Thursday, October 11, 2007

Communism and Star Trek - Is the Federation the Ultimate Communist State?

The 'Official American Metaphor'. Star Trek, in it's many incarnations.

Clearly, the Federation are the metaphoric U.S. of A. - after all, they're the 'good guys', right? The enlightened ones. The ones who spend their time bouncing around the universe solving everyone's problems for them, while all the while spreading some galactic good will.

So what do I mean by this whole 'Communist State' thing?

In 'The New Trek Programme Guide' [1], The authors describe the metaphor as follows:

Star Trek: The Next Generation reacted to Star Trek's adoption as the Official
American Metaphor by taking it's first hesitant steps into plot lines that
explored the mechanisms of America, especially American foreign policy. The
Klingons, who had been the Soviets, got more alien and became Islamic, albeit a
very Lawrence of Arabia-Islamic. Like black separatists, they had to be
encountered in the heart of America, as part of the Federation. The Federation
also contrasted with the Borg (the Japanese), the Cardassians (a canny mixture
of Israeli and the new Russians), the Bajorans (the Palestinians), and, in a
move which suggested that Roddenberry wasn't averse to pushing his metaphor to
its logical end, the Ferengi (the evils of capitalism).

Fair enough. They're entitled to their opinion, which happens to be more or less received wisdom. But let's take a long, hard look...

On several occasions, the fact that the Federation uses no money is mentioned. Either, in the 24th century, humankind, and in fact most of the galaxy, has regressed to a barter system, or, or. . . You begin to see what I'm getting at?

You often come across references to 'replicator credits'. 'To Each According To His Needs?' And, since no one ever gets paid, presumably we're also running 'From Each According To His Abilities'. Sounding more and more familiar?

The highly evolved residents of the Federation have given up on Religion as yet another superstition. Who was it said 'Religion is the Opium of the Masses'? [2] The episode 'The Neutral Zone' [3] suggests a slightly worrying situation when Deanna is able to trace all of the descendants of a re-animated 20th century cryogenically preserved woman on the Enterprise computer. It seems as though starships are equipped with data files (including addresses and photos?!?) for every citizen on Earth. Worried? You should be...
[2] [3]

The same episode yields and interesting (though, if memory serves, appallingly delivered) quote from Picard:

'A lot has changed in the last 300 years. People are no longer obsessed with the
acquisition of 'things'. We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for
possessions. We've grown out of our infancy.'


Where's all this coming from? When Gene Roddenberry designed the Ferengi, they were thoroughly unpleasant individuals. Money grabbing, exploiting, chauvinistic, insular and xenophobic, hung up on the profit motive, their metaphor is fairly clear. They're the ultimate capitalists. And all the time Roddenbery was there, they stayed that way. Well, he died, Rick Berman took over, and Quark happened. But that's another story.

The fact is, Roddenberry was an ardent anti-Capitalist, which leaves him without many options vis-a-vis political persuasions. And Utopias. The Federation has been confused with America because it confronts the same issues. The Federation has America's problems, but not her solutions. The Prime Directive basically says 'leave other worlds to get on with developing in their own way'. Does this sound to you like that nice little euphemism, 'Globalisation'?No, me neither...

All of which makes me think, if the Federation represents America neither in her present incarnation nor in any she is likely to occupy in the future, but rather seems to be something of a Marxist Utopia, then because of Trek's heavily metaphorical existence, someone else must 'be' America. And I'm wracking my brain trying to find a bit-part species which has been around since the beginning and has exerted a continuing, if not continuous, presence, which might just fit the bill.

And then I think, no, surely not. They're the Russians, aren't they? And then the Islamic fundamentalists.

The Klingons can't possibly be the metaphor for the US. They're the ultimate bad guy!

Yup. They also spend their time exploiting people and starting wars for their own political or economic benefit. Remember, they were created in the Original Series. Korea and Vietnam sound vaguely familiar?

Peace with the Federation, when it comes, comes at virtually no cost to the Federation, the Klingons having been weakened by poor government following the assassination of their emperor - JFK ring any bells? Effectively, we're talking the ultimate Communist World Domination fantasy.

Can you imagine how pissed off Roddenberry must have been when NOBODY GOT IT! Well, maybe not. If the Networks had, he would have been off the air like a shot...

So, what happened with Next Gen? Seems like Roddenberry wanted to make things just that little bit more obvious, and ditched the Klingons as the American metaphor in favour of the Ferengi, giving them many of the same characteristics - belligerence, a disregard for the rights of others, pathological dishonesty, and an all consuming need for money. The Klingons did become religious extremists, although whether we're talking Bible Belt Christians rather than Islamic ones here is debatable. The Federation retained it's position as the ultimate Marxist utopia.

Then Roddenberry died, Berman took over, and we phase-shifted into a parallel universe. So to speak. The Federation DID become the US, leaving it in a rather uncomfortable limbo having to reconcile this with the structures and the society put in place by Roddenberry. Some of the hints have gone, but the intrinsic contradiction remains.

The Federation is now thoroughly OK, and is populated by a lot of attractive thin brunettes wearing catsuits (both sexes, just to be fair...). There seems to be a distinct shortage of blondes, but that's another argument. . .

*Original article posted here.