Friday, December 6, 2013

Star Trek and the Irish

I have mentioned a few times how much I enjoy listening to Podcasts. In my household, it is perhaps the top form of entertainment, news and general information. Recently, I discovered the Mission Log, a Podcast that is going through every Star Trek episode, all the series, one at a time, to discuss the plot, the social relevance and trivia. After enjoying the first two Podcast episodes, I decided to make it a daily ritual. I watch an episode in the evening and listen to the Podcast about that episode in the morning over coffee. If you are a fan of the show, check it out. At the pace of one show a week, it should take them about 14 years to cover all the episodes of all the series, so you have time.

In watching the original series (via Netflix streaming), again in order, and then listening to two fairly intelligent guys talk about it, I have discovered one fairly disturbing trend that I never noticed before. Of course, I remember going into this that Star Trek was a progressive show for its time, so there are many non-white actors portraying non-white characters without negative stereo-types. I also remember that even though they seem to be racially progressive, when it comes to gender they are not so progressive. I was expecting the sexism, I even see more of it the older I get. The disturbing trend that surprises me is the anti-Irish vein there seems to be.

I am twenty two episodes into the original series and I have noticed three fairly obvious portrayals of negative Irish stereotypes.

"The Naked Time": In episode four, we have a drunken Irishman, Riley, taking over engineering. Almost everyone is drunk on some alien virus, but only one character is singing Irish ditties over the loud speaker and acting like a fool. The rest of the crew are either horny or like Mr. Sulu, swashbuckling. The drunken Irishman almost kills everyone.

"Shore Leave": In episode 15, we are introduced to Finnegan, a bully from Kirk's academy days that just wants to beat the crap out of him. This is somewhat forgivable because the character is a fabrication from Kirk's memory so perhaps, Kirk remembers Finnegan in this comically brutish form.

"Court Martial": In episode 20, Kirk is framed and put on trial by the crazed and maniacal records officer Finney. Finney is just a ball of Fighting Irish rage.

I should point out that Irish characters are plentiful in Star Trek. Doctor McCoy is somewhat stereotypical but in addition to him, many of the extra characters are Irish as well.  O"Neil in the "The Return of the Archons" and Lt. McGivers in "Space Seed" are two that are not so stereotypical.  The negative stereotyping is a mystery to me. I am curious to see if it continues. Gene Roddenberry, the series creator, has what I assume is an Irish name so this explains why there are so many Irish characters but why the negative stereotypes? Was he over-compensating for something?  In his attempt to be progressive towards the black man or Asian man, did he just forget his own? The show was produced in the late 1960's so Irish discrimination shouldn't have been too foreign to him, possibly one generation removed. Perhaps it was okay in 60's to think badly of the Irish like today where bashing the French is widely acceptable, even in some very liberal settings.  National Public Radio's "Car Talk" seems to bash the French every week.  I can't imagine them doing this to blacks or Jews.  Perhaps every generation has some small groups that it is acceptable for even liberals to bash.

1 comment:

Olga said...

It has been about twenty years since I last watched any Star Trek. I can't say I remember it being harsh to the Irish, which is only to say I can't remember.