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mygif

DS9 did some wonderful stuff with pushback against the Federation’s well-meaning imperialism, most specifically in two supporting characters who ended up as full blown Federation converts who still had enough of their original selves to look back and go “oh godDAMN it, they got us”.

Because I think it’s sort of key that the Federation are well-meaning imperialists who are in fact offering a better way of life. If they’re going to sometimes put their foot in it when they come around offering the Federation lifestyle — and they absolutely should — it’s very important that they’re not offering a society that’s rotten at its core or secretly facististic or whatever.

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mygif

but what exactly is the problem with only going where you’re wanted and allying with those that like you

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There’s no problem, which is why the Federation are good guys, but the Federation have a habit of assuming they’re wanted everywhere unless the locals actively start shooting at them (and sometimes even if that happens), which makes for stories.

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What I got from the trailer is the image of hundreds of YouTube people donning Vulcan ears and doing a 23rd Century version of “Sabotage.” That should be fun.

Anybody else see the word “Beyond” and imagine a young Jean-Luc Picard being trained by an old and cranky Kirk?

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mygif

Jason, when you talk about a 23rd Century version of “Sabotage,” are you talking about the classic Beastie Boys music video? I haven’t seen the trailer, but I would 100 percent be in favor of that.

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The trailer was set to the Beastie Boys, which . . . random, yet cool.

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I’m a little confused, what did Star Trek XI/2009 make you think about? Because all it made me think was ‘my God, this is gibberish and I am an idiot, I have no standards for logic in screenwriting, I’ll just watch anything with enough motion to keep my eyes moving,’

Which is to say I thoroughly enjoyed it but I really don’t think that there was any intellectual depth to it.

I also haven’t seen Into Darkness, my sister’s analysis was ‘it tries very hard,’ so maybe that has more depth.

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The reboot is a better movie, but Into Darkness actually has characters make moral choices (thereby feeling more like the show) before turning into a fight and plot device.

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Jack-Pumpkinhead said on December 22nd, 2015 at 7:38 am

I’m with you on the sloths. I saw SW twice & by the second viewing I was done with the sloth joke.

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@CapnAndy: I agree with you that ultimately, there’s only so far they can go in terms of looking at the potential downsides of the Federation–they are the protagonists after all, and there’s never going to be a moment where Kirk and company bring down their own government. But pretty much all imperialists believe themselves to be well-meaning, and they all believe they’re genuinely offering a better way of life. That’s the “White Man’s Burden” fallacy in a nutshell. I think you can push the envelope a little, give the villain something of a point beyond simply “I am against the Federation because I am EEEVIL!” And I’m hoping they will.

@Jason: Because real cultures, unlike most of the ones Trek has traditionally portrayed, are not monocultures. You can have a planetary government that says, “Yes, we see the benefits of joining the Federation, please come in and help us become citizens of the galaxy,” while still having a large number of the people on that planet who say, “Hey, look, we’re not willing to join this unless we have a larger voice in deciding the Federation’s path, we really feel like yoking ourselves to this big unwieldy body would be a huge mistake,” and if neither side is willing to budge, suddenly you have a war. And which side does the Federation come down on? What happens when there’s a large, vocal contingent that doesn’t want you there? That’s the kind of thing that never seems to happen in Trek, and maybe it should.

@Sprecher: I think it had a lot to say about the nature of leadership. It foregrounded nicely the reason that Kirk, despite his shortcomings, is the right person to be in charge of the Enterprise, and why Spock needs him and he needs Spock. There’s a lot of good subtext there, I thought, even if the A-plot was pretty much “crazy revenge dude”.

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mygif

If you’re defining what the Federation does as imperialism, you’re diluting the term so much you’ve removed all meaning from it. If you define any political body that seeks to make others a part of it as behaving imperialistically, at that point the term ceases to be useful.

The entire point of Star Trek is that the Federation aren’t imperialists. It’s meant to be an aspirational view of what exploration and discovery can be like if we manage to defeat or at least control our worse demons, rather than being ruled by them!

I keep seeing people making imperialist critiques of the Federation, and it drives me nuts, especially the more extreme ones that just sort of take it for granted that the Federation shows up above resource-rich planets and forcibly dominates them with the threat of orbital bombardment. (I’m not making that up. I’ve met multiple people who really believe that.)

