Monday, May 4, 2009

Star Trek--"Mudd's Women"

Star Trek is famous for allegedly being a groundbreaking source of progressive social commentary. Gene Roddenberry believed he could discuss issues of prejudice safely if he put blue skin and pointy ears on the characters. To some extent, it worked out that way. But anytime someone coos over how enlightened the show was in social ideals, I point to this episode and snicker, “Are you kidding me?”

It is not the worst episode of the season, but it does cast doubt on two major concepts. One, that gender equality has advanced any over the centuries. Two, the federation may not be the perfect organization it claims to be. When you get right down to it, neither problem was ever fully redeemed.

I can appreciate the former problem is initiated by Harry Mudd, who makes his first appearance. Mudd is an anachronistic scoundrel and con man who does not fit within the Federation society of supposed utopia where there is no greed or crime. If mudd is selling women as sex objects, then it is okay because he is a man out of place. He is the visual aid that proves why the federation was founded to promote utopia principles.

But things do not pan out that way. Mudd has these women under his control by convincing them they can only be pretty by taking pills he gives them. The pills are placebos. They are actually pretty all along. They just do not know it. Are we really to believe women are that stupid and easily controlled/ in the world of trek, yes weare.

It gets worse. The Enterprise picks up Mudd and his women while on their way to a mining colony to replenish their supply of dilithium crystals. The miners are not interested in anything other than Mudd’s marriage agency. So the women are sold to the miners as essential sex slaves. It is the most blatant and offensive instance of sexism in TOS. The women are too dumb to know they are attractive unless a man tells them and are therefore only good for housework and sex. So much for the inherent value of all people, no?

While the sexism is the most glaring example of Federation hypocrisy, the conditions of the mining colony are another. The entire Starfleet is run on dilithium mined by hard laborers working without any high tech equipment in harsh conditions. Does that not seem implausible in the futuristic universe of trek? Maybe that is supposed to be commentary and I am just being too harsh. After all, we have robots exploring Mars at the same time men die in mining cave ins right next to their pickaxes. It is a reality that ought to give us pause. One would hope changes have been made by the 23rd century, though.

The only reason I do not consider this the worst episode of the season is because it introduced Mudd. I much prefer his second appearance “I, Mudd“, as well as his turn in TAS series episode and even one of the few palatable novels, Mudd in Your Eye. How the character survived to return that many times is a testament to his quality. He had to be extraordinary to survive the material.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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