Episode 6: To Boldy Go Where No Series Had Gone Before
Hosts: Anna Reser, Leila McNeill, and Rebecca Ortenberg
Guest: Deanna Day
Producer: Leila McNeill
Music: Careful! by Zombie Dandies
In this episode, the hosts talk about gender and sexuality in the various iterations of the Star Trek TV series, discussing what the show gets right--and wrong. Guest Deanna Day joins the hosts to talk about our favorite Starfleet android, Data, and emotional labor in "The Next Generation."
Warped Fantasies: Dr. Leah Brahms and the Illusion of Consent by Robert Davis
Spending 'Queer Time' in Space by Rebecca Ortenberg
Twenty Years of NASA/TREK by Anna Reser
Hearing Women of Color in Space by Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein and @MrDrChanda
Queer Time: The Alternative to "Adulting" by Sara Jaffe
NASA/TREK: Popular Science and Sex in America by Constance Penley
Transcribed by Kimberly Daley, Edited by Anna Reser
Possible CW: discussion of homophobia, objectification of women, non consensual pregnancy
REBECCA: Welcome to Episode Six of the Lady Science Podcast. This podcast is a monthly deep dive on topics centered on women and gender in the history of popular culture of science. With you every month are the editors of Lady Science Magazine.
ANNA: I’m Anna Reser, co-founder and co-editor in chief of Lady Science. I am a write, editor, and PhD student studying 20th century american culture, and the history of the american space program in the 1960s.
LEILA: I’m Leila McNeill the other founder and editor in chief of Lady Science. I am a historian of science and freelance writer with words in various places on the internet, and currently a regular writer on women in the history of science at smithsonianmag.com.
R: I’m Rebecca Ortenberg, Lady Science’s managing editor. When I am not working with the Lady Science team, I can be found writing about museums and public history around the internet, and managing research projects at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia.
L: So, some of you listening may know that we sell some pretty awesome Lady Science merch on our website. We have t-shirts, burning bra lapel pins, and tote bags. Um, and so this month of February, if you leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or Itunes, I actually don’t know what it is called anymore, but those things, umm, you will be entered to win a tote bag with the logo of your choice. Either the burning bra logo, or the oil lamp logo. We will randomly choose one of the reviewers and announce them on the March episode. So do us a solid, help us out with those reviews, and we will give you cool stuff in return.
HOST SEGMENT: GAYS IN SPACE
L: So, this month on the Lady Science blog, we have been running a special series on Star Trek with a particular focus on wender, wender, women and gender *laughter* On women, gender, and sexuality. For this episode today, we’re going to talk about some of those issues that come up in the series, and then a little later, historian Diana Day will join us in the conversion.
L: So, Rebecca’s going to kick us off talking about a segment we are calling GAYS in SPACE. YESSSSSSSSS GAYS IN SPACEEEEEEEE.
R: Um, so early in the um, folks one of the reasons we are doing this series is in part because we all love Star Trek and we wanted an excuse to write about it but also because of this month Star Trek: Discovery wrapped up its first season. Early on in the promotion for Star Trek: Discovery, the powers that be reveal that the show would have at least one main character who is openly gay. And you know, this was back when we were full of hope about the new Star Trek series coming out, *laughter* and that got me even more excited. Because I am also a musical theater nerd, I was extra excited when in turned out the character in question was going to be played by Anthony Rapp who is most known for starring in a little musical people have probably heard of called Rent. He is fabulous, he is pretty fabulous on the show. And, this was exciting because now we finally have GAYS IN SPACE! YAYYYY and while Discovery has not been everything that I think I had hoped, or that many of us had hoped it would be, I really enjoyed Anthony Rapp’s performance and I think his character is one of the more interesting characters on the shows, and he has been given interesting plot arcs to work with, so that is nice. But anyway, what I am really kind of here to chat about with you guys is that casting um, got me thinking about how queerness and LGBT issues had been represented in the Star Trek universe generally. Paul Stamets is the name of Anthony Rapp’s character. Also a character on the show is Dr. Culber, I couldn’t figure out if they had ever given him a first name. But Dr. Culber is his husband, partner person, played by Wilson Cruz, and the two of them are the first explicitly out gay characters in a Star Trek series. But I would argue that gender and sexuality and queerness have been themes throughout Star Trek, or at least in other instances in the Star Trek universe. And so yeah, I was wondering what you guys thought of that.
L: Well, this one is kind of low hanging fruit. There is the obvious one in the last movie Beyond when they show Sulu embracing his husband and their child.
R: Yeah, uh, when I was thinking about this, I was like, someone is going to get mad at me if I don’t mention Sulu was mentioned as gay before Discovery started. But, whatever. Like, it was great, but it was not necessarily a significant part of anything that had happened.
L: Yeah, Yeah exactly.
A: Yeah, it is such a tiny moment, and they are literally walking away from the camera. And it is never spoken of again. And it doesn’t have any material bearing on what anybody does in the movie. But, it’s like, they still got, you know, the filmmakers still got huge plaudits for doing the literal bear minimum. *laughter* We showed two men hugging so you have to give us an award for like, for how inclusive we are.