I’m a big believer in engaging with art on its own terms. You might be able to make the case that Star Trek fails at the portrayal of its utopian future, or that deciding to go the full utopia was a big mistake on Roddenberry’s part; I’ve seen both arguments convincingly made. But I don’t think you can make the argument that the Federation is supposed to be some sort of traditional ever-expanding empire, seeking to dominate and control everything around it. It wasn’t written that way. It isn’t written that way. It probably shouldn’t be engaged with that way.

And there’s a line in the trailer that gives me some hope for that–Idris Elba’s villain saying, “This is where the frontier pushes back.”

Taken in isolation, this might be an indication that they’re doing something interesting.

I would humbly submit that the last two movies they made indicate they will do no such thing at all, and the villains will simply be all “Nyah hah, you were stupid enough to venture out into space and now we’re going stick it to you, humans!”

because I could watch a constant loop of Cap and Bucky beating the living shit out of Iron Man for hours and still not get bored. (Um, yeah. Team Cap here.)

I really hope the new movie is more nuanced than the comic event it is drawing inspiration from. Because in the comics Tony was a goddamn supervillain and it was easy to decide to root for Cap.

In the context of the MCU, tho? Especially in a world where Winter Soldier happened and SHIELD is currently assembling a team of superpowered lawbreakers who kidnap and kill people with no sanction or oversight?

Yeah, the Avengers can’t and shouldn’t be just left to do whatever the fuck. They’re currently operating as an unaccountable paramilitary force, you know, the thing that made Cap real angry when SHIELD was doing it, and that’s not bueno.

I’m desperately hoping that the conflict doesn’t boil down to “Steve doesn’t want any pointed-headed bureaucrats telling him what to do and demands that his best buddy be given a complete pass for all those murders, without even an independent psychiatric evaluation. He thinks he should be allowed to go where he wants and hit anyone he cares to with his shield.”

Similarly, I hope Tony’s position is more nuanced than “everybody sign up for our bright new fascist future as draftees in America’s superpowered army.”

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mygif

You can’t dismiss the case for Imperialism entirely. I’ve seen Kirk topple a lot of governments, Prime Directive be damned, and then offer Federation assistance rebuilding society. There is really a lot of quacking in ST:TOS. It only gets a pass because of the repressive natures of those governments. It’s certainly not written to be seen that way, but hindsight often brings a new perspective.

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@John Seavey: It’s entirely possible I’ve forgotten some details, but I didn’t really see 2009 Kirk (Kirk Pine, Kirk Thorsson, etc) as much of a leader. As far as I could see he got to be captain by fiat; Pike arbitrarily promoted him, then Spock Prime insisted he was destined to be captain because he was in another universe, then he got to be captain by exploiting Pike’s arbitrary policies and Spock’s PTSD and sense of duty (Spock relieved himself of command after all)

Incidentally, I love the fact that in that scene Spock beats the shit out of Kirk in front of everyone and Sarek only stops him when Kirk is literally seconds from death.

In the last section then he rescues Pike and distracts the villains by running head-first into their fists, Spock uses the black hole weapon and saves the day.

For the rest of the movie, to me, he comes across as a bit of a tool, maybe the kind of person who could become the original Kirk after several years working his way through the ranks and learning to actually think things through before charging in, but not there yet.

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there were two Jason’s here, I was the first to comment

@John Seavey- there was an episode of TNG, with a planet called Kesprytt with two cultures. The differences in the cultures meant they weren’t willing to bring them in, but considering one side had kidnapped Picard nd Crusher they also weren’t willing to just go away

@Murc- the problem with putting government oversight in the MCU is the amount of corruption we’ve seen in previous MCU movies. Stane selling weapons to terrorists, Loki taking control in Asgard, Hydra in governments, which goes all the way back to the First Avenger

Also, with Bucky being targeted for what he did as the Winter Soldier, I hope at some point Clint offers to turn himself in for what he did under Loki’s control

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mygif

the problem with putting government oversight in the MCU is the amount of corruption we’ve seen in previous MCU movies. Stane selling weapons to terrorists, Loki taking control in Asgard, Hydra in governments, which goes all the way back to the First Avenger

The MCU governments on Earth (Asgard is a different story; I don’t consider Odin’s government to be morally legitimate to begin with) seem no more corrupt than their counterparts in the real world. Also, why bring up Stane? Stane… wasn’t in the government?

