JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

Star Trek Enterprise cast of characters:

Captain Jonathan Archer speaks with conservative rhetoric, is zenophobic and especially hates Vulcans, and mistrusts women in command.

First mate T'Pol is part Vulcan and part human. Archer mistrusts her, and she is sometimes shown as a drug addict and adulteress.

Now the Vulcans are craven, deceitful, profoundly ungenerous, the enemy of humanity. In contrast, previous versions of Trek regularly encountered otherness and embraced it. Spock was a Vulcan and as played by Leonard Nimoy, he was a metaphor for racial Otherness, specifically for Jewishness in patriarchal white male, Christian culture.

Commander Charles “Trip” Tucker III, the Chief Engineer, is a conventional Southern good ol’ boy and provincial, xenophobic, and crass.

Ensign Hoshi Sato is an Asian-American linguist and the Communications officer. She's fearful and generally ineffectual in any terms other than the linguistic aspects of her job.

Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, security officer, is British. It is revealed in the last season that he works for a shadow conspiracy group, suggesting the untrustworthiness of foreigners.

Phlox, the chief medical officer, intriguingly comes from a species with highly unusual polyamorous mating customs.

Credit sequence of Star Trek Enterprise

Enterprise is about early Starfleet missions, the spacefaring military division of the United Federation of Planets, but the series is pointedly set before the establishment of the Federation. The credit sequence presents images of colonization, beginning with Earth.

Early history of world domination.

Images of progress fuse whitness, a technological ideal, and U.S. heroics.

 

In this series, Star Trek is reconceptualized as a globalization fantasy.

 

The twilight of identity:
Enterprise,
neoconservatism, and
the death of Star Trek

by David Greven

Enterprise, the sixth Star Trek television series, aired its first episode, “Broken Bow,” on September 26, 2001, the same year in which George W. Bush, the nation’s forty-third president, was sworn into office and fifteen days after the United States’ suffered its deadliest attack on domestic soil. Enterprise was cancelled by UPN in the Spring of 2005, making it the shortest lived live-action Trek series since the first (Star Trek: The Original Series, or Classic Trek, ran three seasons, but The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all ran seven years apiece). The loyal Trek audience and curious new viewers, both of whom quickly dwindled after very impressive initial numbers, turned away from the series in droves. Numerous and varied discussions were conducted — by the media, Trek fans, and general science-fiction audiences — over the reasons for the show’s untimely demise, considered metonymic of the end of Star Trek as a mega-franchise.

Since its reincarnation in the late 1970s with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Trek was a sci-fi cultural phenomenon rivaled only by Star Wars — although in recent years it was also given a serious run for its futuristic money by such shows as Stargate and the new version of Battlestar Galactica. The common explanation given now for Trek's shrunken fortunes is that it is simply a victim of its own extravagant success, and that after so many years of overexposure, fan exhaustion with the franchise inevitably resulted in the decline in viewership. In a desperate attempt to reinvigorate the franchise, Paramount is creating a new feature film that goes back to the glory days of the original series and Kirk and Spock.

Countervailing against this particular explanation for the Death of Trek, I argue that the franchise has suffered because it replaced its progressive humanist values with a broad reactionary agenda, as evinced by Enterprise. Enterprise was a neoconservative re-imagining of Trek that not only “corrected” the politically correct stances of the previous recent Trek shows but even retooled the concepts of Classic Trek to refashion Trek in its entirety as a monolithically conservative vision, a fictive universe opposed to diversity and tolerance. Making Trek’s masculinist biases explicit themes rather than meta-textual, Enterprise, in its four-year run, manifested itself as one of the most misogynistic and racist science-fiction shows in television history. Examining some key Enterprise episodes, this essay exposes the ideological sensibility of Enterprise and argues that it was the show’s neoconservative agenda that facilitated the seeming “death” of Trek.[1][open endnotes in new window] Like HBO’s Western Deadwood, Enterprise is a reactionary revisionist work, a neoconservative fantasy of a return to a time before progressive, politically correct new values ruined things for everybody and policed the expression of good, salty, enjoyable, essentialist, racist and sexist views.

