Poverty, Pronouns And The Pathetic Nihilism Of Picard: A Star Trek Story – Part One

Part Two of this analysis piece can be found here.


‘Star Trek: Picard’ is a story about how a modern, technologically advanced civilisation can succumb to hatred and bigotry.

Well, that’s not entirely true, as we never see the descent of that civilisation. ‘Star Trek: Picard’ is actually a story about a modern, technologically advanced civilisation that has succumbed to hatred and bigotry.

Well, okay, that’s not precisely accurate either, as we don’t actually explore that civilisation or its various societies. So, really, ‘Star Trek: Picard’ is a story about…

… An arrogant, straight, cisgendered old white man who berates others for their intolerance as he lives in an opulent mansion surrounded by huge swathes of land, cared for by unpaid full-time servants.

There’s also some stuff to do with conspiracies and robots and the Borg.

This is a bit of a deep-dive, so please settle in.


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‘Star Trek: Picard’, or “PIC” from now on, opens with Jean Luc Picard dreaming about Data as he sleeps in a gorgeously furnished bedroom in his French mansion. Outside, automated hover-fertilisers glide over his family vines, whilst people in workclothes carrying farm tools wander around doing their duties.

A little later, Picard sits in a luxurious study in front of TV cameras as he answers questions in an interview for ‘FNN’ (presumably ‘Federation News Network’). The interviewer chooses her words carefully to imply that Romulan lives are not equivalent to Federation lives, and states that, as historical enemies, Picard’s decision to try to save the Romulans from their exploding star was controversial. She further explains that, as the rescue armada was assembled, rogue “synthetics” attacked and destroyed the fleet. This led to Picard leaving Starfleet, outraged that it was “no longer Starfleet”, after giving up on the Romulan rescue effort.

Later, Picard has more dreams of Data, wanders around his expansive estate with his pet dog as his two Romulan house servants cook and clean for him and more vinyard works go about their work. Picard orders his decaffeinated Earl Grey tea from replicators in the kitchen and falls asleep on his enormous antique wooden bureau. By all indications, he has spent the last fourteen years since the synthetic attack and the supernova in quiet rest.

In Episode 2, ‘Maps And Legends’, Picard again resting in his mansion and drinking tea when he is informed that he has a brain disease by his long time friend and doctor, Bever- sorry, Moritz Benayoun, who was apparently on the Stargazer with Picard many years ago. Whilst the disease is not yet identified, there is nontheless no apparent doubt as to what will happen to Picard.

Throughout all of this, Picard has also met a young woman who is also an android, has been attacked twice by highly skilled assassins, been caught in a devastating explosion, found out that Data had a daughter (aforementioned young woman), been insulted by the commander of Starfleet, and learned about a super-super-duper-super-secret Romulan cabal which has existed for “thousands upon thousands of years” and which has the sole purpose of hating artificial lifeforms.


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Picard then gets a taxi to the Arizona desert (which is apparently more efficient than simply beaming there with the prolific transporter technology) to see his old friend and colleague Raffi. Raffi was a Lieutenant-Commander working under Picard prior to the Romulan supernova. After the synthetic attack, Picard resigned in protest at Starfleet’s apathy, and Raffi was discharged along with him, presumably out of spite.

Raffi lives in a trailer in the desert and hefts a pump-action phaser rifle at any visitors to her run-down “hovel”, as she describes it. She explains how humiliating her life is, especially compared to Picard’s château, and bemoans the unfairness of how differently their lives have turned out.

Just to tie this bit off, I would like to point out that Earth is a technological utopia, with limitless power generation, advanced education which teaches children warp theory in high school, and the ability to convert energy into any form of matter in an instant. Transporter technology permits transit across enormous distances in an instant, and holoprograms exist which possess their own intelligence and ability to solve complex problems, even serving as doctors.


Through Raffi, Picard acquires the services of Rios, an independent captain of his own vessel. He lives on his ship alone, with advanced “Emergency Holoprograms” (all modeled after himself) who act as his crew. He can replicate whisky seemingly anywhere within the ship, and gets free medical attention from his Emergency Medical Holoprogram. Rios insists that he is expensive to hire, he makes clear that he is finished with Starfleet, the same as Picard and Raffi.

A short while later, Raffi appears on Rios’ ship, and states that she is tagging along to reach somewhere called “Freecloud”. This means she is now able to enjoy the luxuries of Rios’ ship whilst she is aboard, such as replicated foodstuffs, elaborate holodecks, and skilled, free labour from the Emergency Holoprograms.


