Friday, July 10, 2009

Star Trek--"The Mark of Gideon"

The timing of ‘The Mark of Gideon” is impeccable considering just Gins burg’s revelation Roe was intended for ethnic cleansing. I have been perplexed for days what to say about this episode because of it uncomfortable moral quandaries.

The plot is straightforward. The planet Gideon has long refused to even meet with Federation officials, much less join the organization. But they finally acquiesce with the condition Kirk alone beam down. He agrees, but rather than arrive on the planet, he winds up on an abandoned Enterprise with a minorly injured arm and a young woman named Odana. She is infected by Kirk with a plague meant to cut the overpopulated planet down to a manageable size. Eventually, Spock discovers he is getting the runaround from Gideon’s government and rescues Kirk after discovering his location, but Odana is allowed to return to the planet in order to infect the population.

Oh, my. Where to begin?

Overpopulation concerns became a big fad for the intellectual elites in the ’60’s. this is the era that brought us the Club of Rome, a group also concerned with the issue of overpopulation, in its gloom and doom predictions regarding the impact of population growth. In 1972, the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth, a low rent love song to Thomas Malthus. Economists and philosophers have criticized the book from the beginning for the insufficient evidence supporting its thesis. Since mankind did not plunge into cannibalism by the mid-‘80’s, one can only assume critics of The Limits of Growth were on to something.

Not only did the Supreme Court of the united states get into the act indisposing of “inconvenient” people, but so did the science fiction poobahs of the time. Soylent Green remains the most famous example, I would imagine. But we also have “The Mark of Gideon” coming a full five years before Roe and Soylent Green.

I keep bringing up Roe not because I have a huge ax to grind over the decision--even though I do--but because the rationale given for the people of Gideon refusing to use sterilization or birth control is they believe all life is sacred. That is the mantra of the pro-life movement, particularly those religiously motivated, so I am fine with that. It is obviously meant as a jab here because Odana describes her planet as so overcrowded, there is no beach or mountain top of solitude because of that pesky pro-life belief.

Odama’s own father, Hodin, decrees she needs to die of the plague in full view of others her age so they can follow her lead in sacrificing themselves for the greater good. There is no word on exactly how it is determined who should die for others to live. I assume that is a random a decision as it was in “A Taste of Armageddon.” trek appears to have changed its position on the issue in the intervening two years since no effort is made to stop Odana.

To summarize, there are only two solutions to Gideon’s overpopulation proble: sterilization/birth control or genocide. There is no other option advocated, like joining the Federation and colonizing other planets to spread their people out. Odana was so thrilled to be alone on the sprawling, empty Enterprise, one assumes most of her people would be more than willing to relocate. But no, that would eliminate population control policies, therefore limiting government power, so it is not within the realm of possibility.

I am always apprehensive about discussions over population control, eugenics, birth control, abortion, and euthanasia come up, particularly with regards to eliminating “inferior” people. As one with pronounced disabilities, you cannot blame me for that. I am even more fearful when such actions are promoted without any sort of rebuttal like they were in “The Mark of Gideon.” We have fallen terribly far when abortion is discussed as a civil right and dehydrating Terri Schiavo to death is considered mercy. When the first step towards those rationales went unchallenged, we all lost, whether you believe it or not. A throwaway episode of TOS might seem like an insignificant step in the wrong direction, but it was a step in the wrong direction regardless.

I almost hate to mention this, too, but how stupid was it to create an entire replica of the Enterprise, right down to working controls, just to imprison Kirk? They could have more plausibly beamed him down to a shielded cell somewhere with Odana. I cannot imagine that busting the budget in any significant way. It would have made a heck of a lot more sense.

Rating: * (out of 5)

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