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Old August 29 2012, 12:52 AM   #46
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Re: "Code of Honor" Ligonians: Humans or Aliens?

SonicRanger wrote:
Or is it just that the Tamarians have sufficiently bumpy heads that the audience perceives them as "aliens" rather than "1940s tribal Africans in space"? The Tamarians, after all, do kidnap the white hero and force him into a knife fight.
As I’ve said, I haven’t seen the entire episode, and until I do, I can’t say. If you look at the clip I saw, there’s no kidnapping or knife fight, so I could only go off of the clip and I mentioned that. Seeing as you’ve seen both, what do you think? Do you think they’re both just fine, or that one is not and the other is? If so, why?

Christopher wrote:
That's absolutely not what I'm saying, and I'm saddened that you've so profoundly misread my intent. I do not disagree at all that there is much about this episode that is worthy of criticism, and that it raises important issues about racial and cultural prejudice that deserve to be confronted. But the very importance and emotional impact of those issues is exactly why it is incumbent upon us to evaluate the facts of the matter carefully so that we can know exactly what it is that we're judging and critiquing. It's important to critique things that are done wrongly, but that's why it's so important to make sure we're focusing our critiques on the right things instead of on imperfect recollections or hearsay.

I am not trying to debate the morals here. I'm just trying to clarify the facts of the event. If you put someone on trial in a courtroom, you don't just make up charges or ask people what they heard about it secondhand by the water cooler; you present the evidence, you present the testimony of firsthand witnesses, you make sure the jury is considering the actual facts of the case so that they can make an informed and responsible judgment. All I'm trying to do here is present the specifics of the case of "Code of Honor" as accurately as possible. I'm not saying we shouldn't judge it; I'm saying let's judge it based on a detailed understanding of what it actually is.
I can only go off of your posts, and that’s what I’ve done. I’m glad you at least see that there are problems with this episode, but let’s say that this case is on trial and the evidence is the tape of the episode. I watched that tape, and I know what I was offended by, as did the rest of the jury. You seem to be working for the defense, telling us that maybe what we saw isn’t really what we saw. In this thread, we didn’t make up the charge. The question was already asked (and I think it’s telling that someone even had to ask, really): Are the Ligonians human or alien? Even I said, based off of how they were presented in the “tape,” they are alien, but I also can’t deny the fact that they do look very human…
Again, I'm not doing anything as simplistic as looking for a single scapegoat. I think there are many contributing factors here, a concatenation of things that produced an unfortunate result, and I'm simply trying to evaluate and understand what happened.
I’m glad to hear that because there certainly is enough responsibility to go around, as there are people who failed in their responsibilities.
Again, you're misreading what I'm trying to do here. I'm not trying to pin blame on any one person. I'm trying to show that there were multiple factors contributing to why this episode went so wrong. On the one hand, you have the script which was attempting to be a "respectful" portrayal of a samurai-like culture with a bit of Native American thrown in, but which was steeped in condescending Orientalist stereotypes. On the other hand, you have a casting process which, for some reason, selected an "African" presentation for the Ligonians, both in the choice of actors cast and in the choice of accents they used. What resulted was a mix of similarly condescending stereotypes, and since the Orientalist stereotypes had a lot of overlap with our culture's black/African stereotypes, the overall perception was of a "tribal Africa" stereotype, even though the intent of the script was based on a completely different stereotype.
Well, if all of this is true, then it just explains why everyone that was offended was offended, and those making the episode should have known better, imo. If the script itself was “steeped” in condescending stereotypes, then as I said before, it was doomed to begin with. No wonder why people, including myself, were offended. The casting of one particular group of people, etc., only added to that.

I absolutely agree that the episode suffered from being built around ethnic prejudices, but what I'm trying to get across is that it's not exclusively about black or African stereotypes -- that there were other condescending stereotypes in play as well and that the different stereotypical elements combined into a whole melting pot of ethnic condescension. Which just goes to show that all ethnic stereotypes are pretty much the same and are equally harmful. But I don't think any one person, be it a writer, producer, or director, can be singled out for blame. I think they were all trying to do different things that were all flawed in their own way and ended up producing a worse result than any one of them alone would have.
Okay, I see what you’re saying. You’re saying that it was a mix of stereotypes, but because it wasn’t a mix of actors portraying them, what people saw was stereotyped black people (which was what was in the episode). That, I would agree with. And I wouldn’t single one person out either. Like I mentioned, that script went through an approval process, and then you had other factors that contributed to the mess.

