Is Trek Still Too Eurocentric?

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Nob Akimoto, Oct 21, 2013.

  1. Nob Akimoto

    Nob Akimoto Captain Captain

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    Sci, I admit that the example in Losing the Peace is probably a little unfair for me to use. I get the impression that syncretism was what Leisner was after than Euro-dominance, and given how important sporting events ARE in a lot of African states (The Africas Cup being one of the premier sporting events in the world, really) I don't think that's necessarily an off description.

    I honestly find the propensity for all cultural relics of Earth to be Anglo-American or European at best to be more irritating than anything else. It also doesn't help when people get the details of foreign ship names wrong, like Mack stating Musashi's name comes from the swordsman rather than the fact that the name came from the ancient province name. It's also equally irritating when they use Euro-centric names for starships that really have no more business being on a 24th century ship. Robert E Lee? Zhukov? Tirpitz? Cortez? I mean come the fuck on. I suppose we should be happy there's not a USS Pol Pot or a USS Hideki Tojo, right?
     
  2. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    Fair enough then! And I would just like to say that when I read that bit of Losing the Peace, I thought it was a lovely assertion on William Leisner's part that Somalia, a country so often derided as a failed state and depicted as barely civilized in Western media, is going to have a bright, prosperous, and peaceful future.

    (I was also happy to see that he headquartered the refugee agency seen in that novel in Ho Chi Minh City.)

    I think that's fair. It's a function of the producers of canonical Trek, and the authors of TrekLit, being, of course, the products of Western culture. We are all prisoners of our autobiographies, and Star Trek does reflect its origins as an artifact of Western culture -- just as, say, Gundam reflects its origins as an artifact of Eastern culture. Being more inclusive and multicultural is something that always needs work -- and I think, by the way, that the writers deserve props for characters like Jasminder Choudhury, T'Ryssa Chen, Raina Desai, and Diego Reyes -- but I also think that good-faith attempts at it deserve a little slack, too; it's almost inevitable to get something wrong about a culture you're not a part of when you try to include elements of it.

    I've never understood why we saw a U.S.S. Cortés, either. For what it's worth, I seem to remember Ronald D. Moore posting on his old AOL board during the run of DSN that the Cortés was named by Hans Beimler, a co-producer and frequent co-writer of Ira Steven Behr's on DSN. Beimler was born in Mexico City to Spanish and American parents. Personally, I like to pretend the Cortés is named after someone in early Federation history rather than the conquistador.

    To the best of my knowledge, the only ships we've ever seen named Robert E. Lee have been minor ships in some video games. A tasteless choice, but not something the writers of TrekLit are responsible for.

    Tirpitz, I don't get. But it first appeared in a video game, so I almost wonder if an author was looking for Sovereign-class ship names on Memory Beta and used it for that reason. I'd never heard of Tirpitz before tonight.

    Zhukov, I don't mind so much. Whatever else he may have done, Zhukov helped defeat Hitler. That ain't nothin'.
     
  3. David Mack

    David Mack Writer Commodore

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    Ahem. Excuse me:

    From the Wikipedia article about Miyamoto Musashi:
    Furthermore, I said only that the starship in that scene was named in honor of the famous swordsman; I never asserted that the name was original or unique to him, or that it had no other historical precedent. Regardless of whether a prior naval vessel in Earth history had been named for the province, this one was named for the swordsman. That's not a mistake; that's authorial choice. You don't have to like it, but you don't get to call it a mistake.

    The next time you decide to call me out for a mistake, try having your facts straight first.
     
  4. Chuck4

    Chuck4 Ensign Red Shirt

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    It's a show that mainly survive by its ratings amongst an American audience. If the world is too good for colloquial prejudices of Americans, the show will draw poor ratings and come to a stop. Where would you be then?
     
  5. Paper Moon

    Paper Moon Commander Red Shirt

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    Yeah, this describes how I felt too, especially the bit about Somalia. Also, he retconned Geordi as being, for some intents and purposes, Somali. That's non-trivial, for the same reasons Sci outlined.

    Right, at the end of the day, this is the thing. What we're seeing here is a conflict between the story and the goal of the storytelling. Are TrekLit authors trying to build a realistic universe? Or are they trying to convey particular messages in ways their readers will understand? Because a universe that is not somewhat Eurocentric will be hard for Americans to understand (and I don't say that to defend or excuse Americans for their ignorance).

    Obviously, you have to strike a balance. But that balance will leave those two goals in conflict, which is, I think, what we're seeing here.
     
  6. CaffeineAddict

    CaffeineAddict Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    I've always thought that Starfleet was a little too Earth-Centric in general - for example, the ship names - aside from debating where on earth the names originate, weren't there several other founding members of the Federation? Why do we rarely see a Vulcan ship name, or an Andorian or Tellarite?
     
