RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5: “By any Means Necessary” (Season 1, Episode 12)

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

This one is a watershed, kids; B5’s first actual *important,* game-changing episode, though most of us aren’t going to like it

PLAY BY PLAY

There’s an accident in the docking bays when a Narn transport and a defective ship elevator collide. The investigation quickly proves that the defect was caused by contractors using substandard equipment when building B5 in order to come in on-budget. (And even in the future, “Lowest Bidder” gets the job as they specifically point out here) On top of that, the thousand or so dockworkers who load and unload cargo from the ships that visit B5, and refuel them, have been understaffed and under budgeted since day one. Most of them are working double shifts, with less than ten hours off before they have to do it all over again. Triple shifts aren’t uncommon. It’s a hard life, and now, thanks to these privations, people are starting to die.

Making matters worse, B5’s new fiscal year budget (Yeah, they’ve still got those in the future too!) has come out, and the Dockworkers Guild didn’t get any increases. Sinclair struggles to cope with the situation, but it quickly gets out of hand, and it ends up in an illegal strike in a strategically-important defense-related job (B5 is a military outpost, after all). “Illegal” since their contract states they can’t strike under any circumstances. The senate sends in Orrin Zento, a labor negotiator, to mediate the dispute. He makes a sort of token pro-forma half-interested attempt to end the strike, but mostly he condescends and threatens, and it’s fairly obvious (Though never stated) that he *wants* the situation to go bad for some nefarious reason. Sinclair, meanwhile, has been going over the budget and reading all the senate agreements pertaining to the situation.

A riot breaks out, and Zento imposes “The Rush Act,” which everyone is afraid of, and which hasn’t been used in years, but it’s apparently pretty draconian. Sinclair marches right into the middle of the riot, and says “The Rush Act empowers me to end the strike by any means necessary, correct?”
Zento: “Yes.”
Sinclair: “And I have your complete support in whatever I do?”
Zento: “Yes, of course.”
Sinclair: “Ok, I am hereby allocating 1.2 million credits from Babylon 5’s military budget to be used towards hiring more workers and upgrading our substandard equipment.”

And the strike is over! Zento is furious, and leaves the station. Senator Hidoshi contacts Sinclair to tell him that he’s personally quite pleased with his solution, but also to warn him in no uncertain terms that there were those in the Senate who *wanted* the situation to turn ugly, and Sinclair has now angered a lot of them and made some powerful enemies.

MEANWHILE, that Narn transport was carrying a “G’quon Eth” plant, a rare Narn plant difficult to grow, hard to transport, expensive to own. It is, however, crucial for the most important religious ritual of the Narn year: When the first rays of light strike G’quon mountain on Narn on a set day of the year, they have to offer prayers and sing while putting the seeds or nuts or berries or whatever of the G’quon Eth plant in a holy fire. As the highest ranking member of his faith on B5, it is G’kars’ duty to lead the ceremony and provide the plant. It must happen at the exact same moment the sunlight hits the mountain throughout every Narn community in the galaxy. He made arrangements months ago for one to be shipped out, but it ended up overdue and of course it got destroyed in the crash.

As it happens, Londo has one. The nuts or seeds or berries or whatever evidently have some hallucinogenic qualities, which are quite enjoyable when plunked in an alcoholic beverage. The taunts and torments G’kar in pretty humorous fashion, and G’kar tries various methods to get the plant - including buying it - but Londo has no intention of letting him have it. Ultimately, G’kar complains to mom - Sinclair - but owing to the strike he can’t get to resolving the situation until *after* the prescribed moment for the ceremony. He rules the plant a “Controlled substance” and confiscates it, then gives it to G’kar with instructions to pay Londo for it. G’kar is quite depressed until Sinclair points out that the light which touched G’quon mountain a decade ago will be reaching B5 in several hours, and they can have the ceremony then.

Impressed, G’kar genuinely and effusively thanks him, and rushes off to lead the ceremony on the observation deck.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

This is exactly how you should do a B5 episode: Solid dramatic A-story, equally solid humorous exotic world building B-story. Both are interesting, both make good use of their time, both are thought provoking, and both intersect at the beginning and end of the hour, complimenting each other. This episode was written by Straczynski’s wife who, by Joe’s own admission, knows the B5 universe better than anyone excepting himself. I always wished she’d write some other episodes, alas…

If an earth decade equals 12.2 Narn years, then that means a Narn year is 298.5 earth days. This implies it orbits a cooler star than our own, and is consistent with the red lighting we see in G’kars’ quarters: They orbit a red giant. This is really the *only* acknowledgement of different spectral classes for stars in the entire run of the show.

“G’quon” is a Narn prophet/religious leader from 1000 years ago*. (There’s that number again!) We’ll find out more about him, and it will be relevant. Despite G’kars’ frequent malfeasance and hatred and sexual perversion and chicanery, he seems to really believe in it and hold it in high personal regard. Londo accuses him of using the religion for the power and prestige it brings, but in fact G’kar seems to be genuinely anguished that he can’t do the ceremony, and legitimately overjoyed when he finds out he can later on. There’s some real reverence there. Na’Toth is an agnostic or an atheist, though her father was a follower of “G’lon,” an older Narn religion.

Despite being polytheistic, the Centauri consider the Narns to be “Pagans, still worshiping their sun.” Odd, no? The Centauri maintain a “Cultural Center” on the station, which houses the idols of their whole pantheon, and evidently serves as a temple for religious services.

The Earth Alliance (The government comprising Earth and all its colonies) is in the middle of an economic recession.

Sinclair becomes increasingly stubbly and bedraggled over the course of this episode, and visibly more worn out. At the end he mentions he hasn’t slept in two days.

“New Kobe” and “New California” are mentioned, though it’s unclear if these are planets or regions on planets or cities or space stations or what. Mars Colony, Europa, Ganymede, and Io (The latter three being moons in our solar system) are all mentioned to have had major strikes in the past. Ganymede had a pretty famous strike situation in ‘37 that lost some lives, and The Rush Act was last invoked on Europa.

There’s some fan speculation about the nature of the Rush act. Though specific terms are never mentioned, everyone is afraid of it, and the implication is it’s pretty harsh, far harsher than needed. Why would such a law exist, and why would you need a Senate vote to enact it? Most fans believe its only previous usage was on Europa, and that during the Earth/Minbari war, when workers would have been severely overused and when a strike would have seriously impeded the war efforts. I think this is a fair speculation.

“The Rush Act” is named after Rush Limbaugh, as a kind of in-joke by the writer.

Neither Zento nor the Union Leader chick were terribly believable in this. The guy who played Zento was previously seen as the second Soul Hunter a while back. As to the chick, I have to think she was simply miscast. I get what they were going for: diminutive chick who’s forceful out of all proportion to her size, but it just doesn’t work. She yells like a woman who hasn’t yelled much, you know?

Senator Hidoshi is, as always, a bit of a wad, but he does actually come out as a friend of Sinclair and the station this time out.

Zento is said to be twelve hours from the station, so where was he coming from? B5 is about a week from earth.

If Narn orbits a red star, and if that star is 10 LY from B5, and if B5 orbits Epsilon Eridani, then there are two contenders for the location of the planet: the stars V577 Monoceri and Luyten Half-Second 1723. I know, I know, stars have crazy names. Of the two, Monoceri is the less likely since it’s a binary star system, but in fact both are really super cold and unsuited for carbon based life. If Narn orbits a red giant (More likely), then there are no contenders within the parameters given.

“Credits” are actually called “Commercial Credits,” sort of an international trade unit.

G’kar swears “By my pouch” on one occasion. That’s right, the Narn are marsupial lizards! This is the first mention of it.

This is our first time seeing The observation deck. The scene was intended for a generic internal room in the station, but they cobbled the set together at the last minute because they felt the scene needed a bit more magic and visual oomph. They were right: It’s a very nice scene, and it wouldn’t work any other way.

Jack shows up in the riot scene, the French Chick is here as always, and the reporter chick from “Midnight on the Firing Line” shows up unexpectedly as well. Ivonova gets another amusing badass scene.

“Morph Gas” can be pumped in to knock out the workers, and then they can haul ‘em off to the brig.

