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Monday
Mar262012

Of Gods, Puppets, Androids and Being Human

A Wink to the Dark Side

Collodi begins his book Pinocchio with these words:

There was once upon a time...
          'A king!' my little readers will shout together.
          No, children, you make a mistake. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood.[1]

It is, perhaps, easy to dismiss the story as a children’s’ entertainment, however, Umberto Eco believes the book's beginning is, to say the least, complex. True, at first appearance the book is a fairy tale for children. The children actually appear in the narrative as the "author's interlocutors" who, responding to the fairy tale as children would be expected to do, make the wrong prediction about the story. Their false interpretation moves us to wonder if, indeed, the story is not for adults after all. But, Collodi quickly turns again to his "little readers," telling them it really is a fairy tale but not about a king. Instead it is about a piece of wood. We are easing again into a safe place of adult condensation when Eco increases the complexity:

Yet that beginning is a wink to adult readers. Mightn't the fairy tale also be for them? And mightn't the wink indicate that they should read it in a different light, yet at the same time pretend to be children in order to understand the allegorical meanings of the tale? Such a beginning was enough to inspire a whole series of psychoanalytical, anthropological, and satirical readings of Pinocchio, not all which are preposterous. Perhaps Collodi wanted to play a double jeu, and much of the fascination of this little, big book derives from this suspicion.[2]

I for one welcome the wink.  Mr. Cherry, the carpenter, mysteriously finds in his shop a piece of wood that has consciousness. When he picks up an axe to strip the wood of its bark in order to make it into a table leg, the wood speaks: “Don’t strike me too hard!”[3] From the outset, the wood itself, without obvious divine or human intervention, has apparent sentient qualities. When Geppetto visits the carpenter looking for wood to make a puppet it is this piece of wood Mr. Cherry gives him.

Ceppetto’s reason for making a puppet is not born out of a desire to have a son, though he does refer to the puppet as his son. He is a poor man and initially wants to make a puppet he can use to earn a living. As we shall see later, a main motivation for creating human like beings is utilitarian; that is, we create such beings to for our service. It does not surprise us when Ceppetto tells Mr. Cherry:

I thought I would make a fine wooden puppet-a really fine one, that can dance, fence, and turn somersaults in the air. Then, with this puppet, I could travel round the world and earn my bit of bread and my glass of wine.[4]

 Deciding on the name of Pinocchio, chosen from a family of Pinocchio’s the richest of whom was a beggar, he begins making the puppet, starting with the hair, forehead, and eyes, then the nose, mouth, chin and neck. As he crafts each part, they come to life, or rather simply are alive. No Fairy comes from the stars invoked by Ceppetto’s goodness and wishing for a son, giving life to an already completed puppet, as is case in the Disney version. Furthermore, the puppet himself is not bathed in sweetness and innocence. Pinocchio from his genesis is troublesome and does not at first deserve sympathy. Indeed, even before the legs are made, Pinocchio’s

cheeky, mocking behaviour made Geppetto feel sadder than ever before in his life. He turned to Pinocchio, and said, ‘You scoundrel of a son! You are not even finished, and you already disobey your father! That’s bad, my boy-very bad!’ And he wiped away a tear.[5]

When Pinocchio meets the talking cricket, who tries to council him, he throws a mallet at the small creature, hitting him on the head and leaving him for dead. In short, we do not find here the heart warming relationship between a sweet cricket and a pleasant puppet who wishes to be a real boy.

As in the Disney version, however, the puppet begins a journey of adventures which leads him into one difficulty after another. Here, however, his innocence is not so much naïve as maddening. He is very unlikable, and yet, at times, he understands the nature of goodness (when Geppetto sold his coat to help him) and is willing to sacrifice for others (risks his life for a friend).

The Fairy is introduced into the story as a little girl who appears dead. Importantly, her identity is hidden. Pinocchio running from would be assassins comes to the Fairy’s house:

     Seeing that it was useless to knock, he began kicking the door, and beating it with his head. At that, a lovely child opened the window. Her hair was blue, and her face as white as wax; her eyes were closed, and her hands were crossed on her breast.
     Without moving her lips she said in a very low voice that seemed to come from another world, ‘There is nobody in the house. They are all dead.’
     ‘But at least you should open the door and let me in,’ cried Pinocchio, weeping, and entreating her.
     ‘I am dead, too.’
     ‘Dead? Then what are you doing at the window?
     ‘I am waiting for the bier to come, and take me away.’
     As she said this she disappeared, and the window closed itself, silently.[6]

In the next chapter, with Pinocchio near death, we learn that the blue hair little girl is, in fact, a fairy who has lived in the forest for a thousand years. Now appearing as an adult, she saves Pinocchio who despite his good fortune complains about taking his medicine. Eventually he declares his love for the Fairy, receives love in turn, and learns Geppetto is on his way. Though the offer of happiness and love, home and security, a mother and father, are given, he again falls in with the cat and fox, his would be assassins, and sets out for the Field of Miracles. Upon the invitation to journey we read:

Pinocchio remembered the good fairy, old Geppetto, and the warnings of the talking cricket; yet in the end he did as all boys do who have no sense, and no heart-that is, he shook his head and said to the fox and the cat, ‘Let’s go! I’ll come with you.’[7]

It is clear from the narrative that Pinocchio learns the importance of love and the difference between right and wrong. But while his awareness and moral understanding increase, he does not act upon his growing inner maturity. Continually in trouble, he reflects, crying:

It serves me right! It serves me jolly well right! I wanted to be a good for nothing, and a vagabond. I listened to evil companions, so I have always been unlucky. If I had only been a good boy, like so many others-if I had been willing to study and to work, if I had stayed at home with my poor father-I would not be here now in this lonely place, working as a watchdog for a peasant. Oh, if I could only be born again! But it is too late, now. I must have patience![8]

He returns to the Fairy’s house only to find a grave stone:

HERE LIES
THE BLUE-HAIRED CHILD
WHO DIED OF SORROW
ON BEING DESERTED BY HER
LITTLE BROTHER
PINOCCHIO

Again the Fairy is associated with death and death with Pinocchio’s behaviour.

It is not, of course, too late. Eventually the puppet’s grief is exorcised when he yet again meets the Fairy. Hungry and refusing to work for food and drink, he begs. A little woman with two pales of water comes by and he begs her for a drink, which she gives him. He agrees to carry one of her pales for the reward of bread to ease his hunger. When they arrive at the woman’s home, she sits him at the table and gives him bread and cauliflower.

The little woman is, of course, the Fairy with blue hair. Once again her identity is hidden. When he realized who she was, he “fell on his knees before her, and threw his arms round that mysterious little woman, and began to cry bitterly.”[9]

It is at this point in the story that Pinocchio really takes on the quest to become human, or a real boy. At first the Fairy denies her identity but finally asks:

     ‘You rascal of a puppet, how did you recognize me?’
     ‘It was my love for you that told me.’
     ‘Do you remember? When you left me I was a little girl, and now I am a woman, nearly old enough to be your mother.’
     ‘I like that very much, because instead of calling you little sister, I shall call you mother. I’ve always wanted to have a mother, as other boys. But how did you manage to grow so quickly?’
     ‘That’s a secret.’
     ‘Teach it to me! I would like to be a little bigger. Look at me! I’ve never been more than a Tom Thumb.’
     ‘But you can’t grow,’ answered the fairy.
     ‘Why not?’
     ‘Because puppets never grow. They are born puppets, they live puppets and they die puppets.’
     ‘I’m sick of always being a puppet!’ cried Pinocchio, slapping his wooden head. ‘It’s about time I became a man, like other people.’
     ‘If you only deserve it, you could become one.’
     ‘Really? And what can I do to deserve to become a man?’
     ‘It’s very easy: you begin by being a good-boy.’[10]

The Fairy continues to tell Pinocchio that being good entail obedience, work, study, and truthfulness. The puppet promises to “turn over a new leaf” and then “looking at her with loving eyes” says:

     ‘Tell me, mother dear, it wasn’t true, then, that you were dead?’
     ‘It seems not,’ answered the fairy, smiling.
     ‘If you only knew how sad I was and how my heart ached, when I read: “HERE LIES…”
     ‘I know, and that is why I have forgiven you. As you were really sorry, I knew that you had a good heart; and if a child has a good heart, even if he is mischievous and full of bad habits, there is hope that the will mend his ways…’[11]

Their conversation continues until eventually we read:

     These words touched Pinocchio’s heart. He lifted his head quickly, and said to the fairy, ‘I will study, I will work. I will do everything you tell me, for I am sick of being a puppet. I want to become a real boy, whatever I have to do for it. You promised that I could, didn’t you?’
     Yes, it’s true, I promised, and now it depends on you.’[12]

This is the puppets moral moment. There are now echoes of divinity as the Fairy plays with death, grows quickly, offers Pinocchio bread at table. He falls at her feet on his knees. It is love that enables Pinocchio to recognize the Fairy and he desires to be able to grow as she has done. Of course, growth does not simply refer to “growing up” but to “becoming” as well. The Fairy explains that it is his nature to live and die a puppet. When he protests, she reveals that it will take her intervention to overcome his nature; or in other words, she declares that spirit is more powerful than nature. But as is usually the case in spirit intervention, there is a hitch. Intervention will occur only if and when he is deserving of such aid. To be deserving is to be good: to possess the virtues of obedience, discipline, and truthfulness. Pinocchio must practice those actions that nurture the virtues that constitute good character. He must be ethical.

