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.

Beyond Green-Skinned Space Babes, Part I: Gender among the Romulans and Cardassians

By Nathan Comstock, Television Section Editor

As I have mentioned on this blog, I have now twice run panels on feminist aspects of Star Trek, focusing specifically on the Klingon race. I chose Klingons because of their overt associations with masculinity, but also for several other reasons – they are perhaps the most iconic, and therefore accessible race, and also one of the ones we know the most about. They are represented by series regulars on three of the five franchise shows, and appear as the primary antagonists of the other two.

But at both panels, audience members expressed a desire to see the same kind of analysis applied to other iconic Star Trek races. Well, we here at The Analytical Couch Potato believe in giving the people what they want, so here are some observations to get the ball rolling. This week I look at the Romulans and the Cardassians, and next week I’ll tackle the Ferengi.

Before I get into the specifics of the other major alien races, I’m going to take a wider view and ask a question we should consider for each of them: why? If humanity has gotten over its misogyny by the time it reached the stars, why has it been so hard for everyone else? What does it say that no inherently matriarchal societies have risen to prominence? In short, how is Star Trek’s world building shaped by the assumptions of the patriarchy?

The fact of the matter is, Star Trek is a product of 20th Century American culture, and 20th century American culture is, by and large, misogynistic. Uhura being an officer on the Enterprise bridge may have been revolutionary for its time, but she was still a glorified receptionist with little relevance to the plot. Later Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher, despite being as capable and confident as their male counterparts, were routinely undervalued and given very little to do for much of their series. Voyager (the first Trek with a female executive producer) gave a nice amount of focus to its female leads, but also heavily sexualized Jeri Ryan’s body in increasingly unsubtle attempts to attract more viewers. Trek may have preached equality, but it was very much still a TV show primarily by and for a male-dominated world.

Because of this, we need to look at how various alien women are portrayed from a production standpoint, and how they do and do not correspond to the gendered expectations of our time. I’m going to start with a race that seems the most in defiance of these conventions – the Romulans.

The Romulans occupy an odd space in Star Trek lore. They’ve appeared on all five shows, but have never contributed a regular or even a particularly sympathetic recurring protagonist to any of them. As such, we don’t get as much of a glimpse into their culture as the other three races I’ll be discussing. What we do see suggests gender relations more in line with Starfleet than the Klingons. As mentioned previously, we see women commanding their ships (This in an era where even Starfleet ostensibly did not allow women to command Starships.). We also see both women and men among the Romulan senators, and there are mentions of an Empress (though the primary canon gives little hint as to the extent of her powers.)

Unfortunately, there’s not too much else to say about the internal Gender politics of the Romulans beyond that they appear to have the smallest gender bias of any Star Trek race. But in the contrast between TOS’s unnamed Romulan commander and her spiritual descendants on the later series does give some interesting insights. TOS’s Romulan Commander is an oddity, a woman in a position of power, but proves to have little in the way of agency. Like her Starfleet counterparts, she wears a mini-skirted version of the uniforms worn by her male compatriots, and wears impractically long hair and make-up. Despite her power over her male comrades, she is still primarily a love interest, albeit for Spock rather than Kirk, and her inability to resist him is ultimately her downfall.

Later Romulan women are impressively not sexualized, in a way which is anomalous in comparison with just about every other major race. They are tough and often ruthless, wearing short, masculine haircuts and dressed in identical uniforms to the men, complete with shoulder pads that mask their figures. Compare this to the Klingon women we see, who sport impractical boob windows and inexplicable armor skirts, or even Major Kira’s form-revealing military uniform. While the Klingon women possess an almost animalistic sexual aggression, Romulan women post-TOS show no romantic interest in anyone (though, it is worth noting, neither do the Romulan men.)
It is possible that this uniformity is in fact a political allegory – the Romulans have always carried a cold-war metaphor, and the lack of individualism fits in well with the Maoist reverence for the State which Romulan military characters seem to possess. In this way sexual equality is almost vilified – “look at this oppressive society, where the women have to dress like men.”

