Dynamic Utopia in Star Trek

January 26, 2010

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?

(crossposted from Writing the Future.)


Doctor Who and the Robot

August 9, 2009

While I’ve been struggling to write anything of substance, I thought I would indulge myself and write about Doctor Who [SPOILER WARNINGS APPLY]. Yes, I know we just had a DW post, and at this rate we shall have to change the blog name to Who Goggles, but it’s all I got at the moment and sometimes writing about something pleasant can inspire more advanced and cutting patriarchy blaming. Heck, I may be able to throw in some blaming with my Whovianism! Something like, for example, Jo’s post the second entry below this one. A post I agree with completely, by the way. However, I think I’ll mostly be writing a bit of a love-fest-type of thing. Kind of like MaryAnn Johansen’s Who posts at Flick Filosopher, or Catriona Mills’ Circulating Library live-Who-blogging posts. I may try my hand at one of the latter when I watch the next Classic Who story on my list. I think they’ll probably be mostly love-fests because I am aware of how much my love of Who will forgive a multitude of sins – like giant plot holes, absurd twists, deus ex machina, etc. But I shall try and keep at least one feminist eyeball open and not glazed over!

So after getting hooked on DW by watching the Reboot, I thought I would go back to the very beginning and watch all the Classic Who from the first Doctor onwards. But, while watching Youtube clips waiting for stuff to download, er borrow, er buy, I ended up saying fuck it and went straight to the Classic Doctor I wanted to see most: Tom Baker. He was, sort of, my first Doctor after all. Being Canadian, I didn’t grow up with Who but did manage to watch something of the reruns that PBS was showing in the 80s. I remember nothing about the show, not the story, not the villains, not even the house I watched it in, but I remembered Four! “Who is that guy?” I remember thinking. I always thought there was something subversive about him, so I wanted more of that. And, I mean, look at him! 😀 (lovely photo borrowed without permission from Kaldor City).

Right! Anyways, Robot.

Read the rest of this entry »

Will the Voice Of Authority puh-leeeeeze change?

June 13, 2009

**Warning: some slight Doctor Who spoilers, up to the end of Season Three.**

It’s only taken about four years, but I’m finally catching up with Doctor Who. In (very) general terms, the newest iteration of the classic sci-fi series is really making me happy: fast-paced, witty dialogue cavorting along, effortlessly charming the viewer into following, especially in the David Tennant years. I’m now at the end of Season 3, and in spite of some minor details, I am actually quite pleased with the treatment of gender in the show. Both Rose and Martha are intelligent individuals with quite different personalities (not just a cookie-cutter “here’s your female companion”); both are a joy to watch, in spite of the occasionally typical infatuation story lines. Riffs on Captain Jack’s ‘pansexuality’ are entertaining, well-timed, and are treated at times with just enough gravity that the humor in it turns on humanity, rather than some caricature of homosexuality.

But seriously, people. Time Lords are supposed to be* the most intelligent beings in the multiverse, with impressive talents and access to advanced technology. So why is it, in all the possibilities in all the possible worlds, that ALL of the Time Lords are white men?

The easy answer is: we live in a society in which white + male is seen as the default. One could go so far as to say they are the only people who are consistently treated as full human beings. But seriously, O Writers of Science Fiction: How is it that in imagining myriad variety to existence, this old trope keeps popping up?

The Doctor is, in many ways, the embodiment of Male Privilege. He walks into situations with absolute confidence in his ability to fix it, even when he does not know how he’ll do it, or even what the situation is. He does not identify himself to the satisfaction of those who question his authority. He completely ignores many challenges to that authority. He speaks; everyone else (eventually) listens. In one episode, The Doctor must make himself human to escape his adversary, including suppressing all consciousness of ever being a Time Lord. His character is still the same embodiment of privilege, if in a slightly more day-dreaming, less self-confident package. His human persona is a professor at a boys’ school, a position of authority over lesser (in this case, younger) beings. His position has not changed much at all, even if his species has. All his behavior is, of course, treated as Right and Good, as though we silly humans should know our betters when we see them, and when we don’t, we’re chuckled at for the buffoons we are.

Members of the Time Lords’ species have the ability to regenerate their bodies when those bodies are damaged, and those bodies are ostensibly have completely different skeletons (“new teeth”) and muscular systems (“new voice”). Everything about each regenerated Time Lord is new, except his gender and skin color. If his entire body changes, why in the world wouldn’t his skin color change too? There is likely some theoretical* reason why biological sex (and, by extension, gender) is immutable in a Time Lord, but if The Doctor is going to be consistently male and functionally heterosexual (as evidenced by the constant line of female companions), then Time Lords are clearly not unilaterally asexual or non-gendered beings. Biological sex exists; gender presentation does too. So why lack the creativity to play around with those very basic human traits? Why insist on every Doctor (and Master, don’t forget!) being Male and White?

