“The Shelter” (Please view “The Shelter.” This episode of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone addresses the issue of cold war paranoia.)
Rod Serling (1924-1975) Traumatized by WWII. Live TV dramas Twilight Zone (Sci-fi social commentary) Night Gallery (horror)
“The Shelter” Media producers create texts that both subvert and maintain cultural norms. Subvert: Rod Serling is pointing out the absurdity of cold war paranoia and the fear of the “red menace.” Maintain: Serling’s protagonist is a white, middle class patriarchal male.
“The Shelter” Narrative Structure Set up: Birthday party - establishing doctor as charitable figure. Crisis: eminent nuclear attack. Conflict: neighbors at odds. Doctor won’t help. Climax: no attack. Resolution: shameful aftermath.
Term: Morality Play “The Shelter” resembles a medieval “morality play.” We might call the Doctor “Self-interest.” The neighbors “Panic,” “Fear,” “Dishonesty” and “Aggression.” No one behaves admirably.
Social Commentary “Serling’s Message” The Message: fearful people are often cruel, dangerous and dishonest. The nuclear threat is bringing out the worst in people. Implied conclusion: we should either halt nuclear proliferation, or accept it with less fear.
Question: Can viewers derive others messages than those that Sterling intended? Coming up...the intentional fallacy (part two) and oppositional and negotiated readings (next lecture)
The Outer Limits (1963-1965) An anthology series with an especially bleak tone, reflecting the era of cold war paranoia in which it was produced. (Please view “The Bellero Shield,” an episode of the Outer Limits filled with bizarre subtexts involving race, gender and the exotic “Other.”)
What Does it All Mean? Open to multiple interpretations. Some things to consider...
Wife Gone Wild Sally Kellerman plays an ambitious woman made to pay for her hubris, which is literally contained. Shades of Lady McBeth (imaginary shield).
Reading His Male A subversive take on masculinity Martin Landau’s character is depicted as weaker than Kellerman’s character, more timid and passive.
Term: “The Other” Person or group existing outside of dominant norms. In U.S. culture the dominated norms are: white, western, masculine, heterosexual, middle class. Groups who are “Othered” include: people of color, nonwestern people, women, gays, the poor.
The Alien Other External threat. John Hoyt is the Bifrost Alien. His technology promises peace but creates havoc. He represents dangers outside of the social structure.
The Domestic Other Internal threat Chita Rivera plays “Mrs. Dame. She is partly-colonized (high-collar Victorian garb), but also partly wild (her bare feet and gun). She represents undomesticated impulses within society.
Defining “Otherness” There are many different ways to define difference. Some have positive connotations, some negative, some a bit of both, but all mark members of a particular group as existing outside of social norms.
Term: Exoticize Exoticize: Seeing the Other as an alluring fetish, an “object”of fascination.
Term: Animalize Viewing the Other as subhuman “creature” and often hyper-sexual.
Term: Infantilize Viewing the Other as infantile, childish.
Term: Feminize Feminize: denying the masculinity of the male Other.
Term: Romanticize Viewing the Other as other-worldly and magical.
“Othering” lowers status, justifies oppression, subordination and exploitation.
Term: colonize Attempts by the dominant group to control and domesticate the Other.
ESSAY: Bernardi, “Star Trek in the Sixties.” While reading the essay, consider how Bernardi crafts a “transdisciplinary” argument offering both sociological and psychological insights.
Bernardi’s Concerns Star Trek was one of the first popular television shows with an ethnically diverse cast. It imagined a future free of racial prejudice and injustice. The crew members of the Enterprise appear to be more-or-less color- blind. This is certainly a step forward from Amos and Andy, but the essay still takes issue with some aspects of the series. Why?
How Does Star Trek Frame Difference? “Star Trek is renowned for imagining an egalitarian earth—absent of racism, sexism and capitalism—that exists in a hostile galaxy overcrowded with uncivilized and violent alien worlds.” However...
Terms: Egalitarian: equal distribution of power. Hierarchical: unequal distribution of power.
Bernardi’s Sociological Argument: Equal, but on whose terms? Equality demands conformity, but to whose norms? Star Trek’s “liberal humanist project,” everyone is equally, at least, according to traditional norms: whiteness, masculinity, middle class values. From a white perspective, this appears egalitarian, but from a nonwhite perspective, it serves to maintain the traditional hierarchal status quo. Is Star Trek as progressive as its creators claim?
