9.30.2011

Star Trek: Doctor Julian Bashir

Let's go back to DS9 for a moment, shall we?

Sudanese-born, England-raised Siddig el Fadil portrayed the boyishly handsome, genetically enhanced, yet socially naive, British-accented Doctor Julian Bashir.  By about the fourth season, the actor felt forced to change to a stage name, "Alexander Siddig", because people were having trouble pronouncing the five syllables in "Siddig el Fadil."

Keep in mind, the man's full name is Siddig el Tahir el Fadil el Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim el Mahdi...and people were bitching about "Siddig el Fadil"?

*exasperated sigh*

So anyways...there's that right there to begin with.

Pros

1) Julian Bashir is an example of what I call "using an actor as the message, not the writing."  In other words, the writers didn't cast Fadil and then put words in his mouth to send a message.  His casual, series-regular presence is the message.  You can cast an Asian man to simply play a character.  His being Asian doesn't have to be the point of the character (unlike with Sulu in the 1960s).

2) Siddig el Fadil was gorgeous; as a young girl, I primarily watched DS9 just to see him (the show so deep it went over my head at the time).  So not only was the Asian actor just playing a regular guy (hear tell, 'tis an Asian actor's fondest wish in the West), but he was hot, and obviously meant to be a delectable piece of eye candy.  And the British accent totally helped.

3) Dr. Julian Bashir was just that, a doctor, and a damn brilliant one at that.  But we also got to know his hobbies - springball, tennis, darts, battle reenactments in the holodeck, spy stories and debating the merits of literature.

4) DS9 introduced the organization Section 31, the baddest, shrewdest, rogue organization in the Alpha Quadrant, reportedly designed to protect the interests of the Federation by any means necessary.  They put the Cardassian Obsidian Order and the Romulan Tal Shiar both to shame...and they recruited Julian Bashir for covert missions.  This is important because while his coworkers viewed him as a youthful, naive, sometimes annoying young man, Section 31 recognized what the audience eventually recognized: Bashir had a keenly analytical, shrewdly suspicious mind with an impeccable attention to detail.  In short, he was the perfect operative.

5) Bashir was most definitely sexual; we saw him numerous times with very beautiful women, ranging from fellow Starfleet officers to sexy Dabo girls.  The show even ended with his being in a long-term, committed relationship (Sulu and Ensign Kim never got that).  Made sense; a man that fine and in his prime wasn't going to stay single for long.

6) One of the celebrated themes of DS9 was bromance, and we saw Bashir involved in at least two bromantic relationships, which Fadil and his castmates played to hilarious perfection.

Cons

1) Despite all its brilliance, DS9 often screwed up and primary example of that was revealing that Bashir was a genetically enhanced human being, and that he owed his phenomenal intelligence and exceptional hand-eye coordination to genetic tampering.  It was also revealed that he was basically mentally impaired as a child, and when his parents simply refused to accept him as he was, they broke the law and basically had him rebuilt.  They then re-enrolled him in a new school with falsified records.

Actor Fadil was surprised with this information years into the show; it literally just popped up in the script one day, not having been an original part of his characterization.  It was a pointless subplot which, in a way, took something from Bashir.  It made him extra annoying in a non-cute way, and portrayed his family in an unnecessary bad light (they claimed they did it for his own good, not theirs).  At the subconscious level, it also seemed to tap into the notion that Asian students are basically drones whose academic dedication is unnatural.

At the same time, it was sort of amusing at to think Bashir had politely "dumbed" himself down for years, and passed amongst people as "normal."

2) Bashir was often described as "annoying" by the other characters, and the older I get, the more I see why.  But I feel there is writing in conflict on the matter; while he's supposed to be young and naive and eager to please, there's also this very grave, mature, classiness which Fadil exudes that I feel defines the real Julian Bashir.  One who witnesses much pain and suffering, whose entire career is based on alleviated suffering, and whose compassion is utterly and consistently outstanding, cannot also be naive.  That's contradictory and self-defeating.  If you're witnessing births, deaths, and maintaining confidentiality for so many different people, you can't be too clueless about the universe.

3) Bashir was irritatingly arrogant about his abilities sometimes, which I also feel is contradictory writing, because at times it seemed he was willing to put lives at risk or prolong suffering...simply to prove he could be the one to save them.  No...no, no.  The writers really needed to pick one.  And if they need flaws to balance out his virtues, arrogance was a really poor choice.

Final Verdict

DS9 was, IMHO, the best of the all Trek series, so I don't have too many complaints about this character.  One of the things Fadil said he really liked about his role was that people were so fascinated with his character - personality, how he was written, etc. - that they didn't focus obsessively on his ethnicity.  When people told him or when he read rave reviews about the show, no one ever said how much "they liked that Indian doctor" - they just said they liked the doctor and were in awe of how he was written and portrayed.  This is, I think, a testament to the often excellent writing on that show, and the convincing work on Fadil's part.

