Science Fiction Studies

#72 = Volume 24, Part 2 = July 1997

Daniel Bernardi

Star Trek in the 1960s: Liberal-Humanism and the Production of Race

The approach expresses the "message" basic to the series: We must learn to live together or most certainly we will soon all die together. Although Star Trek had to entertain or go off the air, we believed our format was unique enough to allow us to challenge and stimulate the audience. Making Star Trek happen was a bonecrusher, and unless it also "said something" and we challenged our view-ers to think and react, then it wasn't worth all we had put into the show.—Gene Roddenberry (Whitfield 112)

Superior ability breeds superior ambition.—Spock, "Space Seed"

In "A Journey to Babel" (1967), the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the flagship of the United Federation of Planets, is charged with bringing delegates from different worlds to an interstellar conference at Babel, the code name for the planet that is their destination. In this episode of Star Trek, the audience is treated to a variety of extraterrestrials, sentient beings casually labelled alien "races" by members of the Enterprise crew. Like the animals of Noah's ark, the aliens are prominently shown in pairs. They wear distinct garb and have multicolored coiffeurs. We see Vulcans, with their fiendishly pointed ears and eyebrows. There are gold-skinned small people and blue-skinned, antennae-bearing Andorians. There are a couple of Tellarites with pig-like faces, their noses turned up like snouts. We even see glimpses of two African-American actors dressed in nomadic apparel, apparently the delegates from a black world. The title and narrative of the episode explicitly draws upon the biblical story of the Tower of Babel in which, according to the Old Testament, the descendants of Noah attempted to unite the "scattered" peoples of the world by building a tower that could reach to heaven and God Himself. Not unlike the biblical story, the Enterprise's journey to Babel, its mission to unite scat-tered races, is marred by the confusion of tongues—in this case, by peculiar-looking aliens with conflicting, disruptive, and sometimes violent motivations.

In the secondary storyline to "A Journey to Babel," the character of Spock (Leonard Nimoy), the Enterprise's Science Officer, is defined and complicated. We find out that his childhood was fraught with prejudice: "neither Human nor Vulcan," his human mother (Jane Wyatt) explains. Spock is a "half-breed." We also find out that Spock's father, Sarek (Mark Lenard), is unhappy with his son's enlistment in the mostly human Federation of Planets. The two have not spoken in years. As the episode progresses, this storyline intensifies as Sarek becomes deathly ill and requires a blood transfusion from his son. Because of both an injury to Captain Kirk (William Shatner) inflicted by an Orion spy intent on sabotaging the mission to Babel and a threat posed by a mysterious vessel tracking the starship, it becomes necessary for the Vulcan Science Officer to take command of the Enterprise. As a consequence, he refuses to save his father's life. His first duty is to the ship and its mission. Spock is a loyal "half-breed."

As the episode comes to a close, the main and secondary storylines merge neatly in a "happy ending." In order to help Spock save his father, Kirk over-comes the intense pain of the knife wound and miraculously resumes his command of the ship. He mounts a heroic defense against the now-attacking ves-sel. This frees Spock to donate his green blood, once "purified" of its human elements, to his ailing father. In a medium shot, we actually see the green blood of Spock pour through the tubes that lead to his father—a clear signifier of his innate difference. Thus, not only is the enemy plot thwarted by Captain Kirk, but Spock and Sarek both survive, literally much closer to each other than they were before. Narrative resolution is achieved with the Enterprise and crew still en route to Babel, the optimistic trek for a more harmonious uni-verse available for future episodes.

There are perhaps more famous Star Trek episodes that represent and narrativize racial difference and conflict, such as "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," which features half-black and half-white humanoids who battle and attempt to kill each other because they are oppositely colored. Nevertheless, "A Journey to Babel" reveals in obvious and perhaps less than obvious ways many of the functions of race that run throughout the entire Star Trek series. First, it keeps the cast of color, notably the black delegates and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), the Swahili Communications Officer, in the background— visible but not essential. Sulu (George Takei), the Japanese-American Helmsman, is not in this episode. Second, through the allegory of Babel, the episode foregrounds the diversity of the galaxy, and some of the ways in which that diversity causes conflict and hinders universal harmony. Star Trek is renowned for imagining an egalitarian Earth—absent of racism, sexism, and capitalism— that exists in a hostile galaxy overcrowded with uncivilized and violent alien worlds. Third, through the character of Spock, the episode draws upon the tension and conflict caused by being a "half-breed." Star Trek is also renowned for addressing the experiences and ideologies of physiognomic and cultural difference via science-fiction metaphors like aliens. Finally, the resolution of the episode, its return to narrative stasis, leaves both the hope and struggle for universal peace intact. James T. Kirk, the white captain who is at least allegorically linked to the biblical Noah, can continue to humanize the universe.

This essay aims to uncover and critique the relationship between the meaning of race and the liberal-humanist project in Star Trek. While there are no doubt many factors informing this relationship, I want to concentrate on the activities of institutions and decision-makers responsible for the making of the series.1 This includes NBC, the network on which the series aired, Gene Roddenberry, the creator and executive producer, as well as various writers, directors, and actors. These "authors," I hope to show, were consciously and thus intentionally involved in a liberal-humanist project very much mindful of such 1960s experiences as the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, and the Cold War. A value and belief system that espouses political equality and social egalitarianism, liberal-humanism emphasizes individual worth and freedom, racial and gender equality, and the importance of secular human values. It suggests that humans, with their rational minds, can comprehend all problems—earthly or galactic—by systematic action from within established institutions such as a united federation of states and paradigms such as liberal democracy. Progress for the liberal-humanist discourse of the 1960s, the zeitgeist of the decade, and certainly for the makers of Star Trek, is determined by the extent to which the government, in this case the United Federation of Planets, and the people, in this case the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, serve to expand liberty and civility to all people and, as the case may be, to all aliens.