“So,” you ask, “Why is this an important episode, r3?” Well I’ll tell ya’: Science fiction on TV is generally regarded as goofy kid stuff, and not without good reason if we’re honest. Space-based SF set in the future is even worse, as the writers and producers frequently take that as a license to throw any and all real-world concerns out the window, which makes their fictional world all the less consistent and renders it a thing of plastic to be twisted and shaped or even contradicted at whim. This is made worse still by some of the more socially impaired fans - and yeah, I’m just going to say it: a LOT of us are - who are drawn to SF because they can’t stand real world stuff in the first place. Romantic love? Money? Religion? Politics? Crime? Law? Art? Sports? Don’t want me none o’ that, I just want sets that look like a dentists’ office fullthinly-defined characters who stomp around fascist space pajamas giving easy solutions to nonexistent problems. Yeah! Chairman Mao rules!

B5 was really the first American SF series to say “People in the future will still be people, and hence we will still have all the problems arising from people.” This episode in particular, was the first one to really do that, and the first American SF show *EVER* to deal with economics in a reasonable fashion. This was unbelievably refreshing after half a decade of Trek’s utopian socialism. Leaving money aside, this is the first time we get to see a blue-collar perspective of life in space, a world in which low-station not-terribly-well educated people like most of us still exist. Trek makes a big deal out of the “Perfectability” of the human species, but in fact there’s something vaguely exclusionary about that, isn’t there? They might *say* that everyone in the future is beautiful or handsome and educated, and gainfully employed in some adventurous or interesting or artistic pursuit, and yet this “Kalifornia Uber Alles” view of life is conspicuously absent of people with long hair or folks with obnoxious hobbies, or people who really don’t give a crap about understanding your emotional needs, they just want you to fix the fracking dishwasher; or snore, or won’t shut up about Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea; or who are particularly human at all. It’s a vaguely Aryan view of the future. It’s Aryan minus the skin color requirement, but with every bit as much uniformity and dogma.

This episode of B5 changed all that: The dockworkers are clearly lower class, but they take their jobs seriously, they love their families, they’re very upset when one of their own dies. They get angry, they lash out, but they regret their actions after they calm down. They work crappy jobs for miserable bosses who don’t care, as many of us do. They deal with recessions. Many of them are ugly, all of them are very physical. At least one of them appears gay (Check out the dude clapping behind Garibaldi when Sinclair reveals his solution), they are neither propagandistically good nor stereotypically bad, they are simply people, like you and me.

You wanna’ know why the Trekies hate B5? Because it’s full of people, and that threatens their worldview. To massively paraphrase CS Lewis, the trekian view of the future involves the abolition of the mankind of the present.

This is the first episode in any American SF show that didn’t simply show us what the future looked like, it also showed us how it *worked.* More modern shows like Battlestar Galactica and Firefly and (To a lesser extent) the Stargate franchise have all scooted in to make good use of this stuff, but make no mistake: It was Babylon 5 that first cracked that door!

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

It’s pro-union, so no.

*- “1000 years ago” being the mid-1200s.

Tags: 

Comments

Good Points

Remember the ridiculous Next Generation episode where they went time traveling and absconded with Mark Twain. There was that nauseating bit where the Counselor tells Twain they've "done away with ambition."

So why do they still have a "captain?" Or leaders of the Federation? I suppose they could all be enlightened Marxist drones freely offering their innate talents for the betterment of all. Except, of course, that's crap and we saw multiple times that Picard had definite ambitions to be more than a drone.

I admire Rodenberry's attempt to present humanity's higher aspirations, but after the original series they did get to sanitizing things a bit much.

Time's Arrow

Republibot 3.0's picture

It was such a rosy view of the past, too. They paint Twain as an avante garde thinker and funny guy, and completely ignore his well-known torment, depression, and eventual misanthropy. They throw Jack London in there as an adventurous energetic young man, and completely ignore his PRONOUNCED and famous racism. Curiously they ignored his status as an SF writer. I think the authors simply didn't know he wrote SF. Or, for that matter, I really don't think they knew jack about Twain.

An idealized version of an impossible future getting preachy in an idealized version of the past about problems that never existed in the first place, while ignoring real issues on every front. Amazing. Just amazing.

And yet when I point out how empty and vapid it all is, people get mad at me.

The irony, I think, is that the TOS episode where Kirk got divided into good and bad halves made it very, very clear that people need both - and by extention, society needs both - to function: Negative impulses restrained by higher goals. Higher goals kept relevant by lower impulses. Roddenberry's view of the perfectibility of humanity (Circa 1988) involves denying us half our nature and making us less than human. What's so odd about that is that he seemed to know better in 1965.

Remember when DC Fontana wrote that "Let me help" were the three most important words in any language, more even than "I love you?" Remember when the Prime Directive let children die horrible screaming deaths over and over again because 'that's just the way things are?'

Yeah. I got your 'perfectibility' right here, Rod. And that's really all anyone needs to know about Star Trek.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Star Trek and Blue Collar

kelloggs2066's picture

I'm an engineer in real life and work with a lot of blue collar union guys on the manufacturing floor. Most of the guys are great to work with, but the ones who push the union stuff tend to do so for two reasons: They don't want to do what needs to be done, or they don't want to allow me to do what needs to be done.

But, most of these guys are former military, so, while union, they still get the job done.

That said, Star Trek has always had a very bad attitude toward enlisted.

I remember, back in the 1970s, they came out with the Star Fleet Technical manual (or it might have been the Enterprise blueprints) In it they defined the crew of the Enterprise as something like 30-40 officers, and 400 ensigns.

I looked at this and realized that they were saying there were 430 officers aboard, and no enlisted.

Star Trek, and most utopian fiction, want nothing to do with blue collar folks.

As for ST: TNG:
I was put off by the first few minutes of the first episode. "Q" tells Picard that humanity is evil and has no right to be travelling in space. Picard basically counters that Humanity is perfect now.

Maybe they got that old Landru computer to "absorb" humanity and they've become "Part of the body"...

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

Perfection is an excuse to stop trying.

Republibot 3.0's picture

Ugh. Picard. Horrible. Especially in those early eps. I had a theory that the reason they never showed bathrooms on the Enterprise-D was because technology had progressed far enough that they didn't need them. They just did transporter sweeps every 4 hours or so, removing any offending wastes from one's bowels before one needed to...uhm...use the manual controls. My theory was that no one so prissy, self-righteous and priggish as Picard could have ever wiped his own ass in his lifetime.

That's a little blue for our site, but, eh.

Perfection is basically either an excuse to stop striving, or an excuse to look down on people who have different views. Or, in the case of 80s/90s Trek, to do both at the same time.

I stress that TOS didn't do this. In TOS it was about the journey. The federation was young and vital and growing. I believe Kirk said they were new, and only existed in like a dozen solar systems. In TNG, they're this bloated, lazy, preachy, intolerant, demonstrably inhumane, condescending, BORING buncha' Kalifornia Uber Alles thugs goose-stepping around in their fascist space pajamas. (I know I say "Kalifornia Uber Alles" a lot, but I really like the Dead Kennedies) And they never *DO* anything. TOS had a sense of trailblazing. TNG had a sense of being Military Airlift Command. "We move uninteresting stuff from one uninteresting place to another uninteresting place in as uninteresting a fashion as possible. If something interesting happens, it means somebody dropped the ball, and we'll take pains to make sure it never happens again."

TOS was basically a fun precocious kid with lots of promise and a bright future. TNG was basically that kid growing up to be a jerk. DS9 was basically the jerk actually having to get a job. Voyager was basically him phoning it in at his work, and still being a jerk. Enterprise was the jerk having a midlife crisis and wanting to re-live his youth by screwing around, resulting in a divorce from his longsuffering spouse, the audience.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

The real world

neorandomizer's picture

One of the things that I liked about this episode is it had a sense of real history. What I mean by that is politics, economics etc now is not that different from ancient Rome so why would it be so different only 3 hundred years into the future.

This episode also showed people doing real work (They were dirty) not sitting on there overpaid asses asking the computer to do something. The truth of the mater is that there are some jobs that have to be done by a human or alien not a machine.

