Term Paper: Race, Ethnicity, and Utopia

Pages: 8 (3212 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Race  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] The Klingons, of course, had very Africanized features, with dark skin, dreadlocks, and oddly exaggerated prominent brows and lips. At the same time, the highly intelligent but unemotional Vulcans were shown with slightly Asiatic features. While in later shows Klingons were politically removed from their position as archenemies (and replaced with robot-human hybrids), the stereotypes from these earlier shows remain important.

One final face of racism is probably the most obvious when one considers racism, and that is the open segregation of people based on skin color. While such segregation is less common today than it was sixty years ago, it still influences the way people think about racism. Additionally, the way that class borders intersect with racial categories means that many distinctions based on class become also a racial distinction. So Utopian or Dystopian novels that deal extensively with societies in which strict castes or social stratification occurs may found themselves also dealing with race issues. Some, such as Kiln People, do this intentionally. Brin has a great many parallels to draw between his culture in which duplicated people (dittoes) are made in various colors (including green, plaid, and so forth) to indicate varying functions and degrees of social placement and power, and where all "coloreds" must show absolute deference to "real flesh." While his story does not seem to be racist at all in its intentions, it deals powerfully with issues of racial segregation.

With these criteria in mind for understanding both race and utopian writing, the time comes to analyze these three art pieces. Of the three, Kiln People by David Brin is the most obviously a utopian book, despite coming in the wrapping of a noir-style detective story. It is a science fiction story where technology has enabled people to transfer their "soul wave" into a clay body called a ditto which can experience a full day's life and then return the reintegrate with the "archie" or the archetype/original. These clay bodies come in many different colors, each indicating a different recommended use. By using many clay-days, people can extend their remembered lives. Brin describes the way this erased old racism in the face of a new Other -- the ditto. At the same time, poverty and war and the horror of death are all largely eliminated as duplicate selves undertake all the grim realities of life. The Utopian aspect of Brin's work is the way that it presents a compelling and not particularly disturbing view of the shape of the future world. Though there are degrees of totalitarian control, all in all the envisioned world seems good. The book deals powerfully with the meaning of human life, and the way in which technology might be able to better our future. It also deals with some of the impulses behind racism.

Brin's book seems to suggest that race is constructed. The fact that (almost) every person in the books can make dittoes of all colors shows that the "Other" that people fear and hate is as much inside of them and part of them as anything else. When he shows the hero becoming a "lowly" green ditto and transcending that place, he also seems to indicate that even if some stereotypical aspects (such as alcoholism among Native Americans, or lower IQ scores among blacks) have some basis in science, personal choice is far more indicative than personal color. Finally, this book seems to indicate that the tension in race relationships is being fabricated by both sides. He speaks a great deal about the way humans mistreat dittoes, knowing that they themselves partake in ditto memories. That people accept such mistreatment both as dittoes and as archies shows that some degree of racial and ethnic tension exists only because it is quietly supported by both sides, albeit for different reasons.

The original Star Trek television series should not be ignored whenever one is discussing modern utopia ideas. Star Trek presents its future world even more enthusiastically than does Brin. In the Star Trek universe, it appears, the entire planet has become somewhat socialistic. Money is no longer a significant issue, and on earth there is peace. Racial harmony appears to exist on Earth and on the Enterprise, which was quite progressive for the time. On the surface, the Star Trek Utopia shows everything human progress could hope to obtain: peace, ethnic harmony, a world with economic justice, and truly nifty interplanetary travel capabilities. Yet while the world appears to be free from racism, its presentation is not. The somewhat authoritarian, generally light-skinned Federation is threatened from without by barbaric forces: the dark-skinned Klingons. There is no final evidence that the Klingons were meant to represent specific racial minorities. What is certain is that consciously or not the authors of the show created them in such a way that they reiterated the messages that dark-skinned peoples were barbaric and violent, even after progressing to the point where they had space travel! The utopian viewpoints of this show, which are so focused on the technological advance of human kind, are in some ways inconsistent with the strange, almost vicious racial stereotyping that occurs here.

The Lord of the Rings movies is less obviously Utopian in nature. This is because, where Kiln People and Star Trek deal with a Utopia which has already been secured, Lord of the Rings deals with a Utopia in the process of being secured. Oscar Wilde once said that "Utopia is... The one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias." (in: Targowski) This appears to be somewhat true of the world of Middle Earth, though it might be more accurate to say that it is a world where Utopia had been found and then lost again many times, just as many golden ages have happened in our real world. This story happens at the beginning of a new Utopia, as the bright and beautiful city of Gondor is established anew with a new race of half-elven kings (the elf Arwen marries the new king Aragorn) and the peaceful lands of the Shire and of Rohan continue in their pastoral way. This movie appears to deal with the threat of industrialization (in the form of Saruman and Sauron, whose evil is always portrayed in terms of forging and mining and making machines) which might destroy Utopian Middle Earth villages and small cities, and then helps firm up the defenses of its land. In the new Utopian Gondor, one assumes that there will be peace among the races of dwarf, elf, human and horses, and that the pastoral ways of the little people will be preserved forever

Not unlike Star Trek, Lord of the Rings tells the story of a dark force poised to overwhelm the fragile Utopian cities. This force (like the other) is also entirely composed of humanoids who have significant African-type characteristics. As mentioned before, the orc in particular bears a very strong resemblance to certain minority groups, with his dreadlocks, his "barbaric" clothes, and his dark skin. Those who are not Caucasian in the film seem to suffer from many aspects of stereotyping. They are seen as Other in the most brutal terms. According to the characters in the movie, the orcs used to be elves before they were enslaved, and yet consistently they are spoken of as far less than even humans, and those who would hesitate to kill humans (or honor them if they had), have no compunctions killing the "monstrous" orcs. There are obvious stereotypes being employed in their creation, such as the linking of racial characteristics with brute strength, poor language skills, vulgarity, natural violence and sexual perversity, and being a threat to society. Of course, the movie also shows them being enslaved unwillingly to their evil masters, which implies a strongly non-democratic life for the orcs. So Lord of the Rings, in addition to being a fine fantasy film, seems to indicate a pastoral or feudal Utopia for humans and a genocidal approach towards non-caucasians.

In conclusion, one can see how Utopia and race meld together in art. Images of a desirable society, based on low levels of work (Kiln People) or worthwhile pastoral work (LOTR), peace and prosperity, and the creation of a world without significant conflict, seem to be very attractive to people even now. Yet these worlds cannot exist without solving the so-called problem of race. So Utopias solve this problem various ways. Some, like Lord of the Rings or the old Mizura, seem to indicate that no compromise is possible and one or another ethnicity must be eliminated when conflict arises. Others seem to hope for a fully integrated society, as Star Trek shows (even though the racial sensitivity of their culture is belied by the narrative itself which casts African stand-ins as their enemies). Yet others may believe that some day technology will join all races together, and that racism… [END OF PREVIEW]

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