinum from his Ferengi friend. The two of them have a little discussion about why his friend has to give him the money if "humans don't need money anymore". It's cute, but passing.

I think what happened is that Roddenberry started from the state that 'all humans are at peace with themselves'. He found the major causes of war, IE Religion, money, etc., between humans themselves and he negated it. He never fully explained how this happened, but he really never fully explained a lot of things, and just asked his audience to believe it. Star Trek requires this unquestioning belief-- there are so many plot holes, inconsistancies between series, etc., but here we are going "that doesn't really matter" and believing what we see whenever we see it. That's probably why Star Trek spawned the type of fan following that it did.

So, being a very big fan of Star Trek, I usually don't take it more than face value. When I am hit with an ST episode that is meant to be taken more than what it seems, it usually finds itseslf in my 'Best Episodes' category.
Crono - On this site? I don't recall any, but I may have missed or forgetten them.

Regarding the fascism claim, this quote encapsulates it:

"In the 20th Century there has been a conspicuous political ideology that combines militarism, the subordination of private economic activity to collective social purposes, and often the disparagement of traditional religious beliefs and scruples: Fascism"
rkayn, believe me when I say I've said exactly the same thing about certain Buffy and Angel related articles over the years. It's fair enough to take a serious look at what the writer was trying to say but you can go too far.

Sometimes I think people have just a wee bit too much time on their hands when it comes to analyzing what they see in a television show, whether that be Buffy, Angel, Star Trek or any other series, for that matter. I'm more a "what you see is what you see" kinda guy. Makes life easier.
(Gene Roddenberry) never fully explained how this happened, but he really never fully explained a lot of things, and just asked his audience to believe it. Star Trek requires this unquestioning belief-- there are so many plot holes, inconsistancies between series, etc., but here we are going "that doesn't really matter" and believing what we see whenever we see it. That's probably why Star Trek spawned the type of fan following that it did.

Excellent point, VeryVeryCrowded. Perhaps (with tongue firmly in cheek), this level of fan devotion could allow such a television show to supplant previously entrenched beliefs in the minds of its fans, ultimately becoming a new religion altogether (and leading to this exciting new disorder).
I'm so not going to get into a political discussion on here (heave collective sigh of relief) about capitalism, socialism, fascism, secular humanism, ad infinitum in Star Trek, Firefly, etc. This article offered food for thought, but some conclusions in both the article and the discussion here are, I think, a little A+B=C about subjects which are considerably more complicated, and not terribly well-defined in the original material.

Arcane: "Sometimes I think people have just a wee bit too much time on their hands when it comes to analyzing what they see in a television show, whether that be Buffy, Angel, Star Trek or any other series, for that matter."

"Too much time on their hands" is a highly-subjective charge usually levelled about something the speaker themselves doesn't care to discuss or do. Not caring to do or discuss any such thing is of course, totally groovy, but I think one should be really careful about suggesting that such activities are a poor use of time for someone else.

Chacun à son goût, as the French say, and many people devote their lives to the study of popular culture as it reflects deeper meanings and beliefs of human civilization. It may suck all the fun out of the room for some, but for others, it enriches and adds value to their enjoyment and understanding.

And these discussions are naturally standard fare on a BLOG devoted to discussion of the works of Joss Whedon, TV-creator, writer and filmmaker extraordinaire.

(Sorry about going all French in this comment -- dunno where that's coming from...)
France ? ;p

rkayn, surely capitalism is predicated on people needing scarce resources ? Much as your hypothetical dude might want to, he/she doesn't need to explore space. Post-scarcity doesn't mean anything is possible, IMO, it just means the scarce resources that drive competitive behaviour aren't scarce (and one of the main stumbling blocks for a socialist society is removed i.e. what happens when there just isn't enough to share with everyone ?). There may even be problems with the post-scarcity concept (much as there may be with free will which is central to Firefly, not to mention, y'know, us ;), nevertheless, post-scarcity is what Roddenberry intended as the solution to what he saw as the problem of capitalism.

I agree, BTW, that that quote encapsulates the author's issue with Star Trek, I just don't agree that quote encapsulates Star Trek itself.

To say 'subordination of private economic activity' implies people are being forced not to participate in capitalism but Roddenberry's idea is that without the need to, no-one would want to, that we'd rather co-operate than compete. Highly unrealistic to the point of naivete ? IMO, yes but hardly fascistic.

