Darmok and diversions

Thursday October 07, 2010 @ 10:46 PM (UTC)

I’ve been substitute-teaching again, a pursuit which reminds me that, contrary to what I was taught of sleep cycles in Psych 101, I still apparently have the 26-hour day of a teenager. Since I go to sleep at a grown-up time and no longer live with a patient mother who is willing to shake and wake seven times before seven o’clock, this is a trial. You may infer what you wish from this about my blogging regularity. In case I haven’t mentioned it, I substitute-teach at the private high school from which I graduated, sometimes for teachers under whose auspices I myself learned. It is surreal and enriching.

Today was a great joy. Many of the sweetest moments in my return to this school are in the actual teaching, which is of course difficult, changeable, suddenly enlightening stuff. But today my task was the classic sub-task: DVD in, lights off, stern gaze on. It was a good day to sub, however, for today I administered a Freshman tradition: Darmok Day.

In my eighth grade year I had argued with my Government and Language Arts teachers. “Why do you have to show us such BAD episodes of Star Trek? These non-Trekkers are going to think it’s all like that!” Yes, I said “Trekkers”, for I was a TNG nerd. In 8th grade, they showed us Wesley Whining and Riker and the Androgynous Being. But in ninth grade, my Humanities teachers finally showed the class a good episode of TNG. “Darmok”.

Freshman Humanities is an English/History combined course that takes students through several millennia of human history and a pile of major religious texts and epics. At first "Darmok"’s connection to this seems somewhat tenuous: Picard recounts the story of Gilgamesh to the wounded Tamarian Dathon. Today’s students, still raw from their first-ever high school critical essay (on this same Gilgamesh), groaned at the name.

But when I pressed them to consider why the freshmen watch this every year, they did see that a sci-fi tale of a culture which communicates entirely in terms of shared, mythohistoric stories had some relevance to a class where the students establish a knowledge of our own planet’s oldest shared mythohistoric stories. Stories that will allow them to communicate and understand. I didn’t mention, but did think, that in an odd way it connects them to traditions at their own school, to years of students yelling back and forth across the Great Hall: “Darmok and Jalad!” “At Tanagra!” Cultures within cultures, with their own languages of reference and metaphor.

And of course, as one earnest young man said when I called on him, “Because Star Trek is awesome!”


“His arms wide”!!!
This is why we have stories. This is what culture is made of. From a subversive standpoint, activists suggest we tell new stories, create new myths, and build something new while/before/as we take down the old.

One of my favorites is the episode of Data’s child. In another I hated the scene where the doctor explains why women wear so much make-up (the women on the show always wore too much make-up). Sometimes it was a very smart show.

That is a good one. I also like “Measure of a Man”, where Data has to prove his personhood. I treasure Picard’s argument that it’s not just about Data, but also about what this decision will mean about the culture making it.

I don’t recall the makeup conversation specifically, but TNG did have a certain amount of hot buttered genderfail. I love it dearly, but I have to admit that.

They should have let dudes wear makeup too. In a utopian future, everyone should get to decide whether or not to play with facepaints on any given day! Whither the skirt guy in the background in the pilot?

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