Discussing the revisionist Westerns of the New Hollywood cinema of the 1970s, J. Hoberman writes,

"The most overtly ideological of revisionist Westerns addressed the subject of the Indian wars [in the United States]. In their open identification with Native Americans, such movies were the equivalent of marching for peace beneath a Viet Cong flag. Hollywood contra Hollywood: Cavalry Westerns [such as Little Big Man] were in production when My Lai was exposed, and the revelation of American atrocities only reinforced the argument that the slaughter of Native Americans was the essence of the white man’s war."[2]

If, as Robin Wood writes, we can “already look back to Hollywood in the 70s as the period when the dominant ideology almost disintegrated,” it is far more dubious that the same will be said of our own moment, if television shows such as Deadwood and Enterprise are any indication.[3] What makes revisionist Westerns such as Deadwood and Enterprise distinct from 70s versions is their ideological character. In the 70s, revisionism allowed moviemakers to recast conventional genres such as the Western as allegories dealing with the perniciousness of modern political regimes.

Today, revisionism does not function as allegory but as political wish-fulfillment, the longing to return to a mythical time of bluntly uncomplicated values in which clear divisions between good and evil — so goes the myth — were clearly drawn. Key programs involved in this current reactionary revisionist project include: the re-traditionalization of women, checking the progress of feminism and punishing the ambitious, autonomous woman by reincorporating her into properly normative gendered roles and spaces; the checking, stalling, and ultimate eradication of civil rights movements of all kinds; the foreclosure of movements to end racial, gendered, sexual, class, and other forms of oppression; and the new consolidation of a coherent national identity.

Enterprise, which goes back to Classic Trek’s roots as “Wagon Train to the Stars,” fits in seamlessly with the projects of reactionary revisionism. It’s Wagon Train to the Stars without all of that 60s liberalism that accompanied Classic Trek. The difficulty for Enterprise, however, is that it still retains Trek’s core liberal values — values hardly mass-affirmed in our own neoconservative moment. Thus Enterprise’s struggle over overwriting the Trekkian text while still maintaining its character make it a fascinating and disturbing text all its own.

Emerging in the weeks after the devastation of September 11th, Enterprise shirked Star Trek's promise and responsibility. To use Robin Wood’s term, it “papered the cracks” of American ideology, covering up the fissures in our ever-evolving culture with a racist and sexist program of reaction and retribution.[4] “Gene’s Vision” — as the philosophy of Gene Roddenberry, Trek’s creator, is often called — has often, and very often rightly, been attacked for its unfailing and uncritical support of “humanism,” a world-view with obvious deficiencies.

Yet Star Trek could also disquiet, disturb, and deconstruct. Its episodes repeatedly challenged unblinking submission to authority, whether that authority was political, economic, social, or religious. Star Trek stood for diversity, pluralism, tolerance, non-conformity, and individualism when these traits were not necessarily considered virtues by the masses. Star Trek represented rebellion against authoritarianism, rejection of ethnocentrism, and resistance to the status quo. In thinly veiled parables the series addressed diverse issues such as war, slavery, drug abuse, overpopulation, dehumanization, bigotry, ecology, and the misuse of power.[5]

Enterprise shows us a vision of humanity devoid of those very values, values perhaps naive but also stirring and potentially viable.