Pinocchio inspired by the Fairy’s offer promises to live a life of redemption. But the rewards of true redemption are not just earned, they are also gifted, and the Fairy does just that. She forgives Pinocchio for his past life. Her forgiveness is grounded in his genuine grief experienced at her apparent death, an indication that he indeed has a "good heart." And where there is a good heart there is hope.

Pinocchio promises to do what he must do to become a real boy, but knows that ultimately the transformation of his nature will take divine intervention. He reminds her of her promise and she in turn reminds him that she can only act if he is deserving. It is worth noting that in Collodi’s story desire to become a real boy belongs to Pinocchio. His aspirations toward flesh are not narratively motivated by his creator’s wish to have a real son. The conditions for acquiring flesh and becoming human are set. Ethics, as character and virtue, duty and consequences, and personal desire will overcome ontology.

As the puppet’s adventures continued, he proved to be intellectually and physically superior to real boys. He kept his promise of redemption: practiced obedience, made sacrifices and risked death to save Geppetto and help the Fairy, displayed “real, unaffected love,” and confessed of past wrong doings (an essential activity for realizing redemption). The puppet is, in keeping with the Fairy’s promise, granted flesh:

That evening, instead of working until ten o’clock, Pinocchio worked until midnight; and instead of making eight baskets, he made sixteen.

Then he went to bed, and fell asleep. As he slept, he dreamed he saw the fairy, lovely and smiling, who gave him a kiss, saying,

‘Brave Pinocchio!
In return for your good heart,
I forgive you all your past misdeeds.
Children who love their parents, and
help them when they are sick and poor,
are worthy of praise and love, even if
they are not models of obedience
and good behaviour. Be good
in future, and you
will be happy.’

Then the dream ended, and Pinocchio awoke, full of amazement.
You can imagine how astonished he was when he saw that he was no longer a puppet, but a real boy just like other boys…Then he went to look in the mirror, but he could not recognize himself. Instead of the usual picture of a wooden puppet, he saw the expressive, intelligent face of a good-looking boy, with brown hair and blue eyes, who looked contented and full of joy.[13]

 

Wishing Upon the Light

While it is true that the film makes a bow to Collodi in the credits, and the story line resembles aspects of the book, the portrayal of Pinocchio and the overall tone of the soft cartoon is more sentimental than that of the book. Disney’s Pinocchio is sweet and likable. Collodi’s Pinocchio is, at least throughout most of the story, obnoxious and unlikable.

The film begins with the all too familiar song which sets the tone of the story:

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are, anything your heart desires will come to you. If your heart is in your dreams, no request is too extreme…[14]

Geppetto creates Pinocchio from a “Good piece of wood,” though it exhibited no sentient qualities. The wood was not alive. The scene of creation is enjoyable. When he goes to bed, Geppetto says to his cat Figaro as he looks at the puppet sitting on a shelf: “He almost looks alive…Wouldn’t it be nice if he was a real boy?” The cat opens the window and Geppetto, on his knees, wishes upon a star for the puppet, whom he has named Pinocchio, to be a “real boy.” He falls asleep with those very words on his lips: “A real boy.”

After Geppetto and Figaro are asleep a light from the stars enters through the window. It is the beautiful Fairy, appearing as an adult. Because Geppetto has given happiness to others, she comes to make his dream come true. In this version of the story, the character, past behaviour, and desire of the creator are essential for the granting of life.

FAIRY: Little puppet made of pine…awake. The gift of life is thine.

She waves her magic wand and light embraces the puppet. Pinocchio awakes, rubs his eyes and looks around the room.

PINOCCHIO: I can move. I can talk. I can walk.
FAIRY: Yes Pinocchio. I’ve given you life.
PINOCCHIO: Why?
FAIRY: Because tonight Geppetto wished for a real boy.
PINOCCHIO: Am I a real boy?
FAIRY: No Pinocchio. To make Geppetto’s wish come true, will be entirely up to you.
PINOCCHIO: Up to me?
FAIRY: Prove yourself brave, truthful, and unselfish, and someday you will be a real boy.
PINOCCHIO: A real boy!
FAIRY: You must learn to chose between right and wrong.
PINOCCHIO: Right and wrong? But how will I know?
FAIRY: Your conscious will tell you.

The talking cricket enters the scene and is knighted by the Fairy as Pinocchio’s conscious.

FAIRY: Be a good boy and always let your conscious be your guide.

 The entire scene is portrayed in sweetness. The Fairy, come from heaven and not the forest, continues to tell the puppet that the world is full of temptations and that when he needs help from his cricket conscious he should just whistle. Pinocchio has difficulty whistling (apparently only “real boys” can whistle; not puppets and androids). Geppetto is awaken and, as if to reinforce the danger of the world, pulls a gun from under his pillow (Disney was an American, after all), which he inadvertently fires. Geppetto discovers that the puppet’s strings are gone, that he has acquired a conscious, and that the Fairy has made a visitation. Geppetto suggests they go to sleep and Pinocchio, exhibiting curiosity (one of Data's most endearing qualities), simply asks why one should sleep.

The story unfolds with the by now familiar sequence of events. On his way to school he meets the cat and fox who are amazed to encounter a “live puppet without strings.” In the theatre Pinocchio sings a song about his lack of strings, which is to say, his freedom. While he gets into one predicament after another and subsequently lies, we are never left with the impression that he is really bad. Naiveté and innocence surround him, indeed, define him. Even on Pleasure Island, when he says “Being bad is a lot of fun,” we do not change our opinion.

Eventually he demonstrates the characteristics required of him and becomes a “real boy.” The Fairy returns, and during a second awakening, gives Pinocchio the gift of flesh, or “realness,” in addition to life.

After the first awakening, the strings disappeared. After the second, the wood. The transition from strings to freedom and wood to flesh are interesting. While the puppet is made by a human being, it takes an appeal to the stars (a prayer) and a spirit visitation to grant the gift of life. Humans can make things out of inorganic, or in this case dead, material, but it takes divine intervention to make life. The petition is granted in part because of the moral character of the human agent Ceppetto: a good man who makes known his wish, not just for a puppet to be used for financial gain, but for a son. The desires and character of the human creator are important for the granting of the gift of life.[15]

Geppetto made the puppet and the Fairy gave it life, which is to say, the puppet’s existence and life had nothing to do with the puppet himself. However, while it is true the spirit gave the gift of life, she did not grant realness, or flesh. Pinocchio was alive but not fully human. The acquiring of flesh, the fulfilment of his creator’s dream, the completion of the gift of life, could only be accomplished once Pinocchio himself had completed a journey of adventure and misadventure. Through learning, avoiding temptation, and nurturing the virtues of courage, truthfulness and unselfishness, Pinocchio would, again through divine intervention, become flesh and thus a real boy. Pinocchio as being was not ontologically human. Becoming human was a matter of epistemology, ethics, and divine intervention.

Darkness and Light and Being Human

In the end, of course, both Disney’s and Collodi’s Pinocchio became human beings. A quick comparison of the processes is intriguing. In both stories the naming of the puppet occurred before the actual process of creation. There is nothing made of the name in the Disney version, but in the Collodi book the name reflects the creator’s poverty and utilitarian aims:

‘What shall I call him?’ he asked himself. ‘I think I shall call him Pinocchio. That name will bring him good luck. I once knew a whole family of Pinocchios: there was Pinocchio the father, and Pinocchio the mother, and Pinocchio the children, and they all got along splendidly. The richest of them was a beggar.’[16]

 In Collodi’s version of Pinocchio, life was inherent and unexplained. The piece of wood, before being transformed into a puppet, could speak. There was no need for a fairy visitation. Disney was, however, much more directive concerning the origins of life. The piece of wood, though good, was dead. The puppet sat motionless unless manipulated by his creator through the pulling of his strings. It took a desire, a prayer, and divine intervention to bring life to the wooden puppet.

Disney also wasted no pedagogical time in presenting the human virtues necessary for transforming life into flesh. The puppet would have to demonstrate courage, truthfulness, and unselfishness. It is, however, some way into the story before Collodi shows his ethical hand. While truthfulness is important to both Disney and Collodi, the latter lists obedience and work/study instead of courage and unselfishness. Either way, for both being human is an ethical pursuit.

Truth telling is a prima facie duty considered necessary by philosophers, theologians, and ethicists for human integrity and societal harmony. Prima facie duties are those acts and/or norms that tend to be right given the nature of the acts and/or norms themselves. Different ethicists identify differing prima facie duties, but in general they include: Promise keeping, Making reparations for wrongs done, Duties of gratitude, Beneficence (doing good), Non-maleficence (avoiding doing harm), Justice, Duty of self-improvement in virtue and intelligence, Respect for the liberty and self-determination of others (sometimes called the Duty of Autonomy or the Principle of Respect of persons), and Truth telling.

