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Circa 1985. This will never not be the best picture of mom I will ever find. I printed out an 8x10 of it today.
BEST TREK EVER
Khan’s whole backstory and reason for existing have to do with the Eugenics Wars. He’s the product of selective breeding (or, according toWrath of Khan, genetic engineering) to create the perfect human. He’s smarter, faster, cleverer and more cunning than any normal human, and he can learn any topic from top to bottom in moments. That’s why he’s such a huge threat to Kirk and the others — much more than a regular human villain like, say, Harry Mudd. Or the Outrageous Okona.*
Khan is basically the ultimate racial supremacist, who believes everyone else is his inferior. He’s clearly a product of the post-World War II generation grappling with the legacy of the Holocaust and Hitler’s terrible ideology, like so much other pop culture of the 1950s and 1960s. (For more on this, read here.)
Making the ultimate representation of eugenics into a vaguely Asian villain played by a Latino was an oddly clever choice — it divorces his claims of genetic superiority from the real-life advocates of eugenics, and forces you to see the issue in a new light. For most of its history, eugenics was synoymous with “white superiority” — but Khan flies in the face of that, by giving us a eugenics experiment in which race is apparently not a factor. (Khan’s followers are mostly white, so apparently Khan’s ethnic identity is just pure happenstance, and the creators of this master race weren’t aiming for any particular skin color.)
A color-blind eugenics program gets past the “white supremacy” aspects of eugenics to reach for the heart of why eugenics is so terrible — the very notion of one group of humans being innately better than another devalues us all. It dehumanizes all people, even the allegedly superior ones, by assigning to us a value based on arbitrary characteristics. It’s one more step into making us like cattle, who can be bred for certain characteristics. Or more like things, really.
And yes, Khan is shown to be fallible, again and again — in “Space Seed,” he misjudges Lt. Marla McGivers’ devotion to him, and thus dooms his takeover of the Enterprise. InWrath of Khan, a great deal of time is spent on the various ways Kirk outfoxes the man with the “superior intellect” — tricking him into dropping his shields, using fake damage-repair time estimates, luring him into a nebula, using his two-dimensional thinking against him. But these things are partly a big deal because Khan’s superior intellect is his defining characteristic.
Part of the point of Khan, as a villain, is that his superior intellect has huge blind spots. (This is truer inWrath of Khanthan in “Space Seed.”) But in order for that to work, you first have to build up Khan as being smarter and better than everybody else. If Khan is purely a delusional idiot who thinks he’s mentally superior but clearly isn’t, then he’s not an interesting villain.
So there are two problems with having a white guy play the ultimate creation of a project to breed superior humans, destined to rule over all inferior breeds:
1) It’s a little on the nose. You risk taking Khan’s undercurrent of racial superiority and making it overt.
2) The potential for ick is huge. Like I said, you have to build up the idea that Khan really is superior, or he’s just another guy. And having a white guy storm around talking about his genetic superiority — while proving that, at least at first blush, he really is smarter and better than everyone around him — just feels like it could easily get ugly. Of course, this is a question of execution, but you’re basically steering a line between making Khan too awesome (thus proving that he’s right about his eugenicist rhetoric) or making him just kind of a fraud.
In any case, it sounds like we’ll get to see soon enough how this pans out. Perhaps all of the “eugenics” elements of Khan and the rhetoric about superiority will be toned down, and replaced with a kind ofGattaca-style tut-tutting about GMO humans. Perhaps Khan will just be more of a generic megalomaniac this time around. But in any case, casting a white guy as Khan means tossing out one of the most valuable things about the character — his ability to make us talk about eugenics without it being a coded discussion of white supremacy.
Update: To everyone who’s saying Montalban was actually white in the comments, this is obviously one of those issues that gets into tricky territory because these labels are largely arbitrary. On the other hand, it’s easy to find interviews where Montalban talks about being a “minority” actor and facing discrimination, including one where hesays“Hollywood destroyed my dreams long ago.” In 1970, hefoundedthe Nosotros Foundation, to advocate for Latinos in Hollywood, and in 1972 he co-founded the Screen Actors Guild Ethnic Minority Committee. It’s pretty clear that Montalban identified as an ethnic minority, whether or not we choose to respect that self-identification.
* Actually, was the Outrageous Okona a villain? I refuse to rewatch that episode to find out. I’m going to say yes, just based on the name and his terrible puffy sleeves. And the Joe Piscopo association.
In the actual movie (Star Trek 2), it seems like they focused on his physical strength a bit more than his intellect. They did bring up the fact that Khan was genetically engineered. I thought interesting how it was all brought together but fact of the matter is, it is disappointing that a white British man with blue eyes played Khan.
