Set Phasers to Bad-Touch.

Back in April, the LA Times wrote a story about the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit and their battle against child pornography. It was all fine and good, until this random factoid was thrown in the article:

On one wall is a "Star Trek" poster with investigators' faces substituted for the Starship Enterprise crew. But even that alludes to a dark fact of their work: All but one of the offenders they have arrested in the last four years was a hard-core Trekkie.

As you could tell, with it's sinister implications ("dark fact") and the paper's editorial decision to stand by the statement, what should have been a cheap shot turned into a flash on the internet (see here and here); fans lined up on one side saying that there is nothing in the canon that would condone or de facto approve of pedophilia, and cops on the other side leaking disturbing anecdotal evidence of a connection, including the following story:

The first thing detectives from the Toronto police sex crimes unit saw when they entered Roderick Cowan's apartment was an autographed picture of William Shatner. Along with the photos on the computer of Scott Faichnie, also busted for possessing child porn, they found a snapshot of the pediatric nurse and Boy Scout leader wearing a dress "Federation" uniform. Another suspect had a TV remote control shaped like a phaser. Yet another had a Star Trek credit card in his wallet. One was using "Picard" as his screen name. In the 3 1/2 years since police in Canada's biggest city established a special unit to tackle child pornography, investigators have been through so many dwellings packed with sci-fi books, DVDs, toys and collectibles like Klingon swords and sashes that it's become a dark squadroom joke. "We always say there are two types of pedophiles: Star Trek and Star Wars," says Det. Ian Lamond, the unit's second-in-command. "But it's mostly Star Trek."

And Jesus wept. It was really only a matter of time until someone combed through old episodes looking for evidence of a connection, and sure enough that just happened today on the Huffington Post. As I've lived in an apartment with all the dvds for the past two years, and my love for the movie Free Enterprise and William Shatner is worn on my sleeve, I should probably take apart the argument not only out of principle, but and out of a desire to not be "profiled" at any point in the future. I'll do this now.

There's almost certainly a link – I'll bring it up at the end. I want to point out that what she complains about is true of television in general. Let's look at what in Star Trek attracts sex criminals:

Missing and Immature Sexual and Romantic Relationships.

She makes both claims that "[d]espite the cartoonish trappings of sexiness, there are, in fact, no sexual or romantic relationships aboard the Enterprise" and "[when there is romance it] displays a truly astonishing emotional poverty. [Kirk] goes from planet to planet, having trysts…but never forms any real attachments. By the next episode, the last female partner is forgotten." These are true complaints, but completely unfair. Yes a militant anti-sexual boys club is present in a lot of the genre; look at how getting Liv Tyler's character into the Lord of the Rings movies was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Celibacy is part of the driving force of the Spiderman and new Star Wars movies (see here).

But Trek has one foot deep in the "problem solving through the application of skills and procedures" genre that forms about half of the hour-long series on television. House, The A-Team and Law and Order et al all fall in this genre. The knowledge is technical in "Next Generation", and strategic in the original series. The focus is on problem-solving, not on relationship building.

The other complaint, that relationships are used as plot devices and throw off at the end credits, is what forms the nucleus of urban dating television shows such as "Friends" and "Sex in the City." "Chandler goes on a bad date" is a quick and easy subplot, and has been exploited appropriately. But Kirk was doing it first. He was doing it in the same way all other male leads were doing it in the 60s – as a militant conquesting role pioneered by Playboy and perfected by James Bond. James Bond doesn't get lumped in, neither should Kirk.

In Love with Technology

"For both Kirk and Spock, their true shared love object is the luminous Starship Enterprise, and it essentially serves the purpose of a fetish object – a non-human, inanimate detour for evading anxieties belonging to genuine intimacy." This is true – the show is positivist in the sense that technological progress will fuel, or at least be a benign corresponder to, social progress. Thomas Friedman makes these arguments, the free-marketers make these arguments, Marx sort of made this argument, and so does Star Trek.

The idea that an increase in technological sophistication will lead to an increase in social health and world peace (as opposed to global warming, cancerous foods, better ways to obliterate cities and blackberries on your vacation) is great for the geeks who line up, lastest gadgets firmly attached to their belts, for episodes of Star Trek. They may in fact design or program such devices. But why would sex criminals like this line of thought? She believes it's related to a sexual fetishization of the technology, and her evidence is that they refer to the ship as a lady. Perhaps, but most ship captains do, and as you watch the show the glow of affection for technology is explicitly not-sexual and far more "gee-whiz."


The belief in progress isn't that bad per se, but what's really the culprit is a belief in Utopias. "It is utopian, in the sense that all the differences and distinctions which create tensions here on earth have been eradicated." I find it funny that she brings up this line of argument, as the proof of the sexual uptopia of the future was that it was the first program to show an interracial kiss (and the show was promptly banned on several stations) – an act I doubt she would disagree with.

