Did Klingon culture become too stereotyped by the end of DS9?

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by USS Einstein, Jan 14, 2013.

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Did Klingon culture get over-simplified in later eras of Star TreK?

  1. Yes

    60 vote(s)
    63.8%
  2. No

    34 vote(s)
    36.2%
  1. Longinus

    Longinus Captain Captain

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    But as I said in another thread (or in this thread, I'm confused with all these Klingon threads) Klingons do have a huge interstellar Empire, they probably have dozens, if not hundreds planets full of subjugated vassal species. Maybe all that boring dirty work is done by those aliens, leaving Klingons themselves as warrior-aristocrats.

    I'm sure it offers some protection against shrapnel from exploding consoles (the number one health hazard on a starship:)
     
  2. USS Einstein

    USS Einstein Captain Captain

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    It just doesn't work like that - the British Empire ruled 1/4th of humanity - but among 40 million Britons (vs 400 million Indians) - still 99% were workers. Qo'noS will undoubtedly be the same as Manchester or Liverpool were in those times.... Except in the 20th century power became even more dependent on science and industry in organised coordination. Modern states cannot survive without a scientific base of researchers and white collar workers.

    If Klingons are in fact 8 billion warriors, why haven't they overrun the galaxy? So if they are basically a complete parody of a warrior society, like Orks in Warhammer 40,000 - with an army of billions - the Federation would literally not stand a chance, with its few million servicemen. Not to mention it would be inappropriate to the setting, and boring (another prosaic mindless character-less alien horde, like something out of Halo).

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    The Klingon Empire cannot function like a Z-canon parody of a biker gang, through extortion alone (thank god no official source has ever suggested this). It cannot simply "get" aliens to research and build D7 battlecruisers for it; it has to understand the principles of duotronic circuitry, and a thousand other scientific concepts. It cannot coerce Mizarian white collar workers to plan how natural resources get from 20 different planets to one shipyard. It cannot order a third species to simply build these things from a blueprint. It needs an industrial/economic/scientific base of its own.

    The Mongols, in their early days, did sometimes hire Chinese siege engineers to help them in their campaigns - but this was a 13th century society; and even they were more complex than that. What race is going to come to Qo'noS and dig anti-orbital bombardment bunkers, set up long range sensor nets, and construct orbital starbases for them? Are we to seriously believe the Federation would ally with a culture that transplanted alien slaves to clean Qo'noS's sewer systems?
     
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  3. PhaserLightShow

    PhaserLightShow Captain Captain

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  4. Longinus

    Longinus Captain Captain

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    @USS Einstein, there obviously are Klingon scientists and engineers. I'm less sure about those Klingon sewer workers. And yes, the Klingon Empire is oppressive an highly unequal. We almost never see anyone except Klingons and we know they oppressed Kriosians and planned to do so to Organians (that didn't end so well.) These aliens might not quite be slaves, but they are clearly not equal either.
     
  5. USS Einstein

    USS Einstein Captain Captain

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    Getting back on topic however, and away from Klingon industry/science/etc...

    Rationality wins wars. Armies are some of the most 'hard rationalist' of organizations. They will make their soldiers do things that might not be glamorous, if it improves the chances of winning and survival. A soldier might have to eat local insect wildlife, in order to survive in conditions where supply lines are poor. Religious dietary requirements and other romantic notions fly right out of the window. They wear practical fabrics, carry practical weapons, and don't do things for glamour. If a Klingon commander tells troops to 'cook' their gagh in order to release more useful protein for digestion, they will have to do it. If they are issued standard bars of field rations, that contain some unpalatable formula, they must eat them.

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    Roman troops were able to construct an 18 kilometer long 4 meter high double-wall around Alesia in three weeks, in order to starve the Gauls out. But that is why they were the greatest fighting force of their age - the ability to dig a latrine is more important than yelling loud in empire building.

