[SPOILERS] Ruby Sparks and Hurting the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

By Gillian Daniels, Editorial Assistant
For the uninitiated, film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term “manic pixie dream girl” to describe a female character whose only concern is to entertain, inspire, and charm the male protagonist of a work of fiction. This character’s flaws, no matter how self-destructive or misguided, are quirky. If she has a back story, it’s tragically endearing, diminished by charm.

She has appeared, to varying degrees, as Kate Hudson in Almost Famous (2000) and as Natalie Portman in Garden State (2004), cheering a lost young man onto enlightenment. This isn’t to say both films don’t have redeemable qualities, but their female leads are more muse than woman, human in shape but bubbly, ethereal, and inconsequential in action.

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Peep Show: Not What It Sounds Like

By Marten Dollinger, Movies Section Editor

Anyone with a passing familiarity with contemporary British comedy probably has a fifty percent chance of knowing That Mitchell and Webb Look, most likely due to the individual sketches popping up on YouTube in the past few years. Slightly less known is their award-winning but not exactly breakaway hit Peep Show, starring the same comedians and written by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain. The series has aired on the British public broadcast station Channel 4 since 2003. Winning several comedy awards, Peep Show has been renewed for an 8th and 9th season, making it something like Britain’s best kept secret in television. This is largely due to the fact that it’s kind of weird. It’s shot using POV angles, and nothing else. Other than that, it’s pretty much your standard sitcom. The style may alienate a wider audience, but those it charms, in combination with Mitchell and Webb’s success on their own series, brings Peep Show a kind of support-base not dissimilar to that described by the Thousand True Fans model, albeit on a much larger scale. 

Peep Show is shot exclusively through POV angles, putting the viewer in the place of whichever character we’re meant to be following at the time. This is done using cameras mounted on hats, held over the shoulder, or placed directly in front of the actor. The effect is not original, and the creators cite Being John Malkovich as the inspiration for this particular use of the shooting style. The series also makes heavy use of voice-over, further strengthening the feeling of being inside the mind of whichever character through which we’re currently seeing the world.

We generally see this world through the eyes of Mark Corrigan (David Mitchell) or Jeremy Usborne (Robert Webb), in a traditional sitcom setting of two not-quite-middle-aged roommates just trying to get by and overcome whatever insecurities they may or may not realize they have. The first season is chock-full of awkward situations, generally associated with one or both characters’ romantic failures. In fact, if it weren’t for the POV gimmick, Peep Show wouldn’t have all that much to differentiate it from other sitcoms. The overall effect is kind of Spaced meets The Office.

What we have, then, is a not really original shooting style with a not exactly groundbreaking set of stories. So whence the sustainable popularity and awards? While the style isn’t original, it has never been used entirely on its own, and when you think about it, there are only so many ways to write a sitcom. It’s the combination of the obscure visual mechanic and the tried-and-true sitcom tropes that make the show work like something new and original without being terribly new and original. Co-star David Mitchell has this to say about Peep Show, and sitcoms in general: “They’re about people feeling like they’ve failed and being trapped and fearful of things getting worse and aspirational about things getting better. We were about to use those classic constants without being accused of being unoriginal because the look and feel of it was so original.” Take a second to think about your favorite sitcom, and then every other sitcom you watch. They all pretty much follow this pattern, right? Each one just has its own gimmick. Cheers was at a bar, Friends had that theme song, How I Met Your Mother has the story-telling thing, The Big Bang Theory has geek references,The Office has the documentary crew, and Peep Show has that same sort of voyeurism, but without the crew.

What makes Peep Show special and successful in a very specific way is its comedic prowess combined with a shooting style reserved for either very short takes or the avant-garde. Basically, you have an audience that probably loved both versions of The Office, enjoys That Mitchell and Webb Look and probably anything Simon Pegg does, and, most importantly, buys the DVDs. Just over a million viewers isn’t generally enough to keep a show on the air, but when all of those viewers are pretty likely to buy the DVD of the series, there’s a bit more leeway. The aforementioned Thousand True Fans theory comes in here. In a nutshell, the theory states that you don’t have to be super-famous to make it as an artist, you just have to be famous enough. Specifically, you need to pick up at least a thousand “true” fans, who will each pay at least a days wages over the course of a year buying your stuff or coming to your shows. This is just a larger, televised version of that model; Peep Show has basically attained cult status while still on the air. On this scale, the show’s success depends on the few viewers supporting the series enough to bring it back each season. It also has a boost from Mitchell and Webb’s growing profile as a comedic duo.