It was nice not to see only the Officer class siting in there comfy chairs while things happened by magic.

@kelloggs2066

neorandomizer's picture

>>I remember, back in the 1970s, they came out with the Star Fleet Technical manual (or it might have been the Enterprise blueprints) In it they defined the crew of the Enterprise as something like 30-40 officers, and 400 ensigns.<<

I believe this was just a fundamental misunderstanding of how a real ship works. The word Petty Officer is confusing to most land-lovers and if they are liberal California show biz types well everyone needs to have self esteem Petty Officer is so demeaning. We will not mention that most Blue Jackets (Non-Chief enlisted sailors USN)do not want to be Officers. I did not and I know my brother does not want to be an Officer. (of course he is a Master Chief it does not get any better than that.)

They had their moments

There were some Next Generation episodes that confronted darker, more tragic aspects of humanity. The episode that introduced the Cardassians comes to mind, the one where the broken Captain is going on a search and destroy mission that's tactically correct even though it's wrong in "the big picture." The Drumhead, too. Most of that occurs in the middle of the series run, with either end tending toward the insufferable.

Star Trek did have a problem with enlisted people. I think the whole caste aspect of it was probably more than someone who doesn't understand it could mentally cope with. Which is weird, because the original series clearly had people wandering around in coveralls and blue collar folks planet side. They just didn't spend a lot of time on them because they had a story to tell that focused on the actors they were paying real money for.

Young vs old

Republibot 3.0's picture

I think the TOS/TNG problem is the same as the Star Wars 4-6/1-3 problem. In essence, the first were made by hardscrabble people who worked hard to get an entertaining story out where people could see it. Then those hardscrabble people got rich, began to believe their own propaganda, and got all preachy and boring, and made the generally sub-par subsequent installments.

TNG was timid. TOS never was. Voyager was stupid. TOS only rarely was.

The absence of any blue collar people in TNG was because hard labor implies life isn't easy, hence imperfect. It also implies, as you guys said, a social caste system, if only a mild one, and that cant' be allowed either, can it? Another unstated reason is that most people who like SF are, traditionally, skinny, uncoordinated, pasty-faced little geeks like me, and we're just not interested in seeing people lug barrels around all day. It conflicts with our questionable sense of self-worth.

I know they eventually retconned non-comissioned types back into Trek (O'Brian, etc), but this *was* a retcon, and it was done once a palace coup had more-or-less removed Roddenberry in all but name. O'Brian was originally a lieutenant (Check his rank pins) and "Chief" was his job ("Transporter Chief") It was like in the 3rd season when they decided he was a noncom, or thereabouts. (I'm sure Sheldon has more specific info on this)

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

I think you're right

kelloggs2066's picture

Lucas and Roddenberry got either lazy or overworked.

Star Trek reversed so many of their moral stances in TNG it bothered me.

As you mentioned "The Enemy Within" where we find Kirk's inner strengths are reinforced by his inner drives to make him human. Contrast that with "We're all perfect now."

Another reversal was "The Ultimate Computer" where Mr. Spock observes that machines make extremely efficient servants, but he has no desire to serve under one. Contrast that with Mr. Data as an officer. (And when people refused to serve under Mr. Data, they were shown to be small minded bigots. Kirk and Spock were many things, but small minded bigots doesn't fit.)

The fact that their technology hadn't advanced in 100 years, but actually *regressed* bothered me. (Kirk's Enterprise can cover 1000 light years in 12 hours. It takes Janeway's Voyager an entire year to cover that distance.)

Grumble grumble grumble.

Babylon 5 may not have been perfect, (what is?) but it's at the level that TNG should have been.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

play by the rules, no matter how poorly thought out

Republibot 3.0's picture

YES! THANK YOU!

TOS made it very clear that they could go anywhere in the galaxy in a reasonable amount of time. They passed the edge. Twice. (Probably the north or south edge, but still that's more than 1000 LY) On occasion they were "Months" away from home, presumably that's at least tens of thousands of LY, possibly the other side (Which I believe is what was intended). They hadn't mapped it all, they really didn't know what was out there (For instance when they met the Gorn they were pretty shocked), but it was like having a car and no map: You can go wherever you want, but you won't know what's there until you arrive. You know: Exploration.

What really bugged me about TNG was that they scaled all this WAY back, in keeping with Franz Joseph's random retcon in the Tech manual, which became fanon, which became canon after a fashion.

When I point this out to people, they say "Oh, it's not true!" When I prove it, they say "Well, obviously you can't do that, they had to fix it. It's not possible with the technology the federat..."

"You can't tell a fictional story with the fictional technology of a fictional government that was set up entirely to tell fictional stories revolving around fictional adventures and fictional morality plays? If you can't, then there's something fundamentally wrong with your imagination."

"But the producers of TOS clearly didn't understand how big a galaxy was..."

"So? They wrote the first chapter of the book, they set up the rules. If you're writing a sequel to one of Shakespeare's plays, you don't fix his well-known Geographic mistakes, you just pick up where he left off and tell your story. If you're writing a sequel to Gone with the Wind, you don't remove anachronisms, they're part of the story. You just tell your story from the foundation you were given, even if that foundation is kinda' stupid."

"But you can't..."

"Look, Stargate shows took place over the span of at least FIVE separate galaxies...."

"Well, that's not possible!"

"IT'S NOT REAL! 'Possible' is whatever you need to tell the story, 'Impossible' is whatever you need for a plot complication. Anything else is irrelevant."

And on it goes.

I still like TOS, a lot, but I like to point out that it's kind of the Romper Room of Science Fiction. It's a nice introduction to the concepts, it's entertaining, it makes you think a little bit, but if you're still obsessing over the minutia forty years later, if you're retconning it and getting dogmatic about what's basically an introduction aimed at people who know nothing about SF (Which it decidedly was) then clearly there's something a bit off about ya.

Or, if one only likes TV and Movie SF, and not books, then TOS fares a bit better: It's like the Sony sound system of SF. It's the standard by which things are judged. And it's a good standard, as there are many things that are better (B5, Lost) and many things that are worse (Space: 1999, anything by Irwin Allen, Caprica) and some things on more-or-less the same level (Stargate, Dr. Who). Nothing wrong with the standard. But, hey, why not check out the more high-end stuff when you get a moment? Surprisingly few people do. Odd.

Credit where Credit is due: TOS was, unquestionably, the second great watershed of SF on American TV. The First was, obviously, the Twilight Zone in 1959. The third was, just as obviously, B5, which *finally* raised the bar, told complicated stories involving multi-faceted characters, made use of extended arcs, and, in general, treated audiences like grown-ups who didn't need their hands held all the time. That kind of thing is never gonna' be as popular as the easy answers type. Even had it shown up earlier, when there was no competition, say 1973 or so, when you would have expected something like that to be more likely to show up, it still wouldn't have been as popular.

I go back and forth on whether we've had the 4th watershed yet. Sometimes I think it was Lost. Sometimes not. I do think the genre needs to challenge itself more on TV, and in movies, but I think there's a tendency to be complacent.

Romper Stomper Bomper Boo.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

100 years of progress?

kelloggs2066's picture

One would expect that in the years between TOS and TNG, that the technology would approach perfection, while people remain the same.

The opposite happened.

The people became "Perfect" and the technology remained the same. Except that it regressed. Their ships were slower, their weapons less effective.

Why in heaven's name was there a "Speed limit" of warp 10? The old Enterprise went faster than that. Nomad modified the engines to take it to warp 11, the Kelvin from Andromeda modified the engines to do the same... (Heck, in the animated show it went Warp 36, while being dragged by a tractor beam).

Now, I could understand an engineering limit of warp 10, but a *theoretical* limit? Pshaw! And after Mr. Scott stopped sabotaging the Excelsior, Transwarp Drive should have been standard 100 years later.

And Data was a cutting edge android?!?

Dr. Corby and Mudd's army of amazons were FAR more convincing as artificial people.