The Cardassians are much like the Romulans in many ways – both species are megalomaniacal, xenophobic, and somewhat totalitarian, relying on powerful intelligence agencies the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order. However, while the Romulans appear happy to ignore gender differences almost completely, the Cardassians still divide gender roles very strictly – albeit down a totally different line than humanity. In the Deep Space Nine episode “Destiny” it is revealed that Cardassians consider science and technological achievement to be “Women’s work” while men are far more prominent in the military. Within the civilian government and the Obsidian Order, both genders are seen to be equally represented.

Despite their cultural similarities to the Romulans, Cardassian women are not desexualized in the same way. The first Cardassian woman we see (as well as the only female military commander) is Gul Ocett in the TNG episode “The Chase.” Although Ocett wears armor similar to that of male Guls, she has long hair and wears make-up (and eye-shadow like coloration applied to the spoon-like indentation on her forehead.) From an in-universe perspective, it seems odd that long hair and make-up would be seen as universally female regardless of species, and that a strict military culture would allow such deviations in appearance.

From an out-of-universe perspective, it continues to reinforce the way in which gendered signifiers have become ingrained in our culture. Jewelry, make-up, and long hair have only symbolized femininity for an extremely narrow period in our history; it’s ludicrous to assume they would continue to in the 24th century, much less evolve independently that way on other worlds. But these visual cues inform the audience that they are looking at women, even when the individuals in question are grey-skinned lizard people.

In the second part of this article, I’ll examine Star Trek’s most misogynistic race, the Ferengi, and try and reconcile some of the more problematic aspects of their portrayal. In the meantime, I hope I’ve helped some of you look at the show in a new way.

Sound off: In the comments, let me know if there’s another race you want to see discussed. Or give me your thoughts on Romulan women post TOS.

Brave: This is what a real strong female character looks like

By Nathan Comstock, Television Section Editor

I’ve seen a lot of people lately talking about Pixar’s newest animated adventure Brave. The fact that the film features a tomboy princess who’s goal throughout the film is not to marry a Prince has caused Disney to receive a lot of points from the feminist community. Add in the fact that most of the film resolves around her relationship with her still-living and well meaning mother, it can be hard to believe we’re watching a Disney Princess film. But the fact of the matter is, we’re not.

When Disney acquired Pixar, one of the specifics of the contract was that they weren’t going to have very much control over their projects. So to however tempting it might be to compare Brave to the Princess films of the past, one must do so with a grain of salt. Merida is not a tongue-in-cheek internal deconstruction of the Princess archetype like Giselle from Enchanted, nor is she an attempt at correcting previous sins of political incorrectness, like Tiana from The Princess and the Frog or Rapunzel from Tangled. She is a character in the Princess mold, but one created by a company who has never used the Disney Princess plot conventions at all. 

Not to say previous Pixar films have a wonderful feminist track record. I haven’t seen Ratatouille, so I can’t comment on that one, but other than that the only Pixar film with enough female presence to pass the Bechdel test on anything but a technicality is The Incredibles. So Brave, which puts the relationship between two women constantly front-and-center, is still a breath of fresh air. But what really impressed me about the film was how Merida’s exploration of gender and identity was treated.

In some ways Merida is the opposite of Disney’s Mulan. While the latter was required by the plot to learn soldiering and present a masculine front, she had no longing to do so, and seemed content to return to a subservient, female role after the crisis had passed. Merida is painted as a tomboy right from the get-go. From the very beginning of the film we see her training with her swords and her bow, and having a much stronger relationship with her vulgar, warrior father than her diplomatic, prim-and-proper mother. Merida’s story arc is primarily about learning how brute force isn’t always the best way to solve a problem, and as the film goes on it is the diplomacy she refused to learn from her mother, not the swashbuckling she happily absorbed from her father, that ends up being required to save the day.