But to the argument, in Star Trek the future is peaceful and secure. The only real way it factors into the show is that it provides the basis for what 90% of the series (and what we'd like to believe about our own foreign policy) is about – running around to "lesser" planets and solving their problems for them. It's gives the Enterprise the moral edge to do such things – they can't tell the Klingons how to save their moon or stop the comet if their own world is awash in hunger and poverty.

More Probable Links

I think there are two things that have better explainations. Mind you, I'm no mental health expert or criminologist, but here are aspects of sci-fi that are more worthy of exploration in the realm of mental health.

One is the obsessive nature of its "deep history." Things stand in for real life things (the Klingons for the Soviets), but there is no obligation to watch it that way. One can watch the show and view a fictional world where you read no correspondence to real life. There are Law and Order junkies out there, but if they get too much into it they get too much into ideas like "due process", "new york locations" and "cop lingo." Here getting too much into it involves "learning klingon", "warp drives", and "The History of the Federation of Planets." This doesn't run you parallel to real life – it runs you in the opposite direction.

The "deep history" part is important. There is enough of a backstory alluded to that you can start to piece together things that don't even happen within the narrative – your imagination is engaged inward. When someone refers to an offscreen item, be it a planet or an event ("remember the battle of Wolf 359?"), the mind is engaged piecing it together. It's like when you look at the maps in Lord of the Rings and think "what happened there?" It's a perfect matchup with people who are obsessive and people who can't get their minds working in the functioning reality.

The othe reason is with the way characters are played. The characters are there to play allegorical extrapolations of genre figures – be it the heroic captain, stoic scientist, grumpy old doctor (original series) or wisened captain, shy engineer, or peace-time warrior (Next Gen), and when they succeed at what they are – when the captain leads, or the doctor finds the cure – is when the plot advances.

Which is to say that the characters aren't strong because they are well-rounded, deeply human figures but because they are explicitly not. Ellen would be wise to make of point of this, but she does not. None of us are actually like this, being just one thing – we contain multitudes, and view ourselves as more than just an element of a human being. But maybe some people can't – they only view themselves as being one thing, and then can't build on it into the adult world, a viewpoint that is conditioned to self-destruct.

On the last part, if the writers really had something in common with pedophilia, they wouldn't have made Wesley Crusher so damn annoying. I wish he got killed for stepping on those bushes.

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4 thoughts on “Set Phasers to Bad-Touch.”

  • First off, I'd like to share this:

    Second, dragon*con ( is coming to Atlanta next weekend. I'm pretty excited about that.

    Lastly, I'd like to add a little something to the fine critique you present, starting with the assumption that there IS in fact a link betweekn StarTrek and pedophelia, as you have asserted, and go from there.

    I think the utopian argument is the strongest one you make (perhaps inadvertently) for this link. Recognizing that the original series took place in the midst of the cold war and characters are allegorical and all that, *still* the underlying message the show reinforces is the image of Kirk (along with the whole crew and all the federation, for that matter) as ultimate authority figures, patriarchal, benevolent dictators almost. Of course, as you pointed out, this can be taken by fans in historical context (foreign policy during the cold war) or simply as a good story, but nonetheless, the show drives home the idea of "father knows best."

    You must recognize that despite the Prime Directive (ignored on practically every episode in the original series), Kirk feels he has the right, no, the *moral obligation,* to force people of other planets to do what he – and the federation – believes they should be doing.

    This more than anything else, I think, is what ties the show to pedophelia, because ultimately (I'm not a criminologist either…but) isn't pedophelia about power? About lording it over someone weaker and dependent on you? And who does that better than the charming Kirk, always righting the societal wrongs of the less enlightened planets he encounters?

  • Pop culture tourguide extraordinaire!

    That was seriously impressive. I'm much less worried about all those DVDs now.

  • As a Trek fan, I always hesistate to respond to something like the original report. I applaud your effort, Mike, to do so and think it was effective.

    That being said, as someone who could be accused of being a little too fond of Star Trek and the entire Sci-Fi genre in general, I feel the need to point out that, yes, there are extremely creepy people out there and many of them like Trek. Like any good thing, when someone becomes obsessed with Trek it certainly doesn't make them better adjusted.

    The fact of the matter is, I don't have any data to back up my opinions on this one. Neither am I certain that I understand the original proposition of the article. Was it that like Star Trek, like that first step down the dark path, led inexorably to pedophilia for the unwary? Or is it just a correlating factor?

    I salute you, Toronto Star, for warning me of the danger of Star Trek and hope that your ever-responsible reporting will help me avoid the missteps of my brethren who have fallen to the evils of pedophilia.

    I salute you, Mike, for allowing me to continue to watch my Star Trek DVDs and have some credible response to offer when I am closely questioned by the Homeland Security Dept. as to why I own Star Trek and am neither a pedophile or a terrorist.

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