“And so we drift in space… with only hatred and bloodshed aboard.”
—Captain Kirk, “Day of the Dove,” Star Trek 1968
2017 has been a hard year to be a writer and not only because the Trump administration has been doing its best to remove all options for affordable, effective healthcare—something that freelancers depend upon entirely (and all professional fiction writers are, in fact, freelancers)—but also because with horrific event after horrific threat (Hello, North Korea), fiction writing begins to feel superfluous. Worse, if you’re like me and you enjoy writing stories about people trying to be their best selves in extreme situations like war, then you start to wonder if you’re contributing to the problem. They’ve been daunting, these thoughts. The only ray of light is the knowledge that I’m not the only one.
In any case, I needed to stop thinking about the shooting in Las Vegas for a while. Star Trek, particularly original Trek, is comfort viewing. Interestingly enough, the episode I happened upon was one of the particularly fitting ones. It’s titled Day of the Dove.
In the episode, the Enterprise is invaded by an alien entity that feeds off of hate and violence. A Klingon starship is damaged and its crew ends up trapped aboard the Enterprise. The entity taps into and empowers the two groups’ distrust and racial hatred. People begin over-reacting. They choose violence as the first option to their problems. Kirk (of course) starts to put together what’s going on. He catches himself shouting a racist insult at Spock. Kirk figures out that in order to escape they have to stop indulging in violence and hate. They have to cooperate with one another—even laugh—to get rid of the entity. The characters are forced to resolve a complex issue without violence. In truth, this is a common Trek theme. It’s one of the things I’ve always loved about Trek.
That said, there were a few moments when I couldn’t help thinking the episode was prescient. One of the first things the entity does is make weapons plentiful and readily available. That, combined with a number of lines, really hit home for me.
Mara [Klingon]: We have always fought. We must. We are hunters, Captain, tracking and taking what we need. There are poor planets in the Klingon systems. We must push outward if we are to survive.
Captain James T. Kirk: There’s another way to survive. Mutual trust and help.
Captain James T. Kirk: All right. In the heart, in the head. I won’t stay dead. Next time I’ll do the same to you; I’ll kill you! And it goes on and on — good old game of war, pawn against pawn — stopping the bad guys. While somewhere, some… thing sits back and laughs, and starts it all over again!
Watching that episode, I couldn’t help thinking three things:
Americans are trapped in a pattern of violent behavior that we’re being manipulated into by forces which profit off of violence. It seems almost paranoid to say it, but having spoken to people who’ve worked at gun shops and gun companies—there are, in fact, forces whose reaction to a mass shooting isn’t grief and shock. It’s avarice and glee. (I know I’m not the only one who’s heard a gun enthusiast declare with a smile that the day after a mass shooting was a great day for the gun shops as if that were something to be proud of.) People, particularly males, are told that if they don’t have guns to protect their families and homes they’re failing at being male. The rhetoric around guns is all bluster and fantasy. It’s about how dangerous the world is and how only a “good guy with a gun saves the day.” This, even though statistically the trend for violent crime has actually gone dramatically down since the ’70s. Gun shops, the NRA, and gun/ammo companies want us to be afraid. More importantly, they want us to feel afraid enough to buy, carry, and use guns. There are no winners among the combatants in war—only among the profiteers. If there is one form of capitalism that is horrific and awful, this is it.
The “can’t we all just get along?” stance has been used against minority groups and is still used against them by persons who are upholding the establishment. It’s a silencing tactic because it’s never used on those in power. Hence, it’s “wrong” for Black Lives Matter to peacefully protest, but it’s perfectly okay for a group of white dude ranchers with an over-inflated sense of entitlement to the free use of federal land to violently take over a government-owned park building.
The last thing I wondered was what happened to this idea that there are alternatives to violence and that they’re more effective than violence? I’ve spoken about lazy storytelling before—there being only stark evil versus good, that killing the Big Bad is the only way out, and that there are often no consequences for killing. We know that a steady visual diet of violence does have a negative effect. It’s not permanent, but it does have long-term effects on human psychology if not counterbalanced. And if you think about that a second you’ll find certain reactions to mass shootings frighteningly familiar. Hannity’s reaction is particularly telling. Trevor Noah nailed it when he asked, “You couldn’t even protect women from being sexually harassed in your own building, and now you’re Batman?” I can’t help thinking that this “only a good guy with a gun saves the day” fantasy is a direct result of a steady diet of Super Hero films where violence is the only answer to every question posed. Other options aren’t even considered. Everyone wants to be [fill in the blank white male superhero]—filthy rich with tons of explosive… er… expensive toys and a handy quip at exactly the right time. Like the effects of violent media, it’s becoming clear that too many can’t discern the difference between a superhero fantasy and reality. What do we do about this?
I don’t know, but it’s got me thinking.