The Measure of a Muppet

I am the culmination of one man’s dream. This is not ego or vanity, but when Doctor Soong created me, he added to the substance of the universe. If, by your experiments, I am destroyed, something unique – something wonderful – will be lost. I cannot permit that. I must protect his dream.
         –Lt. Commander Data, “The Measure of a Man,” Star Trek: The Next Generation (Melinda Snodgrass, screenwriter)

Star Trek: The Next Generation is my favorite Star Trek series, and “The Measure of a Man” is my favorite TNG episode.

If you’re not familiar, here is a very good 10-minute synopsis of the episode that hits all the important points:

The episode is so resonant and so relevant and so applicable to so many real-life issues as we continue to have debates about human rights with regard to torture, immigration, racism, GLBT issues, etc.

I don’t want to diminish in any way its applicability to the biggest and most fundamental issues that we face as a society, but I realized yesterday, as I was pulling the quotation for that other post, that it can be applied as an analogy to the Schism as well.

In this analogy, Kermit is Data–unable to assert his own rights and being treated like a commodity rather than an entity.  Captain Picard comes to Data’s defense just as Steve comes to Kermit’s defense, so Steve is Captain Picard.  There is also a case to be made that Steve is analogous to Data since Steve is “on trial,” after a fashion, in the court of public opinion, but since Kermit is a puppet who relies on a puppeteer for his life, that still kind of works.

In the episode, the villain is Commander Maddox, who wants to put Data through a dangerous and unnecessary diagnostic procedure to achieve his own ends–which, to be fair, are somewhat noble: advancing knowledge in the field of cybernetics.  In the Schism, the villain is Disney, which views Kermit as a commodity and will get rid of anyone who attempts to get in the way of their profit margin.  Therefore, Disney is the analogue to Commander Maddox, although Commander Maddox is arguably more noble when all is said and done.

The Henson children (collectively) are Admiral Nakamura, in that Admiral Nakamura supports Maddox just as the Hensons went along with Disney in its smear campaign against Steve.  Admiral Nakamura’s involvement in this episode is minor, appearing only in the first 15 minutes or so, and the Hensons should have limited their involvement in the Schism as well.  If I were to compare the Hensons to someone not appearing in this episode, I would compare them to Norah Satie, whom we meet two seasons later in “The Drumhead.”

Ultimately, it is Guinan (played by Whoopi Goldberg) who gives Captain Picard the inspiration  he needs to see the big picture, to make the most compelling argument possible and win the case.  We’re getting into a whole weird metaphysical area here, but I would say that Jim Henson is Guinan in this analogy.

Perhaps most interestingly, I would argue that Matt Vogel is Commander Riker in this scenario, forced to prosecute the case against his friend Data due to a lack of legal staff at the starbase.  At first he refuses outright:

LOUVOIS:  And the unenviable task of prosecuting this case would fall on you, Commander, as the next most senior officer of the defendant’s ship.
RIKER:  “I can’t! I…I won’t! Data’s my comrade. We have served together. I not only respect him, I consider him my friend!

But when Louvois tells him that she will rule summarily against Data if Riker does not prosecute the case, Riker reluctantly agrees, and does his duty with regard to presenting the most damaging case against Data that he can possibly come up with, even though we, in the audience, can see that it is tearing him up inside. 

And what of Louvois, the Starfleet JAG officer tasked with trying the case?  I would say that the Muppet fans (collectively) are Louvois.  I don’t know, though.  Louvois eventually comes around, but it remains to be seen whether the fans will.

But what is perhaps the most interesting of all to me: Look back up at that quote with which I opened this post.  Sub in the words “Jim Henson” for “Dr. Soong,” and it sounds like something that Kermit and Steve would say together, seamlessly blending into one another.  It’s not something that Kermit would say, or something that Steve would say; but it’s something that they would both say together, as one, with no division between them, so that you can’t tell where Kermit ends and Steve begins, or vice versa.

(Incidentally, I bet Andy Serkis gets called a “voice actor” a lot too.  Sad!)

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