Sunday, 12 May 2013

TOS - 1.2 - Charlie X

Charlie X - Star Trek Original
Charlie X unleashes his ungodly
power with this constipated look.
He doesn't see eye to eye with anyone
There's a lot more to this episode than meets the eyes.

This episode asks the eternal question, or I should say the eternal fear of what happens when an unstable or immature individual is given too much power. This is why we don't let persons under certain age to drive or own a gun, or anything in the position of holding power.

It explores this what-if scenario. What if an immature 17 year old who's too desperate for love and attention, and is basically a brat who wants everything his way, posses unimaginably terrifying power? Whenever he pleases, he can simply make people vanish, or turns them into something else.

This is a popular theme, and I've seen a episode of the Twilight Zone (if my memory serves) with similar story of a boy who has too much power, but with little self control.

The irrationality or emotional instability leads to unpredictability. We don't like uncertainty. And in the 1960s, people were lived in uncertain time.

Both this Star Trek and the Twilight Zone episode was made in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War as well as not long after WW2. A mushroom cloud of uncertainty hung over people's lives. The scenario of an emotionally unstable leader of the Soviet Russia or USA, who would press the button to launch a nuclear device was all too real, and terrifying. This seemed especially plausible when the memories of a crazed, emotionally unstable Nazis party leader with too much power was still quite fresh. Even more recently the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. We had such a close shave - of a hair breadth - of somebody pressed the button to launch a thermal nuclear warhead to start WW3, and the end of our civilisation.

The brilliant satirical comedy Dr. Stangelove (1964), which predated the Star Trek, was directed by the legendary Stanley Kubrick during this period of the Cold War to address the anxiety of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

There's yet another angle to look at this episode; a more profound interpretation of "Charlie X".

From the evolution or even civilisation point of view, we're still quite young and immature as a species. Our mind is powerful because it let us apply science to build deadly weapon of mass destruction. Our technology has advanced far above our society to handle such technology. Our technical mind is far more ahead of our emotional mind. We are in effect an immature boy given a mind powerful enough to create weapon that wreak huge destruction.

We are "Charlie X". (Have a good look at that face. Frightening, isn't it?)

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) is a less subtle and less allegorical way of addressing that nuclear issue. It's pretty in your face. (Of course, today the fear of nuclear race has lessened (the Cold War is over, and we have lived with it since WW2), but the global warming - a more recent phenomenon - had replaced that preoccupation, and so in the remake of the same film The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008), the alien make complains to us earthling about our global warming, instead. One day, we concern something else, and that this same remake would be about that.

All these nuclear weapon development would have tremendous resonance with the audience (and writers) of the 1960s at a time where they preoccupied with such things as WW2, Cuban Missile Crisis, Cold War, and new technology. I imagine they watched this episode on the edges of their seats.

I'm an optimist for the future (much like Gene Roddenberry. Well, I wouldn't like his creation if I don't share his visions of the future). I believe we had progressed a great deal since the 1960s. Of course, we still have terrorism. We have a long way to go. Well, one baby step at a time. We have great leaps in technology, but in the social sphere we have no technology to help us. In fact, technology is a mixed blessing for us. We have to cope with technology. We may even be enslaved by it. Those are the central theme that exists firmly in the cyberpunk domain - a subgenre of sci-fi. Cyberpunk concerns with dystopia where technology rules over human. Blade Runner (1982) and The Matrix (1999) are the most well known examples.

So how's Captain Kirk faces the challenge with such a powerful foe? Well, I won't spoil it for you.



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