I can't find a definition of 'fascism' that includes 'the disparagement of traditional religious beliefs and scruples' but then I also don't see evidence for any disparagement on Star Trek, in fact there seemed to be a lot of bending over backwards to ensure that other people's beliefs were respected (and at the end of DS9 Sisko, the Kirk or Picard of that show, goes to 'live with the prophets' i.e. ends up in a sort of subspace inhabited by what the Bajoran people see as their gods).

Much as i'm a fan though, I think there're plenty of charges that could be laid at ST's door and even a charge of fascism isn't totally unfounded if we're talking about the more subtle 'social fascism' of conformity to a norm, I just don't think there's enough evidence presented in the article (or probably even the shows themselves) to justify his conclusions about their political systems or institutions.

(my impression, BTW, is that the Ferengi buy/sell luxury goods which can't be replicated or from/to people that don't have replicator technology i.e. non-federation worlds)
Replicated goods also seem to have a very low value. Alcohol is always 'synthehol' (synthetic alcohol) which no one seems to appreciate very much (all races, Klingon, Vulcan, Romulan, Human seem to hate it), and the taste from a replicator seems to somehow be less intense than from a real food item. The crew's preference for Neelix's fresh food on Voyager sort of encapsulates this, as does the fact that people go to 10 Forward on TNG to get food from Guinan, and the Promenade on DS9 is full of restaurants.

I've sort of inferred (it's never really said I don't think) that the humans don't pay for anything and that those owning the restaurants like Quark might get a subsidy from the Federation for giving food to so many humans/month.
""Looking for hidden meaning in what appears on the screen (whether it exists or not) can spoil your enjoyment and make you come across as being very dull.

Somebody should let the author of this article know that.""

Its not about looking for "hidden meaning" but rather carefully analyzing what clear meaning is being conveyed to you rather than passively just 'taking it all in'; stories are never just stories, they deal in concrete ideas about human relationships, societies, good, evil, etc. that are not "hidden" but are rather overt IF unspoken, and which make a lot of demands on the viewer. I assure you just about anyone who is driven to take the time to write a long form essay on Star Trek probably has already enjoyed the show for its aesthetic and narrative qualities already and doesn't need you telling him, no offense, to more or less stop thinking.

In any case, the broad issue of fascist leanings in Star Trek has been addressed a lot of times, not only by scholars and critics, but Joss mentions it in discussing what makes Firefly different from Star Trek, and Star Trek itself addressed these ideas in dozens of episodes from DS9, where we see how in times of war the federation truly is dominated by its military and intelligence communities (nearly NO important descisions are ever made by the civilian government) and we also see that the "perfect" economy basically only functions on earth and star fleet vessels. The periphery is still happily and neccesairily using a trade based economy; even Captain Sisko will deal with Quark instead of Federation requistitions sometimes.

Within its own narrative line, Star Trek has essentially owned up to the idea that the Federation is, at best, a benevolent Republican Empire, somewhat akin to the contemporary Turkish Republic, with a strong independent military as the most defining aspect of political society.
"Its not about looking for "hidden meaning" but rather carefully analyzing what clear meaning is being conveyed to you rather than passively just 'taking it all in'; stories are never just stories, they deal in concrete ideas about human relationships, societies, good, evil, etc."

Ooooor, you could just watch a show and enjoy it. All depends on how much you have got going on that particular day, I guess.

As I said, it's one thing to try to understand what it is that the writer wanted to say when he/she wrote a particular story but it's another to get bogged down in subtext that has little or nothing to do with the story itself. Sometimes the analysis goes too far, which is the case here, in my opinion.
I had three real problems with that article:
1) DS9 was heavily spiritual. For every Kai Winn (who doesn't believe, but manipulates the people), there was someone like Major Kira (who did believe). I think it did a good job of exploring having faith in the Prophets, when everyone around you keeps referring to them as wormhole aliens.

2) The line he quoted from Star Trek was "the acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force", but then the author states "that greater wealth means greater material well being, which is to the betterment of humanity". Which of course explains Enron, and other multi-millionares out to scam as much money as possible. Star Trek doesn't state that having wealth is bad; it is trying to acquire more (regardless of how much you have) at the expense of others which is bad.

3) Of course Rodenberry doesn't explain how humanity got there. If he could, we would already be doing it, eh? (He doesn't explain in real engineering terms how to build transporters with 20th century technology, the horror!) He was trying to put a message of hope, that humanity has the potential to get past all of the garbage. Considering how many sci-fi stories/movies were nilistic or apocalyptic, a ray of sunshine (with some action and ground-breaking FX) was quite out of the ordinary.