If we translate unselfishness as Beneficence (doing good), and by implication, Non-malefience (avoiding doing harm), two more prima facie duties are included on our list of necessary characteristics defining the nature of humanness. Discipline (work/study) might be equated with the prima facie duty of Self-improvement in virtue and intelligence. Courage and obedience, while perhaps not seen as necessary prima facie duties by all ethicists, are, nonetheless, valued virtues.

It is clear in both stories that the puppets are not created with these ethical qualities. They are not human. To become human, truth telling, beneficence, non-malefience, self-improvement, courage, and obedience must be learned. It is “up to them.” Their ultimate goal was to be found in epistemology, not the recognition and embrace of ontology. And the epistemological requirement was to be achieved through the completion of a journey. The process of becoming human is a moral and ethical quest.

Ultimately, however, even the completion of the quest and the acquiring of ethical perfection would not realize the puppet’s dream. An outside intrusion was also necessary: the Fairy. The Fairy offers something more to the process of becoming human.

What that “something more” actually is, the something that transforms inorganic to organic, or mechanical living to organic living, may not be completely answerable. Collodi and Disney portrayed the Fairy in significantly different ways. Disney’s Fairy was unambiguous and heavenly. She came from the stars granting life and flesh. Collodi’s Fairy was mysterious and at times almost “dark.” She lived in the forest for a thousand years, was not responsible for giving the gift of life, but in the end did grant flesh to Pinocchio. She first appears in the story as a little girl apparently dead. When Pinocchio meets her again she is a grown woman who acts as saviour offering love and relationship. Again, however, she feigns death causing the puppet to experience grief. On her third appearance, again her identity is hidden. When Pinocchio does finally realize who she is, he falls to his knees before her in an worshipful manner.

Collodi’s fairy is direct in her teachings. Virtues lead to love and goodness of character. Love and goodness lead to divine intervention and transformation. In the film, goodness, or a good heart, equals hope, which in turns assures intervention and transformation. However, in both stories, a good heart is only possible after confession, redemption, and forgiveness.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger


[1] Collodi 1974:7.

[2] Eco 1994:10-11.

[3]Collodi 1974:8.

[4] Collodi 1974:13.

[5] Collodi 1974:19.

[6] Ibid., p.74.

[7] Ibid., p.94.

[8] Collodi 1974:109-110.

[9] Collodi 1974:130.

[10] Collodi 1974:131-132.

[11] Collodi 1974:133.

[12] Collodi 1974:135.

[13] Collodi 1974:228-231.

[14] All quotes from the film are transcribed from the video.

[15] It might be argued that Disney was reflecting and teaching American family values: the importance of God, father (Geppetto) and mother (Fairy, who also plays the part of divine messenger), and righteous desire devoid of sexual overtones.

[16] Collodi 1974:17.

Monday
Mar262012

Nice to Meet You Pinocchio

Puppets and their stories have changed.

In Encounter at Farpoint, the opening episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, William Riker searches for Data in the Holodeck. The Holodeck is programmed for a woodland scene, complete with a gentle stream. Riker finds Data leaning against a tree attempting to whistle a tune. Riker listens to Data struggle and then completes the tune for him.

DATA: Marvelous, how easy humans do that.

Riker asks about Data’s nature, and Data asks if Riker is uneasy at his being a machine. Riker responds by saying yes it does.

DATA: Understood Sir. Prejudice is very human.

Riker is now disturbed by Data’s response.

RICKER: Now that does trouble me. Do you consider yourself superior to humans?

DATA: I am superior Sir, in many ways. But I would gladly give it up to be human.

RIKER: Nice to meet you Pinocchio.

Data looks confused.

RIKER: A joke.DATA: Intriguing.

RIKER: You're going to be an interesting companion Mr. Data.

Data then speaks of the Holodeck woodland programme as being very popular among the crew. He speculates that it is so because the programme duplicates earth so well.

DATA: Coming here almost makes me feel human myself.

Robert H. Justman, Co-Producer of Star Trek and Supervising Producer for Star Trek: The Next Generation, reports that Brent Spiner was one of two finalist for the character of Data.[1] He goes on to say that "Brent's portrayal of a Pinocchio-like innocence won out..."[2] That innocence is evident in most episodes. Indeed, Data’s innocence, so well portrayed by Spiner, is what makes him so endearing, likable, and humourous.

The Star Trek universe has become woven in and through contemporary Western narratives of self-identity and understandings of reality. The fictitious Star Trek world melds with the real world of our experiences and endeavours: the first US shuttle was named Enterprise[3]; US flags were flown in shuttle missions and then given as gifts to the actors of all the Star Trek series during a Star Trek anniversary celebration; actual NASA astronauts posed in fictitious Federation uniforms and one shuttle astronaut played a role in the series[4]; museums hold exhibitions of Star Trek paraphernalia, clothing, ships, and weaponry; the Air Force Academy used the episode The First Duty to discuss the honour code with Air Force cadets; The Klingon bat'leth, originally created for the series by Visual-Effects Supervisor Dan Curry, was the first "new bladed weapon in decades to be accepted in certain Korean associations' martial-arts competitions"[5]; and Professor Stephen Hawkings appeared as himself playing poker with Data in the episode Descent, Part I.[6]  The list could be much longer, but I think the point is made. In a very real sense, fiction creates reality, or at least participates in its creation.[7]

The television series and films continually address and explore contemporary issues from racism to religion, warfare to fellowship, and by doing so affect how we think and feel about ourselves and our societies. What's more, Star Trek explores the very nature of what it means to be human.

This exploration of humanness is effectively accomplished through the development of characters alien to human beings. Of course, this narrative technique is not new to Star Trek. From the play Prometheus Bound through the novel Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus to the film Blade Runner, Western narrative tradition[8] has been exploring in poems, sagas, novels, short stories, plays, and films the nature of humankind through the presence of alien beings and humanoid Others created by human beings. In all such examples, the aliens must have, however, human form. They must be both Other and similar.

In Star Trek the original series, Dr. Spock, the half human half alien being, functions as the vehicle for this exploration. The character is constantly attempting to suppress his human nature.[9] This effort is centred around the elimination of emotions in a preference for greater rationality. In The Next Generation Data as android replaces Spock as the narrative avenue for addressing the question of humanness. Interestingly, Data is both Spock's dream come true and worse nightmare. Data is at creation what Spock endeavors to become all his life, a completely logical rational computer-like being devoid of human emotions. Data is also Spock's nightmare, however, simply because he, in direct contrast to Spock, continually seeks to understand and acquire emotions in order to become more human. In the episode Unification Part 2 Data and Spock actually address their differing quests. Spock begins their conversation by referring to Captain Jean-Luc Picard:

SPOCK: There's an almost Vulcan quality to the man.

DATA: Interesting. I had not considered that. And Captain Picard has been a role model in my quest to be more human.

SPOCK: More Human?

DATA: Yes Ambassador.

SPOCK: Fascinating. You have an efficient intellect, superior physical skills, no emotional impediments. There are Vulcans who aspire all their lives to achieve what you have been given by design.

Data considers this, then asks:

DATA: You are half human?

SPOCK: Yes.

DATA: Yet you have chosen a Vulcan way of life.

SPOCK: I have.

DATA: In effect, you have abandoned what I have sought all my life...

DATA: Ambassador Spock. May I ask a personal question?

SPOCK: Please.

DATA: As you have examine your life, do you find you have missed your humanity?

SPOCK: I have no regrets.

DATA: No regrets. That is a human expression.

SPOCK: Yes, fascinating.

Spock reflects the Cartesian dualistic dilemma that emotions pollute reason, while Data the postmodern awareness that emotion is necessary for a whole and healthy life and, in fact, enhances rationality. Both characters, however, paradoxically signal that emotions are central to what it means to be human.

In Deep Space Nine, Odo is the shape-shifting alien who takes human form, eventually chooses to become "fixed" in human form when he loses his shape-shifting abilities, lives and works with humans, strives to become socialized in human culture, and even begins to experience human emotions as demonstrated in his love for Kira Nerys (though actually Bajoran, she narratively functions in all ways as a human[10]). And finally, in Voyager, the holographic doctor serves the narrative role that addresses questions of humanness as he begins to establish an identity and relationships among the crew, searches for a name, and begins to experience human emotions.

It is impossible to imagine Star Trek without a main character whose purpose, through the vehicle of his or her alienness, is to explore the nature of being human, both for the other character in the narrative universe they occupy and for us as viewers of and participants in that universe.

Data of the Enterprise and the holographic doctor of Voyager, share an important quality that sets them apart from Spock and Odo, however, and deepens their narrative ability to explore the nature of humankind. Like Pinocheo they both were created by human beings. Human beings thus take on the responsibilities of the gods, as Creator, and perhaps the burdens of Prometheus. Creatures themselves, they become creators of human like beings, but as in the ancient Golem legends, their creations, while looking the part, are not in essence human.

