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17 November 2013 @ 05:39 am
Star Trek: TNG (Evolution)  
In this episode which kicks off Season 3, Wesley accidentally unleashes a couple of nanites on board the Enterprise, and they get into the computer systems and become sentient and run amok.

This show is important because it is provides another example of Troi's internalized belief that her own feelings are "beside the point" and "irrelevant," and that it is her duty always to put everyone else's feelings above her own (which I mentioned here in my review of Season 2's "The Icarus Factor"). We see several examples of anti-psi and even patronizing microaggressions directed at Troi, and Troi taking them in stride, without more than a moment's facial expression of discomfort.

And when one of these microaggressive moments (courtesy of Dr. Stubbs) occurs in front of both Picard and Riker, neither says anything in response, either in the moment or afterward. It all goes quickly by, as if this is an entirely acceptable thing to say to a telepath and senior officer, when it very much is not. It is like they don't recognize this is insulting, or don't care.

Picard does not say, for example, "Deanna Troi is a senior officer and a respected and valued of my crew, who has every right to be here, and you will not mistreat or insult her again, am I understood?"

No, he says nothing, as if he doesn't even register that this behavior is so deeply hurtful and disrespectful, and why. Nor, apparently, does Riker!

So. This Dr. Stubbs, the obsessed, egotistical scientist on the ship to run his once-in-a-lifetime experiment, seems to really have a problem with telepaths/empaths, which I think is implied to be a product of his personality flaws and bravado-covered insecurities. What's interesting to me is not that there's a bigoted character in the Trek universe (he seems to have a whole collection of negative personality traits, this guy), but 1) there is literally no reaction to his microaggressive display from either Picard or Riker, and 2) Troi herself isn't shown having any negative reaction, in public or private, to being treated this way. In fact, in spite of this bad treatment, she nonetheless goes alone to his quarters when he's under house arrest, to try to emotionally counsel him.

And guess what? He treats her badly again! This time he hits on her. /sigh/

The take home message seems to be severalfold: one, that "good psi women" always put the emotional needs of others before their own, they literally "don't let themselves get hurt" by others' derogatory comments (let alone show such hurt), two, that "good guy normals" don't even have to recognize that such microaggressions are taking place, let alone step in to put a stop to it -- it's no big deal, after all, and 3) that what Stubbs says is actually "acceptable" to say to a telepath. I mean, if no one ever says or does anything to show that this behavior is unacceptable or hurtful in any way, it can't actually be too bad, right?

Each of Star Trek's microaggressions against Troi collectively present an image of what is acceptable, normal, and appropriate to say to telepaths/empaths, and what it is acceptable, normal and appropriate to expect of them in return (e.g. never confronting you with how your behavior has made them feel). You don't have to be a jerk if you don't want to -- here, Picard is quite nice to her -- but if it happens to piss you off that there's a telepathic person in the same room, breathing the same air, it's completely acceptable to tell them off -- even in front of others, even in front of her captain.

No one will call you out, no one will even take you aside in private and tell you that your behavior is out of line. In fact, no one will even consider your behavior out of line! The psi person herself expects such treatment, after all -- it's only "natural" that some people will be offended by the presence of telepaths! And since she's a "good psi woman," she knows that your feelings are always more important than her own. (You have privilege. She doesn't.)

This is the subtle message.

To address the counterargument: Yes, Troi is the ship's counselor, and so yes it would be her role to look after the emotional health of the crew and passengers, so it's not completely absurd she would go to Dr. Stubbs' cabin later on. That is not the issue -- the issue is how her internalized oppression ("my own feelings are beside the point") is consistently presented as good and right and natural, rather than as internalized oppression. (And one has to wonder where she got these attitudes in the first place, since she mostly grew up on Betazed! How has she come to internalize that her own feelings are worth less, and are less relevant, than those of the non-psi crewmembers?)

Were she presented as a full person, she would be shown reacting to the insult -- either in the moment or later, even in private. ("Counselor's log...") Or perhaps we would see Picard step in and tell Stubbs he's out of line. We see neither. Her narrative role is serve others' character development -- from a narrative perspective, yes, her feelings are "beside the point" and "irrelevant."

That's the problem.

The full episode can be watched here. (Yes, there are ads... sorry about that.)

The scene in question starts around 14:00. The ship's computer has started malfunctioning in all sorts of ways, so Picard calls an emergency meeting in the conference room with the senior officers and Dr. Stubbs. Who yes, is a jerk. He says among other things that he would rather die than leave.

Picard, with a small smile: "I don't believe you speak for the majority of the crew."

Troi: "Dr. Stubbs, I know how much this means to you-"

[Note that this is all she says before she gets insulted. THIS IS ALL SHE SAYS.]

