STAR TREK DEEP SPACE 9: THE DOMINION

by Plexico Gingrich on May 28, 2012

STAR TREK DEEP SPACE 9

The Dominion is a rigid empire built on self preservation and hedonism, at least partially inspired by Brave New World, but perhaps more inspired by us. The Founders of The Dominion are The Changelings, who as you might guess, have the ability to change into stuff. They were once hunted and persecuted by other species. It’s never really explained why these inherently powerful beings used to be defenseless prey or how they rose to power. But eventually they genetically engineer their neighboring species into happy servitude and, with the help of these underlings, conquer everybody around them and establish what we know as The Dominion. This prevents other species from hunting Changelings for sport and leaves them free to slosh around in The Great Link, which is something between the transcendent freedom of nirvana and a McPoyle-style incest orgy.

We can see the ugly side of The Dominion in ourselves due to the fact that they make privilege and luxury virtues. We all say that the life of some homeless Indian kid has the same value as the life of a middle class kid in Chicago or Berlin, but pretty much nobody actually believes that. Even if he survives, the Indian kid is probably just going live a life of ignorance and noisy desperation, while the middle class kid will get to play video games, go to college for beer, sex and more video games and maybe the odd bit of enlightenment and perhaps grow up to have a satisfying family life and career or, worst case Ontario, piss away his life over-analyzing long canceled TV shows. So that makes it OK for us to spend all of our money on iPads instead of using it to buy food and medicine for the Indian kid. It’s not that we want him to die. Ideally what will happen is that the Indian kid will have the privilege of finding work disposing of the toxic waste generated by making our iPads. He gets to eat and perhaps pay for shelter and best of all, he’ll be happy to get it. Maybe he’ll occasionally find a way to see a movie or something. He’s happy, we’re really happy, everybody wins. That’s how The Changelings see it. They are higher beings with access to superior experiences, both through their ability to change into anything and gather that experience, and to share those experiences through The Great Link.  They don’t want other species to suffer and die, but if that’s how it has to be to preserve their way of life, then that’s how it has to be.  Still, they would prefer that lower species have contented niches of subservience, like the Jem’Hadar.

They also think that there is no way for everybody to be equal because equality can only give rise to conflict. And, as we learn on “Enterprise,” the Changelings’ rise to power is centered around The Xindi civilization, which is comprised of five races that are of more or less equal in power and, indeed, they are in a constant state of civil war, even destroying their original planet until The Founders bring a gift bag filled with order, progress, subservience and extinction. So, under the thumb of The Dominion, the greatest level of contentment will exist for everybody and it just so happens that the optimal path to peace entails The Changelings sitting at the top of the heap, luxuriating in their own slop. This is what is known as hegemonic stability theory in the study of international relations, except plug in the USA for The Dominion.

To achieve hegemonic stability, The Dominion is willing to use unlimited violence and oppression to defeat those who would undermine peace by asserting their own interests. This is what is known as political realism. Political realism and hegemonic stability theory are the most popular theories in the study international relations (because universities are teeming with radical leftists!) and the guiding principals of U.S. foreign policy at least since Kissinger. So the conflict with The Dominion can be seen as the Federation fighting against a “past” version of humanity/America, while in the conflict with the Borg they fight a nightmarish version of our future selves.

The least funny T-shirt ever conceived by man.

The Changlings and Odo:

Odo is, of course, the Worf of Changelings, ultimately siding with The Federation and his own judgement against his own people. This is mostly because he grows up away from them, having been sent away at birth as kind of a living probe. When Odo first learns that he is a Changeling, and not just an alien created during the makeup/special effects workers strike of ‘97, one of the show’s more awkward political forays comes about as he meets the head of the change gang, who ultimately becomes the head bad guy of the whole show. Well, either her or the Pah Wraith. Anyway, Odo mentions that he has been called a changeling. The Changeling boss says, “oh yeah man, other races came up with that as a term of derision for us, but we embraced it. We made it our own.” Just like ‘nigger’ or ‘queer,’ in case you missed it due to the Dane Cookesque subtlety of the reference.

This raises the question of what I am supposed to call them. According to Chris Rock, white people are allowed to say ‘nigger’ if they are singing along with a rap song. So it’s OK for me to rap along with harcore, Changeling hip hop. But what about instances not involving hip hop, which is the majority of them? Obviously, I’m fine with ‘gay,’ or ‘black/African American,’ since those are reasonable self-chosen names for minorities. But The Changelings, being complete cunts, chose names for themselves like ‘The Founders’ and ‘The Dominion,’ and I’m not going to call them that. I mean, ‘The Dominion’ is the name of their empire, so you just have to go along with it, like with the U.S.S.R., even if the name is bullshit. But when they say,”we are The Dominion,” I’d be like, “go turn into one of Nancy Reagan’s suppositories.” It would be like if blacks had been like, “negro is a word made up by white people and is kind of tied up with white supremacist theories and so we want a name for us, by us. From now on, please refer to us as The Ascendant.” So if there were a new, even more derogatory word for The Changelings and their far right/realist aproach to international relations, I’d use that word.

Maybe ‘buckets’ would be a good slur for Changelings. That’s what Odo uses to regenerate in during the early episodes, before he gets his own quarters. See, Changlings cannot maintain solid forms indefinitely.  At some point, they need to revert to a forumless state and recharge the energy it takes to maintain a solid form. This is another respect in which The Changelings are not so different from us. We take all our sense data, memories, instincts and inferences and shape it into our identities as  single entities that persist through time, players in a broad narrative. After a long day of lying to ourselves, we finally have to collapse into unconsciousness and let those structures melt away into a formless pool of memories, fear and desire for a few hours. The only difference is that Changlings have the freedom to wake up and create whatever new structure they want, but we always wake up pretty much where we left off, but another day older and deeper in debt. But at least we aren’t all oozey and gross.