“Wait,” you’re saying. “Brave is about a girl who expresses her gender in a nonstandard way and ultimately learns not too? That’s a terrible message to be sending kids!” And you would be right. But Merida’s isn’t the only one with a character arc. Her mother also has to learn things as the story goes on, and without giving to much away, she comes to see the value of her daughter’s approach to life. The real message of the film is about communication, and learning to see other people’s points of view.  In order to overcome the film’s challenges, Merida and her mother each have to learn to be a little more like the other one.

Such an authority figure.

On more point – the Scottish-inspired fantasy kingdom in which Brave takes place is clearly patriarchal to some extent. But the men in the film are shown to be largely incompetent at everything but warfare, and most are inadequate even at that. It’s very obvious that Eleanor is the one who actually knows how to govern the kingdom. In one scene, the leaders of three rival clans all brag about their military accomplishments, which are clearly completely fabricated, in an obvious satire of male posturing. Meanwhile, the action of the film follows the women. In a subversion of just about every movie, only Merida, her mother Eleanor, and the Witch take actions that really drive the plot – the men are mostly there to serve as comic relief, mostly by fighting amongst themselves and failing to understand what’s going on.

Despite what reviews and analyses going around would seem to imply, gender is not the focus of the film. And ultimately that’s what’s remarkable about the movie’s approach to these issues. Brave has a lot of major themes, like communication and family, which take front and center, and lets the messages it sends about gender resonate from the background. It’s a movie about growing up, and becoming the person you want to be. And that’s why it’s so important that Merida is allowed to be the person she wants to be, a girl with some “masculine” traits, without that fact taking over the movie. Or a simpler way of putting it, both of the protagonists are women and that isn’t seen as a reason for them not to do things.

LMFAO, And Positive Body Images

by Nathan Comstock, Television Section Editor

It seems like we always hear the same complaints about popular music, especially hip-hop and club music. These songs and videos glorify misogynistic attitudes and objectify women — even those produced by women. While at first appearing to fit perfectly into these patterns, “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO is actually an interesting subversion, which raises questions about the traditional gender roles and ultimately sends an affirming message about body acceptance.

The common conventions of music videos are an especially egregious example of what feminist scholars have termed the Male Gaze. The Male Gaze is the idea that the vast majority of theatre and film is produced for a straight, male audience, and this tends to lead to flat portrayals of female characters and generally promote a culture of sexual entitlement, in which women exist primarily as objects of male desire. Nowhere is this more apparent than in music videos for club and dance music. Those featuring female performers tend to feature them dancing in a sexy manner for the camera, whereas videos for male performers often feature gratuitous shots of random female dancers, often in skimpy outfits. For good examples, see the video for “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz, “Tik Tok” by Ke$ha, or “California Girls” by Katy Perry. 

As it opens, “Sexy and I Know It” appears to affirm these patterns. Like the Taio Cruz video, it features the performers surrounded by voiceless female dancers who seem to exist only to appease the male viewer. The lyrics at this point are also par for the course, as the artist sings about how irresistible he is to women. There is some disjunction in that RedFoo is not the paragon of masculinity that Taio Cruz and other male artists appear to be. His body type is not unattractive, but he is not especially fit either. Indeed, his constant refrain of “I work out” seems to run counter to his extremely normal male body. The video further highlights this by juxtaposing RedFoo with images of well-built, muscular men.

In the second verse, be complains that “Security just can’t fight ’em off,” implying that he actually feels harassed by the female attention he is receiving. The humor in this statement comes from our gendered expectations — the idea of an attractive woman having to deal with unwanted admirers is seen as normative, so for a man to complain of it is humorous. This is further reinforced by the next line when he says he’s “in a speedo trying to tan my cheeks” — a traditionally feminine activity. So even as his lyrics imply that he is extremely sexually desirable, RedFoo separates himself from traditional male ideas about attractiveness.

The next section of the video brings this idea to a head as a more attractive and well-built — in short, a more “masculine” man — challenges RedFoo by pushing him off a table, then strips down to a Speedo. In the next few seconds, each man returns to a small group of confederates and everyone proceeds to strip down to Speedos and wiggle their genitalia at each other — the ultimate distillation of male competition.