L: And, I mean, it’s funny that people like us think that that’s really, that it isn’t enough. And like, No, you don’t get a cookie for like, showing two men hugging on screen. And that was still enough to make the awful fanboys lose their minds about it.
L: You know? Ohh you’re ruining the show, it is no longer that masculine frontier type of thing that we loved about it. And, um, which I guess this actually gets back to your original question Rebecca. Of well, that's not the first time that Star Trek has explored these issues in way more detail than they do in that one moment. And how are you mad about that and you haven't been mad about the rest of the series?
R: Yeah, it's kind of like, the other thing that got thrown out, What are you putting politics in Star Trek? *laughter*
L: Right, right.
R: It is literally a communist utopia that was created by a rather liberal and somewhat political dude
L: Yeah, Like, there-entire episodes are just about like, diplomacy. Like, *laughter* Yeah, What do you mean?!
A: Yeah, the show is basically politics in space, like, that is what its about really.
A: And then some occasional hjinx with oil slick monsters and weird things like that *laughter*The basic premise, like, even just the idea of like, exploring and making contact with other civilizations, like, that's politics! Like, *laughter* There's politics involved there!
L: In a show like this, especially I think with what they started doing with Next Generation, that it would have been a ship dedicated to exploration and seeking out new civilizations and new species and things like that, if they didn’t confront issues of gender and sexuality in the way that they are culturally constructed across the galaxy, then that would have been a huge oversight in a show based on first contact and you know, exploration.
A: Well yeah, and so, when they really fall down on that, like, it is even more, it really sticks out when they sort of lose the thread and do something like, really stereotype heavy or, yeah. Ignore the sort of gender politics of what they are talking about. Cause, I would say, usually, Trek does a pretty good job of that until, you know, like I said...
L: Until they don’t *laughter*
A: When they don't, they really don’t. Yeah, like when they have what’s her face just like, changing in front of Kirk in the shuttle. *Laughter*
A: It's like, I'm sorry, what’s going on? Why did she take her shirt on? What’s happening? Why did she have to change clothes anyway?
L: That was, was that Into Darkness? That was the Khan reboot, right?
R: Yeah that was the one
L: With a charming British man,playing a man named Khan, which was one of the issues with that movie. But Felicia Day, I think it was Felicia Day, when that movie came out, she had a good critique not just about that woman changing in front of Kirk, and we get a full up and down male gaze shot of that, um but she also made a really good point about how there were no women involved in the decision making that was going on in that film. And so like, yeah there was the male gaze stuff but like, more importantly I think like, in a real straying from Star Trek the series, that women were not involved in any of those major decisions at all in that film.
L: But anyway, we need to get back to GAYS IN SPACE! *Laughter*
R: So, so one thing that I read when I was doing some research for this was, that I guess for a long time, or at least for a decent amount of time, for like some the run of next gen, Gene Roddenberry really wanted a gay character, uh, and the network was like, No This is a family show. we can't have gay characters and he was like, but, but, the future, and equality, and exploring the universe. And they, I read a thing, that yeah they got really close to having a recurring character who was gay, and then Gene Roddenberry died, and there basically wasn’t someone to advocate for that plot anymore, and they cut it. And then Kate Mulgrew also really wanted a gay character on Voyager, but, again, like the network was like, no you’re supposed to be a family friendly show.
A: This idea of like, it’s a family friendly show, so we cant, we cant have any gays on it. There’s all kinds of like, fairly family unfriendly things on Star Trek, like, I don't think that is a really good defense.
A: I cannot watch any of the episodes where Data dates or has sex with anyone. Just, It's a Brent Spiner thing, not a humans and androids things. *laughter*
L: Poor Brent Spiner!
A: But like, I don't know, He is just so oooohh. He’s so weird. I love you Brent Spiner if you are listening to this, which is a thing that happens occasionally on this podcast,
R: As we have recently discovered.
A: But I don't know, so like, but there's all kinds of like, ugh, horrible deaths and I just want, thats a bad excuse, it doesn't make any sense, especially not if you have like, straight characters who are having sex and getting married and having relationships and doing whatever.
L: One of the first episodes that got me thinking about gender and sexuality and in the series was in an episode of The Next Generation and it was, I guess it was season 4, called “The Host” with Crusher and the Trill, and...
R: Right, yeah.
L: So in that episode a Trill ambassador comes onto the ship and in a male body, and um, crusher and him fall in love, and he dies, his symbiont doesn't die inside of his male body, but the male body that she, the outside of him that she fell in love with is no longer there. So the Trill gets transferred into Riker, which makes for some really weird moments of her trying to figure out if she is going to continue being with the symbiont, who is inside of Riker now, but also like, its Riker, *laughter* she can’t really get past that. And then at the end, the Trill planet sends another trill to take the symbiont in, and it is the body of a woman, and Crusher as a straight woman, can, does not feel like she can continue that romantic relationship. And it got me thinking about gender and sexuality in the first time that I saw this I was rather young, so as a rather young child, trying to understand some of these bigger issues that they were dealing with. Because, with like, a symbiont who is a genderless, sexless thing, gets put into a gendered and a sexed body and that determines how other people interact with that species.