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    The fact of the matter is that for the Klingons to have ever built a colonial empire in the first place, they must have been practical and disciplined, rather than relying on martial arts. So TOS Klingons were quite realistic, whereas some later episodes that tried to depict them as being strong out of ferocity were missing the mark. Empires are inherently quite opportunist, but even discounting that, like Rome, which would dig a trench round a town and starve the enemy rather than rush in, it requires organization rather than fanaticism.
    The point remains that rationality in war is important - and so by veering too far toward a feudal steriotype, DS9 occasionally made them seem ridiculous from a purely sociological/anthropological/naturalistic perspective. As I said on the previous page, armies and empires function pragmatically. If it helps to wear something different in battle, which is unfashionable, armies do it. A certain level of social complexity goes hand in hand with being able to conduct war and science on this level.
     
  6. Longinus

    Longinus Captain Captain

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    @USS Einstein, first of, sure rationality is important but there is not just one optimal way to run a nation and military. Klingon pseudo-feudalism probably works just fine. You're being too modern-Earth-]]]centric here. Maybe for example live gagh is optimal to Klingon digestion system and that's why they don't cook it? Furthermore, rationality alone won't keep the nation going (unless you're a Vulcan) and the military fighting. You also need morale and motivation and traditions play big part in that.
     
  7. USS Einstein

    USS Einstein Captain Captain

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    To make my point clearer; most of the things that you say make them "more human" (such as somewhat rational/pragmatic motives in their imperialism and societal choices) are simply culturally required to run something like a superpower capable of rivaling the Federation. I don't believe they take anything away from the Klingon mystique either - rather they add to it's realism.

    Just as I pointed out Vikings were quick to adopt Christianity when they sniffed how they could increase taxes and trade, an empire like the Klingons is driven in directions by social forces.

    Also it is problematic from a humanistic perspective to show an entire people who's internal world and lives, are so limited (as they seem to be in some episodes - utterly obsessed and with curtailed interests and expressiveness).
     
  8. USS Einstein

    USS Einstein Captain Captain

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    Yep - but that aspect was way over-emphasized in certain depictions of the Klingons. To the point of bad characterization IMO. Like the calm talking Klingon in that JJ Abrams deleted scene is such a welcome shock after hearing endless rasping voices talking about bloodwine.
     
  9. USS Einstein

    USS Einstein Captain Captain

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    This quote is the main point I'm replying to.

    I mentioned:

    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:

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    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.

    What I'm trying to say is that some forces transcend societies.

    Say that the Klingon Empire needs a cassus belli in order to justify it's invasion and oppression of the Kriosians (and if they didn't need a cassus belli and Klingons just leap to war without self-interested justification, they would be too alien to write for, and completely boring)... All cassus belli basically boil down to "security", in some oblique way. Some blatantly use it as justification, like the Roman Empire talking about their national security from the Gauls (or the USA talking about security from the communists of South America or whatever). Others say it in a more round about way; "by bringing all nations on our western borders under heaven's mandate", a Tang general might say, "we secure harmony and prosperity for all people"... Klingons don't want to die for nothing; all species resist death - so they need to be convinced of a good reason to fight, like any other species.

    The Klingons, no matter how different their 'instincts' (and if they were too differently belligerent and alien, the Federation would never be able to make peace), operate under certain principles of sentient life, beyond which behavior becomes a racist stereotype - so Klingons have to justify such invasions somehow in terms of security, even if it's something as ridiculous and roundabout as "the Kriosians have denied our ships anchorage in their system, and are thus aiding and abetting our enemies!" or "the Kriosians have broken the K'Tok accords, under section 4, dealing with protection for our trade in their sector - their honor is sullied!" or "ships have disappeared in the Krios system, we must avenge them!" or "we will never be secure from the dishonorable ways of others until all planets are in our empire!" or whatever. All obliquely refer to national security, and are thus motivated by fear; a universal facet of life.

    An individual character like Kor can hope for glory/kleos for it's own sake, but a race being like that would be un-negotiable, boring from a writers perspective, boring as an enemy, and worryingly bigoted. We can see Klingons are more than just this - witness the complex motives the Klingon lawyer in Enterprise, or of Kruge in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, or Chang's pride, nationalism and fear of change in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, or of Gorkon's freethinking and ability to confront his own worst instincts in the same movie.



    So the reason I find that clip refreshing is it gives the Klingons back their life.

