The most successful sci-fi franchise of all time is set in a post-scarcity society that has abolished suffering.
Like, DS9 and stuff showed the compromises required to make the Federation work, but it never shied away from showing that, for normal people, it was basically paradise.
DS9 is dark at times, but the good guys do win.
And obviously there's the Culture. Banks was always careful to note that the novels he wrote about his utopian civilisation concerned themselves with events on its fringes, where the ideals became a bit frayed and jagged.
You tell good stories about utopias by explaining the price of defending them. It's not that complicated.
And it's sort of trendy to jump on utopian sci-fi and point out the ways in which it's *actually* a dystopia; this is the same level of analysis as thinking that humanising villains makes them less villainous.
Getting some "yes, but..." replies here. This thread is already a rebuttal.
You don't need to reiterate the arguments we're literally already addressing.
Yeah, we agree with this. They definitely feel like someone deciding they need to puncture the Federation's self-righteousness, like that didn't happen 20 years ago.
Again, there's this thing where people find utopias unrealistic, as if they're a product of a more hopeful age. Well, listen, if you think the 1960s were plain sailing for progressive movements then we have some shocking news...
It's a rather pernicious aspect of fandom, that because a work makes an antagonist compelling, nuanced or attractive, they therefore have to be secretly not-that-bad. Otherwise a *certain kind of fan* feels betrayed.
Again, going back to DS9, Dukat was a complicated, contradictory, at times charming and likeable character. He was as often an ally as an enemy, and there were things about him that were admirable. But he was also a fucking Space Nazi.
And they never let him recant his sins on that count. He always felt justified in what he did, and he was always wrong. That didn't make him less of a villain - it made him more of one! Because he had the capacity for kindness and love, but *chose* to do evil.
One of DS9's best moments comes in season 2, in the two-parter "The Maquis", which introuduces the titular splinter group that show some of the cracks running through the Federation (but, again, don't make it any less utopian).
Sisko and Dukat work together for the first time - two people who've only been enemies up to that point, forced to see each other as individuals for the first time. Dukat casually mentions being a father during a conversation.
"I didn't know you had children," Sisko says. You realise it's more that the thought never even occured to him. This is a cold, cruel Cardassian officer, the architect of Bajor's suffering for the last decade of the Occupation. The idea of him being a father is somehow wrong.
Dukat gives him a hard, intense stare. The look of a man who's seen through Federation notions of tolerance, who knows exactly how he looks to his enemy in that moment. "I have seven," he says calmly.
Dukat is a family man. He has a happy, rich home life. It comes back as a theme for the character again and again: the son he plans to take on a trip, but can't because the Defiant gets stolen and rampages through Cardassian space. The daughter he gives up everything for.
But it doesn't make him less evil! That's the point: his capability for mercy and genorosity that he demonstrates with his children isn't extended to his perceived enemies, and everything he does is ultimately self-serving, part of his *idea* of himself.
Giving you villain a motivation, a sympathetic backstory, doesn't weaken their villainous characteristics; it highlights them. Mr Freeze truly loved his dying wife, but lots of people in Gotham experienced tragedy without turning into mad scientists...
Likewise, seeding your utopia with compromises and realpolitik doesn't magically make it all a lie: it just means there's a price, and whether that price is too high or not is another source of conflict.
Someone in our replies already mentioned Omelas. We think of that story as more of a thought experiment, in that it reduces "utopia justifies the means" to something elemental and direct. It's an extreme example of the kind of conflict we're talking about.
In fact, it's *such* a reductive scenario (we mean that non-pejoratively) that it's probably the textbook example of dystopia-disguised-as-utopia. The secret of Omelas's prosperity is so disturbing, it renders its glory hollow.
The mistake people make is thinking that "there's a rogue black ops organisation in Starfleet that everyone pretends doesn't exist" is the same thing as "this paradise is magically powered by a forsaken child".
Never forget that the good guys in DS9 are appalled that Section 31 even *exists*. Discovery kind of ruins this, because 31 doesn't seem to be much of a secret, and even the protagonists accept its necessity.
It's only when it's taken over by some omnicidal force that they decide to stop it doing its shady work.
We like to imagine Starfleet learned its lesson, which led to the better version of the Federation seen in TOS, exemplified by Pike, Spock and their ilk.
(Starfleet specifically kept Pike and the Enterprise out of the Klingon War, which feels significant. He was "the best of us"; they were already striving for a better version of what they were.)
Anyway anyway. You get it.
A lot of people are concerned by how we tell stories; not enough are concerned by how we read them.
AKA Media Studies is a Legitimate Discipline

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