R: I think it is the first one where they introduce the Trills as a concept. Which then, like, I think that they are never consistent about exactly like, how trills work. *laughter* but that is okay.
L: Yeah, I think that they introduced it then, and didn't come back to it in The Next Generation, and then they made Jadzia Dax Trill the main character in, one of the main characters in Deep Space 9, then they explored that culture more in depth, right?
R: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, and it is really fascinating, yeah, it gives them the chance to, at least around the edges play with having kind of a, like there are a few different times, when in Star Trek they will run across some culture that doesn't have gender, or like, is different in some way, to do a big metaphor about something. But yeah, it does seem like they inadvertently almost, have then what becomes one of the main species that has in some ways a fundamentally different idea about gender and sexuality because of the whole like, Trill/Host symbiont thing where especially the person, the you know, the sexed body person does have a personality and a life but once they get the symbiont, they um, they have all those memories associated with the symbiont, and that means they have experiences of being other genders or being attracted to various kinds of people and while they are rarely explicit about it--they are never explicit about it [actually]--it definitely plays a role in the way that Jadzia interacts on DS9 and this is what my essay was about for Star Trek Week. And its neat, yeah, there is definitely an exploration of what like a subtext exploration of what gender means to her. Both in terms of the fact that she just flirts with everyone, but also in the way that she sort of, her interactions with people are sometimes gendered based on when she knew them previously, I feel like her relationship with the captain Cisco, who knew Dax in the previous form, and he was, Curzon Dax was Cisco’s mentor, and their relationship, while not the same as that, is informed by the fact that they had a different kind of relationship previous. And things like that come up. I didn't quite realize what made it so special when I was a kid, but I think it was neat to have that.
L: One of the things you say in the piece is that you talk about that as “queer time” and how that is different than some of the other characters that are maybe just gay. I am just curious if you could explain a little bit what “queer time” in this series means for you.
R: Yeah, so this is something that I just, queer theory concept, that I very recently came across thanks to a great article in JSTOR Daily. And the idea of “queer time” is essentially that because for most of the 20th century and most of history, the kind of markers of adulthood, marriage, kids, career, buying a home, retirement, were not necessarily available to out queer people. And so, adulthood becomes constructed differently, it is also related to the idea that because social spaces are different for queer people, there isn't the same kind of like, you do certain things when you are young and not when you are middle aged. Like, the article talks about how dance club culture is important in a lot of queer communities in different cities, and middle age people go to the clubs too because that is where queer culture happens, that is not just like a thing for kids. I saw that, and I read that, and I was thinking about doing an article about Dax, and I realize that so you know, the symbiont is, 400 years old. And has been like, married multiple times in different bodies and has had kids at different times and different bodies and has wildly different careers, so those markers as sort of markers of adulthood are meaningless I would kind of say for the symbiont because it is just seeking new and interesting things to do is kind of the symbionts goal, and it is going to include some of those things but they exist on a much wider, a much longer life. And on the other side of that is for Jadzia, where you see her become a new person in her 20s when she is joined with the symbiont, and I think that can in some ways, some of the ways which that is presented mimic the coming out process for some people. Where they, where you come out and you go okay now I have to redefine all of these things, or I have to redefine to the people around me all of these things, and even if it is a positive redefinition, it is still a complex process. Finding your identity in adulthood is a great, grand theme in literature for a reason, so its not necessarily unique, but, but yeah, there is something in there that connected for me.
L: Just in case people are not familiar with DS9, or the Trills, so Jadzia Dax : Jadzia is the name of the body, and Dax is the name of the symbiont, so that's why her previous, the symbionts previous name was Curzon Dax, so Curzon was the name of the body person, and Dax is always tagged on to the end. But I think that, the Trills make just like, kind of an ideal way to explore gender and sexuality, especially as we so often talk about those things lying on a spectrum, that her character in DS9 is able to embody that spectrum. But also, one of the things that you bring up in the piece is how she still is written to be acceptable to men.
R: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah,
L: So, can you talk a little about the ways that that happens in the show?
R: I mean, part of it is that I have read that Terry Farrelll, the actress who played Dax, had to deal with some terrible, men being horrible on set all the time because previously she had been a model, and like they basically saw her as the pretty face, and like, the sexy legs, which sucks and I think often leaks into the show in really annoying ways, really frustrating ways, and you know, at the end of the day, all of her relationships are with men, expect for the one exception, there is an episode: “Rejoined,” where she ends up running into someone who was her wife in a previous host, when the host was male, now both of them are women, which lets the show feel like it is being very progressive, but it is really a representation of a straight relationship, and they do,again, with the grand metaphor thing, they cant be together but it is not because they are both women but it is because there is a stigma in Trill society about like, rehashing romantic relationships from past lives, or from past hosts.
L:What are some other, I don't know, besides Jadzia and the and besides the Trills, what are some other issues of gender and sexuality and stuff that you guys, that stand out for y'all?
