Deep Space Nine has quite a range, having episodes that are very light, and episodes that are quite dark. This contrast is significant, it allows for a broad painting of life which is, for want of a less pun-ny way to put it, quite lifelike. Sometimes, the contrast is starkened by light and dark being in the same episode.
“Rules Of Acquisition” is rather firmly in the lighter side of things.
It starts with Dax playing Tongo with a bunch of Ferengi, in Quark’s bar, which is closed for the night. The game looks very complicated, there are constant bids going into the pot, there’s a set of cards on the table, each player has a hand of a different kind of cards, there’s also the rolling of dice. There are a couple of points where the game is held up by a player who takes a while to make a decision, or whose mind is elsewhere. It happens in games, though most people try not to be that person. I try to have my turn planned before it happens, though of course in many games the element of chance, or other players’ turns, can disrupt that planning.
Quark then gets a call from the Grand Nagus, in his second appearance on the show. Zek wants Quark to meet with some representatives from the Gamma Quadrant, and come to a significant deal, establishing the Ferengi a financial foothold in the new market.
Quark’s waiter, Pel, provides Quark a lot of helpful advice, leading Pel to become a significant assistant during the negotiations. Pel turns out to be a woman disguising herself as a man, Ferengi women not being allowed to go outside, wear clothes, make a profit, that sort of thing. The profit one may be the most significant, in a culture that worships profit.
The Dosi, the species Quark and Pel are trying to broker a deal with, are aggressive negotiators, and are reluctant to agree on the high amount of tulaberries that the Ferengi are demanding. Even intially, before Grand Nagus Zek tells Quark he’s to negotiate for tent imes the initial amount.
Pel intuits that Zek knows more than he’s letting on, and that the tulaberry deal isn’t what he really wants. Quark gets told that the Dosi can’t deliver the amount he’s asking, but he should try dealing with the Karemma.
“Who’s the Karemma?”
“An important power in the Dominion.”
“The Dominion? What’s that?”
“Let’s just say if you want to do business in the Gamma Quadrant, you have to do business with the Dominion.”
This is our first mention of the Dominion, who become somewhat important later in the series.
I’m sure I shall say more about the Dosi, the Karemma, and the Dominion, when we’re introduced to the Karemma, I believe at the start of the next season.
The Dosi seem to be a bit violent, perhaps not quite so much as the Klingons, who head-butt each other for fun. Last season we saw Tosk, a kind of sentient pet species, and the race that hunted Tosk for sport. We also saw the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis, two factions on a planet, that were always at war, and those that died got regenerated by nanotechnology. so the majority of species we’ve met in the quadrant, have a violent streak.
We’ve also seen the Wadi, who weren’t really violent, they were more interested in pleasure, particularly games. Wonder what they’d make of the Ktarians.
Considering what comes later, it’s interesting to contrast what comes earlier.
The Ferengi view of women is something that gets looked at a few times in DS9. When Jake and Nog went on a double-date, Nog expected his non-Ferengi date to chew his food for him, like a Ferengi woman would be expected to. In today’s episode, there’s scandal that a woman is out and about, wearing clothes. Quark and Zek reach a kind of stalemate, that either could ruin the other by revealing that they let a woman take such a big place in these important negotiations. And of course, next season we meet Quark’s mother, who also doesn’t adhere strictly to Ferengi law. And the attitude of pretty much any male Ferengi to any female at any time, perhaps paint even more of a picture than our exposure to Ferengi females.
“They’re greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls, and I wouldn’t turn my back on one of them for a second.”
“Neither would I. But once you accept that, you’ll find they can be a lot of fun.”
One does rather wonder where these attitudes come from. A couple of the screen-mentioned Rules of Acquisition specifically concern females (#94: “Females and finances don’t mix.”, and #139: “Wives serve, brothers inherit.”, honorable mention to #112: “Never have sex with the boss’s sister.”), and quite a few others recommend exploiting family in general, and employees.
