To be honest, the idea for this article first came up when I was out with friends and we were making fun of what we casually called “Tom Paris’ flagrant holo-pimpin'”. Though, the conversation got a little more serious when we started to discuss the difference between Lieutenant Paris’, and Lieutenant Barclay’s holodictions (addiction to the holodeck).
Both Paris and Barclay have an obsession with the holodeck, but one isn’t looked down upon for it while the other is. One almost wonders, is the distinction that one is a holonovelist, and the other a holofanfictionist? Although our current technology isn’t on par with a holodeck, there are still very similar tech that people escape to. Take MMO-RPG games (Mass Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) for instance, this is a place that people can escape to were they are accepted just like Barclay did in his holodeck programs. Or you could see it like Tom Paris as a place to escape and relax from the every day things in life.
Really though, the title of this article should be “In defense of Barclay” because if you asked me to name my favorite character I’d say… well, Garak… then Data… and then Q… but Barclay would not be a distant fourth. Even if he weren’t one of my favorite characters, though, I would still write this in defense of him because it worries me how much this has to do with the community than the show makes obvious.
When I ask other Trekkies why it is okay that Tom Paris can spend hours in the holosuite crafting his fantasies, but not okay not for Barclay to do so, the overwhelming answer is because Barclay did it at the expense of social life.
That’s what it comes down to. Bashir and Paris made holodecks apart of their social life, as did Data. They invited people in because they were able to. Barclay, on the other hand, couldn’t.
It’s very obvious that Barclay is supposed to serve as a painfully apparent- and sort of insulting- life lesson for us “nerds”. His entire story is about how we shouldn’t live our lives from dream to dream, which I think speaks to a far colder reality than Star Trek ever really meant to engage in.
The truth is that Barclay has a reason for his increasingly delusional holodeck programs. He isn’t accepted among the crew. It’s all well and good to tell someone to get a life, but what if they can’t? What if you won’t let them?
In the very first episode we are introduced to Lieutenant Barclay, he is so unreasonably disliked by people that even the Captain can’t help but slip and say his insulting nickname, “Broccoli”.Tom Paris saving the world as Captain Proton.
It was only natural for him to wish to retreat into a world he could control; where he could make it so he would be liked. Let’s be frank, there was very little else he could do in the real world to actually make that happen. It should be interesting to note that Barclay, despite his proclivity for holodecks, does understand there is a distinction between fantasy and reality. In the episode, “Ship in the Bottle”, Barclay gets visibly concerned that his life may just be a holodeck program, and seems relieved that when he asks the computer to “end program” that life continued.
So this brings me back to my fundamental question, why is Barclay wrong and Tom Paris not?
I think there are two reasons for this.
The obvious is that Barclay essentially used the holodeck for self-insertion fanfiction, where he could do things like tell Captain Picard off, and woo Deanna Troi. Self-insertion fanfiction is probably one of the most reviled types of stories in the fanfiction community, so it stands to reason there is an inherent dislike of people who would do that in any analogous way.
Though, I’d like to point out that what Tom Paris, and Doctor Bashir do, is a form of self-insertion as well because they do it in order to escape reality, and control the world they escaped to. Why else would Bashir always be running around as James Bond, or a bomber pilot from World War II? Why else would Paris write holonovels that star him as the main character?
It comes back down to the fact that Bashir and Paris’ holograms don’t exist in reality, and Barclay’s do. The real problem was that Barclay’s programs seemed like a violation to the people his holograms were based on.
But I think there is far more to it than that. Why Barclay has to escape, and why Paris has to escape are two different stories altogether. Really, it seems, when it comes down to acceptable holodeck usage, it’s a matter of popularity.A Holo-Deanna Troi who loves Barclay unconditionally.
Barclay was forced to recreate his reality in a way he could control because he was never given a chance to be a member of the group. It takes one to know one, and Barclay, fictional though he may be, looks like he has been chronically on the outside of society through no real fault of his own. Being awkward, after all, isn’t really a fair thing to completely ostrasize someone for.
Thus, it snowballs until he gets to his adult life where he has long since come to the conclusion that he’ll never be accepted. That being said, it wouldn’t be fair for me to continue this without mentioning that he does eventually make friends with the crew of the Enterprise. However, this article is not so much about that, but the initial reactions to his actions in comparison to other characters who love the holodeck. The reason, then, that Barclay’s holodeck usage, though almost the same conceptually as Bashir, Paris, and Data’s, isn’t socially acceptable is because he was never deemed socially acceptable in the first place.
And that’s the crux of it, and a little bit why I never like the Barclay episodes despite loving his character. He is made to look like a socially unacceptable weirdo, and there is little to no mention of the fact that he was made to be that way; that there is another culprit altogether. In the end, we have to ask ourselves, if people pursue these sort of fantasies, what did we do make them feel like that was their only option? And, is really that wrong at all?