Why the Borg were Scary

Note the past tense. That is there because in recent years overapplication of the Borg to solve failing Star Trek series' problems turned them from a truly terrifying villain into just another face in the Star Trek villains' canon.

But I digress.

When the Borg came onto the scene in The Next Generation, they were quite simply the single most scary thing the series had come across. Certainly, Q was infinitely more powerful, but he wasn't so much scary as he was funny (while pointing out fundamental flaws in humanity). The Borg weren't hanging around to play. They were serious, intent, and efficient.

Exactly what made the Borg scary was the subject of recent musings of mine, and I came up with the following explanation.

Every TV series, movie, and book has had its nigh invincible enemy. Sauron had but one weakness, The Emporer a vast army and functional Death Star, etc. However, something about the Borg struck a chord with people that sent chills down their spine and filled their nightmares with cries of "Resistance is Futile, you will be assimilated."

We can cite the invincibility of the Borg as a factor in the fright they generated. In the first encounter, the Enterprise blasts the faster Borg Cube, stopping it in its tracks. A sigh of relief is breathed, until we are shown the quick progress being made in its self repair. Several torpedoes and some panic later, the Enterprise finds itself without any weapon capable of defending the flagship of Star Fleet.

However, invincibility alone does not make one frightening, as Superman and other intrepid comic book heroes show. So while a factor, we must continue through the other attributes.

The Borg are adaptable. This is often only viewed in the "You shot me a few times and now I've analyzed your weapons frequencies" invincibility category, but it is important as a whole. Often, people have cited the adaptability of mankind as proof of our continued existance. Whole movies depict battles of weaker human forces defeating greater ones, sometimes alien ones, not because of greater intelligence but because of adaptability and creativity. The Borg, however, can instantly draw upon the combined intelligence and creativity of millions to analyze your every move, adapt to your every defense, and crush you. The one trait of humanity that is truly special to us (we think) is granted to the Borg in greater quantities.

That is scary, but not quite hitting home yet. People are often disgusted by a trait in someone else that they themselves have in excess, but this isn't quite the scariness we're looking for. Onward we go.

The Borg are a hive mind, operating as one gigantic orchestrated conciousness that cares less for its drones than a young boy does for the ants he stomps on. Everyone is expendable (even the Queen apparently, as losing one only warrants replacement), and so long as the supply of new drones exceeds the expenditure, all is well. This, I think, is the beginning of what really scares people. The hive mind means a loss of individuality, which is especially precious to us in America. We like to choose how we live, what we wear, who we like etc. While a lot of these choices may not be original, they are still choices. The Borg present us with the ultimate extreme of choicelessness. Any one person is instantly compelled at any moment with a task they will complete regardless of self will. It is an entirely efficient system, but it kills all individuality, all expression thereof, and all appreciation for anything, save efficiency.

We're almost there...

Lastly, the Borg are technological. While retaining some of the flesh that initially comprised the person prior to assimilation, people are turned into machines. The ships the Borg travel in are a bizarre mix of simple geometric shapes and a complex interweaving of technology. Most importantly, anything and everything they have influence over is transformed into this same ethic. Worlds have their atmosphere changed, people their discerning features lost, everything becomes the same under the banner of technology. Here is, perhaps, the greatest and most frightening feature of the Borg. An all invincible, all consuming, individuality killing machine, powered entirely by and for technology. It destroys art and simple living in the sake of better living, all the while taking away from us that which we have, value, and often forget. It takes the ethic of improving life via technology to an extreme no one wants, and that is truly frightening.

Technology, quite simply, is a form of magic to many people. Even computer nerds and geeks are incapable of understanding much beyond their specific specialization, and that's just computers. The intricacy of a car engine alone, which once an average man could deal with, is so staggering there's a radio show which people call because their regular mechanic can't solve their problem. To anyone in an field not directly related, anything beyond setting the VCR, checking e-mail, and visiting a news website is complicated enough, let alone the inner workings of the whole deal. Technology might as well be run by little green men hiding in the black box we call a DVD player for all the majority of the populace knows.

It is this unknown that frightens a lot of people, myself included. Technology is growing beyond leaps and bounds, growing to the point where it is increasingly difficult to understand any one aspect of it, let alone the whole of it. More frightening is that this unknown force is stronger everyday, invading the home, the garden, the streets and the skies. It creeped its black tendrils slowly and softly into every aspect of life, and most of us are realizing a little late in the game just how dependent we are. Most frightening is how Technology begins to make people the same. Barriers of communication are broken, so that now everyone recieves the same news from the same people at 11, or at least ones who are little different from any others. Styles instantly traverse mountains and oceans, hitting a GAP near you which is exactly like everyone else's. This is frightening.

The Borg are so scary because they are Technology. They are a seemingly unstoppable force, robbing us of our freedoms, robbing us of our individuality, robbing us of even our souls it seems. They cannot be understood because of the sheer complexity they have obtained, they can not be reasoned with because of the sheer logic they use, and they can not be stopped because of the power they posess. They might even be scarier for computer geeks, who understand some part of the horror that is Technology. Knowing a super complicated circuit brings you a greater understanding of just how complicated one part of that car's engine is. This connection with Technology the Borg have is what accentuates the scary parts of their other features. Moreover, the hairline victories the Next Generation crew managed to pull at the last minute did little to ease the fear, as there were always more Borg to come, and this time the world might not be saved. In life, this represents the day to day battles we have against becoming overly dependent on technology. Even when we feel we've made a small victory we, like Picard gazing at the fleets of dead ships, wonder at what cost it took, and whether next time we can pull a victory. Sometimes, we simply have to fall back, unable to hold onto some precious parts of life (Picard's Furious speech in First Contact concerning where we draw the line comes to mind).

That is why the Borg were so scary. They were a single, simple looking object, that suddenly when it came close turned out to be a huge monolithic cube of intertwining complexities that could not be destroyed, could not be reasoned with, and came to eat your soul.

Sadly, the Borg have lost much of their fright, which I think climaxed in First Contact, which is probably my favorite Star Trek movie. After First Contact (a very successful movie), someone high up in the chain became convinced that by application of the Borg into Voyager, the series would grow more popular. Unfortunately, multiple Borg cubes are not scary when you immediately introduce something that can not only destroy one, but just about all of them on its own. Quite simple, a nigh invincible enemy loses its ability to scare once it is effortlessly destroyed by another. Unless you intend on replacing said enemy entirely, its simply a mistake. Over the course of Voyager, the Borg became increasingly applied to the series. This might have helped the series, but in the end it killed the Borg. They became so often, and so quickly, defeated that the fear of losing disappeared. Technology was not only no longer unstoppable, but could be defeated every hour, once a week, without anything more than a few shattered consoles, a couple dead red shirts, and some out of a hat solution.

I'm not supporting any ideas of Amish style living. Technology can be a wonderful thing, and I'm certainly addicted to it. However, often some of the best things in life such as art, nature and individual, unique people are swallowed by the technology powered life. Some of my sister's work is incredibly beautiful and awesome, whether painted, photoshopped or photographed. I still don't see her on CNN.

Actually, it might be pretty sad to see her on CNN, because that'd mean she'd mean eaten alive by the soul eating media machine, or was about to be.

Essay done, sister's art plugged, obligatory swipe at American Media check. I'm done.

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