One of the greatest pieces of television, of any show, era or genre, EVER, is the Star Trek; Deep Space 9 episode "Far Beyond The Stars". I just rewatched it for probably the 20th time. It transcends Trek. It transcends Science Fiction. It transcends Television. It is a brilliantly acted, written and produced piece of fiction, because of it's stark unflinching reality.
And it is incredibly uncomfortable to watch.
Of course that's as it should be. It very bluntly shows the real
effects of racism in America. Moreso than any other tv show has ever
succeeded in doing. Moreso even than a lot of movies that tackled it. It
doesn't soften the blows, or handle the subject with kid gloves. Maybe
because it's an episode of a syndicated genre show, it had more freedom
than network or cable dramas. Maybe because it wasn't a topic they
tackled regularly, they had the freedom to be as real and ugly and
brutally honest as racism really is, where an NBC or an HBO show might
feel a need to whitewash it a little to avoid making their white
But that's just it. A truly good story
about the realities of racism and oppression and white privilege SHOULD
make it's audience uncomfortable. It SHOULD make them squirm. It's not a
flowery light-hearted subject. It's a brutal, ugly reality.
For those who've never watch Deep Space 9, the story is that Captain
Sisko, the black captain of the eponymous space station Deep Space 9, is
in the middle of a long and bloody war. He's just learned that a ship
captained by a long-time friend of his was destroyed with no survivors
in a border skirmish and is feeling hopeless, and actually considering
resigning his commission and giving up the fight.
knocks him unconscious, and when he wakes up, he's Benny Russell, an
underpaid science fiction writer in New York in the early 50's. His
editor is a spineless conformist who is afraid of upsetting the status
quo who prefers his readers blissfully believe Benny is a white writer,
(and that the one woman writer on staff is a man), and constantly tells
Benny "that's just the way it is".
Benny has some hallucinations
about Sisko and Deep Space 9, and at the urging of a street preacher,
begins writing about Sisko's adventures. His editor of course refuses to
publish them because "a negro captain just isn't believable". When the
other writers finally convince the editor to publish Benny's story
because they all agree it's just too damned good to shelve, the
publisher orders the entire print of that issue pulped and tells the
editor to fire Benny, leading Benny to have a huge mental break-down as
he cries out that you can pulp a story but you can't kill an idea, and
that future of a black captain in space is real.
If that alone were all this story had to offer it would still be good television. But it goes so far beyond that.
Benny is treated like a criminal by beat cops solely because he's
wearing a nice suit, which they deem suspicious because they assume,
when he says he works in the office building where his magazine offices
are, that he means he's the janitor. Willie Mays is in the story, and
when asked why he as a rich successful baseball player hasn't moved
downtown, he says the white players tolerate PLAYING with him, but
living next to them? No thanks, he'd rather stay uptown where the other
black folk idolize him than move downtown and just be a negro with money
the white neighbours stare suspiciously at. Benny's young street thief
friend scoffs at the very idea of Benny's black space captain, because
the only reason he can imagine a black person going to space is if the
astronauts "need a nigger to shine they shoes".
And it's all
brutal and unflinching. They don't act like it's just white people being
annoying like so many shows do when touching this issue. You can FEEL
their anger, their pain. When the white cops harass Benny you can feel
his dehumanization. And when eventually those same cops beat the
ever-loving fuck out of Benny because he dared to question why they felt
the need to shoot his young friend for trying to break into a car, you
feel every single punch and kick, because they don't hold anything back.
They don't pan away and let you just imagine the brutality. They make
you watch it, and they make you FEEL it for exactly what it is. They
make you feel every single blow even as they white cops visually flip
between the cops and the characters the actors are normally playing. And
it doesn't for one moment lessen the impact of the violence.
And therein lies the most uncomfortable truth about watching this episode.
It's set in the 1950's. But it could just as easily be set in 2015.
Because every single slight that white people impose upon "the coloured
folks" in this story? White people are STILL doing those exact same
things. Cops STILL profile well-dressed black people as suspicious.
Stories with strong black characters STILL get passed on in favour of
yet another white protagonist. Most of the characters you see on tv are
white. Minority characters are almost always the "token (insert minority
here)" character. Go look at most popular tv shows, and I guarantee
with extremely few exceptions, the cast is mostly white, with one female
and one minority character.
And most infuriating of all, in
2015, young black people are still being routinely murdered by police
for the flimsiest of excuses, or beaten to a pulp for daring to talk
back. For being "uppity".
For not knowing "their place".
And white people are STILL denying things are really as bad as they are.
And that's why "Far Beyond The Stars" is so uncomfortable to watch;
because it's the motherfucking truth. It's fiction only insofar as that
the characters in it are fictional people, but otherwise it's 150% cold
hard brutal unflinching reality. It's brutal, raw, hones, and it pulls
absolutely no punches. If you can watch it and not feel shame for the
human race, or end up in tears, there's something very very wrong with
you. It's the closest thing a tv show can be to perfect.
discomfort is why it's among, if not THE best of all television. And it
should be required viewing. It should be shown in schools. It should be
discussed endlessly. It should be a teaching tool. It should be
Sometimes humans NEED to take the blinders off and be
made uncomfortable, because the reality of racism IS uncomfortable. And
if those with all the power and privilege are comfortable what "the way
things are", they'll never be motivated to help the rest of us get this
crapsack racist world to the way things SHOULD be.
never seen this episode, PM me for a link to watch it online. It is the
most important piece of tv you will EVER watch in your life.