Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Turning "Turnabout" Around (Seven Years Later)

I'm reposting this, one of my favorite posts, because it got a new comment this morning from a fan who proposes Janice Lester was mentally ill all along [her post here].

I don't see that, but it does occur to me instead that Janice Lester is a forerunner of Khan in Wrath of Khan--another fiendishly clever villain, perhaps mentally unstable to begin with?, driven over the edge by injustice [why didn't Kirk send someone to check on Khan's people?], out for revenge on Kirk. 
That view makes this episode even less sexist--and Kirk, again, a flawed hero. Human, all too human.

"Turning "Turnabout" Around" Originally posted Sunday, April 25, 2010

Many people hate "Turnabout Intruder"--Star Trek's final episode--because it seems to justify sexism.
I like it because it sets a philosophical puzzle--how could Star Trek possibly condone injustice?--and because the solution is not in the usual place: it's Spock who is the moral compass here, not Kirk.

The episode opens with Jim Kirk meeting his former lover Janice Lester again for their first time since they were students in Starfleet. They had shared the same desire: to be starship captains;
but as Janice reminds Jim, Starfleet doesn't admit women captains.

He agrees it is not fair, but he still resents that she used that against him.
To get her revenge and a captaincy, Janice switches bodies with Jim.

This is one of the few episodes where the captain's moral sense is badly askew. "A Private Little War" is maybe another, but there, Jim knows it. Here he is relentlessly sure of himself.
His self-righteous pigheadedness is the classic posture of an otherwise decent person who's in the tricky position of having benefitted from injustice.

Instead, it is Spock who is the moral fulcrum of "Turnabout Intruder."
As the objective, rational non-human, he sees right past emotive, cultural gender constructs to accept Jim, in Janice's body, as the captain.

By the end, the body transfer has fallen apart and Janice is led off, weeping in impotent rage, by the man who loves her, while Jim looks on, sad but smug, and declares she could have been happy as any woman, if only...

The episode is not sexist, it shows Kirk as sexist and invites the viewer to identify with Spock instead.

When I tried to write about this, it turned into a tedious philosophy paper, so I made a macro instead.
Anyway, it's Macro Sunday, per Margaret.


"There's a place for women in SNCC: on their backs!"
~ Stokely Carmichael (1968)

JANICE: Your world of starship captains doesn't admit women. It isn't fair.
JIM: No, it isn't.
Dialogue from "Turnabout Intruder" (1969), Transcript here

''If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.''
Clayton Williams, Texan gubernatorial candidate comparing bad weather to rape

"The oppressors do not perceive their monopoly on having more as a privilege which dehumanizes others and themselves."
~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

"So I began to think maybe it was true that when you were married and had children it was like being brainwashed, and afterward you went about as numb as a slave in a totalitarian state."
~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“Her life could have been as rich as any woman's. If only... If only...”
~Final lines, spoken by Captain Kirk, "Turnabout Intruder" (1969), Transcript here

"Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny; anything else is a waste of material."
~Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (1982), Spock to Kirk

"And he could not tell why the struggle was worth while, why he had determined to use to the utmost himself...."
"I simply state that I'm a product of a versatile mind in a restless generation — with every reason to throw my mind and pen in with the radicals. Even if, deep in my heart, I thought we were all blind atoms in a world as limited as a stroke of a pendulum, I and my sort would struggle against tradition; try, at least, to displace old cants with new ones."
~This Side of Paradise (F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920), not the Star Trek episode of the same name)

"The future is something to be constructed through trial and error rather than an inexorable vice that determines all our actions."
~Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedoms


Margaret said...

This is an absolute wonder, Fresca!

Hilarity and intellectual commentary - I never thought I'd see the two cohabit in a macro . . . (another genre makes it dawn on via you).

Hm, yes. "She could've been as happy as any woman", but not as any man, (apparently they saw a difference).

And your use of the "OMG no" made me laugh - brilliant.

Fresca said...

Of course "OMG no" is brilliant:
I stole it from you, Margaret! : )

Too dazed to say more. (Guess how long this took. No, don't.)

ArtSparker said...

I had forgotten that episode, but you've reminded me of the queasy feeling the conclusion gave me. Great mashup.

femminismo said...

Kirk was good in that role as Janice. I thought she had more balls than he showed her to have, though. "She" seemed a little flighty, as I remember. But so forward-seeing of you to bring this macro into being. (These things do take a while, don't they. When you think about how long it took you get a little queasy. I know. I've done the same thing.) But I love all the assumptions you brought forth and how revealing that show really was - in your hands! good job

Celeste Bergin said...

very entertaining and William Shatner is handsome

Jennifer said...

