Review by Anne Collins Smith in Teaching Philosophy 20.4, December 1997
Enterprise Zones: Critical Positions on Star Trek, eds. Taylor Harrison, Sarah Projansky, Kent A. Ono, and Elyce Rae Helford. Boulder, Colorado: WestviewPress, a Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1996, 313 pp., $69.00 h.c. 0-8133-2898-5, $16.50 pbk. 0-8133-2899-3.
It is popular to view Star Trek in all its various forms as a forward-looking portrayal of a utopian future in which the evolution of human understanding and technology has enabled humanity to build a flourishing, progressive society. Enterprise Zones, a collection of critical essays on Star Trek, boldly challenges this view. The common theme of its diverse authors is that Star Trek articulates and affirms our contemporary sexual, racial, economic, and political biases.
In the interest of brevity this review will assume some familiarity with the Star Trek corpus. Indeed, the book is best read when the episodes addressed are fresh in one's mind. Enough explanation is provided that a reader who has not seen a particular episode under discussion can still follow along, but someone entirely unfamiliar with the Trek universe will find the book opaque. I shall also adopt the book’s policy of shortening the cumbersome title Star Trek: The Next Generation to the abbreviation “TNG.”
In such an anthology, there can often be found a wide range of topics and of quality. This anthology maintains a consistent theme throughout and a high level of competence as well. Even the articles with which I had difficulty tended to present problems of style rather than substance; the arguments might sometimes be expressed obscurely, but they were never shallow or hasty.
The book is divided into three parts. The first four essays form Part One, "Centering Subjectivities." Each addresses an individual Star Trek character in depth.
Elyce Rae Helford tackles the myth of Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek: The Original Series as a monolithic ultramasculine stereotype in "'A Part of Myself No Man Should Ever See.'" Her discussion of the episode "Turnabout Intruder," in which Kirk "exchanges bodies" with a deranged female scientist introduces an interesting technique, deriving from the theories of Helene Cixous. Helford constructs a chart of the characters' contrasting properties and compares them to the contrasting properties which are ordinarily considered characteristic of gender stereotypes. In "Turnabout Intruder," the properties line up neatly as one might expect. She then moves to a discussion of the Kirk/Spock relationship, as exemplified in the episode "Amok Time" and extrapolated as homoerotic in fan fiction. Once again the chart is constructed, this time offering the characteristics of Kirk and Spock in this projected relationship; Helford convincingly argues that each character has some masculine, some feminine qualities and roles. Finally, in an astute analysis of "The Enemy Within" Helford produces evidence that the characteristics which are defined by Federation ideology as "good" and "evil" do not--as one would typically expect from traditional binary opposition--correspond to "masculine" and "feminine" properties. Kirk's fragmentation and reconstitution do not take place along the expected gender lines. Helford's analysis has limned unexpected complexity.
"When the Body Speaks" by Sarah Projansky was difficult for me to follow. The character of Deanna Troi, ship's counselor, is indeed problematic and Projansky argues convincingly that the Troi's voice and authority are located entirely in her body. She discusses the two episodes in which Troi is subjected to rapelike experiences and finds evidence in each that a surface feminism actually yields to a military paternalism in a neocolonialist context. Some of the particular points she makes to support this argument are unclear. Her argument that Troi makes the wrong choice in "The Child" by deciding to continue the pregnancy caused by the alien invader is certainly supported by a consequentialist interpretation (the alien seriously endangers the ship), but her statement that by making the wrong choice, Troi has thereby lost the right to choose is never clearly explained. Her statement that Troi errs because she makes the choice as a pregnant woman is also puzzling in two ways: at face value, since if Troi were not pregnant there would be no choice to make; and at the meta-ethical level, since if Troi limited the input for her choice to purely rational parameters uninformed by her emotions and desires, she would be embracing the rigid masculine style of logic and rejecting the more inclusive feminine model. On the whole I found Projansky's analysis of the second rape narrative, "Violations," to be better constructed and more compelling, except that her discussion of the significance of Worf's nonparticipation in the events of that episode overlooks the fact that it is he who rescues Troi from the final attack. Although I had difficulties with this essay, the author makes a number of sound and interesting points, and I particularly liked her observations concerning the ambivalent memories shared by Troi and Riker of past experiences. The text supports a disturbing possible interpretation of Troi's altered memories, since we do not know how far they were altered, and Projansky examines what this ambivalence means for TNG's attitude toward male-female relations.