Contrary to what is commonly said about this science-fiction series, I will argue that Star Trek's liberal-humanist project is exceedingly inconsistent and at times disturbingly contradictory, often participating in and facilitating racist practice in attempting to imagine what Gene Roddenberry called "infinite diversity in infinite combinations." The varied and contradictory aspects of the series are perhaps ultimately due to what cultural studies scholar David Theo Goldberg recognizes as the historic paradox of liberalism: "The more ideologically hegemonic liberal values seem and the more open to difference liberal modernity declares itself, the more dismissive of difference it becomes and the more closed it seeks to make the circle of acceptability" (6-7). This paradox informs the activities—the writing, directing, and network gatekeeping—of the decision-makers responsible for the making of Star Trek.

Before beginning my analysis, it is perhaps important to stress that, in analyzing the project of key decision-makers, I do not mean to imply that they simply pour their ideology into a Star Trek container that is then guzzled whole by a passive audience. I am not suggesting that the meaning of Star Trek texts is singularly or even dominantly caused by institutions such as networks and individuals such as creative decision-makers. In my view, the relationship between the intent to imbed ideology in a text and the ideology of a text is never direct or without contradiction. A dialogical understanding of television authorship as well as a dialectical understanding of ideology resists such reductive and deterministic explanations.

I agree with semioticians such as Mikhail Bakhtin and Roland Barthes that texts are polysemic, or intertextual and dialogical, and that the reader is ultimately the site of signification: "a text," Barthes writes, "is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation, but there is one place where this multiplicity is focused and that place is the reader" (148). Texts are more complex, made of multiple "writings," than simple reflections of authorial intent. Moreover, readers are a psychologically active and socially complex group that bring their own identities and histories, their own values and protocols for interpretation, to texts. Indeed, audiences are far too heterogeneous and complex to be duped into complete or unconscious interpellation; for that matter, the unconscious is too enigmatic and Hollywood far too dysfunctional to produce a uniform ideology.

Yet I also recognize that entertainment institutions and decision-makers, network executives and craftspeople, do imbed and attempt to fix meaning. And this agency has a significant impact on the broadcast texts themselves. As cultural studies scholars Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott point out:

the deliberations, calculations and policies which actually inform the making of a film (or television series) have a direct and discernible bearing on the processes through which ideologies are worked over and transformed into a specific filmic form. (202)

For instance, if the character of Spock and the storyline that reveals his complexity had been cut from "A Journey to Babel," then the duality of Spock, his half-breed condition, would not be a space for signification. Moreover, while we cannot ascertain all the possible readings of episodes like "A Journey to Babel," we can say with confidence that it would have been different had the decision-makers relied upon Native-American myths instead of Judeo-Christian ones. Indeed, the Judeo-Christian allegories in episodes like "A Journey to Babel," as intertextual references which are nonetheless intentional, guide our readings of Star Trek's imaginary universe as a diverse, overcrowded, and dangerous place. In their attempts to effect signification and fix meaning, television authors both limit and enable reading probabilities. They both facilitate and set boundaries to meaning-production.

It is precisely for this reason that scholars interested in analyzing and coming to terms with the meaning of race in film and television ought to consider more fully the production process and thus the institutions and individuals responsible for helping to make race in American popular culture meaningful.

The Practice of Liberal-Humanism. The articulation of race in Star Trek— from its casting of actors to its metaphors and allegories—was uncommon in network television of the 1960s. The meaning of race in the 1950s and early 1960s was dominated by a segregationist tone, a separate but unequal trajectory. Television was what television historian J. Fred McDonald called "white." This is evident in the network programming of the period, which was governed by an overt policy of exclusion and segregation. When African- Americans and Native Americans were represented in such series as Amos 'N Andy (1951-1953) and The Lone Ranger (1949-1957), they were characterized as either shiftless and unintelligent or as obedient servants to white men. Representations of Asian and Latino Americans were almost non-existent, although they received similar treatment when present. A case in point is Sammee Tong in Bachelor Father (1957-1962), an Asian "house boy" who spoke, walked, and expressed himself in stereotypical ways.

The dominant meaning of race in the 1950s and early 1960s was openly and massively contested in the mid to late 1960s. Civil rights advocates such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, the American-Indian and anti-war movements, among others, struggled to push the meaning of race toward a more egalitarian ideal. As sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant have shown, during the 1960s new conceptions of racial identity and its meaning, new modes of political organization and confrontation, and new definitions of the state's role in promoting and achieving "equality" were explored, debated, and fought on the battlegrounds of politics. (95)

The civil rights movement had its successes, including the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act.

The mid-to-late 1960s was also a time when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the United States government agency responsible for space exploration and the development of space technology, was completing successful flights into outer space and landings on the moon. With the Gemini and Apollo missions, NASA came to embody the hopes and aspirations, the future and potential, of the United States. It also provided an ironic juxtaposition with the contemporaneous domestic and international injustices that dominated the latter part of the decade. United States citizens dying in the rice paddies of Vietnam and in the streets of urban America, massive protests against the federal government, and Cold War tensions made the future look bleaker than the optimistic images of Neil Armstrong's "giant step for mankind" might otherwise suggest. NASA symbolized future hope and represented immediate contradiction.

