Posts Tagged “Star Trek”
It struck me that Star Trek Episode 28, “The City on the Edge of Forever”, seems to present two different perspectives on the problem of free will. For much of the episode the fearless spacemen Spock and Kirk seem to be at the mercy of random actions of others – they have no control over their fate. However, when it comes down to saving their future world, the characters have a miraculous ability to use their wills to push fate in one direction instead of another. This theme of fate versus free will is explored through a few interactions in the episode, particularly those regarding Edith Keeler.
When Kirk and Spock first land on Earth, circa 1930, they seem hopeless and lost. The men can do nothing but try to survive in the foreign environment and wait for Dr. McCoy’s arrival.
“There could be some logic to the belief that time is fluid, like a river with currents, eddies and backwash.” (Spock)
“And the same currents that swept McCoy to a certain time and place might sweep us there too.” (Kirk)
“Yes that is true captain, we have no hope.” (Spock)
This image of time as a river furthers the idea that Kirk and Spock are pawns in the story, completely at the mercy of fate. The sweeping “current” of time carries them along wherever it may go – you can imagine the men bobbing along in the river with little ability to pursue their own agenda.
Fate again triumphs over free will when Kirk and Spock discover that Edith Keeler’s survival will determine Earth’s future.
“She has two possible futures then, and depending on whether she lives or dies, all of history will be changed. And McCoy…”
“Is the random element.” (Spock)
They do not acknowledge that they have any control over whether or not Edith dies – just that their fate hinges on this event. If Edith does not die, “history will be changed” and their future will disappear, as it did in the beginning of the episode. These two brief exchanges seem to establish the idea that humans cannot use their free will to shape the future.
At the end of the episode there is a complete reversal of the idea that humans are fated creatures – suddenly it is up to Kirk to make the decision that will determine the future. In the words of Spock, Kirk can “…do as [his] heart tells [him] to do, and millions will die who did not die before.” Far from being a pawn at the mercy of chance, Kirk can now use his free will to choose life or death for Edith. Not only is he the master of his own fate, but also that of Edith! I think this image of man as a free agent seems very inconsistent with the idea that man is at the mercy of fate that was established in the beginning of the episode.
This episode seemed to tackle a lot of themes – did anyone else notice this tension between free will and fate? Could Kirk have chosen to save Edith? How do you think time is portrayed in the episode, and how does this play into the character’s ability to control their lives?
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In “The City on the Edge of Forever”, the crew of the Enterprise are faced with the task of intercepting a delusional Dr. McCoy from the war-bound, 1930’s America. By sending McCoy to the past, the concept of time travel is brought into question in the episode, and the method suggested by the show’s writers is highly questionable. When McCoy jumps through the portal, the future is instantly changed so that the Enterprise no longer exists. Therefore, in theory, the remaining voyagers from the Enterprise should have no longer been on the planet’s surface. One cannot clearly say whether or not the crew would exist in this altered future, but if there was no feasible way for them to have traveled to the planet, how could they have been there?
If this initial point is ignored and the episode continued unaltered, then Kirk and Spock would have traveled back in time to New York in the Great Depression. The pair would have arrived at a point a few days before McCoy’s arrival in order to intercept him, which is what happens in the episode. However, again in theory, this plan should have only worked if Spock and Kirk traveled in time and didn’t have any interactions with anyone or anything on Earth. This was obviously not the case in the episode and this duo had multiple interactions with several people. These interactions should have also altered the future just as McCoy saving Edith changed it. Therefore, even though the duo did catch McCoy and stop him from saving Edith, their presence should have had effects on people in New York: a homeless man ran off with one of McCoy’s devices that appeared to beam him somewhere, Spock and Kirk paid their tenant $2 a week for their room, and Jim Kirk’s relationship with Edith was actually the factor that inadvertently led to her death. Given all of these occurrences, why was it implied that the world returned to its original state? Shouldn’t at least one of the many changes affected someone’s life in a way that it wasn’t affected before and therefore changed Kirk’s present?
