Trolls pointed out that the current crew contingent of Discovery was equated to the idea that the writers of Star Trek: Discovery had moved into a building complex and have completely redecorated rather than worked within the framework of the space they were temporarily inhabiting. They go on to mention how much disrespect the writers are showing toward the franchise and if the writers truly understood the shoulders of the giants they were standing on, they would not have moved away from the working formula of the franchise toward this abomination they are now perpetuating.
I made an observation which occurred to me after watching the end of Season 2 of Discovery. The bridge of Discovery does not have a single white, cis-het man on it. After Captain Pike’s return to the Enterprise, the Discovery’s main crew was reflective of a more representative slice of a more inclusive society. Before long, trolls showed up who wanted to let me know how bad this season of Discovery is and how representation has ruined the franchise forever.
I thought about saying something in response. But I am certain it would fall upon deaf ears. Telling them the Star Trek they grew up with was not the Star Trek the creator wanted doesn’t make sense to them. Telling them the Star Trek that evolved was always changing from what could be put on television to a more ideal version which reflected a future which is more inclusive, more heroic, more diverse than what was allowed in 1966. They proceed to inform me that I am a traitor to the franchise and its ideals and I am probably not really a fan of Star Trek at all.
It would hurt my feelings if I could give a damn what they thought.
How about we just acknowledge a particular truth in modern media… The images of your media, wherever you live, reflect the people MAKING the media, not necessarily the world overall. If you live in a region where the diversity is less prominent, but that is a norm for your region, I would not expect diversity where little would be found. For example: If you are telling a detective story in modern Japan, for a Japanese audience, I would not be surprised to see few, if any, foreign actors among the cast. But if you were telling a future detective story where humanity has moved into space and is living on other planets, I might expect to see a mostly Japanese cast with a sprinkling of Other depending on the nature of the story.
But when productions are made, they are made by the People in Power wherever the series is being made and they determine who shows up and in what roles. Star Trek is supposed to be about the future of Humanity, all of us working toward a common, greater good for the species. Thus, while it has not always been visibly true, it has been espoused by the creator and a number of the writers that this was the goal of the stories and as time has progressed, Star Trek has come closer and closer to that ideal, of Humanity reaching the stars, each of us achieving our best and brightest selves and that means all of us are represented.
Star Trek: The Next Generation gave us LaForge, a capable, intelligent, Chief Engineer who was Black and blind. It put Diana Troy on the bridge and eventually in the command structure. It made the Captain a thinking man, not just an action hero. It gave us a machine intelligence who aspired to improve himself and who eventually gave his life in the pursuit of that dream of being Human. It allowed a hostile alien species, albeit with extenuating circumstances to stand on the bridge and fight alongside Humanity and still allowed him to find himself and his culture. Each series of Star Trek dared to go a little farther along this spectrum.
Captain Sisko was the first Black Commanding Officer. He was also an advocate and emissary to two alien species, the Prophets who were previously unknowable and to the Bajorans who stood outside of the Federation because of their religious beliefs, even while trying to be members of it. Bashir was an illegally genetically-engineered member of the Federation who was eventually accepted by it. Worf becomes an ambassador to the Klingon Empire. Dax lives among humanity as a Trill and is a respected member of the Deep Space Nine command structure. Twice. Odo, an entirely alien form of life, commands respect onboard DS9. Quark, a Ferengi, evolves the cowardly caricature of the Ferengi into, dare I say it, heroic stature and his nephew Nog, becomes the first Ferengi in Starfleet. Star Trek has always tried to be inclusive and over the decades, slow and steady has lived up to its promises.
Discovery appears to be the apex of that promise. Like it or not, we are seeing a more diverse humanity on-screen and I have to say, having watched this franchise from the beginning in every form it has ever taken, I am proud to say Star Trek: Discovery has done more of what Roddenberry would have wanted, in one place, at one time than any Trek before it.
Star Trek may have appeared to be a white male power fantasy, but I don’t believe that was the intent. Everything I have read about it, everything I have watched, every evolution of the franchise tells me it may have appeared to be such a thing, it was striving toward something more focused, more inclusive and more intelligent. Despite the fact it looked like a white male power fantasy, it managed to sneak past the racists who ran society in 1966, a host of ideals and presumptions which were not concurrent with the thinking of the time. Pavel Chekov and Nyota Uhura, both very much characters out of touch with the time period. Pavel promoted the idea that Russia would not remain an enemy forever. Uhura promoted the idea that Blacks would not remain subservient and could rank alongside anyone, anywhere, at any time.