But I’m not sure the answer to “democratic governance is problematic and compromised” is “let’s just let the unelected overmen do whatever they want.”

Also, with Bucky being targeted for what he did as the Winter Soldier, I hope at some point Clint offers to turn himself in for what he did under Loki’s control

Here’s the thing, though. Clint, when he snapped out of that, reported back to work at SHIELD. SHIELD at the time was a legitimate security organization with a mandate from elected governments and an oversight body in place. Presumably, he was analyzed by psychiatrists and received a clean bill of health, and various prosecutors in Europe and the States were persuaded not to press charges.

It is not unreasonable to expect Cap to accede to Bucky undergoing a similar check and rehabilitation, rather than expecting the powers that be to simply take his word that the guy with an enormous body count and a whole lot of Hydra hardware strapped to his torso is totally okay now. One imagines, given the implication that Bucky killed his parents (and I hope Steve mentioned that at some point) Tony will be somewhat skeptical of him as well.

Having said that, it’s also reasonable for Cap to expect that some sort of death squad that has no intention of taking Bucky alive and, if they do, will kill him execution style five minutes later not be sent to extrajudicially murder his best friend. That is what the trailers imply, and it is very not cool.

Basically it is going to be really hard needle to thread in this movie for Tony to not come off as a fascist and Cap to not come off as some sort of lawless vigilante. The actual comics arc failed hardcore at threading that needle; it simply shrugged, made Tony a supervillain, and ran with that. Which might be a legitimate choice for the movie, except that there’s been no setup for it and fans of MCU-Iron Man are presumably going to be no more receptive to Tony going full metal tyrant than the fans of his comic equivalent were.

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@Murc: The key hint to me is in the trailer; Bucky says, “I don’t do that anymore,” and Cap says, “Yeah, well, there are a lot of people who think you did.” I think that the story is going to involve Zemo framing Bucky for some sort of crime, probably against Wakanda, on the not-unreasonable grounds that a) who’s really going to believe that the Winter Soldier didn’t do it? and b) what better way to push Cap’s buttons than to set him against the US government? I think Cap will be trying to clear Bucky’s name not of the stuff he did when brainwashed, but of stuff that happened since then.

As to Trek being imperialist…yes, it totally is. It’s benign imperialism, more in line with the Marshall Plan than Teddy Roosevelt, but it’s still unquestionably about bringing everyone into an organization where we (humanity but really the USA) are first among equals, and we make a big show of tolerance and inclusiveness but gosh it sure does look like all the command seats are designed for bipeds. :) It’s as much in the unexamined assumptions as it is in the big statements, and I think a Trek film that really took a good long look at the Federation would have to come to some awkward conclusions at the very least.

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I think that the story is going to involve Zemo framing Bucky for some sort of crime, probably against Wakanda, on the not-unreasonable grounds that a) who’s really going to believe that the Winter Soldier didn’t do it? and b) what better way to push Cap’s buttons than to set him against the US government? I think Cap will be trying to clear Bucky’s name not of the stuff he did when brainwashed, but of stuff that happened since then.

That would actually work very well, I think, because “on the run, trying to clear your name” is a classic trope.

Although it would conveniently manage to avoid engaging with the supposedly larger issues at hand.

As to Trek being imperialist…yes, it totally is. It’s benign imperialism

I… what?

There’s no such thing as benign imperialism. That’s not a thing! Imperialism explicitly requires conquest, dominance, and control. The Federation does none of those things, except inasmuch as it exercises sovereignty over its members as a form of control, but that’s sort of the sine qua non of “being a state.”

it’s still unquestionably about bringing everyone into an organization where we (humanity but really the USA) are first among equals

No. Humanity is explicitly not “first among equals” in the Federation. The Federation is not structured that way, period. Also if you’re going to define “we think our polity is pretty awesome and have issued a standing invitation to any group that shares our values to join it” as imperialistic, well, I mean… that just seems wrong to me.

but gosh it sure does look like all the command seats are designed for bipeds.

