New Post Series - SMoST

SMoST stands for "Some Mistakes of Star Trek".  I have composed many such posts over the past couple of months which you'll see soon, and there are more coming in this new series.

This won't be the usual bashing of Voyager and such, but instead aims to be notes pointing out certain philosophical failings, characterization errors, world-building flops, certain tech issues, and that sort of thing.  "Writing fails" would be a way of putting it, but I am thinking of "concept fails" more generally.  Ideally, this is stuff that isn't usually covered by the normal Trek-hate crowd.

One example is something I already covered in the first half of this post about Picard's mistake at Galorndon Core.  But hey, that one's pretty boring, in some ways.

How about this one, then? ... Ben Sisko is a racist.

I should point out first that Sisko is perhaps my favorite captain to watch.  However, as much as the revelation of Bashir's genetic engineering completely upturned all prior episodes, so too did Sisko's comments in "Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang"[DSN7].  In a future that seems by most all other counts to be entirely post-racial (save for Uhura's hysterical "sorry, neither" when called a "fair maiden" by a crazed Sulu, and a wild reference to Cossacks by a delusional Chekov), Sisko's rant to Kasidy Yates quite literally pulls you right out of the whole episode.
SISKO: You're in charge of what?  
KASIDY: Of distracting the guard so that we can sneak someone into the countroom. 
SISKO: Kasidy, I can't believe you're involved in this thing. The whole thing is ridiculous. 
KASIDY: I guess that means you're not going to wish me luck. 
SISKO: And you're telling me that virtually my entire senior staff is a part of this nonsense?  
KASIDY: You're supposed to help your friends when they're in trouble. And Vic, hologram or not, is in trouble. Not that I'd expect you to care. 
SISKO: Look, this is not about Vic Fontaine. 
KASIDY: Then what is your problem? 
SISKO: You want to know? You really want to know what my problem is? I'll tell you. Las Vegas 1962, that's my problem! In 1962, black people weren't very welcome there. Oh, sure they could be performers or janitors, but customers? Never. 
KASIDY: Maybe that's the way it was in the real Vegas, but that is not the way it is at Vic's. I have never felt uncomfortable there and neither has Jake. 
SISKO: But don't you see, that's the lie! In 1962, the Civil Rights movement was still in its infancy. It wasn't an easy time for our people and I'm not going to pretend that it was. 
KASIDY: Baby, I know that Vic's isn't a totally accurate representation of the way things were, but it isn't meant to be. It shows us the way things could have been. The way they should've been.  
SISKO: We cannot ignore the truth about the past. 
KASIDY: Going to Vic's isn't going to make us forget who we are or where we came from. What it does is it reminds us that we're no longer bound by any limitations, except the ones we impose on ourselves. 
For Sisko or any person of African descent in the 24th Century, the issues of 400 year old animosities should be as quaint and peculiar as the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys, or as strange as any racial or ethnic prejudice against European sub-groups from 1615 would seem to us today.

Imagine if O'Brien were a dark-haired Irish character and picture him refusing to participate in a holodeck re-enactment of an ancient battle with, and holding anger toward, his friend Bashir because of old prejudices against "Black Irish" and you get a sense of how absurd it should seem.  Or, imagine Keiko refusing to invite Riker to her wedding because of Hiroshima or internment camps.  Can't picture it in Trek, can you?  Well, thanks to the Sisko scene, you almost can.

In the past, prejudices came against many ethnic groups which, in the modern United States, generally just get lumped together as "white".  Star Trek has always purported to show a future where a similar lumping extends to all humanity, so that we are all just people, unencumbered by any racial or ethnic prejudice.  Differences are a source of conversation and enjoyment, not animus.

And indeed, many of the stories of Star Trek are about extending this lumping to all sentient beings, and overcoming any residual impetus to fear or have disdain for that which is different.  IDIC.

Chekov's ill-received comment about all species having a claim to inalienable human rights in ST6 is an example, a concept that continued to Data's JAG hearing over the concept of his rights in the 2360's.

Yes, prejudice as a concept still existed.  Hobson's idea that a Klingon wouldn't make a good ship's counselor is considered evidence of such.  On a species level, his phrasing was dead wrong, though given that Klingon culture seems to focus on ritualized actions to deal with emotions, such as combat for vengeance, assisted suicide for shame and dishonor, and something with blue light and candles for mourning, Hobson's opinion of Klingons is not without empirical support, culturally-speaking, however poorly stated.

But prejudice regarding one's fellow man?  When prejudice against fellow sapients, even "Cardies", is considered wrong-headed and worthy of censure, prejudice against races must seem positively insane, on par with hating someone for their eye color.  What a peculiar throwback Sisko must be to carry such opinions.

Indeed, I consider such ideas throwback-grade even today.  It's a modern Neanderthal that considers Ferguson, Baltimore, and such through a racial lens, whichever color lens it might be, and ignores the evidence.

But what do I know?  I'm just a Viking, still itching to ravish your fields and burn your women, or something.  Perhaps Sisko can order me to go sailing in icy waters to relax.  Oh wait, he's only human ... such advice shouldn't come from non-Betazoids, right?   Maybe he forgot due to stress from all those Vulcan admirals still trying to keep humans down.

Y'know, maybe that Vulcan wrestler Solok was right to ride Sisko so hard, if Sisko left out stuff like anti-Vulcan species insults on his own part.  I'll have to review that episode, but frankly I think it is plausible.  But chances are the event was just A Tale of Two Throwbacks, Holosuite Baseball Edition, and, as with all prejudice-related activities, there was no winner.

Such ideas as Sisko's had no place in Star Trek: DS9.


Guardian said...

I didn't mention how I ended up writing more than this post.

I don't normally have completed posts waiting in the wings. Given the subject generally, along with modern media myths like "hands up, don't shoot", the modern fixation on race hustlers like Sharpton, and even nonsense-spewing "respect my Blackness" sorts on Twitter, suffice it to say that I wrote a lot more than what you see above. But, I didn't want to stray too far off the usual topic.

Unknown said...

I must admit, I often wondered why Sisko brought that up. Yes, the 60s were a rough time for black's - why that affected Sisko in a fantasy holodeck environment 400 years later is beyond me.

Unknown said...

Very good points, although in Sisko's (and the writers) defense, the episode does take place less than year after his visionary experiences as Benny Russell. The memories of his initial experience likely spanned several weeks or even a couple of months during the events of "Far Beyond the Stars," even if it was artificially implanted by the wormhole prophets. I think that does help reduce the incongruity of the event somewhat, but it is definitely out of place.

Greg said...

I think Darth Spock pretty much explained it.

On another issue, "Checkov's ill-received comment" was just a stupid bit of writing. Azetbur's hysterical over-reacton an abuse of language to justify her little snit fit is the same sort of nonsense as feminists who spell "woman" as "womyn" so they have no connection to "men".