We also spend some time away from Picard aboard a ruined Borg cube, in what I can only describe as the most vapid television I have witnessed in some time, as a Romulan spy and another of Data’s android daughters flirt and sleep with each other, and also some other stuff related to a “prophecy” gets talked about. It’s exceptionally slow and dull.


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In the opening teaser of Episode 2, ‘Maps And Legends’, we get to see a brief segment of the lives of Starfleet workers on Mars, as they make snide remarks about their robot colleagues and complain about the food they have just replicated, which they call “brown, sticky shit.” They do a lot of complaining about their food, in fact, referring to “space pineapples again” and bemoaning the downgrading of their replicators.

Just to tie this bit off, I would like to point out that Mars is an historic part of the Federation, in the same system as Earth, and has functioned as Starfleet’s main shipyards for at least several decades. Starfleet’s finest engineers and designers spend their time at the shipyards, advancing starship technology further with every new draft. And that replicators capable of recreating any foodstuff from pure energy have been standard equipment on every Starfleet ship for decades. Riker was even able to replicate (dead) Gagh, and other Klingon delicacies, waaaay back in Season 2 of TNG, exactly twenty years before the synths on Mars went rogue.


In Episode 4, ‘Absolute Candour’, Picard travels to a Romulan refugee village, one which he had previously visited before the Mars attack. Whilst there, he witnesses the poverty in which the refugees live, such as a former senator reduced to a brawling drunk in a run-down bar. Picard disdainfully casts aside a xenophobic “Romulans Only” sign hanging outside the bar, before making a point of sitting down and demanding service from the impoverished Romulans around him.

Just to tie this bit off, I would like to point out that the planet the Romulans are barely surviving on, Vashti, is entirely surrounded by a powerful defence network capable of destroying any unauthorised ship which approaches the settlement.


A lot of criticism has already been leveled at PIC, such as the use of swearing (about which I don’t personally give a shit) or the generally poor quality of dialogue:

  • Pro tip for future reference…”
  • “What do you mean, ‘Synths have attacked Mars’?”

PROTIP

I could be nitpicky about a scientist on the show stating that there are “more than 3 billion stars in our Galaxy” when there are in fact over a 100 billion, but that is not what I want to write about.

What I actually want to write about is the themes of the show, and how poorly understood those themes seem to be by the show’s own writers.

The problem is that the writers do not demonstrate an understanding what poverty is, or why it exists, or the connection between inequality and bigotry.

Patrick Stewart, a life-long left-winger and supporter of the British Labour Party, is on record as stating that PIC is a response to both Trump and Brexit, and that this is some sort of attempt to address two separate issues that seem inextricably linked by their specific populism: the rise and seeming political invulnerability of Trump, who has created concentration camps on U.S. soil, and the Brexit movement, which is seeing Britain sabotage its own economic future for the sake of limiting immigration.

Both issues are anti-immigration. Whilst Brexit lacked an iconic catchphrase, were Britain not an island it might certainly have been “Build that wall!” And this ties into the issue at the centre of PIC’s narrative – the rehoming of refugee Romulans. Just as Britons and Americans voted in line with their apprehensions about immigration, so too the Federation seems to have ruled in line with accepting Romulans across its own border.

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The parallels run deeper. ‘FNN’, the news agency interviewing Picard in the first episode whilst making implications about the value of Romulan lives, is a clear equivalent of Fox News, the private news agency in America which has presented so many right-wing, nationalistic and xenophobic talking points. Picard’s reference in that same interview to the Dunkirk rescue effort alludes to Britain’s former role in supporting its European neighbours, and the stark contrast with Britain’s now-prevailing anti-European national sentiment.

But there’s a few fairly significant pieces of the puzzle still missing.


Fox News was founded by Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes in October 1996 – almost exactly five years before the World Trader Center attack on September 11, 2001. And whilst Fox News was well-funded by billionaire investors from the get-go, it is doubtless that the first major attack on the American mainland by a foreign power would have heavily increased interest in the kind of nationalistic, isolationist opinions that were being pushed by Fox News’ array of presenters and guests at the time.

