Wednesday, 31 July 2013

TOS - 2.5 - The Apple

Star Trek TOS Apple
Who wants to go into the Serpent
Tunnel of Terror?
The ticket price is $5 for adult
and $3 for children.
Children shorter than the snake's fang
will not be admitted.
The early episodes in Season 1 were filled with ideas that are inspired by classics. It has been awhile, and in this episode, we have the classics of classics, Crème de la crème of classics.

Only 3 episodes ago in episode 2.2 "Who Mourns for Adonais?", we have another classics, Greek classics that is. And in this episode, we have the Jewish classic from the Bible, based on the "Garden of Eden" in the Book of Genesis.

It's the Season of ancient religions!

When I saw the title of the episode, my 1st thought that crossed my mind is that this episode is based on the story the Garden of Eden. BUT the term "Apple" is really wrong. The Bible quotes "Forbidden Fruit". Somewhere sometimes something lost in the translation, and the "Forbidden Fruit" had turned into "Apple" (like water being turned into wine by Jesus). Another example is Deng Xiaoping's famous quote, "It doesn't matter if the cat is black or white. If it catches mice, it's a good cat". This is a well known Sichuan proverb (Sichuan is his birth place), but it's actually a tabby cat. I think you agree that "white cat" is better, but wrong. There's no white cat native to Sichuan (only tabby cat).

One of the many things about classical story that's stood the test of time is its depth and width of interpretation. It could be viewed in a number of subtly different ways. When I first heard it when I was 17 (by the way, I'm an agnostic), this is the story of the Coming of Age.

Adam and Eve (meaning children) were totally innocent of the ways of the world. God (meaning parents) protecting them in the Garden of Eden (meaning parents' house) from external 'evil' (meaning porn, tattoo, heavy metal, smoking, swearing, etc).

The 'evil' serpent or snake tempts them to eat the "Apple" from the Tree of Knowledge. God warned them against eating it. And knowing kids, what happens when you tell them not to read a certain magazine, or watch a certain TV channel, etc, you pique their curiosity, and lure them to do it. It's God, not Serpent, who makes Adam and Eve wants to do it more because being curious is human nature. God knows that, of course! The Bible writers are another matter entirely.

Some rebellious kids these days probably call these strict parents fascists. Since Adam and Eve disobey God's order, they've got banished from the Garden of Eden. Today's parents do the opposite, they ground the kids in their own house. There's nothing more scary to the kids than staying in their Garden of Eden forever. Kids are quite worldly these days compare to even one generation before, thanks to Information Age.

Of course, the Serpent represents the 'evil', in other words, the real world outside the parents house.

We interpret thing according to our situation. So at 17 year old, I naturally interpreted it that as a story of the Coming of Age. But since Adam and Eve is the First Couple of Humankind, so this is the story of the Coming of Age of Humankind.

The Garden of Eden narrative is scalable, meaning you can apply it to a family unit, a society or humanity. If it applies to the family unit, authoritarianism is a parenting style, if it applies to a country, authoritarianism is a political ideology. Those 2 units/systems tend to go hand in hand. A democratic country tends to favour democratic parenting style.

In the ancient world where autocracy, and obedience were valued highly, Adam and Eve indeed do a bad bad thing for not listening to their strict parents. Today, we don't view the Serpent as such a simple black and white term as the good or the bad guy. Just a guy.

In this episode, Vaal is alluded to as the Biblical God, the primitive villagers collectively as Adam and Eve. These villagers are indeed very innocent. One adult, their leader, cries like a baby when Captain Kirk punches him in the face. Captain Kirk has to sooth him from stop crying. They don't even know how to harm another person. In short, they're more innocent than a 7 year old earthling.

Interestingly, Vaal is represented by the giant Serpent head, which is the entrance to its computer processing centre. This is in keeping with the image that the Serpent is the bad guy.

If you ask me, Star Trek is the Serpent, and the crew is the Apple (a term used by Spock), who opens the eyes of the villagers, and liberate them from a existence that consists of nothing except absolute conformity to the rule of Vaal. This place is a gilded cage as described by Captain Kirk.

We have basic instinctual fear towards the snake. So it's the universal cultural symbol of evil because it's driven by our evolution. In science, snake doesn't have such a stigma. If you watch nature documentary, and listen the loving way some biologists talk about snakes, you thought they worship the Serpent god.

There's nothing to be ashamed for the Trek writer to knock off this classic story from the Bible, the Bible writers themselves regularly pinched stuff from earlier sources from the people of the Fertile Crescent like the Sumerians, Assyrians, etc. The Garden of Eden and The Noah's Flood are just 2 such examples. And some scholars believe that the Ten Commandments may have come from the Egyptian Book of the Dead is an example.

It's not hard to see this is another episode in Season 2 that sent the message: we have outgrown yet another religion, like Adam and Eve have outgrown the Garden of Eden, or the primitive villagers have outgrown Vaal, after tasting the Apple.

We've also outgrown absolute authority. We used to worship military conquerors like Alexander the Great, or Genghis Khan. At least, some of us. Some of us still worship them. The episode also explores authoritarianism vs democracy. Authoritarianism is invariably refers to Communism in the 1960s. Examples of a previous TOS episodes touching on these theme include 1.21 "The Return of the Archons". Since the TOS Trek writers lived in the 1960s, so don't expect their brainwaves is ever strayed too far for too long from the Cold War.

To be fair, in ancient agricultural, pre-industrial societies where living standards were typically low, freedom are valued relatively less than food, shelter and safety. In the relative affluent modern societies where food , shelter and safety are taken for granted, less tangible things like freedom becomes the object to be pursued.

Like I said, the Garden of Eden story can be interpreted in a number of ways. I believe that it's much less interpretative and more literal in the Bible when it was written. The message is simply absolute obedience to God or be banished from the Kingdom of God like Adam and Eve. The "Apple" represents heresy. While it depicts an authoritarianism, it's a benevolent dictatorship. In the episode or in the Bible.

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