If these men have missed this subversive lesson, what else might they have missed over the fifty or sixty years we have enjoyed this franchise’s efforts to help us become a more inclusive, supportive and representative society. Discovery has not failed because it shows representation. It succeeds because it says we can all be heroic, and indeed if humanity is to have any future at all, we must all be harnessed in the battle against entropy, selfishness, and suffering that lies ahead as we make our way to the stars. Because before we get to the stars we will have to get past: War, Famine, Plague, and Death who bar the way. We will also have to get past racism, hatred, xenophobia, ego, shortsightedness, corruption, greed, human trafficking, and a host of other monstrous behaviors which define us as a species.
Scientists like to talk about why we don’t see alien life permeating the Universe. They posit a phenomenon they have dubbed the Great Filter; a singular event, behavior or technology which once achieved stops a species from developing into a space-faring culture. It is likely the Great Filter for humanity will have not just technological challenges but social and cultural ones. What is likely to lead to the end of our species is our inability to utilize our intellectual resources to their fullest due to our cultural affiliation with greed and disparity, ultimately hobbling our species development. If we are to have a future, we have to stop “othering”” one another. There need not be this unreasoning fear brought about by those who keep us fighting so they can grow wealthy.
If we cannot even accept the idea of representation, of equality in our media, showcasing the best concepts of humanity in every group, from every culture, from every walk of life then we have no chance of ever making off of this planet effectively at all. Fear will be our Great Filter keeping us trapped on Earth and ultimately dying in our own wastes, choking in our poisonous atmosphere, ineffectively fighting plagues, while we recycle our urine until we starve, use up our fossil fuels and burn charcoal until our species undeniable and inevitable end.
I am sad to see that so many people confuse what they see on television for how they believe the world should be. Those same men who believe for others to prosper they have to lose something, without understanding their own prominence in society is at the cost of everyone who isn’t a member of their group.
Representation doesn’t equate to domination, subjugation, or elimination, all crazed protestations to the contrary. White men who want to tell Star Trek fans, their ability to see themselves being represented means white men have been eliminated is completely ridiculous. Most importantly I think these dude-bros know this. They protest, demanding that television to return to what they know in order to justify their reprehensible behavior, as the status quo, a return to the natural order which was never natural, nor ordered, nor ordained.
It was the cruelty of a group of people who painted themselves with a manifest destiny which didn’t include anyone else. Your manifest destiny does not include the face of Star Trek, with its optimistic viewpoint showing how to avoid the Great Filter eliminating humanity by recognizing we are wasting the brainpower, talents and gifts of billions of people solely because they aren’t white enough to make them comfortable. This is something which, if we don’t stop, will lead to our demise. You may not see it, but trust me, it is inevitable.
Hate never leads to inclusive progress. The results of our recent pandemic should have painted this picture large in the minds of Americans. By definition, hatred requires “othering” or it cannot exist. I am so sad that the most important message Star Trek offers us is lost on those fans. Discovery has given us two beautiful homosexual crew members, a brilliant non-binary crewmember, another Borg in search of her humanity, as well as other empowered women in pertinent and significant roles, and my personal favorite is a Black man as both an empathic individual and as a positive representative of Black love in a budding relationship with Burnham, something which I haven’t seen since Deep Space Nine. Star Trek‘s message of hope include everyone.
Hope doesn’t hate.
To have the hope offered to us by Star Trek, one must first relieve oneself of the hatred of the Other. The underlying inclusive theme written into the DNA of Star Trek says only by recognizing the Other can we save ourselves. I don’t know what it’s going to take for those fans to see the most important message of this franchise. It’s not about ships, or weapons, or technology. Those things are fine, in and of themselves, but what Star Trek values most is the recognition and acceptance of difference. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations is at the heart of this franchise.
If you missed this, then you never knew Star Trek at all.
Star Trek: Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham, Doug Jones as Commander Saru, Anthony Rapp as Lt. Commander Paul Stamets, Mary Wiseman as Ensign Sylvia Tilly, Wilson Cruz as Dr. Hugh Culber, David Ajala as Cleveland “Book” Booker, and Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou.
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.