I like Odo, but it’s hard to explain why. He has massive integrity and never really comes close to going for Changeling Supremacy and is even willing to give up the great link in the name of justice. So he’s admirable. Pretty well acted, except that in his office as Security Chief he responds to all perpetrators in the manner of a middle school principal. One episode it’s like, “Jake, Nog now tell the truth, were you just hanging out on the promenade to look at women? Well, I’m waiting…” And the next episode he’ll be like, “Dukat, now tell the truth, are you planning to topple my government to re-establish your program of slave labor and mass murder? Well, I’m waiting…”

Probably, this is just terrible acting and writing. But a more charitable explanation would be that, from Odo’s perspective, humanoid affairs are all petty. Not only is he a superior being, he’s seen everything and done everything and been a lot of things. He started out life as a lab rat and rose to Security Chief of the station. He was there during Cardasian rule and saw the slavery, murders and terrorism man, ’cause when you reach over and put your hand into a pile of goo that was your best friend’s face, you’ll know what to do! What I’m getting at is that Odo is more inured and jaded than the bathroom attendant at a gay disco in Germany. Also, Odo finds his soul mate in Kira and she is central to keeping him on the side of the federation, which is a bit sickening because Kira is the worst character in the history of Star Trek.

Ultimately, The Changelings’ constant, decadent mingling is their undoing. A super secret arm of The Federation proves that they can be political realists too by creating space AIDS and using Odo to transmit it to the Changlelings who quickly spread it through The Great Link. This seems vaguely homophobic, especially since The Great Link is most commonly undertaken in a bathhouse. And while Odo’s saving grace is his heterosexualish love of Kira, the head Changeling seems like a lesbian. But it’s hard to imagine that Trek writers think of AIDS as a plague to punish gays, when everybody knows it was created by the government to exterminate black people.

The Vorta

I’m surprised at how much I like the Vorta. I bet that, if the show was set in the 90’s instead of just being made in the 90’s, the Vorta would all be really into Jawbreaker. They look like they kind of have one foot in punk rock and the other in the drama club. This is impossible though, because The Buckets genetically engineered the Vorta to have no aesthetic sensibilities. They participate in Changling tyranny and are subject to it themselves, but in exchange they get to be powerful administrators. They don’t really need to justify any of it because they have also been programed to believe that The Changlings are gods. So no matter how many people they oppress, kill or torture, they think they are following the dictates of religion. So basically, we’re talking about your nearest, right wing Congressman. But I still liked the Vorta because they act and talk like movie Romans.

Iggy Pop is a great Vorta, which suprised me. I think that Iggy Pop is more of a cultural marker than anything. Nobody actually listens to his music, but he just seems to pop up a lot as a way of saying, “I’m hip!” He also makes for a great Vorta.

If you watch TV shows in the new fashion, which is to say you download them and watch them in huge chunks, they tend to take over your thoughts. Like, the gas station had this ad for Coke and gas station hot dogs that said “made to go together.” I thought, “kind of like the Jem’Hadar and the Vorta… BP is the Dominion.” I imagine the Coke marketing machine is responsible for the ad, even though it’s not a very flattering pairing. You’d think that on the first day of advertising school the professor would say, “never associate your product with gas station hot dogs.”

The Jem’Hadar

Part of me relates to the Jem’Hadar and part of me envies them. The Jem’Hadar are just good enough at what they do to make a competitive effort but ultimately fail, as are most bad guys. This has me wondering: am I a bad guy? I do long for the extermination of life on earth… Anyway, what I envy is their singularity of purpose. Seemingly genetically engineered from the reptilian race of the Xindi, the Jem Hadar can completely sustain themselves with drugs, don’t need sleep and can use those drugs to propel themselves to great things, but they are also cripplingly addicted to that drug. On the show they call it Ketracel White, but to me that sounds a lot like Four Loko. Or cocaine, I suppose. To be honest with you, I’ve never tried Four Loko, but it sounds funnier than cocaine.

The Jem’Hadar live for only a few years and seem perfectly fine with their mortality because they have been engineered to be short term, fighting machines and to be content with it. That’s not really such a bad way to be. All they want is the glory of battle and they all get it. Like a lot of Trek characterizations, this seems to represent a glorification of the nerd, or at least the type of nerd who becomes a Trekie. Ridicule them all you want, but they have whittled their lives down to a single field of desire, which is readily satisfiable. It’s sort of a modified Budhism, wherin, rather than striving to be free of desire, you condition yourself to desire stuff that is easy to get. Is it pathetic for the Trekie to live a life that can be highlighted by getting an autograph and a hover hand photo with Jerri Ryan for $14 at some convention? You might say that. But what is your dream? To own a private jet or be a professional cage fighter or to sleep on top of a pile ladies with a lot of beautiful money? Well that shit is never going to happen. By eschewing desires that are… actually desireable, the Jem’Hadar and Trekies have set themselves up to win according to their terms, if nobody elses. And I really do think that’s less pathetic than the typical American, who could be 45 and working at Arby’s and will still be convinced that he will die a famous millionaire.

The Breen:

The Breen are just a race of Pirncess Leahs when she was disguised as a bounty hunter, and are sort of hangers on who side with The Dominion to be on the winning side, which is cool. I enjoyed them. According to wikipedia, some of them are werewolves if you count the novels. Phillip Roth or someone like that should do a Star Trek novel. Really, I think it would be an interesting enterprise. He’s already accomplished enough with his regular work. How many “another great book about his dick!” reviews does one man need?

About

Plexico likes to gamble. He writes for a boxing site which you can visit: here
Follow him on twitter: @ruthlessreviews

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