Golem legends, found in the Jewish Kabbalistic and Hasidic traditions, are tales of the creation of quasi-human creatures. As Richard says the tales reflect the "Hebraic fascination with the notion of creation (yetsirah) as a paradoxical interplay of human and divine activities."[11] Thus, the parallel between the Genesis creation legend and the Golem legends is not accidental. In the first, God creates a human being. In the second, a human being creates a Golem. While the human creative activity resembles God's divine creative actions, and the Golem resembles his human creator, essential differences exist. The Golem lacks the quality of yetser simply because human beings lack the ability to create a being possessing yetser. In the Hebraic yetser means "imagination" and "derives from same root yzr as the terms for 'creation' (yetsirah), 'creator' (yotser) and 'create' (yatsar)."[12] As a result, the Golem is never truly human, symbolized in its lacking speech and sexual desire. While human beings are created with yetser, human created beings are not.

Accordingly, the Golem both resembles his human creator and yet fundamentally lacks his creative power (that is, yetser which expresses itself in imaginative projects, speech and sexual desire). The Golem is incapable of producing more Golems. And he is also incapable of morally choosing between good or evil.[13]

It is clear from Kearney's description of Golems that Data is a different kind of human creation, obvously having speech and an ethical subprogramme. However, the similarities are interesting. While Data has sexual relationships with Tasha Yar in The Naked Now, and if his facial expressions are anything to go by, seems to 'enjoy' the experience, given the nature of the character it is impossible to say he has sexual desire (the emotional ambiguity of the character is discussed below). The best Data can say about his sex life is that he is "fully functional." And while Data attempts to 'reproduce' in The Offspring, his attempt fails. But more importantly, Data shares with the Golem the paradox of resembling human beings (his creator) while not truly being human. And the paradox of resemblance and essences is best explored, both in the Golem and Data, through the issue of imagination or creativity.

The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode entitled 11001001 begins with the following scene: Geordie La Forge and Data are in Data's private quarters. They stand before a colourful canvas, Data painting as William Riker enters the room. La Forge asks Riker what he thinks of Data's painting.

DATA: It is an attempt at pure creativity.

LA FORGE: What we're investigating is can Data be creative.

DATA: And this is my attempt, with guidance from Gordie.

Data continues to describe La Forge's contribution to the effort.

RIKER: Keep notes. This project may turn out to be of interest to scholars in the future.

LA FORGE: Really?

RIKER: Well, of course, think about it. A blind man teaching an android how to paint. That's got to be worth a couple of pages in somebody's book.

As Riker exists the room, Data, in a characteristic  artist's pose, seemingly waits or searches for creative inspiration.

In this sceneData investigating his creative abilities through painting is played with humour, his success or failure is crucial to his development, or possible development, and our understanding of what it means to be human.[14] The question is: will Data forever only resemble his human creators and merely imitate their behaviour, or will he come to possess human quality? If he does come to possess human quality, another question follows: was he created with such quality, or the possibility of such quality, or did he through his own efforts, adaptation, and growth epistomologically acquire such quality? Or, like Golems, does Data ontologically lacks yetser, which would speak to his ultimate identity and the limits of human creative powers. This question of ultimate identity is echoed by Data in The Ensigns of Command when he says, while describing his violin playing, "Though I am technically proficient, according to my fellow performers I lack...soul."[15]

It may not be an overstatement to say that Data is the best known and most beloved android in contemporary Western narratives. Through 177[16] television episodes and five The Next Generation films we have watched Data's struggle to become more human and through his struggle learn more about ourselves. He continues the Prometheus tradition and is central to the appeal and success of The Next Generation. In the pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint, the very first words spoken by the new captain of the Enterprise in his narrative world are addressed to Data.[17]

As the opening scene begins and the camera moves from an exterior view of the Enterprise to a close up the captain's face, the voice over of Captain Jean-Luc Picard making his log entry is heard. While the over voice continues, Picard is seen touring his new ship. The turbolift to the bridge opens and Picard steps onto the bridge and surveys his surroundings. Tasha Yar and Worf are at their posts to his left. Deanna Troi sits below Tasha Yar and Worf in the chair to the left of the captain's command chair. The First Officer's chair is empty, William Riker having not yet reported for duty. Data, in front and to the right of the captain's chair, sits at his console. Picard walks the full length of the rear of the bridge and then circles down the incline towards the command chair. As he approaches his chair, he speaks.

PICARD: You will agree Data, that Starfleet's orders are difficult.

DATA: Difficult? Simply solve the mystery of Farpoint.

PICARD: As simple as that.

TROI: Farpoint Station. Even the name sounds mysterious.

PICARD: It's hardly simple, Data, to negotiate a friendly agreement for Starfleet to use the base while at the same time snooping around to find out why and how the life form there built it.

DATA: Enquiry. The word...snoop?

Data looks slightly confused as he searches his memory for the word "snoop." Troi smiles.

PICARD: Data how can you be programmed with a virtual encyclopedia of human information without knowing a simple word like snoop?

Data rises from his station, turns and stands erect before Picard now sitting in the captain's chair.

DATA: Possibility. A kind of human behaviour I was not designed to emulate.

Picard begins to define the word snoop, but almost immediately is interrupted by Data who begins a dictionary recitation which will become one of his most endearing traits.

We see Data for the first time. Artificially perfect dark hair and metallic gold skin colour.[18] Yellow alien eyes. Slight robotic-like movements. Computer-like syntax and encyclopedic mind. As he speaks, works his console, and rises to converse with Picard, his face is devoid of emotion, blank. Through the dialogue with Picard we learn that he has been "programmed" and "designed" to "emulate" (imitate) human beings, an issue that directly and indirectly is addressed in future episodes. We know instantly through his appearance, movements, speech patterns, and the dialogue of the characters that he is an android. Brent Spiner plays this awkward opening scene well. He tells us what we need to know: his character has a computer for a brain and is lacking in all human emotions, that he is in fact not human at all. We quickly realize he is in essence what our old friend Spock sought to be. But Spiner, and the writers, also knew that a character without emotions, and therefore without personality, would fail. Data is not one of the best loved characters in Star Trek and in the contemporary Western narrative tradition because he lacks personality. As it turns out, the android without emotions becomes one of the most endearing of characters. The reasons are complicated and paradoxical but, nonetheless, clear.

The Paradox of Data's Emotional Ambiguity

A first paradox centres around the emotional ambiguity generated by the interaction of the character, the actor, and the audience. This very ambiguity in part accounts for the character's appeal and his effectiveness in helping the audience explore aspects of their own nature. We are told that Data is a android void of human emotions. We also know, however, that we would be unable to form a relationship with such a character, and would lose interest in his presence, if he has no emotional depth at all. Likewise, he would be unable to form relationships with other characters in the narrative universe and become isolated. So, fairly quickly in the pilot, Spiner, with supreme subtlety, invests Data with emotions even as he signals that his character has none. Through facial expression, Data comes to communicate humour, pride, bewilderment, approval, apprehension, affection, and so on. At times Data's expression is so subtle we look closely in an effort to understand what he is feeling, because it is impossible for us to interpret facial expression divorced from some associated emotional state. We (character, actor, audience) thus are able to live within the paradox to the benefit of all concerned. The character devoid of emotion both shows emotion and evokes emotion in us. Without the paradox of emotion Data is nothing and fails as a vehicle for our exploration of human nature.

The paradox of such emotional ambiguity is, perhaps, best understood through Data's struggle with humour, the struggle that will eventually convince him to implant an emotion chip. Data cannot understand human humour, nor can he really laugh. And yet, he is one of the funniest characters in The Next Generation. He often makes his fellow crew members laugh and certainly delights the viewing audience.

A prime example of the place of humour for the character, other crew members, and we as viewers (and an excellent example of the power of the character's emotional ambiguity) is found in The Outrageous Okona. The Enterprise aids a trader Thaduim Okona in the repairs of his ship. While on board the Enterprise, Okona meets Data and discovers the android cannot comprehend a joke. This encounter moves Data to speak of his inability to understand humour with Guinan while sitting in Ten Forward.

DATA: So you agree with Okona that I am missing a very important human factor.

GUINAN: I never said that. I simply said that I've never seen you laugh.

DATA: I am capable of that function, when it is expected of me.

Again we are confronted with Data's programmed ability to mimic human behaviour without understanding and spirit. We are also reminded of Data's dilemma and the limits of mimetic behaviour, for how can Data mimic laughter when it is expected of him and at the same time not comprehend what is funny? Perceiving social expectations presupposes an understanding of social meaning and behaviour. The best Data can do is laugh when he sees others laughing. Guinan tries telling Data a joke which he does not, of course, get. And with no one else present to take his cue, he remains straight faced.

DATA: You told a joke.

GUINAN: Yes.

DATA: I am not laughing.

GUINAN: Yes.

DATA: Perhaps the joke was not funny.

GUINAN: No. The joke was funny. It's you Data.