A: I mean, there's the, that ghost one, with Dr. Crusher, but that is a whole other thing.
L: What ghost one with Dr. Crusher?
A:What is the entity?
R: I know there is a ghost yeah, like I know there is a thing
A: It's like a ghost, but it’s not, it’s an alien, but it behaves the way you would imagine a ghost, and they go to this planet that looks like Scotland? *laughter* You know, how there is a planet that looks like Scotland? There is a planet that looks like Ireland, um, and, then, its like, its like, one of those like, like yeah highland among the moors romance situation, but it is like a ghost alien?
A: And you know, not that like, I mean a ghost alien is like, it could be a queer paranormal thing but it is a dude ghost so... you know.
L: Yeah, I remember that one now.
A: I was joking I really don't know what to say about that one expect that it is a really bad episode and you shouldn't watch it.
L: It was weird as shit.
A: Because like, she basically gets walked in on as she is masturbating. Speaking of family friendly.
L: It’s that candle thing, right?
A: Yes the candle thing. You have these mechanisms that Star Trek is able to do because of its sort of, its, its setting and all the possibilities that it provides so you can invent, you know, a species that lives in these bodies and has these all experiences that can be very queer, but as we have been saying this whole conversation, then there are other times where they like, they just ignore like, the infinite possibilities of writing in the Star Trek universe, and do horrible things like, there is that episode in TNG when Troi basically gets impregnated by that alien?
L: Yeah, it is the first episode of season 2.
A: I am trying to remember how that episodes actually goes and if there is any kind of good plot there. But that whole alien impregnation thing is very upsetting, because it does happen without her knowing, so you know, I don't remember exactly what happens. Is that the one where the baby grows really fast? Or is that a different alien impregnation?
L: Yeah, no, it's that, yeah, its that one because it like rapidly goes through the whole growing up process to experience it? And then dies within 48 hours or something. And the whole thing is that it basically uses Troi not only like, her body so that it can go through a birthing process for its own amusing and edification, but also makes her like, raise this child as her own and then grieve its loss for its own like, edification, like, that's messed up
A: And if I remember correctly, there is no real analysis of that, of the dynamics of that. It is just like, oh, aliens! Whoa! That was weird!
L: Yeah, that one was really weird. And there is another really bad one with troy when that one guy, I think he is also a Betazed, or part Betazed, or Betazoid sorry, and he comes on board and he doesn't reveal around him that he can influence their emotions as an empath and he uses it in negotiations and stuff, but he basically emotionally abuses her and she ends up in this abusive relationship with this guy, and they don't even really deal with how upsetting that can be to a woman? Like?! I feel like she she can get some really bad treatment in some of these episodes and they don't really like, unpack the gendered issue going on in there
A: Oh absolutely, and you can tell they have no interest in thinking about that by the way they costume her. And like, up until she gets a uniform basically, which is like in season 6.
L: And the way they that they have her get into a uniform because the captain who took over for Picard told her to and he wasn't going to have her in anything else on his bridge, its like, what is happening.
A: I mean like, her outfits get a little better as the things go on, but like, the first two seasons, it's like embarrassing what they have put her in. And it must have been embarrassing for her. Yeah, you’re just like monochromatic, like slinky dress with matching tights and same color shoes, and then yeah. Her communicator barely hanging on to the edge of her neckline. It's like okay. Boy.
L: Oh god, and in that same episode with that guy who was basically abusing her, that is the one where they have her and Crusher doing Jane Fonda exercises for the camera. *laughter* in leotards.
A: In case you were worried that these two professional women aren’t as babely as you were hoping, here was have them in patterned spandex doing stretches. TNG is still my favorite but it like, you have to skip the first season and most of the second. And there are a few episodes that I always skip. Like I said, no Data dating anyone, I can't do that.
L: Yeah, I skip the ones with Geordi and Leah Brahms because I can't deal with a male engineer fall in love with his creation on the Holodeck. And just, I can’t
A: Now my brain is getting into gear and I am thinking of all kinds of different interesting examples of, more interesting explorations of gender and sexuality. Like,obviously, and this goes back to The Original Series, there is the whole of idea of Pon Farr.
R: I was gonna say, it is hard to call it a family friendly show when one of the most iconic episodes of the entire, any of the series is basically Spock needs to go home because he has to have a sex ritual.
L: And like, that he becomes like, sexually violent and stuff during that time period is really alarming.
R: It is so weird!
A: Pon far is terrifying. The way that it is portrayed in Voyager is very upsetting.
L: I would like to note that there is just a funny thing, I think it is Thinkgeek, sells um, Pon Farr cologne for men.
R: Well, they have the corner that market.
R: I do kind of love, speaking of the, yeah, the Voyager Pon Farr story, which wraps up with solving the problem via Holodeck, as one does in Star Trek, but I do in this hilarious way appreciate , like in Next Gen, they invent the Holodeck, and people use it for very, like, practical and like, G and PG reasons, and then in DS9 and Voyager they are like, you know guys, if you can have a Holodeck, it would just be 95% porn, 5% like trashy novels. And that is basically what it is.