As the “wiggle-wiggle-wiggle-wiggle-wiggle-yeah” section continues, though, more men displaying a wide range of body types, races, and ages join in, and the penis wiggling goes from a competition to a celebration. The women now are relegated to the role of spectators, enjoying the range of male bodies on display, completely subverting the male gaze. By shifting the focus to the male body, it becomes clear that the video is not about titillation, but affirmation and empowerment.

The song ends with everyone partying and the undeniable message that we are all sexy as long as we know it, and that masculinity is not defined by your muscles or the kind of clothes you wear. By having each of these very different men show off his junk, LMFAO affirms that there are many different ways to be masculine, and invites us to challenge the strict gender roles prescribed by our society.

Comments sound off: What music videos do you think are noteworthy, or stand out from the usuals in some way?

The Mercenary Antihero as Archetype, or Why is Han Solo so Dreamy?

Much has been written about Star Wars as mythology. In the 1988 documentary The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell himself, author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces uses Luke’s journey in the first film as an example of the heroic “monomyth” as it occurs throughout human history. But although the plot, and the myth, follows his adventure, Luke is far from the most popular Star Wars character. If Luke is the universal hero, however, than the question becomes – why does everyone want to be Han Solo?

Han ranks number 14 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest Movie characters of all time. Luke doesn’t make the cut. Empire magazine listed him as the 4th greatest movie character of all time – Luke came in at 54. Perhaps more telling than all the accolades was the fan response when a re-edit in the special edition cast aspersions on Han’s badassery (Lucas changed the footage so that Han shot the Bounty hunter Greedo in self defense, rather than, shall we say, pre-emptive self-defense.). But the “Han Shot First” debacle really gets at the heart of why Solo resonates so much more with audiences than the film’s so-called star.

Han is not the only anti-hero who’s popularity eclipses the “hero” of his saga. Wolverine didn’t join the X-men until a decade into their run, but his grizzled past and kill-or-be-killed attitude made him the face of the franchise almost overnight. And while Orlando Bloom does have a certain sex appeal, Pirates of the Caribbean didn’t become a box office megahit because of Will Turner. Something about these soldier-of-fortune characters resonates with audiences in a unique way – women want them, men want to be them. But what is it? And how has Han Solo come to be the character who defines this archetype?

Lucas has stated that Han’s character is
partially inspired by the character of Kukuchiyo, from the Akira Kurosawa classic The Seven Samurai. The film’s heroes are a group of Ronin who come together to defend a village from bandits. Kukuchiyo, however, is not a Samurai at all, but a scheming con-artist who stole the armor off a dead Samurai. The others are shocked and offended, but as the film goes on his charismatic trickery saves several of the villagers and they come to accept him. Like Han, Kukuchiyo abandons the others when the odds look impossible. And like Han, his moment of redemption comes when he is willing to sacrifice himself to save the villagers.

The qualities that define these characters are largely negative ones – they appear appear amoral, motivated primarily by greed and personal gain, have a tendency to push the world away and appear unwilling to form real relationships with other people. They have serious trust issues. Over the course of their respective films, however, these characters break down the mental walls which keep them from fully participating in society.
Often this transformation comes through a romantic relationship – Han and Leia are fine example, as is Jack’s infatuation with Elizabeth Swann. More often, though, it can come from an almost father-like mentor relationship with the naïve young hero. Jack experiences this to some extent with Will, and it is Wolverine’s concern for the young Rogue which motivates him to become involved with the X-men in the 2000 Bryan Singer film. This culminates in a moment of redemption when the character puts aside his selfish needs to better serve the needs of the group. Han’s turning point comes when he comes back to rescue Luke from Vader’s TIE fighter, showing that their time together has caused him to develop something of a conscious. I would argue that it is these moments, and these relationships which account for much of the popularity of the archetype.