Images and stories of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations flowed into the homes of millions of viewers from both print and electronic news sources, forcing the American people to confront a contestation over race. At issue was the racism inherent in segregation, the politics of stereotypes, and the ideals of integration. Producers, directors, writers, and network executives capitalized on this socio-political struggle. For the first time in television history, programs like East Side, West Side (1963-1964), I Spy (1965-1968), and Julia (1968-1971) employed African-Americans in major roles that were not patently stereotypical. Decision-makers responsible for the production of such series drew on domestic and international politics and experiences in the hope of selling their programs and advertisements to an audience very much sensitive to race relations.

Yet, even with the relative boom in programs that employed African- Americans, integration in late-1960s television was consistently problematic. Network programs with people of color tended to be segregated as "race" shows or hidden at the edges of prime-time. Moreover, Asian, Latino, and Native Americans were largely absent from television screens during this period, as civil rights ideals tended to be interpreted by the networks in black and white terms. When these other minority groups were represented by characters such as Hop Sing in Bonanza (1959-1973) or any of the number of white actors in red face in other westerns, it was often in the form of de-sexualized servants, loyal sidekicks, or unthinking savages. Even producers attempting to engage social issues felt that they must appeal to the majority—the European-American and Protestant middle-class—and not "offend." Indeed, the television programming of the period suggests that the goals, values, and ideologies of the networks were ultimately conservative, resisting change and unrestricted integration in order to maintain a stable—and dominantly white—bottom-line.

While the majority of network programming remained white, Star Trek was one of the few series that embraced and consistently spoke to the shifting meaning of race that contextualized its production and initial reception. As I suggested earlier, this effort to engage the politics and experiences of the 1960s can be traced to the efforts of a number of creative and network decision-makers involved in crafting the series. Of course, the most notable of these decision-makers was Gene Roddenberry. An avowed and outspoken "humanist" very much concerned with the "message" of his work, Roddenberry wrote many of the episodes and was involved with almost every other aspect of the show's development (casting, selecting and revising scripts, and so on).2 In a 1991 interview with magazine editor and Roddenberry biographer David Alexander, Roddenberry acknowledges that he is both a humanist and a liberal. "I think my philosophy," he states, "is based upon the great affection I have for the human creature. I mean a tremendous affection" (30). He also explains that: "One of the underlying messages of both series [Star Trek and The Next Generation] is that human beings can, with critical thinking, solve the problems that are facing them without any outside or supernatural help" (8). This liberal-humanist philosophy is also evident in statements more contemporaneous with the original series. "Intolerance in the 23rd century?" he rhetorically asks in 1968:

Improbable! If man survives that long, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear. It's a manifestation of the greatness that God, or whatever it is, gave us. This is infinite variation and delight, this is part of the optimism we built into Star Trek. (Whitfield 40)

"We must learn to live together," he says with a touch of civil rights and Cold War concerns, "or most certainly we will soon all die together" (Ibid. 112).

Roddenberry's liberal-humanist ideals are also present in the primary evidence surrounding the production of the series. In developing Star Trek, the creator-producer insisted that a progressive and unified earth, a one-world government, be foregrounded in the science-fiction universe. Moreover, racial harmony and tolerance were to be the norm rather than the exception in the on-going Star Trek universe. In effect, he called for a multi-cultural future. For example, the original series treatment, which the creator-producer used to pitch Star Trek to various networks, describes a one-hour show with an integrated cast of characters that included a Latino navigator, a woman as second-in-command, and an alien science officer replete with red skin and a forked tail (a character who eventually became Spock). The treatment goes on to pitch the show as "Wagon train to the stars," an action-adventure of optimism fraught with human conflict (Whitfield 23). Unlike the science-fiction series Lost in Space (1965-1968), in which the characters are an all-white family and the aliens are almost always the villains—and dark—Roddenberry's vision of the future is clearly integrated.

Roddenberry's liberal-humanist vision articulated in the original treatment for Star Trek is not without its contradictions however. This is particularly the case in the description of the Latino navigator, José "Joe" Tyler, which is laden with stereotypical traits. The lengthy passage from the original treatment is worth quoting in full:

José (Joe) Tyler, Boston astronomer father and Brazilian mother, is boyishly handsome, still very much in the process of maturing. An unusual combination, he has inherited his father's mathematical ability. José Tyler, in fact, is a phenomenally brilliant mathematician and space theorist. But he has also inherited his mother's Latin temperament, fights a perpetual and highly personalized battle with his instruments and calculators, suspecting that space—and probably God, too—are engaged in a giant conspiracy to make his professional and personal life as difficult and uncomfortable as possible. Joe (or José, depending on the other party) is young enough to be painfully aware of the historical repute of Latins as lovers—and is in danger of failing this challenge on a cosmic scale. (Whitfield 29)

José is written as a racial half-breed: one part is brilliant, a trait that comes from his Bostonian, presumably European, and paternal line; the other part is irrational, a failed Latin lover, a trait that specifically comes from his Latino and maternal line. This dichotomy is a familiar one, playing on common racial essentialisms and stereotypes about Latinos. It is also eminently entangled with naturalized gender hierarchies, with the maternal side of José characterized as emotional and the paternal side as intellectual.