I’d suggest that this approach to time travel is slightly flawed, but highly convenient. By having a relatively simple solution to an unimaginably complex problem, “The City on the Edge of Forever” was able to create a conflict, show some rising action, climax at a dramatic point, and then allow a little bit of time for falling action without making any lasting changes to the franchise’s storyline. Did the writers create this scheme for time travel because they thought it to be the most logical or simply because it was the most convenient to squeeze into 50 minutes? While only they truly know, what do you think?
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The 1967 Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” uses an alternate timeline to consider the consequences of war protest, but it misses out on the opportunity to explore issues of destiny and choice.
In the episode, Kirk and Spock chase McCoy back through time to 1930 to prevent him from altering the timeline and starting a chain of events that would prevent all of the characters from ever being born. Should they fail to stop McCoy from saving Edith, she will form an anti-war movement that will prevent the United States from entering World War II, allowing Nazi Germany to win the war and change the world as we know it. Thus, in order to return the timeline to normal, Spock tells Kirk that they must allow Edith to die.
The episode presents a very black and white view: either Edith and her anti-war views quite literally die, or the world will be irrevocably changed for the worse. Given the time that the episode comes from, this message must have been very powerful to the anti-Vietnam War movement. “The City on the Edge of Forever” suggests that even a single, unknown citizen opposing war can lead to the downfall of the entire country. Edith has no recognition outside of her mission, but her mere mention of peace instead of war will gain enough momentum to capture the ear of the President and prevent the country’s entry into the war, presumably even after the Pearl Harbor bombing occurs. Kirk tries to stand up for Edith, saying, “She was right; peace was the way,” but the entirely logical Spock replies, “She was right…but at the wrong time.” Star Trek‘s writers suggest that peace at the time, in the face of the Soviet Union, was not possible, and crying for the end of war was equivalent to calling for the destruction of our country.
However, this episode leaves a lost opportunity to further explore destiny and choice. When Spock tells Kirk that Edith must be allowed to die for history to resume its natural course, Kirk is crestfallen but accepts Spock’s word as the truth. At no point in the episode do either of the characters even consider the possibility that there is some other course of action they could take. With all of their intelligence, Spock and Kirk could not come up with a way to allow Edith to live while making sure she does not change the course of World War II. In fact, they not once even try to! This is especially shocking for Kirk, who claims he has fallen in love with Edith. A different ending was possible; once Kirk and Spock had located McCoy, the Guardian of Forever could have taken Edith back to the present as well. Edith herself likely would have embraced this move to the futuristic utopia, as seen when she recounts her dream of a day when man had reached space and could turn attention from making war to building peace.
While the one I propose could be a fitting ending to a novel or a movie, could it ever be the ending a Star Trek episode, or must the episode maintain the status quo, returning history and its major characters to exactly the way they were found? What alternate ending would you have envisioned for this episode, or, if there is none, why do you stand by the original? Finally, does the episode raise a valid point about the possible negative consequences of protesting a war, or does it go too far in claiming that Edith could have singlehandedly destroyed the country with her talk of peace?
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Posted by: mvn3 in coursework, tags: Star Trek
In both the episodes “The City on the Edge of Forever”, and “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”, the crew of the Enterprise is portrayed as inhabiting a futuristic, science and democracy based utopia. Whilst the accomplishments of the Utopia may be laudable: advanced technology to travel the stars and the ability to keep entire planets stable and fed, these two episodes suggest a certain bias in the creators of Star Trek in creating their utopia. The primary bias is that the utopia is very ethno-centric, in that its philosophies and origins are explicitly linked to the rise of the United States of America. At the same time, Star Trek seems to be aware of this bias, and probes the flaws of this vision in “City on the Edge”.