L:Well, and then DS9, What's his name, running the bar,
R: Oh Quark
L: Yeah, Quark! He is the one who is in charge of the Holodeck, and he writes the programs for them. And he is always pushing it on the men who come into his bar.
R: Oh, yeah, it is real clear that this is porn. But I kind of like, in a hilarious way, appreciate that you know what? People are people even in space.
A: I think that is actually , that's like a really important develop in the later series. So I wrote about, for Star Trek week, I wrote about Constance Penley’s book Nasa/Trek, which is a very strange book that I love. It is very odd. But the second half of the book is about um, she does this sort of like, early ethnography of Star Trek fandom, particularly like erotic slash fandom, and one of her, I think one of her most important conclusions is like, first of all, to give credence to what fans are doing and to take seriously the sort of what she I think concludes is like a utopian project of writing slash fiction, and her, she -
R: I think I need to read this book
A: Oh you would love it, it’s great! She sort of concludes that there's something really important and restorative I guess about writing this kind of, she is talking about specifically Kirk/Spock fan fiction, about writing this kind of erotic fan fiction and expanding the Star Trek universe if fans doing that for themselves because they are reintroducing or reinterpreting or rewriting the idea of desire into the Star Trek universe, and that like, you cant you can’t have a totally free liberated you know, communist space utopia if you are not free to pursue and express and understand your desire and that's sort of a deeply human way of being or way of interaction with the world that is missing a lot from our myths or stories or understandings of science and technology and like, that is, that is why Star Trek is the site for like, making these kind of utopias and the way to do them is writing Kirk/Spock fanfiction. The book is amazing.
A: But I think this idea of these later series just being like, like, yep, there is porn in the Holodeck, its fine, is a step in the right direction to recognizing a more fully rounded humanity out there galavanting across the stars that probably you know needs to get laid sometimes.
GUEST: DEANNA DAY
L: That feels like a perfect place to stop and bring in our guest. Talking with us today is Diana Day, Diana is a historian of science and a current research fellow at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia though you are in Los Angeles, right?
DEANNA: That's correct.
L: Yes, okay. She is writing a book about the thermometer’s history in american medicine, showing how it laid the intellectual and material foundations for our current approach to self tracking technologies. Deanna is also a contributor to the Lady Science magazine. She wrote for us last spring and contributed a piece to the Star Trek series that we have been talking about titled: “The Sum of Our Programming: Finding Humanity in Emotional Labor.” Welcome to the podcast!
D: Oh thank you so much for having me on! I've been a big fan for a long time so it's like a dream come true!
L: That's us! Making dreams come true!
A: That's so nice!
L: Um, well, we have been talking about having you on the podcast for a while now, so we are happy to have you and happy to be able to talk about this fantastic piece that you wrote on Data and emotional labor. Could you give us of a little bit of a run down of what your piece was about?
D: Sure! So, I am relatively new to Star Trek. I've pretty much only seen The Next Generation all the way through. I saw the Man Trap episode of the original series and noped out of there so fast that I think the TV spun around on its little axis. And, so when I was watching The Next Generation for the first time, obviously Data was my most favorite character. Because he made explicit all of the really hard work that it takes to learn how to be a person. And I was talking to, I don't even remember now, I was talking to someone about Star Trek, maybe Rebecca it was even you, and someone said something that Data is showing how hard it is to learn how to be a man. And I said, actually, Data is showing how hard it is to learn how to be a woman, because there was something so familiar in the ways he was working really hard to learn how to relate how to other people, and understand what people were doing, and to take care of them and learn how to be himself in this particular way that I think women are way more often trained and expected to learn how to be then often men are. So, that was sort of the inspiration behind the piece was that moment of thinking, well what kind of person really is Data really learning how to be. And so for the piece, what I wanted to do was talk a little bit about this particular concept called emotional labor, and what that means in this context. And then, go through a couple of examples from several seasons of The Next Generation to talk about particular ways that Data enacts this concept.
L: Can you define for everybody what emotional labor is?
D: Yeah, so, emotional labor is this sociological concept that essentially when you really boil it down means work that a person does to manage and take care of the emotions of other people. Sort of the fundamental example from the literature is flight attendants. So, a huge part of the job of a flight attendant is to manage, in part the anxiety levels but also the comfort levels of the people who are in the plane with them and that is incredibly hard work, it is incredibly sophisticated work, you have to do so much interpretation of body language and vocal tone and you have to have incredible situational awareness and you also have to manage your own emotions and basically suppress your own emotions in favor of expressing outwardly emotions that you think with sooth the emotions of the person you are with, so it is really complicated and obviously really gendered labor that is often not, before this concept, even considered to be work.
R: You mentioned in your piece, and yeah, you go through some different examples of Data performing emotional labor throughout the show, so could you just share some of those, some of your favorite examples perhaps?
