star trek

The new, bestial Klingons in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ point to a growing intolerance

The series’ famous non-human species exhibit all the extremes of real-life exotic enemies from timeless representations going back to ancient Greek.

Star Trek has always reflected the contemporary political atmosphere and ideologies in which it is created. From the original series in the 1960s with its peace, love and interracial kiss, to the 1990’s post-Cold War Next Generation, the world-view of progressive Western ideology has featured strongly in the stories of everyone’s favourite group of space explorers.

The original Klingons of the 1960s. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.
The original Klingons of the 1960s. Courtesy Paramount Pictures.

Across each new iteration, the Klingons – a humanoid warrior species – have often been the alien of choice. The 1960s Klingons were bad, untrustworthy, duplicitous enemies, but visually they looked pretty close to the sapiens on the Starship Enterprise. They were the “other”, but that “other” was also us. They were the Cold War Soviets mixed with a bit of the Japanese from World War II (another enemy, the Romulans, also wore that hat).

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Klingons were more physically differentiated by exo-skeletal additions but they were friends now, not enemies any more, and although slightly erratic allies, they fought on the same side as the Federation. It was the post-Cold War world.

Us and them

So what to make of the new Netflix series Discovery and its version of the Klingons? Set further in the past than the other series, watchers have been given a race of new/old Klingons which is physically extraordinary, kitted out like badass Egyptian warriors. Gone are progressive views of understanding the commonalities of our existence. The classical “us” and the space age “other” has been reborn.

Klingons, the next generation. Photo credit: © 1991 Paramount Pictures
Klingons, the next generation. Photo credit: © 1991 Paramount Pictures

What is so intriguing about these new Klingons is that they exhibit all the extremes of real-life exotic enemies from timeless representations going back to the ancient Greeks. They are portrayed as incomprehensible beasts to the federation: the Klingons participate in self-harm, believe in rebirth in flames, and have a physical appearance that has extended their exo-skeleton to make them look more like wild animals than anthropomorphic beings. They appear like beasts, as exotic as Durer’s famous drawing of a rhinoceros was to his 16th-century audience.

The new Klingon uniform was clearly inspired by ancient Egyptian breastplates, wired like ribs across their shoulders and upper chest. Even more Egyptianising is the death practice of the Klingons that sees the corpse being wrapped as a mummy, and placed in a beautifully decorated space sarcophagus. These sarcophagi are then stuck to the outside of their space ships. The way that the Klingon dead and their death cult travel together through space and time removes any previous common “humanity” that had existed in the other Star Trek series. The Klingons are now so far from the “us” who reside in the opposite ship as to be almost incomprehensible.

Ancient monsters

Though their appearance may be drawn from history, these new, hostile Klingons are base zealots and unrelentingly evil – with an obvious comparison to be made with Islamic State. They are simply our enemy: we possess no shared values, they lie in ambush and react with unremitting violence across the first episodes. The federation officers of the Discovery series are conflicted about reacting to the aggression – and as such are depicted at first as wishy-washy and weak. The ideals of the previous series, including the “prime directive” – that crews must not interfere with the development of civilisations – have disappeared and are replaced by sneering Klingons who seek martyrdom and mock the concept of “coming in peace”.

Albrecht Durer’s rhinoceros, 1515. Image credit: Albrecht Dürer/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY Public Domain Mark 1.0]
Albrecht Durer’s rhinoceros, 1515. Image credit: Albrecht Dürer/Wikimedia Commons [Licensed under CC BY Public Domain Mark 1.0]

I wonder what Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry would have felt about this easy dismissal of the ideals of peaceful inter-species cooperation? In the new Star Trek, violence is the only means to counter violence. For the creators it makes it much easier to accept this by physically placing the Klingons further back in our human past. Their representation in costume like exotic, alien ancients, and practice of a cult of death, further distances them from our so-called “Western” humanity. By physically animalising the Klingons this becomes an easy retreat to the mythical beasts of old. As the monstrous Gorgon sisters were to the ancient Greeks these Klingons are to the Federation.

This new form of Klingon enemy seems to be reflecting shifting attitudes towards peace and war in today’s world. More than anything this only serves to confirm how far our society has shifted away from hope and idealism for the future. It will be interesting to see how this new Klingon war is resolved in the next chapter of the first season, and whether hopeful aspiration will return or fear of the other is all we can aspire to.

Eve MacDonald, Lecturer in Ancient History, Cardiff University.

This article first appeared on The Conversation.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Now that you’ve reached the top, how often do you say, “Thank You”?

What kind of a leader are you?

How do you define success? The typical picture of success is a large bank balance, expensive material possessions and fame. But for some, success is happiness that comes from fulfilling a childhood dream or attaining a sense of purpose. For those, success is not about the volume of an applause or the weight of a gold medal, but about showing gratitude and sharing success with the people without whom the journey would be incomplete. Here are a few ways you can share your success with others:

Speech

While it sounds simple and formulaic, a genuine, emphatic and honest speech can make everyone feel like they are a part of a winning team. For a personal touch, acknowledge the team’s efforts by mentioning each one of them by name and thanking them for their unique contributions. Hearing their own name makes people feel proud and honoured.

Realise the success should be passed on

Instead of basking in the glory of their own achievements, good leaders encourage, motivate and inspire others to achieve success. A good leader should acknowledge his own mistakes, share his experience and knowledge and cultivate an environment where every milestone is an accomplishment for everyone in the team. Talk about challenges, the personal and professional struggles that you had to overcome. Sharing setbacks helps others to relate to you and helps them overcome struggles they may be facing.

Celebrate

Nothing beats shaking-off the deadlines, work-pressure and fatigue by celebrating success together. Enjoying a job well done together as a team brings about a spirit of camaraderie. A catered lunch, evening drinks or a weekend off-site, the important thing is to enjoy the win with people who have gone through the same struggle.

Keep it flexible

The last thing you want is for work celebrations to become monotonous and repetitive. Not all milestones have to be celebrated in a grand manner, some can just be acknowledged with gestures such as personal Thank You notes or writing a recommendation on LinkedIn.

Make success more meaningful

Go beyond numbers, sales targets and profits and add meaning to the achievement. Reminding everyone of the larger purpose inspires people. It’s easy to lose interest when you do something in a routine fashion. Giving a larger meaning to success makes people feel more involved and energized.

Great leaders are those who share their victories with others. They acknowledge that the path to success is collaborative. Great leaders don’t stand in front of their team, but are found working amongst them. This video is an ode to such leaders who epitomise the Chivas culture and know how to Win The Right Way. Follow Chivas on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Chivas Studio Music CDs and not by the Scroll editorial team.