Far Beyond The Stars, (And Too Close For Comfort)

One of the greatest pieces of television, of any show, era or genre, EVER, is the Star Trek; Deep Space 9 episode "Far Beyond The Stars". I just rewatched it for probably the 20th time. It transcends Trek. It transcends Science Fiction. It transcends Television. It is a brilliantly acted, written and produced piece of fiction, because of it's stark unflinching reality.

And it is incredibly uncomfortable to watch.

Of course that's as it should be. It very bluntly shows the real effects of racism in America. Moreso than any other tv show has ever succeeded in doing. Moreso even than a lot of movies that tackled it. It doesn't soften the blows, or handle the subject with kid gloves. Maybe because it's an episode of a syndicated genre show, it had more freedom than network or cable dramas. Maybe because it wasn't a topic they tackled regularly, they had the freedom to be as real and ugly and brutally honest as racism really is, where an NBC or an HBO show might feel a need to whitewash it a little to avoid making their white audiences uncomfortable.

But that's just it. A truly good story about the realities of racism and oppression and white privilege SHOULD make it's audience uncomfortable. It SHOULD make them squirm. It's not a flowery light-hearted subject. It's a brutal, ugly reality.

Spoilers ahead.

For those who've never watch Deep Space 9, the story is that Captain Sisko, the black captain of the eponymous space station Deep Space 9, is in the middle of a long and bloody war. He's just learned that a ship captained by a long-time friend of his was destroyed with no survivors in a border skirmish and is feeling hopeless, and actually considering resigning his commission and giving up the fight.

Something knocks him unconscious, and when he wakes up, he's Benny Russell, an underpaid science fiction writer in New York in the early 50's. His editor is a spineless conformist who is afraid of upsetting the status quo who prefers his readers blissfully believe Benny is a white writer, (and that the one woman writer on staff is a man), and constantly tells Benny "that's just the way it is".
Benny has some hallucinations about Sisko and Deep Space 9, and at the urging of a street preacher, begins writing about Sisko's adventures. His editor of course refuses to publish them because "a negro captain just isn't believable". When the other writers finally convince the editor to publish Benny's story because they all agree it's just too damned good to shelve, the publisher orders the entire print of that issue pulped and tells the editor to fire Benny, leading Benny to have a huge mental break-down as he cries out that you can pulp a story but you can't kill an idea, and that future of a black captain in space is real.

If that alone were all this story had to offer it would still be good television. But it goes so far beyond that.

Benny is treated like a criminal by beat cops solely because he's wearing a nice suit, which they deem suspicious because they assume, when he says he works in the office building where his magazine offices are, that he means he's the janitor. Willie Mays is in the story, and when asked why he as a rich successful baseball player hasn't moved downtown, he says the white players tolerate PLAYING with him, but living next to them? No thanks, he'd rather stay uptown where the other black folk idolize him than move downtown and just be a negro with money the white neighbours stare suspiciously at. Benny's young street thief friend scoffs at the very idea of Benny's black space captain, because the only reason he can imagine a black person going to space is if the astronauts "need a nigger to shine they shoes".

And it's all brutal and unflinching. They don't act like it's just white people being annoying like so many shows do when touching this issue. You can FEEL their anger, their pain. When the white cops harass Benny you can feel his dehumanization. And when eventually those same cops beat the ever-loving fuck out of Benny because he dared to question why they felt the need to shoot his young friend for trying to break into a car, you feel every single punch and kick, because they don't hold anything back. They don't pan away and let you just imagine the brutality. They make you watch it, and they make you FEEL it for exactly what it is. They make you feel every single blow even as they white cops visually flip between the cops and the characters the actors are normally playing. And it doesn't for one moment lessen the impact of the violence.

And therein lies the most uncomfortable truth about watching this episode.

It's set in the 1950's. But it could just as easily be set in 2015. Because every single slight that white people impose upon "the coloured folks" in this story? White people are STILL doing those exact same things. Cops STILL profile well-dressed black people as suspicious. Stories with strong black characters STILL get passed on in favour of yet another white protagonist. Most of the characters you see on tv are white. Minority characters are almost always the "token (insert minority here)" character. Go look at most popular tv shows, and I guarantee with extremely few exceptions, the cast is mostly white, with one female and one minority character.

And most infuriating of all, in 2015, young black people are still being routinely murdered by police for the flimsiest of excuses, or beaten to a pulp for daring to talk back. For being "uppity".
For not knowing "their place".

In 20-FUCKING-15.

And white people are STILL denying things are really as bad as they are.

And that's why "Far Beyond The Stars" is so uncomfortable to watch; because it's the motherfucking truth. It's fiction only insofar as that the characters in it are fictional people, but otherwise it's 150% cold hard brutal unflinching reality. It's brutal, raw, hones, and it pulls absolutely no punches. If you can watch it and not feel shame for the human race, or end up in tears, there's something very very wrong with you. It's the closest thing a tv show can be to perfect.

And that discomfort is why it's among, if not THE best of all television. And it should be required viewing. It should be shown in schools. It should be discussed endlessly. It should be a teaching tool. It should be treasured.

Sometimes humans NEED to take the blinders off and be made uncomfortable, because the reality of racism IS uncomfortable. And if those with all the power and privilege are comfortable what "the way things are", they'll never be motivated to help the rest of us get this crapsack racist world to the way things SHOULD be.

If you've never seen this episode, PM me for a link to watch it online. It is the most important piece of tv you will EVER watch in your life.