Fox News was owned by News Corporation, also a Murdoch company, which owned UK-based newspapers The Times, The Sun and now-extinct The News Of The World. Murdoch himself has exercised editorial control over The Sun and The News Of The World since he took ownership of them in 1969 (yes, more than fifty years ago), and whilst he did not have similar editorial freedom with The Times, he nontheless had a lot of influence over the publication. Murdoch also founded Sky News in 1989, a British news channel which is nowhere near as outwardly biased as Fox News, but which certainly leans right on the political spectrum.

Most people reading this will already understand the role that Fox News has played in modern US politics. Fox News supported President Bush during his two terms from 2001 to 2009, was incredibly critical of President Obama during his two terms from 2009 to 2017, and has been a staunch defender of President Trump so far through his first term. Most political historians recognise the key significance of Fox News on the American public psyche – not merely because of the commentary it provides, but because of its massive reach, being voted the “most trusted” news network in America on multiple occasions, reaching 90 million households and being the top-rated cable network as late as 2019.

To understand the significance of The Sun in the UK is perhaps a little harder, but here’s some anecdotal evidence: following the Sun’s abhorrent coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, a popular movement grew in my home city of Liverpool to boycott the Sun newspaper, a boycott which has persisted ever since. A possible consequence? In the 2016 referendum, Liverpool was one of the more staunchly pro-European regions, and in 2019, Liverpool constituencies were some of the best-performing for the left-wing Labour Party, which faced disaster across the rest of the UK.

The point being, our consumption of media plays a huge role in how our societies progress.

Another point being, these are operations that have been ongoing for decades – since before I was born, in some cases. And the consequences of these media operations are proportional to their duration. Fox News did not immediately change the landscape of politics in 1996. But 24 years later, it has certainly had its part to play in one of the most dramatic and controversial periods of U.S. political history.

Nothing happens in isolation. The World Trade Center attacks certainly did a lot to shift American foreign policy, but even events as evil as that can have different effects on public opinion based on the media response. Had Fox News and other outlets focused less on the role of Islamicism in those attacks, and more on the role of prior White House administrations in arming and empowering the very same militant groups that committed those atrocities, the political landscape over the following years might have been quite different.


There’s another element to all of this.

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It’s very easy for someone like me – an employed, middle class, educated white dude – to view the recent shift towards bigotry as the fault of a biased media and the people stupid enough to believe in it.

I’m lucky enough that most of my friends are not poor. Not many are wealthy by British standards, but most are not struggling to put food on the table. Most of my friends are white and middle class, just like me, and benefitted from a university education, just as I did. Most of these friends do not read the Sun or watch Sky News. Most of these friends are anti-Brexit, anti-Tory, diehard Leftists, which makes me proud.

A lot of people in the UK, and in the US, are not so fortunate. Many have been made redundant within the last five years, or struggled to find an adequate job to begin with. Many have come from much poorer backgrounds, without middle class families to support them through rough times. Many are living in poverty as a result of these factors.

By poverty, I mean simply “a lack of access to the services, products and amenities that are considered necessary for a healthy, happy life.” I mean the ability to travel around the country, to buy food, afford shelter, and power, and healthcare and, in recent times, an internet connection – which is now absolutely a necessary part of our social infrastrucutre.

In our world, poverty is caused by a lack of wealth, which itself is caused by a lack of income. A lack of income means a lack of a job for most people. This is why governments will often use welfare programs, or social security, to provide a supplementary or replacement income to those who cannot work or who have lost their jobs, to try and prevent them from becoming impoverished.

You need income in our modern world because we have what is called “scarcity“. Food has to be grown, building materials have to be manufactured, clothes have to be sewn by exploited sweatshop workers and movies have to be made by overworked CGI artists who will be laid off after production is finished. Because all of these things are “scarce”, i.e. finite, and require effort to create, they have a value. That value is paid for with money, which you earn by having an income, which you get by having a job.

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Even if goods and materials and food are all plentiful and therefore cheap, land is not. We have finite usable land, and by “usable” I mean land that is solid enough to build on, close to existing infrastructure, accessible, temperate enough to live in, and not already in use for some other purpose. This means that even if you have everything you need to build a house and live in it sustainably forever, you need somewhere to build it to begin with. Sadly, our society is not yet technologically advanced enough to create “land” elsewhere, such as in the ocean, or in space.

And if you think I’m overexplaining all of this, there’s a reason for that.

Right-wing media organisations such as those owned by Rupert Murdoch do not automatically convince people of their messages. They will exploit inherent human weaknesses, such as fear following a terrorist attack, or that inherent crumb of intolerance that we all possess, and which some of us do a better job of keeping under control.

