Features

by Gavin Edwards

Star Trek, in all its incarnations, invites its audience to consider alien race narratives as parables for the earthly human condition. The Klingons act as a sign for aggression and its effect on a society, the Bajorans invite us to reflect on the Palestinians and other refugee people, and the Cheron people, with their half-black/half-white faces, keep on slapping us upside the head until we say, "Okay, race relations! I get it!"

So what, then, of the Ferengi? Why is this alien race different from all other alien races? Because the Trek creators have drawn them in such a way that they constantly evoke anti-Semitic images and archetypes. The Ferengi seem to be inviting us to engage in arrant racism about international Jewish banking conspiracies.

The Ferengi are the Trek universe's super-capitalists, traders who would sell their own family members for a few bars of gold-pressed latinum. The utter glee with which they pursue commerce would get them through a casting call for The Merchant of Venice; they take it a step further with the "Rules of Acquisition." Two hundred and eighty-five in number, they include proverbs such as "Once you have your money... you never give it back" (#1), "Greed is eternal" (#10), and "Let others keep their reputation. You keep their money" (#189). As instructions for living, the Rules of Acquisition are supposed to be the Talmud of Ferengi society; unfortunately, they take on the taint of the famed forged document of Jewish goals, "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion."

Perhaps some of these overtones are unavoidable when one is creating a mercantile race in a science-fiction show. But consider these parallels: The Ferengi have an oversized body part (the ears rather than the nose). The Ferengi are often schlemiels, haplessly disrupting treaty negotiations and knocking over containers in Enterprise cargo bays. They're short. Male Ferengi lust after human women, prisoners of their desire for shiksas. And the very Jewish character actor Wallace Shawn plays the recurring role of the Grand Nagus, leader of Ferengi society. However, nobody has yet uttered the line, "Is it good for the Ferengi or bad for the Ferengi?"

Even presuming that the Trek creators didn't set out to play with these stereotypes, stumbling into them is sloppy. But as Deep Space Nine has progressed through four seasons, Ferengi culture has gotten more elaborate, and we've gotten to see surprising elements of the culture of commerce, from the tolls to use elevators on the Ferengi homeworld to the selling of one's dessicated remains to raise money for funeral expenses. Quark, the DS9 bartender, now periodically gives fiery Kirk-style speeches about the inferiority of other cultures, and how they need to just get on board with the honesty of the Ferengi economic program. These details are the difference between an actual science-fiction alien race and a thinly veiled rewrite of "The International Jew."   </end>

Photo of Quark © 1996 by Paramount Pictures Corporation.
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GAVIN EDWARDS is a contributing editor at Details. His mother owns the Klingon language-instruction tapes.

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