Grumble Grumble Grumble TNG Grumble.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

Fascist Space Pajamas: TNG

Republibot 3.0's picture

It's tempting to ascribe something to these qualities beyond bad writing and inattentive producers. I once read an actual published scholarly paper on the subject that pointed out these and other examples, and concluded that the federation (As depicted in TNG, and this was prior to DS9 hitting the air) was in fact a bread-and-circuses kind of fascist dictatorship. Technology was held at a set level, and the only advances were basically in entertainment and making various pleasures cheap and universal. Exploration seemed less of a priority, and it was more about consolidation of worlds into the federation, and absorbing their cultures. Token ethnicity was allowed most in the form of fashion accessories, but any real distinctiveness was forbidden. In fact, there was less variation between human ethnicities in TNG than there was in TOS.

The author took it as a subconsious extension of the "White Man's Burden" projected into space: Aliens are clearly surrogates for races and cultures on earth, and it's the job of the enterprise to show these less-evolved people the error of their ways and "Civilize them." Which basically is a neo-imperialist drive to get them to join the federation. When this doesn't work, the prime directive basically is an excuse for them to hoist themselves on their own petard. The PD is dispensed with entirely when it's in the advantage of the federation to do so, and I don't believe in TNG we *ever* saw anyone prosecuted for breaking it. Or heard about it. I could well be wrong, though, my knowledge is far inferior to Sheldon's on TNG. The less willing to accept this Kalifornia Uber Alles, the more inhuman and monstrous the appearance, such as the Ferengi.

Anyhoo, the author didn't feel this was deliberate, he was quick to point out that we only ever saw a military vessel, not a civilian world or ship or whatever, so things were going to be biased a bit in favor of authority. (Though this begs the question: Why *not* a civilian ship? Is the trek formula that tightly maintained? Evidently it was) he felt it simply betrayed a condescending bias on the part of the makers of the show that they probably weren't aware of. I think the paper really colored my view of th eshow.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

@R3

neorandomizer's picture

>>The PD is dispensed with entirely when it's in the advantage of the federation to do so, and I don't believe in TNG we *ever* saw anyone prosecuted for breaking it. Or heard about it. I could well be wrong, though, my knowledge is far inferior to Sheldon's on TNG. The less willing to accept this Kalifornia Uber Alles, the more inhuman and monstrous the appearance, such as the Ferengi.<<

In a few TOS episodes it was stated that the Prime Directive was for StarFleet Personal only and civilian crewed ships did not have to bother with it. This was also stated in one TNG episode where a civilian ship was stranded on a planet dominated by women.

It's a dumb rule that could and would be used to sit on ones hands while a Rwandan Genocide happen (its why we did nothing). The only logical thing to do is band contact with non space-faring civilization.

Specicide

Republibot 3.0's picture

I don't recall that, but I'm sure you're right.

I think the point where I lost all sympathy for the federation was the episode with Worf's brother, where they have the federation knows a planet is about to blooey, and they could evacuate it, but they don't. The enterprise could evacuate thousands of people, but they don't. Whey they find out Worf's brother actually *did* save a handful of people, they get furious with him. How dare he save a species from extinction! Who the hell does he think he is? What gives him the right to step in and play God?

Conversely, what gives the Federation the right to stand idly back and let people die in the millions because of their high-hatted and utterly immoral laws?

What bothers me is that this horse crap has been floating around for such a long time now that your average fen thinks it's logical, rational, humane, and just, and never questions it. I've even heard Danes talking about it as if it were an unquestioned aspect of realpolitik. Bizarre. I pray these people don't actually end up in positions of power. "Haiti? Well, yeah, they're in a bad way following the quake and all, but interfering would affect their natural development, so screw 'em."

It's utter, vicious inhumanity clothed in platitudes about respect and self determination. You find that a lot on the left.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

>>The PD is dispensed with

SheldonCooper's picture

>>The PD is dispensed with entirely when it's in the advantage of the federation to do so, and I don't believe in TNG we *ever* saw anyone prosecuted for breaking it. Or heard about it. I could well be wrong, though, my knowledge is far inferior to Sheldon's on TNG.<<

You're right. No one was ever prosecuted, on or even off screen, for violating the prime directive. In fact, there were numerous times when Starfleet issued orders to expressly violate said directive, like in the episode with the Indians. What I don't get, and keep in mind I really do like the show, is why is it NOT ok for Worf's brother to evacuate a people who want to be saved (or would if they knew of the impending doom) but it IS ok to evacuate a people who don't want to be rescued but would rather fight the Cardassians and be annihilated with honor than to leave their home? And why is Picard so high and mighty in certain instances, but chastises young Wesley for even entertaining the notion of allowing the Indians to be left to their own destinies because it would violate Starfleet orders? You can't tell me the Cardassians having to enslave or eradicate an "inferior" species would have really started a war.

Let's use a real-world example (even if a bit far fetched). Let's say a group of Americans settles a deserted island and generations later we find out that said island is actually owned by Cuba. The Cuban government tells the US to remove the colonists, or they will be killed. Should the US inform the island's inhabitants of the situation and offer aid and a means of evacuation, but piss off when told to do so? Or should the US, when told to piss off, round up these idiots and bring them forcefully back to the US? Personally, I say once you've been warned and refused help, my hands are clean and if you want to die with your boots on, you're welcome to it. But that's me, and that example may actually be stretching the TNG analogy some.

>>What bothers me is that this horse crap has been floating around for such a long time now that your average fen thinks it's logical, rational, humane, and just, and never questions it. I've even heard Danes talking about it as if it were an unquestioned aspect of realpolitik. Bizarre. I pray these people don't actually end up in positions of power. "Haiti? Well, yeah, they're in a bad way following the quake and all, but interfering would affect their natural development, so screw 'em."<<

The Prime Directive is a good rule to have in most situations. Enterprise did a good job of trying to explain why we needed the PD, because in that show they didn't have it. For example, they were on a planet where an entire race of people were imprisoned (the Sulaban) for NO REASON other than their race. Now, the Suliban were the bad guys and they were interstellar terrorists, but these particular Suliban were not affiliated with the evil ones. They just happened to be of that race. Archer decided to help these Suliban escape their prison, of which T'Pol did NOT approve. A few episodes later Archer and Trip are held captive by an oppressed people who want the Enterprise to free them as they did the captured Suliban. Archer soon realized that he did not want to be responsible for traveling the galaxy freeing every oppressed species, not was Enterprise capable of that, so he reluctantly refused to help these people. In another episode, there is a planet with 2 distinct races. The dominant species was dying of a disease, and the recessive species was thriving. Dr. Phlox found a cure for the disease infecting the dominant race but realized that if he cured them, the recessive race would die. They were now faced with making the decision of who lives and who dies. Enterprise's job was not to play God, so Phlox did not give the cure. In that instance, it was right to allow nature, or God, to decide the fate of the people.

HOWEVER, there are times when any rule, the PD included, needs to be let go for this occasion. For instance, in the example of the people Worf's brother (played by Paul Sorvino, if anyone cares) saved the people on the doomed planet. Yes, they were a technologically primitive people, but they deserved a chance at life. And Picard is not above violating the PD himself. Remember the race who worshipped him as a God? He felt the need to explain to THEM how the Fed's technology worked, and the only thing they were in danger of was believing in a god that wasn't so.

One lab accident away from being a supervillain! Bazinga!

Just Noticed

SheldonCooper's picture

I just noticed that I alternated between spelling "sulaban" and "suliban" in my above comment. To be honest, I have no idea how to spell that ficticious species' name, however I do believe "suliban" to be the correct spelling.

One lab accident away from being a supervillain! Bazinga!

The prime directive *might* make sense for aliens

kelloggs2066's picture

In actual space exploration, the PD might make sense if we weren't encountering humans with funny makeup.

If you actually encountered an alien species, it would make good sense to study them until you actually understand their problems.

I mean, if we ran across a species of giant flying filter feeders that live in the atmosphere of a gas giant, we would know nothing of their biology, ecology, life cycle, problems or even if a problem existed or not. Even a comet plunging into their atmosphere could be a good thing for them.

A volcanic eruption might be a good thing for a species like the Horta.

Under those circumstances, it's best to study and find out before you jump in with a 'solution'.

But, when you're talking about humans in funny makeup who all speak English, it gets silly.