A big weakness is financial anxiety. The closer you are to being in poverty, the easier it is to feel like a victim. And the more you feel like a victim, the more you need something or someone to blame.

The reality is that a lot of jobs are lost as a result of decisions that were made years before. The wrong CEO was chosen, or new and more efficient technologies were introduced, or the market began to shift and the company never adjusted to meet new demands. Sometimes a company decides to relocate to a more cost-efficient location, and those employees who can’t move with it are left behind.

But losing your job is often a very sudden and immediate thing. One month, you’re working and earning a comfortable wage, and the next, you’re being shown your limited options and a redundancy package if you’re lucky. Even though the causes of you losing your job are gradual and long-term, the act itself is rapid and surprising.

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And this is just the binary of having or not having a job. I’ve not even touched upon the concept of situations where employment is high, and everyone has a job, but salaries have risen more slowly than inflation. It’s incredibly difficult to explain to someone who is working forty hours a week that the reason they still feel poor is because of nebulous macroeconomic issues that they have no ability to affect.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that, when you’re talking to someone who is trying to understand why they’ve worked hard all their life but still can’t afford basic necessities, simple answers will be more readily accepted. Something like, “Well, it never used to be this bad, before they let all those immigrants in…” is just an easier concept to grapple with than “Well, you see, in the lead-up to the 1929 Wall Street Crash, speculative markets overvalued stock prices, which led to…”

Indeed, it is especially hard to convince someone of the real, highly complex and long-term causes of their poverty when they see so many people around them protected from that same poverty. If the system in which we live is malfunctioning, then surely it must be malfunctioning for everybody? And if so, how can there still be people going on expensive holidays, buying sports cars, living in fancy homes?

mansion

When faced with that contradiction, you’re more vulnerable to a simple answer that is quickly delivered, and that simple answer will often conveniently shift the blame from the people who are actually responsible.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is an aristocratic millionaire who makes money from investments in companies that lay people off and underpay their workers to drive profits. He is benefitting from your redundancy, but he is telling you that your poverty is the fault of EU immigration laws.

Donald Trump has spent his entire life breaking agreements with contractors and refusing to pay them agreed sums, and he deliberately emlpoys the cheapest staff he can find in his various enterprises. But he is telling you that the reason your boss had to fire you is because of Mexicans.

Fox News was founded by a literal billionaire who also owned The News Of The World, until that British paper was forced to close down after it was found to be illegally hacking into childrens’ mobile phones. And yet these media outlets will claim to care deeply about your rights and your security as they share opinion pieces on the threats posed by immigration.


Pulling these issues together, what we’re left with is that the kind of societies that will elect Trump, the kind of societies that will vote for Brexit, are socieities that are suffering from inequality, from a visible gap between the rich and the poor, and often with no good or comprehensible reason being presented.

In fact, every major shift on a national political compass, typically from progressive to conservative, in modern history has followed increases in wealth inequality.

As a really good example, consider the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which saw the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini. You may be familiar with the contrast of pre-revolution Iran and its more progressive attitudes towards women, as highlighted in this BBC article displaying images of the state as it once was.

What you may not realise is that (and I am condensing A LOT of Iranian political history here) the precursor to the Iranian Revolution and the rise of conservative Islamism in Iran was not some hatred-driven religious movement that sprang from nowhere, but was in fact massively increased wealth inequality under an unelected monarch:

“The White Revolution’s economic “trickle-down” strategy also did not work as intended. In theory, oil money funneled to the elite was supposed to be used to create jobs and factories, eventually distributing the money, but instead the wealth tended to get stuck at the top and concentrated in the hands of the very few.”

That monach was Shah Mohammad Pahlavi, an unlected aristocrat who was restored to power by a combined UK- and US-backed coup d’état which arose from the loss of British control over Iranian oil.

(By the way, Shah Pahlavi had already been installed as a replacement for his father by a joint UK-Soviet invasion during the Second World War in order to secure oil supplies for the Soviet Army. Thanks to the scarcity of oil, Iran has essentially never been allowed to choose its own destiny, and it’s little wonder they’re pursuing the most extreme means to secure their own autonomy.)

