Bajorans and the Evolving Trek View of Faith

I have to admire Star Trek for the way they evolved on matters of faith, by showing the complexity and the cultural aspects of faith, and how religion impacted society, at least in one series.

Star Trek hasn’t always been like this. Faith and Religion seem to be the target of early Gene Roddenberry design. In TOS and STNG, faith and spirituality were often shown to be merely a way to manipulate the masses (hello, Karl Marx). Both Kirk and Picard showed the natives that their gods were machines (“The Return of the Archons”) and (“The World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky”), usually, or fickle higher powers prone to jealousy (“Who Mourns for Adonis”, and “The Apple” come to mind from TOS), or merely keeping people young and stupid for the whim of the gods (STNG “Who Watches the Watchers?” ) or (VOY: “The Caretaker”). Worse was when a believer realized that his/her faith was empty (VOY: “This Mortal Coil”, or VOY: “Emanations”).

In STNG, Q also represented the gods at their most amoral and irresponsible. A whole slew of gods that were bored but fascinated with humans (HUMANS are the object of everyone’s curiosity… what, no god wanted to explore Betazoid culture? ) What a scary concept for a higher power.

But Deep Space Nine seemed to want to explore religion and faith a bit more deeply. True, the requisite aliens were present in the Wormhole next to Bajor, but Roddenberry wasn’t beyond saying that gods could be higher forms of life that we don’t understand. Certainly I agree.  My concept of God is that he is a much higher form of life—an alien, yes, but still God. But unlike Q, the gods of Bajor, the Prophets, care for the people of Bajor. They are higher life inside the wormhole and emotionally attached to a humanoid species.

Bajorans themselves are almost all religious, having to deal with the reality of gods who live in the wormhole. The gods intervene in history; they send little Orbs that light up and give you prophecies, and Bajoran faith has completely mixed with politics in a way that is eerily similar and yet very different than American culture today. The US may not have preachers as politicians, but they have politicians who think they are preachers, and who create laws as if God himself were speaking to them. At least Bajor is up front: it’s the Pope in charge of the world, thank you very much.

I give DS9 a lot of stones for making this faith and religion complex.

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Picard Never Took a Text Message: Star Trek, Technology, and the Absence of Social Media in the Future

While Star Trek might have been the inspiration for the cellphone and the iPad and numerous other inventions, there is a noticeable lack of messaging, social media, or even constant chirps on the cells. The lack of computers running scheduling and communication on the Enterprise is interesting to note.

While the first Star Trek communicator, in its ST: TOS format, certainly looked like a cellphone and sort of acted like one–it actually worked like a CB.  Citizen Band Radio was open and easy to use–you picked up a small palm-sized black speaker, pressed a thumb button that turned a microphone on, and spoke the name of your party into it, and they answered back.  “Breaker One Nine, this is Foxtrot.  Are you listening?”  And Foxtrot would answer if he were listening.  On TV, nobody dials a number, nobody speaks into the Star Trek devices in a tone suggesting they are talking to a computer:  “Commander Riker,” Picard says–AS IF speaking TO Commander Riker, not accessing his number.  Even ST:TNG Picard and crew were using little more than CBs on their shirts to communicate with each other.  They would bang their chest, making it chirp, just like you would press the button in on the CB, and then announce who they wanted to talk to.  Officers would look up at the ceiling, as if that was where the sound was coming from, and announce that they were, indeed, coming quickly.  To say that it used name recognition software is ludicrous because no one ever spoke into their communicator like we do into our telephones when the “menu of choices” voice comes on to ask us to specify what we want.

Further, no one used their communicators for much more than a quick call.  They used the interstellar version of SKYPE in all versions of Star Trek.  For short calls they used this CB on their chests.  But the CB didn’t come with any apps, any cool devices, games, nor was there any social media.  People used the device simply.  Except for the Enterprise computer, each technological device seemed to have one simple function.  They had an episode on ST:TNG devoted to computer games–and it was the villain of the story–or at least the addictive brain-altering drug in the hands of villains.  Think about it, though.  No one in the 24th Century had a cellphone that took messages or that vibrated.  No one looked on their phones for scheduling.  (We’ll come back to those iPad things in a moment).  No one got a text message.  Computers did not command the social life of the crew, of any of the crew.  In ALL of its incarnations from 1964 to 2009 there is a HUGE lack of the presence of any social media, any social life that is facilitated by computers.

