Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Prime Directive

The Prime Directive is a term from Star Trek. General Order #1, the Prime Directive, dictates non-interference with the internal affairs of other civilizations. This coincides with the real world understanding of Westphalian sovereignty where nations have the sovereign right to direct their own affairs and control their own borders. Of particular importance within the Star Trek world is the secrets of both space travel and the existence of other worlds and civilizations. This then coincides back to the real world understanding of 20th century media and cultural interventionism/imperialism. The joke, of course, is that within the Star Trek universe and Westphalian sovereignty within modernity non-interventionism and the prime directive are both avoided at any and every opportunistic turn. In Star Trek, while the Enterprise's crew tried its best to avoid informing people of the outside world and giving them technology, Captain Kirk was known to break the Prime Directive regarding intervention time and again both in terms of trysts with nubile aliens and in terms of preventing other nations (Klingon, Romulan) from interfering with unaligned worlds. It takes little effort to see this as analogous to the 20th century actions of the US involving what was calld Development and later would be called Cultural Imperialism.

In the post World War II period the US believed it had the right and duty to help nations develop. This development came from a linear movement away from pre-modern, third world culture to modern, western culture. Elaborated within Wilbur Schramm's plan for national development such cultures chose to receive help from outside countries in the form of monetary aid, education reforms, and infrastructure changes. I will sidestep the ideas of 'choice,' 'ethnocentrism, and domination here and simply note that such intervention through 'development' happened regularly. However, as noted by Herbert Schiller, the US did not care in most instances whether or not the country developed. Rather, what was at stake was to prevent the communist Second World from expanding. Development was simply one level of the cold war where influence (the idea of Cultural Imperialism) was intentionally spread. While Cultural Imperialism has been much critiqued in its effectiveness, unification and on various other grounds (see Curran and Park, Tomlinson) Star Trek was created in the middle of the Cold War and is exemplary of the idealism of 'justified' US intervention.

While Star Trek's United Federation of Planets in general, and Captain Kirk's Enterprise in particular are on a voyage of discovery, such discovery is situated within a greater struggle between sovereign territories, galactic countries if you will. Every new world that Kirk and crew encounter must be protected from itself and from the Klingons and Romulans. The Prime Directive is used more as a means of justifying intervention than as a prevention of intervention.

From here we return to Kingdom Hearts' use of interventionism and the prime directive. Various moments within the games talk about this. The exchanges between Donald and Goofy and how that effects what Sora can and cannot do in certain worlds is the strain running through the majority of the game (costumes, not informing people of the other worlds, not taking people to new worlds). The world of Atlantica and Triton's protectionism is a second moment. The third aspect is the people: the Worlds, the Heartless, the Villains and the King, Keybearer and friends. I will briefly review the first two moments before elaborating the importance o the latter categories of characters and how these then relate analogically back to the real world.

Goofy and Donald's Ropes

During the introductory scene when they leave Disney Castle Donald and Goofy discuss the need of secrecy during their travels. Secrecy must be maintained so as to protect the world border/order. As previously noted, the 'order' to maintain is the 'border.' To do so they must follow certain rules including change their clothes so as to fit in, hide the fact that their gummi ship is a space ship and not a sea ship, avoid bringing people off world unless they can do so with their own power (as a summon), and of course not muddle/meddle in the affairs of the worlds.

(Different Clothing - Disney Castle, Standard, Atlantica)

(Sea Ship ; Space Ship)

Clothes and space ship represent the concept of technological intervention, which was of course neither followed in Star Trek nor in 20th century interactions. Captain Kirk and the crew regularly appeared in uniform even if they hid the nature of their phasers. Schramm's development plan notes that technology is important, but it alone will not help with development. As such, it must come along with/after the economic and cultural changes. Goofy, Donald and Sora follow through with the non-information side of the protection, but they are about as good with interventionism as Captain Kirk. They meddle in the affairs of the Queen of Hearts' state; they inform Aladdin of the existence of other worlds (even if they don't take him off Agrabah); their disguise and actions are completely laid bare in Atlantica; they deliberately muddle things up in Halloween Town by activating the Heartless.

(Meddling in Hollow Bastion)

(Meddling in Halloween Town)

The rules of the world order are tied to the first game's goal of closing the doors on each world. The worlds must be separate and separated. There are keyholes, doorways, and passages between worlds that allow passage. It is throu
gh these that the Heartless flow and it is these that Sora, Donald and Goofy, which is to say, the player, locks during the first game, but even as you lock the worlds you maintain the privileged position of being able to travel between worlds on your Gummi Ship.

Atlantican Protectionism

I have previously mentioned the idea of protectionism enacted by Triton during your visit to Atlantica. Triton holds a special position as one of three monarchs (the other two are the slighted Queen of Hearts and the ever present ever absent King Mickey). All other nominal rulers of the individual worlds are either lesser officials, absent powers or the like (the Sultan of Agrabah is absent, Halloween Town's mayor is an 'elected official,' Peter Pan is not a ruler, Maleficent stole power from the previous non-ruler A
nsem the Wise, Zeus is missing from the Coliseum, et cetera). In a game with Kingdom in the title these three powers must be understood as important for an analysis. We already know what happens in Wonderland, Alice is accused of something by the Queen of Hearts, she dupes the queen, escapes punishment and makes a mockery of the monarchy. WIthin the Kingdom Hearts rendition Alice is accused of attempted theft of the Queen's heart, Sora comes to her defense, but she is kidnapped by Maleficent. Chain of Memories clarifies this situation by explicitly duping the Queen.

