Star Trek: The Original Watching

CBS has all of the original series available online, so I’ve been running episodes while I clean my office or do laundry or whatever. Not entirely sure why; I have to admit that my opinion of the show hasn’t changed much. There are the occasional moments I enjoy, but there’s also hella clunky writing, cheap sets, overacting, and a general lack of the things I love (like arc plots and long-term character development).

It’s interesting to look at it with historical perspective, though. The technology: I presume they did their best to be futuristic, but now it’s this weird mash of incredibly dated limitations (tapes???) and still-implausible handwavium (tricorders). The plots, reflecting the concerns and ideals of the time. But what really gets me, as you might expect, are the characters.

I think I have an easier time coping with the show’s racial shortcomings because it’s easier for me to recognize the ways in which it was progressive for the time. I mean, two non-white bridge officers? Sure, Uhura does almost nothing of note (at least as far as I’ve watched), but as Whoopie Goldberg said to her mother, there’s a black woman on television, and she ain’t no maid. And there’s the occasional black or Asian background character, too. I still cringe at things like, oh, the casting of a Mexican actor as a northern Indian Sikh, but I can usually manage to get past it, by focusing on the ways in which this was an improvement over the mass of media at the time.

With gender, it’s harder. Maybe I just don’t know enough about female roles elsewhere on TV at the time? Because it sticks in my craw that the women are mostly just sex objects, and on the rare occasion that one of them has a relevant professional role (the psychologist in “Dagger of the Mind,” the historian in “Space Seed”) their narrative function is to be incompetent and screw everything up. The men constantly reduce them to their attractiveness and/or treat them like children, and the women respond accordingly. I damn near cheered when I watched “Amok Time” (I’m at the beginning of S2 now), because while Vulcan marital tradition blatantly reduces women to prizes for the men, T’Pring quite cleverly manipulates that tradition to achieve her own ends. Go go gadget agency! And you get T’Pau, who’s respected, powerful, and able to help the protagonists — because she chooses to, not because she has to. Vulcans: 2, Humans: 0, where non-objectified women are concerned.

(Incidentally, having watched “Amok Time” — I don’t know when exactly K/S came into existence, i.e. whether it existed before that ep . . . but ye gods is that thing slashy. Much is now explained.)

The fact that I’ve watched so much is really more a testament to my obsessive sense of completism (and the ease of online watching) than any growing affection; there’s maybe two or three eps so far I’d have any desire to watch a second time. I really wish some of the other series were available online, so I could give them a shot, but sadly this does not seem to be the case.

0 Responses to “Star Trek: The Original Watching”

  1. zunger

    There was an (in)famous TV Guide episode summary for “Amok Time” — “Spock succumbs to a powerful mating urge and almost kills Captain Kirk.”

  2. kernezelda

    Women who are Vulcanoid get agency and dignity. That’s… about it. Star Trek is my first fandom, and I love it dearly, even though it was more utopian in concept than execution.

    • Marie Brennan

      Then I will root for more Vulcan women in the story.

      To be fair, the ep after “Amok Time” features Uhura stunt-rigging the comm system to get it working again, which is a nice bit of competence, and also the archaeologist lady reasserts herself as a professional, instead of totally throwing her lot in with Apollo.

      . . . but that latter case is undermined by the fact that she (of course) fell madly in love with Apollo five seconds after meeting him, and the bit where the officers basically say she’s only in Starfleet to get her M.R.S., and the bit where Apollo asks her name and then upon being told it’s Lieutenant Whatever, asks what her real name is.

      Because, y’know, a woman’s only real name is her given name.


      • kernezelda

        Well, that was poor Apollo, whose brethren (and sistren?) had abandoned him and whose ‘children’ no longer worshipped him. He was a little out of touch with modern humanity of even the sixties. 😉

    • mindstalk

      Edith Keeler?

      Googling ]women in Star Trek] found
      which is very fannish and probably biased but might still be interesting/informative. They come and go but there do seem to have been a fair number of female doctors, scientists, and engineers, not to mention Star Fleet officers (up to lieutentant in rank, plus Number One and a department head.) *Women in the military* isn’t entirely uncontroversial now.

      T’Pau is the only person who ever REFUSED a seat on the Federation Council.

      To be offered a seat on the high council of the entire United Federation Of Planets is obviously a huge honor, but to be someone who has better things to do is… well, we’re not really sure what that means, but in any case Kirk seems to be very impressed.

      she gets Kirk excused from what could have been a court martial offence with one quick call to Starfleet Command

      I haven’t seen the episode; novels had her as the planetary governor of Vulcan.

      Vulcanoid: yeah, the Romulan Commander from the Enterprise incident. A captain and (small) fleet commander.


