|Hazelnut - 2021-02-23 |
Harlan Ellison once offered a critique in his trademark diplomatic style: "Roddenberry may have been a big-deal progressive, but I never heard of him giving a dime to the civil rights movement. Now I don’t know what his personal attitude was, ’cause he was always talking about the perfectibility of mankind — which is bullshit — and talking about equality, but it was a very awkward kind of liberalism, as evidenced by that stupid episode where people are painted half white and half black — the kind of heavy-handed, wannabe liberal thing that embarrasses anyone who has true feelings about racism."
Which sounds about right to me. Because the main thing about the Civil Rights Movement is the two sides were NOT equivalent. There was one side perpetuating an atrocious status quo and one side with the courage to challenge it. Presenting them as two equally-culpable sides of the same coin is wrong and offensive.
And yet, for all the false equivalence, the cheesiness, the cringe, I do think they hit one right note. A civilization that never learns to give up its ethnic hatreds is probably not a civilization that survives.
Two Jar Slave
According to Memory Alpha, Roddenberry didn't write this one; it was Gene L. Coon under a pen name. Also, it was originally gonna be an angel and a devil, but the director changed it on the day to half-black-half-white. Too bad we didn't get to see Frank Gorshin dressers as cupid, but it was probably better this way. That's not to say Ellison's critique of Roddenberry and Star Trek is all wrong, but it's a bit silly to use an episode he didn't contribute to as evidence for his milquetoast centrism. If nothing else, Ellison's right that Star Trek's most fantastical element isn't the alien life or the warp drive -- it's that social programming could ever eliminate people's greed, ambition, and cruelty.
If you don't interpret the half-black/half-white thing as a racial comment but about an equally-superficial distinction (capitalist elites controlling a huge empire vs socialist elites controlling a huge empire) then it works better.
I mean how literally are you taking these metaphors? The Civil Rights Movement and the KKK didn't have nuclear bombs.
Star Trek always did/does this with mixed metaphors that don't 100% line up with current human categories. This is why you get the people convinced that Ferengi are just "Space Jews" missing the more-relevant comparison of greed-is-good libertarians. Same with people who insist that the Klingons are Soviets (maybe in Star Trek VI but not obviously in the rest of the series) and Romulans are Chinese. Those comparisons can be made, but you gotta realize that they don't match up to our world - the same is true here, the black/white thing can be interpreted as racial but it doesn't work for the whole episode.
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