Stubbs, with a smirk: "My dear counselor [sarcasm], no insult intended [yeah sure], but please turn off your beam into my soul." [She looks at him like "what?"] "I will share the feelings I wish to share." [More smirking, looks at Picard, stands to leave. Then, to Picard,] "Well, if we do not leave in time, so be it. It's one sure way into the record books, eh?" [He leaves.]

OK. So remember my bingo cards on this site?

* Free space: MY PRIVACY, OH NOES!

* Variation on "you're not hired to be offended" and "psi woman's feelings are 'beside the point'" -- he gets away with saying this to her like it's a normal thing to say, because she doesn't react, and no one else does, either. (The quotation in the bingo cards, that her feelings are "beside the point," comes from what Troi herself says in another episode, "The Icarus Factor," which I will cover in another post.)

* Telepathy as violation, trespass, etc.

* Ethical "self-repression": Telepathy's "supposed to" have an "on/off switch!" (Even though it doesn't, in Star Trek or in real life.) And she's obligated to "shut it off" in his presence if it bothers or offends him! And he is in his rights to make these demands of her, any time he wants, because He Has Privilege!

And he says all this with an arrogant smirk. And no one says anything.

So then he leaves. The following conversation happens between Troi and Picard -- notice how neither of them comments on what just happened. Troi doesn't say, "wow, the nerve of that man." Picard doesn't say, "Don't worry, Deanna, I'll have a talk with him. That behavior is unacceptable."

Troi, as soon as he leaves: "His nonchalance is studded, and practiced."

Picard: "Mm hm. Even my sensory perception picked that up." (This is said simply as a statement of fact, not in a sarcastic or mean way at all.)

Troi: "He's put his entire self-worth on the line with this experiment. He's telling the truth when he says he'd rather die than leave."

[Picard nods thoughtfully, and looks up at Riker, then forward again, thinking]

And the the scene changes to Geordi in engineering.

So... she talks about her read of Stubbs (which makes sense), except there is no acknowledgement of what a complete ass he just was to her. None. This normalizes the behavior, and makes it seem as if his behavior was at worst just a minor annoyance, and not an ableist, anti-psi (and here, anti-Betazoid) microaggression.

Later, she shows up in his quarters, after he's killed a bunch of nanites and been confined to his quarters.

At around 33:09, Troi enters his quarters. There's a guard stationed outside, to keep him in there.

Troi: "May I come in?"

Stubbs, with an annoyed sigh: "You just can't resist, can you, counselor."

Troi: "I only want to help." [Yeah, heavens forbid I should be coming in here to tell you what a jerk you were to me earlier. No no, psi people are in stories to help non-psi people. No matter how badly they treat them.]

Stubbs: "Yes, yes. To break the shell. To get in touch with my 'true feelings.'"

Troi: "I'm only worried about your state of mind, doctor."

Stubbs, grinning: "All right, counselor, what is it that has you so worried?"

Troi: "Your single-mindedness. Your need to have this experiment work."

Stubbs: "And it will. Picard has no choice now, he must defend the Enterprise." [Looks down, looks up, laughing again] "Counselor, when this is all over, I will show you New Manhattan on Beth Delta One-" [Troi is looking down and away, uncomfortable] "-as you have never seen it and we will laugh over glasses of champagne." He grins.

[So now he's hitting on her. ...Another microaggression! And bingo square, "The psi chick is for hot sex."]

Troi, who has had enough of this bs: "Your self-portrait is so practiced, so polished."

Stubbs, smiling: "Yes. Isn't it, though?"

Troi: "It's stretched so tight, the tension fills this room." [Stubbs isgetting slightly off put by her now.] "And if you finally fail, I fear it will snap." [She turns to leave, and walks to the door, which opens.]

Stubbs, after a moment's pause: "A good try, counselor." [She pauses, turns back around. He turns, stands, and walks over to her.] "But sometimes, when you reach beneath a man's self-portrait, as you so eloquently put it, deep down inside, what you find, is nothing at all." [They look at each other confrontationally for a moment, with him looking smug, then she turns to leave, and walks out. He walks back to his desk, is about to go back to work, but pauses, and looks up in thought.]

And that's it. What we see is that she is there to bring out his character development. That is her role in the narrative. Her presence in that scene serves to further develop his character (and character flaws) -- and then the plot moves on, first with the nanites trying to kill him, and then with him sort of learning his lesson and apologizing to the nanites so they don't kill him and everyone on the ship, and he can complete his experiment (which he does). He never apologizes to Troi or learns not to be insulting and patronizing to telepathic women. And Troi has no further role in the story.
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