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The Nudge, The Monument, and The Fan Base: thoughts about the endurance of writers

Roger Ebert responded recently to an article by Cynthia Ozick written in the New Republic.  So goes my reading.  I get my Ozick from Ebert, but that’s ’cause I’m reading where Ebert is writing.  I don’t have a subscription to the New Republic (but, alas, I should).  Anyway, he quotes from her a lengthy passage about writers no one reads anymore.

Death disports with writers more cruelly than with the rest of humankind,” Cynthia Ozick wrote in a recent issue of The New Republic.

“The grave can hardly make more mute those who were voiceless when alive–dust to dust, muteness to muteness. But the silence that dogs the established writer’s noisy obituary, with its boisterous shock and busy regret, is more profound than any other.

“Oblivion comes more cuttingly to the writer whose presence has been felt, argued over, championed, disparaged–the writer who is seen to be what Lionel Trilling calls a Figure. Lionel Trilling?
“Consider: who at this hour (apart from some professorial specialist currying his “field”) is reading Mary McCarthy, James T. Farrell, John Berryman, Allan Bloom, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Edmund Wilson, Anne Sexton, Alice Adams, Robert Lowell, Grace Paley, Owen Barfield, Stanley Elkin, Robert Penn Warren, Norman Mailer, Leslie Fiedler, R.P. Blackmur, Paul Goodman, Susan Sontag, Lillian Hellman, John Crowe Ransom, Stephen Spender, Daniel Fuchs, Hugh Kenner, Seymour Krim, J.F. Powers, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Rahv, Jack Richardson, John Auerbach, Harvey Swados–or Trilling himself?”

Ebert goes on to talk about whether he’s read these authors, and he’s read all but two.  Ozick goes on to ask the question of whose writing will endure?  I’m not sure that’s the question to ask.  After the Library of Alexandria debacle, who can say anything will endure?  But can we say that we affected the minds of those who lived?  Yes.

Ozick determines that Saul Bellow will endure, most because of the Adventures of Augie March, a book I know few of my friends will have read.  I haven’t read it, and I should.  But it did affect a whole generation.  Ebert makes a comment about Hemingway, that we will know him for The Sun Also Rises and his stories, but little else (he’s quoting and agreeing with another friend).  And true, Old Man and the Sea, though the Pulitzer winner, isn’t the book that endures.  It’s his first book of stories, I think, and The Sun Also Rises that continue to be read.

The Fan Base

I will say that in Science Fiction and Fantasy they have developed the concept of the FAN BASE.  And this actually keeps writing, and writers, alive.  JRR Tolkien will endure for a very long time.  So will Stephen R. Donaldson, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, etc.  The classics of Science Fiction are still being read by the fan base, by those who love science fiction and fantasy.  They are suggesting them to their friends.  They are voracious readers and they claim, quite knowledgeably, that you can’t know science fiction and fantasy without reading this set of writers, or that book, and at the conventions these writers are celebrated.  Even ComicCon has such a large science fiction and fantasy base that these 30,000 people will all know a large set of names, not just the celebrities of the moment, but the masters and grandmasters of the genre.

It could be that you might dismiss the FAN BASE as those who feed on pulp, but I would argue that they know what they like, and they are assisting in the endurance of writers and writing and that cultivating a fan base is not a bad idea.  Further, these “genre writers” are introducing them to many of the great works of literature, by quoting from, giving allusions to, works by other authors.  Many of our first introductions to literature–Shakespeare even–was in a comic book, or in a science fiction novel.  I’m not going to give too much more a spirited defense to the importance of Fantastic Literature, or say too much longer that, before Hemingway, authors had their science fiction novels and their literary novels and no one thought of the books differently: London, James, Twain, Poe, Hawthorne, all had a novel where time travel or science fiction played a large role.  Anyway, I have a larger point to make. Still, hold onto the idea that developing a fan base is important–because a fan base has been enthused by your writing, has been affected by your writing, and seeks to market you to their friends.

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Martin Luther King Jr, Nichelle Nichols, and Building a Positive Future Through Fiction, on NPR

Monday, the day the US celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. day, there will be a special segment highlighting MLK’s conversation with Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lt. Uhura in Star Trek for both the first series and a majority of the movies.  While Trek fans are familiar with the story, most people aren’t aware that Nichols almost left the show after the first season.  She was tired of her very limited role on the series and wanted to return to the musical stage.

King said something very profound to her and I’d like to just comment on it.  When Nichols met King, he told her that he was a fan of the show.  When she said she was thinking about leaving the show, he had this to say:

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, Nichols says King told her, was showing the nation a universe where  “‘for the first time, we [African-Americans] are being seen the world over … as we should be seen’.” And ” ‘you have created a character’ ” that is critical to that, he said.