Weird as the show is, Peep Show is just another sitcom. It’s a handful of people living out their lives and having silly things happen to them for our amusement. Ordinary as it is, people love the gimmick and the comedians enough to keep it on the air. It keeps the voyeuristic feel of The Office, only arguably in a more pure form, since we’re voyeurs to the mind of the characters, and we see directly how other characters act with them. Or maybe not, and it’s just novelty. Either way, exactly enough people love it to keep it around. Perhaps further research will unveil why this works in the UK, but Firefly still hasn’t come back for another season.

Dinosaurs: Feminism isn’t just for humans anymore

By Allison Novak, Staff Writer

If you’re of a certain age, you remember Dinosaurs. It’s a show about a family of dinosaurs — the Sinclair family of Robbie, Earl, Fran, Charlene, and the baby. The Sinclairs live in a world that bears a strong intolerance and ignorance for itself, while also blatantly abusing its natural resources. Because of this, most episodes of the show deal with social issues overlaid by typical sitcom fodder. Dinosaurs is a show that provides a social commentary in the guise of children’s television; among other topics, they’ve dealt with divorce, drug abuse, feminism, gay rights, and the environment — one of the more prominent being feminism.

Consistently the attitude of anti-woman’s rights goes unchecked by the society at large; there are several episodes around this theme. One in particular, ‘What Sexual Harris Meant’, involves Monica, the most feminist character on the show. Monica is a (gasp) divorced dinosaur who is a strong, powerful working woman. She is frequently looked down upon for having a job and no mate, and her first introduction into the series involved her explaining why she divorced her husband, to Fran’s disbelief — Monica got a divorce because she wasn’t happy.

This theme is the focus of the episode ‘What Sexual Harris Meant,’ which focuses on both sexism and women’s rights. Monica gets a job as a tree pusher with Earl, only to have the foreman repeatedly hit on her. When she turned him down, he fired her. She brings him to trial, only to be called a prostitute and told she deserved it.

This is a dark and topical turn for Dinosaurs; it’s a very real subject with a very real place that typically isn’t discussed in ‘children’s shows’. Perhaps the biggest message of the episode is Charlene changing her apathy of how her sex is treated and starting to care.

Things never quite get better, despite the push for change. Fran makes an allusion to the fact it will take a long time — one that works doubly well because we know it’s still a struggle modern day. It leaves questions — if the dinosaurs didn’t die, would it still have been a struggle of thousands of years? Was the death of a society what pushed us back?

Dinosaurs is a show that disappeared into memory of Generation Y until recently. With the advent of Netflix and DVDs, these shows are taking a new life of their own as the children that grew up with them watch them again and see the underlying themes. The advent of these shows coming back into popularity is ‘Near-Term Nostalgia’, or nostalgia for recent (all things considered) events. People who are in their late teens or early twenties are nostalgic for their childhood, in the same way that someone in their 30s or 40s would be.

In the midst of all this, they relate to our current time by showing that even millions of years ago, there were the same social problems that we have. Dinosaurs is not a show for kids, despite the puppets and jokes. It’s different than the shows that make claims to be political or social; Dinosaurs made no such claims. Instead, it is unapologetic in what it represents. The fact that a show that is represented as a children’s show can make such statements — and get away with it — is a testament to the show itself.

Facebook as Entertainment

By Melissa Swanepoel, Staff Writer

Facebook started as a networking tool, a social connection facilitator. It has become so much more — with each step the site has taken, it has broadened its reach, and therefore its impact. It had 901 million monthly active users at the end of March 2012. It currently has other insane numbers of people using it on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, on different platforms, in different countries, in different languages.

It has become a social sandbox where people come, as Facebook puts it, to “stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.” But this cannot be a one-way street. If you use Facebook to connect to others and share what matters to you, then you are by default opening yourself to what matters to those with whom you are connecting.

This is an accurate depiction of Facebook, right down to that corner where all the kids pee.

You are, whether you agree or disagree with their opinions, find artistic or repulsive their content, opening your mind to the ideas, images, and perspectives of those you ‘friend’ and ‘like’ on Facebook.