Having viewed “Battlefield” before “City on the Edge”,I did not initially perceive how much Star Trek draws from America to create its utopia. However, there is very much evidence for this in “Battlefield”. One of the things that has troubled me about this episode is how the creators seemed to want Cheron to be an allegory for racism in America, and yet their were so many holes and discrepancies between the two. The wars between Bele and Lokai can be compared to so many on earth, namely just about every civil war that most every country has experienced at one point or another. It also makes a lot of suggestions of genocide, and yet there is no explicit mention of the Holocaust, the Khmer rouge, or the countless atrocities that have been committed on the pretense of hate and race. Thus it seems inexplicable that, given a whole human history of violence, the crew of The Enterprise, and the writers of Star Trek, only find the experience of African Americans significant (The parallels and between the episode and civil rights were worked out in last week’s blog posts). This problem seemed to disappear when I realized how important America is to Star Trek’s utopia, with “City on the Edge” serving to provide my epiphany. If the federation is a uniquely American Utopian project, then it makes sense that American slavery would be so important to the crew. America must have gotten it right after slavery. Yes, they enslaved and discriminated at one point, but they were such progressive and upstanding people that they were able abolish it and, a few centuries later, spread their message of peace and acceptance throughout the galaxy in giant warships that tend to fire torpedoes at nonconformist aliens. OK, I implied a lot there, but the gist of it is this: The Star Trek universe is not necessary a “utopia” where suffering is abolished and the “human condition” is cured. It is instead an American utopia, one where every piece of American history until the shows creation has placed America in line to lead the world into a wonderful future, one where a handsome young man from Iowa is free to pursue his dream of captaining a spaceship and traveling back in time to fall in love with a 20th century pacifist.
Wait and second. Of all the beautiful women in history, Captain Kirk goes back in time to fall in love with an imaginary pacifist during the Great Depression? As for Edith Keeler, it has occurred to me that she is more symbolic then just being one of those random binaries in time that if switched from 0 to 1 causes the collapse of the known universe. Yes, it is true that “City on the Edge” helped me understand that Star Trek was an American utopia. However, Star Trek’s American project is reveled every time the ship is call “USS: Enterprise”, and thus without this episode it would still be an American utopia. Instead, it is much more contemplative, providing commentary on the utopia itself, and suggesting that it is not as perfect as the starched spandex uniforms might suggest. In his desire for Edith Keeler, Captain Kirk lusts for a peaceful utopia. Between this dynamic and the placement of Keeler before World War II, before the US solidified its power in the 20th century (and further on as implied by the episode), there is a strong suggestion that Kirk, the Federation, and the young United states of America all have a desire for peace. And while the episode suggests that the United States actions in WWII saved the American utopia, the symbolic death of Keeler suggests that something beautiful was lost in the processes. The way in which Kirk feels so strongly for Keeler, and is so devastated (perhaps more disturbed, as he does not allow his inner emotions to take over for very long), implies that such people and ideals no longer exist in his world. Keleer’s utopic view of a technologically advanced future does not captivate Kirk because it is the place he comes from, but what he wishes the Federation could truly be like. Thus a more tarnished view of the Star Trek American utopia is introduced, one that is less fanciful and egotistic towards the American way of life. Yes, the Federation holds great power, and the capacity to improve lives. At the same time, there are costs to this Utopia. In order to achieve it, America had to listen to its military strategists, not its idealists, and it can be inferred that the Federation has had to continue its fight into the future. In doing so, idealists like Keeler have been cast aside or left unheard, something that appears to have left a heartache in the souls of the futuristic American utopia.
My thoughts on the two Star Trek episodes have left me with a couple of questions. In respect to the Americanized utopia, are the creators of Star Trek trying to just provide entertainment that will jibe with a mostly American audience, or do they truly believe that the key to the future lies in America?
Also, in “City on the Edge” the idealism of Keeler was shown to be naive in the face of Nazi Germany. Are the writers of Star Trek suggesting that this is the fate of America, and any utopia to stem from it? Is America fundamentally a country torn between idealism and reality? Could an interstellar civilization really be considered a utopia if it is based upon this?
