Wednesday, 12 June 2013

TOS - 1.22 - Space Seed

Star Trek - Space Seed
Doc, you'd better hand over your liver and wallet,
or else I'm going to do a tracheostomy on your
throat with this rusty, unsteriled scalpel !

Remember, I don't have a license to operate !
Several interesting points could be said about this episode.

1st thing 1st, drum roll's a young Ricardo Montalbán! Any self-respecting Trekkies/Trekkers should yell out "The Wrath of Khan !"

You're not wrong, this episode is the prequel to The Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Sorry, no prizes for getting it right because it's too easy.

For those who aren't Star Trek fans (why are you reading this? Good on you!), you might yell out "Fantasy Island !". Or as Ricardo Montalbán would say it in his charming Mexican accent, "Funtasy Island". The island is indeed quite funtastic.

Well, he's resurrected (artistically) once again in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). Khan, like another enduring and colourful Trek character 'Q', refuses to just go away, and hide.

Khan is a genetically engineering superhuman, or using Friedrich Nietzsche's terminology The Übermensch (German for "Overman", or "Superman"). Captain Kirk describes him as "superman".

In this episode, Ricardo Montalbán is tanned to look more like an Indian. Lt. Marla McGivers, the ship's historian, describes Khan as someone who is  "From the northern India area, I'd guess. Probably a Sikh. They were the most fantastic warriors."

"Singh" is a common Indian name, originated from the ancient Hindu warriors and kings. To put it in another way, the family "Singh" belongs to the Kshatriya caste that associates with warriors and other government adminstration. The name is shared by the current prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh (who's also a Sikh, indicated by his headwear). Of course, in the 1960s, Asians were typically played by whites (not usually Anglo-Saxon, but southern European as they look Asian enough, but not too Asian. Ugly Betty shouldn't be ugly, physically. She should be cute and adorable, while wearing dental braces and glasses).

This very dated looking Genghis Khan (1965) whose title role was played by Omar Shariff.  This movie was made just a year before this episode was made. Don't tell me the writer wasn't aware of that movie and naturally inspired by it? Just a coincident, really?

Let's do a further etymological analysis of his name. The name 'Khan' is common in central Asia, and South Asia (where the Indian subcontinent is part of). In Mongolia, it's a title. As in Genghis Khan. And 'Noonien' sounds Korean (I suspect it's used as a generic East Asian name in Star Trek). In short, all the 3 names is Asiatic - from the central, east, and south Asia (in the order of his 1st, middle, and family names respectively).

In one scene, he does what supposedly Indian yoga moves before prying the door open.

According to the ship's database, relayed by Spock, "From 1992 through 1996, [Khan is an] absolute ruler of more than a quarter of your world. From Asia through the Middle East". This is somewhat an allusion to the Mongol Empire, which extends from Asia to the Eastern Europe. The size of this fictional Empire (1/4 of the world's landmass) and Mongol Empire (1/3 of the world's landmass) is also comparable. The only major difference is that Khan doesn't commit massacre during his reign like Genghis Khan.

Genetic stats show that 0.5% of the world population is descended from Genghis Khan. Higher in Asia. 8% of the population of Central Asia are children of Genghis Khan. Genghis also fathered 1 in 12 Asian. There's very good chance that Khan Noonien Singh is a descendent of the Genghis Khan. That goes for me as well.

Whatever angle you look at it, Khan Noonien Singh is an Asian, specifically Indian, in this episode where the seed of this character is planted originally.

With the rise of political correctness and more importantly markets consideration in the 1980s, Khan in The Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan looks much more like a Nordic Viking than a Indian Sikh warrior. So that Khan looks more like an Aryan than an Asian. Because in the 1980s, it's much less acceptable for a white actor to play an Asian. Today, it's considered absolutely ridiculous for a Caucasian to play an Asian in Hollywood. In the 1960s and earlier, it's preferred - not an iron rule - for a white actor to play a major Asian role. For minor roles, Asian actors can play themselves (what do they think of next?).

However, in the 1980s, Hollywood isn't ready for an Indian actor to play a main lead (villain or not) in a big budget production (Smaller role, like Sulu is acceptable for a long time). There was simply no Indian actor whose name that's big enough at the time to fill the shoes of this role to ensure commercial success of The Wrath of Khan. If the movie is made today, Hollywood might consider Naveen Andrews for the role of Khan. But he wasn't there in the 1980s when the film was made. He couldn't be there. American audience wasn't ready for major Indian stars yet in the 1980s

For all these commercial - not racist - considerations, Khan has to be turned into a white folk from an Indian Sikh. If Naveen Andrews or any Indian actor of similar calibre and profile existed in the 1980s, it's more likely that the film studio would change actor instead of the race of the role. Because changing the race of a role is more drastic than changing actor to play the same role. The latter is much more common practise. Many actors play Superman, Batman, James Bond, etc. What you don't usually do is to change the roles of Superman, and James Bond in order for a actor to play it. Let's change James Bond into a woman so that Angelina Jolie can play it (this won't happen for many more reasons than one).

But that's what happening here with Khan Noonien Singh. Role has to be changed to suit the actors, not the other way around.

Having said that, if they think an Indian villain would hurt sales in, say Indian market, then they wouldn't use an Indian actor. In short, there're barriers after barriers after barriers to consider an Indian actor for the role. Isn't it simpler just change it to a Caucasian actor? All the problems simply disappear instantly.

Hey, movie making is a commercial enterprise, facts has to be yielded to market forces.

I thought all the talks of ethnicity of roles, and actors who playing them is very interesting because Khan Noonien Singh is a tyrant in the fictional Eugenics Wars of the 1990s. Don't you think so?

At the end, Spock poses the question that gives the title of the episode, "It would be interesting, Captain, to return to that world in a hundred years and to learn what crop has sprung from the seed you planted today."

With that comment, Spock has foreshadowed a sequel. "You ain't see the last of Khan yet". We don't have to wait for 100 years to see the crop. Only 15 years at a farm cinema near you. We already knew the obvious answer to Spock's question, "Space crops! Of course!" (Don't you raise your single Spock eyebrow on me...)

To learn more about space crops, go there. Otherwise, do nothing.

Readers who find this article interesting might also interested in finding out the parallel between the character development of Khan and the Klingons in my review of epiosde 1.26 "Errand of Mercy".

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