There is another device/platform that shares this. Television. Or to be more precise, reality TV.

You see, TV in and of itself is not an accurate metaphor. It has news channels, education channels, as well as channels that cannot be taken too seriously (History Channel on blast here). It is, therefore, like the Internet. There is information out there, some good, some bad, a lot of it entertaining.

Then, there is reality TV.

It is full of people we vaguely know from somewhere, or who are new to us, but with whom we will soon be far too familiar. There is a lot of drama here. This is sounding more and more like Facebook.

Think of it like this: your friends on Facebook are shows you watch. I am not talking about your actual, real-life friends here, but your friends as they present themselves on Facebook. These Facebook presentations seem real enough, but they are HIGHLY scripted. More often than not, highlights and low points in a person’s day are the main focus of status updates. These are like episodes. Some episodes contain photos, links to cool/sad/funny/bizarre articles, videos, etc..

Coming to a facebook near you!

When you read these updates, you have watched that episode. Then you do something important: you rate the content. By ‘liking’ or commenting on certain updates, you have giving that show, which is a highly-scripted and stylized version of somebody which is maintained by a real person, positive feedback. Even if your feedback was negative.

By causing you to respond, communicate, or have any kind of measurable reaction, that show has succeeded in two things: first, in verifying that you watch that show; and two, in verifying that the show is having an impact on you.

The content provider (real person) will then base subsequent posts on the feedback they receive – not based on whether or not it’s good, but on whether or not it’s there. (I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people complaining about the entertainment atrocity that is Jersey Shore. But the mere fact that they keep complaining means they keep watching, and shows like this will thus continue).

Think of your own habits concerning Facebook. Which posts/pics would you share first? The exciting ones that depict the interesting extremes of your life? Or that bland filler called ‘real life’ that no one particularly cares about?

This says it all.

Eventually, it’s not enough to make decisions between the interesting and not-so-interesting events of your life. Eventually, it becomes about living a more interesting life — choosing to go to a drama-filled party instead of vacuuming the cat hair off your drab carpets, choosing to experience and then produce the content that keeps your viewers coming back for more and validating your online presence and persona with their responses.

You, too, could be a reality star!

Like TV, Facebook has commercials. They keep track of interests, so the content you provide and the commercials associated reach a doubly-targeted audience.

Facebook also has fan pages. You don’t have to be famous to have a fan page. But, generate the right content, and with enough likes, with enough connections, with enough ‘viewers’, you can achieve a kind of fame. This is beginning to sound more and more like reality TV.

The implications of all this are kind of serious (but then again not, because it’s not like it’s real, right?)

Think of how much television you watch. Your brain spends that time in a sort of passive receptive state, formulating its views of what reality and normalcy are. Now think of how much time you spend on Facebook. Now you are in an active receptive state, seeking out the stylized and drama-tastic online versions of your friends, friends who already have an effect on the normalcy spectrum your brain produces.

Poor brain, it has no idea…

On Facebook, just like on TV, everyone is falling from one crisis to another, rocketing from one highpoint to the next. The pendulum swings, but we only see the endpoints, which trains us to discount the events and hard work that lead to those extremes. This symptom is being noticed and reported elsewhere already; in 9 Ways Twentysomethings Screw Up Their Lives, the author mentions Facebook and reality TV negatively, construing them as limiting factors for behavioral and personal growth.

Am I saying Facebook is evil? No. Am I saying reality TV is bad for you? No yes, but that’s not the point. The point is that Facebook has an impact on our lives. We choose it as a way to connect with those around us, but it’s becoming more than that — we spend time on Facebook. We craft our digital selves there and partake of those already created. We experience by proxy, we react, we respond. It enthralls us. It entertains us.

And if it entertains us, it is more than simply entertaining. It is entertainment.

Go on. Share this article. You know you want to.

Pokemon Conquest Gets an F- in History

By Chalkey Horenstein, Editor In Chief

Like many American gamers, I picked up a copy of Pokémon Conquest largely because of the Pokémon part, having little to no knowledge about the other half of the crossover, Nobunaga’s Ambition. Nor did I know anything about the titular character, Oda Nobunaga, who pursued conquest and unification of Japan in the Sengoku period. In order to feel somewhat informed about what I had just played, I looked up a few basic facts — and was both relieved and disappointed to find that the game itself was just as misinformed about Japanese history (and Pokémon history) as I was.