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Though Star Trek’s episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” deals with the issues of race during the Civil Rights Movement and of the African American oppression, it ultimately demonstrates repercussions caused by deep-seated hate. Writers of the show seemed to heavily rely more on the idea of hatred and its influence that leads to chaos and mass destruction than on racism, as shown when two equally influential men fight for opposing causes. The conflict between the two aliens Lokai and Bele not only endangered the existence of the Enterprise, but it also brought the annihilation of the two men’s people.
It is true racism is present because the coloration of the half-white, half-black humanoids determined who would “oppress” the other, but it is not a direct indication of an allegory for white/African Americans racism as many of us have mentioned in previous blog posts. The whites had stripped and controlled much of the African people’s rights during slavery and even afterwards, and the African Americans struggled for years before achieving “equality.” For Lokai’s case, his people may have acquired freedom from Bele’s followers. However Lokai claims that they were not granted “freedom to live their lives,” infuriately pointing out Bele’s wishes of “the genocide” of his people and refusal to recognize Lokai’s “utopia.” (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15). Bele admonishes such a utopia because of its sheer impossibility for swift change, justifying his place as “the master race”; this is a clear reflection of the history of slavery and African American oppression and why years passed before the whites appeased those of color. References were made, but nothing suggests that these references exclusively define the episode. Furthermore, nowhere in American history has there been evidence of the white population’s attempts to annihilate African Americans, whereas an emphasis on tightening opportunities and restrictions on social status was prevalent (mvn3). Like uprisings of Black Power and riots, Lokai gathered help—sympathizers from other alien populations to join his cause—yet unlike the violent approaches of the African Americans Lokai mercilessly slaughtered his enemies.
In the end, even with the annihilation of their races, Lokai and Bele refuse to compromise or call a truce, ready to use the other as a scapegoat of Cheron’s fate. The crew reaches a single solution: allow the men to transport themselves back to their home planet and continue their feud there. Even though the episode does not explicitly state it, Lokai’s and Bele’s fueled hatred will continue to live on until the men destroy each other. By using this ending for the episode, the writers exemplify how hatred can consume a person, a group, a population, and eventually a planet.
Here are some questions I pose:
Can hatred be resolved through diplomatic means? Or can such means go so far, as seen in our time where racism is still a struggle to hurdle in society? As posed by Hunter, can the creation of a unified authority such as the Federation possibly exist and eliminate hatred?
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In episode 15 of Star Trek season 3, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” we receive two messages about the nature of utopia. First, when reprimanding the warring idividuals Bele and Lokai for attempting to violently control the starship Enterprise, Kirk informs him that in the United Federation of Planets, “We live in peace, with full exercise of individual rights. The need to resort to violence and force has long since passed” (timestamp 30:29). Later, when urging Bele to listen to Lokai’s grievances and reconcile their factions, Spock says, “Change is the essential process of all existence” (timestamp 37:20).
In both instances, Kirk and Spock are reacting against Bele and Lokai’s violent pursuit of social change. Both Bele and Lokai invoke the word “utopia” when they first reunite in the Enterprise’s sickbay, but Kirk and Spock’s responses seem to say, “That’s not how you do utopia; this is how you do utopia.” However, the writers of Star Trek are SF writers, not Utopian writers, as described by Edward James in “Utopias and Anti-Utopias”; they reject the “largely static society” of traditional Utopian writing, because exciting story-telling cannot be reconciled with “a denial of adventure, of risk-taking, of the expanding of spatial or technological horizons” (p. 222).
Instead, the world of Star Trek envisions a dynamic utopia, in which “change is the essential process of all existence” but in which our protagonists have, in many ways, completed the evolutionary progression “from the lower levels to the more advanced stages” (as Spock describes evolution at 37:58). The social structures of the Enterprise are well-established and incredibly static; when Bele changes the ship’s course, his disruption of the status quo is considered such a threat that Kirk threatens to destroy the ship and everyone on it. However, the universe in which the Enterprise moves is anything but static, and the goal of the Enterprise is to constantly change position in order to sow change.