(Prosecutions for violating the PD: I believe it was implied that Captain Tracy of the Exeter would stand trial.)

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

When an off-the-cuff plot complication becomes holy writ

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>> What I don't get, and keep in mind I really do like the show, is why is it NOT ok for Worf's brother to evacuate a people who want to be saved (or would if they knew of the impending doom) but it IS ok to evacuate a people who don't want to be rescued but would rather fight the Cardassians and be annihilated with honor than to leave their home? And why is Picard so high and mighty in certain instances, but chastises young Wesley for even entertaining the notion of allowing the Indians to be left to their own destinies because it would violate Starfleet orders? You can't tell me the Cardassians having to enslave or eradicate an "inferior" species would have really started a war.<<<

I heard Majel Barett once say that "The prime directive wasn't anything anyone thought out, it was just a random plot complication thrown into an episode that needed a better third act." They needed something to ratchet up the tension, and they'd used the 'ship spiraling out of orbit' thing about as much as they conceivably could that week, so...

I think it shows. It's WILDLY inconsistent, pretty random, and with one exception (The 1st season drug trade episode), always used inhumanely. It clearly was never thought out ahead of time, and every time they did something with it in TNG, it just made the thing seem more heinous and evil. (While on the subject, the most egregious breaking of it was the one where Data just randomly decides to talk to a little alien girl on the radio for no reason whatsoever, yet somehow only gets a tongue-lashing.) Beyond the immorality of just letting an entire world die, it really bugged me that we just see a moment of silence on the bridge while people look moody, as though they're all pent up with emotion, but do the right thing in holding to their duty. Gosh, yeah, must be rough on you NOT DYING while millions do. How introspective and emotional that must make you feel. Perhaps you'll go out and get a new haircut to express how caring you are. Horrible, horrible people.

>>>The Prime Directive is a good rule to have in most situations. Enterprise did a good job of trying to explain why we needed the PD, because in that show they didn't have it.<<<

The only thing I can really think of where it might be appropriate is if you meet a stone-aged people, you don't give them stuff that can be used as a weapon because they'll promptly start killing their neighbors with it. We have 500 years of evidence for that: Don't give steel knives to stone-aged people.

But to deny them medical aid? To not use a helicopter to rescue them from the roof of a barn in a flood? That's just pernicious.

There's an episode of B5 where the station is pursuing an alliance with a race called the Lumati, who are really advanced and, it's said, a very moral people. Dr. Franklin is discussing medical technology exchange with one of them, and giving them a tour of the station. They come to "Downbelow," the slum area of the station (Yeah, there was a slum). The Lumati is suddenly excited and overjoyed at this painless method of culling the lower classes, and promises to institute it back home as soon as possible. Evolution in action! Franklin is aghast, and eventually finds the Lumati have a "Prime Directive," obviously based by the writer on the Trek one.
Dr. Franklin: "So if all you had to do was lift a finger to save the life of an entire race that was dying out...?"
To which the aliens replied, "It would be wrong to impose our will on the universe" or some such pseudo-enlightened claptrap.
In a subsequent episode we find that even though they really needed the alliance/treaty/whatever, the Lumati were simply too awful to bear, and there were somethings you simply can't live with.

In an episode of Crusade, an alien government is holding their entire world's population in check by their paranoia about alien conspiracies and whatnot. Evidently they found out humans existed at some point in the past, and "Accidentally" leaked information (TV shows, pictures of mount rushmore) and then claimed these were just tricks of light and shadow. They manipulated this into a centuries-long dictatorship, which, though brutal, was actually started with the best of intentions.
Captain Gideon doesn't like being played, so he orders the Excalibur into orbit, and drops thousands of copies of "The Encyclopedia Galactica" in little probes from orbit.
Commander Matheson: "Is this wise? Some would say that you're interfering with the natural development of their culture."
Gideon: "Yeah, they might. Screw 'em."

In fact, I really think our real-world problem is that we don't interact enough with primitive people. Ok, you want to be Amish, you want to live in the rainforest and hunt deer, that's cool, you want to live on the ice in the arctic and live off walrus you hunt by hand? That's not a problem, but that's a choice. You've got the option of joining the 21st century if you want. You don't have to lose your teeth and die at age 35, and lose half your kids to pathetic diseases.

As for internal affairs of countries, well, we interfere in those all the time, sometimes wisely, sometimes not, but in general the standard of life in the world has improved because of our meddling.

>>>Remember the race who worshipped him as a God? He felt the need to explain to THEM how the Fed's technology worked, and the only thing they were in danger of was believing in a god that wasn't so.<<<

Yeah, ok, I'll give you this one. The "White God" thing is a potentially serious problem. It turns up a LOT in fiction ("The Man Who Would Be King," "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle," "Apocalypse now," and, in a variation, about 220 episodes of Stargate). In thinking about it now, though, I just realized

1) I've never actually heard of a real world example of this happening. There probably *IS* one, but I can't think of one off the top of my head.
2) I can't imagine any authorities would let a situation like that continue if they discovered it.

I'll have to look more into this. Interesting point. Well done!

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

One example from life

kelloggs2066's picture

>>>1) I've never actually heard of a real world example of this happening. There probably *IS* one, but I can't think of one off the top of my head.<<<

Cortez and his Conquistadores.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

Cargo

Scorpious's picture

>>1) I've never actually heard of a real world example of this happening. There probably *IS* one, but I can't think of one off the top of my head.<<

There are Pacific Islanders who worship John Frum (which is thought to be a form of "John, from ...") and "cargo." During WW2, they came in contact with (usually American) GIs who were so vastly ahead technologically that they thought it was magic and/or divine, and a whole religion has grown out of it. Actually, a number of religions, because as I recall there are various subdivisions of "cargo" faiths: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult.

There's at least one group that worships HRH Prince Philip: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/theroyalfamily/7660671/South-Paci...

You are correct sir! (And for the Trekie's benefit I'll clarify)

Republibot 3.0's picture

You are correct sir!

A great big 'well, duh' on my part. I'll disingenuously blame it on me only getting 4 hours of sleep last night, but in fact I just forgot about it. Anyone got any others?

I should make it clear, by the way, that when I talk about B5's take on "The Prime Directive," I'm *NOT* just jumping into the old B5 is great, Trek sucks thing. (Though I have certainly done that in the past. A lot.) To be fair, the focus and point of B5 was very, very, very different from that of Trek (Even DS9, which ripped B5 off), so it's not really fair to compare the two in a lot of areas.

Fundamentally, Trek is, was, and evermore shall be an open-ended show about exploration. Hit your planet of the week, do your dance, make your preachy point, move on, and don't look back much, if at all. It's theoretically about learning about the universe, not changing it.

Fundamentally, B5 was a show about fixing a universe that was fundamentally broken. It wasn't about exploration, it was about applying what you've learned in your explorations. It was, at root, about the decision to do the right thing, versus doing the legal thing. (Thus 33 episodes of the show revolve around a civil war that ensues when our heroes choose "The Right Thing" and have to pay the consequences from the more legalistic-minded people back home) It's not about the 'we are perfect now' thing, but rather about how we become more perfect than we are at present, but still not absolutely perfect since that's not a goal worth seeking.

Just as "Let me help" is, for me, the emotional core of TOS, the emotional core of B5 is during the closing days of the Narn/Centauri war in Season 2, when the government has ordered Sheridan to not lend asistence to the refugees and wounded coming through the station, as it's in violation of a treaty. Sheridan say, "I will not have people dying cold and frightened and alone on the docking bay decks. Ignore the orders, we'll keep on helping."

Given the difference in focus between the shows, "This is what is" versus "Let's fix what is," it's not fair to compare their stances on intervention. At least not on a 1:1 basis. I still think the Prime Directive is immoral, *but* it's easier to squint and come up with a reason for it in Trek, since they're *just* explorers. In B5, such a thing would be completely unthinkable. B5 is not without its own immoralities, of course.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

John Frum

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>There are Pacific Islanders who worship John Frum (which is thought to be a form of "John, from ...") and "cargo." During WW2, they came in contact with (usually American) GIs who were so vastly ahead technologically that they thought it was magic and/or divine, and a whole religion has grown out of it. <<

Not familiar w/ John Frum. I'll look him up. Thanks!

