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Note to Self: Do not make a spaceship out of cement February 2, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Education, libertarians, Other, science, Science Fiction.

I ordered a bunch of the original Star Trek episodes from Netflix, and my son and I have been watching them.  (I sometimes neglect his educational needs, and this project, as well as the school of rock conducted on our morning commute are part of my effort to redress that.)  Anyway, I’m scrambling to extract lessons from these old television shows.

I’m scrambling because I find the whole Spock thing very confusing.  I tend to identify with the character more than with the “human” ones.  I have a particularly difficult time with Spock’s nemesis, the Doctor, Bones McCoy.  Bones is always needling Spock, saying that he lacks a heart, trying to get him to be more “human” and then rubbing his nose in it when he sometimes seems to do things out of human motives.  What a jerk.  Spock’s always trying to do the right thing.  Spock does have this weird notion that he is motivated by logic (logic is a tool, it has no capacity to motivate), but most people don’t really analyze themselves well enough to figure out why they do what they do.  Why get on Spock’s case about his own pet theories regarding his own motivations?  Why doesn’t Bones look at his own capacity for being a pain in the neck during stressful situations.  “Physician, heal thyself,” I say.

There’s lots of grist in these things for science and engineering lessons, of course.  I find it striking that the Romulans wouldn’t realize that a spaceship made out of cement would be a bad idea.  My son and I watched them cough their lungs out in the control room during a battle near the Neutral Zone (from the dust) and watched one of their commanding officers die after being crushed by a huge concrete beam.  And we laughed and laughed. 

But then my wife pointed out much more important lessons to draw from the show regarding race and gender roles.  As a stupid highly educated upper-middle-class white guy this stuff often goes right over my head.  The producers of Star Trek tried to look ahead and see how things were going to be in the future.  And they really made an effort in these areas, but they were also bound by the social mores of the time in some really sad ways.  So I’m going to turn my efforts toward that for a while in our studies of Star Trek. 



1. strugglingwriter - February 2, 2007

I’m sure there is a lot of unintentional comedy in the episodes. Still, I’m sure they are fun to watch. I enjoyed this post.

2. Nannette in Fantasticland - February 2, 2007

One of the things I always found irritating about Star Trek (but didn’t understand why until I was older) is the way women come off. I mean, it’s one thing on a show like Bewitched to have the female lead be told by her new husband that she will now be staying home and taking care of him and his house sans witchcraft…BUT…she constantly disobeys and finds her own way in the world and has considerable powers beyond the wiggle of her nose. But in Star Trek the women seem so flat and almost cartoonish. There doesn’t seem to be any subversiveness in them. They are sexpots and sirens, good girls and helpmeets. There are somewhat “real” men, but the women…? I’d be interested in knowing if you find any :-)

I wonder about the race issue. What do you all think? Seems like Caveblogem is right that the writers and producers would necessarily be bound by their time. When did the show originally air? Their understanding of race seems pretty retrograde on the show (since there is actually no such thing as separate races of humans!) But I haven’t watched the show a lot recently, so I can’t say much on the portrayal of “race.”

3. SilverTiger - February 3, 2007

In an episodic “show” like Star Trek the characters are going to be crudely drawn but within that limitation, Spock is, I think, quite interesting.

It is made clear that his “logical” outlook is cultural conditioning: on his home planet people are taught to repress their emotions but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any. Spock’s most rewarding moments are when the emotions break through the thin crust of his conditioning (his mother was an earthwoman, remember).

There is more to Spock than immediately meets the eye. For one thing, there is his devotion to Captain Kirk which goes beyond any “logical” adherence to a superior.

The secret of his appeal may well be that we both admire and pity him.

Email SilverTiger

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