[ edited by OneTeV on 2006-10-22 06:17 ]
I think Roddenberry was mainly trying to create a near-ideal military as an exemplar of a more enlightened society, and expanding from there. And that does actually work in some ways. The U.S. military was racially integrated by executive order in the 50's, and then sexually integrated in the late 70's. There are still both racial and gender problems, but there's also an understanding that discrimination is not policy, and you can get in real trouble for it, so it's decreasing, I think, overall.
Unless you're gay dreamlogic. Still, baby steps I guess.

Ooooor, you could just watch a show and enjoy it

Well, as the quoted poster said Arcane, most people who enjoy analysing (or over-analysing depending where you draw that particular arbitrary line) have already enjoyed the episodes numerous times and are now trying to get more from them. Still, seems like we just have a difference of opinion which is cool, i'll try not to over-dwell ;).

Within its own narrative line, Star Trek has essentially owned up to the idea that the Federation is, at best, a benevolent Republican Empire

Not sure about that ajay42 though you're right others have talked about Trek having fascist leanings.

I agree though that organisations like Section 31 (first seen in DS9, by far the most morally ambiguous and inquisitive of the shows) are a result of contemporary creators believing that Roddenberry's utopian future is basically not workable, that maybe a totally liberal society is prone to certain kinds of attack that a more authoritarian one isn't (as well as being good devices for looking at our society, something Trek has always done to good effect).

fas‧cism - 1. (sometimes initial capital letter) a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.

I just don't see most of those criteria being met in Star Trek (though as mentioned there's definitely, IMO, a form of implied 'social fascism' certainly in TNG, we never see goths or punks or their 24th century euqivalent and the only eccentric regularly seen on TNG - Barclay - is portrayed as a neurotic loser who needs psychiatric 'help' to become one of the shiny happy people). Reckon there may be an element of fascism being a label applied to something that various essayists etc. don't like rather than an accurate one (strikes me as being closer to non-totalitarian communism than fascism for instance).
I never thought of Star Trek as being atheistic. I guess I always assumed the characters got together on the halo-decks (sp?) or something like that for religious services, etc. I think the choices made by the creators of both shows reflects where they were most interested in going with their stories. The Star Trek gang wasn't as interested in real interpersonal conflict, so if they wanted to deal with an "issue" they created an alien race, or a weird space cloud, or something and dealt with it on a large scale and mostly elimintated it from what we see in the characters day to day lives. Whereas, Joss likes to have his characters poke at things like religion, class, sexuality and create conflict between the individual characters, so he keeps those touchstones in place. I guess Star Trek is looking for its truths in the space between planets and cultures and Joss is looking for it in the space between individual people.

[ edited by GoblinQueen on 2006-10-22 16:55 ]
One of the Star Trek book authors responds:

"In any event, the Trek proprietors were trying to depict a post-economic society, but they failed miserably. And such a failed depiction of a post-economic society is easy to mistake for a failed depiction of a Fascist utopia.

But give them their due: they were still befuddled; but they were befuddled at a higher level, and about deeper questions! "
DS9 was interested in interpersonal conflict more overtly than any of the other series.

I was watching 'How William Shatner Changed the World' and Shatner attributed DS9's dark take on the Federation to one of the reasons that ST failed.
There are so many things wrong with that article, I don't know where to start. First of all, Star Trek isn't made for conservatives to like, so I don't know why he's complaining he doesn't like it. Second of all, he falls back on the old standard of comparing anything one doesn't like to the Nazis (Judenfrei? Come on). Thirdly... oh I don't even want to waste anymore time thinking about this moron. I'm done.
As a Libertarian, I'm reletively conservative. Given only two choices, on subjects of fiscal responsibility and the military, I'm going to lean more Republican than Democrat, everytime.


And I like Star Trek.....and firefly.....and Buffy & Angel......and Battlestar Galactica......and Star Wars (Lord help me)......and donuts with chocolate sprinkles......
Yeah, DS9 definately strayed from the Star Trek mold more than any of the other series, which is probably why it seems to be more polarizing. There was much more of an emphasis on money, religion, and the relationships between the characters. Which is why, it seems to me, people tend to either criticize or applaud it when comparing it to the other series.
As far as ST not appealing to conservatives, would you extend that argument to Firefly not appealing to liberals because Mal and his gang persue material goods in a capitalist economy and have a preacher on board their ship? Given the article's arguments, that would be the logical extention of that train of thought. I'm about as liberal as they get, but I like them both, and BSG and Star Wars, and if the Joker has any of those donuts left I'd like one of them too. I just like a good story (and sweetly fattening foods).

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