Thursday, April 30, 2015

Good vs. Evil on STAR TREK

I've been watching the third season of the original STAR TREK, which includes many of the weakest episodes and also a few that have intriguing ideas combined with cringe-making lapses. "The Cloud Minders" isn't bad, but when Spock solemnly flirts with the cloud city ruler's daughter, she mentions the seven-year mating cycle as if it were common knowledge. "Amok Time" (second season) makes it clear that not only is pon farr kept secret from other species, the Vulcans don't even discuss it among themselves. We might assume that after the near-disaster with Spock, the Starfleet medical department might have been informed of the risks involved in sending Vulcan crew members on long voyages, but surely the topic wouldn't have been made public. "Turnabout Intruder" has the fascinating premise that a woman who envies Kirk's command position switches bodies with him. But when the female antagonist in Kirk's body spews out her anger over her failed career, Kirk makes no attempt to deny that her gender, rather than her unstable personality, kept her from commanding a starship. And how do the other officers, who don't share Spock's mind meld ability, become convinced of the false Captain's identity? Because "he" throws tantrums and hysterical fits!

I've just re-watched "The Savage Curtain," wherein a Sufficiently Advanced Alien (in TVTropes terminology) kidnaps Kirk and Spock in order to make them participate in a contest to determine which of their culture's "philosophies of Good and Evil" is superior. The first problem with this episode is the infuriating notion that Evil is a "philosophy." It isn't, except in the works of outliers such as the Marquis de Sade, whose characters really do boast of committing evil deeds as a matter of principle. As C. S. Lewis mentions in the intro to reprint editions of THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, in real life people (and presumably demons, as in his book) commit villainous acts for pleasure, revenge, profit, or some other pragmatic motive, not in disinterested service to an abstraction called "Evil." Another weakness of "The Savage Curtain," as the alien points out after Kirk and Spock destroy their foes, is that "Good" and "Evil" use the same methods (aside from Surak, who refuses to commit violence). Kirk replies with the accurate rebuttal that the alien dictated the conditions of the contest.

Furthermore, the choice of characters to represent the evil side is rather disappointing. Kirk and Spock have Abraham Lincoln and the great Vulcan philosopher Surak as their allies on the "good" side. Of the four proponents of "evil," three are ad-hoc fictional characters never mentioned in the series before. The only villain from Earth's history is Ghengis Khan. The ultimate incarnation of Evil from all of humanity? Hardly. (According to Wikipedia, he was vilified for his brutality, but he also had some positive accomplishments.) Even if the writers wanted to avoid recent history and the obvious choices, Hitler and Stalin, they could surely have picked a better representative of human evil. How about Nero or Caligula? Vlad the Impaler? Elisabeth Bathory? Gilles de Rais?

Which two or three historical figures (from among powerful persons like those in the TV episode, not mad loner serial killers) would you pick to represent human "Evil"?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


  1. > evil

    Pol Pot, dictator of Cambodia, who exterminated a sizeable portion of his own population with his "Year Zero Plan."

    Wilhelm II, Emperor of Germany, who started a war that crashed much of human civilization. Because he felt his cousins didn't give him the respect he felt he deserved.

    George C. Marshall, "General of the Army." By comparison to the first two his evil was small, but the very senselessness of it makes it even more evil.

    When General Wainwright's force was trapped by the Japanese at Bataan, Marshall told him that reinforcements were on the way. As the days went by, Marshall kept telling Wainwright to hold on. Eventually Wainwright's men ran out of ammunition and they were captured by the Japanese. That was the famous "Bataan Death March."

    Marshall had never sent any supplies or reinforcements. He just repeatedly lied to Wainwright. His actions had no strategic, tactical, or propaganda value.

    Find a copy of the famous picture of the surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri. There's MacArthur sitting at his desk with the Japanese party standing before him. Behind MacArthur there are two skinny guys standing there as "witnesses to the proceedings." One of them is Wainwright, who had been yanked out of a liberated prison camp, hosed off, and flown to the ship in time for the ceremony. The other guy is a British general named Percival, who got screwed over even worse than Wainwright.

    A lot of people knew what happened to Wainwright and Percival. And putting them there, front and center, was their way of showing Marshall and the other brass that they knew what had gone on, and hadn't forgotten.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions. Pol Pot was one of the names proposed on a discussion list to which I posted this question.