I can understand it not hitting as close to home because the ethnic group involved is more remote from our Western experience. But it was deeply condescending and grossly inaccurate in its portrayal of Mongols. It painted them as a culture that oppresses women and keeps them secluded in purdah, which is ridiculous and wrong. The fact is that women traditionally had much higher status in Mongol and other horse-nomad societies than they did in pre-modern sedentary agrarian societies. Nomads can't afford to keep half their population segregated and useless; everyone needs to contribute. Mongol women participated in politics and war alongside the men and were valued for their contributions.

There was also the ludicrous approach to women's costuming in the episode -- painting these Mongols as keeping women veiled and hidden, yet having them put Carter in a dress with a plunging neckline that showed a lot of skin. That's completely self-contradictory. From an anthropological, sociological, and historical perspective, it was just painfully wrong.
I can’t disagree with any of this, but I will say that the average viewer probably didn’t watch this episode and say “This episode was completely self-contradictory. From an anthropological, sociological, and historical perspective.” They probably just saw really bad writing, laced with really bad values, and ultimately an episode that was really bad and somewhat sexist. This is why if anybody’s doing a series where they come across new civilizations every week, they’ve got to act like they’ve only got around 40 minutes and some change to get their points and depictions across accurately. It seems as though neither one of these episodes did that.
Not if the culture you belong to has clear, predetermined rules and rituals for such an abduction and you follow those rules to the letter. Other cultures may find that behavior to be immoral and unjust, but it's still very controlled and disciplined, and by your own culture's standards, entirely civilized and ethical.
If I remember that episode correctly, I don’t think they (or Lutan) gave her back as soon as they realized that their culture and rules weren’t the same as Starfleet’s. Honoring another culture's rules when dealing with their people is also entirely civilized and ethical, lest why should they honor yours? Instead, Lutan lies to Picard, telling him that he’ll give her back and then he doesn’t. By the end of the episode, I’m not sure that Lutan was acting in an “ethical” manner, even by Ligonian standards (but then, I don't recall any of them protesting), and his own greed is why he lost out.
Then I don't think you're using the word "savage" correctly. I don't disagree with your belief that it's a bad thing, but there are better words to describe it. "Savage" doesn't just mean "a thing I don't like," it means ferocious, untamed, wild, barbarous. Frankly it's a very racially loaded term -- calling another culture savage is implicitly calling them subhuman. If your intent is to protest the racial stereotypes in "Code of Honor," then you're working against your own credibility by using that term, and I'd recommend you find a less dehumanizing one.
No, I think the word “savage” works just fine. When I think of “savage,” I think of cavemen with clubs creeping up behind women and knocking them out to take them home. That is barbarous, untamed, wild, and ferocious. Don’t misunderstand me, savagery can be a way of life that I don’t agree with, but the act of taking a woman/person against their will is a savage act. You definitely have the right to think I’m working against my own credibility by using that term, but I think you’re working against yours to not use it. When a person takes another person for their own, as if they are property, that IS dehumanizing that person, and therefore the person doing that is acting in what I would call a subhuman way. Apparently, you don’t see it that way.
It's not presumptuous at all, because it's based on the actual facts of the case. I've consulted the transcript of "Code of Honor" for the actual dialogue, and I've looked at screencaps so I could see the costume and set designs that were used, and some of the statements people have made about the content of the episode have clearly been incorrect.
But their reactions to what they actually saw in the episodes are not incorrect—they really reacted that way upon seeing the episode and felt offended. All the screen caps and quotes in the world can’t change that. Even if somebody is not remembering the episode exactly perfectly, they know how they feel about it and what they thought at the time they saw the accurate and real version of it. That’s the reason why the creators of this episode really needed to do a better job at presenting what they were trying to get across in the episode (assuming their intentions were good), but they failed there.
Again, you've completely misread my intent. I don't disagree with the moral conclusion that "Code of Honor" is objectionable due to its stereotypes. I'm just trying to point out that the reality is more complicated than many are assuming -- and if anything, perhaps even worse than people are assuming, because there are actually multiple ethnic prejudices contributing to the result rather than just one.
And why are people assuming what they are assuming? Because of the people that were shown. There may have been multiple ethnic prejudices written into that episode, but only one group or type of people was chosen to deliver those stereotypes and prejudices. And why was that? I think the answer to this question could be just as bad as anything.
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