- Selected Letters from Readers
The following responses were submitted by PMC readers using regular email or the PMC Reader’s Report form. Not all letters received are published, and published letters may have been edited.
PMC Reader’s Report on Valerie Fulton, “An Other Frontier: Voyaging West with Mark Twain and Star Trek’s Imperial Subject”
I am writing in regard to Valerie Fulton’s article ‘An Other Frontier: Voyaging West With Mark Twain and Star Trek’s Imperial Subject’ (PMC 4.3. May 1994).
While I enjoyed this critical reading of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I felt that Valerie Fulton’s article did not fully examine the complexity of the series, and particularly of the well documented viewer’s responses to the series.
Fulton discusses naturalization of imperialist discourse in ST: TNG. She alleges that the Federation is engaged in imperialist “exploration, conquest and colonization” of the cultures they come into contact with. She points out that the Federation does not colonize in order to gain material wealth—they already command an unlimited supply of food and energy.
It’s Imperialism, Jim, but not as we know it? The Federation is concerned, not with material but rather with cultural enrichment (Picard, the Captain of the Enterprise, is an amateur archaeologist). A cultural plunder of the Other could be as damaging as material plunder, but the Federation never pillages the treasures belonging to the ‘alien’ cultures it comes into contact with. The Prime Directive has been created by the Federation in an attempt to maintain the autonomy of the Other. The exploration of the frontier in Star Trek: The Next Generation is no simple process of colonization but an ongoing negotiation with the Other.
Of course, the Federation cannot help but influence the cultures it bumps into in its exploration of the galaxy, and the process of exploration and the humanist pursuit of knowledge does involve a certain amount of cultural imperialism. However, the series ST:TNG does not “tacitly help to perpetuate the conventional U.S. wisdom that acts of imperialism by our government against third world nations are benevolent rather than self-serving, benign rather than aggressive.” What has become known as ‘The Star Trek Phenomenon’ prevents such perpetuation. The Star Trek universe provides a framework in which questions raised by the confrontation with the self and Other can be explored.
Rather than agreeing that, through Star Trek “we are simultaneously discouraged from practicing the kind of intellectual self-scrutiny that might produce alternative modes of discourse and lead toward social change,” I would argue that Star Trek provides a vital site for this kind of self-scrutiny. The extraordinary level of engagement with the viewer that Star Trek manages to elicit is evidence of the impact that this series has had on Western culture. The many discussions relating to the show on the Internet and in fanzines, at Star Trek conventions and in front of the TV ensure that Star Trek is never passively accepted but is discussed, analysed, and critiqued, endlessly. Correspondingly, if the series does have an imperialist discourse, then this discourse is also endlessly discussed, and analysed by viewers.
I hope that Valerie Fulton pursues her interest in Star Trek, and that this interest leads her to watch many more episodes, and also to look at the rich and exciting culture of Star Trek fandom.
PMC Reader’s Report on Kevin McNeilly, “Ugly Beauty: John Zorn and the Politics of Postmodern Music”
I simply wanted to note how much I enjoyed the article on the beauty of Zorn’s composition. His music does indeed incite the body, while the mind is simultaneously belied by the raucousness and anti-musical sound of it all. Such composers, of which there are few indeed, require the listener to participate, like it or not. May more people learn to appreciate the incorporation of listener and performer.
PMC Reader’s Report on Dion Dennis, “Evocations of Empire in A Transnational Corporate Age: Tracking the Sign of Saturn”
I really don’t know where to start... I thought your article here to be truly fascinating and for...