General Discussion: The Kazon

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Jared Rascher
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General Discussion: The Kazon

Post by Jared Rascher »

Given that we discussed a little bit about the external factors that affected some story decisions revolving around Chakotay's character, I also wanted to touch on the writer's room idea for the Kazon, as it kind of influences decisions made about these characters.

The Kazon, as originally envisioned, were supposed to be a means for the writers to comment on modern-day discourse on gang violence, specifically citing the LA gangs like the Bloods and the Crips for the stories they wanted to tell.

We've seen them show up a few times, but I wanted to throw that out there if people wanted the external context of where these stories originated, and maybe keep that in mind going into season 2. I also kind of want to go on record as saying this was a very bad idea, and nobody in the writer's room seemed to be well equipped to tell the story they wanted to tell by framing this species in this manner.

The Wikipedia article goes into this, as it wasn't really something the writers were trying to hide. I will say, before reading the Wikipedia article, it talks about the Kazon across the whole run of Voyager, so there may be spoilers in there if you don't want to be spoiled.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazon
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Jared Rascher
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Re: General Discussion: The Kazon

Post by Jared Rascher »

As of Initiation

We talked about this a little in the watch party, but I think the writers are tripping over a lot of commentary, even if they are ultimately trying to be sympathetic. Without bringing in too much story we haven't seen yet, what we know up to this point is:
  • The Kazon are divided into groups that fight over territory
  • The Kazon have initiation rituals where you have to earn your name by killing someone
  • The Kazon were enslaved by the Trabe
  • The Kazon have distinct clothing by group and reference colors and uniforms
In the 90s, there was a lot of panic over gangs. This isn't an apology for any of the hardships caused by gangs, but there is also an ongoing narrative that warps the truth of inner city life, and perpetuates urban legends that serve to other people that white people see as gang members.

One of those urban legends is that gangs required an initiation that required gang members to kill someone. The effect of this is to point out that if you see young people that are part of a gang, they can't be seen as children, because if they are members, they must already be murderers.

There is also the narrative that these gangs only exist to fight over territory, and exist to challenge anyone that is in their territory with violence. That is also in evidence in the Kazon narrative that we see in this episode.

What we see in this episode is a sympathetic young man, being forced into the gang life. It's clear we are meant to care for the character, but the ultimate story is there is nothing that "society" (i.e. Voyager) can do to break this cycle. Its effectively a "washing your hands" story. "We can't fix this situation, because their culture is bad, and this character didn't want to leave."

While we've seen that narrative before in Star Trek, its usually more a matter of "this culture has to take responsibility for its actions." In this case, it's framed much more as "we can't save this person born to this culture, because even as a child, he's too indoctrinated to their ways." It's important to care (see Chakotay's ceremonial prayer at the end), but we don't have a good way to resolve the situation.

Another thing we end up with from this narrative is that the Kazon are less than three decades away from their separation from the Trabe. That means in this narrative, they overthrow their slave masters, and then immediately split into gangs and fighting among themselves. As of this episode, we don't have any more context for the story. That dismisses urban conditions that shape the narrative of gangs (among many different populations), and also implies that slaves that throw off their own enslavers without enlightened guidance fall into warlike gangs.

I think the creators, at this point, wanted to say something about a current issue, and Star Trek is at its best when it says something about society. The problem is, it seems like with the Kazon, what Star Trek is saying about inner city gangs is:
  • They are bad
  • They indoctrinate the young
  • We should feel bad for the young that get caught up in the life
  • The adults in gangs are beyond redemption
  • There is nothing to be done about gangs or the situations that lead them to criminal behavior
I just really wish that the narrative for the Kazon ended up being more than "Tsk, tsk, isn't that sad."
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Jared Rascher
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Re: General Discussion: The Kazon

Post by Jared Rascher »

Spoilers: Maneuvers and Alliance

Okay, there were some parts of this discussion I wanted to hold back until after a few more episodes, but now that we've had Maneuvers and Alliances on the watch list, I wanted to revisit a few things.

In Initiations, we heard a little bit about the Trabe, and how the Kazon were enslaved by the Trabe, and then, 27 years ago or so, they broke free of the Trabe. Now, we get a few more cultural "truths" about the Kazon in light of the later episodes.
  • The Trabe are dismissive assholes, but Voyager is still willing to listen to them
  • The Kazon are portrayed as not having made any of their own technology, and barely understanding it well enough to make war with it
The real problem that we're falling into is that the Voyager writers aren't taking the time to really look at what they are saying with their baseline assumptions about the Kazon and their "ripped from the headlines" 90s take.

LA Gangs are organizations that exist within the culture of the people that once enslaved the people that comprise primarily black gangs. These are people that were "freed," but unable to find equal opportunities within the culture that freed them, but also could not leave the culture that that once enslaved them. It's a story of inequity between participants in the same society.

The story they are actually telling is of colonial powers that were forced out of their colonies by the people of color that they had colonized. The Kazon aren't an entity in the Trabe's society, they are their own nations. But the story we're being told is that they are, now that they threw off their Trabe overlords, violent and dangerous. We still have the 20th-century white western narrative that "yeah, we may have been racist, but we were ultimately good for the people when we were there."

For a full picture, however, we would have needed to find out how the Trabe had still managed to control resources flowing to the Kazon to keep them from having the opportunity to be successful as their own culture.

Basically, the writers try to absolve "themselves" by saying "we know the Trabe are stand-ins for white slavers, and we're saying they are evil and bad, so we're morally superior to white slavers," without looking at all of the other ugly things the narrative is saying about the Kazon. Somehow, despite needing to operate the technology they worked with within Trabe society, the Kazon just don't really understand technology intrinsically, and they need someone like Seska to guide them. Everything that looks like a weapon is a weapon for them, and that's the only thing we see of Kazon culture.

In other words, we're left with the following:
  • The Kazon are victims, but still bad
  • The Trabe are evil, but still more advanced, intelligent, and civilized than the Kazon
That's a lot of work to keep not quite telling the right story so far with this species.
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JimLikesGames
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Re: General Discussion: The Kazon

Post by JimLikesGames »

Is it just me, or are there like, no women at all amongst the Kazon?

That seems to me another part of the racialized mess.
Jim Crocker
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