      • kernezelda

        You know, you’re right. I’ve been slowly re-watching the original, and it’s been so long since first watching that I’ve let fannish opinion erode my memory. Just because we get Elaan of Troyius or Marlena MacGivers doesn’t deny us Areel Shaw or the Romulan Commander, just as Janice Lester is countered by Ann Mulhall.

        (Did you know Diana Muldaur, who played Dr. Ann Mulhall and Dr. Miranda Jones, went on to play Dr. Pulaski in NextGen? How’s that for neat?)

        Thanks for the reminder and the links – there are women here I’d forgotten completely.

      • Marie Brennan

        About all I can say for the women I’ve seen so far is that they’re present: sure, I’ll give the show a tiny number of points for having female servicemembers in Starfleet. Unfortunately, most of the execution has been one step forward, three steps back.

        On the other hand, I haven’t yet encountered the positive characters

  3. mrissa

    Try watching Get Smart. Good Lord. The gender-roles make the thing damned near incomprehensible in spots. We talk it through with stuff like, “Is that supposed to be funny because…something about her being a girl? But what?” And, “Why is she mad? Is it something about her being a girl again? What?”

    • Marie Brennan

      I suspect that trying to watch Get Smart would result in me killing something, so I’d better stay away.

      The recent movie was moderately enjoyable, though.

  4. april_art

    It was excruciating enough as a woman living through those times… Thank goodness it now seems almost incomprehensible to later generations!

  5. gerriwritinglog

    By the time ST:TNG rolls around, it’s the late 80’s, so gender roles are VASTLY different than before.

    Just remember that as cringeworthy as the gender and racial portrayals are in retrospect, at the time, they were groundbreaking. A black woman in a command position was UNHEARD of, as both a race and a gender issue.

    • Marie Brennan

      It just frustrates me that the show so rarely goes past the point of “look! There are women here!” to do anything more impressive with them.

      • gerriwritinglog

        At the time, though, that _was_ impressive. It was as risky in its time as Ellen coming out or having openly gay characters star in a tv show. People complain about _Will and Grace_ because of the depiction of Will’s sexuality, but I see a lot of analogies between W&G and ST:TOS in terms of what they’re willing to do.

        • Marie Brennan

          Like I said: I think the biggest problem is that I have a hard time really perceiving the ways in which the female characters were progressive. (I can see it more easily on the racial axis.)

          • mindstalk

            I’m no expert in mid-century TV, or even an amateur, but I’ve seen claims that things like “Bewitched” or “I Love Lucy” were relatively “progressive” for things like Lucy subverting the submissive role in her marriage. She was Wife, but getting a word in. This is less agency than you’d find in Austen or Shakespeare… I forget what the claim for Bewitched was. Soap operas had bumbling husbands, though this was less about being progressive and more about housewives being the audience and (literally, for the advertisers) market.

            That’s the milieu AIUI; Rosie the Riveter had been sent home from the factory and her daughter was expected to love the modern wonders of linoleum and stainless steel cookware, and welcome her breadwinner home to soap-scrubbed suburbia with a smile. In 1965 (Griswold vs. Connecticut) *married* women got the US-wide right to contraception; unmarried women got that in 1972 (Eisenstadt vs. Baird), 3 years before I was born. The pill was legalized in Canada in 1969. Contraception was legalized in France in December 1967. Abortion was illegal in all but 3 states, and possibly those as well. No-fault divorce debuted, in California, in 1969. Marital rape was legal until South Dakota started a slow movement to criminalize it — in 1975; by 1987 eight states had made it a crime, not including Texas.

            It’s against this that in 1966 you have a (black) woman on the bridge, and a parade of doctors and yeomen and lieutenants. NOW and “women’s liberation” (in print) start in 1966 as well; The Feminine Mystique in 1963.

            This imitation of instant expertise brought to you by Wikipedia and Google.

          • cofax7

            The San Francisco Fire Department didn’t hire a woman until 1987. San Francisco.

            I’m not old, but in my lifetime things have changed enormously. In fact, it’s kind of depressing: when I was a girl in the 1970s, I honestly thought I could do anything–and in a sense, I was wrong. For instance, I couldn’t enter the military academies until the late 1970s. The US didn’t get a woman into space until 1982 or so (whereas the Russians did it in the early 60s). And if I’d known about the Mercury 13, I think my heart would have broken. I’m so glad I didn’t know all this then.

  6. lowellboyslash

    I’m going to be Mr. Unpopular for saying this, but the new movie pissed me off even more. I mean, we should know better by now, and the only three ladies in the movie were the mother, the whore, and the virgin (excuse me, I mean the Mom Who Dies Tragically, Some Green Chick, and Main Character’s Love Interest Who Walks Around in Skimpy Crap Constantly).

    • mindstalk

      Though Uhura is the last only if you see Spock as the main character.