Another concern: A positive stereotype is still a stereotype Star Trek’s Liberal humanist perspective either forces other groups to assimilate to white western norms, or... It celebrates racial difference in an overly simplistic manner.
Term: “the noble savage fetish.” Celebration of native peoples as gentle, kind, completely in touch with nature, and thus, not entirely human.
The alien as “Other” Avatar: the noble savage fetish - an ideal to romanticize. District 9: the wild threat - a menace to contain.
Aliens Among Us Sci-Fi aliens are metaphors for the “Others” in our midst Noble savage. Wild threat.
Turning to Psychology Star Trek’s tendency to fetishize native people is racially problematic, but sociology alone does not properly address the issue. Here, Bernardi turns to another discipline, psychology, to consider how “libidinal displacement” leads whites to turn the noble savage into a kind of “fetish.”
Terms: Fetish: “object” (or person seen as object) that is thought to be charged with supernatural significance and powers. Cathexis: an investment of mental or emotional energy into a person, object or idea. (example: Sports team)
Term: “The Intentional Fallacy.” The “intentions” encoded by the creator are not necessarily decoded by the audience. Truth is often in the eye of the beholder. Here Bernardi is acknowledging the intentional fallacy, allowing that the same text can mean very different things to different people. Therefore, the meaning of the Star Tex itself must be negotiable. No one can say exactly what the show means for all time in all possible contexts, for all people. HOWEVER, Bernardi maintains that the show’s narrative structure does betray certain assumptions related to how it was encoded by those who produced it (i.e. Gene Roddenberry)
Go to “Let That be Your Last Battlefield.” (Please view “Let that be Your Battlefield” This episode of Star Trek addresses the issue of racial discrimination in an unsubtle but provocative manner.)
Does Kirk take sides? The aliens posses similar abilities and their differences (different sided coloration) seem ridiculously arbitrary, yet Kirk does not treat them as equals, why? As a representative of dominant hegemonic norms, Kirk automatically sides with the dominant alien. Even after this character attempts to take over the Enterprise, he is treated with respect. Whereas, the oppressed and radicalized alien is always regarded with fear and mistrust. Q. What does this say about Star Trek’s view of racial relations in general? Is it truly egalitarian?
How are oppressor and oppressed depicted differently? McCoy describes the oppressed alien as a remarkable physical specimen. He is, in effect, animalized, seen as virile and powerful yet there is no mention of his mental strength. In contrast, the oppressing alien is acknowledged to be highly intelligence, capable of controlling the Enterprise with his mind alone. How do these perspectives affirm common assumptions about race?
Term: essentialize (note: similar to stereotype) To associate a specific trait with a specific group of people. To say group X is essential Y. The act of essentializing oppressed groups performs cultural work for dominant groups. Example: Bill from Beulah is depicted as lazy. This serves to reinforce the hegemonic white narrative, suggesting the playing field is level and blacks like Bill are merely disinterested in striving after self-improvement.
Term: “common-places” Narratives based on essentialized traits are called “common-places.” Common-places are supposedly “common sense” assumptions about the way certain types of (essentialized) people are bound to behave in certain situations. May be based on actual observations of behavior or media depictions. The gray area: actual observations color media depictions and media depictions influence reality. A teenage girl becomes pregnant. white or nonwhite? A driver becomes aggressive: male or female? A driver switches lanes erratically: male or female? A person acts like a snob. Rich or middle class?
Common-places related to Lokai (the oppressed alien) He becomes a rabble rouser, trying to get the crew to revolt. He justifies stealing and lying to get what he wants. He is defined in terms of his physical strength rather than his intellect. He is viewed as more inherently threatening. (kept quarantined longer, does not interact with Kirk as an equal.)
Common-places related to Bele (the dominant alien) After attempting to take over the ship, he has a civil conversation with Kirk over space-cocktails. Kirk negotiates with him, rather than treating him as a mere prisoner. He often--though not always--uses his intellect to solve problems.
CONCLUSION: Star Trek was both progressive and traditional It boldly went where no show had gone before, but it brought along some familiar baggage.
Next Time: COLD WARRIOR TV/CAMELOT TV (PART TWO) REFRAMING RACE, REWRITING HISTORY