I am extremely taken with your macroization of your commentary! ("Will we get pink shirts now?" made me giggle!)

I love the last line especially, the way the line break fragments the cliche and makes us think about it.

Janice!Kirk holding Spock's hand is adorable! There must be fic written out there where he and Spock clinch during this episode (Once again Star Trek proves the originator of another venerable fanfic cliche, the genderswap/bodyswap!), but I've never seen any. A lot of ST fic is lost to the mists of pre-Internet time...

And especially since we've been discussing "Way to Eden," Kirk as an unreliable narrator isn't that out there, I don't think. Even in "Eden," where I think we're still supposed to agree with him, there's an uncomfortable feeling within the text that he's missing something important. And indeed, if Kirk can be a leader in a woman's body, why not...a woman in a woman's body? Obviously a fair amount of viewers would answer "Because men's minds are different as well," but I agree there are subversive possibilities there too. I'll be curious to see how I feel about it on re-watching.

Fresca said...

SPARKY: "Queasy" is the word all right.
Glad you liked the mashup.

FMNSMO: You're right--Janice did have more balls than Shatner gave her!
Basically she is a version of Kirk, but frustrated in her ambitions, which drives her mad... as I think we must guess it would drive Jim.

Shatner didn't give the Janice/Jim character any shading. Much as I love the guy, I don't think he specialized in subtlety... (maybe a little in "Boston Legal"?)

CELESTE: I think Bill is handsome too, but I gather some (Art Sparker) prefer Spock. Nice of them to offer something for everyone.

JEN: I am honored that you like it!
Writing out my commentary in an e-mail to you was indispensable in turning the arguments into something of a story, which is more fun for the "end user" as they say in publishing (and for me too! more time with screencaps!).

The "pink shirts" aside was, of course, inspired by Janice/Jim's dress--it doesn't really suit the actress, but I love the design.

It is so odd to me that the people in the 1960s didn't hesitate (or did they? did anyone ask Mr. Nimoy?) to have Spock take the captain's hand, just because he's in a female body---even though Spock has just moments before melded with Jim's mind and must have Jim's essence in the forefront of his consciousness.

(SURELY in the world of fanfic they did more than hold hands... though they didn't have much time. Heh. Like that would stop anyone.)

I have never liked Spock more than in this episode, when he just calmly detours around the bull shit.

"if Kirk can be a leader in a woman's body, why not...a woman in a woman's body?"
Yeah, male brains, blah blah... but really I do think this episode is more subversive than the creators even knew.

Jen, I think my brain has simply deleted "Way to Eden" as unsupportable because--duh--of course--even more clearly there Kirk can't cope with the social complexity,
and again it is Spock who saves the day, morally, spiritually, and as always, grammatically.

momo said...


I do not remember this episode at all--I must have missed it. And if I saw it when I was a kid, I would not have had any words to express the visceral reaction I would have had to the injustice (I was very keenly aware of injustice as most kids are!)

Jennifer Cavill said...

I actually just found your post through and image search. I recently wrote an essay which also dealt with Turnabout Intruder, although I approach is a different way to yourself. I went the way of gender fluidity and mental health as opposed to sexism.


Fresca said...

Thanks for the link to your article, Jennifer Cavill!
You raise fun and interesting points---I added a line to my original post just now to clarify that I don't think the episode is sexist, I think it exposes Jim as sexist (which actually makes the episode nonsexist since it does NOT condone his attitude)--my point is that it's Spock who accepts humans in any manifestation of gender.
Good stuff!

Jennifer Cavill said...

Hi Fresca!

Thanks for taking a look and leaving your comments - I left a reply there too... which got a bit long and rambly... it was 2am and my brain was failing!

My heart refuses to believe my beloved is sexist (:P) although I do have a problem with his grabby kissy hands (go for the jugular!).

Yeah I left Spock out for brevity, I did address that in my reply to you :D
(Spock holding hands with Kirk in Lester's body - so cute omg)

But yeah, diverse opinions and discussions are good! My main problem is with people just shutting down or panning the episode (which I realise you didn't do, I found what you said interesting!) and just, calling it disgusting and sexist etc. I guess my 'essay' (read:rant) was directed at those kinds of people!

I actually read and review Trek novels on my blog :D


Sometimes I sew Starfleet uniforms XD;

Fresca said...

Thanks for spurring me to think more about this episode, Jennifer!
I realize I really see it, like Khan, as a warning about our ability to creating a Frankenstein monster--either through pride (thinking we can create a super-human like Khan) or through stupidity & greed (oppressing whole classes of people, as with Janice)---and dangerous resentments we thus create.