Iran did not suddenly swing to hardline conservative Islamism for no reason. The people of Iran were the victims of wealth inequality, and just as has happened in Russia, France, China, Germany, Korea, the United Kingdom AND the United States, they chose revolution. And as a result, their political compasses shifted, either Left or Right, Democratic or Authoritarian.

The Nazis didn’t rise to power because everybody in Germany was a white supremacist. They rose to power because they offered a simple, wrong answer to Germany’s wealth inequality. Trump wasn’t elected because half of America idolises him, he was elected because he offered a simple, wrong answer to America’s wealth inequality. And Brexit did not happen because the UK hates the EU, it happened because rich white men offered a simple, wrong answer to Britain’s wealth inequality.


So, how does this tie in to ‘Star Trek: Picard’?

Well, let’s start off by repeating that Brexit didn’t happen because “everybody is a little bit racist.” Trump was not elected because “we naturally evolved to be untrusting of foreigners.”

Both Trump and the architects of Brexit preyed upon a poor working class that was getting poorer. Trump wasn’t wrong to target his rhetoric at coal mining communities where the mines have shut down – but he was wrong to pretend that those lost mining jobs would ever come back. Boris Johnson was not wrong to use possible economic prosperity as a carrot to dangle in front of impoverished towns in Northern England, but he was wrong to suggest that Brexit would ever result in a greater income for the people in those towns.

MAGA-hat-wearers and Brexiters alike were predominantly people who have been on the harder end of increasing wealth disparity in the US and the UK. The great irony is that they allowed themselves to believe in millionaires living lives of privilege – millionaires who were smart enough to provide a simple answer to the economic issues of the day. “There are too many immigrants,” has a brutal simplicity to it that does not require an understanding of inflation, or industrialisation, or marginal tax rates. And it’s an answer that fits neatly on the front page of The Sun, or in a rolling text box on Fox News.

Which is what brings us back to PIC, and a couple of big questions:

  1. In a world where any kind of material or food can be spontaneously created out of freely-available energy, and there is a well-established ability to construct habitats in space, how can there be any scarcity, and hence poverty and economic inequality?
  2. If there is no poverty, and hence no financial anxiety, how is a Trumpian, Brexity anti-immigration platform able to gain traction?

We see Jean Luc Picard ordering a decaffeinated Earl Grey tea from a replicator in the well-equipped kitchen in his French mansion whilst his live-in, full-time servants prepare food. Outside, in fields that stretch out to the horizon, automated farm equipment floats by farm workers who tend vines used to make wine. To the best of our knowledge based on events portrayed in the series so far, this has been the status quo for Jean Luc Picard for the last fourteen years, since he resigned from Starfleet.

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We see Rios aboard his ship, a roomy vessel with its own holodeck, bedrooms, presumably other living amenities. His every need is tended to by an apparent army of Emergency Holoprograms. Whisky is replicated out of thin air directly in front of him. He smokes cigars.


We see Raffi, sitting on the porch of her trailer in the Arizona desert, a small wind turbine on the roof. She grows her own “snakeleaf” which she inhales from a vaporiser. She keeps a pump-action rifle on hand; presumably the area in which she lives is dangerous enough to warrant it. She chastises Picard for his privileged lifestyle in his château, and calls her own home a “hovel”, which would be too “humiliating” to show to him.


We see a group of Starfleet workers on Mars, on the day of the synthetic attack. They swear and joke and complain about their jobs, their robotic colleagues, their awful food the selection of which they apparently have no say in.


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We see a township of Romulan refugees, angry at the Federation and at Picard for abandoning them, for leaving them on a dusty planet for fourteen years. We watch Picard angrily tear down their “Romulans Only”, pointedly step on it, only to smirk at the onlooking Romulans, enter their bar and demand service.


How can all of these things be simultaneously be true?

How can the same society provide one old man with tracts of land and a mansion to live in with freely-replicating tea, whilst depriving a younger woman of any amenities and condemn her to live in a hovel in the desert with a drug addiction?

How can the same society force a woman to live in a hovel in the desert, while a man of the same age lives on an advanced spaceship with freely-replicating whisky and holograms to provide for his every need?

How can the same society provide unlimited replication of foodstuffs for two men who once worked for Starfleet, but deny those same freedoms to people currently working for Starfleet?

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The writers of PIC have clearly demonstrated that wealth inequality exists, so they at least have gotten that part right. But they have failed to explain how that wealth inequality could ever arise when people like Raffi could seemingly just move out of their hovels and live on a spaceship, as she chooses to do at the end of Episode 3.