Thus, we have a utopia in which the universe is struggling to advance towards a better future, but our main characters are able to live in a stable world in which racial conflict is something they heard of in history class once. We are made aware, through the day’s adventure in each episode, of an imperfect world, but that is not where we live.
Or at least, that’s what the story tells us– the interesting questions come in when we compare what we’re told with what we observe. To what extent can Star Trek’s vision of a dynamic utopia really be seen as utopic? There are serious concerns both in the Federation’s definition of equality (in which serious questions can be raised about the characterization of women and people of color, and from which LGBT individuals seem to have been excluded entirely) and in the ever-expanding quest to spread this utopia (which is often unhelpful or insensitive to the people they encounter, and which has more than a whiff of colonialism about it). Was it really best for Kirk to refuse to take sides on Bele and Lokai’s conflict? Is life on the Enterprise really so perfect that nothing else can be considered?
What do you guys think?
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It is apparent in the Star Trek episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” that both Lokai and Bele wish to see their shared home planet of Cheron become a utopia.* Yet in both of their respective attempts to accomplish just this, they end up wreaking havoc not only on their home planet, but on the Enterprise as well. In this manner, Lokai and Bele demonstrate a characteristic of what might be considered pseudo-utopias: while they may possess a society mostly free of problems, instead of eliminating the cause of certain problems, such pseudo-utopias merely distance the cause from themselves.
Such pseudo-utopias are in fact more widespread than might be thought. Generally, however, they tend to occur in relatively well-off societies. Indeed, one might consider the oil-powered American economic boom between roughly 1950 and 1972 as a sort of national pseudo-utopia, in that living standards improved dramatically** while working hours per family stayed roughly the same. However, externalized problems occurred; the rise of petro-states in the Middle East, the exhaustion of American oil supplies, and the degradation of the environment were all some of the distanced externalities*** of this uniquely American utopic vision.
In “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”, the viewer sees far more directly the influence of externalized problems. The first problem is the inconvenience of transporting Lokai to Starbase while on an urgent medical mission to disinfect the planet Ariannus. The second is the loss of control of the Enterprise caused by Bele’s appearance and desire to take Lokai into his custody for trial back on Cheron. Both of these compromise the Enterprise‘s mission, reflective of how American externalization compromised our environment and national security. Furthermore, just as this episode depicts Cheronian society’s externalizations eventually resulting in its destruction, American externalization resulted in a decrease in American global power. In this sense, the episode provides an excellent example of how pseudo-utopias are negatively affected by externalizing societal problems.
*It could be posited that this is in fact the goal of all civilizations, and although the two Cheronians are not necessarily civil, they could pass for civilized. Can we truly consider them to be civilized? Certainly they originate from what can be called civilizations. If Lokai and Bele are uncivilized, then how can we reconcile the concept of a civilization as a collection of uncivilized people? Is there even anything to reconcile in this concept?
**It should be noted that this was, from a feminist point of view, a continuation of the confinement of the American women to the home that had begun to emerge in cities and suburbs before World War II. Can we draw parallels between this double standard and the conflict in Cheronian society?
***Note that these situations involve externalities distanced in time (exhaustion of American oil reserves didn’t fully occur until around 1970), space (environmental problems manifested themselves mostly away from major population centers), and time and space (the rise of petro-states).
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“Let This Be Your Last Battlefield” truly brings the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise to the last battlefield for two aliens that find their way onto their ship. The crew finds themselves thrown into a feud that has been going on for more than 50,000 terrestrial years. The feud is rooted in race, which is surprising to the crew of the Enterprise because the two aliens look so similar. The episode highlights racism that we can trace back to our own world in the 1960s.
