Among other things, Kate Mulgrew provides an object lesson in why it’s really important to know what you’re lending your voice to. In 2014, she was hired to provide the voiceover for a documentary called The Principle. She said later that she didn’t know what the documentary was actually about, something that makes me wonder what the narration was like. Because how could you not know that your narration was for a documentary that specifically denied Copernicanism and espoused a geocentrist view of the universe? Scientists’ being quoted out of context happens, but the entire narration?
Of course, they wanted Mulgrew because of her role as Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. While the science of Star Trek itself wobbles from good to terrible, it still holds a prominent place in the hearts of scientists the world over. What’s more, I think it represents science in a lot of ways to people who don’t know much about it. So having a person from the show narrate your anti-science documentary can persuade people that there’s actual science in it, for the same reason you’d get those real scientists to do interviews, even if you have to lie to them about what your documentary actually says and edited their interview to uselessness to get them to say what you want them to say.
What’s more, Mulgrew wasn’t just any Star Trek captain. Ships have been shown in the Star Trek universe with female captains over the years; I’m not conversant enough with the series to remember if there were any in the original series, but certainly by the Next Generation era, you’d encounter them. However, it took until the fourth series in the universe (fifth, if you count the animated series, which you technically shouldn’t) to have the captain of our perspective ship be a woman. It was Mulgrew herself who gave Janeway the first name Kathryn.
I am, to be honest, not a huge Voyager fan, but that had a lot more to do with the writing than anything else. Certainly it wasn’t about Mulgrew, who brought a steely determination to the role. I frankly thought she was written a bit too much in the Kirk mold for my tastes, but I understand why. If you’re putting the first female captain into the Star Trek universe, you’re probably going to want to call on fans’ fondness for Kirk at every opportunity. You have to give them a reminder of what they like to get them to accept something new, I guess—I say as someone who doesn’t like Nu-Trek.
An interesting fact about Mulgrew is that she and I have something unusual in common. We are both birth mothers. In 1977, while she was working on Ryan’s Hope, she became pregnant. She is determinedly anti-abortion, but she also did not feel that she could be a single parent. So instead, she gave her daughter up for adoption three days after giving birth. She spent years looking for her daughter, even hiring a private investigator. In 1998, her daughter found her. She’d begun looking for her birth mother the year before—the year I gave my own daughter up in an open adoption, as it happens, meaning the way she got in touch with me was just asking her adoptive parents for my phone number. I think Mulgrew would agree that our way was healthier.
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