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Saturday, May 19, 2007

Non-comic: Musings about Orion Slavegirls.

Earlier today, I found myself looking up "Orion Slavegirls". This is largely because I have a green Barbie doll wearing a Captain Kirk uniform right now. Anyway, this reminded me that I never really knew that much about the race as portrayed in the Star Trek Universe.

I mean sure, I remember the girl in the Cage/Menagerie writhing about on stage in green make-up in a fantasy created for Captain Pike and I vaguely remembered a crazy slavegirl played by Batgirl that tried to seduce Kirk and was basically a cartoon villainess before getting blown up. But that's about it.

The race has always intrigued me, while making me uncomfortable at the same time. For one, consider their name. "Orion Slavegirls." In the days of the supposedly idealistic Federation, there is a race with "slave" right in their name and no one does anything about it. The race in general is portrayed as intergalactic slavers and traders, which the Federation is aware of even if they don't have direct dealings with them. And yet nothing is done about this? Or even talked about?

It's funny but since I was very young, the one officer's dismissal of the slavegirls as mindlessly savage and practically animals stuck with me. I suppose that line was meant as a reason why the Federation never did anything about it, but well, that really never sat well with me. I mean..."savage" and "practically animals". It's not as though we haven't heard that sort of dismissal before.

The Federation is supposed to be better, you know? Not perfect, sure. But better.

We've never seen a sympathetic Orion in the original series. Vima was a human woman playing out a fantasy. Marta was batshit insane, attacking Kirk with a knife when he turned her down, and basically devoting herself slavishly to the most powerful man in the room. Heck. We've never even seen a three-dimensional portrayal of an Orion. We don't really get any back story about how their society works.

I know it was the sixties, and one must make allowances for the narrative use of a race apparently designed solely so that attractive women can wear very little, be painted green and gyrate. But it's always bothered me that none of the later Star Treks ever, to my recollection, really addressed this species at all. Which, okay, if they want to forget the species ever existed due to being ill-conceived and kind of silly...

Then why do we see Orion Slave women in holodeck fantasies?!

I suppose the Ferengi have mostly supplanted the Orions by the time of the later series. They're materialistic, vile, amoral, and their women don't wear clothes. And the Federation doesn't try to do anything about that either. Okay. But the Ferengi also get episodes and storylines. Quark's mother wore clothes! Unhappy female Ferengi crossdressing as men! Ferengi unsuited to their own society actually in Starfleet!

Where are the Orions in later Star Trek series? Has their society changed? Is it the same? Have things gotten better or worse?

It's weird, but all I really wished for was to see was an Orion (preferably female) Starfleet officer once. We see other races, even non-federation ones, have representatives in Starfleet. And we'd then get to see that there is actually some measure of individuality within that race. It makes them less cartoony.

Instead the only female Orion officer I remember ever seeing was in the dark mirror universe. And you know how that goes. (If I'm wrong and someone better versed in Trek than I remembers seeing an Orion officer, let me know! Please! It would make my day!)

It annoys me because the race seems interesting in a villainous way, but very unfinished. Every other villain-race is given depth and complexities and renegades that fit more into Starfleet society than not (which in turn leads to more complexity about the whole). Even races that don't get a lot of exposure still get representatives in Starfleet or at least a single episode devoted to them.

Orion slavegirls get to be holodeck fantasies.

Enterprise rectifies this a little by making Orion slavegirls more sociologically powerful and actually manipulating the whole thing. Which has interesting potential, but, well, Enterprise is set BEFORE TOS. What about "now"?

Hmph, let me tell you, as a devoted Trek fan, nothing gave me more pleasure than to gut and loot that Star Trek barbie set on behalf of my green doll.

Hey, if anyone knows any books or comic books Star Trek related that have Orion characters or actually attempt to portray the society with any depth, let me know?


  • At May 19, 2007 7:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    IIRC Peter David's "Imzadi" novel included an Orion woman who was a scientist studying the Guardian of Forever.

  • At May 19, 2007 4:27 PM, Blogger Richard said…

    One small quibble about the Marta character: remember that story is set in an insane asylum and she's one of the inmates, so it's not a case of her being singled out as crazy and cartoonish. Everyone in that episode was cartoonish.

    Also: an Orion woman is on the ruling council of Elysia in the animated episode Time Trap. (Unfortunately, she also has to do a dance number. I wouldn't mind that if it were established that Orion dancing was akin to Gypsy dancing, i.e., of religious and artistic significance to the culture and only seen as salacious by ignorant foreigners...but no one's ever done that.)

    Taken on its own, the stuff that Captain Pike hears about Orion women in the "Menagerie" illusion might be discounted as merely those things he expects those sleazy guys would say in that scenario; even the image of Vina he sees might have been written off as his naughty fantasy of Orion women rather than the reality...but of course, the Enterprise appearances demolished that idea. The one really unfortunate and damning line in the pilot is when Pike and the ship's doctor are discussing Pike's possible career options, and Orion slave trading is mentioned as one of them -- even though it's dismissed as unlikely, it's discussed as if some humans actually do that.