Operation Restore America

Racism, sexism, and heterosexism, as Daniel Leonard Bernardi has shown, all work in tandem in the neoconservative moment to “roll back” the political gains of 1960s liberalism, namely in the fields of civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights.[6] Bernardi associates Trekkian neoconservatism with the The Next Generation, but Enterprise is the first Trek series openly to represent a break with Trek’s core liberal values.[7]

Neoconservatism is associated by many with the current regime of Republican power and its devotion to the philosophy of Leo Strauss. Yet it is most properly understood as part of the curious aftermath of 60s liberalism and as a phenomenon that began in the Democratic party. As James Mann describes it,

"The neoconservative movement that arose within the Democratic party was made up of intellectuals, scholars, and party stalwarts who had originally been strong supporters of the party’s New Deal traditions, [survivors of the Depression]. …. In the late 1960s and 1970s these Democrats grew increasingly unhappy with the party’s drift toward the political left. They were uneasy with Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty program; they were then enraged when Democratic leaders embraced many of the causes of the youth counterculture of the 1960s, including opposition to the Vietnam War and support for affirmative action. …. [Neoconservatives all] believed in the importance of American power; all hoped to revive the assertive, internationalist traditions under which the Roosevelt and Truman administrations had fought World War II and the cold war."[8]

The history of neoconservatism is far too intricate to be elaborated upon here, but for our purposes the most relevant aspect of the neoconservative movement is that it originated as a rejection of liberal values from a liberal base.

Jonathan Schaub’s study of Cold War literary criticism offers some useful insights into the cultural atmosphere that would produce such a decisive and powerful shift in what Schaub calls the “liberal narrative” guiding postwar thought. For left-to-liberal intellectuals from the thirties, the knowledge of the atrocities being committed in Stalinist Russia was an especially shattering “reality-check.” Gradually but unmistakably, the tone of liberal thought underwent a radical change or reversal.

By the time he was writing his 1948 study of the work of Herman Melville, Richard Chase could speak of the ways in which Melville spoke to the “new liberalism,” the vanguard of which Chase occupied.[9] Bad, “old” liberalism was facile, unimaginative, wavering in its rejection of totalitarianism. The new liberalism, on the other hand, was bracingly new: unequivocally opposed to totalitarianism and the fuller, broader account of human motives it provided; determined to speak of “progress,” “history,” and “the liberation of the masses” with

“the kind of irony that recognized that these ideas could be realized, if at all, with only partial success.”

Schaub convincingly argues that the liberal narrative treated political issues with a moral ahistoricism. Because conservative dogma seemed confirmed by the recent war, left-to-liberal intellectuals scrambled, in essay after essay, to explain recent history as a lesson in innocence and naiveté, in heated opposition to the “unalloyed” liberalism that coursed through U.S. culture, leaving a “dangerous innocence” in its wake. “This habitual and dangerous innocence” was thought to plague American political life, leaving it “insufficiently complicated and disciplined by an opposing conservatism.”[10]

Unlike 60s Trek, only Americans are here idealized in spacefaring. In the credits, the U.S. takes off ...
... on a trajectory that combines science and conquest. The history presented shows the U.S. as owning space ....
... first colonizing Mars. As technology advances ...
... the warp drive is creatred ... ... letting Enterprise make its way through the galaxy.

Enterprise appears to be a Trek series for those who felt Trek had undergone an appallingly “sensitive” makeover in its incarnations of the late-80s and 1990s. The most recent Trek series after the first spin-off, The Next Generation, featured, respectively, an African-American and a female captain in the lead. Enterprise set about to restore the Trekkian status quo with a white male captain who, especially in the first two seasons of the series, spouted xenophobic rhetoric and seemed far more uncomfortable with women in command than Captain Kirk ever did in the Classic Trek of the 60s. Indeed, Enterprise’s captain, Jonathan Archer, expressed the same discomfort with strong women espoused not by Captain Kirk but by the Captain whom Kirk replaced in the first Trek pilot episode, “The Cage.”

In D. H. Lawrence’s famous description, the now-mythic character of Natty Bumppo in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales — the series of novels that features The Last of the Mohicans — incarnates “the true myth of America”: to “go backwards, from old age to golden youth.”[11] One could apply this description to the project of reactionary revisionism generally and Enterprise specifically. Enterprise represents a neoconservative fantasy of a return to a strong, noble, secure United States of tough liberalism, properly assigned social and gendered roles, all organized around traditional white masculinist values.

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