… does the Federation have any member species that aren’t bipeds?

It’s as much in the unexamined assumptions as it is in the big statements, and I think a Trek film that really took a good long look at the Federation would have to come to some awkward conclusions at the very least.

This might be appropriate for the reboot universe, which I’m increasingly of the opinion is actually the Mirror Universe that Spock accidentally and inadvertently created.

It wouldn’t be appropriate for the real universe, because the Federation isn’t about that. It’s an aspirational entity! The point of Star Trek isn’t “four hundred years from now we’re still dealing with the same broken-ass system run by jerkwads, only now we’re in space. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” It’s “hey! If we all pull together and work very hard, we actually can build a better world free of the old conflicts and torments that plague us daily!” An imperialist, vaguely racist Federation doesn’t do that.

Example: Deep Space 9, where when they wanted to make the Federation somewhat problematic, they had to do it via an illegal, secret band of criminals operating as rogues (Section 31) precisely because the Federation as a government would never actually sanction that sort of thing, either formally or informally. And that worked, because it presented a universe in which people wanting to do that kind of immoral bullshit are shut from the halls of power and hounded into hiding, and the show is relentless in portraying them as bad people who represent everything the Federation is sworn to shun even as they claim to be its defenders.

What they didn’t do was run plotlines where Section 31 is an actual part of the Federation governance structure and the Federation President and Council are detailing it to do their dirty work while piously presenting a moral face to the rest of the galaxy. That would turn the Federation into just another broken, compromised government, which, again, isn’t what Star Trek is about. Star Trek is about managing to build something better than that.

You can make a very strong argument that the show has often failed at portraying the Federation properly. One of the big examples of that is the weak-ass control it exercised over member planets, who are allowed to perpetrate shocking human rights violations under the color of Federation law and which, in fact, the Federation will help them support. The quintessential example of this is planets that are allowed to banish people for the rest of their lives (of which there are a whole bunch), but you also have planets that are allowed to pull bullshit like “we seize children from their mothers and raise them in rigorously sex-segregated environments until the age of sixteen.”

But that’s a failure of execution, and I don’t think you can equate a failure of execution with a failure of concept, or use it to declare something is something it is not.

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@Murc: The perfect example of what I’m talking about is ‘Devil in the Dark’, from the classic series. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s set on a planet that’s being heavily mined for its rare minerals, but the miners are being attacked by a monster that dissolves them with digestive acids that can eat through solid rock…

But it turns out that it’s just a misunderstood parent protecting its young! Everyone learns how to communicate with it, and the miners learn how to avoid hurting the babies, and it learns how to help the miners mine, and it even joins the Federation! (So yes, non-bipeds.) Hurrah!

Except that this is basically imperialism at work. It seems benign, hence my use of the term “benign imperialism”, because the Federation co-opts resistance instead of crushing it by force, but it nonetheless assumes that the default attitude of indigenous species is “willing co-operation with the exploitation of their own natural resources,” and that the only reason anyone would get upset over that is a silly misunderstanding.

This is the default assumption of the series, that not accepting the priorities and attitudes of the Federation is always due to either misunderstanding or malice, and that there’s never a situation where the Federation’s wishes can be in legitimate conflict with those of another group. It’s fantasy politics, the kind of fantasy politics that only make sense to people who live in an imperialist nation and want to believe that imperialism is ultimately benevolent and done for the advancement of all. Trek is the “White Man’s Burden” fantasy with every single rough edge scraped away, a wonderful dream where nobody but the Bad Guys ever disagree with your values, your priorities or your cultural structure, and you don’t even need to use force to maintain political power because nobody ever disputes anything you say or do. Except the Bad Guys, who are Bad.

You say that’s “aspirational”, I’d call it “delusional”.

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@Murc- Stane wasn’t in the government but he was a man who infiltrated a power structure and used it for his own ends.

The problem isn’t democratic government, but the Avengers wouldn’t be directly controlled by a democracy, they’d be controlled by a bureaucracy a few steps below it.

