While the original Star Trek is an often maligned entity (as my older son would say, the special effects are lame) we must all remember the times in which it existed. There was no cable, and there were only three networks, so anyone who wanted a show on TV had to please one of the three networks. In the original pilot, Majel Barett played the character "Number One." But the networks didn't like the pilot, and by the time compromises were made to bring the show to television, Majel Barett had been reduced to playing the part of Nurse Christine Chapel, who spent a lot of time mooning over Spock (but then again, didn't we all?)
Nichelle Nichols, as Uhura, was little more than a glorified switch board operator. But, she was on the bridge. At that time, there were no other black people on a TV series, nor were there women in high positions. Remember that horribly embarrassing episode where the bad guys forced Uhura to kiss Captain Kirk? That was, in fact, the first interracial kiss on television. Which was a big deal at the time. (Now, we can watch Will Smith and Linda Fiorentino in Men in Black flirt like crazy and no one blinks an eye.)
Despite the short skirts, wigs that looked like they were going to topple off at any minute, women's costumes that looked like they were going to fall off at any minute, not to mention the "girl in every port" sex life of Captain Kirk - compared to other TV shows at the time, Star Trek was a breakthrough in many ways, including its depictions of women. (And if you doubt this for a minute, check out the old shows currently playing on Nick at Nite.)
Of course, the captain was a white male - what could one expect. He was also supposed to be a sex symbol - I'm sure the writers, producers etc. were shocked that it was Spock that the female audience went gaa-gaa over.
In its next incarnation, Star Trek - The Next Generation, the captain was once again a white male, but at least he didn't feel compelled to wear a rug on his head. (To baldly go where no one has gone before....) And women didn't wear those stupid skirts and ugly wigs and were actually doctors and counselors ... as well as mothers. (I liked Wesley Crusher. So shoot me.)
It's a cliche that an older actress gets relegated to playing someone's mother... so Majel Barett was back, playing Counselor Troi's mother. And boy, what a mother. Lwaxana Troi also made appearances in Deep Space Nine, where her rather one note character showed a softer side with Odo.
Deep Space Nine brought us a BLACK male captain. Yes, a Black man in authority. And did they pick a winner in Avery Brooks. Does anyone else remember Spencer for Hire, in which Avery Brooks played Spencer's sidekick Hawk? Sporting a bald pate and a goatee, and a large gun, Hawk was way cool. There was even a spin off series, entitled A Man Called Hawk, where Hawk was the star, and we got to see other sides of his character, including his respect for his African heritage. And in action scenes, he carried a REALLY big gun. (My theory as to why the series didn't last very long was that mainstream America couldn't handle the idea that the black guy with the REALLY big gun was the good guy.) Avery Brooks tried to get away from his Hawk image by changing his hair style for Deep Space Nine, but he eventually went back to the Hawk look.
Deep Space Nine gave us more than Captain Sisko. We have Kira, former freedom fighter with a deeply spiritual side, and Dax, sexy and smart and literally possessing the wisdom of the ages, and even Moogie.
Patriarchy is not just about gender, it's about the supremacy of the white male over all others. And in science fiction, we're talking about the white HUMAN male and the concept of "other" includes not just women and "non-whites" but aliens. In the earlier incarnations of Star Trek, the aliens were often very one-dimensional (except for the ever-sexy enigmatic Spock, and he was half-human). Klingons were just plain bad. And when we were introduced to the Ferengi, well, they were just Ferengi.
In later incarnations of Star Trek, aliens were presented as individuals, with different characteristics. Worf. Quark. Odo. Garak. Dax. And of course, Kira, and all the other Bajorans. Even the teenagers, both human and alien, were more multi-dimensional - we have watched Jake, the human, and Nog, the Ferengi, become friends, grow and go their separate ways, chase their dreams, and remain friends. And there's even Rom, Quark's brother, who goes against the traditional Ferengi way of life.
And there's Moogie. When I first saw the Ferengi, their talk of how they don't let their women wear clothes bothered me. What did the Ferengi women think of this? Well, we got that answer when we met Moogie, mother of Quark and Rom. A one-woman Ferengi feminist movement.
It took Voyager, the latest Star Trek incarnation, to give us what we've always wanted - a female captain. If you haven't guessed yet, the woman in the center of the back row in that picture at the top of the page, is Kate Mulgrew.
Yes, that's Kate Mulgrew, as she appeared in 1975 in the role of Meg Ryan in the soap opera Ryan's Hope. The photo appeared in the April 22,1997 issue of Soaps in Depth. And here's another picture of Kate in Ryan's Hope. But now, Kate Mulgrew is Captain Janeway.
Of course, all the good stuff I just said about Star Trek can be said, and more about Babylon 5. But we have to remember that Star Trek was the forerunner.
One negative point: none of the Trek incarnations, nor Babylon 5, has really dealt with the issue of homosexuality. There have been episodes that flirted with the issue, but it's about time the issue was dealt with head on. So to speak.
Well, and another season begins and ends... Mulder is alive (of course), Scully's cancer is in remission, Skinner turned out not to be a traitor after all... oops, wrong show. Uh... ODO turned out not to be a traitor after all. And Odo even got lucky a couple of times! And then FINALLY Kira figured out that Odo is the man for her! Dax and Worf got married. But what a short marriage that was ... and what a heartbreaking season finale.
Voyager has a new character - Seven of Nine. Born human, raised as a Borg, she is the type of character who poses the classic science fiction question: just what does it mean to be human? Also, Seven gives us all an opportunity to do something we've been wanting to do for a long time: recycle old Dolly Parton jokes. Why are Seven of Nine's feet so small? Because nothing grows in the shade.
A few Star Trek Links:
A few General Science Fiction Links:
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