May 22, 2009

Star Trek and the Jews

I was intrigued by Razib?s post on ?Star Trek and Humanity,? and in particular by his point about the Vulcans as a shining example of ethno-cultural survival. So I trotted out to see the film this past weekend.

About half way through, I started to get the sense that ?the Vulcans? were a metaphor for the Jews. Much of the plot of the new Trek hinges around the ?genocide? of ?six billion? of Spock?s countrymen. Add the Vulcans themselves aren?t just smart and traditionalist; they strictly observe a hierarchal and highly ritualistic religion and code of conduct. One gets the impression that ?Vulcan logic? isn?t just rational, but part of a much grander system that resembles Kabbalah in its level of complexity. And the Vulcan Ways, which are so successful in preserving tradition and religion, are certainly an affront to individualism. The half-human Spock actually leaves his home planet because of its oppressive anti-human bigotry, and after joining Starfleet, ends up dating a black girl (the perky Zoe Saldana (?Nyota Uhura?), who for most of the film seems to be wearing a galactic Bluetooth device).

Anyway, after googling a bit, I found that I definitely wasn?t the first to make the Vulcan-Jewish connection, indeed a whole book?s been written on it! And there?s a fascinating YouTube video of Leonard Nimoy discussing his invention of the famous Vulcan salute, which he borrowed from a ritual in his Orthodox Schule in which the rabbis signed with their hands the Hebrew letter ?shin,? ?, the first letter of “Shaddai? (“Almighty God).

This also got me thinking about Sci-Fi fantasies more generally. The ethno-nationalist Vulcans can be contrasted with the globalist, post-national Starfleet?which has always stuck me as a kind of United Nations in Space. Many often conflate Star Wars and Star Trek, mostly because of the similarities of their ?ber-dorky fan bases, but in many ways the two films are dialectical opposites. Star Wars is about a band of rebels who, against the odds, takedown The Empire, which is depicted as a big, bad, totalitarian Order of the Death?s Head. Captain Kirk, Spock, and the Starship Enterprise, on the other hand, are The Empire?though in the Trek films, it?s given the benign name ?United Federation of Planets.? Starfleet is dedicated to ?peace, diplomacy, and research,? but like a futuristic version of Harry Truman?s UN, its ships are fitted out with laser-canons and authorized to blast away any faction that doesn?t submit to its intergalactic sovereignty.

And it?s also telling that the humans aboard the Enterprise have no sense of ethno-cultural identity whatsoever; the soon-to-be Captain Kirk even goes around making love to green space aliens (no joke!).

Much as with Frank Herbert?s Dune, George Lucas injected myth into the world of Star Wars. In the first three films (which are the only ones anyone should watch!), Lucas references not only the Oedipal story (?Luke, I am your father?) but also Wagner?s Ring of the Niebelungen, with Luke and Leia as Siegmund and Sieglinde-like figures. (And John Williams?s Wagner-knockoff music sure adds to the Wagnerian atmosphere.) But in Star Trek, myth is completely absent. In its future, the cold, deracinated, antiseptic world of ?The Federation? has triumphed.     

As is often the case, by the end of Star Trek, I found myself rooting for the bad guys—the Romulans and their leader Nero (why the references to ancient Rome?), who were seeking revenge on their collective enemies, fighting for their survival, and, best of all, attempting to destroy the evil Starfleet Federation! The Romulans were, of course, dressed in black and depicted as evil and immoral, but in other worlds, they?d be heroes. 

UPDATE: To answer an email from a reader: Yes, it’s true, perhaps the Vulcans aren’t exactly heroes, as they cruelly blew up the Vulcan planet; however, my point remains about Trek and Star Wars being photographic negatives of one another.

OK, that’s it. I better stop writing about sci-fi lest anyone think I’ve gone over to The Dork Side…

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