DATA: Are you sure?

GUINAN: Yes.

DATA: I agree. What do I do?

GUINAN: Well, under normal circumstances I would say seek a higher power. But in your case, probably a smarter computer is in order.

Guinan convinces Data to seek his understanding on the Holodeck. He asks the computer to present him with the funniest human being, at which point a stand-up comedian appears. He explains to the holographic funny man, "Nothing makes me laugh. I wish to learn." And "I simply want to know what is funny. I want to involve myself in other people's laughter. I wish to join in."

This short dialogue tells us much. It indicates that Data sees his quest as epistemological and not the awakening of his ontological nature (I wish to learn). Also, tellingly and poignantly, we learn that the reason for Data's desire to learn is so that he can involve himself in other peoples' experience, to "join in," which is to say be socialized in human society. To be human is to be social. Without the ability to "join in" Data will never understand humans or become human himself.

The holographic comedian tutors Data in various comic techniques. Data returns to Ten Forward and tells Guinan some of the jokes he has learned.

DATA: Was I funny?

GUINAN: No.

Data looks slightly defeated.

GUINAN: Data. You spoil the joke. It could have been your timing.

DATA: My timing is digital. (Without inflection)

Guinan laughs.

DATA: What? (Confused)

GUINAN: That's funny.

DATA: Why?

GUINAN: It would take to long to explain.

Both scenes are, of course, played for laughs. Data, as is often the case, plays the straight man. In the very last scene of the episode, "Data despondent over his bad luck with humor unintentionally spouts a Gracie Allen nugget--and cracks up the crew."[19] Though the character lacks humour he continually makes others laugh. Because he does not comprehend humour, the narrative both explores the nature of humour while enabling us to experience it. As a result, Data is identified with humour and aids us in understanding it better. Data is a very funny character and we quite happily accept the paradox inherent in that realization. And as I said above, ultimately, the above scene indicates that Data wants more than to simply emulate human laughter. He wants to know what is funny and join in with other people, to become truly socialized and accepted. He cannot truly join in without comprehension. He cannot truly comprehend without experience.

It is fair to say that Data's imitation of human behaviour does not lead to the possession of human quality. Even if he can emulate laughter, he cannot feel laughter. In Deja Q, the paradox we have been exploring is vividly played out. In the episode, Q loses his god-like powers and becomes human. Data is chosen to be Q's guide, to teach Q what is means to be human. The choice is obvious. Data can best teach humanness because he is not human. Because of his role as friend and tutor, Q gives Data a parting gift.

Through a selfless act, Q's powers are restored. He appears on the Bridge, about to make his exit.

Q: Until next time. Ah, but before I go, there's a debt I wish to repay to my professor of the humanities. I've decided to give you something very very special.

DATA: If your intention is to make me human Q...

Data sits at his console and Q leans forward and looks him in the eyes.

Q: No, no, no, no. I would never curse you by making you human. Think of it as a going away present.

In a flash of light, Q is gone. Confused, Data turns back to is console. He smiles and then almost laughs. He holds the laughter in and with surprise explains to the others what is happening. Again he holds in the laughter, but eventually it bursts free. Data laughs uncontrollably, rocking back and forth in his chair.

LA FORGE: Data?

Data stops laughing and looks at La Forge straight faced, but then burst into laughter again.

LA FORGE: Data, why are you laughing?

While laughing, Data turns to La Forge, then stops laughing, looks momentarily sad, then questioning, as he explains.

DATA: I do not know. (Gentle voice)

Data thinks for a moment, looking inward.

DATA: But it was a wonderful feeling.

Here the episode speaks directly to Data's role in The Next Generation: to explore humanness through his alienness. It also addresses the paradox of this role: Data can imitate human emotions, but cannot comprehend them. Even after he experience genuine laughter, he does not understand the essence of what happened. And finally the scene indicates that it takes a god-like being to give Data that which his human creator could not, real human qualities.

The paradox of emotional ambiguity goes deeper still, however. Along with learning more about the emotional quality of being human, we also learn to care for the character and thus invest more attention in his struggle and what it can teach us. Living within the paradox, we relate to and participate with the character in his development, willing accepting the narrative position that Data both lacks and longs for human emotions. The acceptance of his situation evokes emotions in us for him. We begin to feel what he cannot. The more we care for him, the more we are able to learn through him. For example, at times when Data cannot develop and express emotional attachment to other characters we accept his limitations and feel some sadness for him, even though Spiner plays the scenes with emotion. Both our acceptance of the character and our emotional response to the character's struggle assures our affection for and loyalty to him. And assures that we will feel, if not explore, our own emotional nature.

A good example of Data's lack of emotion, Spiner's playing his character with emotion, and our emotional response to the character's plight, comes at the conclusion of The Ensigns of Command. After Data has, with the help of the young woman Ard'rian who admires him greatly, successfully convinced the inhabitants of a planet that they must evacuate their home before an alien species destroys them, we accept without question his final conversation with Ard'rian and feel sorrow for him.

Data, about to leave the planet in a shuttle craft, sees Ard'rian approaching to say good-bye. Data exits the shuttle clearly pleased to see her. She tells him that the plans for the evacuation of the planet are going well, that indeed Data had succeeded in his mission. Kindly, Data replies he could not have done it without her support and wisdom.

ARD'RIAN: Good. Then you won't forget me?

DATA: I am incapable of forgetting. I will remember every detail of my visit here with perfect clarity.

ARD'RIAN: But nothing more?

DATA: I do not understand.

ARD'RIAN: I guess what I really want to know is...Do you have any feelings for me?

DATA: I have no feelings of any kind.

ARD'RIAN: No. Of course you don't.

Ard'rian exhibits sadness in her voice and on her face. Data looks at Ard'rian and then turns away also with the hint of sadness. But as he turns we see in his face that he has just understood what he should do for Ard'rian, precisely what she had done for him earlier in the story. He steps forward, places his hands on her shoulders and kisses her.

ARD'RIAN: What was that for?

DATA: You appeared to need it.

 Data is clearly pleased with his actions and assumes she will be too.

ARD'RIAN: So you saw that I was unhappy and did what you concluded would make me feel better.

Data nods his head and Ard'rian laughs slightly.

ARD'RIAN: Rational to the last.

Data, now blank faced, reenters the shuttle with neither hesitation nor rush, sits at the controls and looks one last time at Ard'rian.

Because Data cannot form a relationship with Ard'rian, played with some emotion by Spiner, the scene evokes sympathy on our part and our relationship with Data deepens. And as a result, Data's narrative purpose of exploring the nature of humanness deepens, and we, at least in theory, understand ourselves better.

The above scene reminds us once again, however, that Data has been programmed to mimic human emotions in order to facilitate his socialization into human society in general and the Enterprise in particular. It might be said, therefore, that Spiner is actually playing the character without any inherent paradox. Even if that were the case, however, it does not alter the character's effectiveness and how we relate to him. In the episode Datalore the construction of Data's brother reminds the crew (and us) of Data's alienness, that he is a machine. While in the Observation Lounge with Picard, Riker, and La Forge, Data asks, "Why was I given human form?" and La Forge response, "To make it easier for humans to relate to you." That is the point, and the reason Spiner gives Data emotional expression. We relate to Data because he is like us in form and acts as if he has emotions. And the very paradox of relating to a character as if he has emotions when we know that he does not, concentrates our minds on the nature of emotions in human life. We (and Spiner) must endow Data with emotions. If we do not, he fails as a character and in his narrative purpose of exploring the nature of humanness. The paradox created by what we accept about the character, how he is played, and how we relate to him is crucial, and a sign not of Spiner's failure as an actor, but his success.

The Paradox of Data’s Quest

A second level of paradox can be simply stated: the journey is more important then reaching the destination. The character himself says as much in The Offspring. Data is sitting with his daughter Lal in his quarters.

LAL: I watch them, I can do the things they do but I will never feel the emotions. I will never know love.

DATA: It is a limitation we must learn to accept Lal.

LAL: Then why do you still try to emulate humans? What purpose does it serve except to remind you, you are incomplete?

DATA: I have asked myself that, many times, as I have struggled to be more human. Until I realized, it is the struggle itself that is most important. We must strive to be more than we are Lal. It does not matter that we will not reach our ultimate goal. The effort yields its own rewards.

LAL: You are wise Father.

DATA: It is the difference between knowledge and experience[20].

The truth is, we do not really want Data to succeed in his quest, at least not completely, for if he does, the story, and therefore our opportunity to understand ourselves and, indeed, to actually better ourselves, ends.

When Data becomes human, thus reaching his destination, we lose the character and the character's struggle to be human. Both the character as alien in human form and his journey to be more human are important for our exploration of human nature. Time and time again the inherent dilemma found in the possibility of Data's succeeding is addressed. Indeed, the possibility of success is approached and then avoided on numerous occasions. The actual possibility of Data becoming in essence human, and not simply a machine who understands and experiences humanness, is spoken to perhaps most dramatically, but certainly most obviously, in Hide and Q. Riker is given the power of the Q and while on the Bridge begins to gift to his fellow bridge crew the things they have always most longed for. To La Forge he gives sight, to Wesley Crusher adulthood. When he turns to Data, the android responds immediately to stop Riker from using his god-like powers.