D: So, I think, the one I talk about most in the piece is his relationship with his daughter. So, in an episode called “The Offspring,” Data creates a daughter, her name is Lal, she gets to pick her own gender which I think is spectacular, and he goes through all of these scenarios with her, teaching her about recognizing the emotions of the people of the crew and learning how to interact with them and the work that he does teaching her how to perform emotional labor is kind of like itself a kind of emotional labor, which has a recursivity that I really like. Another good example I think is the episode in which Data goes on a date. In which Data dates I believe her name is Jenna, which is, I get the sense kind of a, an episode that is looked down on a little bit, but which I thought was really beautiful. *laughter* because he was working so hard to understand what she was feeling. And maybe that comes from dating a string of bad guys who didn't care at all to understand what I was feeling, but to see someone like, recognize oh like, this is a skill. Like, learning how to be in a relationship is a skill, and it is one that I can work at, and try to get better at and I can listen to my partner. There is a wonderful scene where she gives Data this sculpture as a gift. And he thinks, oh I know, I will put it in a place in my quarters where the light reflects beautifully off of it and it accentuates how beautiful the statue is. And she looks a little disappointed, and he sees that in her face. And he recognizes that she is disappointed and says, oh but there are other meanings to human gifts, and maybe it would be more meaningful if I put it in a place of prominence in the apartment so that other people will know that the person who gave this to me is important. And I was like, this is such a wonderful, literal like discussion of what your emotions and thought processes should be when you care about another person, and I like how explicit Data makes all of those negotiations that sometimes when I know I have been kind of socialized to do that care work for other people, that I do it unconsciously, and I like that Data does it consciously because it makes it bvisible.
L: Mmmmhmmm. That was really obvious in that one episode where he is father of the bride to Keiko and she wants to call off the wedding and she asks him, like the worst person ever, to deliver the message to O'Brien that she doesn't want to get married.
A: Oh right!! *laughter*
L: And he has to like, constantly adjust how like, he thought that, well it’s gonna make her happy to not be married to him, and if he is invested in her happiness, he will also be happy that she doesn't want to get married to him. So he has a specific kind of programming of how people will respond, and then he has to reprogram after that is not the predicted response that he had. And a lot of that episode is him managing other people's emotions and figuring out how to keep people comfortable and how to keep people happy the way he tries to learn to be human is not a selfish thing it is not a selfish desire in a lot of the ways that it is demonstrated. That he really is trying to care for the people around him.
R: Yeah, I loved when you made that point in the essay cuz it definitely like, it's, as someone who grew up with Star Trek, it brought something together for me that, I had not ever thought about in quite that way. I feel like one of the great things about the universe that is build by Star Trek is on the one hand it is this very rational, individualist, the individual matters, there is a reason why the Borg are big bads, and often other baddies have some kind of lack of individuality, but there is this really strong through throughout Star Trek about the importance of taking care of the whole, and I really loved your point at the end of your essay about, if Data and other characters like Data are there to explore the nature of humanity, what does it mean that some much of that exploration is about what is the best way to relate to people with goodness and kindness so that we can exist in society together.
D: Yes. My heart is like swelling up as you’re talking because I am in such agreement. And another aspect of that that is related to this anti, not quite, a conception of humanity and self that is not all about one individual’s conscious and like, directedness, which is that they occasionally play it for jokes that Data doesn't understand that when people say things, sometimes they don't mean what they say. And sometimes that is a joke, but often times, he never takes it as a joke, He takes it as, oh this is another interesting aspect of humans. Sometimes they say things but they mean different things and I can use other clues like the context of our relationship , or their body language or their tone of voice to interpret what they mean in this really full, really human way that often. I think people have the tendency to denigrate as a mode of communication, all of the other kinds of interpretive work that we do. And I just love that about him.
A: So, I really love, at the beginning of when we started talking that you said that someone had said to you that all of this is how Data learns how to be a man and you said NO this is how Data learns how to be a woman. And I like that turn around a lot. And I wonder if like, I guess in the context in representing this kind of emotional labor on television if it is, do you think that it is important that Data is male and not a female character? *laughter*
D: Uh, yeah! I think in purely as an audience member, as someone who is watching it, I think it is super important that someone who looks like and presents like a man is doing that work, just because I think that the more men-looking people we can have doing it the better. And I think that there is also, there is a nice turn around about that like, Data is the robot, he is not a robot but he's the robot and to see that hyper masculine symbol doing this kind of work, like the way he is with his cat, which I didn't even talk about the cat in the essay. But it's incredible. I think that is really powerful to see a man do that. And then in terms in the world of the show in particular, I think it's important because the other primary examples of emotional labor on next generation are sometimes Dr. Crusher in her capacity as a doctor, but also Deanna Troi, whose literal job is literally emotions. And they pull her in-
R: And her magic power.
D: Oh I feel something! Which is both ludicrous and like, I love her! I have so many emotions! But in that context, I think it is even more important to have a man also engaging in the same practice. So it is not just the ladies.