Although the two aliens from Cheron look very similar, Bele and Lokai are polar opposites and would like nothing more than to see the other destroyed. Lokai explains Cheron to be a “land of murdering oppressors” (Star Trek, Season 3 Episode 15) where he tried to lead a rebellion to free his people. The crew finds themselves in a somewhat helpless situation as Bele takes control over the ship twice. The Enterprise captain James T. Kirk finds ways to outsmart Bele and regain control, but in the end cannot stop the two from their demise. Once the Enterprise reaches Cheron, Bele and Lokai, along with the crew, discover that the planet has been completely destroyed. Even though no one is left alive on the surface, this does not stop Bele and Lokai from beaming down and continuing their lifelong fight. The inhabitants of the planet all died because of the differences in class, which really come from the differences in pigmentation. This was too much for the inhabitants to handle, and consequently a civil war broke out that consumed the planet. It is fascinating to see that the tension between Lokai and Bele derives solely from the fact that their faces are colored differently. One has black on the left and white on the right while the other is opposite. Bele claims that “Lokai is of an inferior breed” (Star Trek, Season 3 Episode 15) and therefore looks down upon him because of the order of colors on his face. This minute difference in pigmentation causes such hostility and is obvious that one coloration is considered to belong to the master race.
It is interesting that race plays such a big role in this episode. The United States was a very prejudice place in the 1960s and the fact that Lieutenant Uhura is an African-American woman was surely frowned upon by many fans and Americans in general. Since the show takes place several hundred years in the future, the crew aboard the Enterprise has no preconceived notion of what racism really was. There was not any question of race to determine whether Lieutenant Uhura was an excellent communications officer. Captain Kirk wanted to change the thinking of the two Cheron aliens so that they could function the same way. When blacks were fighting for equal rights in the 1960s, they tried to solve their problem peacefully, for the most part. Martin Luther King led the Civil Rights movement and instead of trying to completely destroy the whites that oppressed his people, like Lokai tried to do to Bele, he worked civilly. This episode can be seen as a message to the American people to not allow racism and prejudice to consume their lives, because if it does Earth, or at least the United States, could be doomed just like Cheron.
Today, we have made many steps to end racism and prejudice in our country and around the world. Sadly, it still exists in some places. We have people working to completely exterminate these issues that corrupt our world, but everyone needs to pitch in order to make a real difference. Looking back at examples like Martin Luther King and this episode of Star Trek, “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”, can help us to see more clearly the path we need to take to end racial inequality.
Do you think this episode can be seen as a message to the American people? Can the tension between Lokai and Bele still be seen in places around the world? What can we learn from the mistakes of not only Lokai and Bele, but the entire planet of Cheron?
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Posted by: heb7 in coursework, tags: Star Trek
As Susan deftly noted in this week’s post, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” definitely relates to the racial tensions in the southern portions of the United States, along with the generalized oppression of marginalized groups throughout history. In particular, I found it interesting that the Enterprise crew does not place the blame solely in the hands of the oppressor, but rather chastises both men for their general hatred and immediate tendencies to press for violence. In developing this theme of racism from both sides, the writers and director of this episode employ various images, examples of which I aim to examine in the paragraphs below.
The audience’s first glimpse of Lokai is the dark side of his face, immediately initiating a conversation of race. As soon as the humanoid turns to the side, the white half of his face may be viewed, and the stark dividing line between the two could be related to the clear-cut racial divisions. (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15) In fact, based on a later conversation of Bele and Lokai, the black and white skin-tones may be seen as the status of integration anytime after the Emancipation Proclamation—even though black men were considered to be free, or God created men that deserved their unalienable rights, they still were subjected to Jim Crow laws and separate-but-equal segregation. The two Cheron “races” perfectly embodied this ideal; despite being a portion of the same body (unified, as the freed black men were all citizens), the position of the black and white color patterns definitely represent the continued segregation.
