Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Omega Glory (Star Trek)

(This was written for a political science class.)

The Star Trek episode “The Omega Glory” begins with the shocking discovery of a Starfleet ship whose crew has been almost entirely killed by an unknown contagion. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, infected by the contagion, beam down to the planet Omega in the hopes of becoming well and to keep the rest of the Enterprise safe. Kirk cares for his people, which is a contrast to fellow Starfleet captain Tracey, who is shown to be a corrupt ruler.

Tracey starts out as a good guy, a respected officer Kirk’s hoping to meet, but appearances aren’t as they seem. Kirk immediately questions Tracey’s interference in the natural development of the Kohm people, who know of phaser technology. Tracey explains it as a necessity based on the fact that they were attacked by the savage Yangs. The Kohms, being a civilized people, were considered more important to protect. Kirk insists that the law be obeyed, though, and tries to report Tracey to their superiors. Tracey, believing he has found the Fountain of Youth, imprisons them, asserting his command. Tracey is at this point the dominant figure of the planet. The Kohms serve him because he offers them security in his power to protect them from the Yangs, and he rebels against Starfleet by using sheer coercion to hold the away team until McCoy can obtain evidence that proves his legitimacy in the eyes of Starfleet.

What McCoy finds is that there is no Fountain of Youth, just improved genetics from ages of deadly war. The Yangs and the Kohms fought with advanced technology that caused widespread destruction in the distant past. Tracey violated several laws for nothing and because of his actions, the balance of power shifts beyond his control. Kirk and Spock get through to the imprisoned Yangs when he speaks the holy word “freedom”, and help the Yangs escape. They form a temporary alliance that allows the Yangs to gain power. Kirk then makes the connection that the Yangs used to be Yanks and the Kohms were Communists, and their war sent themselves back to the Stone Age.

Kirk, coming from an Amercian culture that survived the Cold War, is able to communicate with the Yangs by speaking their holy words. The Yangs’ civilization merged their religion with the Constitution, so that there is quite literally no separation of church and state. The episode paints their reliance on religion as primitive. Tracey takes advantage of this by painting Kirk as something like Satan, whose slave is a devil that looks Vulcan-like. Kirk proves his superiority by fighting Tracey to the death, and then showing mercy. The Yangs proclaim Kirk their god and they his slaves, but Kirk has none of that. No one is to be a slave. He takes out the Constitution and explains that it’s about the people, all people, having rights. Spock brings up the fact that by doing this, Kirk has violated the Prime Directive just like Tracey, but Kirk denies it by saying that he just explained what the Yangs were fighting for.

Kirk cares about his people, while Tracey takes advantage of his. Tracey has the goal of extending human life, but to the point that he violates every law to accomplish this. He violates the Prime Directive by meddling with the development of peoples on Omega, which Kirk sees as something bad he must report as a part of peer policing – though he ultimately does the same thing for what he sees as a worthy goal. Tracey leads the Kohms, but he doesn’t really care about them as anything other than manpower to help protect him, a mutual alliance for security. When the Yangs take over, he does everything he can to lead them as well, even casting Kirk and Spock as evil supernatural beings. When Kirk achieves power over the Yangs, he throws it away by proclaiming that all people should have power and no one should be a slave.

To summarize the issues, “The Omega Glory” explores the legitimacy of the Prime Directive, the legitimacy of authority, as well as making a commentary on contemporary American politics of the Cold War. Kirk is portrayed as a just leader, his ideologies linked with American patriotism. Tracey, on the other hand, is a corrupt leader and criminal with a supposedly altruistic goal. There’s the idea of the separation of church and state and what can happen if the two are utterly merged. The setting of Omega is something like what Earth could be in the far future if the Cold War were to go south (speaking from the viewpoint of when the episode was made). It’s worth noting that the Kohms are not demonized at all, and that the Yangs are the ones whose civility is questioned. I recall reading that Starfleet was supposed to have been a merge of America and Russia. These facts, as well as Chekov’s inclusion, show that the show was promoting the idea of a peace between the two peoples.

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