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Old January 14 2013, 01:46 PM   #1
USS Einstein
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Did Klingon culture become too stereotyped by the end of DS9?

Thought I would post what I was saying in another thread:

Sometimes what is unsaid matters more than what is said; it's better to leave possibilities open than to close them - so the idea that we must fill in every gap in Star Trek history, and explain every part of a culture, can be a destructive impulse, that closes down speculation, exploration and opportunity.

Often, in attempting to describe an alien society, people fall into the trap of over-describing it, over-simplifying it and ossifying it - I think Klingon culture became this way in the later eras of Star Trek.

Writers did not leave enough room for opportunity - they tried to fill in absolutely every question about Klingon culture with the type of answer that closes all further speculation. You can consequently find more interesting examples of Klingon culture in older books and games, from before the time when Klingons became like this. In Star Trek: 25th Anniversary for example, the Klingon government subjects one of it's own colonies, Hrakkour IV, to lethal doses of radiation, in order to put down a rebellion - something that fits perfectly with the fascist period of their society seen in TOS, but which does not jive with the technologically inept barbarians that are sometimes presented:

In some works, every avenue of Klingon culture was explained away systematically and obsessively - but not in a very naturalistic, practical or organic way - leading to a really monolithic and simplistic society, which even the smallest nation on Earth, would seem diverse in comparison to. Take a tiny culture from the Caucasus on our own planet, and it has a hugely diverse history. Sometimes, with the Klingons, it was like the Wikipedia outline article on a culture had been taken as the law on how to write for that culture.

I really like what little we have seen of JJ Abrams Klingons - going back to a less comprehensively understood society, which acts more naturally like TOS Klingons. They are not obsessed with honour, glory and religion - no society on Earth, not even the most obsessive theocracy, would have citizens or military servicemen constantly drop Kahless, honour, bat'leths, etc, into every conversation - it's not natural.

Talk to a soldier from a perticular nation, and they won't name drop Jesus, Mohammed or the Buddha into every line of conversation; medieval Japanese culture for example did not solely consist of samurai obsessed with their katana. Even the Vikings and Mongols were more than just conquerors; the diversity of their society rivaled the Roman Empire or United States, and their kingdoms became centers of trade and learning.

Sometimes people writing about the history of a culture, suffer from a kind of 'bridging syndrome' (for lack of a better term). They try to bridge ideas from one era to another as a logical progression, when history often isn't. The idea that the period between two events must present a logical gradient - a ship or phaser made in between two other models, must look like a hybrid of the two. Also the idea that certain designs will romantically repeat themselves, is not rational - for example, the idea that because there is a ship with four warp nacelles in one era, there must be a similar class in every era.

That is just now how technology or culture develops.

Sometimes this works okay, when done occasionally - the Ambassador class looks like a lovely intermediate step between Excelsior class and Galaxy class. But other times, it's taken as a fundamental principle, rather than an exception, and undermines what really determines the look, feel and technology of any era - practicality and logic. With Klingons, this manifests as a stagnant culture that is stuck in repeating patterns of thought - obsessive barbarians is taken to be the sole defining trait of Klingon design - rather than the moral logical process in which designers think 'what would be practical and natural for this species'.

Trying to bridge things like a gradient, or romantically repeat them in cycles, can create an autistic view of history, which is all about symmetry, continuity, and is very stifling to creativity. For example, it's unlikely that Klingons would wear furs and impractical armour just out of romanticism for the past - any rational society worth a damn (and certainly one capable of running a space empire, having warp field theorists, producing complex alloys, etc), would go with practical fabrics, materials and technologies. Especially one where the military plays a big part. The reasoning that they have warrior traditions, impulsive romanticism for the past, etc, is not compelling enough, when any army's first impulse is to equip their troops with the tools to win, not to look stylish.

So the new Klingons, with their military-issue Soviet-style greatcoats (for Rura Penthe's weather, perhaps), and their emphasis on gleaning military intelligence from Nero, make more sense. So do TOS era Klingons. As someone said to me recently:

"...the one dimensional 'warrior caste' as they came to be portrayed throughout TNG and beyond, became very tedious. Looking forward to seeing a little more intelligent and diversity from them..."

I've always rationalized Klingon history something like this:

- 22nd Century: They started out as a colonial empire in space or medieval feudal state in space (which had become vastly inefficient by Archer's time - barely held together by coercion - suffering constant instability).

- 23rd Century: They went through a political revolution of some sort (comparable to the rise of fascism in Span or Italy) in the time after ENT and before TOS. The Klingon Empire was modernized into a centralized military state, abolishing primitive feudalism/levies/landholders, and replacing it with more modern forms of coercion such as conscription, propaganda, a prison system, a technologically improved military, etc.

- 24th Century: They reformed after Gorkon's peace initiative, into a more open society, but the old noble families, medieval ideas, etc, came back to some degree. Romanticism for the past was increased due to the stagnation of society.

As a diverse culture, it also easily explains why some of their architecture looks more like medieval Tibetan mountain-top architecture, and some looks more like an industrialised city with aspects of Turkish or Russian architecture in other scenes - and also why the next movie may have a slightly different looking architecture again, if the trailer depicts Qo'noS as some people say:

Last edited by USS Einstein; January 14 2013 at 02:03 PM.
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