Enterprise & inappropriate aliens19/06/2011
As a fitting introduction to this blog, I’d like to make a complaint. For a long time I ignored the existence of the most recent Star Trek; Enterprise – unimpressed with the syrupy credits in the few episodes I’d watched.
Boredom got the better of me, so I rescinded my embargo on the series. After watching the first season with an often perplexed look on my face, I came to realise they were (somewhat logically, given it’s a prequel) trying to capture the feel of the original series. From the cowboy Captain – often found having flirtations with the attractive aliens and being artfully tortured by the bad ones – to the vaguely racist comments about the appearance of some of the species they encounter; it certainly does hark back to an earlier time.
You could make the argument that if the original series represents the early days of space faring humanity, then the humans serving on the Enterprise should be a reflection of that. Fair enough. I’d argue in return that there is often a large difference between intended narrative, and unintended reflections on the creators of a piece of media. In particular, I’d say the fairly crass manipulation of T’Pol throughout the first season is the latter.
her job as science officer seems totally superfluous to the functioning of the ship
On first glance it would seem that having a woman undertake the role of a Vulcan is a fairly progressive thing to do – it does require her to be logical, unemotional and hold a strong cultural identity. It doesn’t require that she be wearing a skintight catsuit (I’m sure there wasn’t one in Spock’s wardrobe), or that she be repeatedly harassed by other characters in the show.
In “The Andorian Incident” we see the first in a fairly disturbing pattern of sexual references to T’Pol. The crew is taken captive by the Andorians, one of them oozing up to her, using “Vulcan’s exotic mating rituals” to make his proposition. This happens again, in another captive situation with the Ferenghi, where one of the aliens becomes fascinated with her exotic beauty. We are also made privy to Malcolm Reed’s fairly odd sexual fantasies about her as he apparently waits for death in “Shuttlepod 1”. At one point another Vulcan forces a mind meld onto her, probing her most personal (and sexual) thoughts. All this, in just the first season.
T’Pol seems to lack any true agency of her own – her job as science officer seems totally superfluous to the functioning of the ship, mostly requiring her to regurgitate the contents of the Vulcan database. Notably, she is the only character who does not have an episode in the first season that focuses on her career skills – Trip has engineering challenges, Malcolm faces security issues, even over emotional Hoshi struggles valiantly to quickly decode languages in crisis situations.
I feel strongly that Enterprise does Star Trek as a whole a terrible disservice.
While often being outspoken, T’Pol is ultimately passed between Vulcan High Command and Captain Archer, developing a personal relationship with the latter. Although this relationship is mutual, her lack of actual purpose on board seems to leave her as not much more than a foil for Archer.
I may have a desperately naive recollection of previous Star Trek series, but my overarching impression were that the sexual overtones were almost always mutual. Even 7 of 9, who was blatantly incorporated into Voyager primarily as eye candy, didn’t suffer the constant indignities of being a Vulcan women at the time of Enterprise.
I feel strongly that Enterprise does Star Trek as a whole a terrible disservice. Even in the days of Kirk, while you couldn’t exactly call the show feminist, it made powerful ripples in the youthful world of media and did it’s part to move representation towards equality. 40 years later and our idea of positive female representation is paying lip service to the concept of a self assured woman. As long as she’s in skin tight clothing, that is.
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