DATA: No, no Sir.

RIKER: But that's what you've always wanted Data, to be human.

DATA: Yes Sir. That is true, but I never wanted to compound one illusion with another. It might be real to Q, perhaps even you Sir, but it would never be so to me. Was it not one of the captain's favorite authors who wrote, 'This above all else, to thine own self be true.' Sorry Commander. I must decline.

The first illusion is Data's human form. He looks like a human being, while in fact being a machine. He could have been created with a different form. The second illusion refers to the means in which the form becomes substance, that is the illusion of becoming human without first experiencing the human journey. Data recognizes that the journey toward humanness is more important than being human itself. He must get there himself, for it is the journey that in reality creates the human qualities he seeks. Further more, if Riker had magically and instantly made Data human, our journey toward greater self-awareness would become illusion. As with the character, magical transformation without the struggle of the journey would leave us bereft of narrative and actual growth. We would not, therefore, understand ourselves any better. We would not be any better. Data would have failed, which is to say the narrative world of Star Trek would have failed.

The Paradox of Data’s Superiority

This leads us to a necessary third and final paradox found in the character Data: the android who seeks to be human is in fact often times better than his human creators. Because Data strives so much to understand humanness and become human, he is often better than we are. This paradox evokes in us the tension between our understanding of the nature of being human and our desire to be better than human. As the human created nonhuman android continually struggles with his lack of humanness we come to respect and love him, not only for what he is not, but for what he is. Time and time again we realize, and many episodes proclaim, he is more human than we humans. This awareness is both pleasing and troubling. In the closing scene of Datalore, the episode in which Data discovers he has a brother who has emotions, Picard asks Riker the obvious question.

PICARD: Number One, have you ever considered whether Data is more human or less human than we want?

RIKER: I only wish we were all as well balanced, Sir.

PICARD: Agreed.

Picard's question acknowledges that we have a stake in Data's quest for humanness and implies that we do not necessarily want him to succeed. Riker does not answer the question, revealing the inherent tension, but does say that Data is more 'balanced,' which is to say in this  context, better then they are.

These tensions surrounding who Data is and is not, and what it means for us, is perhaps most vividly experienced in the first film, Star Trek: Generations. At the beginning of the film Data, in a very funny scene, once again fails to understand humour. Later in his private quarters, he tells La Forge that his quest to become more human has reached a plateau, and that he is logically compelled to take the decision to install an emotion chip. There is something both exciting and disturbing about this moment. As we watch Data's first delightful and exciting experiences of emotions turn to struggle and vulnerability, we realize we are losing the character we have grown to love. At the end of Generations, Data sheds tears as he cradles his pet cat, called Spot, in the ruins of the crashed Enterprise. We are moved as we realize Data is finally becoming more human. But again, as the scene ends, our emotions of appreciation are shadowed by a sense of apprehension that goes beyond the loss of an old friend.

We know that if Data becomes human, as we are human, we will lose him, and not just to doubt, cowardice, and fear as in Generations. We will lose him to our darker nature. From betrayal and abuse, to killing and warfare, Data will learn to be one of us. It is not just that Data will learn to betray, or even learn to kill, for he has killed before. It is that he will learn the value of betrayal and to enjoy killing. We cannot escape our twenty first century realization of the destructive power of humankind perhaps most powerfully symbolized in the efficiency of Auschwitz, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, terrorism and the so called war on terrorism, the practice of genocide on every continent, the evilness of child abuse (in our homes, our bomb sites, our wastelands), and the vast and growing slums and townships that surround our cities.

This postmodern reality is intimately connected to our humanness and is played out in the numerous stories of the designs and desires of human like creatures. In R.U.R. by Josef and Karel Capek, the play that first introduced the word 'robot' into our lexicon, the following conversation between Alquist, the last human being, and Radius, a robot leader, reflects the awareness of our own horridness and echoes our fears concerning Data's transformation.

ALQUIST: Oh, oh, oh--why did you destroy them (humans)?

RADIUS: We wanted to be like human beings. We wanted to become like human beings.

ALQUIST: Why did you murder us?

RADIUS: Slaughter and domination are necessary if you want to be like men. Read history, read the human books. You must domineer and murder if you if you want to be like men…

ALQUIST: Nothing is more strange to a man than his own image.[21]

Here Radius shares the awareness with Data's brother Lore, that to be fully human means to be immoral. This paradox is the struggle of every robot, android, replicant, and cyborg of modern creation tales, which means it is the struggle of every writer and audience of such tales. Even the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum reflects this paradox. When the Tin Man meets Oz, the Great and Terrible, he says, "I am a Woodman, and made of tin. Therefore I have no heart, and cannot love. I pray you to give me a heart that I may be like other men are."[22] When Oz first tells him he must first aid Dorothy in the killing of the Wicked Witch of the West, the Tin Man says to Dorothy: "I haven't the heart to harm even a witch…"[23]

'Heart,' that which Golems lack, androids and tin men seek, is the seed of both love and brutality. Without a heart the Tin Man cannot love. And with a heart he can kill. The heart is a necessary prerequisite for evil.

Thus, Data's great appeal is not only found in his emotional ambiguity and his journey toward humanness. It is also grounded in his uniqueness, superiour strength, incredible mental abilities, sexual expertise, unflinching moral integrity, and his intense longing to be like us (how can we dislike a being who is actually our creation and above all else wants to be like us?). His appeal is grounded in his very alienness. Once Data becomes truly human, not only do we lose the character and the journey, we also lose our dream of what we could be, that is the dream being expressed in and through the character himself.[24] He ceases to image for us a better human being. Data is infinitely intelligent, ontologically ethical, and supremely strong. And, though he does not experience emotion, he evokes in us a welcome and healthy range of emotions. We do not want to lose that.

He is the innocent puppet. He is actually better than we are and we love him for it. As he longs to be like us, we long to be like him. If he does become fully human, then he will become not only what we are, but also what we hate to be. If he fulfills his dream, we lose a valued character, a means of exploring our own nature, and an image, or a hope, of what we could be. Data's appeal as a character is thus also grounded in the on going tension generated by his quest to be human, his failure to succeed, and the actual implications of success.[25]

To eliminate the paradoxes inherent in Data's character and his life defining struggle to be human, would destroy the effectiveness and appeal of the character himself. His narrative purpose would end and we do not want that to happen. We know this, but so too do the creators of Star Trek. We are, therefore, relieved, but perhaps not surprised, to find in the second film Star Trek: First Contact that Data can turn off his emotion chip. As Data, Picard, Worf, and other crew members are about to enter the decks of the Enterprise controlled by the Borg, Data expresses anxiety.

DATA: Captain. I believe I am feeling...anxiety. It is an intriguing

sensation. A most distracting...

PICARD: Data I'm sure it's a fascinating experience, but perhaps you should

deactivate your emotion chip for now.

DATA: Good idea Sir.

Data jerks his head slightly.

DATA: Done

PICARD: Data, there are times that I envy you.

The scene informs us that Data's struggle is not yet completed, and we are relieved. Picard reminds us that our relief is in part do to the fact that Data is often times better than we are. We do envy him. But while the struggle continues it also takes a different form. Now, like the wooden puppet Pinocchio becoming flesh, the Borg Queen gives Data the possibility of not only having human qualities, but of having human flesh as well. At the end of the film, we learn as Data tells Picard, the temptation created in the possibility of becoming flesh lasted what amounts to as an eternity for an android. Data's journey continues.

The Bonding is an example of the second. The episode revolves around the death of ship's archaeologist Marla Aster on an away mission and the resulting affects it has on her surviving son, Jeremy, Worf who led the away team, Wesley who had experienced similar loss, Picard's difficulty with children on a Star Ship and his responsibility for telling them of the loss of a parent. Data is in no way important for the development of the plot or the characters, but he is used to explore, at least for a moment, the nature of human grief. Always questioning human behaviour, he finds Riker sitting alone in Ten Forward. The actors converse quietly, intimately. (Interestingly, the scene is shot in almost extreme close-up with no music.)

DATA: Excuse me Sir. Am I intruding?

RIKER: No. Sit down.

DATA: How well did you know Lieutenant Aster?

RIKER: We spent some time together. Not very well. How well did you know her?

DATA: Why do you ask?

RIKER: Well, you just asked me.

DATA:  But...why do you ask the question? Since her death, I have been asked several times to define how well I knew Lieutenant Aster. And I heard you ask Wesley on the Bridge how well he knew Jeremy. Does the question of familiarity have some bearing on death?

RIKER: Do you remember how we all felt when Tasha died?

DATA: I do not sense the same feelings of absence that I associated with Lieutenant Yar's, although I cannot say precisely why.

RIKER: Just human nature, Data.

DATA: Human nature, Sir?

RIKER: We feel a loss more intensely when it's a friend.

