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August 03, 2004

Ee'd Plebnista

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The Flea School for Wayard Expats presents a continuing series in rhetoric and oratory. Today we are addressed by Captain James T. Kirk:

This was not written for chiefs. [Shouting] Hear me! Hear this! Among my people, we carry many such words as this from many lands, many worlds. Many are equally good and are as well respected, but wherever we have gone, no words have said this thing of importance ... in quite this way. Look at these three words written larger than the rest with a special pride never written before or since -- Tall words proudly saying ... "We the people". That which you called Ee'd Plebnista was not written for chiefs or kings or warriors or the rich and powerful, but for all the people!

Kirk: Yangs? Yanks. Yankees! Spock: Kohms. Communists! Let's call the whole thing off? H. Bruce Franklin makes an interesting case for anti-war leanings in the original Star Trek series including the episode, written by Gene Roddenberry himself, from which this speech is gleened. Flea-readers unfamiliar with the plot of "The Omega Glory" (all three of you) may rely on his summary. Our heroes have just discerned a case of parallel history at work on Omega IV.

At this point, the Yangs, who have conquered the Kohm village, are being incited by Captain Tracey to execute Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. The scene is dramatically punctuated by the entrance of the sacred banner of the Yangs, a tattered American flag, evidently the "omega glory" of the episode’s title. Forgetting all the principles for which they were fighting in their endless war against the Communists, these Yankees have become savage barbarians teetering on the very edge of bestiality. All they have left of the great American ideals are their worship words, garbled versions of the Pledge of Allegiance and the preamble to the constitution of the United States, which they recite as mere sacred gibberish.

As beliefs are institutionalized it is all too easy for them to descend into "sacred gibberish" having lost the animating spark that had called them into being. But to acknowledge this as a fact is as much a call to reaffirm our beliefs as it is a critique of their diminishment in empty ritual.

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I have recently pointed to harsh criticism of the Star Trek universe and find myself in broad agreement with the problems such criticism has raised (if rather less sympathetic to the sneering dismissals of "progressive" opinion). "Klingons and Commies," a BBC article on the episode, offers some inadvertent insight. Writer Peter David is cited, observing "the Prime Directive - the non-interference directive - was the thing that Kirk quoted right before he always then ignored it." This strikes me as a superior approach to dithering with the UN for years on end. I have a vision of President Bush citing the Prime Directive, kicking ass and taking names. Kirk reveals the true meaning of Ee'd Plebnista to be the sovereignty of the people over the will of "chiefs or kings or warriors or the rich and powerful." Or, it should be added, of empty ritual.

"'We the People...' Those stirring words incorporate so much," said Majel Barrett describing "The Omega Glory" as "the core of Star Trek." Quite right.

The whole screenplay is available on line as are Omega Glory wav files, including Kirk's "Constitution" speech that is worth a listen.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at August 3, 2004 08:55 AM

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Comments

I find Captain Kirk passionately expounding on the virtues of the US Constitution to be one of the great examples of serendipidy; it doesn't get more appropriate than that.

Posted by: Demetrius at August 3, 2004 10:23 AM

BTW Flea, I can't post using my H-o-t-mail account any more? What's up with that? I'm cheap, you know!

Posted by: Demetrius at August 3, 2004 10:25 AM

Sorry about the "hotmail" problem. There was some trollishness over the weekend best dealt with by a blanket ban. I meant to remove it from the Blacklist and it had slipped my mind. Now done. Hotmail, hotmail, hotmail!

Posted by: Flea at August 3, 2004 10:32 AM

On the topic of ST political creepiness, an excerpt from the ST-Japan connection page in the other post:

Tokyo is also spoken on the scene of Starfleet Command in ST4 "The Voyage Home." Other city affected by Probe is "Leningrad," did the name return from Sankt-Peterburg? (Of course, the reason is the movie was made before perestroika)

Or maybe the writers back then had to foresight to know that by the time of ST, it'll be back to Leningrad. Creepy indeed.

Posted by: Kelvin at August 3, 2004 11:42 AM

The problems in ST are entirely due to Roddenberry. He wanted the Prime Directive to be virtually inviolable, like it was on (spit) TNG. The faceless network suits actually tried to force him to have more interesting stuff on the show, like a chaplain. All the best episodes were written by real writers, like Theodore Sturgeon and Harlan Ellison.

Posted by: Dave Munger at August 3, 2004 05:21 PM