The Orville v. Discovery: Small reference Pools

I was watching a YouTube video comparing The Orville to Star Trek: Discovery. As it went on, it became almost surreal. At first, it was fine. The YouTuber likes The Orville over ST:D, because it feels more like “classic Trek” — which is a reasonable opinion, and one I more or less agree with.

But when the YouTuber turns to Discovery, it all goes off the rails. First, he’s upset that the show has Michelle Yoeh, whom he assumes was cast to make the show more marketable in China(?). Then he gets worked up because this China-sellout allegedly continues when the captain quotes “classical Chinese texts that now even aliens seem to recognize quotes from”. Oh noes! Creeping Sino capitulation in Hollywood! What obscure Chinese text does ST:D use, to force on us its China-loving sympathies?

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

This was the first sign that this yahoo is simply bloviating without having a deep enough reference pool. The Art of War is not really “obscure” and it’s far from unlikely that a Starfleet officer might recognize it. Heck, Fortune 500 company CEOs spout off on The Art of War. This isn’t some Sino-sympathetic debasement; it’s a recognition that the world is bigger than Western Europe. That, it turns out, was my first clue.

Next, the YouTuber is upset with the redesign of the Klingons. The Klingons in Star Trek have undergone evolution as makeup and budgets improve. From TOS (where they were essentially just human) through the motion pictures to Discovery, they’ve been made progressively less like just humans with rubber bits stuck on. Apparently, the YouTuber dislikes this because it makes it harder for him to imagine human/Klingon sex. Yes, really — that’s his problem.

He’s also upset that the Klingons speak, well, Klingon. I agree that Discovery might have gone overboard with this in the pilot and first few episodes; there really is a lot of text to read onscreen whenever there are only Klingons present. I think it was an artistic choice, to help make them alien, and I respect it even if I don’t think I’d have made it. Still, this doesn’t really torpedo the show and the YouTuber gets worked up way out of proportion.

The YouTuber begins to get worked up over the alleged fact that the Klingons in ST:D are modeled on supporters of Donald Trump — a claim he wildly overstates, drawing over-broad conclusions from articles like this one in Rolling Stone. He reassures CBS that they need not worry, because this symbolism went “completely over my head until I read about it online” — a phenomenon, I suspect, is quite common for him.

Next up, the YouTuber is aghast that Discovery starts with a female captain and a female first officer. Two women at the top of the chain of command? How unthinkable! (He actually calls it “forced”). Of course, if 50% of the population is female and if you’ve reached a point societally that gender is non-determinative for advancement — meaning that there are equal numbers of qualified men and women for jobs like starship captain — then a pair of officers will, on average, have a 25% change of being both female. The ship-based Treks so far are TOS (mm), TNG (mm), ST:V (fm), ST:E (mf), and ST:D (ff). So out of five possible examples of captain/first officer, we have 1 case of female/female. This is only 20%, so Trek is still a bit behind. (Aside: I’m a little tickled that, if you include only “modern” Trek, you get a nice Punnett square. ?).

It’s important to note that Discovery quickly breaks this anyway, since the actual captain for most of the season is, safely, a white male.

Why is this even a problem? Well, the YouTuber is quick to point out that most sci fi fans are male. This is actually not clear, since the metrics used generally favor male over female respondents. For a long time, women weren’t welcome as public fans anywhere. His “evidence” is that the metrics of his channel show overwhelmingly male subscribers. But considering his approach, I suspect he simply drives off women viewers.

An aside: He holds up Captain Janeway as one of the top two Starfleet captains, which by itself disqualifies him as a true Star Trek fan. ?

YouTube guy is also upset that the main character in Discovery is named Michael but is female. Apparently any time her name is mentioned, it took him out of the episode for 10 seconds or more. It’s fine to have non-human names, even nigh-unpronounceable ones, but don’t dare cross any gender lines!

YouTube guy is concerned because, even though the captain of the Discovery is a white male, he’s not a clearly-heroic exemplar of Starfleet virtue. He’s not, as Youtube Guy bemoans, a “positive male role model for us guys”. The Orville has a strong male role model and strong female characters, too, he says — but here, it’s clear he simply means strong as in muscular strength.

Overall, this video was both disappointing and mildly disturbing. It’s particularly annoying because I happen to agree with the ultimate conclusion, that The Orville feels closer to classic Trek than Discovery. But how it gets there and why he feels that way, seem way off to me. I find myself agreeing with someone I don’t want agreeing with me.

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