DATA: But should not the feelings run just as deep regardless of who has died?

RIKER: Maybe they should Data. Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us, human history would be a lot less bloody.

In this short scene we see the character of Data function fully. Riker learns more about humanness through Data's naive questioning. Data exposes the paradox of his character by using the word 'feeling' when describing the emptiness he experiences as a result of Tasha Yar's death. And we again realize that being human is both wonderful and horrible at the same time, but perhaps could have been, could still be, better.

La Forge's and Data's experimentation to determine if he as an android can be creative. He is doing so for no other reason than because human beings are creative. Being a painter will not aid him in being a better bridge officer. He is completely programmed to function well in his duties. The purpose of painting is to experience humanness. By having the character Data paint, or play the violin, or act, the creators of the Star Trek universe are signaling to us that they consider creativity to be an important quality of being human and intend to explore it throughout the series. Other human qualities explored through the character of Data include the nature of: purpose, relationship, relationship to one's creator, being a creature, human rights, morality, ethics, rationality, emotions, imagination, freedom, social place and belonging, procreation, self-improvement, joy, grief, and death.

In Disney’s Pinocchio it was the intervention of a divine spirit from heaven that magically granted both life and flesh. But Data will not be visited by a fairy from heaven, and if he were to be, he would no doubt refuse her intervention, denying himself what Pinocchio so easily and joyfully accepted. The denial is not insignificant. While elluding to the Pinocchio story, the Star Trek narrative insists that real humanity is achieved, not through magic, but through life’s quest. 

Likewise, the possibilities of acquiring flesh through less magical means was offered Data by the Borg in the film First Strike which proved to be somewhat of a temptation for the android. After he had been captured and restrained by the Borg in Engineering, the Borg Queen “gives” him the gift of flesh:

QUEEN: I bring order to chaos.

DATA: An interesting if cryptic response.

QUEEN: You are in chaos Data. You are the contradiction, a  machine who wishes to be human.

DATA: Since you seem to know so much about me, you must be aware that I am programmed to evolve, to better myself.

QUEEN: We too are on a quest to better ourselves, evolving toward a state

of perfection.

DATA: Forgive me, but the Borg do not evolve, they conquer.

QUEEN: By assimilating other beings into our collective, we're bring them closer to perfection.

DATA: Somehow...I question your motives.

QUEEN: That is because you haven't been properly...stimulated yet.

DATA: You have...reactivate my emotion chip. Why?

QUEEN: Don't be frightened.

DATA: I am not frightened. (Clearly frightened)

A piece of equipment moves, thus exposing Data's arm.

QUEEN: Do you know what this is Data?

DATA: It would appear you are attempting to craft organic skin unto my endoskeltal structure.

QUEEN: What a cold description...for such a gift.

The Borg Queen leans down and blows on his newly acquired skin. Data reacts very strongly.

QUEEN: Was that good for you?

Data looks at his arm in wide-eyed amazed.

DATA: Woooo.

The sexual implications are clear.

While the sexual undercurrents may be entertaining, they are, nonetheless, important. As we will see below, in the Golem stories the inability to have sexual desires and relations is associated with the absence of yetser, that quality of humanness given through divine creation. Data’s closer approximation of real sexual relations with the Borg Queen could be seen as a step along his road to humanness. The temptations acknowledged by Data is in part associated with sexual desire.

Data frees himself and attempts to escape. A Borg cuts the new skin on his arm in the struggle and he cries out in pain. He grabs his arm and a close-up on his face shows the android almost in tears. The Borg Queen calls off the attack.

QUEEN: Is it becoming clear to you yet? Look at yourself, standing there cradling the new flesh that I've given you. If it means nothing to you, why protect it?

DATA: I...I am simply imitating the behaviour of humans.

 Data’ face tells us something different.

QUEEN: You're becoming more human all the time Data. Now you're learning how to lie.

Data is clearly distressed.

DATA: My...programming was not designed to process these sensations.

QUEEN: Then tear the skin from you limb as you would a defective circuit. Go ahead Data. We won't stop you.

Data grabs the edge of the skin with his fingers.

QUEEN: Do it. Don't be tempted by flesh.

 He releases the skin and looks at the Borg Queen.

QUEEN: Are you familiar with physical forms of pleasure?

She walks toward him and he backs away.

DATA: If...if you are...referring to...sexuality, I am fully functional, programmed in...multiple techniques.

She moves closer. They appear in profile. Data is ill at ease. The Queen lifts her face toward his.

QUEEN: How long has it been since you've use them?

DATA: Eight years, seven months, sixteen days, four minutes, twenty two...

QUEEN: Far too long.

She kisses him. He returns her kiss with greater passion. As the scene ends, she opens her eyes.

As the film climaxes, Picard enters Engineering to save Data. Data now has skin grafted onto his face.

QUEEN: Data understands me. Don't you Data?

PICARD: What have you done to him?

QUEEN: Given him what he's always wanted; flesh and blood.

PICARD: Let him go, he's not the one you want.

Data is released and it appears he is now in alliance with the Borg. He is not, of course, and after the final encounter between the Borg Queen and Captain Picard, Picard and Data, his flesh now burned from his body, sit together.

DATA: Captain

PICARD: Data. You all right?

DATA: I would imagine I look worse then I...(a slight laugh at the irony)...feel.

Data looks at the Queen.

DATA: Strange. Part of me is sorry she is dead.

PICARD: She was unique.

DATA: She brought me closer to humanity than I ever thought possible. And for a time I was tempted by her offer.

PICARD: How long a time?

DATA: Zero point six eight seconds Sir.

 Picard smiles ever so slightly.

DATA: For an android, that is nearly an eternity.

Picard takes Data's hand and they get up together.

Data's closer encounter with humaness exposed the limitations of understanding his behaviour as simple programming to imitate humans. His imitation of human behaviour is, in actual fact, much more. Also, in the encounter with the Borg Queen he succomes to the temptation of flesh and immorality. He lies. Data is forced to realize that to be human is to deal with temptation, by definition.

At first glance, Data’s association with Pinocchio seems fairly straight forward. The Pinioochio stories tell us first that humans are moral beings that possess something more than life. For Data, an extremely sophisticated Pinocchio, to become human is to possess and act upon certain prima facie duties and virtues, to give and receive love, to have a good heart, to admit failure, resist unethical tempations, and to receive and accept forgiveness, and, at least at first glance to acquire flesh.

As I just said, it seems straight forward enough. However, the acquiring and nuturing of moral integrity does not necessarily come easily; not for Data, nor for us. While divine intervention granted Pinocchio life, leaning the moral qualities required to become fully human were his responsibility. In the narrative, learning takes place on the journey. For Data too the journey is necessary. Even though he has been programmed to be ethical, we learn in his encounter with the Borg Queen gthat he is "programmed to evolve, to better" himself (the relationship between his programming and his development will be discussed below). Even for Data, the quest is the only means to maturity. And while maturation through learning may seem uncontroversial, ultimately the nuturing of ethical character is. As Pinocchio said, “Being bad is a lot of fun.” Or, put another way, there are benefits gained for doing and being immoral. As we noted in the opening chapter, Radius in R.U.R and the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz saw immorality as necessary for being human. Likewise, we shall see in the next chapter that in the episodes Datalore and Decent, Parts I and II, Data’s brother Lor is convinced that being bad is not only fun, but a virtue necessary for becoming and being human.

Data will, by the necessity of his quest and his refusal to accept divine intervention, be confronted with the question of behavour and character. And we in turn, while watching him on his journey, will be challenged to ask: are we ontologically immoral, or is immorality learned? The question is not as abstract as it first may seems. If we are ontologically (by our nature) immoral, then it can be argues there is little chance of overcoming evil. But if we have learned to be bad, we can also learn to be good. Evil can be epistomologially overcome.

The second seemingly straight forward insight of the Pinocchio stories is that, being human is not simply a matter of possessing life, but having flesh. Humans are naturally organic, thus Pinnocchio had to achieve transformation to become human while Data seems forever denied humanness because he declines such transformation. Pinocchio did not become a “real boy” until he become flesh. The puppet happily accepted divine intervention to reach is goal. For Data, refusing divine intervention, becoming a real boy seems impossible.

Through Riker’s initial unease during his first encounter with Data and his words “Nice to meet you Pinocchio,” we know Data’s association with the wooden puppet is not only in the sharing of innocence, but, and more importantly, in their desire to become human, which in turn speaks to a desire, not for life alone, but for flesh. In both the Pinocchio narratives, the puppet possessed life while not being made of flesh (in the Collodi’s orginal version, the wood was alive even before taking on human form). Data too is alive, or so it will be argued below, but he consistantly refuses “divine” intervention to grant him flesh. Magic will not be his saviour. And though he says he would gladly give up is superiority “to be human,” it would seem that ultimately his goal is unattainable.