I knew about the cargo cults, however, but decided not to count it because they were accidental, and nobody really knew what to do about them once they turned up. That's a little different than pulling a McCoy and claiming to be "The Archangel Gabriel."

My favorite of these was a cargo cult arising from the Vietnam war, in which the cult members were fascinated by this great god who commanded such armies and magically made boats run without oars. They'd conflated president Johnson and Johnson Outboard Motors.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Cargo Cult

neorandomizer's picture

>>) I've never actually heard of a real world example of this happening. There probably *IS* one, but I can't think of one off the top of my head.
2) I can't imagine any authorities would let a situation like that continue if they discovered it.<<

The Cargo Cult of the South Seas Islands; In World War II The USA built airbases on every island they could control in the Pacific. So of these islands had native population in the stone age.

The natives started worshiping the airplanes and the man as gods because by magic food, buzz etc would fly in when the GI's wanted it. This cult ended up destroying the native culture and to this day they have not recovered.

Since many of the islands became UN Trust Territory the native have be exploited by the US government. We even used some of the islands for nuclear bomb tests.

Another perspective on the Prime Directive

Father Stephen Freeman, in his blog wrote this:

"Some years ago, as a protestant pastor, I had an underground missionary from Nepal come and speak at my parish. He was an old college friend and one of the bravest Christians I have ever known. As he was completing his talk to my adult class, a youngish female (who seemed distressed by his talk) asked him about the morality of interfering with another culture.

I could not help interrupting at the time and pointing out to her that the moral rule she was invoking was the ”Prime Directive” from Star Trek, and not a part of Christian theology. My guest was far wiser than I and said instead, “There is nothing that can be done to protect them from the outside, modern world. It is already there. But if you have questions, come with me to Katmandu!”"

http://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/02/06/
(Go read it, it's very good)

The fundamentally immoral Prime Directive has plugged itself into the moral zeitgeist and is poisoning discourse. I think that all of us have had moral/ethical debates where someone has thrown up "It's immoral to interfere!"

My rote response is "It's inevitable that we do! It's impossible to NOT interfere! By the very fact that we are aware of a problem, it's now incumbent on us to make a decision one way or another. Once we know of something, whatever decision we make is going to impact the other party"

R3 has gotten on my case for thinking that every decision we make is a moral decision. I've modified my view somewhat: most decisions have a moral component. :)

I started on a DS9 spec script where a race refused admittance to the Federation because of the immorality of the Prime Directive. It would've been an amazing episode....

Omega in Voyager

kelloggs2066's picture

The Omega episode was what finally made me throw up my hands in disgust on Voyager for the third and final time.

It was basically a thinly veiled justification to break into laboratories that protestors disagree with and smash the place.

It was either a justification to ban nuclear power or animal research, and their excuse for doing so was "We're not smart enough to understand this stuff, so you must not be either."

Grumble Grumble Grumble Voyager Grumble

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

Devil... er... Shadow's Advocate

kelloggs2066's picture

I'm just going to point out that the Babylon 5 story that makes the case for not interfering would be the Shadow War.

The Shadows and Vorlons didn't just interfere, they wholescale manipulated races on a genetic level to serve their needs (as cannon fodder.)

From a philosophical point of view, I'm tempted to say that non-interferance is a Liberal thing, but I think it's more of a Libertarian thing. "You want to burn your brain out on drugs? Who am I to say no?"

On the other hand, I freely admit to believing interfering in primative cultures can be justified quite easily.

About 15 years ago, I was watching an episode of "Nova" about a tribe of cannibals in the Amazon jungle. They had killed an anthropologist and made his skull into a flute. The team from Nova then described the life of the tribe, their religion, how they hunted and such (while not getting killed and eaten themselves).

At the end of the show, they talked about how the tribe was starting to make contact with civilization. They were starting to wear rubber soled sneakers instead of woven sandals. Some of them had gym shorts to wear instead of grass skirts. The journalists were bemoaning the loss of a primative culture.

My reaction: They're CANNIBALS! The world doesn't Need their culture! What possible contribution can their culture make? Cookbooks for the Kanamits?

Nevertheless, here's another problem with interferance I've seen: I live on the border of Western Maryland. It's very rural out here. A friend of mine, who lives 5 miles away told me about 5 bears on his property.

Now, Maryland state law covers the entire state. That means that gun owners in Western Maryland, dealing with bears, coyotes and cougars, have to abide by the same gun restrictions that you get in the Baltimore/DC areas. Such interferance is a Big Pain to my friends across the border in MD. The powers that be in Baltimore/DC see gun ownership as immoral.

I'm just glad I'm in West Virginia.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

Converting the heathen

Scorpious's picture

>>As he was completing his talk to my adult class, a youngish female (who seemed distressed by his talk) asked him about the morality of interfering with another culture.

I could not help interrupting at the time and pointing out to her that the moral rule she was invoking was the ”Prime Directive” from Star Trek, and not a part of Christian theology.<<

That may be where that particular young woman got it from, but the attitude has always been a part of Christian practice, if not theology--particularly Protestant practice. Possibly because of the greater emphasis in Protestant thought on one reaching one's own salvation, rather than having it provided to one.

Protestant clergy in both the UK and US went to great pains in the 1800s to demonstrate that missionary work was immoral, because if God had wanted the heathen to convert, he would convert them himself. Eventually, they came around to a more evangelistic view--but that was *not* the mainstream opinion in the times of such great Protestant missionaries as Livingstone, Taylor, CT Studd, or Adoniram Judson. In their days, they were decried and attacked, because of their "haughtiness" and "presumption" in attempting to change the natives' natural beliefs.

I think there was also an element of as long as the heathen were heathen, you could look down on them and justify various oppressive measures (all the way up to slavery), whereas if they were converted, then you sort of had more obligations toward them as fellow believers. That may have been a factor in the minds of the wealthy and influential, but the interesting thing is how it wasn't just them but also every little old granny in her log cabin who believed that the heathen shouldn't be converted.

Interestingly, many of the British missionaries were in fact Scottish. They had felt marginalised and slightly oppressed themselves, and seemed less likely to buy the argument for marginalising and oppressing others.

If you want a little actual "Science" in your Science Fiction...

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>>In actual space exploration, the PD might make sense. if we ran across a species of giant flying filter feeders that live in the atmosphere of a gas giant, we would know nothing of their biology, ecology, life cycle, problems or even if a problem existed or not. Under those circumstances, it's best to study and find out before you jump in with a 'solution'.<<<

For that matter, how would we communicate w/ giant flying filter feeders? Do they use sound? Radio waves? Bioluminance? Smell? Interpretive dance? Static electric discharge? Inasfar as communication is based on shared codes for meaning and concepts - "A" makes the sound "Ayee" which is the first sound in the word "Apple" which is a fruit - what possible similarities could we have with them that would allow us to develop a basis of communications?

Or imagine something *REALLY* alien. Imagine sunspots are alive, and sapient. How is lil' ol' me gonna' communicate with something larger than my entire planet, and with an 11-year lifespan? What's our basis for developing a common language? And once we've got that, what are we gonna' talk about?

"How's the weather down there?"
"Hot. And you?"
"Not so bad. Wanna' trade stuff?"
"I dunno. What is 'stuff?' All we've got here is superheated plasma and sexy, sexy lady sunspots."

>>But, when you're talking about humans in funny makeup who all speak English, it gets silly.<<

Yeah, well, TOS was only very rarely interested in the "Science" aspects of SF. Mostly they wanted swashbuckling adventure and morality plays. Not a bad combination, actually, most shows from the period did it, though it's easy to get the ratio of swashbuckling: preaching wrong.

Alien races (Excepting the Horta and the Excalibans and one or two others) were generally just convenient stand-ins for ethnic groups ("The Romulans are the Communist Chinese!") or straw-man arguments. They weren't taken seriously as alternate life forms, as, say, the Cylons (Either show) or Narn or Centauri were.

