Monday, November 26, 2012

Don't blame me; it was just my unrestrained id that tried to rape you

If you want to understand American gender relations in the 1960s, skip "Mad Men" and tune into classic "Star Trek." I recently re-watched "The Enemy Within" with the kids and it was an eye-opener.

A brief synopsis: due to a transporter malfunction, Kirk is split into two identical beings, a "good" Kirk who has the original's intellect and moral code, and an "evil" Kirk who has the original's lust and strength. On the surface, the episode is a nice discourse on leadership; good Kirk appears to be the ideal captain, but he can't make any command decisions without his evil half. And it's also a great example of William Shatner's genius as an actor. He makes the most of his evil side using just eyeliner and a few camera zooms.

But damn, the gender dynamics! Evil Kirk has a fascinating trip through the Enterprise. He first visits Dr. McCoy's office and demands brandy. (Why is the ship's doctor the source of liquor?) Then, good and boozed up, he pays a visit to the quarters of Yeoman Rand, whom he tries to rape. While she scratches his face, the rape is only really averted when Crewman Fisher walks by, sees what's going on, and tries to summon help. Evil Kirk disables Fisher and escapes the scene.

Later, good Kirk visits Rand and pleads his innocence, but Rand sticks to her story. To his credit, Crewman Fisher stops in and backs up Rand's story, knowing full well that he's accusing the captain of rape and doing so at risk to his own career.

Eventually, Scotty and Spock are able to repair the transporter and re-merge the two Kirks into the moral-but-decisive leader they all know and love. So then Kirk has to face Yeoman Rand, who has occasional business on the bridge. This should theoretically cause considerable discomfort to both of them, as she has to work with her would-be rapist and he can now see his past actions through the eyes of someone with a conscience. But the only discomfort appears to be from Rand, who seems to apologize to Kirk in the final scene, and he dismisses her with a simple smiling "thank you." Then Spock, out of nowhere, says with a smirk, "The imposter had some interesting qualities. Wouldn't you say, Yeoman?" Because apparently Vulcans have no emotions other than contempt for victims of sexual violence.

And keep in mind that "Star Trek" was one of the more socially liberal programs of its day, although one could probably judge from the uniforms that women's equality didn't have much of place in the creators' hearts just yet. Still, the whole I-only-raped-you-when-I-didn't-have-a-conscience-but-now-that-I-do-bygones! argument is pretty impressive.

9 comments:

Christina said...

Seth! What did I tell you about feminists? Nobody. Likes. Them.

Seth Masket said...

What about sensitive Starfleet officers?

metrichead said...

Was that a still from the episode?

Or was he shouting "Khan!"

Martin said...

I'm not a trekkie, and I've never seen that episode. But based on your description of it, the two entities the poor woman is dealing with are not identical, right? So phrases like "the whole I-only-raped-you-when-I-didn't-have-a-conscience-but-now-that-I-do-bygones!" are not accurate but rather some kind of glib showboating. If the word "I" means anything then it does not mean that the entity that is me and the entity that is me minus all my redeeming qualities can be considered to be equivalent. I don't know, this doesn't add up to some horrible indictment of Star Trek based on what I read here. It sounds like that last scene is more than a little screwed up, but it's not as simple as you're making out.

Martin said...

In other words, I don't see why your title shouldn't be taken seriously.

Seth Masket said...

I suppose it just goes to the question of whether we are accountable for our actions even in dire circumstances. The two different Kirks running around the Enterprise were every bit him. They just each had only part of his total personality. So when his constituent parts are reunited, and he apparently has full memory of their actions, is he responsible for what each did? I was uncomfortable with the idea that he could just dismiss the actions of his own dark side.

Eric Brasure said...

This episode is probably the most disturbing element of TOS's gender politics, but there are tons of other examples: the character of Number One in the pilot, Nurse Chapel, Rand, many of the one-off female crewmembers whose sole reason for being in the episode is to fall in love with a guest star... the list goes on.

The fact that none of this is ever commenting on in the show is of course interesting... Trek has always been both ahead of and a product of its time.

Martin said...

That's great, Seth. It sounds like they kind of blurred that aspect to good effect, if also disturbing effect. Because my notion is less interesting dramatically. I guess what I really meant is that I wouldn't want to be held responsible for all of my baser instincts in a context where my superego wasn't around to regulate them. That's not "me" -- it just isn't. But it sounds like they did a good job of making it more ambiguous and interesting.

Anonymous said...

The women's uniform is actually another example of values dissonance between today and the 60s. The show's costume department had women's uniforms with pants, but none of the actresses wanted to wear them given they had the option of mini-skirts. Weird, I know. But back then wearing a mini-skirt was the socially liberal, even fashionable, option.