Sunday, August 13, 2006

Fascism vs. Freedom in Sci-Fi

President Bush's long overdue condemnation of "Islamic fascists" and the ensuing outcry from predictable quarters inspired a little research about the true definition and essential tenets of fascism. Well, no surprise, Bush's characterization is absolutely correct.

Now, imagine my surprise, when in the course of this search, a discussion of the fascist ideology of Star Trek was produced. If this sounds crazy to those of you familiar with the Next Generation series, think back.
  • There is no money in the 23rd century, no commerce except for that of the shifty and amoral Ferengi. Virtually all material needs and wants are satisfied. Utopia.
  • With everything in abundance and commerce a thing of the past, the only commodity is power. The defining quality of the Federation is militarism. The good guys are the ones with centralized power and very long arms across the galaxy.
  • No religion in any earthly form at all. The future contains no Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, etc. Earth is apparently represented by a universal and monolithic value system, with no belief in the supernatural. Belief in God is depicted as rustic and anti-intellectual.
Anti-capitalism, utopianism, militarism, atheism. There's no escaping it, Star Trek has the hallmarks of the fascist ideology.

The essayist goes on to offer up the ill-fated series Firefly as an antidote to the fascism of Star Trek. Consider:
  • Commerce still exists. It is not amoral, but necessary for survival, even in the future. No utopia here.
  • The bad guys are government, the ones with centralized power and long arms. The good guys are the rag-tag independent crew of a tiny ship, often at odds with government forces.
  • There are elements of religion (Christianity) in the series.
You get the idea, but read the whole thing.

Naturally, I'm a fan of Firefly. But even with this realization about the nature of Star Trek, I'll remain a big fan of the series. It has some original ideas, likeable characters, loyalty and commaraderie, and, well, who wouldn't want to think that the day might come when mankind has moved into space, and nobody ever starves or lives in squalor? (It's interesting that the Star Trek writers never delve into how this miracle occurs. As with most Utopists, they have the result in mind, but no clue how to achieve it.) But Star Trek is mostly escapism for me. It portrays an appealing fantasy future, something I dreamed about as a kid, that looks exciting and full of adventure, but with a detached sense of risk and danger -- almost a sense of immortality. (Sure, scores of red-shirted Starfleet security dudes have perished to further the action, but nobody worth knowing ever dies.) Watching Firefly, on the other hand, feels like a dose of reality. Danger and loss abound -- much to my everlasting sorrow, two excellent characters were killed off in the movie, and since neither of their corpses were jettisoned to the Genesis planet, that is, as they say, that.

I think that fascism versus freedom in science fiction can also be characterized as future-fantasy versus future-reality. What we want, that which makes us comfortable and secure, versus what we're actually faced with, which is often difficult and scary. If you're not sure of this assessment, watch Trekkies and consider the typical Star Trek geek. I wonder how many of them are Firefly fans.


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