The Mars workers complain about the food they are provided in their office, but if it’s so bad, could they not replicate their own food at home and bring it with them? Or are we to believe that these workers are denied access to the same food recipes as Picard and Rios? If so, why? The food is replicated according to a computer program, it does not exist in any form before it is made by the replicator.

Where today’s wealth inequality is caused by a scarcity of materials, a limited supply of the goods we need to survive, in ‘Star Trek: Picard’, they have demonstrated a complete lack of scarcity. What social mechanism is it that allows Picard himself to run automated fertiliser machines over his acres upon acres of luxury crop fields, whilst simultaneously denying the Mars workers any variety in their lunch? I can get more variety in my lunch routines from a cafe that runs off of three ovens and two cooks, and yet an advanced replicator, a device which turns stored energy into any kind of matter, somehow has limits imposed upon it for some members of society, but not all.

In such a scenario, where wealth inequality exists despite the prevalence of technology capable of solving it, I think even I would start feeling a little Trumpian. If I’m watching Picard being interviewed on FNN from his own personal vinyard whilst I put up with yet another portion of brown, sticky protein for lunch in my trailer in the desert, when I know that the means to solve my problems exist but are being denied to me, then I would absolutely be feeling like a victim and be looking for someone, or some group of people, to blame.

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But PIC is not addressing these systemic issues. In fact the lead character, Jean Luc Picard himself, seems oblivious to the economic problems facing the Federation, and only addresses the moral concerns of bigotry and hatred.

If Picard were truly bothered by the rise of isolationism in Starfleet and the wider Federation, you might think that someone as demonstrably intelligent as him would seek to understand the root cause of the issue. And to do so, all he really needs to do is walk through his own vinyard.


Jean Luc Picard lives his life wanting for nothing. We do not even see him working on his own vines, because he has enormous robots and a staff of workers to do that for him. He’s elderly, but he has two full-time live-in Romulan carers who take care of him. And yet he considers himself better than the rest of Starfleet because He Is Not A Racist.

Which raises a question: does it actually matter if Picard is a racist? Would it make any difference if he was? He castigates the Federation for turning its back on the Romulans, and yet Picard himself has turned his back on billions of Federation citizens by enjoying the enormous privilege in which he lives.

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I think this was crytallised for me by his interactions on Vashti with the Romulan refugees who live there. Fourteen years ago, he was visiting them and making promises to bring Starfleet to the aid of the Romulans, whose sun was about to explode. He then learns that the Synths have attacked Mars, at which point he rushes back to Earth to lobby for a renewed rescue effort.

After Picard resigned from Starfleet, he never returned to Vashti, nor did he make any other attempts to rescue more Romulans. The refugees there, apparently with no means of leaving for a better home, fell into poverty, living in a dusty town made up of worn-down huts and drinking their woes away.

This is addressed in the episode. Picard says of himself “I made the perfect the enemy of the good.” He acknowledges that his inability to save every Romulan led to him abandoning all Romulans, and sees his flaws in doing so.

Except that a couple of scenes later, we see him walking back through the Romulan town. He sees the “Romulans Only” sign, angrily tears it down, triumphantly steps on it, and enters the bar. He demands service from the waiter. Clearly, he disapproves of the Romulans’ xenophobia, and he is here to show them the error of their ways. A Romulan senator chastises Picard, and then attempts to fight him. Picard refuses, the Senator is beheaded as he attempts to kill Picard by a dark-haired Legolas, and Picard escapes with this katana-wielding elf-Romulan to safety aboard Rios’ advanced starship.

Here’s an interesting point: the first time we see Picard this episode, he is being shown around a perfect holographic recreation of his study in Château Picard by Rios’ Emergency Hospitality Holoprogram. Even when travelling, Picard still gets to enjoy the luxury of his beautiful French mansion in exacting detail. Picard even comments on how realistic it all is.

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And this is where we get to that description of Picard as a “an arrogant, straight, cisgendered old white man who berates others for their intolerance.”

Yes, xenophobia is wrong. Any kind of intolerance is wrong. Absolutely.

But what did Picard expect, exactly? What did he think the result would be when a group of people were taken from their home by aliens in a bid to “save them”, only for those same aliens to then abandon the rest of the Romulan civilisation and leave these refugees here to starve, separated from their culture, their families and from the basic amenities that they had previously enjoyed?

