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Star Trek and History: Race-ing toward a…

Star Trek and History: Race-ing toward a White Future

by Daniel Leonard Bernardi

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In Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future, Daniel Leonard Bernardi argues, “The world of Star Trek and its spin-offs…is both implicitly and explicitly about the meaning of race: about integrated casts and crew; about anthropomorphic aliens and intergalactic half-breeds; about the discovery and exploration of extraterrestrial worlds and cultures; about space colonies, colonizers, and dissident movements; about a utopian Earth where there is no poverty, no crime, and…no racial discrimination” (pg. 3). Bernardi examines the Star Trek franchise as a single mega-text, spanning multiple decades. Bernardi defines race as “a multifaceted, omnipresent but utterly historical category of meanings: meanings informed by and informing social organization, political struggle, economic viability, cultural traditions, and identity” (pg. 15). He limits his focus to the original series, feature films, The Next Generation, and fan culture as both Deep Space Nine and Voyager were still airing at the time of writing. Bernardi draws upon the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin and Antonio Gramsci in his analysis.
Bernardi argues that the showrunners of the original series attempted to infuse the show with a liberal-humanist framework. He concludes, “The paradox of Star Trek is that, despite or because of its liberal humanism, it supports a universe where whites are morally, politically, and innately superior, and both colored humans and colored aliens are either servants, threats, or objects of exotic desire” (pg. 68). In looking at the feature films, Bernardi primarily focuses on the starships Enterprise that appear in them. He argues, “The Enterprise is a specularized figure of a particular kind: a chronotope, or what literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, loosely borrowing from Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, recognizes as the ‘intrinsic connectedness’ of space and time” (pg. 72). As a white, feminized object, the Enterprise offers the opportunity for gender and race analysis, particularly in contrast with alien ships. Of The Next Generation, Bernardi argues that the late 1980s and early 1990s’ dominant “discourses make up a neoconservative montage, particularly a future-time that capitulates to multiculturalism while continuing with Trek’s tradition of securing – perpetuating and naturalizing – the superiority of whiteness” (pg. 112). Further, he argues, “The science fiction spinoff capitulates to a utopian future where ‘race’ is determined by biology, miscegenation is still a taboo, and difference is either whitewashed or exaggerated and punished” (pg. 117). Bernardi argues of the fandom, “Trekkers often engage in heated debates about the racial politics of everything from casting to the representations of alien civilizations. In such instances, historicity is not weakened, but elaborated upon, contextualized – made meaningful – in the everyday lives of real people” (pg. 143). This process demonstrates how those who consume culture shape its meanings just as much as those who produce it. Bernardi concludes, “If…we see whiteness as a sociocultural formation, a historical system of meaning production, that works to privilege some of us as the expense of Others – that steers the racial formation – then we have a chance to challenge its intense veracity and dogged versatility” (pg. 181). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Sep 29, 2017 |
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