FROM THE BACK PEWS: More to sci-fi than long life, prosperity

Glendale Community College on Thursday hosted a lecture on the anthropology of “Star Wars” and “Star Trek.”

Can you see my grin?

Daryl Frazetti, an anthropology and biology professor at Western Nevada College in Carson City, Nev., gave the talk. According to campus e-mails, the talk focused on the politics, religion, identity, technology, the cultural role of the individual and the anthropological concept of “race” that is inherent in both franchises.

Of course, I can speak about “Star Trek” with greater fluency, given that I was born and raised with it — specifically “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — more than I can about “Star Wars.” And before you “Star Wars” fanatics start sending me e-mails about how I don't appreciate “Star Wars,” and how it's better than “Star Trek,” know that I've fully embraced the lessons behind the teachings of Yoda, the Force and even what we can learn from the tyranny of Darth Vader's iron grip.

For example, I look at Han Solo's decision to help the Rebels as a turning point in his life. After being chastised by Luke Skywalker and accused of not caring for anyone else but himself, he realizes that the Rebels' campaign to rid the galaxy of Darth Vader's tyranny is bigger than himself. Although he does keep a bit of his arrogance intact.

The late “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry's vision of a future Utopian society on Earth — where poverty, disease, starvation, racism and war do not exist — is the cornerstone of “Trek” and of all of its incarnations, from the original series to “Enterprise.” I've often told people who are not fans that for every experience in life, there is an episode in “Star Trek” to which you could probably connect it.

Take, for example, abortion. That topic has been discussed, prodded, analyzed and fought over for as long as I can remember. In the “Next Generation” episode “The Child,” ship's counselor Deanna Troi, played by Marina Sirtis, is impregnated by an energy being whose desire it is to experience being born, living and dying. Upon learning of her pregnancy, the crew argues over what to do next. Should they abort the pregnancy to protect the ship? As Troi looks at an image of her fetus, she decides that she will carry the baby to term; the ship be damned.

Another episode spotlights suicide. In “Ethics,” Lt. Worf (the Klingon) suffers an injury while working in a cargo bay. A fully loaded barrel falls from a nearby storage shelf and lands on Worf, crushing several of his vertebrae, rendering him paralyzed from the waist down. As a Klingon, Worf cannot bear the insufferable insult to his honor by having others feel pity for him. So he decides to end his life.

But his friends and comrades in arms convince him that there is indeed life after such an injury, and that ending his life would truly be cowardly. This allows Worf to go through an extremely risky medical procedure to replace his entire spinal cord. In the end, Worf recovers his mobility, and he thanks his friends. There is also an underlying ethical dilemma that takes place on the part of the doctors involved with the procedure.

Drug abuse is also touched upon. In “Symbiosis,” two alien races argue over who owns the shipment of a major pharmaceutical drug called felicium. The more powerful of the two races claims the felicium is the cure to a deadly disease, when in reality, the drug is being used to keep a tight rein on the weaker race, leaving them addicted and powerless.

In a scene on the bridge, Wesley Crusher, played by Wil Wheaton, doesn't understand the nature behind drug addiction. Tasha Yar (played by Denise Crosby), the Enterprise's security chief, explains to him that when you're addicted, “all you care about is getting your second dose; nothing else matters.” She explains to Wesley that being on drugs makes you “feel?.?.?.?good!”

They make you feel like you're on top of the world, Tasha says.

After all this, Wesley still doesn't understand, to which Tasha replies, “I hope you never do.”

MICHAEL J. ARVIZU is a reporter for the La Cañada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press and Burbank Leader newspapers. Reach him at (818) 637-3263, or e-mail michael.arvizu@

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