On the whole, we tend to gravitate towards characters who are easy to relate to, but who become powerful over the course of the series, since we can vicariously live out this fantasy with them. Luke, the humble farm boy, fits this archetype, developing his Jedi powers as the series goes on. But Han, like Jack Sparrow, Wolverine, and Kukuchiyo, is a badass from his first scene. His journey is learning how to be a better human being, how to care about a higher cause and live in community with others..

It goes without saying that all good characters grow. But this particular kind of growth gets at human needs in two ways. We all want to have that tough exterior, that survivor mentality, but ultimately we realize that no one is an island. Perhaps that is the reason these characters resonate so strongly with us. At the beginning they fulfill our need to be the masters of our own destinies, and by the end they become stand-ins for our own desire to become part of something larger than ourselves.

The Mercenary antihero isn’t going anywhere. Examples abound throughout fiction because these characters fill an important need in our psyches. Despite his early assertion that he looks out only for himself, Han Solo reassures us that it’s okay to need other people – and that’s something that never goes out of style.

The Hunger Games: Page to Screen Done Right

Between Twilight and Harry Potter, bestselling novels being adapted to film almost immediately seems to be a hot trend. It’s no wonder, then, that the debut film of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy has been a box-office hit. But while the Harry Potter films felt like somewhat flat attempts to capitalize on their source material, The Hunger Games is one of the most effective page to screen adaptations I have ever seen.

A novel tells a story in a very specific way. It generally gives a lot of insight into the main character’s thoughts and feelings, can give a lot of details about the setting, both in terms of visuals and worldbuilding. In Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling made extensive use of this to create a rich and detailed world. Each novel revolved around a mystery, the solution to which was hidden amongst these details, many of which existed only to give flavor.

A film is a totally different way of telling a story. Exposition tends to occur through dialogue, which means there isn’t a lot of room for extraneous information. It is much harder to show the thoughts and feelings of your protagonist, and while rich worlds can still be created through visuals and background details, it is much harder to give each character an extensive backstory. The world of Harry Potter thrived on the background details which the films could not properly incorporate, making many plot points seem forced or contrived. In spite of this obvious divide the films continued trying to interpret the books scene for scene, as it were. The result was poorly paced films with confusing storylines.

Now let’s examine the novel The Hunger Games. It’s told from Katniss’s perspective in first person (as opposed to Potter’s third-person limited.) An enormous amount of the novel is devoted to Katniss’s feelings and her internal struggles. Large sections contain little to no dialogue, as Katniss is by herself in the woods. She also trusts no one, so she’s not prone to sharing her feelings. All of this would point to the story adapting poorly to a visual medium. Yet Hunger Games succeeds in ways Harry Potter could only dream of. The trick is that Collins (who wrote both the novel and much of the screenplay) adapted the story, rather than the novel itself.

The novel works because it gets into Katniss’s head. The film works because it doesn’t try to. Jennifer Lawrence clearly understands the nuances of the character and her motivation, and her performance gives us enough information that we still root for her. But the mind games between her and the other characters aren’t nearly as important as they are in the book. Instead, the movie brings to the forefront things which couldn’t have been explored in the novel, restricted as it was by the first-person perspective.

For example, Seneca Crane, who effectively controls the outcome of the games, is only referenced in the novel, since he almost never interacts directly with Katniss. In the film, however, we see his interactions with Haymitch and President Snow, and we get to see him react to developments within the arena. In this way, he becomes a fully fledged character, a somewhat sympathetic antagonist on whose decision the film’s climax rests.

A particularly powerful scene in the film comes when Rue, Katniss’s ally in the arena, is killed and Katniss sings to her and arranges flowers on her body. In the novel, Katniss receives bread from Rue’s home, District 11. In the movie, the bread is cut out. The scene instead shifts to 11, where Katniss’s actions cause a riot, presumably started by Rue’s father.

This raises the stakes for both Crane and Snow, and helps to justify Crane’s decision to allow two victors from the same district to win. It’s a scene that moves the story forward, and also helps set up for the sequel (which establishes Katniss as an unwitting symbol of rebellion to the districts.) But it doesn’t appear and couldn’t have appeared in the novel.