Filmed in the later half of the 1960s, it is interesting that this episode represented the human future in such a positive light. The Civil Rights movement had largely just occurred, but the Enterprise’s human crew, already largely multi-cultural, perhaps due to the futuristic setting, already had a utopian view of individual rights and freedoms for all (another interesting portion of the episode, when the space race with Russia was occurring, it was quite forward-thinking to have many nations all working together). As the doctor says to Spock, “Blood is blood, even if it is green like yours.” (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15) As a way to appease all sides of the struggle for civil rights, however, I found that this episode did indeed hold both sides accountable for certain atrocities that occurred (as Lt. Scott, the Scottish man said, both aliens were “disgusting”). (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15)
Another reason aside from various bits of dialogue that demonstrates the accountability of both races comes from an interesting fact I noticed that the episode does not directly address. While Bele claims that the superior race has black on the right side, and therefore Lokai is “an evil mound of filth,” what exactly does he see when he looks in the mirror? (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15)
Playing off of the question of reflections, perhaps racism, especially in the case of black and white racial tension, is frightening because we look in the mirror and are able to see the similarities of other people, races, and cultures, especially in the melting pot (or politically correct salad bowl) that is North America. In the tensest scene of the show, where Captain Kirk threatens the complete deconstruction of the ship in order to regain control, this idea of seeing ourselves in the faces of others resounds. While the minutes tick by, and each commander and lieutenant make their commands for the computer, the camera switches rapidly back and forth between close-ups of the eyes and mouths of the men (and bi-color humanoids) on the ship. (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15) Staring at the screen, one could definitely see the similarities between all people, even the humanoids, with their heavily painted faces. With all but their inner-eyelids and inner-lips painted, the very human eyes of the aliens may be viewed. In examining the alien’s images, the audience is definitely able to see elements of themselves, regardless of painted eyebrows and eyelashes, cheeks and noses. While this may just represent a limit of 1960’s special effects, I believe the manner in which the actors are painted definitely serves as a “mirror” for our own twentieth century prejudices and the practices with which we propagate or counteract them.
Essentially, there may never be a “last battlefield.” Yes, this particular episode lauded the integration and complete cooperation of the U.S.S. Enterprise crew versus an extreme example of two unnecessary “enemies”, but racial, religious, and gender divisions will persist as long as humans still view their reflection and are continually afraid to admit that they see similarities to others.
Questions for continued analysis of the episode:
1) Despite the multicultural crew, I have an issue with the gender roles. With the exception of Lt. Uhura, all of the other women were beautiful, white, and leggy versions of nurses, secretaries, and waitresses. In the first scene in the sick bay, the nurse serves absolutely no purpose. She simply stands there, looking lovely, until the patient moves. While the doctor stood right over the patient, it is still the nurse that must alert him that the patient wakes (in essence, she is just an object, a pretty thing to keep around). Even Lt. Uhura, a representative of the traditionally repressed class of black women, serves menial purposes. She is smart, but Captain Kirk cuts off her legal jargon when she describes the position of the Command fleet regarding the return to base over Cheron, and she is constantly given, while important, largely secretarial duties. Is the crew therefore a good representation of equality and individual rights (perhaps in the later Star Trek series with a female captain one may argue that point). Also, despite the forwardness of international cooperation among the crew during the age of the Space Race, why is a white, male American still the leader? Perhaps the Star Fleet still has a long way to go.
2). Another interesting aspect of the show is the costume design. Once futuristic but now very retro, it still serves as important visual rhetoric for the themes of the show. For example, the gray costumes of the Cheronians are essentially the same, a monochromatic blend of black and white, but Bele, a member of the superior race, has both a shiny silver necklace around his collar and iridescent cuffs about his wrists. Perhaps this could represent the equality of all (gray suits), with the only differences stemming from circumstance (the jewelry). In light of this observation, what about the crew’s uniforms? Are there any noticeable differences? What about the females dresses and short skirts? Does this objectify them? Or what about the color choices? Why does Spock wear blue, Uhura red, Kirk and several others yellow, etc.?
