BY Sam Hall
In STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT (Jonathan Frakes 1996), Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) proclaims: “The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity”. The question of how to motivate such a society has hung over STAR TREK in all its incarnations without any clear answer. In the STAR TREK universe, the United Federation of Planets has access to almost endless resources, food and luxury items are mostly free, and highly advanced holographic technology means the population can indulge in almost any fantasy they wish. So why would they seek to “better themselves”? They have everything they could ever want. The Federation is a utopia.
Overseen by television producers Ira Steven Behr and Michael Piller, STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE (Syndication 1993-1999) took a darker approach to the Star Trek universe. Set in a frontier town of sorts in space, Deep Space Nine was not quite the same paradise Earth had been painted as in previous incarnations of the series. The subject of a stagnating, slothful society was tackled several times in the series, most notably in the season two episode “Paradise”. Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) and the downtrodden Irish technician Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) are marooned in a harsh jungle environment. There they encounter Alixus (Gail Strickland) and her colony: a group of human space travellers who have been trapped on this uncharted world for a decade. After discovering that their technology is largely useless due to an electromagnetic field affecting the planet, the colonists reverted to basic skills and their natural instincts to survive.
Alixus, the strict matriarch of this society, hands out harsh punishments to those who abuse the finite resources available. Later in the episode, it is revealed that the electromagnetic field was manufactured and placed there by Alixus herself. She staged the circumstances in which her fellow travellers became stranded. Sisko uncovers her deception because she is revealed to be a philosopher, someone who is concerned with human evolution and believes that humanity has stagnated thanks to so many technological advances in a short space of time. Here, the sin of slothfulness has infected not just humanity but all alien races in the Federation. Alixus views her colony as an experiment to prove that people are more productive and resourceful when forced into desperate situations.
Sisko and O’Brien find Alixus and her deception despicable, but after the central conflict of the episode is resolved and the two Starfleet officers are rescued, they encounter something they did not expect. “Paradise” is not a classic episode of what would turn out to be one of the stronger STAR TREK shows. However, the denouement is deeply satisfying because, when they offer to take the colonists back with them to the utopia of the Federation, most of them choose to stay behind, despite knowing that they had been deceived by Alixus. Joseph (Steve Vinovich) talks of how the sense of community has brought him greater happiness and purpose than the Federation ever had. In this episode, for one moment, the promise of “utopia” in the far future is not quite the ideal society it appears to be. In the world of STAR TREK, we can pretend that society has evolved and seeks to better itself because this universe is fictional. However, realistically, when humanity is adorned with all the riches of the heavens what would motivate them to experience all the riches life has to offer other than to alleviate the boredom of a slothful life?
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