Saturday, December 5, 2009

Interstellar Omissions

In my previous blog posting, "Interstellar Intimacies", I spoke about Star Trek's commitment toward exploring and defying restrictive socio-cultural boundaries, particularly with respect to race. The original Star Trek series in the late 1960s featured the first interracial kiss between a White (Captain James Kirk) and a Black person (Lt. Nyota Uhura) on television - this during the era of still-entrenched racism and bigotry toward African-Americans and people of colour. As the series was also filmed during the cold war, the presence of a Russian crew member, Pavel Chekov, also suggested a visionary collaboration in the future between two then-competing and antagonistic superpowers.

The latest film installment (released earlier this year) in many ways reproduces some of these traditional motifs of the Star Trek universe as it traces the beginnings of the original crew members. Yet it also fails to address one of the more compelling social, political and legal issues today, the struggle for equality and inclusiveness by gays and lesbians - particularly in the context of serving openly in the military.

While the USS Enterprise and other Starfleet vessels operate within a diplomatic and exploratory mandate, they are also armed military ships that engage in combat (afterall, who would realistically watch any Star Trek episode or film if the central focus of each plot was to dramatize the complexities of conducting geological surveys on lifeless moons or uninhabitable planets). Conspicuous by their absence, at least within the latest film, are any mention or inference of openly gay or lesbian characters serving within the ranks of Starfleet.

By mentioning the idea of including openly gay or lesbian characters, I am not speaking of introducing crude caricatures or making any such particular character's sexual identity an explicit part of the plot. Just as the original Star Trek series took it as a given that in the future, people of different races and ethnicities would and could be a part of a cooperative military and exploratory adventure together, the same could be done here with gays and lesbians.

References can be made subtly, perhaps even more more so than a scene that has a young cadet Kirk making out with a green-skinned female alien (no offense to extra-terrestrials intended). For example, as or before Kirk is about to enter a shuttle transporting him to Starfleet Academy, he could have been shown passing a character leaving to attend Starfleet Academy as well who is saying goodbye to their same-sex spouse and in such a manner as to suggest they are more than just "friends". This implicitly would speak both to the acceptability of open same-sex marriages/relationships and to the ability of gays and lesbians serving openly in the military being a given in some future context, without it becoming the central focus of any story.

By not including this or something similar, I am not in any way suggesting that the producers and writers of the recent film did so intentionally or out of malice. In rebooting the original Star Trek narrative, a central focus will naturally be on re-establishing the audience's connection with the new actors who are playing hallowed characters within the science fiction genre. The new film rewrites the history of the Star Trek universe, and thus allows for the introduction of new characters going forward in sequels. Perhaps writers for the next film(s) will take the opportunity to consider how to address the issue of inclusiveness of gays and lesbians in the military and as equal members of civil society. This could serve as as a powerful comment on their present inability to serve openly, not only in the United States but in other polities.

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