The good Doctor has only one regeneration left, if Wikipedia is to be believed. How about something slightly different for a change? The role requires a British actor; Britain isn’t just made up of the native Gauls and Norman French anymore. How about letting the next person to play The Doctor to be of Indian or Pakistani descent, or descended from immigrants from anywhere else in the world? How about letting the Doctor be a woman for once? The Voice of Authority is virtually always the old (white) man in western social reality. Why does some of our most creative fiction have to fixate on that too?

==x-posted at The Geek Side==
*Read: bullshit

Not Dead

May 12, 2009

No really! We’re not. But I do apologize for the dearth of blogging. My, it’s been dry, hasn’t it? Well, to try and make up for our quietness I thought I’d bring you a little bit of two of my favourite things: Doctor Who and French and Saunders! Made best by squishing them together 😀



*actual feminist blogging forthcoming*

The oh-shit-I-forgot-to-blog blogaround!

April 24, 2009

Well, it’s been several days since I’ve written, hasn’t it! Uh… oops?

My classes are rapidly progressing towards their ends, meaning I have lots of projects and impending exams. Since Tuesday I’ve been working on a 10-minute video for my Arabic class, which is due next Tuesday. It’s a group project, and while our script would have been simple as pie to film with a group of dedicated, experienced film students, and at least fairly doable with a group invested in working efficiently, it is, perhaps, over-ambitious for a group unwilling to commit to a production schedule. My time is occupied entirely with, for example, rearranging my entire day to accommodate one group member, whose only area of opportunity is 10:20am on Friday, only to discover at 10:25 that she has to go to class at 10:30. And then there is the group member who told me simply that she was never available at all, except that she did so by saying “well, Thursday is pretty busy, and Friday is iffy, Saturday is right out and so is Sunday, and then Monday I think I have something…”

I also, miraculously, film something on occasion, and even have brief opportunities to edit that footage. So far we have 2 minutes of our required 10, and while much of it is chronological it’s still pretty scattershot.

But I promised a blogaround! So here you go! Links! Which I have either tagged as “toblog” on del.icio.us or chosen to “share” on Google Reader! Have at it!

From The Angry Black Woman, we have “A Chocolate Coating to make the Bitter White Pill Go Down Easier,” a great article about how turning all the main characters white in the movie version of Avatar: The Last Airbender and then making some of the random background characters a mish-mash of “multicultural” races is still made of fail compared to maintaining the Asian culture of the show without adding white people or black people.


So in the name of diversity, the film’s producers are ignoring the diversity that was in the original cartoon — characters who evoked cultures as wildly disparate as the Inuit, Mayans, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, Pacific Islanders, Arabs, Japanese, Tibetan, Ainu, and probably a dozen more. They’re replacing it with “Diversity: American Style”, in which all those ethnicities get lumped together into “one community” and stripped of agency, a few black and multiracial people get sprinkled on for flavor, and white people get the best parts and the most screentime.

I cannot begin to explain how revolted I am that black people are being used to justify this shit.

Because that’s the thing: there weren’t any white people in the original series, either. And clearly the producers were not OK with this, despite the many, many all-white fantasy worlds that already exist. So all their “diversity” bullshit is really just a cover for their primary goal, which was to shoehorn white people into this world. But the creepiness of this goal would’ve been far too obvious if they’d only inserted white folks, so they tossed in some other races too.


From Junkfood Science, we have “How we’ve come to believe that overeating causes obesity,” a fascinating historical account. 

… [P]eople, regardless of their size, who believe they have “overeating” issues are most often exhibiting completely normal, natural biological responses to starvation, hunger and weight loss — in developed countries, that means voluntary starvation, otherwise called dieting. Healthy people, whether naturally fat or thin, who aren’t dieting or trying to control their weights don’t have problems with “overeating.”

The biological reality of our weights and weight control, and the effects of dieting, were clinically demonstrated more than 50 years ago in what remains the definitive research on the subject. The findings in this famous study, revolutionary at the time, have been replicated in the most precise, complicated metabolic studies of food intake behavior, energy expenditure and the biochemistry of fat conducted by the country’s top obesity researchers.

[a huge portion of the post is omitted here, detailing the study and its implications. Read it in full here.]