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@John Seavey- in the episode Mirror Mirror negotiations with the Halkans over mining dilithium failed. They left without doing anything.

That’s why it’s hard for there to be conflict in Trek without the other guys being the aggressors, because when the other guys are peaceful but still want nothing to do with the Feddies they leave

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@John Seavey: It’s a universe where reasonable people can cooperate for their mutual benefit. Highly idealistic, but calling it imperialism is nonsensical.

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Cryptomancer said on December 24th, 2015 at 1:16 am

In my opinion, *everyone* here is right: As already noted, the Federation was intended to an aspirational organization, but Roddenberry’s idea of utopia was definitely a product of the 1950s United States’ vision of a perfect world. (Also, I would compare it more directly to Wilson’s Fourteen Points rather than Teddy Roosevelt, but that’s splitting hairs.)

Consequently, one of the core ideas Star Trek is that there are universal values all societies should aspire to (naturally, values derived from American values), and therefore in-Universe this leads to the Federation acting as though their principles are superior to that “more primitive” societies, and not allowing other political entities to join the Federation until they “corrected” their values accordingly. (Interestingly, the first two seasons of TNG were far more egregious in unwittingly depicting the cultural arrogance of the Federation and their “White Man’s Burden” mentality than TOS ever was.)

DS9 attempted to deconstruct the Federation and Roddenberry’s idea of utopia, and part of that process was calling a spade a spade, and acknowledged the Federation’s cultural chauvinism and their belief that deep-down, everyone wanted to have the same values as the Federation.

Follow-Up Questions – I ask these in all seriousness, because I’d really like a compelling answer: Are there universal values everyone should live up to? Is it a form of cultural chauvinism or even imperialism to insist that other cultures change their behavior when that behavior includes what our culture considers to be human rights violations, such as religious persecution and the treatment of women as property, etc.?

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@Cryptomancer: I don’t see that anybody would admit other groups into their political organization if they weren’t going to fit in with its basic principles. That’s just a recipe for trouble.

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To any space-faring post-scarcity societies that might be listening in on this conversation: I absolutely invite you to impose Federation-style imperialism on me.

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mygif

Realization: Didn’t the first new Trek movie use “Sabotage”? And wouldn’t “Intergalactic” have been more appropriate to use as background music?

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@Jason (No, the other Jason):

1: Yes,the 2009 ST reboot used Sabotage during Kirk’s scene with the car and the cliff.

2: Yes, Intergalactic would have been more appropriate, but they already had the rights to use Sabotage, and I guess they either didn’t succeed in gaining the rights to Intergalactic, or they just didn’t bother trying.

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mygif

On the subject of cultural imperialism, what are all the Federation ships named after? Things from Earth history. Where are the Vulcan-named ships, or the Andorian-named ships, or anyone else?

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mygif

“Where are the Vulcan-named ships”

Perhaps the fact that Vulcan is named after a Roman God should help you figure out the answer.

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It’s funny how many people work out that the Federation has a homocentric bias and believe this is some incredible insight when it was actually brought up in Star Trek 6, which is more than 20 years old and is a Star Trek movie.

Also: coating 90% of your extras in three inches of latex is expensive and it’s just easier to reference real people, places and myths than to try and come up with unpronounceable alien names every time you need to name drop a ship in the background, it makes it immediately obvious who is part of which fleet.

Finally: how many Andorians do you think wrote in to complain that they weren’t being represented? I am going to say very few, certainly no more than 100.

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Daniel Coyle said on December 31st, 2015 at 10:27 am

Writing off Star Trek as just “imperialism” depresses the fuck out of me. God forbid any sci-fi project in 2016 be imbued with anything other than darkness or self-loathing.

Of course, the film is written by Wee Hughie, so fuck that.

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When Nimoy died, I rented some ST:TOS dvds to watch. I was a little surprised at how often the plots were driven by rogue Star Fleet captains. I don’t know how Star Fleet selected senior management but clearly the system needed tweaking.

And it didn’t really get better in ST:NG, because I seem to recall in the episode where Worf shut down some climate controls as philosophically offensive to him and it turned to be a really stupid thing for him to have done, Star Fleet just turned a blind eye…

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