How Worf played the stereotype of a Klingon
and how far off that stereotype turned out to be…
For seven years, through the running of Star Trek The Next Generation, we got to know Klingon Culture and tradition through the eyes of Security Chief Worf. We learned that Klingons were passionately lead by their sense of honor. They had an uncontrollable blood lust for battle. They were also poets and opera singers.
Worf was a stiff and often emotionless security officer who wore his heritage with great pride, including wearing his baldric, or warriors sash, over his official Star Fleet uniform. His staunch following of Klingon belief often came in conflict with Federation law, allowing us to see one of the reasons that made Star Trek Great: The morally ambiguous balance between holding to your personal beliefs and obeying the law (something that is a hot topic as of late here in the United States). One time this was especially true was in the episode “Ethics”. Worf is injured resulting in his paralysis. In spite of amazing futuristic medical advancements, this injury is permanent.
Worf believes his worth is over. What great warrior ever exemplified greatness from a hospital bed? What honor is there for one’s house unable to defend it? The end game of any true and fierce Klingon is to have an honorable death and enter the great feast in Stovokor and fight the eternal battle against great enemies. If one suffered a dishonorable death, it was the Barge of the dead to Gre’thor, and dishonor upon your house.
Being that Worf is paralyzed, his chances of an honorable death in glorious battle are shot. His only option is Hegh’bat, or ritual suicide, to ease the burden of your worthlessness. Worf seeks the assistance of his close friend, Commander Riker, to partake in the ceremony – hand the forsaken a knife, allow them to plunge it into their heart, then remove the knife and wipe the blood on their sleeve. Riker is appalled. Suicide isn’t exactly a popular topic for Humans.
I’m getting off topic. The point is that Worf is very gung-ho about Klingon traditions. He practices his Bat’leth, he learns the quotes and the sonnets, he even decorates his quarters with traditional Klingon decor.
This MUST be what it is like to be a Klingon.
Our other examples of Klingons are few and far between on The Next Generation. We’ve got one of my personal favorite characters of the whole she-bang – K’Ehleyr (who was played by Marshall’s mom from How I met your mother). K’Ehleyr was half Human and half Klingon…and she kicked a lot of ass. She suavely flippy-flopped between the two cultures as she saw fit. She was a special emissary for the federation and Klingon cultural translator. Often scoffing at the way Klingon’s went on and on about their honor, she exemplified Klingon ideals while rolling her eyes at the idea of doing it properly. ***SPOILERS*** After mating with Worf she turned down the customary marriage proposal and bore him a love child, Alexander. So Scandalous.
We meet Chancellor Gowron during our time with Next Gen. He’s an interesting one with some serious crazy eyes. We get to see a bit of Klingon interaction during Gowron’s rise to chancellor after the death of Chancellor K’mpec. Worf helps out by killing the competition. Gowron, like the true thug he is, owe’s Worf one.
BUT WAIT? Didn’t I say they were poets and singers? Oh yes! Some of the finest in the galaxy. So how do seemingly emotionless warriors end up as poets and singers? According to what we know from Worf’s perspective that is a bit perplexing. Think Vikings meets the French who are snooty about their wine. It still doesn’t really work, but hey, they’re an alien species right? Who are we to judge?
So there we have it. Klingon’s are uptight, too intense, honor bound, singing murderers RIGHT?
Enter Deep Space Nine
Worf joins the space station in season 4. That’s when things start to get REALLY good. If you haven’t watched Deep Space Nine, DO IT. It is really a gem. It is the only Star Trek series that is truly linear in the plot driven sense. You still have your occasional side tracked episodes, but for the most part this series is from point A to point B. The character development is this installment is really rich, including the addition of real, authentic, nitty-gritty Klingon’s and their culture. For realsies.
Worf is much the same as he was in The Next Generation. He comes aboard and makes no effort to befriend anyone from his new crew. He’s not even particularly friendly to the lovable engineer O’Brien whom he served alongside on the Enterprise. To be blunt, Worf is kind of an ASS at this point.
Eventually we start to get a trickling of Klingons onto the base. In season 3 we get our first real good bitter taste with “House of Quark”. This is a GREAT episode. It mixes Ferengi and Klingons. That’s a winning combo in EVERY situation. In walks a powerful Klingon family and the head of House of Kozak, Kozak, is killed in Quarks bar. Long story short ***SPOILERS COMING UP*** Quark marries a female member of the house, Grilka, to ensure that her ancient house is not dissolved without a male. Hilarity ensues and it briefly becomes the House of Quark while trying to prove if Kozak died “honorably” or not, (SPOILER) he didn’t.
Most importantly however, we see REAL Klingons that were born and raised on KRONOS (Qo’nos), the Klingon home world. WAIT? you ask, WASN’T WORF FROM KRONOS? ….. no he wasn’t, but I will get to that.
