Tuesday, May 19, 2009

To Boldly Commit Genocide...

Warning: the following post contains significant spoilers about the film Star Trek. Those still interested in seeing this film should consider themselves forewarned.

Dark historical overtones at heart of Star Trek film

Franchise re-boots are all the range recently, with film franchises like Batman scoring big hits at the box office in the wake of previous disappointing film releases.

It's in this particular vein that it should be less than surprising that Paramount films would re-boot Star Trek. What should be even less surprising -- to those intimately familiar with the franchise -- is that JJ Abrams, the man behind the Trek re-boot, would fashion a Star Trek that resembles human history a little more closely than Gene Roddenberry's original series.

Yet the film retains the general theme of Roddenberry's original -- the triumph of the human spirit.

The film daringly and decisively re-shapes the Star Trek universe when Nero (Eric Bana), a revenge-seeking Romulan, destroys the planet Vulcan -- one of the backbones of the United Federation of Planets -- in order to take revenge on Ambassador Spock for failing to save planet Romulus.

Spock -- who appears both in younger and older forms (played by Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy, respectively) -- speculates that as few as 10,000 Vulcans may have survived the destruction of the planet.

Genocide is a theme that Star Trek has previously addressed, but rarely in terms so horrifically similar to human history.

As those intimately familiar with Star Trek are doubtlessly aware, Vulcans and Romulans look very similar to one another for important reason -- they share a common heritage on the planet Vulcan. As revealed in the Next Generation episode "Unification" -- in which Spock is targeted by Romulan assassins for his efforts to reveal this common heritage to citizens of the Romulan Star Empire -- Romulans were Vulcans who left the planet to follow a different path, and forge a militaristic empire.

It's in this vein, considering that Vulcans and Romulans are actually the same species, that the destruction of Vulcan isn't merely a genocide -- it's actually a fratricide as well.

Naturally, this will beg comparisons to Adolph Hitler -- who is believed by many to have had a Jewish heritage -- and to the genocide in Rwanda, where Hutus and Tutsis were not only virtually indistinguishable to most visitors to that country, but had on many occasions inter-married, making it incredibly likely that many of those participating in the Rwandan genocide were actually killing their own family members.

As Bruce Wilshire theorizes, many genocides are motivated by a mortal terror -- the belief that the existence of an ethnic rival poses a threat to the survival of one's own ethnicity or race.

Nero seems to embody this particular motivation, as he intends to continue on to destroy every Federation planet -- including Earth -- believing that is the only way he can ensure the survival of Romulus.

(Then again, considering that Romulus was destroyed when its sun went supernova, one can certainly find fault in the reasoning of this particular madman.)

Human history is full of all kinds of instances in which genocidal leaders went to shocking lengths in order to defend otherwise inconsequential ethnic differences. Wherever the Star Trek franchise may now go, one can imagine that it will very closely resemble human history.

Some may question if this remains true to Gene Roddenberry's original optimistic vision of human history, and its message that the human triumph can triumph over petty greed and racism.

By the same token, however, one would have to agree that a triumph without a challenge is hardly a triumph at all.

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