Cardassia was never great

blog-header“Duet,” the 18th episode of Deep Space Nine, is often talked about as one of the finest pieces of television ever produced on Star Trek. To be honest, I was only humoring my boyfriend until this episode by watching Deep Space Nine.  I remember looking at him and him looking at me and us staring at each other, speechless, before turning back to the television.

The plot begins simple enough: Major Kira Nerys of Bajor thinks she has nabbed a war criminal from the Cardassian Occupation of her planet. And then it quickly becomes so much more complicated, in ways the viewer is not expecting. The episode is about dealing with a convoluted and painful past on both a personal and patriotic level. What will it take for Cardassia to admit it’s wrongdoings during the occupation? How will admitting guilt help anyone?

I watched this episode for the first time just weeks after Donald Trump was confirmed as the Republican Party’s pick for the presidential race. What incredible timing. Cardassia, in the show, has this conquerer-complex, in that it feels it must establish itself as a power within the Alpha Quadrant by colonizing other star systems. In this case, that meant Bajor. It was expelled, but only after forty years of occupation that was by no means peaceful or easy for the Bajorans. The whole, “Make America Great Again” slogan felt suspiciously similar to the Cardassian ideal of “retaking” what was once theirs.

So much of what the phrase “Make America Great Again” embodies isn’t just economic prowess, it’s also a twisted-kind of political pride. “Duet” is about the isolation that xenophobia and nationalism not only enforces, but creates. Major Kira practically hungers for retribution from her war criminal, so much so that Major Jadzia Dax, her best friend, starts to worry about her.

Kira says, “As far as I’m concerned, if he was at Gallitep [ a labor camp ], he is guilty. They’re all guilty. His punishment will let Bajor feel some… satisfaction.” She directly addresses her planet’s need for reparations. The occupation ended some time ago, but it still rebuilding from more than forty years of suffering.

Dax, the eternal voice of morality and long-term-consequences, says, “It sounds like you’re trying too hard to believe what you’re saying. You already know, if you punish him without reason, it won’t mean anything. And you already know, vengeance… isn’t enough.”

The war criminal isn’t who he says he is. In fact, he’s just a lowly file clerk, who worked for the infamous war criminal. He has surgically altered himself specifically for the purpose of being arrested and convicted in a Bajoran court. He feels the guilt of his inaction during the occupation, and sees the Bajoran need for closure.

We see Kira grow and understand that reconciling the two planets isn’t as simple as killing off a few war criminals. Instead, she tells Marritza to go back to Cardassia and be a voice for Bajor there.

“Make America Great Again” to me seems like a message of nostalgia. It also seems oversimplified. In “Duet,” Kira and Marritza together realize that to make a difference and heal their own country’s scars they must acknowledge their wrongdoings and aspire to a new ideal. Both cultures, of Bajor’s anger and Cardassia’s refusal to admit fault, need to change in order for both move on.

This is a powerful message of not only forgiveness, but the kind of galvanization that can’t fit on the brim of a trucker cap. It’s not black and white, or a matter of pretending nothing ever happened. What needs to happen between the fictional places of Bajor and Cardassia is much more complicated than that. So I can only imagine how difficult it would be for someone that’s real, like us.

Your Ticket Out of Here

snowpiercerThe middle class is stagnating. 2015 was the first year when the middle-class didn’t make up the largest economic demographic in America. It was a big part of the campaign for both sides, with Trump wanting to “bring back the jobs” and Bernie Sanders advocating for a minimum wage of $15. It is more and more difficult to climb that ladder and more and more expensive to buy a piece of the American Dream.

Snowpiercer, the movie, is about a train in a post-apocalyptic ice-world. The passengers’ stations in life are designated by their ticket. There is no advancement. There is no moving between train cars.

Mason, the frigid mouthpiece for Conductor says: “In the beginning, order was proscribed by your ticket: First Class, Economy, and freeloaders like you… Now, as in the beginning, I belong to the front. You belong to the tail.”

One of the biggest ideas in America is the ability to move up in the class system. It’s not Jacobian Europe, where someone has to be born into the middle class. And yet, it’s obviously not a perfect system either. Money buys good schools and good schools mean more money. Those without the advantage of a private school or a very good public school have to work a little harder. That’s the basic essence of privilege, a term I’m sure we’re all familiar with. This doesn’t mean that life is easy for those who go to a good public school or private school, because life is always hard. But it’s a way to acknowledge that certain chances are statistically more likely to happen to those of a certain income bracket. They can afford intangible things like gap years or second chances. Not necessarily an easy ride, but a ride with safety nets and airbags.