    The same applies to all kinds of aspects of Klingon life, that are determined by their sentience, and ability to be understood at all. From family to social life. They must have certain facets beyond the bloodwine and death stereotype; they must in order to be a complete and natural society.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2016
  10. Longinus

    Longinus Captain Captain

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    Sure, those are all great depictions of the Klingon culture. So is "Reunion" and the whole civil war plot we saw in "Redemption" two-parter. Martok was pretty interesting character in DS9 and we also got to see a Klingon restaurant on the promenade. Worf's struggle to come to term with the fact that he really couldn't embrace the Klingon values was pretty great.

    The Klingons are the alien race with most screentime in the entire Star Trek franchise. There has been many good depictions but there also have been some that are not so great. It happens. I'm just not buying your argument that there has been some linear decline.

    You are projecting here. It is a minute long clip where Klingons wear human great coats and impractical helmets that offer no real protection once Nero starts bashing them. Those outfits are not any more practical than the stuff they wear in TNG/DS9. Both are designed to look cool, you just like this look while I like the more medieval inspired look. Sure, no bloodwine is mentioned, but I'm pretty sure you can find a lot of clips from TNG or DS9 where Klingons manage to go a minute without mentioning it (or 'Kahless', probably even 'honour'.)
     
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  11. jaime

    jaime Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I think it's not the case.
    I think most times we see the 'stereotype' Klingon, they are playing it up for the sake of the outsiders....look at Rikers treatment when he was on the exchange program, or Picard's on his way to Romulus in Unification.
    Other episodes do show a more nuanced Klingon culture, (Even allowing for Treks monoculture approach to all races to a greater or lesser extent depending on what is needed in the story, even humans.) It's even established that while they namedrop honour or kahless or victory and death etc....they aren't all like that. Worf in particular is shown to be over compensating, more Klingon than Klingon, because he was raised by humans. When you look at those details, it becomes apparent that a Klingon namedropping something like Kahless is no different to an atheist dropping something heavy on his foot and proclaiming 'jesus Christ'.
    Given we probably see less than 100 Klingons, even though we do discuss their 'culture' a lot, it's quit le apparent that that isn't all there is. (look at the holographic Klingon teenagers in Voyager.)
    It's also unfair to say that culture isn't always that monolithic....here on earth in some ways it actually is, it's just sometimes harder to see from the perspective of the globalised West (or Americanised West...even the idea that we can talk about 'the west' is a monolithic cultural principle after all, now that I am thinking about it.)
    That's quite aside from the fact that Hollywood practically always deals in stereotypes, more so the further away from sunset strip or boulevard or whatever it is you get.

    In terms of Jjs Klingons being fresh air..no, it's just another old stereotype we have seen used for the Klingons before (mainly movie era) All Russians and mad max biker gang. Deep Space Nine, as others have pointed out, is actually more nuanced by showing us non-warrior Klingons, or Klingons like Martok who on occasion mock the hell out of the stereotype, in Martoks case possibly because from his perspective he is surrounded by upper class twits. (look at his exchange woth his wife about his honourable death.)

    No....it's all about the details, in both the things we are thinking of here in our world as well as those in trek.
     
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  12. Nyotarules

    Nyotarules Captain Captain

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    Perhaps just like it is with humanity some aspects of Klingon culture are more progressive with women's legal rights than others. Star Trek tends to present alien culture as monocultural and humans as multicultural.
     
  13. Longinus

    Longinus Captain Captain

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    BTW, I don't think monocultures are that unrealistic, at least not for old space-faring civilisations. To have a space empire, you need to have your whole planet (or at least most of it) working together. This requires some sort of an unifying ideology and unified government. Once you start encountering aliens, the differences between the cultures of your own species start to feel meaningless. People start to primary identify with their species, rather than their culture.

    On some places monoculture might evolve over time, where on others there might be more of an instant shift. The Klingons are probably an example of the former, whereas Vulcans are an example of the latter. These guys were so adamant about this unifying ideology, that they exiled those who didn't agree with it.
     
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  14. jaime

    jaime Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Yup. Very true.

