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Day Twenty Two: Favourite fandom quote?
Venturing once more into the Final Frontier and today we arrive at the contentious and derisive legacy of slavery and the metaphoric use extended into the twenty fourth century as witnessed in the second series episode of Star Trek The Next Generation, The Measure of a Man. To give context, the first two seasons of this iteration of Star Trek were fairly, unbalanced in terms of quality and performance. At its worst, shockingly ignorant and borderline racist as depicted in the first seasons fourth episode Code of Honor but mercifully a rare occurrence which is largely ignored and consigned to history. As the show reached its second season, it faced a multitude of disruptions to its production, from a writing team dissolving and going its separate way, a key character leaving due to alleged sexual harassment, the writers guild strike of 1988 disrupting the process and budgetary issues resulting in the infamous one and only clip show episode.
There were a great many reasons why at that time, you may have justifiably believed it would not return following this divisive mess, thankfully the series course corrected and its legacy was restored with 5 outstanding season. Nestled amongst these episodes of derision was one especially strong feature, the aforementioned Measure of a Man, a single episode attempting to define sentience in machinery framed around the series Android character Data before expanding onto social issues such as ownership and broadly, slavery in a future setting. The series excelled, not always but on a great number of episodes going forward including Drumhead when the focus was taken off the exploration of space and instead shifting towards exploring the human condition. This episode especially allowed Patrick Stewart to shine as almost an orator at times providing powerful and challenging speeches in the courtroom scenes.
This was a fascinating episode to watch, not least because of the performances of the three principal actors in the series playing Picard, Riker and Data all had a chance to shine in the context of the narrative and deliver strong valid arguments that created a balanced structure to the plot. From the beginning the episode and ‘trial of Data’ is framed around the premise if the case isn’t argued to the best of the convictions of the captain and first officer it will decided in the ‘states’ favour effectively confirming Data as property to Starfleet. It takes an intervention by Whoopi Goldberg to remind the Captain of another period in human history where beings such as Data were viewed as property with less rights afforded to them than ordinary citizens, that prompt inspires Picard to deliver one of his character defining speeches that transcended a humble science fiction show into something special and moving.
Why I always appreciated this episode and indeed Star Trek in general was its continuing attempt to educate and philosophise on the human condition using metaphor and narrative to dissect the complexities of issues society has been debating and fighting against for centuries. A simple narrative on what is sentience expanded towards the rights and advocacies of species and indeed cultures in this context under our dominion. The notion of an android having rights has been debated and theorised since their inception in popular culture, indeed the entire narrative of Detroit Become Human was framed around this basic concept. Whilst the character was introduced to be an equivalent of Spock on the modern series, he grew and evolved to something, someone a lot more complex, not just a cliched source of science and logic but someone who was in fact a mirror of human society at that time.
The issue of rights would return once more to The Next Generation in the third season episode ‘The Offspring’ when Data attempts to reproduce, a basic right afforded to all sentient beings and who finds himself once more at the centre of a question of sentience between Starfleet and his commanding officer. Though perhaps not as strong or memorable an episode as The Measure of a Man, though principally as it was framed around his daughter Lal and the complexities of self replication as opposed to the moral convictions. None the less it allowed the series to finally bring this matter to a conclusion with another powerful and memorable quote from Patrick Stewart defending the officer under his command. Whilst the speech and quotes from the first episode were more of a powerhouse display designed specifically to win a legal case in the context of the episode, this more personal delivery to a superior officer certainly had a strong measure of conviction behind it that resonates with anyone that has been ordered or told to do something against their good judgement and moral convictions.
Ultimately it’s just a quote on a science fiction show that has probably been delivered in more meaningful and deeper ways than here. But for me, its sentiment and the spirit behind it hold true. On the subject matter, as we continue to push and develop AI civil rights may in fact become a pertinent issue with the robots we build gaining sentience and questioning their societal role. Equally, the notion of justice should be framed irrespective of irrelevancies and be weighted against the impact it will have on a wider society in general. Certainly in the current political climate you do have the feeling to many politicians attempt to frame changes to legislature to suit a particular agenda or to appeal to their ‘base’ against the wider community as a whole. Also, as a general guiding principle, to always stand up for your moral convictions and not be afraid to discuss or stay true to what you know to be right.
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