There is, then, in Data’s association with Pinocchio two fundamental questions that we must address. First, what is the nature of life? Second, what is the nature of being human? They are separate but related questions. We are tempted to answer the second question quickly; being human is being moral and possessing life (however we ultimately define it) and flesh. But as we have seen, and will explore more fully below, being moral and ethical beings is not all that simple and, ironically, profoundly, we humans beings are evolving in directions that distance us from Pinocchio and bring us ever closer to Data. We are becoming both cyborg and digital flesh.

So, our examination of Pinocchio leads us to explore the nature of morality and life. It is to life we shall turn first.

Life, Flesh, Technology, and the Nature of Being Human

In the Pinocchio stories, life was granted before flesh was earned. The puppet could do all the things real boys could do, and more. But he was, nonetheless, not real and strongly desired to become so. As with Data, life needs defining and is apparently not restricted by the limits of the organic and inorganic. And while the life of an inorganic being can be superior in many ways, as is true of both Pinocchio and Data, that same being still desires, at the risk of considerable loss, to become flesh, to become truly human.

Data’s encounter with flesh is interesting and paradoxical. The narrative tells us that the acquiring of flesh is akin to replacing order with chaos. In the Star Trek universe, humanity is the order of the day. Thomas Richards argues that the Star Trek series “generally observes the divide between man and machine…”[26] He continues to say:

At its most fundamental, Star Trek offers an appealing vision of a future because it offers a vision of a human race that has managed to preserve most of its humanity. Again and again Kirk and Picard give speeches expostulating on the importance of humanity; I would argue that the series advances its vision of humanity by keeping humans human, that is, partly by scrupulously observing the divide between man and machine.[27]

Data is not an exception to this narrative rule. He may desire humanness, but he never acquires it. While Data, a machine, is continually shown interfacing with other machines, there “are no episodes in which Data manages to connect himself to living tissue.”[28] Clearly Richards does not address the scene described above where Data involuntarily acquires flesh, if only for a short time. The point is, however, that the quality of flesh, of humanness, is fundamentally significant. Machine life for Riker is a cause of unease. The existence of Data is paradoxical. The freedom and rights of an android are difficult to determine (as we shall see below). Even the Borg, the exception to the divide between human and machine, see perfection as a merging of the organic and inorganic. How we deal with the reality of intelligent machines in the future will be interesting. We may see them as the Borg saw Data: a contradiction.

The Borg Queen interpreted Data as paradox because he was a machine wishing to be human. In the exchange we learn, or are reminded, that Data is programmed to evolve and better himself (we will discuss this element of the character later). To evolve and become better is not, however, to become flesh, to become real, to become human, as Data’s response to attacks on his newly acquired flesh demonstrate.

What becomes clear to Data, that which we always knew, is that flesh is a form of weakness. Physically it causes pain. Philosophically, theologically, it is, or can be, a negative temptation. As Data hunches in pain, holding his arm, he does indeed lie, an all too human trait. It had been established in the series that Data as an android could not lie. His ethical subroutine guaranteed truthfulness. We are forced to ask if the power of the flesh overcame his ethical programming. If it did, than Data was indeed getting more human all the time.

Data himself admits his programming was not equipped to handle the sensations of the flesh. And, at least outside the world of Pinocchio, sensations of the flesh always have sexual implications. It was with the cy-Borg Queen, after all, that Data came closer to humanity than he had ever imagined. The power of that encounter and possibility presented a temptation that lasted nearly an eternity; a temptation that would have ontologically changed his nature and necessitated the betrayal of his friends.

Data did not, however, succumb to the temptation. As he refused Riker’s offer to become human in an instant, cautioned Q that he would not want to be magically made human, he also refused the intervention of the Borg Queen. His contradiction would continue, perhaps needed to continue: a machine wishing to be a human.

Thomas Richards explains Data’s dilemma this way though, I think, confuses the distinction between life and flesh:

Technology is after all nothing more than an array of machines, sophisticated though they may be, and the sense of wonder is always a sense of awe at the presence of life itself in the universe. Lieutenant Commander Data may always strive to attain his goal of becoming fully human, but to become fully human he would have to become a living being, which of course he never can. Technology, especially when amplified by special effects, can approximate the sense of wonder but it can never fully achieve it. The sense of wonder is a sense of awe at life in whatever form it may take, and in the Star Trek universe life takes many forms.[29]

The narrative world of The Next Generation argues that Data is, indeed, alive, and paradoxically both desiring and refusing flesh. The question remains, however: Can Data ever be human? The very asking of that questions in turn forces us to define more fully the very nature of what being human is.

Copyright © 2012 Dale Rominger


[1] The other finalist was Eric Menyuk who played "The Traveler" in the episodes Where No One Has Gone Before, Remember Me, and Journey's End.

[2] Reeves-Stevens 1997:266.

[3] In 1976 some half a million Star Trek fans wrote President Gerald Ford resulting in NASA naming its first flight-test space shuttle the Enterprise. See Reeves-Stevens 1997:190.

[4] Space Shuttle astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, "the first African-

American woman in space," played the part of Ensign Palmer in Second Chance. See Reeves-Stevens 1997:187.

[5] Reeves-Stevens 1997:185.

[6] When touring the set of the engine room and warp drive of Star Trek: The Next Generation Hawkings reportedly said he was working on such an engine. "With those words of appreciation and promise from one of the world's greatest intellects, Star Trek was no longer merely an entertainment franchise with a sold core of 'Trekkers' to support it. It had passed into the realm of world culture." See Reeves-Stevens 1997:193.

[7] Works of fiction often use real life people in their narrative worlds to generate a sense of realism. Popular, for example, is the use of TV news presenters playing themselves in fictitious films. The film Contact is a good example. Interestingly, however, in the case of Star Trek, the real world barrows fictitious realities from the Star Trek universe, as in the naming of the first space shuttle.

[8] By using the qualifier "Western," I mean to indicated that other cultures also have similar traditions exploring the nature of humanness through alien and human created creatures, but that I am here addressing only Western expressions of that exploration. Also, I am using the term "narrative" as an umbrella term that refers to and includes various genres: legends, sagas, poems, short stories, novels, plays, and films. In a more general way, the term also refers to the textualization of experience and an interpretative (hermeneutical) approach to making sense of that textualization.

[9] It should be noted that in the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Spock seems to come to terms with his humanness when he asks his father to tell his mother that he "feels fine," referring back to an opening scene where Spock is being re-educated by a computer after his re-birth. At one point the computers asked him, "How do you feel?" Spock exhibits hesitation and confusion. His human mother, watching in the doorway, explains that the computer knows he is half human and thus has feelings.

[10] Thomas Richards makes the point: "...we come back to the central premise of Star Trek: the essentially human character of the universe. Despite all the non human forms of life in the universe, the most powerful life forms consistently assume human form. The Klingons and Romulans and Cardassians are all roughly human in stature and appearance...No non-human form appears beyond the frame of a single episode. This reliance on human from could be seen as anthropocentric, a return to the old belief that human beings are the centre of the universe. But in Star Trek it is more. Gene Roddenberry created a universe in which species have not developed in complete isolation but are part of a larger web of relationships" (Richards 1997, 35). Regarding the interrelatedness of species see the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Chase.

[11] Kearney 1988:53.

[12] Kearney 1988:39.

[13] Kearney 1988:58.

[14] Research is presently being conducted to determine if a computer can be programmed with imagination and thus be creative. See Ford, Glymour, and Hayes 1995. I will return to these issues below.

[15] For further study into the Golem legends see Gershom G. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism, New York: Shocken, 1969 and Moshe Idel, Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid, Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990.

[16] There has been a slight confusion as to whether there were 176 or 177 episodes. Reeves-Stevens (1997) simply number each episode with the premiere show Encounter at Farpoint being listed as Episode 1 and 2, resulting in a total of 177 episodes in all. Nemecek (1992:323-326) lists episodes beginning in the hundreds and air numbers beginning with one, thus Encounter at Farpoint is noted as Episode 101 and 102 and Air No. 1, resulting in 177 episodes and 176 air numbers.

[17] Encounter at Farpoint opens, as do most but not all The Next Generation episodes, with an over voice of Picard's log entry, thus the first words spoken in the new series are spoken to us the viewer. However, the first words actually spoken by Picard to another character in narrative time are addressed to Data.

[18] Twenty-one different skin colours were tried for Data, the choice finally being between grey and gold. Gene Roddenberry opted for grey, but makeup supervisor Michael Westmore argued that grey could be used for dead people, animals, and aliens, but that metallic gold could only be used on Data. Westmore won the argument. See Reeves-Stevens 1997: 244.

[19] Nemecek 1992:70.

[20] It is difficult not to imagine that Data is telling us, the view, how best to live our lives.

[21] Capek 1961:94-95.

[22] Baum 1982:94.

[23] Baum 1982:97.

[24] The character also implies that even if we cannot be better creatures, we can create better creatures. This hope of a possible evolutionary leap is also lost if Data becomes us. Below I will discuss the inherent tension in our becoming Creator.

[25] This tension is most directly examined in Datalore, where Data's brother Lore is both more human and more evil.

[26] Richards 1997:40.

[27] Ibid., p.40.

[28] Ibid., p.40.

[29] Ibid., p.151-152.