The last part of the Minnesota Starvation Study revealed perhaps the most important effects. When the men were allowed to eat ad libitum again, they had insatiable appetites, yet never felt full. …

While it seemed the men were “overeating,” Dr. Keys discovered that their bodies actually needed inordinate amount of calories for their tissues to be rebuilt:

Our experiments have shown that in an adult man no appreciable rehabilitation can take place on a diet of 2,000 calories a day. The proper level is more like 4,000 kcal daily for some months. The character of the rehabilitation diet is important also, but unless calories are abundant, then extra proteins, vitamins and minerals are of little value.

In other words, they weren’t really “overeating,” it was a biological, normal effect of hunger and weight loss. The men regained their original weights plus 10%. The regained weight was disproportionally fat, and their lean body mass recovered much more slowly. With unlimited food and unrestricted eating, their weights plateaued and finally, about 9 months later, most had naturally returned to their initial weights without trying — giving scientists one of the first demonstrations that each body has a natural, genetic set point, whether it be fat or thin. Despite the fear that with unrestrained eating everyone would continue to grow larger, it isn’t true.

From The F-Word, “Why does the world love Susan Boyle?” I’ll skip to the part where she tells us why, because it’s awesome:


The world has responded fervently to Susan Boyle because we are all Susan Boyle. Her choice of songs — “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables — is not to be dismissed. We were once all “young and unafraid” with high hopes and lofty aspirations yet unsullied by a cruel and superficial world.  We’ve all experienced those metaphorical “tigers” that have torn apart our hopes and turned our dreams to shame. For an unfortunate too many of us, life has killed the dreams we dreamed. Yet when we listen to Susan Boyle, for a moment we are Susan Boyle, standing before a jaded, image-obsessed audience in a bad dress and clunky shoes, and yet being embraced anyway with open arms and accolades.  As Susan said of her childhood harassers, “Look at me now – I’ve got the last laugh.”  And as she laughs, we laugh, for Susan Boyle’s vindication is our vindication.

But the world doesn’t love Susan Boyle because she represents the common Everyman. The world loves Susan Boyle because she stepped onto that stage in front of a cynical public and the white-hot crucible of reality TV and she did it with the kind of unwavering dignity and extraordinary confidence in her self-worth and awesome talent that so many of us only wish we had.

And, finally, from Language Log we have “Debasing the coinage of rational inquiry: a case study.


A little more than a week ago, our mass media warned us about a serious peril. “Scientists warn of Twitter dangers“, said CNN on 4/14/2009:

Rapid-fire TV news bulletins or getting updates via social-networking tools such as Twitter could numb our sense of morality and make us indifferent to human suffering, scientists say.

New findings show that the streams of information provided by social networking sites are too fast for the brain’s “moral compass” to process and could harm young people’s emotional development.

As usual when stuff that people like is shown to be bad for them, the public apparently discounted these dire warnings. According to a poll reported at the Marketing Shift blog, when asked “Do social networks and rapid updates desensitize you to sad news?”, 74% said “no”, 13% said “maybe”, and only 13% said “yes”.

In this case, the public skepticism was a good thing, because the news reports were a load of hooey.

The timing of streams of information did indeed cause some public immorality in this case — but the guilty party was not Twitter or Facebook or TV News, but rather the National Academy of Sciences, in whose Proceedings the cited reseach was published. In accord with its usual practice, PNAS released the embargo for journalists a full week before the paper was available for other scientists and the general public to read. As a result, the news media could spread nonsense-pretending-to-be-science (almost) unchallenged for seven of those famous 24-hour news cycles.

And “nonsense” is far too mild a word for the way these stories described the research of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Andrea McColl, Hanna Damasio and Antonio Damasio, “Neural correlates of admiration and compassion“, PNAS, published online April 20, 2009.  I haven’t seen such a spectacular divergence between evidence and science journalism since the infamous “email and texting lower the IQ twice as much as smoking pot” case of 2005.

So, there you go. Four meaty posts that probably deserve in-depth responses, but, well, better something than nothing, eh? Look for more fascinating links in the coming days as I continue to be ridiculously busy! And leave your own in the comments!

Quick Hit: Matthew Perry on Letterman

April 18, 2009

Or: Let’s see how many people we can Other with “humor” in under five minutes.

A lovely instance of White Librul Dood values — at least, what they’re willing to participate in on national television. For those of you who want to save your stomachs and not watch*, in the first four and a half minutes of the interview, Perry makes jokes** with a trifecta of punchlines: misogyny! racism! and homophobia! (Oh, my side, it hurts from laughing. Har, har.)

He starts out with this gem. It’s nearly the first thing he says.

Perry: She [Kudrow] doesn’t return my calls anymore, but there’s a certain section of road right by her house that if you park your car at the right time, you can see right into her window.