Based on the names, Pokémon Conquest is designed to seem based on the Sengoku period of Japan. Without going into a full blown history lesson, it was a time of a lot of war; and while many did not give up their kingdoms as easily as those in Pokémon Conquest do, loyalties were built over said wars and other politics, and eventually this would lead to the unification of Japan. Oba Nobunaga, the series’ antagonist, is known in both actual history and in Pokémon Conquest as someone who is a driving force for a while. 

Nobunaga does not succeed in conquering and unifying Japan in either case, though in the actual history he died from betrayal at the hand of Akechi Mitsuhide. Toyotomi Hideyoshi later rose to take his place, actually unified Japan, and then died, with Tokugawa Ieyasu eventually ruling. In the game, however, there is no betrayal; the final battle has Ieyasu, Mitsuhide and Hideyoshi all loyal to Nobunaga, and Nobunaga doesn’t die. Additionally, the fact that Ieyasu started as a prisoner of the Oda clan is not referenced at all. From what I’ve played of the side episodes so far and read online, neither the betrayal nor the inheritance of the nation take place at all; the player’s decision to let each nation rule itself seems to stand in the end, before anyone in Nobunaga’s clan gets any chance at ruling. 

In addition to real history, the game sort of botches Pokémon continuity as well. Several easter eggs reference “the other regions” that have Pokémon carried around in spheres — which not only anachronistically contradicts the feudal system setting of this time period, but also the fact that the terminology of “nations” and “regions” is inconsistent. In the other games, Kanto, Johto, Sinnoh, Hoenn, and Unova are “regions,” while the whole of the world in which the games take place is the “nation.” Conversely, the Ransei region of Pokémon Conquest has seventeen nations within it. Additionally, if we are to believe this is based on the Sengoku period of Japan, then the main player and Nobunaga are striving to take over all of Japan, while it is commonly believed that each other pokemon game’s region is a part of Japan. Oh, and there’s also the extremely obvious “what the hell is Mewtwo doing here” moment, where you realize that not only is Mewtwo allegedly one of a kind, but that somehow some unknown person in-game also managed to acquire the technology to bring him here.

Then there’s the stupidly obvious anachronism stew, like the existence of blimps, top hats, glasses, power plants, security cameras, and automated cranes. But we’re not even going to bother there.

But at least the game is true to the Nobunaga’s Ambition series, right? It still has that going for it, right? Well, sort of. Nobunaga’s actually a playable character right off the bat in the other series, which directly contradicts his role as an antagonist of this game. Not only that, but Nobunaga’s Ambition is a more complex game, with other necessities besides conquering land; players have to please the peasants to prevent riots, and sustain the economy to keep the obtained lands fruitful.

The game isn’t entirely off, though. All of the names are references to real people, and many of the warlords look at least somewhat similar to their real-life counterparts. Nobunaga, Tokugawa, and Uesugi Kenshin have very similar facial structures, and some carry the same outfits and family crests as their real-life counterparts (though occasionally a poke-ball replaces a notable other image). Date Masamune is probably my favorite here, because he is portrayed as a teenager in Pokémon Conquest and, in real life, is a good thirty years younger than Nobunaga, which puts him at approximately the right age for consistency there. Not only that, but his hair swoops over his right eye, making it unseen — which I choose to believe is a nod to the fact that he lost his right eye in childhood. Oichi, Nobunaga’s sister (a plot twist totally spoiled if you do know the history) is probably the biggest exception, looking nothing alike in terms of hair color, eyes, or body shape. She’s also extraordinarly whiny compared to her strong-willed real-life counter part.

Above all, the one thing Pokémon Conquest keeps consistent with previous Nobunaga’s Ambition is its own reputation for historical accuracy and intrigue. Games by the development team Koei in general are known for about 30-40% accuracy; the facts aren’t always correct, but the games give enough names to make it easy to look things up later, once you’ve gotten hooked. And much like other crossover games, the game gives you just enough of a taste of things you haven’t seen/tried yet to make you curious. It almost seems like, in many cases, the point of a crossover game is never to get things perfect, but just to attract interest using things you already enjoy as a branching off. 