3). Finally, as I mentioned in my body paragraphs above, do you think there is a significance of the men’s reflections? When they look into the mirror and see a reflection identical to the other race, does this bother them? Perhaps I read too much into this, but I found it to be a specific component of divisiveness—we fear seeing what we don’t care for in others, in ourselves (via a physical or definitely metaphorical reflection). Also, and this may be a bit offline, but due to the racial tensions when this episode aired (1969), do you think it is significant that “black is on the right side” as opposed to white? This is a complete reversal of the standard white supremacist ideal of “white is right,” therefore, what do you think were the writers’ goals—to denounce white racists or to emphasize the fact that both sides may be racist, in different forms and for vastly different motives, against each other (again, I hope I am not forwarding this too much but in light of historical precedents, I found the position of “superior” versus “inferior” significant)?
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In the Star Trek episode Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, the crew of the Enterprise find themselves in the middle of a racially-fueled conflict when two half-white, half-black “irrevocably hostile humanoids” (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15) come aboard their craft. The episode presents commentaries not only on race, but also on the role of third-party internationals in war.
One of the aliens, Lokai, represents the “slaves” of his planet Cheron, while the other, Bele, represents the “master race”. They have been pursuing each other for 50,00 years, as Lokai is wanted for treason for leading a rebellion on Cheron. The only difference between Lokai and Bele is that their colorations are on opposite sides. The Enterprise Crew see this difference as trivial, and it is not even immediately apparent to them. Both Lokai and Bele try to turn the Enterprise crew over to their own side, but as Captain James T. Kirk refutes, “Our minds will not be twisted” (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15). Kirk, in this episode, represents an ideal leader, one who is unfailingly democratic, diplomatic and level-headed. It is obvious to us that the conflict on Cheron is deeply-ingrained, but the crew all refuse to take sides. Lokai has been persecuted, but his only solution is to advocate violence. Kirk points out that, in the 23rd Century, the United Federation of Planets has created a comparatively utopian existence for its members: “We live in peace, with full exercise of individual rights. The need to resort to force and violence has long since passed.” (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15).
This episode first screened in 1969, when America was in the midst of the Vietnam War. This was a war driven primarily by the forces of countries other than Vietnam, who took sides on the lines of political ideologies. For the first time, images of war were beamed directly into the public’s households through television. Public outcry against the war, in both the US and overseas was unprecedented. What Star Trek does in this episode is parallel the idea of a conflict that our society has little part in, but also provide a comparison. The Enterprise Crew (led by Kirk) are a group working in harmony, despite representing different genders, races and even species. Instead of involving themselves in the conflict, they seek to find a diplomatic solution: “We will turn you over to the authorities, you can make your case to them.” (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15). Bele tells us how Lokai’s past pleadings to other societies leads them to “kill and maim for a cause they have no stake in.” (Star Trek, Season 3, Episode 15). Star Trek is in this way criticizing America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Responding to an external conflict with force only leads to further suffering.
This is a message that I believe is still relevant today. Many parallels have been drawn between the Vietnam War and the current war in the Middle East, and the message that Star Trek puts forward can equally apply. Of course, the validity of a diplomatic solution centers on the ultimate authority and justness of The United Federation of Planets. While such an organization may not exist today, the one that immediately comes to mind is The United Nations. The United Nations did not endorse the current “War on Terror”, which has arguably led to greater suffering than alternative solutions would have done. I believe that we must always be extremely wary of taking sides in conflicts that are not our own.
- Just realized that I forgot to pose questions for discussion.
Do you believe that Kirk’s treatment of both Bele and Lokai is fair? I feel that his decisions are based purely on prima-facie evidence: “No, commissioner, the one thing we are agreed upon is that he took a shuttlecraft.”
Where do you stand on the issue of international involvement in domestic wars?
Do you believe that in order to have a peaceful society such as the Enterprise’s you need an ultimate authority such as the Federation? Is it even possible to unite everyone under such an authority?
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