With the failed Latin lover on board, Roddenberry attempted to sell Star Trek to a number of networks and studios. After the show was rejected by CBS, he pitched and subsequently sold it to Desilu Studios, then in its downswing after its status as a major studio when it operated shows like I Love Lucy (1951-1957). Desilu eventually secured interest from NBC, which was looking for the next Lost in Space. NBC provided Desilu and Roddenberry with capital to turn his treatment into a pilot. The eventual result was "The Cage," which featured highly evolved, giant-headed humanoids who "caged" other aliens for their material needs and intellectual pleasures. A metaphor for slavery, among other things, the pilot provided Roddenberry with an opportunity to say "something" about humanity.

NBC had problems with the pilot. Network executives at its screening— who reportedly included Grant Tinker, Vice President in Charge of West Coast Operations, and Mort Werner, Vice President in Charge of Television Programming—apparently liked the overall feel of the program, but rejected it as being "too cerebral." They also rejected a few of the characters, including Number One (Majel Barrett, listed in the credits as M. Leigh Hudec), a strong woman character who was the ship's second-in-command, and Spock, now a half-alien with pointed ears and raised eyebrows. The executives felt that neither character would be accepted by the television audience, and they made the unprecedented decision of ordering a second pilot. This decision initiated the on-going battle Roddenberry had with the network over the programming content of Star Trek.

Despite the network's rejection of "The Cage," Roddenberry pursued his liberal-humanist project.3 While he cut the character of Number One, he kept the character of Spock (whom he moved to second-in-command). Moreover, he cast an even more diverse crew of characters than before, including a European-American nurse, Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett), a Communications Officer from the "United States of Africa," Uhura, a Japanese-American Helmsman, Sulu, and a Scottish Engineering Chief, Scotty (James Doohan). In the second season, a Russian "cosmonaut," Pavel Chekov (Walter Koenig), was added. Throughout Star Trek's three-year run, the crew was headed by European-American Captain James T. Kirk and included a cantankerous European-American doctor, Leonard "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley). Hence, one of the characters was Japanese American, one was African, two were distinctly marked as white European ethnics (mostly through their accents), one was half alien and half Euro-Human, and three were suggested to be European Americans. Though dominantly white, this was an integrated cast for 1960s network television.

Roddenberry instructed writers and directors working on Star Trek to utilize the multi-cultural crew in their stories. In "The Star Trek Guide," a document which explains the series to prospective writers and directors, the Enterprise crew is described as

International in origin, completely multi-racial. But even in this future century we will see some traditional trappings, ornaments, and styles that suggest the Asiatic, the Arabic, the Latin, etc. So far, Mister Spock has been our only crewman with blood lines from another planet. However, it is not impossible that we might discover some other aliens or part aliens working aboard our Starship. (7)

The "Guide" goes on to advise: "We like ways of using the crewmen (extras as well as actors) to help suggest the enormous diversity of our vessel" (7).

The fact that the series is generically science fiction gave Roddenberry and the rest of the creative decision-makers space to address contemporary issues and to avoid network censorship. As John Meredyth Lucas, a writer, director, and producer of several episodes, reminisces:

it was great to work on Star Trek, because working in the science fiction genre gave us free rein to touch on any number of subjects. We could do anti-Vietnam stories, or civil rights stories.... Set the story in outer space, in the future, and all of a sudden you can get away with just about anything, because you're protected by the argument that, "Hey, we're not talking about the problems of today, we're dealing with a mythical time and place in the future." We were lying, of course, but that's how we got these stories by the network types. (Shatner 243)

Even Leonard Nimoy remarked in 1967 how the character of Spock enabled him "to say something about the human race" (Raddatz 25).

Despite science-fiction conventions that privilege metaphor and allegory, network decision-makers attempted to curtail and control the creative staff's liberal-humanist project. Perhaps the most famous example of this tug-of-war surrounds the production of "Plato's Stepchildren" (1968), in which a pre-shooting script calls for Kirk, manipulated by Greek-god-like aliens, to kiss Uhura. According to most speculations, this would have been network television's first interracial kiss between a black American and a white American. Apparently, NBC was concerned with the fallout of such a "first," especially among its affiliates in the South, and requested some less than subtle changes. A memorandum from Jean Messerschmidt of NBC's Broadcast Standards Department made the network's position explicit: "it must be clear there are no racial over-tones to Kirk and Uhura's dilemma" (2).4 While many creative decision-makers resisted the network's capitulation to racism, NBC nevertheless continued with their aim of censoring the interracial "dilemma." Apparently they even requested that Spock, the racialized alien half-breed, be the one to kiss Uhura. Nichelle Nichols explains: "Somehow, I guess, they found it more acceptable for a Vulcan to kiss me, for this alien to kiss this black woman, than for two humans with different coloring to do the same thing." She continues: "It was simply and clearly racism standing in the suits. Strange how a twenty-third century space opera could be so mired in antiquated hang-ups" (Shatner 285-86).

The scene that was aired shows Kirk paired with Uhura and Spock paired with Nurse Chapel. It begins with the telekinetic Greeks controlling the physical movements of these characters, making them walk and dance in contorted and humiliating ways for the pleasure and amusement of their captors. Soon a chorus of the powerful beings watch as their leader forces Spock to kiss Nurse Chapel several times. We actually see the Vulcan Science Officer kiss the blond nurse in three drawn out medium shots. The chorus also watch Kirk and Uhura diligently resist their forced coupling. These shots are also drawn out, dramatizing the extratextual racial tension surrounding their pairing. The Greek aliens applaud Kirk and Uhura's struggle; some even derive prurient pleasure from the anticipation of its "forbidden" outcome. Eventually the power of the aliens begins to overtake Kirk, and, in a slow dolly into a close-up, moments after Uhura gasps, the Captain pulls her closer to him. He turns her body toward the camera, the back of her head taking up most of the bottom half of the screen. Kirk is still shown diligently resisting, his eyes glaring at the omnipotent aliens, his lips pursed in anger and resentment. Their mouths are only millimeters away from each other when the camera cuts to the alien chorus in rapt attention, a seemingly self-conscious play on and reference to the imagined attention of the actual television audience. NBC's Office of Broadcast Standards and the creative decision-makers compromised: the interracial kiss was only implied.5 Either way, of course, the coupling between black and white is coded as undesirable and even perverse—a thing to be resisted or kept repressed.