So don’t get me wrong — none of this is a strike against the game. Pokémon Conquest is a stupidly addicting game if you’re into strategy games, and it’s actually a little more strategic than the average Pokémon combat system, despite each Pokémon only getting one move. But if you’re hoping to culture yourself or gain any sort of appreciation for the past, look elsewhere. Or, better yet, play the game, and just double check when you think you’re learning something. I’m sure the developers would still pat themselves on the back if they at least got you to look up what was right or wrong about the characters.

Sexual Identity in Silent Hill

By Justin Tokarski, Video Games Section Editor

I love the horror genre. When done well, horror can connect with those primal fears that rest in the back of your mind, and there is a certain pleasure associated with being able to safely explore fear and the unknown. When done very well however, horror can function as the perfect bait-and-switch. Because horror focuses the reader, viewer, player, etc. so much on their own fear, thematic motifs and hidden meanings are often placed into works of horror and subtly taken in.  This brings me to Silent Hill, a game about the burdens of female sexual maturity, pregnancy, and rape.

(Because this analysis deals with the game as a whole, spoiler warnings are in effect. If you haven’t played Silent Hill, you should go do so right now anyway.)

If you are familiar with Silent Hill‘s plot, feel free to skip this refresher.  7 years before the events of Silent Hill, a woman named Dahlia Gillespie performed a ritual to impregnate her daughter Alessa with the god of Silent Hill’s cult by immolating her. Alessa survived because housing the god rendered her immortal, and was subsequently kept at Alchemilla Hospital under the care of Doctor Kaufmann and nurse Lisa Garland. Alessa split her soul in two in an attempt to stop the birth of the god in her, and the other half of her soul was reborn as a baby who was found and adopted by Harry Mason and his wife. Dahlia cast a spell to bring Cheryl back to Silent Hill, and the town was cut off from the world and filled with monsters by Alessa’s new found powers. As the game proper starts, Harry and Cheryl are driving to Silent Hill, but are in a car accident and Cheryl goes missing. He is helped along the way by a police officer named Cybil who is stuck in the town. Cybil becomes possessed by one of the town’s monsters and attacks him, but Harry saves her with a strange liquid he found in the hospital. Dahlia tricks Harry into helping her reconnect Alessa to Cheryl, but Doctor Kaufmann appears and uses a substance called Aglaophotis to force the god to be born prematurely by splashing Alessa with it. After Harry defeats the unfinished god, Alessa leaves Harry her soul in the form of a new baby and they escape Silent Hill.

Now we are ready to look at the implicit meaning of the game.  Let’s begin by looking at Alessa. At the time of the ritual which impregnated her with the cult’s god, she was 7 years old. She splits her soul, which results in the ‘birth’ of a new baby, Cheryl. When Cheryl comes back to the town, Alessa has aged 7 years and would be sexually matured enough to become naturally pregnant. She attempts to preserve her sexual immaturity by flooding the town with monsters and setting up symbols around the town to stop her mother from completing the ritual. Once reunited with the other half of her soul however, she becomes a creature known as the Incubator. The name is less than subtle, as an incubator is something which maintains the optimal conditions for the growth of biological matter. Typically this is done with cell cultures, tissue samples, and eggs, but the concept of an incubator can easily be extended to a pregnant woman. Within the game’s canonical ending however, Kaufmann appears and splashes Incubator with Aglaophotis, causing the god being incubated inside Alessa to emerge prematurely as the final boss Incubus. Given the role Alessa plays in the game, her transformation into an incubator, and the method of the emergence of Incubus, it seems that Aglaophotis causes Alessa to undergo a chemically induced abortion. As she dies, Alessa once more gives ‘birth’ to a baby which carries her soul. In Alessa, we see a girl who tries to fight off her impending sexual maturity out of fear of her pregnancy by rape, but who willingly gives birth twice as a way to regain the innocence she lost.

Dahlia likewise has a unique relationship with issues of pregnancy.  She gives birth naturally to her daughter Alessa, but during the events of the game we can assume she is post-menopausal given her appearance. Though biologically infertile, she vicariously engages in procreation by being the catalyst for her daughter’s impregnation. When Cheryl returns to Silent Hill, she is directly responsible for reuniting Cheryl and Alessa and bringing them both to full sexual maturity and fulfilling her daughter’s pregnancy.