King’s assertion that imagining a future, even in fiction, was powerful enough to create that future is a concept Science Fiction writers need to take to heart. If they see it, they can make it happen.  Yes, we made cell-phones to look like Trek communicators, and named our shuttle after the Enterprise, but more importantly, we modeled peaceful relationships with different races and different nationalities.  We saw Russians, Japanese, Scottish, American midwest, American Southern, Vulcan, and African-American all working together as a team.  King thought that this image of peace was as important as the peace itself–and that an image could lead us there.  It’s natural to imagine dystopia after dystopia, and even, sadly, Star Trek, seems to mess with every Utopia it showcases.  But I think we can imagine a better place, a better us.

Writers have the ability to model the future we want.  While stories must have conflict, we can guide people towards something positive by helping them imagine it.  Blueprinting.  King thought we could too.  And his inspirational talk with Nichols kept her on the show at a time when we needed to see that we could work together.  (I wish someone would design a show with an American and North Korean working side by side.)

You can hear snippets of Nichols’ interview with NPR on their site, and listen in Monday, on the show Tell Me More.  The link has listening times.

When the Pilgrims Met the Borg: Faith, Perfection and the Assimilated Pilgrim

As written by William Bradford, 1620, original pilgrim on the Mayflower, original settler of Plymouth Plantation, after the strange ordeals on the Atlantic Ocean on the way to the New World.  This account is accurate to the best of the ability of the author, William Bradford, and notes the first instance of the Borg in Sector 001.  Though William Bradford is aboard the ship, the reader should note that his record is of the Pilgrims, and notes their struggles, their accomplishments, in a third person, collective account.  

There be no assurances in the ways and means of the Almighty God.  That He is there to keep and to guide, we may be comforted, but that His methods and ways be strange, there be only the righteous account and evidence of the men and the women of the Mayflower on her journey to the New World.

When they left yon Dutch colonies, they were bound in one ship, leaving the leaky Speedwell back in port, combining the crews of the Separatists, God’s chosen, and the non-separatists, also God’s chosen, to help in the design and building and maintaining of the new colony.  There be fifty men and women of God, and fifty merchant adventurers.  It was crowded on the ship, and the seas rose and fell with the mercy of God.  But to the blessings of God they account that none of the hundred pilgrims, for that is what they called themselves, were in pain, or in hunger, or in distress.  All worshipped the Almighty, even as they tumbled and plunged on yon sea.

On the 43rd day of their voyage, the scout above in the mast spotted a floating island, shining in the sun, and this island he claimed was land, and their ship sailed towards it.  The closer they came, the more curious the island became.  It was not land as they knew it, but shined in the sun like gold, and the merchant adventurers were vastly curious of what created composition the Lord had made it.  Others believed, however, that it was a bad sign, a false hope, a distraction from the simple quest of the new colonists, a task given to them in purity and hope and vision.

They did not know that the island was actually another ship, one perhaps capsized by the sea, whose inhabitants the good Lord had proclaimed should drown, for He saves whom He desires to save, and does not save those that are unworthy.  And yet, they sailed closer.  The ship, for now they knew it must be a ship, was twice as large as the Mayflower, capsized in the sea.  Some of the adventurers said it had been forged of strange metal, for the base of the ship, that above the water, was curved like a perfect sphere, and the rods and cross-hatches of the metal formed a metal bowl, with the doors and the windows, and other shadowy recesses.

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Red State America Wants Their Star Trek Series ‘Rough and Tumble’

A recent poll of Red State America, conservatives who either vote GOP or TEA, has confirmed the excitement that producers of the new Star Trek Series, Star Trek: Reckoning, hoped would be there.  The poll also scared the socks off them, one insider says.  The poll–pondering the success of a Star Trek run by conservatives, with the real, honest to gosh, Sarah Palin playing Captain Nalia Fergus of the USS Steadfast–garnered a stunning 76% of TV viewers.  These are viewers who may not have ever watched a Star Trek Series in their lives—they wouldn’t know a Klingon from a Ferengi, but they know Sarah Palin and they remember Captain Kirk.  And somewhere that all makes sense with them.

Shawn Gust, The Coeur d'Alene Press/APRarely have TV shows done polls before they even start filming the series, but producers of ST: RECK, as it’s being called, wanted to be sure where they were going.  “We didn’t want to wait for a Nielsen Rating confirmation.  We needed to know who was out there.”  Understand, they only polled Conservatives.  All us liberal, compassionate Democrats have not been polled.  They’re assuming that any Star Trek series will be embraced by the fans.  (So soon forgetting Enterprise?)