"Liminality" is an incisive and even poignant perspective on Worf's difficult position. Worf, a Klingon raised by humans and the only Klingon member of Starfleet, is often cited as an example of Federation tolerance and cultural openness. Yet, as Leah R. Vande Berg demonstrates, he receives approbation from Federation authority figures, not when he embraces his Klingon heritage and beliefs, but when he rejects them. The problem is even broader; it is not just that Worf is praised when he behaves like a human, but Klingon values in general are treated as inferior to human values. In the episodes dealing with Worf's efforts to clear his family name, Klingon values such as justice, family honor, and common social responsibility are seen as less valuable than Federation values such as compassion, generosity, and forgiveness. The most obvious example is Worf's refusal--a Klingon might say failure--to kill the son of his enemy Duras.
"Dating Data" offers us a view of Data as a representation of African-Americans in 20th-century society. Although this analogy may not be immediately apparent, we are shown many convincing parallels between Data's status and treatment and the similar status and treatment accorded African-American males in the late 20th century. Rhonda V. Wilcox has a deft touch with paradox; her discussion of Data's coloration is subtle and multi-faceted. She describes the ways in which Data's transition toward humanity is often thwarted in a manner consistent with the thwarting of African-American aspirations in contemporary society, as well as the ways in which TNG resists the traditional paradigm and holds out the possibility of Data's success.
The next four essays move from the personal to the political in Part Two: "Manufacturing Hegemonies."
"Cyborgs in Utopia" by Katrina G. Boyd was an exceptionally clear and persuasive essay on the tension between the type of all-encompassing utopia envisioned in TNG and the unencompassable Borg. Boyd first offers a detailed account of the ways in which TNG's utopia derives from 19th-century utopian narratives, using 19th-century examples, 20th-century commentaries, and 23rd-century quotations to make her point. This utopian ideal is founded on an assumption of fundamental similarity and a rejection of genuine difference; the Federation can encompass many "alien" beings because at heart they are all the same. She then demonstrates how the Borg threaten that utopia, not only by posing a literal, physical danger, but by confronting its utopian values in presenting an Other so radically different that the all-welcoming Federation must reject it. Finally, she observes that the manner in which the Borg were modified in later episodes minimizes this threat; once individualism is introduced into the Borg, they become less Other and thus easier for the Federation to deal with.
In "A Fabricated Space," Amelie Hastie deciphers for us the language of fashion as it is used on TNG. What do costumes and changes of costume tell us about the characters? Characters may be set apart or assimilated by the wearing of certain outfits. The author focuses especially on the character of Deanna Troi, who is more likely than other characters to wear distinctive clothing, which serves not so much to mark her as an individual but to draw attention to her as a sex object.
Steven F. Collins' essay "For the Greater Good" links the worldview of TNG to a 20th-century politicoeconomic theory called "trilateralism," a term whose meaning and provenance are not clearly defined until about two-thirds of the way through the essay. The central observation and point of similarity between TNG and trilateralism is the priority of order over freedom. In TNG, democracy is only possible when there is not too much democracy; freedom can only be preserved when citizens obey. Supporting evidence is drawn from episodes as disparate as "The Naked Now," "Preemptive Strike," and "Journey's End." In each of these episodes, individual actions threaten Federation authority and order must be restored by the suppression of individuality.