    You also need only look at the cultures of places on our own planet, and the chafing that sometimes occurs between them.
    Japan is a very monolithic culture it seems, and then you have American culture chafing against it (and the Internet, whose globalised culture is also very americacentric it seems at times....so many seem to claim first amendment or fifth amendment despite it not really applying on a global scale) in recent debates about the content of their comic books (that's a fight that needs fighting.......actually. Despite that sarcasm, it is, but one that is fought from within a culture not by pressure from without) via the UN recently.
    We all talk about 'prpgressive' politics, and even as someone who broadly agrees with those ideals, it is obvious that in some cases that's just another kind of monolith culture imposing it's values in what could be considered a colonialist manner. There's precious little difference between the mindset that gave us the us and them of 'civilised folk' and 'the noble savage' and that we see today when one dominant culture foists it's values on another. When the differences hit like matter and antimatter, it can sometimes be extremely funny, but other times extremely unpleasant.
    Humans eh. Funny bunch.
    The Klingons are a perfect science fiction race, allowing certain aspects to be placed more visibly so we can talk about something else in our society (they have noble values but how often do they live up to them?.... That's something that is too close to the bone if we use the federation to talk about it.) and at the same time work very well at being a 'realistic' alien culture, because for the most part, they are alien to the vast majority of viewers. More successful than something like the ferengi, who are a much much more one note race, and that note is comedy.
     
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  15. JoeZhang

    JoeZhang Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Except Iain M Banks presents the opposite of this with no problems.
     
  16. Nyotarules

    Nyotarules Captain Captain

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    I still see a difference between complete monoculturalism (e.g if every human adopted Americanism, heaven forbid! lol) and unifying under a central belief system. Looking at real world history, Europe before the Reformation had Catholicism as the majority religion, yet the English, Scottish, Irish, Portugese, French, German etc were still culturally diverse +ve (but killing each other -ve). In my head canon I can see the Vulcans for example, unifying under the Surakian philosophy but still respecting their cultural and ethnic differences on the planet as long as they did not disrupt the new status quo, if not than the concept of IDIC makes no sense at all, before they made contact with alien races. And their concept of logic is meant to be over 2000 years old by TOS.
     
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  17. jaime

    jaime Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I would agree with that. You see the same in some of the positive aspects of the British Empire and the later Commonwealth. It's why, for all our bad reputation in some quarters, Britain is actually one of the most functional multicultural societies. Even the most hardened dodgy nationalist will probably happily eat a curry.
     
  18. USS Einstein

    USS Einstein Captain Captain

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    @Longinus @jaime @Nyotarules @JoeZhang - Earth itself is a monoculture by the 24th century in Roddenbury's vision - a secular humanist one, that came about gently over 200 years, via education and materialistic/psycho-spiritual progress (rather than violently imposed on the unwilling like in the French revolution) - and he saw that as a positive; the dismissal of religion and ethnic prejudice, in favor of a global identity, was very important to his view of progress. I can't say I disagree, given what we have seen in the Middle East and South Asia - the time for respecting everyone's right to cultural atavism, no matter how bigoted or coercive it may be, has worn out it's welcome, in my eyes.

    He was even as radical as to suggest English as a universal language. What better form of communication than the one used by the largest empire in Earth's history (the British Empire), followed by it's most influential superpower (the USA), adopted by many other countries (including India, the world's largest democracy), and with a volume of literature far surpassing any other language in Earth's history? In his view it was rational, when one discounts pride and cultural romanticism, perhaps even inevitable, when one looks at the historical development of language, and how most that ever existed have died out in the last century.

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    The fictional Surakian philosophy of Vulcan, and the humanist one of Earth, and their influence on the wider Federation, looks increasingly utopian as a setting for drama in the 21st century, but when I was younger, it didn't seem beyond the realms of possibility, since most conflicts were presented as political and practical. Now we have seen the revival of medieval religious imperialism, anti-intellectualism, ignorant/racist conspiracy theories about the west, and the use of scripture in policy. I can understand why post-modernism and post-colonialism was skeptical or critical of things that were vogue in western culture (and by extension the universal pan-human and secular culture that was developing out of it), but it went too far. Modernity was rejected as being just another way of life, equal to religious fanaticism (which it clearly isn't, in terms of it's practical effects).

