Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: Diegetic Logics and Racial Articulations in the Original Star Trek
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 24, Numbers 1-2, 1994
- pp. 60-74
- View Citation
- Additional Information
60 Bernardi / Infinite Diversity Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations: Diegetic Logics and Racial Articulations in the Originai Star Trek Daniel Bernardi Intolerance in the 23rd century? Improbable! If man survives that long, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear. It's a manifestation of the greatness that God, or whatever it is, gave us. This is infinite variation and delight, this is part of the optimism we built into Star Trek. - Gene Roddenberry1 SuIu: Come with me, fair maiden! Uhura: Sorry, neither!2 In "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" (1/10/69), the U.S.S. Enterprise is on an urgent rescue mission when it comes across a stolen shuttlecraft and its thief, a half white and half black humanoid named Lokai (Lou Antonio). "Judging by looking at him," Captain Kirk (William Shatner) says, "we know at the very least he is the result of a very dramatic conflict." Soon after encountering the odd alien, another half black and half white humanoid, BeIe (Frank Gorshin), boards the starship. Claiming to be the Chief Officer for the Commission of Political Traitors from a planet named Cheron, BeIe demands that the Enterprise take him and his "political prisoner," Lokai, back to their home world. Lokai, on the other hand, claims the he and his kind have been persecuted by BeIe and his kind, and demands political asylum. The difference between the two bicolored humanoids-and the cause of their conflict-is that they are oppositely colored: Lokai is white on the right side and black on the left side; BeIe is black on the right side and white on the left side. The black and white make-up signifies the struggle overthe meaning ofrace-what "race" meant politically, economically and socially-that dominated American politics and social movements during the 1960s.3 Falling under the umbrella of the Civil Rights Movement, such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X, the American' Indian Movement, the Chicano and Puerto Rican movements, the anti-war movement, among many others, struggled to redirect the meaning of race from a separate but inherently unequal reality toward a more egalitarian ideal. This was a period when images and stories Daniel Bernardi is a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles in the Department of Film and Television. Film & History, Vol. XXIV, No's. 1-2, 199461 of civil rights and anti-war demonstrations flowed into the homes of millions of viewers, forcing Americans to confront significant and even violent challenges to the existing color-line. As sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant have shown, during the 1960s: "... new conceptions of racial identity and its meaning, new modes of political organization and confrontation, and new definitions of the state's role in promoting and achieving 'equality' were explored, debated, and fought on the battleground of politics."4 Along with the make-up, the dialogue in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" is a site for the explicit correlation between Lokai's and Bele's struggle over their physiognomic duality and the non-fictional conflict over the meaning of race. In one scene, Lokai tries to secure sympathy for his position from various members of the Enterprise crew. Referring to Earth, Chekov (Walter Koenig), remarks: "There was persecution once. I remember reading about it in my history class." SuIu (George Takei) follows: "Yes, but it happened way back in the twentieth-century. There's no such primitive thinking today." In another scene, Kirk informs BeIe that the Federation will not allow extradition of Lokai on the grounds of "due process," a real space-time Fourteenth Amendment clause used by the Supreme Court to help dismantle segregation. These references to the "primitive" racism of Earth's past and to the concept of due process links an imaginary universe with the socio-political context of the 1960s. Editing, optical effects and graphic images of burning buildings add a powerful didacticism to "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," as the episode rhetorically associates racial conflict with...