L: There was a comparison that you made between Data and women in the last paragraph when you say “Data, like all human women, has struggled to prove himself a sentient being in the eyes of the law. But this is only a necessary, not sufficient, condition for humanity.” And that just, to me, encompassed, like it reminded me of the episode in season 2 when he is actually on trial to prove his sentience and his humanity and himself as a legitimate lifeform, but it really reminded me of a lot this stuff that is going on now with like, #metoo and #timesup and the stuff that happened with the gymnastics, the US gymnastics coach, and a lot of this is a lot of the behaviors that has come out with the #metoo stuff might not be, you know, don't really touch the legal system in a significant way, but a lot of this is about women advocating for their humanity, not just in instances where it is a violation of the law, but where it's a violation of what we feel is our humanity and we have to somehow argue that.
D: Yes. Yeah, thank you for saying that and for bringing that up because I think as I was writing the article I went back and rewatched “The Measure of a Man” episode and I found it, I found it both more and less emotionally affecting then I had the first time that I had watched it. So the first time that I had watched it I thought it was powerful to see all of these friends rallying around Data to prove that he was a person, and then rewatching it again it seemed so insufficient, like that moment where Riker thinks, oh no I have almost proved that Data is not a human because I took his arm off of his body? Seemed so weak sauce as an argument.
L: And the way that he says it, Like, Pinocchio’s strings have been cut, or something like that.
D: It was so bogus, after you had like, six more seasons of exploring and understanding Data and his internal self and his external self the relationships they had with him. It was striking to go back to it and see how, even the scene that first time through seemed powerful, was ultimately really reductive and really just about Data’s body in this way that was so dehumanizing. And that I really related to watching it, like, oh well your body means you're not a person and as a woman I really felt that strongly not because I felt like, oh yeah Data’s body makes him not a person but rather, look at all of these people, all of these mostly men who they think this is such a powerful argument, who think the nature of his body is so important and everything else will fall in the face of that, like irrefutable proof. It really was, it shook me up. Watching it.
L: Yeah, and there's the part where Guinan, where Picard is having the conversations with Guinan, and I think it is significant that they have her deliver the line about if we decide that Data’s not sentient and he's not, you know, he doesn't have autonomy, then you have a whole generation of disposable people. And that really revolved around the body argument. And I think it's really significant, the one black woman character on that show delivering that line, I thought that it was powerful, more powerful when I watched it as an adult than certainly when I watched it as a kid.
D: Yeah, and loathe as I am to give a white man credit for anything, I thought that Picard’s reaction in that moment *laughter*
R: Picard is the one white man who I think is acceptable. And Patrick Stewart for that matter, go on,
D: No no you’re fine. I think it was powerful the emotion that read on his face in that moment was embarrassment. I can’t believe I didn't think of it this way before, this was really terrible of me. And I thought that was a powerful moment too.
L: Yeah. Star Trek delivers the feels *laughter*
R: It is interesting one of the things we were talking about earlier is that because Star Trek is so often so good and revolutionary, that sometimes when it disappoints us or steps in it, it feels even worse.
L: Yeah! It is like a personal betrayal somehow!
R: So, basically, yeah, I understand that kind of feeling, everything about this. So much about this is amazing, but there are some fundamental things wrong here that feel shallower than they could be. Because unfortunately science fiction is a reflection of the people writing it and the culture they live in and that means that the utopian societies we imagine are limited in that sense too.
R: Which, you know, Deanna and I have spent a lot of time talking about that the last year for other stuff sorry.
L: Are there other instances in the series besides Data may be where you see where emotional labor maybe falls disproportionately to certain characters rather than others? Obviously not Deanna (Troi), but, do you see that in other characters as well?
D: Hmmmm. Well I think Guinan does a lot of that work. Umm, and I think that there are some unfortunate gender and racial implications of the fact that they have her in that role, but also she is so spectacular in that role, that um, just her performance is incredible. And she often, as the sort of bar keep, kind of figure is often the one listening and reflecting back to people things they may not realize in what they are saying or giving them that push, like she gives Picard that push when they need it. So probably I mean, as much as or maybe more than deanna troi, Guinan fulfills that role.
A: I was thinking also about Kess and the Doctor in Voyager, and how the relationship that you describe with Data and other people and Data doing all of this work to understand himself and to forge and maintain these relationships is like, that is really reversed in Voyager because Kess basically has to like, she has to like, browbeat slash handhold the Doctor into being a person and she has to do all of this work to like, comfort him and buck him up and occasionally snap at him to get him to stop being so cold to his patients and things like that, and so that was another instance of that labor going in the opposite direction.
R: I was, I was also thinking about Data and learning emotional labor in conjunction with sort of, the thing that people sometimes say which is every Star Trek has a Spock. Every Star Trek has a character that is there to kind of examine and criticize and interpret humanity from a step removed and that character is often now that I think about it in this framework, learning or analyzing or trying to understand emotional labor, so you know, a lot of Spock’s character, similar to Data, has to understand and value emotional labor, he doesn't want to value emotional labor but he is surrounded by some very emotional people and has to deal with it. And the other thing that I was thinking about kind of going back to sort of balance between individualism and appreciating the whole of Star Trek the DS9 character that is often held up as the Spock character is Odo, but one of the interesting things there is that he comes from this species where they are all, they spend most of their time as collective goop and only like, take on individual form when they have to deal with individually formed people. And they think this whole being, most of them think that this whole being individual life form is terrible and inefficient and pointless, why would you want to do that when you can just know and feel everything someone does by becoming goop with them. But there is an expiration of the value in having to work to know other people versus just like being able to do it unconsciously.