In "Domesticating Terrorism," Kent A. Ono uses a close analysis of a single TNG episode, "The High Ground," to link paradigms of sex roles within a family with the political interplay between neocolonialism and terrorism. When Dr. Crusher is kidnapped by the terrorist Finn and Picard uses force to get her back, this represents on the one hand the battle between the two men for sexual control over the woman's body, and on the other a struggle between the hegemony of the Federation and the ill-defined aims of the terrorists. The author notes the ironic use of violence by the Federation in rescuing Crusher, since the Federation has thus far held the "high ground" by deploring the use of violence by the terrorists. The analysis is far more complex than the example just presented, incorporating issues of technology, rationality, racism, and the prefabricated expectations of television audiences. Though the essay is not entirely successful in weaving all these different threads together, it cannot be accused of a lack of ambition. There are times when the author's interpretation seem heavyhanded: a woman officer on the planet who happens to be a mother is described as a "prisoner" of her motherhood who is "hobbled" by her femininity; the fact that Crusher is captured because she defied orders to transport back to the ship is described as an act of "discipline" by the narrative, which punishes her for making a "decision about her own body." Nonetheless the essay offers valuable insights and raises troubling questions.
A final transition to the psychological provides the last four essays in Part Three: "Producing Pleasures."
Ilsa J. Bick offers a traditional Freudian analysis of Star Trek: The Original Series in "Boys in Space," where she argues for the primacy of latency-age concerns. A number of examples are adduced from TV episodes and movies to demonstrate a continuing concern with themes such as mother-love and the return to paradise, both of which are simultaneously desired and rejected.
Evan Haffner's essay "Enjoyment (in)Between Fathers" contains the most difficult prose to decipher in the entire anthology; a tendency toward dense jargon sometimes obscures the author's intended meaning. Haffner undertakes a postmodern deconstruction of the sixth Star Trek movie, centering on the Klingon General Chang as representing the figure of the primordial "anal father" whose presence negates the repression of homosexuality and whose obliteration is necessary to the enablement of normative heterosexuality.
Marleen S. Barr, in her essay "All Good Things. . . ", links the Camelot myth to Star Trek and makes something new of this old association. The link here is specifically between the Camelot myth of the Kennedy White House and the patriarchal myth of Star Trek, and concerns not its perpetuation but its conclusion. The end of the Kennedy myth is tied to the end, not of the Star Trek myth, but of its support of traditional patriarchy. The link is emphasized by a temporal coincidence; the last episode of TNG, in which, Barr argues, the patriarchal myth is finally abandoned, was broadcast the same day as the funeral of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
"Weaving the Cyborg Shroud" challenges the speed of the Star Trek narrative, and calls for a space in which to slow down and examine carefully a figure and its repercussions. The figure chosen for examination is that of the cyborg, and in particular Picard's assimilation as Locutus. Passed over, possibly ignored in the rapid movement from episode to episode are such necessary events as mourning and reintegration. Taylor Harrison's essay also moves rapidly, incorporating a defense of Star Trek as a text worthy of close analysis, a psychological discussion of deferral, a postmodern interpretation of grief, and the aforementioned examination of the cyborg. Harrison brings together scenes from various episodes in which Picard interacts with the Borg in a timeless juxtaposition, which effectively and elegantly unites these themes.
Two useful appendices round out Enterprise Zones. Appendix A is a transcription of an interview with Henry Jenkins, author of Textual Poachers, a study of media fan fiction. I found the interview fascinating, but only tangentially relevant to the issues raised in the main body of the book. Appendix B is a useful bibliography of critical work on Star Trek, including both books and articles from a variety of sources.
This collection would be a useful addition to any library on popular culture, and would be essential to anyone doing serious work on television, science fiction, or, of course, Star Trek. It would also make an excellent textbook or supplementary reader for a course on critical studies of popular media or the philosophy of science fiction; whether it excites agreement or controversy, it is sure to engage the reader.
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