Fundamental contradictions in the liberal-humanist project are also apparent in the use of actors of color. In fact, throughout the series, the integrated supporting cast, despite Roddenberry's call to use them "to suggest the enormous diversity of our vessel," was kept at the margins of most of the stories and in the background of most of the shots. This is especially the case in the way the character of Sulu was conceived and utilized. Indeed, he is only supposed to look Asian. In "The Star Trek Guide," he is described as a white-identified Japanese American, preferring French customs over Japanese traditions. Worse yet, he is described as being confused and mystified by Asians:

Mixed oriental in ancestry, Japanese predominating, Sulu is contemporary American in speech and manner. In fact, his attitude toward Asians is that they seem to him rather "inscrutable." Sulu fancies himself more of an old-world "D'Artagnan" than anything else. (23)

Sulu's intended integration into the space of the starship comes at the expense of a recognizable identity with Japanese culture; that is, the character was conceived as having "successfully" assimilated into the Euro-American melting pot of humanity's future.

This pattern continues in the actual broadcast texts, where, despite the fact that Sulu's position as helmsman places him in the foreground of many shots, he is relegated to the background of most of the stories. Out of the seventy-nine Star Trek episodes, Sulu is not once the focus of a main storyline. One of the few times he does make it out of the background is in "The Naked Time" (1966), where he is shown as a rampaging swordsman on the lookout for a duel. The secondary status of Sulu is especially problematic in the second and third seasons, after Chekov joins the crew. During this period, the Russian character is given substantial roles in comparison to the Japanese helmsman. Chekov is even left in charge of the crew when Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty are off the ship. Though of the same rank, Sulu is left in charge of the ship only once, in "The Omega Glory" (1968), an episode in which he has very few lines and Chekov is not featured.

The description and representation of Uhura also demonstrate the contradictory nature of Star Trek's liberal-humanist project. Like Sulu, Uhura is relegated to the spatial and narrative background for most of the episodes, making her more a token than a truly integrated character. Nichols comments on the use of her character:

I'd get the first draft, the white pages, and see what Uhura had to do this week, and maybe it was a halfway-decent scene or two, sometimes more, and then invariably the next draft would come in on blue pages and I'd find that Uhura's presence in the show had been cut way down. The pink pages came next and she'd suffer some more cuts, then the yellow, more cuts, and it finally got to the point where I had really had it. I mean I just decided that I don't even need to read the FUCKING SCRIPT! I mean I know how to say, "hailing frequencies open."... (Shatner 212; author's emphasis)

The utilization of Uhura as "background color" evolved from the description of the character in "The Star Trek Guide," the first document that mentions the character:

Uhura is also a warm, highly female female off duty. She is something of a favorite in the Recreation Room during off duty hours, too, because she sings—old ballads as well as the newer space ballads—and she can do an impersonation at the drop of a communicator. (14)

As a singing, "highly female female" African, she is written as a performance, an icon, of black beauty. In a 1967 interview for TV Guide (15 July 1967) entitled "Nichelle Nichols Complains She Hasn't Been Allowed to Leave the Spaceship," the actress commented on the dilemma: "My problem is being a black woman on top of being a woman" (10). In the episode "Mirror, Mirror" (1967), for instance, Uhura is eroticized by the camera, as several scenes show her scantily clad body in tight close-ups: her long legs, smooth stomach and large breasts—scopophilic fragments of her body—are emphasized for their womanly and exotic "beauty." It is as if her blackness is made safe and appealing when it is performed in fragmented and fetishized forms; when, in other words, it is as exoticized as it is eroticized.

The use of Spock is another site in the original series where contradictions can be seen functioning within the liberal-humanist project. The tradition of the alien in science fiction involves the foregrounding of Otherness, particularly in reference to the difficulties and conflicts stemming from physiognomic and cultural difference. Science-fiction aliens work as metaphors, as an implicit means by which human experiences and likeness are imagined and fictionalized. Spock, especially because he is a "half-breed," serves this traditional science-fiction function. Yet the character is often contained so as to be neither too literal nor too obvious about the nature of the universe and the politics of the 1960s. Even in metaphors and allegories involving aliens, the decision-makers take the racially "safe" way out.

In "City on the Edge of Forever" (1967), for example, the original script by Harlan Ellison has Kirk and Spock materialize in 1930s New York. As New Yorkers begin to notice the odd pair, Spock becomes encircled by an inflamed mob agitated by a bitter racist:

What kind of a country is this, where men have to stand in bread lines just to fill their bellies? I'll tell you what kind...a country run by the foreigners! All the scum let in to take the food from our mouths, all the alien filth that pollutes our fine country. Here we are, skilled workers and they want us to sign up for CCC camps. Civilian Conservation Corps, men—is that what we're gonna do? Work like coolies inna fields while these swine who can't even speak our language take the.... (23-24; author's emphasis)

Later in the script, Ellison's technical directions stipulate that in order to conceal Spock's alien features, "he has been made up to faintly resemble a Chinese" (28). Here, the writer is trying to comment on the history of racist discrimination against Chinese Americans during the Depression, using Spock as both a connotative and a denotative signifier. His goal, it seems clear, is to reveal the racist elements of class politics during this era of American history.