Moreover, how fucking arrogant and distasteful is it for Picard to leave these people for fourteen years, FOURTEEN YEARS, never to return, never to bring help, never to do anything but watch the vines grow on his enormous estate, drink tea and be grumpy about the rise of isolationism? And for him to still be framed as the “enlightened hero” of the story by the writers?

Admiral Clancy calls Picard out for his arrogance in thinking he can return to Starfleet and request a ship out of the blue to go and save a random woman who may, or may not, be the daughter of Data. But what about the coldhearted misanthropy of Picard spending fourteen years doing nothing about the apparent inequality within the Federation? Why is it that Jean Luc Picard, enlightened humanitarian, allows himself to live like a king whilst people like Raffi live in poverty just a transporter beam away?

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Maybe the story is meant to be about how Picard has succumbed to nihilism and apathy. But if so, why does he care about the Romulans being xenophobic at all? Why does he chastise Legulus The Sword Elf for unnecessarily taking a life, even when that person was about to kill Picard? Why does he shout at the Fox News interviewer about Starfleet having lost its way, when he himself has done nothing, nothing, to address the issues that may have actually led to Starfleet losing its way?

If we accept that a post-scarcity society such as the Federation is still somehow beset with wealth inequality, if we accept that there is somehow enough room for Picard’s vinyards but not enough room for Romulan refugees, if we accept that there is somehow no restriction on how much decaffeinated Earl Grey Picard can replicate but workers on Mars have to make do with flavourless protein, then we MUST accept that Picard himself is a heartless, hypocritical capitalist who refuses to help those in need.

If there is wealth inequality in the Federation, then Picard must be activiely complicit with it. If there is no wealth inequality in the Federation, then how on Earth did billions of people become nationalistic and isolationist?

If PIC is truly about the shift of the US and the UK towards right-wing political beliefs, then why is it not exploring the causes of such changes? Why is is oblivious to the actual root cause of these issues? If PIC is simply about pointing out that anti-immigration platforms and nationalism are bad, then it’s not actually doing anything to help its audience understand those issues, and neither is it shining a light on the causes to allow us to take action against them.

In fact, PIC seems to revel in the artificial inequality of its universe. It uses that inequality to create “edgy” and “dramatic” characters, but so far has failed to address the inequality itself.

And if the show is not going to critically assess the causes of rising right-wing ideology, or the societal, systemic failures at the very heart of it, then the show and its creators are guilty of the same hypocrisy as the protagonist. Clouding the narrative about why people turn to xenophobia and nationalism is harmful, even if the text of the story is critical of those ideologies in their own right.

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Wine does not feed the masses. And the hero of your anti-Brexit story cannot be a Jacob Rees-Mogg-like millionaire, living the life of a wealthy aristocrat and looking down on “backwards foreigners” who have the audacity to feel resentment towards a nation that abandoned them.

Because the fact is, Trump rose to power because of the backing of other wealthy white men, who used instruments like Fox News to drive a wedge into America’s wealth divide, whilst other wealthy white Americans wrung their hands about how awful Trump was, and yet did nothing to solve the inequality that led to his election.

And Brexit came to be because of the backing of those same wealthy white men, who used instruments like The Sun to drive a wedge into Britain’s wealth divide, whilst other wealthy white Britons wrung their hands about how awful Brexit was, and yet did nothing to solve the inequality that led to it.

And so now, the hero of ‘Star Trek: Picard’ is a wealthy white man, who wrings his hands and gives speeches about how awful isolationism is, how awful it is to turn our backs upon another community, and all the while he has done nothing but benefit from the inequality that has led to it.

Which puts the writers in a tricky spot. Because now, PIC will have to end with Picard acknowledging his privilege, abandoning his vinyard and chastising the Federation for allowing its people to needlessly live in poverty. Otherwise, life-long Labour member Patrick Stewart will be playing the role of one of those anti-Brexit Tory MPs, or anti-Trump Republicans, who decry the fall of decency within modern politics, but continue to vote for policies that ultimately lead to it.


This is already a long article, and I have a lot more to write, so this is Part One. There is a Part Two, where I address some of the other issues with the show, specifically social issues, as well as problems with the characterisation and overall narrative laziness on display so far.

