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Star Trek Squeezeboxes and the Planet of Irish Clichés

February 19, 2020

Inter-planetary accordions keep showing up on Star Trek. I appear to have joined twitter in 2013 just in time to share this discovery.

Star Trek the Next Generation’s second-season episode “Up the Long Ladder” is not a high-point of the series. [Spoilers if you care] The plot is that after the first half of the show unfolds, it seems to be forgotten until it is presented as a surprise solution to the second half. There is no explanation for this.

A chicken, on the Starship Enterprise, from Memory Alpha
There is, however, a space chicken. So that’s something.
(from Memory Alpha)

In the (really it is quite memorable) first half, the crew of the Enterprise encounters a dying planet of stage-Irish stereotypes. These caricatures pass around jugs of whisky, broadly play out an inter-generational battle of the sexes, and then celebrate by playing concertina (the soundtrack though features accordion.) Who knew the prejudices of the 1800s would survive all the way to the 24th Century?

Screenshot from TV show: Cheap late 20th Century concertina, played by a cheerful white man with mutton-chop sideburns

Irish actors in the early 1900s loudly protested against this kind of (“green face”?) prejudice. Earlier, however, Irish Americans were among the first to perform in America’s racist blackface minstrel shows. These minstrel troupes were extremely popular and influential when they toured Ireland in the 1840s. In addition, they were the first place many audiences ever saw accordions – still a novelty mostly reserved for the wealthy. Surely there are higher-quality Star Trek allegories in there somewhere?

I cover some of this history in the Irish chapter of my Accordion Revolution book, and whole-heartedly recommend:

Robert Nowatzki’s “Paddy Jumps Jim Crow: Irish-Americans and Blackface Minstrelsy”, Éire-Ireland – Volume 41:3&4, Fómhar/Geimhreadh / Fall/Winter 2006, pp. 162-184.

Mick Moloney’s “Irish Ethnic Recordings and the Irish-American Imagination”, in Ethnic Recordings in America, a Neglected Heritage, American Folklife Center, (US) Library of Congress, 1982, pg 85-102.

(Let me know if you can’t find copies.)

Carl Fortina: Accordionist of the Stars (bonus points)

Another Star Trek squeezebox connection I noted is that along with hundreds of other TV shows, Carl Fortina played Star Trek accordion over the years. I wrote about him and The First Appearance of an Accordion in a Motion Picture. That post grew into the “Squeezebox at the Movies” section of my book.

I don’t know if there’s a way to find out exactly which episodes Fortina (or others) played on the various iterations of the shows’ soundtrack? Cross your geek streams with some Trek/Accordion research and add your comments below.

One Comment leave one →
  1. unwashedmass permalink*
    February 19, 2020 7:20 am

    When discussing Star Trek and accordions, you need to make an obligatory reference, even if somewhat off-topic to the matter specifically at hand here, to the famous Klingon accordion. It’s the law.

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