#91 – At least it wasn’t nanites

29 Comments on #91 – At least it wasn’t nanites

Wesley Crusher, you dumb little genius.

There are so many things that bother me about the Universal Translator, and I think I’ve talked about some of this before (probably specifically in the context of Darmok, but it applies more generally), so I won’t go on at length about it again and will just suffice to say that I understand that making workable TV that is not about the realities of translation is a fair explanation for why it’s so goddam dumb. But still: so goddam dumb, and worse, they basically never do anything interesting with it. Which is central to the classic argument that Star Trek isn’t so much science fiction as it is fiction in science drag; it’s a show about society and morality more than it is about warp drives or alien worlds, and fine.

But the UT, both as specified in the handwavey technical justifications for it that exist and as presented subjectively to the viewer, is this incredible, powerful, slick-as-shit, galaxy-changing technology. Why don’t people mess around with it more? Why not just adopt a new accent that you feel like people would enjoy? Or do stupid translator tricks and stunts? Or play a game of enforced Telephone where thanks to a quick twiddle of the UT’s settings what you say is by definition not quite what the next person hears?

We see people do random stuff (though not random enough IMHO) on the holodeck all the time, because it’s obviously intended as spectacle and the stuff of fantasy. But the UT is no less powerful in theory; in practice, they’ve just sublimated it in the presentation of the show to where it’s simultaneously miraculous and wholly unworthy of mention or notice.

In other news, one of you has clearly been busy. I was delighted to see this when someone pointed it out to me the other day; I’m not sure if it’s healthy in an inevitable-death-by-recursion sort of way to have something of mine written up on TV Tropes, but I’m willing to take that risk.