Writing@CSU Home Page | Writing Gallery | Talking Back | Issue 1

logoDorks or Dreamers

John Hermanson

When most people think of Star Trek, science fiction comes to mind.  They think of something that is not real and that really has no cultural significance.  They also think of the “dorks” that watch the show.  They imagine these “dorks” sitting at home with their Star Trek paraphernalia watching the show intently 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.  This is a stereotype, and like most stereotypes, it is not true.  First of all, everyday people watch this show.  Some people like to be entertained by it; others like to think that the future holds some of the optimism that Star Trek Voyager portrays.  However, to really appreciate the show, one has to understand the cultural significance of the show.  Star Trek Voyager is a TV show that deals with many issues that are relevant to today’s society.  It is a positive influence on people because it gives a glimpse into the future based on the progress of today’s society. 

            Star Trek Voyager is based on the three series of Star Trek that preceded it.  The ship is lost in a region of space that is far away from earth.  The crew is trying to make their way home, but they have a long way to travel.  On their way home, the crew is put through many trying ordeals.  They encounter many different challenges and species, but they always seem to make it through.  They are put in new situations that they have to solve.   

            Based on the progress of society, the creators of Star Trek Voyager put women in power on the show.  The show as a whole challenges the cultural belief that women cannot hold positions of power.  Of the three major positions on the ship, two are held by women.  The most powerful is the captain.  This position is held by Katherine Janeway, a very assertive woman, who enjoys her position on Voyager.    She challenges this because she is in charge, and she does a good job at being in charge.  In the episode that I watched, Janeway finds out that another ship has been impersonating Voyager and that this ship and its crew have been stealing from other races, thus giving Voyager a bad name.  Janeway pursues the ship and catches the leader of the ship.  After she figures out that the leader is not going to give up any information, she tricks the rest of the leader’s crew.  In the end she captures them, and they are forced to give restitution to their victims.  Janeway does not depend on anyone else to make these decisions for her.  She makes them herself.  The only person that she will take advice from is her first officer, Chacotay.  This character is a man, and he is also a Native American.  This is interesting because it is a cultural belief that Native Americans cannot hold positions of power.  She will listen to him, but ultimately it’s her decision.  She is not dependent on him by any means.  She is her own person and she will do what she thinks is best.  Again, this challenges the belief that women should not hold positions of power in our society.  The fact that Janeway can make her own decisions, and that the rest of the crew follows those decisions, is a sign of a good leader.  She represents every woman who has ever wanted to be in charge and in power.  She is the ultimate goal.  She gives hope for the future and hope that someday it might not matter whether you’re a man or a woman; positions of power will be held by anyone who is qualified.

            Even though Voyager portrays women in power, it is not completely free of today’s stereotypical roles of women.  BeLona Torres is the other woman in power on Voyager.  She is the chief engineer and at work she is a rough boss.  She demands perfection from her crew and from herself.  She often puts in way too many hours, and she often wears herself out.  BeLona is married to Tom Parris.  This sends a mixed message to viewers because she is somewhat dependent on Tom.  He is an old-fashioned husband (remember, we’re in the 24th century).  He wants BeLona to depend on him and he wants to protect her and watch out for her.  Often, you will find Tom chewing BeLona out because she is pregnant and he thinks she’s working too hard.  BeLona feels that she is an independent woman and that she doesn’t need to be dependent on Tom.  However, on occasion BeLona does count on Tom, accepting his offer to make dinner or to help her with what she is doing.  The show is supposed to illustrate how women can handle being in power, yet BeLona is somewhat dependent on Tom.  This sends a mixed message to women saying: “It’s okay to be independent and in power, but ultimately you still have to rely on a man.”  This message comes through very minutely, however; I believe that it is not the main idea because, ultimately, BeLona makes her own decisions.

            The non-character aspects of Voyager challenge cultural beliefs as well.  Everyone wears the exact same uniform.  This uniform is not form revealing, and it’s not terribly attractive on men or women.  It is meant to be an aspect of the show that is not an issue, because men and women are different but still equally qualified on the show.  The uniform reinforces that.  The uniform consists of loose black pants and a loose fitting top with rank insignia on the collar and a communicator badge just below the left shoulder.  The uniform challenges the belief that women have to dress in sexy outfits in order to gain success in their careers.  It also provides hope that someday maybe women won’t have to do that.

            There is one character on Voyager who complicates the uniform issue, Seven of Nine.  She is a character that was introduced recently on Voyager.  She was rescued by Voyager from an alien race that eliminates individuality.  This race is called the Borg.  She is human again, and she is part of Voyager.  Seven of Nine is played by Jerri Ryan, who is a very attractive woman.  When she first came on the show, I thought that she would be portrayed as a sex symbol.  She wears tight clothing that is very form revealing instead of the uniforms that everyone else wears.  I was wrong.  Seven challenges the cultural belief that women can’t be beautiful and smart.  She is both.  She is one of the most intelligent people on the show.  At first, some of the male characters on the show looked at her as a sex symbol.  That quickly changed as they realized that Seven is the most independent woman on the ship.  Now she is not looked at as a sex symbol by anyone on the show, and, to tell the truth, I don’t look at her as a sex symbol either.  She is exactly the opposite of what society says a “hot blond” should be.  She is intelligent, and she is totally independent of any men.

            Voyager also deals with issues of race.  Tuvok, chief of security, is an African American.  He is also a Vulcan on Voyager, which makes him extremely logical.  The cultural belief surrounding African Americans is that they are irrational people.  This challenges the belief because Tuvok is the most rational person on the ship.  This is important because America is in need of getting past the color of one's skin.

Voyager deals with issues surrounding recent events in a different way than most would realize.  Even though the series ended last may, I think that it is important to address the fact that Voyager has always dealt with human beings and their ability to get through anything.  Janeway and her crew have overcome aliens from different worlds, spatial anomalies, and much much more.  That gives the human race hope.  It says that if they can overcome that, we should be able to overcome what has happened to us in the past.  Also, in Star Trek, Earth is united.  There is no longer war on Earth, and there is no longer poverty.  The universe is too big to be divided by something as small as a country.  We are now divided by worlds.  There are no longer countries on Earth.  We are a world community.  That also offers hope for the future that maybe someday we will overcome our petty differences, and we will unite under one flag.  Maybe someday we will stop destroying the planet we live on and be peaceful.

            Star Trek is many things.  Some people would say that it doesn’t hold any cultural significance.  Some say it’s entertaining.  I say it offers a glimpse into a world that we can only imagine living in at the present.  This is important because so many events in this world have to do with despair and war.  It is nice to escape from reality for an hour and dream of what might be and hopefully is to come.