Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Arc of Arcs

Is there an overarching theme (as opposed to an over-Archering theme) to these episodes: an arc of arcs? Yes, I think so, even if it wasn't entirely designed to be.

The shadow of 9-11 and Iraq hover over everything, and join the original engagement with issues of war and peace, and attitudes towards the alien and the unknown, that have always characterized Star Trek.

That arc of these arcs centers on the meaning of "xenophobia." The word itself is used in "Home" to explain earth's reaction to the Xindi attack and threat. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, a xenophobe is "unduly fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign, especially of strangers or foreign peoples." For foreign or strangers, read also: alien.
That's what alien means: the ultimate foreigner. The prefix Xen (as in xenoblast, xenogenic, xenograft) means "foreign." It's pretty close to Xindi.

Xenophobia often arises in a population when it feels threatened or has been attacked. So after 9-11, anybody looking remotely Arab (including people from India, Hawaii, anybody with dark hair) could find themselves in danger, and some were attacked without provocation. Then France wouldn't join enthusiastically in the Iraq misadventure, and suddenly the French had cooties, and we got a U.S. Congress establishing Freedom Fries.

In the Enterprise universe, humanity has become xenophobic after the Xindi terrorist attack, and we get a scene of intergalactic racism in a bar, which spills over into an attack on Starfleet for making contact with strange new worlds, and letting them know where earth is so they can come attack it. Trip, Reed and Mayweather defend Phlox.

Yet later in that episode ("Home"), Archer himself echoes some of the barfighters' sentiments, without the racial prejudice: that maybe earth shouldn't be out exploring space and attracting dangerous aliens. He earlier uttered without apparent irony one of the more deceptive Bush phrases justifying his xenophobic "we're Good, they are Evil" stance, when he said that some species "don't share our values." That's Bush's reasoning for why al Qeada attacked America, simplistic at best and pernicious in effect. Terrorism is not defensible, but it's well known that people in the Third World and especially in the Middle East have legitimate grievances, and the political situation in Iraq is much more complex than a battle against insurgents who "hate our freedom." It's actually what Bush thinks---that he and his true believers have the right to attack anybody who doesn't "share their values," which apparently means letting Halliburton run their country.

The idea of xenophobia echoes through these arcs. The other side of xenophobia is a belief in ideological, religious and racial purity, and so the leader of the aliens in Storm Front who are helping the Nazis, talks about their common dream to perfect their respective races. (Pretty funny coming from a guy with a face like his, but that's our prejudice.) The theme of racial superiority continues in the Augments, who believe themselves to be a genetically engineered Master Race.

Racism and prejudice as domestic forms of xenophobia comes through in Storm Front, when Archer sees the Nazi invasion from the point of view of an African American in the 1940s.

The Vulcans are dealing with their own xenophobia, emphasized by the conflict between those who believe in Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, and the High Council leader who provokes a war to further reunification of Vulcans and Romulans, linked by race.

Surak's influence on Archer may heal his xenophobia, and the triumph of the Syranites seems to mean the Vulcans will be dealing with theirs. This is a very appropriate theme for our times, as well as for the times created by Enterprise stories over three years plus 9 episodes.

Star Trek has always taken conflict seriously. Who really is the enemy, and why? What you do depends on your answers to these questions. Star Trek captains have always defended their ships and crew, and innocent life. They did not succumb to revenge---though even Captain Picard was tempted. The best Trek makes careful distinctions, and honors nuance---that word that some tried to make into an accusation of indecision in the recent U.S. election campaign. That's a very dangerous (and illogical) provocation, and the best Trek has always said so.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice set of articles you have here, but without going into a 15 page breakdown, I seriously think you need to tone down the political Bush-bashing. It's one thing to disagree with a person and draw some distinctions between what's being done creatively with the show and our real-world situation, but it's quite another to go off into a rant about Halliburton and how our administration is psychopathic.