While much of Cheryl’s experience with regards to her sexual maturity are mirrored in those of Alessa, her relationship with her father is note worthy. When Cheryl was 3, Harry’s wife died of an unmentioned illness. Because of the absence of a sexual partner, Harry too lacks the ability to procreate. Harry does have a subtle relationship with his adoptive daughter’s sexual maturing however. When he is tricked by Dahlia, Harry unwittingly brings about his daughter’s aging and impregnation through her merge with Alessa. This is further supported by the fact that, according to Silent Hill‘s director Keiichiro Toyama, Harry and Cheryl were originally going to be named Humbert and Dolores respectively. These refer to the characters in Vladmir Nabokov’s novel Lolita, wherein Humbert is the stepfather, and sexual partner, of the young Dolores. Like Humbert, Harry brings his non-biological daughter into sexual maturity.

Creator comments translated from the Book of Lost Memories.

When Cybil is possessed by one of the monsters in the town, the method of possession is very important. There is a creature which attaches itself to doctors and nurses in the hospital like a parasite and is able to control them. This is the creature which possesses Cybil. Though typically when ‘parasite’ is used, it is given a negative connotation,when taking the term neutrally it can apply quite aptly to the relationship between fetus and mother. Unlike many benign parasites, the social and biological realities of pregnancy have a great effect, to the point of the fetus exerting control over the mother. This possession by a parasite is also physically forced upon Cybil, and thus is another instance of rape, if this possession represents a pregnancy. Now, comparing Cybil’s possession to pregnancy might seem like a stretch if not for one very important fact. Harry saves Cybil by killing the parasite with Aglaophotis. There is no doubt that when Kaufmann uses Aglaophotis on Alessa, it functions as an abortion drug. If the use of Aglaophotis represents an abortion, then the death of Cybil’s parasite is also an abortion.

Having gone through all of the characters and events of the game, it seems fitting that we end at the beginning. Silent Hill opens with the quote “The fear of blood tends to create fear for the flesh”. This quote never appears within the game, nor is it ever referenced or explained. It may be viewed as just a general statement about blood and death that fits the mold of a horror game, but assuming that the game is about sexual maturity, it takes on a different and more defined tone. For most women, their first direct experience of their reproductive sexual identity comes from their first period. Culturally, menstruation has been viewed in many different ways, and fear or revulsion is not uncommon. Within some societies, women were sent away during their periods, and others viewed menstruation as unclean. Even within our own society, discussing periods are avoided and associated with overly emotional behaviour. “Fear of blood” could very well refer to the negative cultural and individual relationship with menstruation, and a subsequent vilifying of the female body and sexuality as the “fear of the flesh”.

Monsters in Silent Hill games represent the psychological trauma that the characters have gone through.  The themes of pregnancy and rape which flow through Silent Hill similarly represent the kinds of trauma and responses to it that having sexual maturity thrust on one by pregnancy and/or rape can produce.  Like other great works of horror, Silent Hill doesn’t pose questions or give answers, but merely presents itself and lets us, the players, safely explore it’s dark alleyways.

Beyond Green-Skinned Space Babes Part II – The Ferengi

By Nathan Comstock, Television Section Editor

Last week, I continued where my Connecticon and Revoluticon panels had left off, giving a brief overview of gender relations among the Romulan and Cardassian races on Star Trek. This week, we take on one of Star Trek’s most fascinating and problematic races, and find a surprising amount of resonance with our times. I’m speaking, here, of the Ferengi.

Although they haven’t gone through as dramatic a change as the Klingons or the Romulans went through from the original Star Trek to The Next Generation, those who know the Ferengi only from their frequent, zany visits to Deep Space Nine might have a hard time reconciling this with their debut appearance in the first season TNG episode “The Last Outpost.” These Ferengi, intended as more of a menacing villain than a source of comic relief, are more animalistic and barbaric, clothed in animal furs and armed with pain-inducing laser whips. It is in this episode that we learn that Ferengi women are confined to the homeworld, treated as property, and not allowed to wear clothing.

Although several characters, most notably rough-and-tumble female security chief Tasha Yar, do express some level of disgust at this revelation, it is not totally out of place as a trait associated with a villainous race. Villains are supposed to make us fear them, so having them support cultural practices we find abhorrent makes sense — just as the totalitarianism of the Romulans, the brutality of the Klingons, and, well, just about everything about the Borg exist to make us root for the good guys, so the misogyny of the Ferengi gives the Enterprise and her crew the higher moral ground. The problem comes as the race becomes more developed and more sympathetic, and the writers attempt to reconcile this with their attitudes towards women.