Snowpiercer is more than a story about class, it’s about class mobility. The protagonists have to literally fight their way to the front of the train, dying off one by one until only one man remains to meet the conductor. It’s not even as if the people closer to the engine of the train believed the people towards the back deserved to suffer and starve. They simply believe those in the back of the train are freeloaders, and are lucky to get what they have. They eat bug-jelly made in vats that the “middle-carriage” people supply the poor. The “last carriage” people live by the grace of others. Resources are scarce. The train can only support so many people.

In the end, the protagonist who reaches the end of the train manages to destroy it. He judges that society doesn’t deserve to perpetuate itself if others must suffer under such circumstances. Talking to other people who had watched the movie, some were confused and angry. The characters were presumably the last people on Earth, so surely such suffering was necessary? Though the fact that the system needed to be destroyed and be rebuilt I imagine the writers and director intended this as a metaphor

I think this is a very absolute view of a very nuanced problem. It’s not a simple matter of “haves” and “haves-nots,” it’s also a matter of “wants” and “shoulds” and “needs.” The fact that the middle class is stagnating is a very disturbing problem, but it’s one we need to approach with a flexible mindset. The story of Snowpiercer is, after all, pure fiction.

Threats Both Foreign and Domestic

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District 9 re-imagines the classic alien invasion as a refugee story. It’s a powerful movie, directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson. It was nominated for four Academy Awards, including best picture. District 9 tells the story of a government worker who is accidentally transformed slowly into the aliens he’s supposed to monitor. The aliens have landed after ostensibly fleeing from their own home-world. After a brief celebration it quickly becomes clear that all those other movies skipped over the part where the aliens need resources and documentation. They are, after all, refugees, and who wants to deal with some few thousand of those?

I am constantly reminded of Disctrict 9 in today’s migrant politics. And it is its own breed of politics. From those who brave the Mediterranean to those who cross mountains at night, safe soil might as well be galaxies away and yet they go. On the weekend of January 30th the president passed a law that immediately prohibited those of certain countries and immigrant statuses (which was quickly recalibrated by the Defense Department) from coming back into the States. The #muslimban quickly went viral. His administration has also assured the public that the infamous “border wall” is really happening, and it looks as though the American taxpayers will foot the bill.

The point is not to discuss the various injustices, but about what this says to the people on the other side of the wall.

District 9 ends with Christopher, an alien, stealing away the mothership and leaving. Because it is a “found footage” movie, talking heads analyze the situation before the credits roll. People are frightened now. The aliens haven’t been treated well, but now that one of them has left and ostensibly gone back to alert the rest of the aliens, who’s to say he won’t come back with an actual invasion in a few years? The aliens have been persecuted and now, for the first time since they’ve landed, they have the capability of revenge.

The biggest idea behind the #muslimban and the wall is that our country is ostensibly under attack from migrants, and it must be protected from them. As the online edition of the New York Times said that weekend, “Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, said Mr. Trump simply did what he had promised on the campaign trail and would not gamble with American lives.”

They must be contained, for the safety of both our peoples and theirs. A few but prominent conservative politicians would even argue that their core values come into direct opposition with Western values, the same way aliens are portrayed in District 9. They are too strange, and dangerous to anything that stands in their way, so it’s best to have the authorities make the big decisions and keep everyone as safe as possible.

The aliens in the movie are criticized for their drain on the South African economy and their use of resources without giving anything back. It’s not discussed whether integration in the government committees assigned to the aliens or in the workforce have ever been tried. I don’t think that’s the point Neill Blomkamp was trying to make.

The unwillingness of humans to change is what created this mess in the first place. No one wants these aliens, no one wants their drain on resources, no one wants them endangering their families. However, because they are kept separate there is a lot of suffering going on. And that backfires.

History has taught us time and time again that screwing over an entire peoples just because you have the power to will eventually come back around. Rome was sacked by the Visigoths who came to the Roman countryside as refugees and were starved and turned into slaves.

That doesn’t make it right, of course. This isn’t a game of “getting even.” But it does introduce the danger of someone stealing away a mothership, and coming back to us with an armada. Is that a risk we can take?