In the aired version of "City on the Edge of Forever," the indictment against racism was removed in favor of a comic scene in which a 1930s police officer and a few city people stare curiously at Kirk and Spock. There is no bitter racist trying to incite violence and no angry mob threatened by a "foreigner." Instead, the policeman simply looks at Kirk and Spock, as the Captain stammers out an explanation for his First Officer's physiognomic difference: "My friend is obviously Chinese. I see you've noticed the ears. They're actually easy to explain." With a slight suggestion from Spock, the Captain continues: "The unfortunate accident he had as a child. He caught his head in a mechanical rice picker." As film and television scholar Rick Worland has pointed out, the indictment against racism in this episode takes the form of a racial joke (117). The history of racism against Chinese Americans is not foregrounded but deleted. The intended reference to the history of American bigotry is not televised.


Case Study: "The Paradise Syndrome" (1968). Like "The City on the Edge of Forever," the conditions of production surrounding "The Paradise Syndrome" reveal a contradictory racial project—this time one that stereotypes Native Americans as noble savages and whites as "normal" and even divine. The basic storyline has Captain Kirk, suffering from amnesia, becoming a medicine chief for a tribe of Native Americans on a planet far from Earth. The tribe was placed there centuries ago by a "super race" who wanted to "preserve them." A story clearly susceptible to the noble savage trope, primary evidence surrounding the production of the episode reveals that responsibility for the stereotyping points directly to the liberal-humanist ideals and practices of Gene Roddenberry and other creative decision-makers. Which is to say that, irrespective of the tug-of-war between Roddenberry and the network gatekeepers, it is the creative decision-makers in this episode of Star Trek that participate in and facilitate racist practice.

Originally titled "Pale Face," the story outline by Margaret Armen uses explicit racialized adjectives and clichés to construct the Native-American tribe as noble savages. Kirk, Armen writes, "has found this tribe gentle, kind, and in complete attune with nature" (4). Armen has Kirk accepted into the tribe and marrying one of the women, Miramanee. This emphasizes the mythical structure of the story, that of the "paradise syndrome," which typically involves a white man escaping civilization to or lost in the wild, befriending a wise but simple tribe of natives, falling in love with a submissive—and often scantily clad—native girl, but, after saving the natives from an event or person bent on destroying them, eventually determining that living among them is not his life's mission. The white man—not the native—has evolved, and he must accept his role as a complex, civilized human. In Armen's outline, Kirk realizes that Miramanee

can never fit into [his] world. Simple and gentle as she is, her only place is the idyllic tribal environment of her people. Gently, he tells her that he no longer fits into her world either, that the ancient prophecy has been fulfilled and he must go on to fulfil his further duty. (8)

The outline concludes: "He knows a part of him—the part of man that is always pagan—will always remain behind, that a poignant longing for the idyllic life of the noble savage will never leave him" (8).

The noble savage stereotype found in the development of this episode of Star Trek functions as a sort of fetish, much like its eighteenth-century predecessor analyzed by metahistorian Hayden White:

belief in the idea of a Noble Savage was magical, was extravagant and irrational in the kind of devotion it was meant to inspire, and, in the end, displayed the kind of pathological displacement of libidinal interest that we normally associate with the forms of racism that depend on the idea of a "wild humanity" for their justification. (184)

All three aspects of White's noble savage fetish can be found lurking in Armen's outline. First, the Indians are associated with magical qualities, especially in the stereotypical representation of them as mysteriously connected to—"in complete attune with"—nature. Second, the representation of the Indians as existing in some pristine and unchanging condition—on another planet, no less—reveals an irrational devotion to a particular image of Native Americans as "noble," an image that is "fixed" in time like the fetish. This is perhaps most prominent in both the "super race's" efforts to "preserve" them and in Kirk's nostalgic longing to become one of them. Finally, the noble savage stereotype is strongly suggestive of a libidinal displacement, perhaps most clearly projected in the relationship between Kirk and the "squaw"—in which the Captain has nothing less than a "wild" time.

The use of the noble savage theme in "The Paradise Syndrome" ultimately has less to do with the lifestyle and customs of Native Americans than it does with the evolution of whiteness. In his analysis of the noble savage fetish, White goes on to argue that it ultimately "draws a distinction, in the nature of an opposition, between normal humanity (gentle, intelligent, decorous, and white) and an abnormal one (obstinate, gay, free, and red)" (188). Hence, the "abnormality" of an otherwise noble humanity cannot be understood outside the notion of a wild/savage humanity (Indians), which itself cannot be understood outside the notion of a "normal"—and, at least rhetorically, superior— humanity (whites).6 Such an opposition thus becomes a way to define the "civility" of whiteness, which in the development of "The Paradise Syndrome" is especially evident in Roddenberry's efforts to ensure that the Indians, despite centuries of unencumbered evolution on a far-off planet, haven't really evolved:

if the Indians were brought here many centuries ago, it is likely that even though they retain much of their terrible custom, they would have advanced somewhat along the scale of civilization. Perhaps not to firearms, or not that fast, but perhaps added on to the Indian culture, it is a growing mastery of mechanics, which has resulted in the wheel, possibly the crossbow.... Not enough to deprive our tale of the wonderful simplicity of life here, but enough to stay true to the premise and to logic. (8)

Roddenberry's insistence on representing the tribe as having advanced only far enough to invent the wheel reveals a discourse on humanity that at least implicitly includes a hierarchy of "civilizations" that has whites "naturally" on top of an evolutionary ladder.