    But on topic, I bet Qo'noS has a ton of diversity we haven't seen - and we have seen mountain cities (ENT), lowland cities (TNG), and some vast industrial province in (Star Trek Into Darkness); but I agree with Longinus that monocultural planets aren't unrealistic. It's even one of the requirements for joining the Federation - global government.

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    @Longinus - I don't think we are talking about the same thing anymore; my main contention was that humanoid life in Star Trek must share certain inalienable social and emotional underpinnings that are universal to all people. And thus the "more human" Klingons of TOS, the TOS movies, and JJTrek are more believable, identifiable, and compelling than certain other depictions. The point was a reply to the contention you made, that such things made the Klingons less alien and more human, which I disagree with the phrasing of, and disagree with the sentiment of - their behavior may be more understandable, but therein lies the hallmark of a compelling character and villain - Klingons are not utterly alien like a Xenomorph; rather the cultures in Star Trek are basically Westphalian nation-states in space. The differences between humans and Klingons in Star Trek are primarily cultural, not psycho-neurological, or in the realm of consciousness. Thus, their culture may be different, but not beyond the realm of understanding, and not beyond the realm of a human culture. I also think we are remembering different examples, when thinking of how later Klingons were depicted on occasion - in my mind, I see and remember examples of Klingons who had literally no defining trait beyond a set of five or six stock phrases, related to bloodwine and honor; I even remember toward the end of DS9, Martok's answer to any victory turned into something bloodwine related - does he have no life beyond this? No, he is a compelling character, but writers occasionally wrote him badly.
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2016
  19. USS Einstein

    USS Einstein Captain Captain

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    That is something I appreciate about Martok - particularly his dislike of the nobility, and presumably their orthodoxy too.

    But he never went further and rejected it's paternalistic crap entirely - indeed no Klingon, barring Torres (who is mixed race), has been shown to do this. It's like the idea that an Arabic speaker can't be an atheist in popular Hollywood imagination; as if religion is intrinsic to those cultures (when estimates actually suggest like 5%-10% of the population is atheist in countries like Iraq).

    An appropriate response from the Klingon lawyer in ENT for example might be a rejection of the entire establishment, if he sees it as entirely corrupt. I appreciate Ezri's quote "the Klingon Empire is dying, and I think it should die" more and more. But it was radical and shocking when I first heard it (being a fan of Klingons like anyone else here, I wanted the Klingon Empire to stick around in Trek as long as possible). Now I see that it was a skeptical perspective on cultures that refuse to be self-critical.
     
  20. fireproof78

    fireproof78 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I know there has been a lot of back and forth about monolithic cultures and them being ok, but if someone is rejecting a culture, doesn't that make it not monolithic?

    I mean, as much as people don't like "Way to Eden" it at least showed a side to the Federation that was rarely seen, that some individuals reject how Federation society was constructed. Similarly, Robert Picard's life seems to be more of a rejection of the Federation standard, and not involving as much technology in his daily life. So, again, it's nice to see the variation.

    The problem that I see with monolithic cultures is the fact that it doesn't allow our characters to stand out, unless you make them either exemplary or rebellious. There are simply so many factors involved in societal development and evolution that some variation is to be expected.

    As for the Klingons, the fascinating part of their culture is that we actually see the Empire in decline. From TNG to DS9 we see the Empire stagnate, and K'mpec sees it. The infighting, and the constant war is, as has been said, a lack of self-reflection on the part of the Empire. In fact, Worf, especially in DS9, serves as a very different take on the Empire. He values honor, and is driven from an internal moral code. The Empire, in contrast is externally driven, and honor only has value in the face of other Klingons. The feudal style system is made to perpetuate itself to reflect what they have done for years, but isn't working any more. It could be exemplified in Colonel Chang or Gowron later on when he decides that a war with Cardassia is in the best interest of the Empire.

    Of course, the frustrating part is that the Empire also cycles around, being allies of the Federation, of the Romulans, before turning on them. Again, a lack of self reflection also makes for a bit repetative story telling.