I can't remember exactly how I got there, but after several clicks on links from my wife's blog, I found myself reading an essay on another blog about writing outside one's culture, and because the original "Star Trek" tv series was mentioned in the essay, I was intrigued enough to read more, including some of the comments, which were many. In fact, there were so many that the person in charge of this particular blog had blocked any further comments for that post… which was a drag, because some of the comments had me shaking my head in disbelief, and what you see here was originally intended as a comment on one of those comments. But I couldn't post it there, so I figured "Why not here?" So here goes, beginning with the line in one of those comments that I found most objectionable…
"Um, no. Urhura can both be a groundbreaking character, and we can at the same time go, “Dude, the only black woman on the bridge of the ship, and her job is to answer the damn PHONE?”."
To say Lt. Uhura's job is "to answer the damn PHONE" is yet another spectacular (and dismaying) example of abject cluelessness.
Think about it for a moment. She is the Communications Officer on a starship traveling through deep space, going -- as you might remember from the original series' introduction -- "where no man has gone before" (updated for a new era in "The Next Generation"'s intro as "where no ONE has gone before"). And as established in that first series and as expanded on in later series, that vast area of space is full of perils known and unknown, and nasty enemies like the Klingons and the Romulans, to name but two. In those circumstances, communication between the Enterprise and Starfleet, between the Enterprise and other Federation starships… and perhaps even MORE important, between the Enterprise and other alien vessels which may or may not be hostile, is vitally important.
Maybe Communications isn't -- in a shallow, skim-just-the-surface analysis -- as "glamorous" as flying the ship, plotting a course through interstellar space, keeping the engines running, firing the phasers and photon torpedoes, or keeping the crew healthy (and the occasional alien, even ones made of silicon), but it sure as hell isn't just "answering the phone". Without communications, and a smart, capable, tough officer like Uhura at that station on the bridge, that fabled "five-year voyage" might not have made it to five weeks. -- PL
P.S. As fans of the original "Star Trek" series know, I took the title of this blog post from one of Uhura's most-often-delivered lines. It was a line which almost always meant that something cool was about to happen, and I loved hearing it.