I only have two things to say about this.
1. Thanks for the goddamn spoilers, fucksticks.
2. It makes more sense for Khan to be a blue-eyed white guy, even if Ricardo Montalban owned the role and turned him into what I consider the second-greatest villain in movie history (just behind Ledger’s Joker).
Throughout the latter part of our non-fictional 20th century, who, exactly, was in the most charge around the scientifically-advanced parts of our planet? “White” people. It stands to reason that their creation would resemble them.
After all, if their goal is to create the ultimate human, then basic human ego dictates that the creator - or the benefactor of said creator - would make them in their image.
*I’m not meaning to imply that only white people are good at science. I’m only saying that science relies a lot on rich, white benefactors and politicians.
How the fuck does Bill Nye expect this to happen? What do you want to do, force women to enroll in science courses, regardless of whether or not they want to do it? Just for the sake of having “enough” women? Why the fuck do these fractions matter so much? It’s not like people are holding guns to our head and threatening to kill us if we become interested in science.
Maybe, just maybe, a lot of us DON’T FUCKING WANT to be scientists. Is that a crime?
Hi there, princess-munchkin. Female engineering student here.
Bill Nye is not saying that you HAVE to be a scientist, and you are right that no one is holding a gun to my head because I am interested in science, but let me tell you some of the struggles of being a woman in the STEM fields.
1) Because I am a woman, I am not expected these fields. I first fully realized this when I was in high school, on my robotics team. See, although my robotics team was about 50% female, most of the women were part of the “business administration” side of things: finance, marketting, PR, membership, etc. Was this a problem? Absolutely not. But I was there to be an engineer, and specifically, to be the robot programmer. This was met with a lot of hesitation at first from some of the other students (all of whom happened to be male. This is not necessarily a bad thing.) You see, all of the robot programmers before me were guys. Computer programming is just a thing that guys do, or so they thought. Even after I had proved myself to the mentors on the team, many of the students still underestimated my abilities. There were rumors going around that I wouldn’t have been able to program the robot at all if the lead software mentor wasn’t there to help me. This was just flat-out false, but it wasn’t until I won an award for the team that the other students actually saw my merit.
2) There is not a lot of encouragement for women to go into these fields. I first noticed this when I was in elementary school. I was always interested in math, science, you name it, but many of my teachers and family members pushed that to the side for a long time. When I asked for legos for christmas, I would get ballet slippers. In fact, for a long time, I was training to be a professional dancer. I loved to dance. I loved math more, but no one seemed to notice that about me. It wasn’t until I had a long conversation with one particular teacher in high school that I decided to look into engineering. I had never even considered it as an option before, because no one decided to encourage me to pursue my interest in science. If it hadn’t been for that teacher, I would probably not be at the school I am at right now.
3) For a long time, Engineering/Science/Math WAS a “boys only” club. Let me tell you when some of the top technical schools and societies started letting women in:
- RPI, The oldest tech school in the country, founded in 1824. Started admitting women in 1942 to “replace men called to war.” Campus housing for women wasn’t constructed until 1966.
- Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honors Society - Founded in 1885. Started admitting women in 1968.
- Caltech - Currently rated #3 in undergraduate engineering. Founded in 1891. Started admitting women in 1970.
- Georgia Tech - Currently rated #5 in undergraduate engineering. Founded in 1885. Started admitting women in 1952.
Do you see the implications of this? Engineering has been a part of our society since around the late 1800s (in the case of RPI, since the 1820s), but women weren’t even allowed in for the most part until the 1950s, regardless of their merit.
4) Because of the fact that it was a “boys only” club for such a long time, there are not a lot of women engineers and scientists to look up to. When you’re reading your physics, chemistry, and math text books, the majority of those theories were came up with by men. It is true that much of our history was written by White Men, but this does not mean that the fact that there are few women scientists to look up does not matter.
So, as you can hopefully see, princess-munckin, or anyone else that shares the opinions of princess-munchkin, Bill Nye was not arguing that women that are not interested in STEM should go into those fields anyway. But he IS arguing against all of the systematic barriers set up against women who ARE interested in engineering and science. There are several women out there who are just as good as the boys at math and science, but will never pursue their interests because it just doesn’t seem like an option. That was me for a long time. I am super grateful for the fact that I fought against that, and that I ended up where I am.
if you don’t like science, fine. Don’t be a scientist. But if one day you have a daughter and she shows interest in being a scientist, PLEASE encourage her. Because Bill Nye is right, there needs to be more women scientists in the world.
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