Thursday, March 26, 2009

Comfort TV and ethics

There's something very comforting about watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I remember watching the first episode on video in the late 80s and thinking how stupid the space jellyfish was, but other than that I loved the series for the most part.

It's hard to believe how nostalgic it feels rewatching the show now. Has it really been 20 years?

I've watched most of Classic Trek, TNG and Voyager, and some of DS9 and Enterprise. The characters frequently face ethical issues that usually have or had analagous situations in real life, and I've come to the conclusion that Star Trek writers have some strange ideas about ethics. Last night on TNG, Picard had to decide whether to let 30-50% of his crew die in Nagilum's death research or kill everyone to spoil Nagilum's fun. He chose the latter, putting the ship on autodestruct, and fortunately Nagilum did not call his bluff. Aside from this questionable choice, the even more bizarre thing was the way Picard spoke admiringly to Nagilum at the end about the alien's sense of curiosity. "You may have powers beyond our capability, but we're sentient beings like you, and it's wrong to kill us to satisfy your curiosity." No, that's not what Picard said. Those are the words I'd have put in his mouth. Admiration for a would-be mass murderer is not an appropriate response.

Star Trek really does get it wrong sometimes.

I watched an episode of Enterprise last year that shocked me, and not in a good way. In Cogenitor, Trip is fascinated by an alien who is one of a small percentage of "cogenitors" among its species, a third gender required for reproduction, of equal intelligence but treated as nameless pets and denied basic rights. Trip teaches the cogenitor to read and to question. The knowledge leads it to wanting a better life, and it asks Captain Archer for asylum.

Archer's response is ridiculous - and I have to assume his reaction is the one the writers want us to agree with, given that Archer is the hero and Trip the dumb schmuck. He denies the cogenitor's request, and when the cogenitor kills itself he berates Trip for interfering. "You thought you were doing the right thing. I might agree if this was Florida or Singapore, but it's not, is it?" For Archer, what's good enough for humans is too good for other sentient beings. Respect for another culture trumps basic ethics. He's even pissed off about the non-existence of the baby the couple would have had. Instead of blaming himself for not saving a desperate person from a hopeless situation, he blames Trip for teaching it that it has rights.

I would hope that 150 years from now we'll have figured out that all sentient beings deserve fair treatment regardless of species. All sentient creatures are "people" regardless of their culture. Anyone who desires education and emancipation has as much right to those things as anyone else. So what if it wrecks relations between the Federation and an alien race? Why would the Federation want friendly relations with slavers anyway? So what if it leads to a cogenitor civil rights movement? Would that be a bad thing? That culture was broken and needed to be fixed.

1 comment:

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