>>>(Prosecutions for violating the PD: I believe it was implied that Captain Tracy of the Exeter would stand trial.)<<<

Oh, yeaaaaaaaaah! You're right! That's actually the one example of a starfleet baddie who doesn't die or redeem himself at the end.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Helmans

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>R3 has gotten on my case for thinking that every decision we make is a moral decision. I've modified my view somewhat: most decisions have a moral component.<<

It's true. Sometimes it's just a decision to put mayonnaise on your sandwich, or maybe not. There's no larger moral dimension to it.

In accepting this, you've come a long way, my brother.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

The Prime Directive

"I heard Majel Barett once say that "The prime directive wasn't anything anyone thought out, it was just a random plot complication thrown into an episode that needed a better third act." They needed something to ratchet up the tension, and they'd used the 'ship spiraling out of orbit' thing about as much as they conceivably could that week, so..."

I think that is exactly right. It was a plot device that took on a life of its own and ultimately proved problematic for a very simple reason related to trying to draw a TV audience: what's exciting about watching a bunch of people NOT interfere with something. That's why Kirk was always violating the Prime Directive. From "Well, this civilization has already been interfered with by us," to "well, this civilization isn't developing in a normal way," to "Come on, Spock, they don't even have beer. What kind of civilization worthy of the name doesn't have beer?"

Next Generation takes that up as well, but inevitably has inconsistencies as well, because, taken to its extreme, the Prime Directive becomes morally offensive. It can become "Yes, I see someone drowning, but to throw him a life preserver would be interfering with his authentic life experience in ways whose ramifications we can never truly know. I mean, after all, he could turn into Charlie Sheen."

Help in the Abstract

"Just as "Let me help" is, for me, the emotional core of TOS, the emotional core of B5 is during the closing days of the Narn/Centauri war in Season 2, when the government has ordered Sheridan to not lend asistence to the refugees and wounded coming through the station, as it's in violation of a treaty. Sheridan say, "I will not have people dying cold and frightened and alone on the docking bay decks. Ignore the orders, we'll keep on helping.""

I always thought the Next Generation was affected by the increasing self-absorption of a wealthier society. It's kind of obsessed with the personal feelings of its primary cast. Everyone is constantly nurturing and looking after every little boo boo, as epitomized by the generally vapid Counsellor. But that obsession ends with the self. Issues larger than the personal don't get that kind of "must help" attention and effort. They are treated as abstractions and intellectualized. So of course everyone rushes to be kind to Geordi after he's failed in his latest attempt at stalking some poor woman, but it's okay to debate the merits of letting thousands of people you don't know die.

If anything, Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica was even worse. One of its creepier subtexts is that doing a directly bad thing on screen is unforgiveable, yet doing something far worse off screen is okay. Even as it sets up people who are cumulatively unempathetic to an absurd degree, it still shades them by a very self-absorbed standard. And it's even worse on the abstraction issue. In the end, they all killed themselves for a nonsensical abstraction.

>>That's a little different

SheldonCooper's picture

>>That's a little different than pulling a McCoy and claiming to be "The Archangel Gabriel."<<

Well, Bones never actually did this, nor did he ever really entertain the notion. It was a joke. He was basically saying, "I want to do this, just once mind you, because it would be hilarious and I would get a big laugh out of it."

>>Oh, yeaaaaaaaaah! You're right! That's actually the one example of a starfleet baddie who doesn't die or redeem himself at the end.<<

I thought we were talking about pre-DS9 Trek, so I didn't bring this one up. DS9 was really when the writers started saying, "OK, we have all this crap we've said over the last 30 years, it's time to start explaining some of the stuff that doesn't make much sense." So yeah, I thought we were talking about BEFORE they started making a conscious effort to make it better.

That said, while Captain Tracy's actions were certainly illegal by Starfleet standards, and maybe even immoral, he was only trying to get his crew home. I think it was JUST as immoral for Janeway to pass up an opportunity to get home every chance she got, starting in the pilot, because them going home might cause some species they've never heard of a bit of grief or death. Instead of being promoted, she should have been court martialed for placing the lives of her crue in jeopardy for not using the Caretaker's array to come straight home, Ocampa be damned, and I would hold her responsible for every death that occured on her crew because of it. She's the CAPTAIN! She's got more responsibilities to her crew than just to spread her own liberal agenda across another quadrant 7,000 lightyears away

One lab accident away from being a supervillain! Bazinga!

Scott becomes extremely pedantic

kelloggs2066's picture

>>>("The Romulans are the Communist Chinese!")<<<

No offense, I'm just showing my pedantic side.

However, the Romulans were actually meant to show the honorable Germans suffering under the rule of the Nazi Party.

If you've never seen it, please, please take a look at "The Enemy Below"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Enemy_Below

It is an excellent WWII movie, and in watching it, Kirk's tactics in "Balance of Terror" against the Romulan (not very well explained in the show) make much more sence. The officious young Romulan officer was an analog of the Nazi officer aboard the sub.

And, while I'm talking about WWII movies that got made into Science Fiction Classics, please view "The Dam Busters"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dam_Busters_(film)
Which George Lucas ripped off for the basis of the raid on the Death Star. (Even the pilot chatter got yanked from "The Dam Busters")

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

Vorlons

kelloggs2066's picture

One quick note:
One of the disappointments I had in watching Babylon 5 was that I'd been imagining that the Vorlons were some sort of weird alien species who we couldn't communicate with properly because of different mindsets (Like R3's sunspots, or a giant filter feeder in a Gas Giant.)

I was kind of disappointed to find out they were just angels.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

that which we are, we are

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>I always thought the Next Generation was affected by the increasing self-absorption of a wealthier society. It's kind of obsessed with the personal feelings of its primary cast. Everyone is constantly nurturing and looking after every little boo boo, as epitomized by the generally vapid Counsellor. But that obsession ends with the self.<<

Agreed. It's the concept of the frontier, as approximated by a people with no knowledge of privation and who've never seen a western. Characters are largely inert, the same before an episode as after. B5 characters change dramatically. Sheridan remains a basically good guy throughout, but he's not "Smilin' Jack" like he pretends to be at the start, and he goes from being a guy who's almost out of his depth to being the ultimate badass power broker of the galaxy, and not to be screwed with. G'kar is a bad guy who turns good, Londo is a good guy who turns bad, the show is all about transitions, not status quo. If you're willing to change, then you can't be all that obsessed with yourself. If you're not willing to change, well, then 'self' is all you're interested in.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Kosh II: Gezundheit

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>I was kind of disappointed to find out they were just angels.<<

They remain pretty inscrutable. It was never clear if they were just being evasive, or if we just literally couldn't understand them well. I'm inclined to think a little of both, but definitely a lot of the latter because Kosh spent all that time "Training" Sheridan by making him listen to music and "Exposing him to beauty" and so on. And we never found out what lines like "We are all Kosh" meant. (I have my suspicions, though) It was pretty sly, particularly the way they grudgingly put me on the side of the shadows, at least conceptually. Man, that irritated me.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

The Enemy Below

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>>However, the Romulans were actually meant to show the honorable Germans suffering under the rule of the Nazi Party.

If you've never seen it, please, please take a look at "The Enemy Below"
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Enemy_Below

It is an excellent WWII movie, and in watching it, Kirk's tactics in "Balance of Terror" against the Romulan (not very well explained in the show) make much more sence. The officious young Romulan officer was an analog of the Nazi officer aboard the sub.<<<

Oh, TEB is my all-time favorite WWII navy flick. "Balance" was a blatant ripoff of it (A good one, though.) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea coincidentally did a blatant ripoff of it about the same time (I think it aired like a month or 6 weeks later) called "Killers of the Deep." Arguably, the second half of "Wrath of Khan" is also dependent upon it. Great flick. Everyone should go watch it now.

Anyway, yes, the Romulans were initially intended as a humanized enemy just like the beleaguered Kriegsmarine submariners. After that, however, they 'became' analogues for the chinese, with the Klingons originally intended to be analogues for the Mongol Hoards, but quickly becoming the Soviets. The eventual tech exchanges between Klingon and Romulan echo what we *thought* was going on between the Soviets and Chinese at the time.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

The Archangel Bones

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>Well, Bones never actually did this, nor did he ever really entertain the notion. It was a joke. He was basically saying, "I want to do this, just once mind you, because it would be hilarious and I would get a big laugh out of it."<<<

Yeah, I didn't say he did it...well, I guess I did imply it, sorry...I just picked that example 'cuz it was funny.