8 thoughts on “Poverty, Pronouns And The Pathetic Nihilism Of Picard: A Star Trek Story – Part One

  1. Wow! I thought I would check this post out because I have not yet seen Picard and have been unable to decide whether or not to watch it. I am so used to shows and characters I loved in the past being ruined that I sometimes would rather not watch than be disappointed. Your post gave me so much more to think about than just a TV show and I found it really interesting. But I still don’t know whether I am going to watch Picard or not.

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  2. This is a really good encapsulation of why I couldn’t bring myself to watch Picard after the second episode. One of the defining, most wonderful things about Star Trek was that, after the nightmare that was World War III, humanity got its act together and realised that poverty was a choice – and with technology that renders food, energy, and housing scarcity obsolete, there would be no justifiable reason for inequalities to exist. Until Picard. The only explanation for food, energy, and housing inequality in the world of Star Trek is through choice – meaning that the Federation chose to make some citizens more equal than others. It isn’t possible for me to think of a bleaker, more heartbreaking future for the optimistic, hopeful future Gene Roddenberry created than for it to transform itself into early 21st-century western nihilism – the kind that views poverty, capitalism, exploitation, bigotry, and cruelty as inevitable, that it’s a case of managing expectations instead of radical change. It makes me sick to the core.

    Looking forward to Part 2.

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  3. “Otherwise, life-long Labour member Patrick Stewart will be playing the role of one of those anti-Brexit Tory MPs, or anti-Trump Republicans, who decry the fall of decency within modern politics, but continue to vote for policies that ultimately lead to it.”

    Pretty much. I can’t help but miss how overwhelmingly “woke” ST:Picard is. It is sad to see such characters run through these awful themes. Star Trek was never so Progressive. It challenged social paradigms, no doubt, but usually from a actually very wise position steeped in the humanities, not the kind of shallow, apparently emotional reaction much of the show has to present day politics.

    I think I keep watching the show and consuming discussions around it because I am in denial. Or like a bad romantic breakup. “Do I really have to leave her? But I want to love her. I could love her so much if she would just change some things.”

    I feel it coming.

    Thank you for your thoughtful reflection on Picard and a beloved franchise.

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  4. Star Trek: Picard is not in response to wealth inequality, bigotry, or our relationship with mass media. It’s a half heard, quarter understood regurgitation of somebody else’s response to those topics. In other words, it’s bad TV. My question is why are we seemingly living through an era of remakes, reboots, prequels and sequels that seek to rewrite and subsequently destroy their culturally iconic fore-bearers? I can understand an inherent animosity that stems from building on other people’s ideas instead of being able to create something new, but I think that this phenomenon dovetails into the mass media topic and the perpetuation of “post truth.” Was Atticus Finch America’s father figure? Did Star Trek represent the best of what human beings could be? Did Luke Skywalker usher in a dawn of hope? As of late the consistent answer to these questions seems to be “nah, here’s what really happened.” God help us when the new Friends reunion is released!

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  5. The main issue this write up has is the repeated rhetoric of “rich white men”. Claiming these’s issues arise from a single race or sex is just as wrong as claiming poverty is caused by immigrants. There are women and other races that support Trump, Brexit and the rest of these far right ideologies. The only thing that ties it all together is wealth. It’s not “white” or “men” it’s greed, power and corruption combined with a lack of empathy and compassion for humanity and the natural world. There may be a majority of “rich whites” involved in this rhetoric but the populations of these nations are also majority white. There’s also the simple fact there are “rich white men” on the opposite spectrum as well, voting and fighting to put a stop to these inequalities. It isn’t about race or sex when it comes to the cause and pushing that narrative only serves to drive more “white men” towards the Trumpian political fringe.

    This sort of race/sex blame game is exactly what the rich, powerful and corrupt want. The more we blame and insult select groups outside of the elite the more they can use this turmoil to their advantage. Just as the author said, in the world of “Picard”, he would have a hard time not feeling Trumpian. So do the lower and middle class whites feel when blatant sexist and racist rhetoric targeting them is used as a talking point. The same way blaming immigrants or POC’s for unemployment and crime drives those same people to the other side.

    Pushing this narrative is never going to unite the lower class and disenfranchised against the rich and powerful. It will, however, continue to divide and hand the elites yet another biasness to weaponize against us. The sooner we take our own advice about not being sexist racists the sooner many of these people will drop their defensive stances that keep them supporting the side they feel are protecting them from it. Unification can only come when we target the heart of oppression and not the perceived facade formed from resentment and/or hypocritical bigotry.

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