While Star Trek is, on occasion, guilty of the ‘planet of hats’ trope, there are also numerous attempts to stop a given alien race (particularly the reoccurring aliens) from appearing generically ‘x’ - not all Klingons are warriors, not all Ferengi are merchants - somebody has to take out the trash (or calibrate the trash collecting robots) in those cultures. Still, there are a few examples of characters in either unlikely jobs or really, specifically, culturally shitty jobs.
1. Antaak, a Klingon Doctor
Don’t get me wrong. The Klingons would absolutely need doctors. But there’s simply no honour in it. There’s likely the same amount of general disdain for lawyers (and the Klingons would absolutely need lawyers), but the law is generally on the side of the warrior. Antaak’s father disowned him for becoming a healer, and with the heavy social stigma attached to the debilitated wounded who do not accept death, a doctor is nothing more than an enabler of cowardice. Tough job.
2. Joret Dal, a Cardassian Spy
Again, Cardassians need spies. And it’s almost a natural profession for many of them. But Joret Dal is working against Cardassia for the Federation (and in a round-about way, for Cardassia), and that means that unlike nearly every other Cardassian, he’s willing to put his neck on the line without a safe escape route. Garak and Damar aid the Federation, but the motivations for their actions are easily traced back to either a ‘for a strong Cardassia’ idea or their own self-preservation, whereas Joret Dal’s line of thinking is uncharacteristically vague and dove-like. I wouldn’t say that Cardassians can’t hatch complicated/convoluted plans, but in keeping with their reptile brains, if the ends justify the means, the ends must be clearly defined.
3. Dr Reyga, a Ferengi Scientist
Rom’s progression from wayward and inept businessman to competent (and somewhat brilliant) engineer says a lot about the Ferengi culture’s fetishization of one particular type of skillset at the expense of all others. Even medical doctors thrive on their ability to exact payment from patients. Much of the Ferengi technology is said to have been bartered for, rather than developed. Dr Reyga has difficulty overcoming the prejudices of other cultures, but it’s not much of a leap to suggest a Ferengi scientist, particularly one eager to share his ideas, is not afforded much prestige on his homeworld.
4. Frenchotte, a Romulan Composer
Self-exiled from Romulus, one supposes for political reasons - the usual leftist, internationalist, pacificist views of a great many of earth’s fine artists would only be magnified within the paranoid, xenophobic and militaristic culture of the Romulans. Now, it may be fair to note that the reason so many Romulans on-screen are military personnel, or spies, or scientists or politicians is because the Federation isn’t likely to have run-ins with too many Romulan artists, so how dare I assume they don’t have a rich internal culture of state-sponsored or approved art and culture?
5. Various Vulcans devoted to the Arts - Delvok, Vulcan Composer; Soral, Vulcan Tenor; T’Leel, Vulcan Artist; T’Penna, Vulcan Soprano
Tempted to lead with ‘Solok, a Vulcan Insufferable Dick,’ but Vulcans generally have their rough edges. This one’s tricky. Aesthetics may be of particular import to the philosophers of earth, but it is hard to envision artistic movements governed by logic. Perhaps this is why so few examples of Vulcan art are shown (in favour of their various games and puzzles, which are logical expressions). For aesthetics to succeed (paraphrasing Schopenhauer), the question of utility is an intrusion that ruins “beauty.” Another way - “aesthetics is for the artist what ornithology is for the birds” (Newman) - the practical constraints of a Vulcan artist having to first set-aside emotional impulse and then approach the habit of art as an act of logical applied aesthetics means that while one could not doubt the technical proficiency and ‘truth’ of a Vulcan artist, and the object itself would be active in provoking/affirming/distressing a prospective audience, I can’t imagine the life of the Vulcan artist as particularly easy. Beaming down a landing party to search for Duende, ad infinitum. I don’t see a large demand for historical or statist art either, though I’m comfortable with Spock and Tuvok and their lutes.
5 Examples of Federation Officers in Need of a Cultural Sensitivity Seminar
The Federation prides itself on the cultivation and propagation of a tolerant, all-inclusive and progressive society of equals. Because a great number of Starfleet Officers are either human (or humanoid-aliens), they are sometimes beholden to a nasty part of human-nature (or humanoid-alien nature) that insists on creating dichotomies between acceptable (us and people like us) and disgusting (them). Sometimes this makes for the thrust of a whole episode - the objectification of Data gets a bit of mileage - and sometimes a character makes an off-handed comment from the sidelines, briefly exposing a few prejudices yet linger. Kirk’s Klingon thing was effectively dealt with in ST:VI, to a point, so I’ll assume he figured it out.
5. Miles O’Brien on numerous occasions.
“The bloody Cardies can’t be trusted!”
While the good chief refrains from using the straight up derogatory slur ‘Spoonhead,’ there’s always something distinctly hateful in the way he says ‘Cardies.’ His struggle with the lingering racism of conflict is a part of his character, so there’s not much surprise when his old grudges re-surface, but considering the steps he took in ‘Cardassians’ and ‘Destiny’ toward not making snap judgments about the whole race, it’s always a bit disheartening to see the ‘common man’ slip back into old habits. He might not need the seminar, he knows what’s going on - “It’s not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you.”
4. Archer, as a matter of policy.
“Very disrespectful, but, boy, did it feel good!”
I’d rather not re-live Archer-diplomacy.
3. McCoy to Spock, in Bread and Circuses (and most of the time)
“I’m trying to thank you! You pointed-eared hobgoblin!”
Oh, they love to joke around. They love to argue. But while McCoy’s inability to understand Spock (and vice-versa) is an integral and fascinating part of the original series (and a somewhat necessary audience-surrogation device), there’s really no need to resort to ugly slurs, Doctor.
2. Worf to Troi & Dr Crusher, in The Outcast
“That is a woman’s game…a man’s game has no wild cards.”
In an episode pulling the reverse allegory about gender roles, Worf is chosen to be the crew member who finds the J’Naii off-putting, and throws out this gem while playing poker with two women who were just talking about the equality of the Federation. And given other chest-puffing about Klingon women being ‘equals,’ Worf looks especially foolish. Worf was already booked for the seminar for the across the board racism culturally inherited from his Klingon-ness, but the sexism has him stay another day.
1. Paris to Chakotay, in Caretaker
“Isn’t there some Indian trick where you can turn yourself into a bird and fly us out of here?”
Now, perhaps Tom thought Chakotay was a shape-shifting alien… but he uses the word ‘Indian’ and knows full well that Chakotay’s just a regular guy. Chakotay responds with a joke, as Native Americans have learned to do over 700 years (and counting, Voyager) of dealing with the great white jackass. Does nicely reinforce that Tom’s a real dickhole at this point.
5 Strikingly Familiar Aliens
Differentiated from ‘this week’s big guest star’ and ‘my goodness, that’s Max Headroom/Oh great, Andy Dick,’ by a definite sense of ‘I know who that is, but who is that?’ A certain amount of disguise blended with the actor coming through is required for this effect - Mick Fleetwood in a silent role as a fish-man doesn’t quite qualify, and neither does Vanessa Williams with a coin on her head.
1. Iggy Pop as Yelgrun
2. Jason Alexander as Kurros
3. Heidi Swedberg as Rekelen - Susan Ross on the left.
4. Kurtwood Smith* as Thrax
5. Gabrielle Union as N’Garen
*Annorax, on the other hand, is ever-so clearly Red Forman.