Friday, March 07, 2008

But Q realizes that he’s not communicating as one ship’s captain to another in quite the way he thought he would. “Thy little centuries go by so rapidly, Captain. Perhaps thou will’st better understand this…”

A flash of light and Q disappears, then reappears in the uniform of a 1950s-60s U.S. Marine Captain. He holds a lit cigarette in his hand. Picard looks at him quizzically. “Actually the issue at stake is patriotism,” he says, in a flat midwestern accent. You must return to your world and put an end to the Commies. All it takes are a few good men.”

I want to pause here and emphasize what an important moment this is. Having Q appear this way and say those lines would never in a million years have been allowed on the original series Star Trek in the 1960s, though Gene Roddenberry would probably have wanted to do it. (He probably would have wanted to do it as well in his previous series about the contemporary military, The Lieutenant.)

I can’t help seeing this as the kind of statement GR had wanted to make then, and was finally making now. This really was going to be a “next generation” Star Trek.

This Marine was uttering the standard line of the 1950s. To question this kind of assertion then meant being pilloried as unpatriotic, and perhaps hauled before the McCarthy committee. To show it as evidence of human immaturity might have gotten you blacklisted, and you wouldn’t work in TV again for decades, or perhaps forever.

But exposing such assertions as primitive nonsense was exactly what GR was about to do, through the attitude and words of Captain Picard. Picard looks at Q with disbelief and disgust. “What,” he almost whispers. “That kind of nonsense is centuries behind us.”

Nonsense? It was pretty much the American Way in the 1950s and 60s, which may have been hundreds of years from Picard’s but only 20 years or so in the past of the real world when this episode was made. And in many ways it was still the official view, for these were the Reagan 1980s, and Communism in Russia and China were considered the enemy in a life or death struggle in all ways—politically, economically and philosophically.

“But you can’t deny that you’re still a dangerous, savage child race,” Q says.

“Most certainly I deny it, “Picard says in return. “I agree we still were, when humans wore costumes like that, 400 years ago.”

Picard’s voice drips with disdain, especially over the words “costumes like that.” It’s a richly ironic moment: when contemporaries dress up like Star Trek characters, they wear “costumes,” though within the world of the series, these costumes are Starfleet uniforms. And what Q is wearing was called a uniform in its day in the real world (and it’s not very different from the uniforms of today), while Picard regards it as the costume of a “savage child race”--- as much a ridiculous pretence as the Elizabethan ruffles and feathered hat.

This is truly “subversive” stuff. But it’s only getting started.

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