(Alice and Sora dupe the Queen by giving her false memories)

I have previously mentioned Mickey's conspicuous absence. While this position is highly modified in COM and KH2 for now it will be left alone.

Finally we come to Triton, the King of the Sea. Within the film itself Triton sacrifices himself to save Ariel (interestingly enough this happens within the second game, something that is much confounding in its temporalality). Within the first game he recognizes Sora, Donald and Goofy as not only outsiders, but as the Keybearer, one who brings trouble and destruction wherever he goes (as it is at this point arguably masculine - Sora, Mickey and Riku - even if the end of the second game allows for two women to utilize keyblades - Kairi and a mysterious armored woman).

Triton desires Sora to leave. However, he does two things explicitly: he destroys the icon that would reveal the keyhole and he requests that Sora rescue Ariel. The former is meant to prevent the opening of the door (that this door is already open is somehow missed by Triton; that it is Sora's goal to close this door is also missed). Triton acts out of fear that Sora as the keybearer will interfere with his rule, however he then proves that he is unable to rule individually, that he requires the assistance of Sora and company. Finally, he reveals what he previously used his kingly power to hide, the keyhole itself: he revokes his own power.

(Triton's Protectionism)

As I see it this form of protectionism is opposed to an idea of free trade and free movement. Whereas Schiller lumps the two as oppositional (free movement is opposed to imperialism; free trade is opposed to cultural imperialism) the situation is not so black and white. The second half of the twentieth century is a mass of acronyms battling these ideas out to a lack of resolve: GATT, UN, UNESCO, NWICO, NIIO, WTO, GATS et cetera. What must be taken at this point is simply that Triton is represented as bemoaning the loss of monarchic power, but similarly he is shown as unable to protet his own monarchic power. He needs and is 'deserving' of the intervention (despite his lack of desire for it).

The Prime Directive states non interference, one could say active protectionism. However, such is blundered at every instance in almost every place: Kirk and crew interfere to prevent Klingon interference, to help, to have some fun; Sora and company intervene for their own ends, to protect individuals, and even for amusement's sake; the United States intervened within Development Theory for the sake of other countries, but as Escobar and Schiller indicate, it was largely to reproduce the necessary/desired spread of Capitalist modernity as opposed to Communism.

Different Strokes for Different Folk: Modes of Mobility
Finally we come to the various forms of people/beings within the games. First, there are three forms of beings: Full/Living People, Heartless and Nobodies. For now I'm going to ignore the Nobodies as they mainly complicate the situation in the second game. The Heartless and Regular groups can be separated into various categories.

The most obvious group is the villains: Maleficent, Jafar, Oogie Boogie, Captain Hook, et cetera. Within the game they have teamed up in order to conquer the world through using the Heartless. They want to open the door to Kingdom Hearts and get its power. Simple enough. The second villain side is Ansem, or rather, Xehanort's Heartless as it is revealed later on. His goal is largely the same as the regular villains, but he acts with a slightly more directed line of reasoning being a heartless himself. Whereas Ansem (and Riku at one point) utilizes the power of Darkness to enact his mobility Maleficent warns against this and the villains largely move by using Captain Hook's ship.

(Captain Hook's Ship ; Heartless Travel)

Second are the people who remain on the individual worlds, unable to move even if they know there are places outside of their own world. Jane is one who doesn't know; Aladdin is one who knows, but cannot move. Triton is one who knows, but cannot go and arguably does not want to go. This group has neither agency nor mobility in large amounts and must be either helped and protected. Understood in terms of analalogy, they are the average person, the nationally bound person who identifies as such. The American, the Ghanian, the Brit, the Japanese, et cetera.

(Aladdin is refused)

Third are those who know and are able to move. They have mobility through either their own power (Beast, Sora, Riku) or through the power of the Gummi Ships (Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Sid and the rest of the exiles from Radiant Garden/Hollow Bastion, Gepetto and Pinochio). The villains mostly use vessels to travel in the same way as Mickey and company. On one level this group is just as dependent as the rest, but their access to certain techniques or technologies allows them access to their special position as transnational entities. These are the modern elite.

(Gummi Ship)

Lastly we move to the Heartless and Nobodies. When a being turns/gives in to darkness they turn into a Heartless, or rather, the Heartless steal their heart thereby making them a heartless, the left over shell becomes a Nobody (Weak Being -> Heartless; Strong Being -> Heartless + Nobody; Very Strong Being -> Heartless + Defined Nobody).

Heartless and Nobodies have a similar type of mobility. They move within dark portals that Sora attempts to close in the first game. Whereas the villains seek to capitalize on this mobility, and the average people desire this mobility, the transnational elite closes this mobility down to the best of its ability.

Kingdom Hearts is about mobility. It is about different groups having/using different forms of travel and the opening and closing of some of those forms of travel. It relates to a normative form of being and travel within the real world. It is about the interaction of groups (people and countries) within the real world and the concept of a Prime Directive has as much importance in justifying actions within the game as it did in Star Trek as it does within interventionist politics.

Escobar, Arturo. Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of the Third World. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995.
Park, Myung-Jin, and James Curran. "Beyond Globalization Theory." In De-Westernizing Media Studies, edited by Myung-Jin Park and James Curran. London; New York: Routledge, 2000.
Schramm, Wilbur. Mass Media and National Development: The Role of Information in the Developing Countries. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1964.
Schiller, Herbert I. Mass Communications and American Empire. 2nd ed. Boulder: Westview Press, 1992 [1969].
Tomlinson, John. Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

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