    Even more super-ultra-geekitude on the Orion canonhere.

  • At May 19, 2007 5:23 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    matthew: Wow, I totally didn't remember that, I'll have to reread.

    rab: That's a good point. The only Orion women we see pre-enterprise is a fantasy and a lunatic.

    Well, except Time Trap. I've never seen much of the animated series. I've heard it's good though.

    To be fair, I thought that line was more like me saying to someone "Well, you could always try piracy." as a rather implausible career choice. It does seem pretty horrendous if the Federation is aware of human slave traders and does nothing, though.

  • At May 19, 2007 5:33 PM, Blogger Iko of the Shadows said…

    I remember the Orion woman in "Imzadi." She wore glasses despite having normal vision, because this made her less attractive and that was the only way to get her (presumably all male) colleagues to stop paying attention to her physical assets.

    And yes, Star Trek was made in the 60s, but Enterprise was 00s and was just as offensive when it came to the slavegirls.

    Star Trek: One small step for man, one let's-rest-here-for-a-bit for womankind.

  • At May 19, 2007 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "Hey, if anyone knows any books or comic books Star Trek related that have Orion characters or actually attempt to portray the society with any depth, let me know?"

    Seem to recall a character in Peter David's "Double or Nothing"... in fact, PAD seems to be rather a fan of Orions...

    Google turned up:

    Do recall Dan Taylor at IDW mentioning them in connection with a comic miniseries focusing on different Trek races.

    Might've been in here:

  • At May 19, 2007 9:26 PM, Blogger LurkerWithout said…

    I think one of the main Kligons in John M. Ford's The Final Reflection has an Orion mate. Of course I don't know how "canon" either of Ford's ST books are anymore...

  • At May 20, 2007 2:13 AM, Blogger Zaratustra said…

    Reminds me of Star Control's Syreen.

  • At May 20, 2007 8:04 AM, Blogger GiantKillerMantis said…

    I don't think that the Federation tries to right wrongs outside their borders. The Prime Directive is interpreted in some pretty extreme ways sometimes. When a culture's equivalent of the Golden Rule is "don't interfere" it can tend to tolerate some nasty stuff.

    That said, the real reason the slave girls are around has already been stated: it's an excuse to have women in skimpy outfits. Now, they could have women in skimpy outfits engaged in healthy relationships (the type in which skimpy outfits sometimes come into play), but for whatever reason they went with fantasy instead.

  • At May 20, 2007 2:25 PM, Blogger Willow said…

    Mary Mac. Same character others have mentioned, the Orion Scientist working on the Guardian of Forever.

    I've always adored the character.

  • At May 21, 2007 11:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I seem to recall the Orion character in "Imzadi" explaining she chose a remote posting because her species gave off some kind of pheromone or harmonic resonance or double-stamp night or something that triggers the sexual response in human males (Like the Persis Kambatta character in the first ST film, who took a vow of chastity before entering the service), just as the pitch of a tribble's purr is soothing to humans.

    How humiliating; I would have sworn that I gave up on Star Trek years ago, but "just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in."

  • At May 22, 2007 1:44 AM, Blogger Andrea James said…

    I always considered the Orions/Orion Syndicate to be the seedy side of the galaxy that was required for story tension but never allowed in the too-perfect Federation. So it makes sense that the Orions were portrayed as feral and savage-- they were there as a storytelling device-- they were another foil like the Klingons or the Romulans; although why Klingons & Romulans developed into cool & three dimensional species and Orions didn't, I couldn't say (although I agree that's disappointing-- I've always thought Star Trek villains are much more interesting than the heroes). I always got the impression that Orions were the amorphous "Mafia" that did shadowy, illegal things behind the scenes.

    I don't recall "Slavegirls" as being part of the race's name. They are, as a race, Orions, and I never got the impression that "Slavegirls" had anything to do with anything other than they were women slaves who happened to be of the Orion race. Maybe I'm just taking your comments too literally. And since the Orions aren't members of the Federation, I don't imagine it would be likely to have an Orion Federation officer, male or female, but an Orion officer would be just as interesting as Nog on DS9 becoming a Ferengi officer.

    The only later story I remember that involved Orions was in DS9, but only peripherally. Was it something to do with some relative of Erzulie Dax getting involved with the Syndicate? It didn't actually have any Orions in the episode, but it seemed to indicate the Syndicate hadn't changed much.

    At any rate, I watch way too much Star Trek.

  • At June 18, 2007 10:46 PM, Blogger Todd Perkins said…

    I am probably beating a dead horse or saying something that everyone already knows but the Orion slave girls are not 'slaves' exactly.

    In an interesting episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, after Enterprise is given 3 slavegirls as a 'gift (Captain Archer explains to them that they are now free). One of the Orion women seduces an engineer into sabotage the ship. When an Orion ship arrives to pick up the crippled Enterpise, the male Orion pilot speaks with Captain Archer, saying something like "I feel sympathetic for you captain, but I answer to them as well". It is discovered that Orion women are equally manipulative to their male counterparts.

    I wish i could remember the name of the episode.


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