13 comments:

  1. You know that genetically-enhanced storyline annoyed the hell out of me. I was like, "...and whose idea was it to damn near ruin a perfectly good character?" That whole subplot was completely unnecessary and mucho bullshit.

    'Course, you know my main beef (other than his arrogance and annoyance) was that Sid was way too thin. I prefer a man with some meat on the bones. Had Julian been about 50 pounds heavier...

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm co-signing on DS9 being the best of the series. The entire series was far more cohesive from start to finish as far as plotlines went.

    Yeah like everyone else, I had a crush on Bashir. It wasn't as bad as my true love for one Wesley Crusher (not a word from any of you), but I appreciated the doctor just the same.

    To be honest with you, I wasn't too shocked when it was revealed that Bashir was genetically enhanced. The reason being there seems to be a trope with Star Trek that at least one character has to be smarter than the average human.

    The original series: Spock

    The Next Generation: Data and to a certain extent Wesley Crusher

    Voyager: Tuvok and to some extent 7 of 9

    Enterprise: T'Pol

    DS9 was the only show that never had that super smart character and while an argument could be made for Dax's multiple lifetime experiences, yeah when they revealed Bashir's past, yeah. I don't know how I feel about it. Even though I saw it coming, it still felt like it was coming out of nowhere and at the same time, it did make sense because like 31, I observed and noticed Bashir's brains (and maybe that bod) and it made for interesting storytelling.

    Anyway, excellent post as always.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sid was way too thin. I prefer a man with some meat on the bones. Had Julian been about 50 pounds heavier...

    When I was a child, he looked perfect to me. But as a grown woman, I too think he needed to eat something.

    I wasn't too shocked when it was revealed that Bashir was genetically enhanced. The reason being there seems to be a trope with Star Trek that at least one character has to be smarter than the average human.

    But like you, I thought Dax would fulfill that role, and I thought it would be perfect. You've got this somber, mysterious woman whom Sisko always referred to as "old man" - genius!

    It wasn't as bad as my true love for one Wesley Crusher (not a word from any of you)

    Okay, boo...we need to have a chat.

    I mean, for real...Siddig kept his looks after his show. Wheaton can't make the same claim.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good article, but I am a little puzzled that you describe Fadil as "Asian", because he has no Asian heritage as far as I'm aware. As you say, he's Sudanese-British. Sudan is in Africa. He is Arabic, but Arabic and Asian are not synonymous.

    - DH.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Love this post. I agree with everything you've said, especially DS9 being the best of the Treks.

    Wanted to let you know that I've mentioned this post over at my livejournal and provided a link.

    http://deeply-spaced.livejournal.com/

    You left room for a lot of discussion about Bashir and there can never be enough of that in my book.

    *hugs*

    ReplyDelete
  6. ***comment moderation***

    DH, this is the last time we'll talk about this.

    I knew you'd come back, I knew you'd conveniently be British and Asian, and I knew you'd bring up North African Arabs.

    *sighs*

    I myself am West African and Arabic. The Arabs living in Africa now came from Saudi Arabia only 1200 years ago, and Saudi Arabia is in Western Asia.

    History & Geography 101, kids.

    North African Arabs supposedly take their African heritage seriously, but only to an extent. They're Arabs and they know it, whether they want to be called it or not. Muammar Qaddaffi tried to start a Pan-Arabic Movement in North Africa, and was shunned, mostly likely for reminding his fellow Arabs that they weren't really Africa.

    As Mohammed Ahmed Ben Bella, the former President of Algeria once said, "We [Arabs] have been in Africa for 1200 years, and yet we still behave as colonialists" - which is exactly what they are.

    The great thing about North African Arabs is that you have the ones clinging to their reinvented image of North Africans (especially Egyptian Arabs, who move heaven and earth to dodge the "Arab" label) and then you meet the Arabs who calmly remind that they are Asian, to ignore anyone fleeing the label (especially after 9/11).

    Sociology 101, kids.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Putting aside your frankly offensive statement that my ethnicity is "convenient" (I could equally well say yours is): I mentioned North African Arabs because we are talking about a North African Arab, Siddig El Fadil. I am fully aware Saudi Arabia is in West Asia; however, Sudan is not, it is in North Africa. Your assertion that Sudanese Arabs still count as Asian because they came from Saudi over a millenia ago is frankly absurd. You also seem unaware Mohammed Ahmed Ben Bella's statement was intended as a critique of the Algerian Arabs' close relationship with French colonialists; in fact, it was a reminder of their 1200 years of African heritage, not a denial of it.