  7. Commishsleer

    Commishsleer Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I'm from Oceania (possibly the least represented in all of Star Trek) but wonder what percentage of Star Trek earnings come just from North America.
    I think the franchise is playing to its main audience. Right or wrong. Star Trek has IMO become more American-centric as we went from TOS to TNG to .. to ENT along with the occasional Pom. I know there have been aliens as regulars in these series but they are all 'American aliens'.

    Star Trek has been traditionally very conservative IMO. I believe thats one of the reasons it hasn't shown a gay character so as not to offend fans in the American heartland.
     
  8. James Swallow

    James Swallow Writer Captain

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    And so there is: Link.

    As a Brit, It's interesting to me to see Star Trek described as "Eurocentric" when I think that most Europeans would consider it to be "Americentric"; but I guess that's a matter of perspective...

    I know it's not the same thing, but I deliberately wrote a Welsh Starfleet officer into Day of the Vipers because that was the only part of the British Isles that hadn't been represented in a Star Trek show.

    But as for casting a wider net, it's a fair point. I put an Arab Muslim officer in The Poisoned Chalice, although I never got into specifics about where she's actually from.

    Another factor is to consider that human characters that might been see as "eurocentric" may not even come from Earth at all. Say, like Titan's Christine Vale, who was born on Izar. We only ever saw one person from Izar on TV and he had an American accent, so does that automatically mean that Izar was colonized by and therefore only culturally informed by America? It's food for thought...
     
  9. Relayer1

    Relayer1 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Yes and no - Trek is an American show so that's going to 'inform' the whole premise. It is by and for Americans and, to a slightly lesser extent, countries that are culturally linked to America, which includes much of Europe and also the English speaking world. American cultural dominance (which could be viewed a development of European culture) and specifically Hollywood's influence is pretty pervasive.

    With Firefly the culture portrayed does have a mixed Chino-American flavour and is to be applauded for that, but it is really window dressing - the show is still pretty American. After all, how many people will subconsciously embrace a show that is lacking familiar touchstones and seems alien to them ?

    Globalisation will eventually break down more barriers, but storytelling will inevitably have a frame of reference that reflects its origins.
     
  10. MacLeod

    MacLeod Admiral Admiral

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    ST's key Markets, are in essence the English Speaking countries. And like any product it is marketed to appeal to those countries first and foremost.

    But one could possibly make an argument that because it has been English speaking country centric, it has harmed it in trying to break into different markets.
     
  11. David Brennon

    David Brennon Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    How are decorated and celebrated generals from our history any less acceptable than calling a Federation ship the Shran or Shakaar? Is it only acceptable for us to put names of people we today like on the Starship? General Lee has several high schools named after him today and had an American sub named after him. Alfred von Tirpitz was obviously the namesake of of the battleship in his homeland. Georgy Zhukov was a tireless servant of the Soviet Union. What have they done to not be remembered?

    Also, I don't think lumping Robert E. Lee and Georgy Zhukov in with Pol Pot and Hideki Tojo are really apt comparisons. If that's not what you're doing I apologize for reading it that way.

    Let me ask you a question. Are you pissed that the Janus Gate novel Future Imperfect has a ship named after Andrew Jackson?
     
  12. Nob Akimoto

    Nob Akimoto Captain Captain

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    Mr. Mack, the reason I classified the naming convention as a mistake is because it's a common mistake put forth by both westerners and even native Japanese: That the original warships of the name were named for the swordsman rather than the province name. Given as you say that it was an authorial choice, then I retract my statement that you made an error. That said, please understand where I'm coming from.

    Robert E. Lee was the commanding general of a state created for the explicit purpose of furthering human chattel slavery. Alfred von Tirpitz was an admiral who helped the naval modernization of Imperial Germany whose name was then also used by a state that is renowned for cruelty and genocide. Georgy Zhukov was the servant of a state that killed tens of millions of its own people.

    The Soviet Union, the Confederacy and the German Reichs aren't all that much better than the Khmer Rouge or Imperial Japan.

    Mr. Swallow, my apologies as I seemed a little unclear on the Sugihara example. I meant it was a good example of what I was talking about, rather than a wistful desire to see such a ship.

    I can see what you mean about Americentric, I suppose my general point was that it was pretty much very Euro-American centric in that even the Americanness is a very distinct middle to upper-middle class white American sensibility. Whether it's their choice of theater or music, there's definitely a tendency to overplay the old European stuff at the expense of nigh everything else.

    In general, my point is that TrekLit has been a tremendous improvement over the tv shows or movies. But I wanted to ask the question if it could be better than it is now.
     
  13. Nob Akimoto

    Nob Akimoto Captain Captain

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    The funny thing about the "Sino-American"ism of Firefly was that...there were 0 Chinese (or really Asian) people in the show at all!
     
