USA! USA! USA!
Aw hell, here we go…Star Trek has always been political, so no need to shy away from discussing politics here. Did you watch President Joe Biden’s April 28, 2021 address to Congress? I hope you did because this speech felt like we might be on the precipice of a cultural shift. There was direct discussion of the need for reform and progress on human rights, racial justice, gender equity, LGBTQ protections, universal safety net programs for families, violence against women, migration, and gun safety. This past year woke all of us up that living lives of quiet desperation is an inadequate existence and that we have to help one another. More importantly, the past year has shown that government, by and for the people, has a role to play in remediating so many of these issues. It was a truly remarkable speech. I am cautiously optimistic that we may make significant progress on these issues in the next few years.
In the Star Trek context, perhaps the best episode that we can look to is DS9’s Past Tense. In the episode, Sisko, Bashir, and Jadzia beam down to San Francisco to attend a Starfleet conference, but a transporter malfunction has them ending up on Earth in 2024, 300 years in the past. See where I’m going? Things are bad. Earth is shown to have all the crimes of desperation, frequent petty crime, riots, and massive camps for people experiencing homelessness called Sanctuary Districts. Sisko and Bashir were shuttled into one Sanctuary District where they saw poverty unlike anything they had ever seen or heard of outside of the history books. Just for being homeless, poor, mentally ill and/or undocumented, they were treated like criminals. Sounds familiar, right?
“By the early 2020s, there was a place like this in every major city in the United States.“Sisko and Bashir
“Why are these people in here? Are they criminals?“
“No, people with criminal records weren’t allowed in the Sanctuary Districts.“
“Then what did they do to deserve this?“
“Nothing. They’re just people without jobs or places to live.“
“So they get put in here?“
“Welcome to the 21st Century, Doctor.”
Sure enough, there has been an overcrowded skid row/tent city/homeless encampment in every major city in the United States. After years of decline, homelessness was on the rise before the pandemic, but was surely exacerbated by the rampant job loss related to the economic disruption. Sanctuary Districts were developed at some point to warehouse people and keep them out of sight. Notably, even the well-meaning social worker attempting to help Sisko and Bashir uses derogatory terms to refer to them. In retrospect, it is a particularly poignant moment because she is a Black woman acting as a benevolent gatekeeper, emblematic of the systemic -isms that can be so insidious, hard to identify, and hard to change. She even tells them to watch out for District Security, so it appears police brutality was a thing there too. She has the smug confidence that comes with thinking she’s helping, but not the recognition that she is actually part of the problem.
“There’s no need for him to live like that…
“It’s not that they don’t give a damn, they’ve just given up. The social problems they face seem too enormous to deal with.”Sisko to Bashir
“Causing people to suffer because you hate them is terrible, but causing people to suffer because you have forgotten how to care–that’s really hard to understand.“
“They’ll remember. It will take some time and it won’t be easy, but, eventually, people in this century will remember how to care.”Sisko and Bashir
There is an old saying that things are darkest before the Dawn. The 2020s have been pretty dark so far, in real life and the Star Trek Universe. How Star Trek writers could have predicted things are happening now with such precision is pretty eerie; this episode aired 26 years ago. It’s so on the nose. I haven’t even mentioned the unique and subtle demonstration of racism in the episode. Jadzia, a white-passing actual alien, is given aid and treated like the toast of society while Sisko and Bashir, two black and brown American citizens, are treated immediately like criminals. That could be a whole post in itself.
I don’t have to recount all of the terrible things that have happened in the past few years. Our democracy has been tested, voting rights being challenged, unimaginable economic insecurity, immigrant children in cages, and widespread disease and rationing of access to healthcare. And most relevant to this episode, mass riots because people have been isolated to the point that they feel they have no other choice than to overturn the system violently. Again, sounds familiar?
So, are you feeling optimistic after the speech? If you find comfort in the post-scarcity ideas idealized in Star Trek, let’s work towards it. Seems like we’ve got momentum.
P.S. This might be my new favorite DS9 episode. I didn’t appreciate it until now.
You know how sometimes you eat until you’re full, yet you’re still craving that something missing? That’s how I felt about the finale of Falcon and The Winter Soldier. This series was an origin story to ease us into seeing The Falcon, a black man, as the new Captain America. Falcon tried to walk away from the mantle after it was thrust upon him by Steve Rogers. In the process of the buddy cop redemption of Bucky, Sam Wilson came to learn the background behind the super soldier serum and wrestled with what was needed from him in the post-Blip era. In the end, he stepped up to the shield and accepted the conflict-filled idea of a black man carrying it.
The writers tried to do a lot– address racial justice, resettlement, wealth inequality, mental health, atonement, and the use and maltreatment of the military in six episodes. The finale ended up feeling rushed and anemic. Overall, I would give it an 7.5/10. But, seeing Isaiah Bradley properly honored for the injustices done to him makes up for any deficiencies in the rest of the story. It was almost cathartic to see him no longer be denied and in the shadows. Can we please get a a one-shot of the fight between Isaiah Bradley and Bucky? Please.
Seeing how many racists went running on the internet during every episode of this show, this miniseries was as much to make the fans comfortable with Sam as Captain America as anything else Marvel hoped to accomplish. Perhaps in Phase 4 of the MCU, we will not have to deal with people complaining about how they just can’t see anyone other than Steve Rogers as Captain America.
The series also set up the Young Avengers and, perhaps, the Thunderbolts. We’ll see if they show up in Phase 4. It clearly set up John Walker as US Agent, so we can expect to see him again. But, what about the other Flag Smashers? Are we sure Karli Morgenthau is dead? And, what of the Flag Smasher in the river at the end? Seems like that could be the start of the next Captain America movie.
Sam read the GRU’s leadership for filth for not questioning why the Flag Smashers had gained so much sympathy around the world. Given climate change, food and water insecurity, and growing wealth inequality, we all need to be giving thought to what the world looks like when borders and existing power structures are challenged. Can we be “One World, One People”, or are those only the musings of a misguided teenager?
As I said before, Marvel did well with this series. The whole Flag Smashers plot both took up too much bandwidth yet was inadequately serviced, but this was more about Sam’s journey. Though there was a lot of build up to Sharon as Power Broker, she felt pointless in the end. I just don’t buy her as a morally gray character. Aunt Peggy would be so disappointed. But, yo, she can fight and I am excited to see more of her and of Madripoor. Speaking of Madripoor, why does Marvel seem to have a singular view of Asian cultures??? Do they all have to be cyberpunk speedruns? The scenes in Black Panther wasn’t the best and neither were those in Madripoor. The only series that hasn’t had a ton of complaints was Daredevil and I am not even sure that I just didn’t see them. I am holding out a bit of hope that they do better with Shang-chi and The Ten Rings. I hope Marvel is listening to the fans.
One of my most visited posts is about the origins of the idiom “Kirk Out”. These days, it generally means extreme, maniacal anger, but perhaps it didn’t start out that way. A user named Raoul graced my page and left a comment stating that Bootsy Collins had said it on his song “Ah… The Name is Bootsy, Baby!” The album came out in 1977 and reached number one on Billboard’s Top RnB/Soul albums chart. Shout out to Raoul for hyping me to this! He posited that Kirk Out may have just meant to end a phone call. Given how Captain Kirk used it, this is entirely plausible! Is this the answer for how it entered AAVE (African American Vernacular English)?
Bootsy has been on the afrofuturist tip forever, so it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he is a Trekkie (and one of the best bassists to ever do it.) Much love to Bootsy! I probably need to a post about the entire Funkadelic era at some point. Listen for yourselves below: