Sunday, March 2, 2008

"Kiss me, Hardy."

"The Death of Nelson", 1806, by Benjamin West

I've been fretting about Star Trek's homoerotic S/M subtext. As is often the case when I'm mystified by something, I've been overlooking an obvious element, right in front of my nose. Generally, if I sit still long enough, this object will eventually come into focus; and thus it was this morning.
As I sat idly with my coffee, staring into space, who should appear but no less a personage than Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, of the British Royal Navy.

Nelson kindly pointed out to me that Star Trek is set on a ship; and naval life--fictional and non--is full of men loving other men (I mean really loving, not screwing) and full of violence, such as floggings (I mean real floggings, not "power exchange play" or any of the other terms for consensual violence), or repressed violence, such as the threat of mutiny.

Nelson himself is an example. Famous for his on-shore love affair with Emma Hamilton, he died one of the most heroic, romantic, and well-known deaths in the Western world, on board the HMS Victory, at the Battle of Trafalgar (Spain, 1805).
As he lay dying, Nelson famously spoke the words, "Kiss me, Hardy," to Thomas Hardy, the ship's captain. According to accounts of those present, Hardy kissed Nelson once on the cheek and once on the forehead.

Rough Notes

As for erotic or sexual violence, that too is a feature of strict, hierarchical, militaristic institutions, which redirect sexual energy into other expressions of power, such as violence and control.
Star Trek's Starfleet is certainly such an institution. All that libido enclosed under high pressure in a vessel such as a starship, repressed in service to personal or group ambition--there's an explosive cocktail...

Read Herman Melville's novella Billy Budd at Project Gutenberg, for the tragic mix of violence, repressed desire, and innocence in the life of the eponymous "Handsome Sailor."

You can also download Joseph Conrad's short novel Heart of Darkness. Conrad wrote this story after working as a riverboat captain in Belgium's colony of Congo, where he witnessed the most brutal of colonial regimes and how it brutalized the oppressors as well as the oppressed.

Conrad's depiction of the evil effects of total power is the basis of the Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now, which contends that what looks like madness in Col. Kurtz is the logical extension of the militaristic mindset, and that war offers the ultimate thrill in "power exhange play."

OK, that doesn't fully answer my Star Trek problem, but it's all related.

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