D: Yeah Rebecca that really reminds me of “Data’s Day” episode when he is shepherding in a Vulcan woman and he is expressing all of this frustration with her because I think he, I think what he says is that on one level he relates to the vulcans and understands the vulcans, but on the other hand he finds it frustrating that they don't try and they don't make any effort or see any value in anyone’s emotions. And so, I related to him in that moment.
L: I think one of the things across all of the characters that are supposed to be that, you know, questioning humanity character that you were talking about Rebecca, is that one of the main points of that, positioning that character in each one of the series does is showing that being a person requires a conscious effort, and that's how you form relationships that are meaningful and how you become a fully realized person is that it is a conscious effort. It is not just something you know how to do.
A: I think that is why obviously there is plenty of discourse about emotion in Star Trek because that's like, the main dynamic from The Original Series revolved around emotional Kirk and not emotional Spock. But I think what I really like about your piece Deanna, by framing it as emotional labor, you get what Leila saying about how it is a conscious effort and that, then the condition of personhood is one that you produce yourself and it is not inherent in your body or your goo or anything like that. It is something that you do, not something that you are.
D: Yeahhhhh I really like that
A: You enact personhood. That is a really liberating way to think about work and personhood. I like that a lot. I think that was what was really like flowing under the surface of your piece for me that I really enjoyed.
ONE ANNOYING THING
A: So at the end of every podcast, hosts and sometimes guests like today, will unburden themselves about one thing in the news or maybe our work or the world in general that is just really annoying us, and so this is one annoying thing. And our guest is going to introduce our annoying thing today, so take it away Deanna!
D: So, as Rebecca reminding us before we started recording, there is this thing called “raw water” that apparently tech bros are super psyched about. It means just drinking water out of streams and other notoriously potentially contaminated bodies of water. That can cause you to become very very very ill if you drink them. I think the ostensible idea behind raw water is when your water is full of living bacteria, that is somehow better for your body that drinking “sterilized” water from the tap. I think there is something about fluoride being bad in here? Anyway this is ridiculous, it is super annoying, what do you guys think?
L: I can’t stand it. *laughter* I can’t stand that people are paying more money for water that has possibly animal poop in it. I can’t deal with that.
A: Like it definitely has animal poop in it.
L: And maybe human poop in it too!
A: The thing that I love about raw water is though-- *laughter* -- that I love that it is it's like a gateway into the conspiracy theory psyche of all these tech bros. Because like, the fluoride thing? Man if you tug on that thread, it leads straight to the flat earth. Like, the fluoride thing turns into chemtrails, like you can go down a whole rabbit hole of what these tech bros believe is going on in the world and they are going to disrupt it by drinking cholera water. I love it because I think this is their just desserts and if you are going drink poopy water, can I buy tickets to come watch you do it? Let’s go.
L: Yeah, what is their weird masochistic impulse to keep doing things that make them vomit violently? There was the Soylent stuff that made them vomit, they are all going to die from the awful bacteria you get from drinking stream water, and they are doing that weird fasting stuff? They have some weird masochistic complex over there.
A: Wasn’t one of the things with Soylent literally like, anal seepage? Which you should read the Wikipedia article for what happens to you when you have cholera, and maybe you just didn't get enough of that, so you decided to start drinking water out of a pond. Because that is what will happen to you.
D: You guys I don't understand masculinity. I just don't get it.
A: I think this kind of thing , I was just going to say that this kind of thing has been brewing for a long time, like how long have we been talking in rapturous songs about your microbiome and playing Jamie Lee Curtis's song the new yogurt and stuff- PUT more microscopic creatures inside your bod! It will make it better! This is the apotheosis, just scoop them right out of their habitat and drink them.
D: Well it's like, the apotheosis of only not trusting science when science also helps poor people, if the science is sanitation and clean water for everyone? Then you got to be skeptical. But if science is like, software developers, software development that only creates artificial intelligence that makes you rich, then it's okay. And...
R: I was literally just going to say, here we are being the ones who are like, just accept progress!
D: I think my literal tweet was, Far be it from be to defend science but…
R: I think you're on to something Deanna, and not just with the “we don’t care about poor people,” but also we don't care about anything that might be a collective good in some way? Really I feel like it reveals that tech bros are less interested in tech and more interested in libertarian philosophy. If tech or lack of tech gets them closer to their libertarian hellscape they want to live in the better it is.
D: This brings it right back around to Data and valuing the experience of the singular man over the experience of the collective and caring for other people.
L: All right, well, Deanna thanks for joining us, not just for your talking about your wonderful piece on Data and Star Trek, but also for ranting with us about raw water.
L: For everybody else listening, if you liked our episode today, leave us a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts so that listeners can find us. And remember, if you do it before our March episode, you will be entered into a drawing to win a free tote bag. If you have questions about any of the segments today, tweet us at @ladyxscience or #ladyscipod.
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