Thursday, June 14, 2007

Star Trek Characters as Archetypes +

Originally Posted by LtPowers:
Spock, like the Tin Woodsman, proclaims himself to be emotionless but in reality can be as caring and understanding as any of the others.
I would argue that he could be, but that doing so was not natural to him. It's also the case that Scotty acted as a Leader when Kirk was stuck in some difficulty down on a planet, and that McCoy needed to be a Thinker to solve medical problems, and that Kirk was obviously ready to personally KATN like a Doer on a moment's notice -- should we therefore conclude that none of these characters had a preferred style?

To me, character is revealed not so much by what people are capable of doing when placed in unusual or extreme circumstances -- it's what they do naturally when there are options. When given a choice, Leaders will choose to lead, Thinkers will prefer to think, and so on. We may learn alternative behaviors, but in most circumstances our best-developed innate motivations -- for power, security, understanding, or happiness -- will assert themselves and we will behave accordingly.

That, I would say, is actually one of the great strengths of Star Trek, and one of the reasons for its enduring success. (Obviously it's not just the stories -- can you say, "Spock's Brain"?) The main characters of the various Star Trek series seem familiar to us because at least one of them clearly shares with us our own preferred motivation. They're interesting to us because we can see the trouble they get themselves into when their preferred motivation takes over too strongly, just as we sometimes struggle with our own preferred motivations. When someone who naturally prefers Doing sees B'Elanna unleashing her inner Doer without tempering it with thinking or leading, they nod ruefully and admit, "Yeah, that doesn't work too well for me, either."

But these characters always find a way to succeed when they use their preferred motivation -- our preferred motivation -- in ways that are appropriate for the situation. By showing us successful characters who are like us, Star Trek says that each of us has it in us to achieve the same level of success. That's a tremendously powerful message.

This is saying an awful lot for a mere TV show. But there have been very few TV shows with such archetypal characters living in such an optimistic view of our future.