Tag Archives: representation

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Comparative Opinions: Representation in Video Games – Episode 22

Welcome to the Comparative Opinions podcast! This week, on the heels of hearing such positive things about the game Dishonored 2, hosts David and Holly talk a bit about representation in video games, how it’s improving, why it’s important, and why it’s important to celebrate that it’s improving. They are also less than enthusiastic about the upcoming release of Final Fantasy XV.

Comparative Opinions is a weekly half-hour-ish podcast hosted on ComparativeGeeks.com. Subscribe for new episodes every Sunday!

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Music is by Scott Gratton: http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Scott_Gratton/Intros_and_Outros

Human-Centric Diversity in Science Fiction: Bands of Space Misfits

After talking about human-looking alien supremacy in Farscape and human-centric Cyborgs, I will speak about heterogeneous, albeit very human, bands of space misfits.


Where Farscape showed a multi-species main cast, even as the series evolved and made for several character turnovers, not all Science Fiction shows have been so willing to do the same. Farscape‘s precursor, Babylon 5, also provided a strong multi-species main cast throughout the seasons, especially with strong protagonists like G’Kar, Delenn and Kosh. Such franchises take into account how likely it is that space travel leads to encountering alien species, even if humankind was originally able to propel themselves into new territories by themselves.

While humans can be the core of a narrative arc, it seems surprising that fictional universes involving space travel as a primary aspect would reduce the interaction to human ones, but it is the case in some well-known fictional universes.

Firefly Cast.

Firefly Cast.

A fan favorite despite its short lifespan, Firefly, is an example of human-centric band of space misfits, who for the most part, chose to work together and coexist from the beginning. Though the franchise has a strong multicultural aspect of current civilization, it still remains all about humans – even the Reavers pushed back at the edge of space. Indeed, these are humans who returned to a savage state and even have cannibalistic ways.

As for the more recent Dark Matter, it also emerged as a strongly human-centric universe, with yet another band of space misfits – actually prisoners – thrown together, in a way much more akin to Farscape in terms of main cast’s premises.

Both Firefly and Dark Matter introduce a diverse cast, including in terms of representation in the lead group. Yet they both remain quite human-centric when the premises themselves could have allowed for a broader approach of world building.

How do you feel about such human-centric universes?

Star Trek’s Subversive Lady Guest Stars

Everyone talks about how sci-fi uses outlandish settings to veil their social commentary. The examples are often laughable, though. I can’t imagine anybody watching Star Trek‘s “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” and thinking “haha, what a ripping adventure which clearly has nothing at all to do with the civil rights movement!” Star Trek used the sci-fi excuse with people who didn’t understand the show, yes, but it goes deeper than those obvious plotlines. They — the showrunners, writers, actors — took more trouble than that. They slipped overtly-political stories in between wacky-space-hijinx episodes so people wouldn’t get too worried. They even popped a euphemistic gay-rights speech into an episode that was otherwise as boring as an episode can possibly be (“Metamorphosis”).

Still from "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," showing two aliens with half-black and half-white faces.

Still from “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” showing two aliens with half-black and half-white faces.

There are more examples of how hidden social statements actually worked, but the relevant one at the moment is how slightly-sexualized costumes for the female characters allowed them to disguise how revolutionary those characters’ positions really were. I talked about this way back in May before Comparative Geeks went self-hosted, but I’m now expanding on it because although I covered the recurring characters decently well, some of Star Trek’s edgiest stuff came from its guest stars. My favorites are T’Pau of Vulcan, the Romulan commander, and Dr. Miranda Jones.

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On Gates, Hugos, and Puppies – Throwback Thursday

This week for a Throwback Thursday, looking back at some of our posts from the original blog, there was one that came to mind this week thinking about Ghostbuster… but then I remembered that really, there’s two posts there, so why not both? From Gamergate to the Hugos, and now to Ghostbusters, I think there is a strong thread of connection between the world happening, and reactionary backlash. Here’s each of those posts, below! Or follow those links back to the originals where there was a lot of conversation.

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Uhura Wears Red

Nyota Uhura, Nichelle NicholsIt occurred to me recently that Lieutenant Uhura, the Enterprise’s communications officer, portrayed by the formidable Nichelle Nichols, wears a red uniform. This may not be immediately surprising. Lots of people wear red uniforms in the Original Series. All the nameless “redshirt” security guards, yes, but also the entire engineering department, which naturally raises the question: Which is Uhura? Not security, clearly, which leaves engineering.

This realization struck me because fans seem to have conflated “communications” with linguistics at some point after the original series, largely due to the 1985 novel Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan. In actual episodes, though, she’s not presented as a linguist but an expert in the sophisticated technology required for the Enterprise’s communications, including long-range with Starfleet, intraship coordination, and interfacing with alien ships’ technologies. She doesn’t pull out a dictionary, she crawls under her station to reconnect wires. She’s in the engineering department, not the humanities.

A few examples: In “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, she pops under her station to “rig up a subspace bypass circuit,” identified as “very delicate work.” Spock comments that no one else is more qualified to do it and leaves her alone. Spock. Spock doesn’t think he himself could do a better job on that circuit. (Nichelle Nichols has also commented that she saw Uhura’s relationship with Spock as one of a student and mentor). Another one, easy to miss, is tossed in at the beginning of “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” The initial goal, before they were waylaid by the gamesters, was a maintenance check on an automated communications outpost, so Uhura is tapped for the landing party.

Uhura and Spock in Who Mourns for Adonais

Uhura is shown speaking Swahili on multiple occasions, it seems to be her first language, and that may be part of the reason her character is nudged that way later. However, it’s generally presented as character backstory and part of an effort to show people of all nationalities on the Enterprise, not connected to her professional qualifications. Think about it: With a universal translator, why would they need a linguist on the bridge? On the ship as a backup, certainly, but not on the bridge.

This matters, not because linguists are dumb — it’s just as valid as any other profession and super interesting! — but because Uhura is not a linguist, yet is continually pushed in that direction, a more “feminine” direction. It matters because we still have so few representations of women in STEM fields, let alone women of color, and one representation makes all the difference. Before 1985, Uhura was a symbol drawing women into NASA and the STEM fields at large, and she deserves a little recognition!