By the time Deep Space Nine debuted, the Ferengi had gone from slightly silly fearsome barbarians to a full blown parody of consumerist America. Every aspect of their culture aside from greed is quickly and completely shut down, and we get a society governed by “The Rules of Acquisition” (rule number one is “Once you have their money, never give it back”). The pilot introduces us to three individuals who will become the eyes through which we discover more and more of Ferengi culture. Quark, a stalwart believer in the ways of Greed and Profit; his brother Rom, an “idiot” with a secretly compassionate soul; and Rom’s son Nog, a cunning petty thief who eventually becomes the first Ferengi in Starfleet. Like B’Elanna and Worf, the evolution of these characters is fraught with conflicts between their morals and their heritage.

The first real examination of Ferengi women comes in the episode “Rules of Acquisition.” Quark is asked by the Ferengi leader, the aging Grand Nagus, to represent him at an important trade negotiation. He is joined by Pel, an ambitious young waiter with a keen business sense. As the episode continues, it is revealed that Pel is secretly a woman, dressed as a male to be allowed to make a profit and to see the galaxy. The ruse is discovered by the Nagus, who demands she return to the homeworld and surrender the profits. The episode focuses on Quark’s moral dilemma of whether or not to betray someone who has helped him to further his own profit, and as such largely avoids focusing on the disenfranchisement of Ferengi women. The attitudes exhibited by the main cast here are extremely problematic.

Jadzia Dax, a highly competent and intelligent woman with experience being both genders, is weirdly not incensed to learn of female Ferengi’s effective enslavement, instead spending the episode giving Pel romantic advice on the erroneous assumption that he is gay (she picks up on the fact that Pel is in love with Quark, but not on the fact that she’s female). This is jarringly out of character for Dax — in her interactions with the Klingons, she is happy to completely ignore any of their cultural precepts which she finds stupid (see her behavior towards Lady Martok in “You are Cordially Invited”)^. But there is not even the stock speech about the Prime Directive and not interfering in other cultures — Dax simply accepts the deplorable civil rights situation as a fact of life.

Later on in the series, we discover that Quark’s mother, Ishka, has taken to wearing clothing and making business transactions without even bothering to dress in drag. It is in this episode that we get the first voices saying “hey, this is wrong,” but even here, the focus is more on issues of family loyalty than on basic human rights. In fact, Quark (and to a lesser extent, Rom) continues to be visibly disgusted at the idea of a female wearing clothes or earning a profit, despite having lived the last three years of his life on a space station commanded by a woman. Now, having Quark continue to stand up for Ferengi ideals was in some ways essential to the character’s evolution (and Deep Space Nine was all about character arcs), but the result, when taken holistically, is a “heroic” character whose misogyny can be hard to swallow. As late as season six, Quark can be seen soliciting female employees for sexual favors and threatening to fire them if they don’t comply,^ and filming Major Kira with the intention of making a sexual holoprogram of her for a client, without her permission. In the rare episodes focusing on him as romantic lead, he frequently talks about sex as a business transaction (Nog does this as well.) But the disturbing thing about all of this is it’s completely played for laughs.

Yes, Quark’s sexual harassment of employees and blatant violations of a female coworker’s privacy are all comic relief. Even the episode in which the enfranchisement of female Ferengi finally occurs, “Profit and Lace,” is a farce where Quark spends much of the episode in drag, resisting the advances of an old Ferengi patriarch. And while the experience is meant to teach him a valuable lesson, it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Because the fact of the matter is, there are still places in the world where women are considered property and aren’t meant to be seen by anyone but their husbands. And even here in the United States, there are a remarkable number of men who still want to limit women’s freedoms. Workplace sexual harassment is still a huge problem, and our culture is a long way from gender equality.

Star Trek is known for bringing perspective to complex social issues. And in the case of women and the Ferengi, there was a real opportunity to tell relevant stories about sexism in our world. And they instead chose to make light of serious social problems. While there are things about the Ferengi on Deep Space Nine and Quark’s internal struggle that I find really compelling and interesting and even funny, the feminist stuff did not hit its mark. And I look at that as a missed opportunity.