[audience laughs]

Letterman: Can you give the coordinates on that a little later?

Perry: Absolutely—during the break!

[uproarious laughter from audience]

Followed by this, a bit later in the interview:

Perry: I started to think, okay, [M. Night Shyamalan] really likes me… no no no not…

[laughter from audience]

Perry: … I actually didn’t mean it that way.


Perry: I realize, the whole time—it’s not M. Night Shyamalan. It’s just an Indian guy.

[uproarious laughter]

Letterman: [laughing a bit uncomfortably] Wow. I don’t know what to say about that.

I simply ADORE the fact that Letterman plays into the stalking schtick with good humor, chuckles at the homophobic comment, but looks “uncomfortable” at the racism. Oh my, we can’t be seen being politically incorrect, can we? Getting caught at racism, or being complicit with racism***, that’s a no-no. But don’t forget, it’s not a good Librul White Dood setup without some misogyny thrown in, because stalking is always good fun, and we have to assure folks that we are Not Teh Gay!!!1eleventy!

But what do I know about funny? I’m just a humorless feminist.

h/t (and a couple transcript sections stolen from) Shakesville

* Or, you know, when the video goes away from YouTube.
** They must be jokes. People were laughing. One must assume they were funny.
*** This is not the Oppression Olympics. I think it’s telling that, of all the bad things to do, racism is the only thing that Letterman looks (or sounds, when he’s off-camera) uncertain about. It’s more the reaction of a kid who doesn’t mind doing something naughty; he just doesn’t want to get caught.

Battlestar Galactica: Gender

March 27, 2009

Following up on my previous post about Battlestar Galactica, I’ve been thinking more about this show and what they’re trying to do with it.

With regards to gender, I think the writers have been trying to portray a society as more equal sex-wise, while still being a reflection of our own culture – they are racists (against Sagittarons) and classist (Capricans are the ruling class – hell even their first new settlement is called New Caprica) but I don’t think the writers realize how sexist they still are. I suspect that by showing women serving in the military alongside men, and in combat roles even, the writers were trying to show a society with more gender equality.

You all know by now how it goes: we’re so liberated, us here in the west. We vote, work outside the home, run for office. Not like those women in [insert foreign group here]. What are we complaining about?? So watching gender being played out on BSG really reminds me of the culture I live in, but with lots of female combat soldiers (oh hang on, Canada has female combat soldiers). But I can also see the same sexist gender role in play: high heels, skirts, and long flowing hair (Starbuck only has long hair when she’s married! then cuts it when she sort of ends the relationship, or, ditches the wife part but stays married, or.. I don’t know what the hell she’s doing). It’s not equality if the standard clothing for women is high heels and slinky dresses. Also: there’s prostitution.

Of course, in light of my previous post and Sady’s post and comments that I read after starting this, perhaps the writers really aren’t trying to create a more feminist world. They’re certainly echoing the world we live in, with the racism and classism and religious fanaticism. Perhaps having the BSG world so close to ours is the point? And yet, I can’t quite believe that they are aware enough of sexism for that. I really think they just echoed our world’s gender constructs unconsciously. Something about the comments in the specials on the DVD about how different Starbuck is because now she’s a guuuurl zomg. Even though both characters drink, smoke, win at poker, sleep around, are disobedient, are awesome pilots and are loved by everybody even when they drive everybody crazy, this version:

is ZOMG so much different than this version:


Anyways, I’m beginning to think that the main problem, gender-wise, with this show is all the evil blond women (ok, there was one evil brunette). The most obvious Evil Blond™ is of course Caprica 6 (well, all the Sixes). Apart from the Sexay Evil Blond, there’s also the obnoxious (evil) blond Ellen Tigh, and Starbuck’s Really Evil Blonde mother. You know, I would really like, just for fucking once, watch a show where it’s the fucking DAD that’s the abusive monster. Almost always it’s the mom! Yes, of course, mothers can and have been nasty abusive assholes, but really, they’re in the minority, are they not? Of all of the abusive parents I have come across in real life, the abusive fathers outnumber the abusive mothers easily 10 to 1. But in tv/movie land it’s all about the Evil Mother.

Uh, where was I? Evil Mother, Evil Blond? Evil Sexay Blond? Ah, it all starts to run together, doesn’t it? The young mothers aren’t evil – the characters that become mothers, but the mothers of adult characters are.

And that whole Starbuck/Leoben thing? Ew. That needs a post all of its own.

(tune in next week where I finally finish watching the whole thing and change my mind utterly :-p But for now, this is how it’s looking to me, kids)