Okay. First let me start off by saying Star Trek tries. It always make and effort toward a better future, and god bless it for doing that. The thing is, I think we have to critique things we love, even when they are trying.
When I bring up social justice issues in Star Trek, such a pointing out that non-acknowledgement of homosexuality is casual homophobia in “The Enterprise Rubs One Out“, or analyzing misrepresentation of Asian women in the new movies, I’m often told that these things don’t exist in the Star Trek world, so I should just shut up about it.
I won’t, though, and for one very good reason.
Star Trek exists in two contexts. While race and gender discrimination supposedly doesn’t exist in the Star Trek world, it is undeniable that it exists in ours and therefore manifests in the other.
When 90% of the captains in the Federation are white dudes, one has to start wondering at what point should we start realizing that we are assigning our contemporary privileges on to a show that is supposed to be about progress.
Furthermore, identity politics are important in television because television doesn’t represent us.
I once saw Avery Brooks (panel write-up can be found here), and a fan asked him what the biggest change in Hollywood has been since he started. His answer was “Nothing”. He said that he was still waiting for the change; that he was still waiting for Hollywood look like the world.
We need identity representation in the media because it doesn’t exist, whether you like it or not.
As such, Brooks’ position has always been interesting to me, and perfectly illustrates why I continue to critique the show. In Star Trek, his character isn’t defined by race. He has a distinctive culture just as Picard and Kirk do, but it’s never used as an after-school special. He just is. Loyal, serious, and deeply complicated and sometimes contradictory man. Yet, the first thing we think about when we think of Sisko is that he was the first black captain. That should let you know how important these two contexts a show lies are. There is what it supposed to be, and then there is what it is.
Let’s face it. The original series of Star Trek was a mess of sexism and neo-colonialism, and The Next Generation has more than a few problems smoothing over cultures to fit Federation standards, and then ignoring how problematic that high-handed moral attitude is. Star Trek isn’t perfect because the people of today write it, and that’s worth looking at it.
So yeah… I’ll keep on doing that, because I love this show, and because I also want a brighter future.