Roddenberry's interest in representing Kirk and crew as more advanced than the Indians stems from his interest in the myth of the "paradise syndrome" (it is Roddenberry who insists that the original title of the script, "Pale Face," be changed to "The Paradise Syndrome"). In a memorandum to Fred Freiberger, the Producer of Star Trek during its third season, Roddenberry states his case in explicit terms:

Our story here, the essential and I think the most interesting and different one for our series, is whether a Herman Melville theme, i.e., modern man finding his "Tahiti," that natural and simple and happy and untroubled life all of us dream about some day finding—and having found it and having held it in his hand, he learns he's incapable of closing his hand around it and keeping it because all of us are innocent prisoners of our own time and our own place. And, as with Melville's "Typee," neither can our modern man (or his clerk from Boston) take his woman from this simple life back to his land and his time, since she would be as destroyed by it as he would be if he stayed there. This is the premise and theme, a strong one if used properly and certainly a most powerful and enduring one in Western Literature. (2)

As this statement might suggest, Roddenberry's interest in a tribe of noble savages had more to do with defining the problems of whites in a modern, civilized, and complex world, here both metaphorically and literally represented by Kirk, than it did with describing the treatment or cultures of Native-American peoples.

The NBC censor was also concerned with the notion of the "paradise syndrome," but in the way in which it might affect the star persona of Captain Kirk. A letter from Stanley Robertson, Manager of Film Programming, noted:

I think that it is a major mistake to have our star, Kirk, "marry" the lovely native girl, Miramanee, to have a child by her and then to return to "his world" with the Enterprise when a rescue is affected. I realize that your feelings are that you can "justify these actions" by establishing Kirk as a man engrained in the customs, mores, and social patterns of the planet's culture. However, I think that we must remember that even though our series takes place at a time in the future, we still have contemporary people with contemporary views on morals, manners, etc., viewing our shows and, while we are able to portray others than our heroes in opposition to these conventional points of view, we should not ever depict our leads as having such thoughts. (2)

The censor, aware of the logic of science fiction, was less interested in the stereotyping of Native Americans than with maintaining the "superior" morality of the white hero.

The interest in representing whiteness as morally atop the evolutionary ladder in the making of "The Paradise Syndrome" goes beyond the noble savage fetish. In the memorandum to Freiberger, Roddenberry rationalizes the notion of the benevolent "super race" and, in the process, links these aliens to Kirk. He writes:

We are saying arbitrarily for purposes of this script that there was once, or still may exist somewhere, a race of highly advanced and kindly humanoid aliens, who had great love and affection for all forms of life and all levels of civilization and hated to see the fresh and different potential of primitive cultures absorbed and changed, such as happened on Earth with the Egyptians, Crete, American Indians, etc. Undoubtedly, the same sort of thing happens on other planets, too—it is a demonstratable law of progress in civilization that richly interesting primitive cultures die out and their particular values are lost when stronger cultures absorb or destroy them. (3)

Roddenberry's interest in the "super race," a logic clearly derivative of the social Darwinian notion of "survival of the fittest," continues, as he tries to explain why the Indians believe Kirk is God-like: "it is obvious that the Indians have never seen an Enterprise landing party member before and, therefore, more believable they believe Kirk is a sort of God" (7). The "demonstratable law of progress" implicitly assumes that "white" phenotypes—which is all that separates Kirk from the Indians at this point in the story—would be construed by "primitive cultures" as God-like, thereby linking Kirk, not to the Indians— that is, members of his own species—but to a divine "super race."

The Kellam DeForest Research Company, hired by Roddenberry to verify facts in pre-production stories, cites errors in "The Paradise Syndrome" script that would ultimately produce an essentialist representation of the Native Americans. The report suggests changing the tribal mixture of the peaceful Indians, which already had been changed from simply "Mohicans" in the story outline to a "A mixture of Navajo, Mohican and Mandan" in the initial script, in order to be more authentic: "The Mandans were among the most violent, intransigent of all the American Indian tribes. They made war on everyone, on any excuse. Suggest Pawnee or Cherokee." The report also notes that:

"Mohican" is a very bad tribal name to use for several reasons: it is not really an Indian name (Mohegan or Mahican is close). It brings to mind immediately "Last of the..."; and they were also very war-like. Suggest: Delaware. (The Delaware were related and sets and props would be correct for either culture.) (1)

Finally, the research report notes that the script is not authentic in its call for Indian costuming: "feathered cloaks are associated with the natives of Polynesia and with the Aztecs. Some feathers were used by the California tribes in particular, as decorations. Use by northern and eastern tribes is not valid" (3).