The first Klingon we see is the brother that gets himself good and dead at the bar. He’s belligerently drunk and trying to pick a fight with the Ferengi staff. That’s like trying to pick a fight with your anti-social accountant; there’s absolutely nothing “honorable” about this fight he’s trying to pick, he’s just really really drunk. After his death several Klingons invested in the honor of his house or it’s dissilustionment get involved. One of the first things that stood out to me was that – THEY ARE NOTHING LIKE WORF – nothing, nil. These Klingons are a bit rough around the edges, they bend the rules to prove a point, they LAUGH. Grilka is down right charming when she’s not being fucking terrifying.
In Deep Space Nine we see more of the lovely Duras Sisters (who’s brother was fighting Gowron for the Iron Throne). The Duras Sisters, Lursa and B’Etor are tons-a-fun! These bitches are NASTY. If they’re not trying to kill all their friends they’re smuggling shit. They’re always up to no good, and no good at it either.
In “Blood Oath” we meet an elderly Kang. He first appeared in The Original Series! I shit you not. He’s gotta take care of some business avenging some past transgressions. This gets science officer Jadzia Dax involved. This is one of the MOST interesting characters on television EVER. You see, ***SPOILERS AHEAD*** Jadzia Dax is a Symbiont species where Jadzia is the host, and Dax is the implant species. The Dax symbiont has lived many lives through it’s hosts. One of those lives involved a lot of camaraderie with Klingons – Kurzon Dax. Kurzon made a blood oath….yadda yadda….long story short, Jadzia Dax knows an awful lot about Klingons, and teams up with her old pal Kang, they bring along Worf of course, and it becomes brutally obvious that Dax is far more comfortable in the actual Klingon skin then Worf ever was. She speaks the language, fights with a Bat’leth, knows the songs and the poetry, can drink with the best of them, but also has the easy candor of Klingon Tom-Foolery that Worf desperately tries to emulate. She’s quite a lady, man, lady, lady, man….anyway….
Then we get the honor of meeting…..GENERAL MOTHER FUCKING MARTOK! Oh boy is he something spectacular. General Martok was my FIRST character portrait. I painted him because I wanted a picture to hang that did him justice and there weren’t any. If you want it done right, you must do it yourself! Martok is one BAD-A. He had his eye gouged out by the Dominion. He doesn’t take any shit! He’ll spit on your honor in the most honorable way! Martok is the epitome of what it is to be a Klingon. He’s married to Lady Sirella, a mouthy and strong Klingon woman that kicked Jadzia’s ass at her own wedding because FUCK YOU, I’M FROM HOUSE MARTOK! Martok is everything that Worf is not.
Worf is tidy, tight lipped, and reserved. Martok is wild, unfiltered, and no-holds-bar. Worf is cautious. Martok throws caution to the wind. Worf does his duty. Martok does his duty on your forehead!
So what is Worf’s deal and WHY is he a stereotype of a Klingon?
First of all, yes, Worf is a real Klingon, born to real Klingon parents. He is Worf, Son of Mogh, patriarch of a great Klingon House. It went downhill when they went to live at the Khitomer Colony. Khitomer, as in – THE BATTLE OF KHITOMER. Those dirty dirty Romulans attacked killing lots of awesome Klingons, including Worfs parents. The Federation intervened at the massacre and Worf ends up on Earth and is raised by these pretty jolly Russian peeps called the Rozhenkos. They cause a lot of “aaah dad STOOOOPPPP” moments for Worf throughout the galaxy. All in All they were wonderfully loving parents who allowed Worf to embrace his curiosity of his native culture.
This is where the stereotype begins. Worf was only 5 years old when shit went down and he went to live on Earth. Everything he knows of Klingon culture he either read about or was told about. Klingons were NOT part of the Federation. The Federation – Klingon Empire were uneasy neighbors at best. With this tensions between the two you can imagine that Worf had little to no actual Klingon influence. It is stated several times, mostly from the lovely Rozhenkos, that Worf had a terrible time in school being teased and bullied. This only further solidified his longing to be a “Great Honorable Klingon Warrior”.
On Earth Klingons are regarded as scary enemies. They are vulgar, stiff, and unamused, and indeed these are the traits that Worf exemplifies. We cannot fault him this, because this is all he knows. But when you compare Worf’s idea of what Klingon culture and behaviors consists of, you can certainly see the foundation work from the other Klingons we meet – Kang, Gowron, and Martok, even the Duras Sisters. It begs the question – are stereotypes then justified when based in partial truths?
While Worf had the best of intentions in his portrayal, we can argue that it is not a true representation, and that some Klingons may even find it offensive. Worf is essentially “OVER ACTING” the part. Isn’t that what ALL stereotypes do? Start in partial truths perhaps, but are no way a true representation.
I think this is the one of the most masterful lessons from Star Trek, several years in the making. It took over a decade and 2 series to show us, and Worf, that we were wrong about an entire species.
Brava Star Trek, Brava!
By Casey Andrews