  14. David Brennon

    David Brennon Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    By your logic neither is the United States or the United Kingdom and so we shouldn't have a USS Enterprise as the headliner for three of the Star Trek franchises. You didn't answer my question about Andrew Jackson. There is controversy over Davy Crockett's legacy, does a ship being named after him offend you? Should they never have named a ship after Yuri Gagarin because he was a Soviet? Your looking at this issue from one side and not being receptive to another view.

    Let me put it another way. These ships we've both mentioned, they are named after people from Earth's history. A United Earth's history. Because by this point we're a unified people with a varied history, we have to accept that the villains of one group may be considered heroes to another. Lee, Tirpitz, Zhukov, Jackson, Crockett, Gagarin. These are names that deserve remembering because they were all important to their people, the people who make up a united earth. From a real life perspective, is it really that offensive to you that the writers settled on these names? Why isn't Enterprise bothersome? Seriously, I want to know why, because if you're going to say Robert E. Lee shouldn't be have a namesake because of what his country did, not what he did but his country, then why do we want to glorify the misdeeds of American and British past by using one of our ship names in Star Trek?
     
  15. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Well, that's not entirely true. It was a state created in order to preserve the cultural identity of the rural Southern states that saw themselves as a distinct society from the industrial North and felt they were in danger of losing that culture. Slavery was one of the principles they wanted to defend, there's no denying that, but it wasn't the only one.


    But he also played a key role in defeating Nazi Germany.

    The problem is, every historical state has its evils. Prior to the late 18th century, you'd be hard-pressed to find any state that didn't practice slavery. The United States was slaughtering and persecuting Native Americans even while it was pioneering freedom and equality and freeing its slaves. Thomas Jefferson kept slaves. And so on. When it comes to history, if you're too unforgiving, you can't honor anyone. Sometimes you have to acknowledge the good people did while being aware that they weren't saints. It's hard to find a pure white hat or black hat in history.
     
  16. David Brennon

    David Brennon Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    Well said, Christopher.
     
  17. Nob Akimoto

    Nob Akimoto Captain Captain

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    Zhukov and Lee are different from Gagarin in that they were military men, who led their respective militaries. Lee in particular is different because he willingly chose to side with secessionists who loudly and constantly proclaimed the inferiority of slaves and demanded the right to keep people as chattel. What he chose to do was become the ultimate military leader of that group, and fought and commanded the war for that purpose.

    I realize that there are a lot of mixed messages in history, but I think there's sufficient good or preferable examples than the ones that are more ambiguous that we don't have to turn and use those names when they might offend people more broadly. Look, Stalin is still considered a national hero in Russia. Do we really want a USS Iosef Stalin? Of course not. Andrew Jackson is an edge case. I would say that I would much rather have a USS John Quincy Adams than a USS Andrew Jackson for sure, just as I would prefer a USS Wilberforce to a USS Ruyard Kipling.
     
  18. Sci

    Sci Admiral Admiral

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    Robert E. Lee may not have been a slaveowner, but the man fought for a government that was founded with the specific purpose of preserving and expanding the slave system against what it perceived as an abolitionist threat from Abraham Lincoln. The Confederacy's purpose for existing was slavery, and no man who led the Confederate Army deserves to have a ship named after him in Star Trek's egalitarian future.

    I can't speak for Nob Akimoto, but I certainly don't think anyone should depict a Federation Starship Andrew Jackson.

    Andrew Jackson was a mass murderer and an imperialist, and one of the crucial people behind Indian Removal -- one of the most oppressive, immoral things the U.S. government ever did. He should be condemned by history, not celebrated by it.

    Edited to add:

    Anyone who doubts that the Confederacy was formed for the primary purpose of preserving slavery need only read the various Declarations of the Causes of Secession issued by the seceding state governments, in which they all explicitly said they were seceding to preserve slavery. And, of course, there's the infamous Cornerstone Speech given by Confederate States Vice President Alexander Stephens, in which he proclaimed, "Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."
     
  19. David Brennon

    David Brennon Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    When you talk about Lee simply deciding to side with the people who wanted to keep the institution of slavery you are reducing history to its basest components. Lee was anti-secession. He sided with his home state, not specifically with the CSA. He didn't become General in Chief of the CSA until the war was nearly over, he spent the majority of it as commander of the army of northern virginia. If you think he somehow supported the notion of slaves being less than human, why would he have wanted to arm them and gradually free them? Towards the end of the war Lee wanted to actually arm the slaves to fight for the CSA and argued to emancipate the slaves that served the country. He wanted slavery to end and was happy it was abolished in the end.

    I agree, don't use the names of bad people, but Lee was not a bad person. You cannot condemn these people's achievements because of the actions of their nation. Again, if you do that then you have to consider how much of our own history we need to look at and judge if names like Enterprise really should be so important.
     
  20. David Brennon

    David Brennon Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    No one here is defending the CSA.

    No one.

    However, as I said before, to condemn a person based on their nation is simply ignorant. You ignore the broader historical context when you do that.