Thursday, October 06, 2005

Star Trek on Race

I love the idea of an academic writing comic books as well. This lure is of course one of the reasons why I'm so gung ho about it. That crystal image of an academic as someone isolated high above the world in their ivory tower, laughing at the problems of those beneath them, while all the while unreflexively prescribing solutions to the ills of the world they absolutely know nothing about.

This image is justified sometimes, in my opinion some professors do embody that, and take great pleasure in their distance from the world, and the simplicity of perspective that it affords them in creating scholarship and "trying to fix the world." But it need not be this way.

Antonio Gramsci discusses the need for organic intellectuals, and I agree that any political struggle needs to recognize this need. Intellectuals whose capital/ intelligence is perceived to come from a different source.

But in addition to this, those who are in academia must trangress the boundaries that create them. I try to accomplish this as much as I can in speaking in public, writing things for non-academic publications, and then just spending time on message boards arguing with people.

But another way to do this is to use your academic capital to create projects which supposedly embody or take advantage of your critiques and ideas. For example, the creation or supporting the creation of musical albums or spoken word albums. Me and my friend Josette created such a recording in March, intended to answer questions that young Chamorros might have about history, identity and political activism. But this is a fairly obvious intervention, how many Noam Chomsky CD's do I own anyways? A lesser known, and therefore potentially more important intervention lies in what it called pop culture, entertainment culture, movies, comics, video games, etc.

The other day I was talking to me friend Jewels who's in my graduate program with me about the movie Crash. I haven't watched it yet, because I'm afraid to watch it. All movies that explicitly deal with race, tend to fall flat on their heads. Jewels told me that Crash was no different, in that it reduced race in the United States to Sartre's No Exit. An existential nightmare where basically everyone is fucked up and fuck with each other. I suspected from what I'd heard from others that it would be as such.

Jewels then mentioned how one of our professors is probably right in thinking about what science fiction might offer on the subject. It was then that something clicked in my about something I had watched a few weeks before. I had bought the 25th Anniversary of Star Trek from a swap meet in Hawai'i. While watching it, something had unsettled me about the way the original crew was made up, decided upon, the inclusion of an Asian, a Black, a Russian. Obviously Gene Rodenberry was from another time and his speech showed it in his use of phrases like "the blacks" or "the asian race." When Jewels made the remark about science fiction I realized the potential of something like this Star Trek video to discuss race in the United States. The speech of Rodenberry as to why he picked certain groups for certain positions, and then the characters articulations of their positions, created for me perfectly a metaphor for America's multiculturalist strangling, as well as a powerful example of why it goes unquestioned and uncritiqued by so many.

Ideologies of genre of course prevent most people from doing these sorts of readings. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is another perfect example of how race is communicated. The side of evil is populated with dead things and racial things. Easterlings, black men from Harad, animals which mark them as coming not from exotic fantasy worlds, but exotic worlds in Earth itself.

It is for reasons such as these, and others that I decided to start writing a comic book (B4K...coming soon!). Perhaps by using those familiar fantasy elements in different ways I might be able to make an intervention into a realm which an academic article or speech might not touch. An intervention which intsead of reproducing the same old images and representations on race, might produce different ones, or at least interesting ones :)

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