Having the writer of the novels write the screenplay certainly didn’t hurt. But I think the real reason that mattered was that Collins didn’t feel beholden to the source material. She was able to see the story she wanted to tell, and then approach it from the perspective of a screenwriter, constructing a fast-paced exciting screenplay that made sense. And that’s the difference between being a classic film and just being the film version of a classic novel.

Panel Report: A Feminist View of Klingons

Editor’s note: this article is part of a series of posts that covers the discussion panels The Analytical Couch Potato hosted during Revoluticon 2012. For those who couldn’t make it, the staff decided to summarize some of the panels and provide pictures of the staff presenting. Thanks to everyone who made it out there to see us!
We were the first panel of the morning and it took us a little while to get started, but pretty soon about nine people were out in the audience – more would trickle in later. I was a little apprehensive about sitting down in the massive panel room one, especially as our modest turnout was dwarfed even more by the venue. But the people who showed up were all obviously interested in one or both aspects of our topic – they seemed to be all either Trekkies or feminists, and we decided to just jump in.

After a brief introduction where we talked about who the ACP is and what it is we do, I started by observing how Star Trek uses different monocultures like the Klingons, the Ferengi, and the Romulans, to tell stories about the human condition – basically a reiteration of some of the points in this article. In the particular case of the Klingons, the monoculture is one of hypermasculinity – that is to say, the Klingons represent what it is to be a “real man” in our society, at least according to the sociopolitical constructs of the patriarchy. I asked the fundamental question of the panel, which was, looking at the Klingons in this light, what insights does Star Trek have about gender politics?
Following this, Gillian took the mic for a while and briefly defined a few terms – the patriarchy, the male gaze, etc. – that we thought would be useful to our audience over the course of the discussion. Over the next forty-five minutes we would find our audience surprisingly well-versed on this topic, but it was still important to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Our discussion was structured primarily around two characters – Worf, from Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and B’Elanna Torres, from Star Trek: Voyager. At one point a quick poll of the audience revealed that most of them favored Voyager of the three shows, a statistic which surprised me somewhat but steered the B’Elanna part of the discussion more into the spotlight than we had perhaps planned. Still we started off talking about Worf, and his struggle between his warrior heritage and the culture who had raised him, the utopian Federation, which stresses diplomatic solutions and non-violent conflict resolution. The outline at this point had us discussing Worf’s relationship with his son, but the audience seemed more engaged with the fundamental struggle between Klingon and Starfleet morality, so we talked about that for a while before venturing into B’Elanna territory.
Many aspects of B’Elanna’s character generated a spirited discussion, and it was here that the feminist element of the panel really took the spotlight. We talked about her as a metaphor for women in positions of power, drawing comparisons to Hillary Clinton at one point, and how that was influenced by her warrior heritage. We also talked about her relationship with Tom Paris and the ways in which that it confirmed and challenged traditional male/female power structures. This led us into a discussion which was nowhere in our outline, about the various fully Klingon characters on the show (Lursa and B’Etor, Grilka) and how they did and did not uphold the sexual double standard. This took us into totally new and exciting territory as we talked about whether the sexual double standard would even exist in such a hyper-masculine culture. I have to credit our audience with starting us down this train of thought, which never occurred to me during my preparation for the panel.
After a brief digression about the believability of institutionalized misogyny in Klingon culture given the rest of what we know about them, we found ourselves dissecting the very idea of a monoculture, especially one composed entirely of warriors. One audience member quoted Terry Pratchett, saying of the old Klingon adage that “Today is a good day for someone else to die” is a much more effective mantra for a militaristic culture. This brought us back around to the idea that perhaps both the masculine and the feminine are required for a productive society.
All in all I think the panel was a great opportunity for a group of Star Trek fans to talk about their passion in a new and hopefully more analytical context, and I think everyone had a great deal of fun. The level of articulate and insightful audience participation was really heartening and I hope to be invited back for Revoluticon 2013.