    I did not deny North African Arabs were *Arabs*, so I'm not sure why you are correcting me on that point. I do however question your knowledge of regional politics if you believe discomfort at being reminded of their origins was the sole reason North African Arabs might have rejected a motion to unite under Qaddafi.

    - DH

    ReplyDelete
  8. I did not deny North African Arabs were *Arabs*

    I mentioned North African Arabs because we are talking about a North African Arab, Siddig El Fadil.

    Your assertion that Sudanese Arabs still count as Asian because they came from Saudi over a millenia ago is frankly absurd.


    So if we test Fadil's genes against those of a native Saudi Arabian, we'd wind up some radically different results? North African Arabs have kept their cultures, and dialects, and more importantly, their genes, intact. 1200 years is irrelevant.

    Whites and Blacks can live in America for an additional 700 years to their current 500, but that won't magically make them Native American if they mostly continue to breed amongst themselves, and stick to their own respective cultures.

    Talk about absurdity.

    Sudan is in North Africa. The keyword is "Africa". The Arabs living there claim African nationalities, just as countless whites, Indians, and Far East Asians do in South Africa.

    That quote from above ("they liked that Indian doctor") is from Fadil himself. He's well aware of his Asiatic appearance and heritage, and has often chosen roles accordingly.

    What these Arabs are doing isn't special in any way. Humans do this sort of self-reclassification all the time. In Brazil there are descendants of Germans who fled Germany during WWII. They still have their Caucasian features, German last names, and they prefer to marry other Germans. But you if you call them "German" instead of "Brazilian", they get upset.

    You have white South Africans left over from the days of the Dutch and British. They're Dutch and British - white-skinned and everything - but if you call them anything but (South) African, they get upset.

    Don't even get me started on non-Native (white) Americans.

    I do however question your knowledge of regional politics if you believe discomfort at being reminded of their origins was the sole reason North African Arabs might have rejected a motion to unite under Qaddafi.

    That's some convenient rewording. Who said anything about it being a sole reason? Who said anything uniting solely under Qaddafi himself? He tried to start the movement, but I doubt he was so naive as to think he'd be readily accepted as its sole leader.

    My God you're a total troll.

    ReplyDelete
  9. "I had been crying slogans of Arab Unity and brandishing standard of Arab nationalism for 40 years, but it was not realised. That means that I was talking in the desert. I have no more time to lose talking with Arabs...I am returning back to realism...I now talk about Pan-Africanism and African Unity. The Arab world is finished...Africa is a paradise" ~ Muammar Qaddafi

    Putting aside your frankly offensive statement that my ethnicity is "convenient" (I could equally well say yours is)

    Mm-hm; as a child in West Africa, I got to hear both sides (my mother's ancestors actually hailed from Saudi Arabia). There were Arabs who were born in Cameroon, spoke the dialects flawlessly, but never once forgot who they really were or where they originally came from, time frame be damned.

    Then there were the indigenous Africans who have never forgotten nor forgiven the conflicts with Arabs, and who still consider them foreign to the continent...once again, time frame be damned. Regardless of which African country Arabs hail from, they are strictly referred to as Arabs, as a reminder that their presence on the continent hasn't always been wanted.

    Make no mistake; I understand where North Africans are coming from in feeling offended at times. Africa has been home for 1200 years for them; they love their countries passionately. No one's disputing that. But ancestrally speaking, they are who they are - end of story.

    Consider that my final attempt at being civil with you.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hi, I have recently read your article since I am a devoted Niner and I agree with most of the points you have raised in here though I think the point in making the character of Bashir to be tainted with shades of badness (Being Genetically Engineered) is what is expected from DS9. The intention as Ira Steven Behr had pointed it out that DS9's theme is to have the characters with shades of grey, full of flaws and mistakes and far from the perfection presented in other Trek series. I have read the comments too and it seems that there was a strong heated debate here, though I hope my comment only counts as a simple observation with complete respect to your point of view and others as well. Great article and all the best.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Dang!! I'm so glad I wasn't the only one obsessed with young hot Bashir. Man is that man fine!! Although Siddig el Fadil's build is usually too thin for my taste, since it was his NATURAL build and still so fine, I enjoyed my Bashir moments. There was even this guy in my church who looked like him! Aaah I miss those drooling daydreaming days...

    ReplyDelete
  12. I still class TNG as my favorite of the Star Trek series and found the byplay between O'Brien and Bashir and Garak and Bashir some of the best writing in Trek.

    I think of Bashir in two ways, pre genetics and post.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are no longer accepted.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.