From what we see in the show, Rule #94 doesn’t make a lot of sense, Ishka and Pel both turn out to be smarter and better at business than most, if not all, of the other Ferengi we ever see ever. Perhaps the smart Ferengi male is one who disregards that rule, and lets his wife have her own income streams (under his name, to put off suspicion), or takes her advice on things sometimes.
But the Rules themselves must have reflected the culture in which they were produced, by Grand Nagus Gint, 10,000 years ago. Though there have been revisions and additions since then, so who knows how bad the original ones were. Not us, certainly, as the show never explores that. Rules are often set up for a reason, and to understand the rule, you have to understand the reason for the rule. And sometimes both reason and rule are stupid, sometimes the reason is understandable, but not good enough to establish a rule, and sometimes there’s a surprisingly good reason for a rule.
The Ferengi were originally intended to be an opposing race that would rival the Klingons in popularity. They didn’t really take off as that, from their first few episodes in TNG, and so they packed up heir bags, and headed into the land of comic relief. They had their taste for profit from their introduction, however.
The Rules of Acquisition made their debut in Season 5 of TNG, their only TNG appearance. Most of the rest are from DS9, the rest are from Voyager and Enterprise. The TNG reference is late enough that it may have been part of setting up for DS9, which started 9 months later.
I think those who established these facets of Ferengi lore in the TV shows, never really asked why the Ferengi were like this, and to be fair, I don’t think they ever really needed to. Like an anecdote I heard about Fawlty Towers, we don’t need to know why Basil and Sybil got married, or what they liked in each other back then, we just need to understand that they are married now, and to some extent they don’t really like each other any more.
But in real life, we do need to understand the reasons for things. A significant element of ’60s and ’70s culture was “free love”, which essentially meant unrestricted sex for everybody. To some extent, our media still portrays that as an ideal. But, as Austin Powers was confronted with when he reached the ’90s, there turned out to be reasons why everybody doesn’t just sleep with everybody else.
Western society now has a kind of schizophrenia, pushing sex, while also pushing the notion that you’re not owed sex by the object of your desire, who might not be that into you. Promising freedom from consequences of sex through abortion, while enforcing consequences for sex by hasty marriages or child support.
And all the while, it seems that every other cultural boundary is open for dismantling, every other taboo is ripe for mainstreaming. It’s like someone in a house, deciding he doesn’t need this wall or that one, and taking them out without any concern or knowledge that some of these walls might be load-bearing, and thus, rather important.
And yet at the same time, the majority of the laws being enacted are increasingly more restrictive.
Neither of these, of course, are new phenomena. The Roman Empire, as it got more decadent, also got more restictive. Communism, billed as levelling the playing field for everyone, tearing down social structures and creating its own.
Many consider certain traditional understandings of things, to be as silly as the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. But I think only a tiny fraction of them have ever given any thought to the Why of things, not to try and understand it. Perhaps to ridicule it, but not to understand it.
But also many of those who adhere to the traditional understandings don’t have a firm grip on the Why, either. When the That has been common understanding for a long time, it’s easy to just accept. The realisation that suddenly there’s a whole lot of people not on the same page as you, tends to catch you unawares.
For an example, iconoclasm. (Warning: simplification for the sake of time) There was Christian art from the beginning (apparently the Roman catacombs have some good examples), and iconography was status quo for quite a long time. Then there was the rise of iconoclastic Islam, which started conquering Christian lands. Some leaders thought perhaps the Muslims were winning because there might be something wrong with icons, which opened up a second front of destruction. The iconodules were used to icons being the status quo, and knew the What, but now they were challenged to come up with a Why. And they did, there are writings (by St John of Damascus and St Theodore the Studite, for example), and the results of the Seventh Ecumenical Council.
Dialogue and understanding between different groups and opinions, rarely seem to be actively encouraged. It’s hard to not think that this will be our downfall.