Tuesday, 11 July 2017

What do you wear: a case study

My recent posts have all been of a piece, but I didn't have anything in mind regarding clothing until something crossed my mind. Therefore, I shall be talking about Star Trek.

I came late to Star Trek, and therefore have never quite taken on-board all of the show-specific tropes it invokes. The nature of the original show colours everything else; the odd mix of relatively hard science fiction and woosh-bang-kapow pulp space opera never quite sat right: why have a vessel that is simultaneously a main battleship, floating embassy and exploratory mission - with a large number of civilians into the bargain?  It would almost be like getting Flash Gordon to explore the cylinder from Rendezvous with Rama. Well, it does hark back to Captain Cook and other naval explorers that had to operate without close instruction. But don't tell me Captain James T. Kirk would be out of his element on Barsoom.

Part of my object, I suppose, was the uniforms; tunics or jumpsuits. I rarely recall seeing space suits festoon with oxygen cylinders or body armour for bouts of combat - "Of course this bicoloured jumpsuit is suitable apparel for a commando raid onto a giant spaceship full of deadly cyborgs." (Perhaps body armour is useless against future weaponry  - but the steel helmet of the Second World War was equally useless against a direct hit; it still had a purpose).

But the all these objections aside, there is one thing this does well. It emphasizes the nature of life in the semi-utopia that is the Federation. To whit, the jumpsuits of The Next Generation  lack pockets: clearly not a society that needs pocket handkerchiefs or small change. This is presumably because it has done away with the common cold and money (I'm not sure which of these is more astounding!).

There's an implication in all this: you do not need to carry anything for yourself, except your communications link with a central authority and whatever that authority thinks you will need to carry in this particular scenario. This is undoubtedly in part because Star Trek is about a (semi-) military organisation - or at least one with a hierarchy. It's perhaps another mark of utopianism that Starfleet personnel don't seem to carry sidearms unless they really have to.

The whole post-scarcity thing is centered around replicators - that seem to be the property or responsibility of communities as a whole, rather than individuals. If we conjure up an image of a libertarian United Federation of Planets...

[A notion that is open to ridicule and parody, but is worthy of taking seriously in this moment. Even if one can imagine something in the vein of 'Ayn Rand's Star Trek' being a throw-away gag in an alternate history novel. If necessary, replace the term libertarian with minarchist or individualistic or whatever seems best to you.]

.....with similar levels of technology, if different ways of applying them and at least some measure of Star Trek's virtue and goodwill. Let us say that everyone gets an education, of sorts (little state interference, not a lack of state support); most importantly -for our purposes - in the use of a replicator; to whit, the tool that can make bread out of stones. So every citizen has one of these - sold at very reasonable rates? - and can therefore make themselves food and shelter, possibly even more in the way of life support (synthesize your own penicillin!).

If there is a market, then, it is for ideas and new information and artwork and recipes. One imagines citizens wondering about in clothes with pockets or webbing full of replicator parts or modular add-ons, as well as the obligatory communicator. Because the nature of this society is what it is, you carry a replicator - in order to merely survive, or in order to exhibit your products or art or similar to society. As in Star Trek proper, the impulse to explore and discover would be strong, as means of gaining wealth and status - creating a degree of frontier culture (a lot easier to replicate into existence your dream home on virgin soil).

I've no idea how sound a civilization this is, or how true it is to Star Trek canon. But it feels a little like a combination of Iain M. Banks's Culture series and Joss Whedon's Firefly. Besides, the notion of wealth being determined by new information, ideas or art seems eminently gameable.

No comments:

Post a Comment