Our insider, though, has gone on to reveal to us what else the Poll says–and this is what scared producers:   Those conservatives polled wanted to dismantle the Exploration side of the Federation, get rid of the Prime Directive, and see a healthier number of “Americans” on board the ships.  Follow up questions revealed that by “Americans,” conservatives meant “white people”.  Most didn’t know that Sisko or Uhura or Tuvok were black, or that Sulu or Kim were Asian.  When told, many reported that “those people” could stay, but new ships should reflect more of a “middle America” profile.  

“They definitely wanted us to put Montana in space…,” said one of the writers.  

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Is Star Trek Reckoning Real?

This question “Is Star Trek Reckoning Real?” was googled by someone and led to my website.   There’s really another question that’s implicit, I think and that is “Would the Creators Really Want to Screw Up Star Trek by letting Conservatives wreak havoc in the Star Trek Universe?”  

Yes.

We love it when our favorite stories take a turn for the worse–where our complacency is shaken, our values are threatened, adversity gets the upper hand, only to show us how much we truly have taken things for granted.  

Fiction is all about making it bad for your heroes.  And making them fight hard–because it gives us strength to fight hard.

We need to see a few seasons where the “good” of Star Trek has to fight to regain balance.  The Federation has gotten the upper hand.  Chances with Enterprise were lost to play with a universe without the Federation.  Oh, in Star Trek series, we had a few episodes from the Mirror Universe, but even that slowly spoiled because each episode in the  Mirror Universe actually redeemed a character or two who were going to be pivotal in turning the “dark” parts–the disorder– to order once again.  And then the mirror universe would be just like us…ho hum.  What if we lingered in that disorder?  This is what Reckoning explores.

Oh there have been times when good guys rebel against the Federation.  Why is it that the “good” Star Trek characters sneak around and are able to commandeer vessels (Kirk, Scotty, Picard), disobey orders (everyone), grab things they aren’t supposed to have (Chakotay, Riker, Janeway) and go off and do something illegal for a greater good (which no one in the Federation knows about)?  Why is Starfleet so easy to outwit?

The “order” in Star Trek relies on the shared concept of the “honor system”— but when good characters want to steal things, disobey, etc. they seem to be able to do it because no one in Star Trek is ready for that.  And secondly, because the plot calls for it.  We need Janeway to steal the time machine doo-hickey, or Kirk to steal the Enterprise….  because otherwise we don’t have an episode.  

Fergus, the D’Mi, the whole grouping of conservative captains who no longer have faith in the Federation’s president–who see themselves as vigilantes, or martyrs, or heroes—determined to save the Universe, or their values, at any cost— these people are interesting.  Villains are far more interesting, at times, than heroes who can be painted too “good.”   Next Generation characters weren’t very complex, or if they were unstable, they were restored by episode’s end (except DS9–which was by far the riskiest ST)  Star Trek hit the reset button every episode (or at the very least, at the end of every two -parter).  Star Trek, by JJ Abrams, did us a favor and did not hit the reset button, thank God.  

Now we have a series that shows that the “values” of Star Trek can be hijacked by well-meaning people who believe they are on a mission.  I think this is a logical next step for Star Trek.  Reckoning will show how easy it is to believe what you have been told, it would give a believable “other side” to all the issues.  Instead of showing us what is right by demonstration— it would show us what is right by having to fight for it, and failing.  

Captains modeled on Palin, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Beck would be interesting–if only to see what they would do with something like the Federation.  How would they operate within it?  When would they dismantle it?  When would they circumvent it?  Would the Federation be able to squelch them?  The Maquis was a great subplot, and I wish they had done more there… certainly Tom Riker (one of my favorite characters) would have been interesting to follow.  But the Maquis had one goal–not a whole different ideology.  I want to see that people in the Federation don’t all think alike….  they don’t all get along.  

Think of what happened to the West Wing when the Republicans got in power….  

So, creators of Star Trek, when will we have a Reckoning?  When will we see what we loved threatened? Will you create people who will fight to re-balance it?  In the same vein as BSG—a show that allowed characters to be less than perfect, and which allowed the bad guys to have the upper hand–can you show us a universe where it will take us seven seasons to get it back on track again?  

Please, finally, let the Dragon out and let us see what the Federation will do!  🙂

Is Star Trek Reckoning for real or not?  Confirm this series.