Despite the Kellam report, the aired version of "The Paradise Syndrome" reproduces the noble savage stereotype with little change. The episode begins with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beaming down to a planet that lies directly in the path of a huge asteroid which threatens an ominous collision that will ultimately kill all the planet's inhabitants—"A mixture of Navajo, Mohican, and Delaware," as Spock describes them. Upon seeing the Indians, Kirk fantasizes about their "peaceful, uncomplicated" nature, and McCoy chimes in: "Typical human reaction to an idyllic natural setting. Back in the Twentieth Century we referred to it as the Tahiti syndrome. It's particularly common to over-pressured leader-types like starship captains." Soon after the landing party finds evidence of the conscientious "super race" who wanted to "preserve" the Indians—the Noahs of the galaxy as it were—Kirk accidentally hits his head, gets amnesia, and is subsequently separated from his friends. After diligently trying but failing to rescue their Captain, Spock and McCoy return to the Enterprise to deal with diverting the impending asteroid. On the planet's surface, the Captain, unaware that he is a "more evolved" human than the Indians, befriends the tribe—eventually "rising to the top" of his "natural" ability by becoming a medicine chief and, as the Tahiti syndrome would have it, marrying, in a feathered cloak no less, one of the tribe's beautiful squaws, Miramanee (Sabrina Scharf).

Like the production documents, the noble savage stereotype in the broadcast text emphasizes the superiority of whiteness. In one scene, for example, Miramanee tries to figure out how to pull Kirk's shirt off, as she can't find any lacing. Portrayed as simpleminded, she is not that bright. Moments earlier, Kirk has saved a boy by using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and fashioned a lamp from an old piece of pottery. Despite his amnesia, he is shown as naturally and technologically superior. The text seems to say: you can take the white man out of civilization, but you can't take civilization out of the white man. Given the impossibility of the white man's "return" to the simplicity of paradise, the ending in particular plays out the so-prescribed evolutionary sophistication of whiteness and, in the process, resolves Kirk's Tahiti syndrome. When the Indians realize Kirk is no God, they stone both him and Miramanee (it is the Indians who are violent and brutal in this version of the noble savage stereotype). Spock and McCoy eventually intervene, but only Kirk survives. In a standard Euro-Indian miscegenation narrative, the native girl dies so that Kirk, the white male hero, isn't shown unheroically and immorally leaving her and their unborn baby behind; in other words, so that Kirk can come off as a morally superior being. The starship Captain is left unencumbered in his trek towards a liberal-humanist future.

Towards a Conclusion. In its attempt to imagine "infinite diversity in infinite combinations," the network and creative decision-makers behind the production of the original Star Trek participated in and facilitated racist practices. First, the tension between NBC executives and the creative decision-makers transformed the more literal and bold articulations of humanism—José, a female Number One, an unprecedented kiss between a black and a white actor— onto the more metaphoric and allegorical levels. Treatments that call for an integrated cast are whitewashed; scripts that call for a radical critique of racism are diluted. The cast was still integrated, but liberally kept at the margins of narrative cause and effect. Second, the creative players themselves participated in racist practice by relying on some of the myths and ideologies of what can ultimately be described as white supremacy. In this regard, women of color are particularly brutalized, serving the scopic desires of a male-centered humanity trying to simultaneously fetishize and universalize an exotic future.

In "The Paradise Syndrome," as I have tried to show, Native Americans are systematically objectified, sites of displaced libidinal desire, metaphorically "caged" in pristine conditions on a faraway planet by a benevolent "super race" which is implicitly linked to the very white Captain James T. Kirk. In sum, despite their attempt to create a more egalitarian universe—to resist network capitulations to racism and engage and critique social issues—the creative decision-makers behind the production of Star Trek failed to escape the paradox of the liberal-humanist zeitgeist.


NOTES. I would like to thank Vivian Sobchack for her valuable suggestions and insights.

1. For a more comprehensive analysis of the various processes informing the meaning of race in Star Trek—including narration, intertextuality, chronotopes, advertising, and reading—see my book-length study of the entire Trek phenomenon, Star Trek and History: Race-ing Toward a White Future (forthcoming from Rutgers UP). For a comprehensive analysis of the broadcast texts of the original Star Trek, see my article, "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: Diegetic Logics and Racial Articulations in Star Trek," Film & History 24:60-74, Feb-May, 1994.

2. The Gene Roddenberry Papers housed in Special Collection at the UCLA library include an extensive assortment of scripts and related production documents associated with the making of Star Trek. I would like to thank Majel Barrett for allowing me access to this collection and Brigitte Kueppers for her valuable assistance and on-going work with this collection.

3. Almost as if to rub NBC's decision to reject "The Cage" in their faces, Roddenberry incorporated the footage from the failed pilot into a two-part episode, "The Menagerie" (1966).

4. This memo also attempts to censor any material of a sexual nature: "Caution on the postures and actions of our four principles so that no impropriety can be suggested. The embraces must not be such as would embarrass a viewer, and there must be no open-mouth kissing."

5. There are several accounts of "the kiss" from the various actors involved. In her autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories (NY: Putnam's, 1994), Nichols claims that she and Shatner kissed numerous times (193-97). Nonetheless, the shot broadcast doesn't actually show a kiss (as do the shots with Spock and Chapel).

6. White also argues that the noble savage fetish in the eighteenth century transformed into a critique of nobility rather than a critique of the treatment of the Indians. The referent for the fetish, he writes, "is not the savages of the new or any other world, but humanity in general, in relation to which the very notion of `nobility' is a contradiction" (191). In the primary evidence surrounding the making of "The Paradise Syndrome" there is no trace of concern for class differences and conflicts. Instead, the noble savage fetish and Kirk's white skin reveal an advanced humanity that resembles divinity. There is also no underlying criticism of the "nobility" of advanced human/ white society in this episode. Instead, the referent most commonly articulated is the evolutionary superiority of whiteness en masse. According to Star Trek's liberal-humanist vision, humans have evolved beyond class or racial difference into what I would suggest is a white-washed future.


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