Thursday, January 27, 2011

No Gays On Trek? Oh Behave

So this week my Google alert for "Star Trek" picked up the following article from, where former Trek writer/producer Brannon Braga bemoaned the lack of outed gay characters on Trek during its entire 40-year run. A not uncommon observation about the franchise, this complaint has rung loudly for years, and was featured prominently in that awful "Trekkies" documentary.

Now before we proceed, I need to mention that Braga, although he has more Trek writing credits to his name than ANYONE ELSE, is also generally regarded as one of the worst things to ever happen to the franchise. (Strange that these two facts coincide.) He presided over Trek's fall from unprecedented popularity in the mid-90s to its utter ruin by the mid-2000s.

This ski slope graphic is the ratings of Enterprise: Braga's brainchild.

And he wrote the teleplay for what is widley regarded as the "worst episode ever" -- Voyager's "Threshold." Yes, this is the one where the Voyager crew somehow comes up with the ability to travel at infinite speed, which evolves Tom Paris and Capt. Janeway into lizards who then mate.

SFDebris hates "Threshold" so much, he did FOUR videos on it.

Now of course I don't say that to invalidate Braga's comments, but I think it's important to remember that the guy who had more free rein inside the Trek universe than anyone else does not remotely understand that universe.

Yes Star Trek dealt with the subject of sexual minorities on multiple occasions BUT yes it always in the context of an alien race -- never regarding humans. I think if I were gay I would find that somewhat patronizing: it's like saying "oh, I know you exist but you're so weird I can only think about you if you have blue skin, goop on your forehead, or a slug in your belly. They did one episode of DS9 with the franchise's first "same-sex kiss," but - I'm sorry - when male producers have two attractive, white females kiss it's not a proud statement of sexual identity: it's soft-core porno. (See also "Vampire Slayer, Buff: Diversity check list.")

Also to those who object, I would hope most would forgive Trek because so much of its content was generated before the on-screen gay liberation of shows like "Will and Grace." However, those installments which came after that liberation were "Voyager" and "Enterprise" -- the shows for which Braga was himself the EXECUTIVE PRODUCER. In his interview, he explicitly blames the lack of gay characters on affiliates "you know, in Salt Lake City" rather than you know, HIMSELF.

So while we're talking about diversity and Salt Lake City, Mr. Braga, how many Mormon characters were on Star Trek? Zero. Okay. Well, how about more mainstream Christian religions like Catholicism or Methodism? Oh? Zero again? Wow -- in 40 years? You couldn't even ret-con Chekov to being Russian Orthodox, or say that Deanna Troi's human father was Greek Orthodox out of respect for Marina Sirtis's Greek heritage?

Now before someone thinks I'm, like, a whining Christian who thinks his value system is only portrayed negatively in popular culture (the type Kevin Smith is begging will revitalize his career with protests), let me expand this diatribe to include ALL Earth religions.

In the entirety of its run, Star Trek did not feature a single character who expressed a religious predisposition -- except again, as with gays, aliens: Kira (a violent terrorist) and Worf (a violent barbarian). And when I say religions, I am also including atheism and agnosticism! This show that was all about exploring the human condition completely ignored one of the biggest aspects of human existence. (It did the same to economics, but that's another matter.)

According to my encyclopedic knowledge of Star Trek, I can recall only two conversations about religion in the entire run of Next Generation. Both involved Data.

In this one, Nagilum has threatened to kill the crew, so Picard is blowing up the ship. Data asks him what death is (starting at 1.45), and Picard gives him a big speech wherein he admits that he lacks any spefic beliefs about the after-life (that is, a religion), but he hasn't even really thought about it!

(Actually it's not even Data, it's a holographic version of him.)

Okay and then in this bit, Data confides in Worf that he had a "crisis of faith" about his own existence. It's actually a pretty cool scene, but again -- doesn't really say anything about human religious experience. (Starts at 5.57.)

Loyal readers will recall my redux on TNG, in which I outline how every space show since then has positioned itself by what TNG was not -- including religion. Because of Trek's failing in this regard, other space shows have gone out of their way to portray religious characters more, I would speculate, than any other typical drama does specifically to distance themselves from Trek.

  • "Firefly" featured a free Evangelical preacher (Sherpherd Book), a Jewish Internet superstar (Mr. Universe), a disillusioned ex-Catholic (Mal), and a high-end Buddhist prostitute (Inara).

  • "Babylon 5" featured not only standard Earth religions, but a religion which were started in the future (Foundationalism - named after Asimov's book series).

  • "BSG" was entirely about religion, though of course it was all otherworldly.
And I can understand that sexual minorities might feel left out of the Roddenberrian perfect future, but let's also remember that Roddenberry was himself pretty prejudiced against religion and specifically crafted a John Lennon-esque utopia that is insultingly built on a premise of a-religiosity. And yes, I can understand that in the 1960s he didn't want to alienate (haha) Catholics by making Kirk a Protestant (which he almost invariably would have been, at least culturally, as a small-town hick from Iowa), but if we're going to start bemoaning the holes in Star Trek's perfect future, let's bemoan all of them.

1 comment:

Emily said...

It is funny that right after posting this: I read your post.


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