>>>That said, while Captain Tracy's actions were certainly illegal by Starfleet standards, and maybe even immoral, he was only trying to get his crew home. ...She's got more responsibilities to her crew than just to spread her own liberal agenda across another quadrant 7,000 lightyears away<<

It'd be interesting to know if Tracy actually got punished for it. Yeah, he broke the rules, and yeah, he's the bad guy of the piece, and yeah, it's clearly intended to be his comeuppance at the end, BUT: he's a senior captain on a high-profile command, presumably with a long and glorious career behind him. Militaries and governments have a long history of sweeping such things under the table if possible. Think of "Crimson Tide," where Gene Hackman was completely in the wrong, but got off with only a slightly earlier retirement than he'd intended, and no censure on his record.

And I'll just bet you he spent his autumn years working as a well-paid consultant for the Navy. I wouldn't be surprised if Tracy ended up being let off the hook, and put in some other useful job. Now *THAT* would be an interesting angle for a fan-film. "The Adventures of Ronald Tracey, Former Starfleet Captain." Admittedly, a lame title...but what DOES a government do with an officer that can't be kept in command, but is too valuable to be thrown away? Interesting...

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Romulans as Chinese

kelloggs2066's picture

You know, I never thought of them that way, but it does make sense. "The Enterprise Incident" is a reference to "The Pueblo Incident", though that was the North Koreans.

Though, I do recall that the Romulan-Klingon alliance began because they couldn't find the model of the Romulan ship for filming, and so used their brand new Klingon Battle Cruiser for the shots, and made up the alliance to cover the switch.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

True

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>I do recall that the Romulan-Klingon alliance began because they couldn't find the model of the Romulan ship for filming, and so used their brand new Klingon Battle Cruiser for the shots, and made up the alliance to cover the switch.<<

True (Did anyone ever find out what became of that model, BTW?)

But were it not for the believe in Sino-Soviet alliances and exchanges, the idea may not have occurred to them, or they might have re-written the ep, or they might have postponed filming it until another model were built, or they may have simply abandoned it and filmed "He Walked Among Us" or some other unproduced script instead. There are lots of different ways they could have handled it, and they chose one that mirrored the somewhat (Deservedly) paranoid politics of the time.

Likewise, the Klingons were originally intended as the Mongol Hordes of space, which is actually a pretty interesting idea, but after one appearance, well, really, what can you do with Mongol Hordes? Might as well be space pirates or space indians harassing the space cowboys and the space townsfolk. (Seeing as Trek was pitched as "Wagon Train in Space," I'm pleasantly surprised they didn't go that way). So they became an analog for the Soviets in the ongoing cold war analog that played out basically until 1991.

Gosh, I'm longwinded.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Death or Glory

Republibot 3.0's picture

I can't seem to get it to work. My computer abilities begin and end with typing and profanity while typing. I pretty much have to get R2 to even turn my computer on in the mornings.

So was it good? What's it about?

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Startrekanimated

kelloggs2066's picture

Startrekanimated is a web comic series using stills and original artwork screengrabbed from the original animated show.

It's not bad. "Death or Glory" is a comic story using the Starship Exeter fan movie cast as guests.

They also have done stuff with the Starship Farragut fan movie cast which was actually animated. I helped provide some background shots for the animated version. I drew the Captain's cabin with shots from their set, and a rather detailed shot I drew of Cestus III after the base had been rebuilt and repaired for one of their episodes.

(In truth, I'm less impressed with the Farragut production, but they did use my art, so Yay!)

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

The original Bird of Prey model

kelloggs2066's picture

According to the Wikipedia entry on "The Enterprise Incident" there was a dispute over the original ship model. The model maker was not paid for it, because of a union dispute and the model was returned to the original builder.

The builder, in a fit of anger over not being paid, took it into his back yard and smashed it with a sledge hammer. :/

As for the Klingons as Mongols? Well, I can sort of see that because of their original makeup...

But Commander Kor talks about a very Stalinesque Big Brother society right from the start. (Hee! Maybe that's why they were allied to the TNG Federation!)

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

Grrr.

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>>The model maker was not paid for it, because of a union dispute and the model was returned to the original builder. The builder, in a fit of anger over not being paid, took it into his back yard and smashed it with a sledge hammer.<<<<

I can *totally* see that. TOS was always pulling that kind of crap. They felt (Rightly) the Desilu propshop was crap and couldn't make stuff, so they went outside the studio, and hired Wah Chang, a sculptor, to do their props. This got them in dutch with the trade union, and there was a whole lot of hassle as a result, and very nearly a production shutdown. So I could *totally* see them trying something like that with a modelbuilder, too.

>>Commander Kor talks about a very Stalinesque Big Brother society right from the start. (Hee! Maybe that's why they were allied to the TNG Federation!)<<<

I don't really recall the Stalinist aspects of it (Been a while since I've seen it. For shame, as I love John Colicos), but I'm sure you're right. The tactics he uses on Organia are very much in the Nazi/Soviet model, though, which backs up what you're saying.

Perhaps the concept changed while they were in production? That happens a lot. The Ferengi were intended as big bad canibalistic bloodthirsty capitalists foes without honor, but by the third episode, when they showed up, they were buffoons.

The greatest loss TOS had was not having Colicos/Kor as a recurring foil for Kirk. He's just so good at madness. They'd intended for him to turn up again, but it never worked out. Colicos is also very under-appreciated as Baltar in TOG, particularly in the earlier episodes when he's got no people to play off of. That scene at the end of Lost Planet of the Gods where he's pinned under rubble, clawing to get out, and screaming his own name, as though that will save him, wow! It's TOG so it's cheeze, but still: Wow!

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Oooh!

Republibot 3.0's picture

>>I helped provide some background shots for the animated version. I drew the Captain's cabin with shots from their set, and a rather detailed shot I drew of Cestus III after the base had been rebuilt and repaired for one of their episodes.<<

Oooh! We should have Church talk to you about that. He's our Fan Film guy. Animated fan films are very under-represented.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

Ronald Tracey: Recurring Rapscallion.

Republibot 3.0's picture

SAY, that was a lot of fun! I mean, total fanboy continuity porn, and Scotty was overly info-dumpy, but, seriously, that was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. I particularly enjoyed that the fan film crew didn't come across as all Mary Sue.

Anyone who wants to can look at it online here
http://startrekanimated.com/tas_comic_si_cover.html

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0

There are multiple stories on the site.

kelloggs2066's picture

Glad you got a kick out of it.

Enjoy the rest of them!

Kor & Big Brother:
If I recall correctly, Kor was giving his bad guy monologing speech to Kirk to give his troops time to sneak up on Kirk & Spock.

He talked about how Klingons would win the war because they function as a unit, each one always under surveillance, even a commander like himself, and he guestures up to a camera overhead.

21st Century Fox
The Future's So Bright You Gotta Wear Shades
http://techfox.comicgenesis.com/

The Prime Directive = TPOE

10000li's picture

The Problem of Evil (TPOE) is a philosophical argument against the existence of a god who is purported to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. The argument is based on the very immoralities you all have been pointing to in the Prime Directive:

ANY species or being or race or nation or company or group or individual who has the power to protect or save another and doesn't is considered evil.

"Protecting free will" is no excuse.

kellogg2066: The libertarian POV is that governments have shown themselves to be extremely bad at making things better for people, and generally make things worse (generally) - it's a natural consequence of ruling by committee - so governments need to be restrained to providing courts, police forces, border patrols, defensive armies, protection for trade routes and, um, well that's about it.

It's people who should do what they can, individually and in groups, to help anyone who wants help.

The libertarian perspective on drug use is this:

Drug User 1: I wanna burn my brains out on drugs!

Libertarian: Go for it, dude. Just do it over there, where you won't hurt others.

Drug User 2: I wanna quit using drugs.

Libertarian: I'm here to help, and I'll bring along these folks who want to help you too.

Pages