      I liked the defenses. “They needed to draw together the original cast.” “Chekov wasn’t even in the first season and they lampshaded that he’s *17* in the movie.” “la la la”.

      Though in agency Spock was probably Uhura’s love interest, and she did get that Clue. Actually some of the entries in my url were along that line: female character who probably didn’t get many lines but figured out a key fact like “that’s not Kirk”.

      Allegedly the first interracial kiss was meant to be Spock/Uhura, but Shatner demanded it.

      • Marie Brennan

        I don’t think there’s any plausible way to interpret the Spock-and-Uhura relationship that doesn’t involve Uhura deciding what she wants, then going out and getting it. Between the social disparity and Vulcan behavior, no way in hell did Spock initiate that romance. So she isn’t the object; she’s the active agent.

        Having said that, Uhura was (for me) the biggest weak spot in the movie. I can understand why the strictures of a reboot meant they didn’t add in an entirely new female character, and neither Nurse Chapel nor Yeoman Rand is exactly great material to work with — but I don’t see any good reason why Uhura couldn’t have had a more central role in the plot.

  7. strangerian

    Women, and slash

    The treatment of women in Original Trek was… as conflicted as female roles were in the late 60s overall. Women were capable of being professionals — scientists, archaeologists, military officers — but they wore dresses or the mini-skirted uniforms, and their plot significance was 90% sex object, 10% professional. (Except Uhura, who was maybe not the only professional-role woman on TV, but one of few. Of any color.) Mini-skirts themselves were one or two seasons away from having been daring, ground-breaking fashion, in that women could choose to show legs if they wanted. In the end, it wasn’t a good option for most purposes — but it remained an option, not a taboo, ever after. That was *new* in 1966. And while showing ostensibly non-human women, but not humans, as capable leaders is a standard cop-out now, it was also a coded agreement with the feminist movement that was still, then, struggling for recognition.

    It wasn’t a shining liberation, exactly — Uhura and other (human) women never got to be captains, and the women *were* nearly all young-and-pretty even when they had brains. Where were the women, other than T’Pau, over 35? But this is still a notable problem today.

    And maybe Amok Time wasn’t the only episode that put the concept of K/S into fans’ minds, since Kirk and Spock breaking out of jail bloody and bare-chested, engaging in mind-melds, and various mutual rescues in other episodes, were major factors as well. However, it gave slash a Plot and in inventing Vulcan biology, an urgent motivation.

    • Marie Brennan

      Re: Women, and slash

      Yeah, I almost snarked above that women with agency and minds of their own are clearly alien creatures. 🙂 But it was interesting, the contrast between the human and Vulcan cultures: the humans ostensibly treat women as equals (but demean them in practice), whereas the Vulcans demean them with their marriage traditions (but they end up with more agency in practice). Mind you, that’s based on a tiny sample of evidence. It’s the image I ended up with, though.

      You’re right about the slash-potential of other episodes, but I feel more like those are situations you can read slash into, after your mind’s already in that mode. “Amok Time” is the first one I’ve seen where the slash writes itself, then jumps up and down to get your attention. <g> I mean, emotional Vulcans? Empathic bonds? Overwhelming mating urges? Kirk and Spock rolling around in the dirt? Theodore Sturgeon had a dirty mind, man . . .

      • strangerian

        Re: Women, and slash

        Re Theodore Sturgeon: If all men were Vulcans, would you let one marry your captain? Not that slash didn’t explore the question pretty throughly, and I don’t *think* Sturgeon was hooked into slash fandom at any point.

    • mindstalk

      Re: Women, and slash

      My first url mentions that Yeoman Smith wore pants. No idea about the rest of them…

      The pilot’s Number One in 1964 was a female second-in-command, but she got axed by studio sexism and/or distaste for Roddenberry casting his lover.
      is an interesting essay on gender/race/militarism in TOS. Uhura vs. Yeoman Rand…

      • strangerian

        Re: Women, and slash

        The Yoeman Smith link is especially interesting in that there seems to be *another* woman wearing a trouser uniform in the background. It looks like the trouser uniform was meant to be seen as an option for women, which is a good point. But, just coincidentally, most of the Starfleet women on screen wore the miniskirt. Come to think of it, Number One wore the trouser uniform too, if I’m remembering correctly, and it seemed right for her. It’s like the show had to be simultaneously Swinging 60s, and also egalitarian future, and the 60s, ground-breaking as they were, just weren’t *there* yet.

  8. querldox

    Fair warning; when you get to the final episode, Turnabout Intruder, you probably don’t want any objects in arm’s reach that’d damage the screen when you throw them at it.

    Let’s try putting the context of the times in another way; The Mary Tyler Moore show premiered a year after the last episode of TOS in September 1970. It was the first tv show, at least that reached any level of popularity, that had a never married career woman as its main character.

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