This is part of an ongoing series, ANALYZE TREK, in which we analyze classic Star Trek episodes through a modern, socio-political lens.
What Are Little Girls Made Of? This title could simply be amended to What Are Humans Made Of? since that is the real question addressed in this episode. At its core, this story looks at what it is that makes us human. It asks the question: is the concept of humanity dependent on our physical bodies or is it our internal consciousness, our ‘souls’? Or is something else entirely?
What Are Little Girls Made Of? was broadcast on October 20th, 1966. The title, while setting the tone for the theme of this episode, is meant to serve as a reference to the nineteenth century nursery rhyme, What Are Little Boys Made Of? In this episode, the Enterprise crew attempts to contact famed archaeologist and exobiologist, Dr. Roger Korby (guest star Michael Strong), who has been missing and unreachable for several years. Adding a personal twist to the search is Dr. McCoy’s temporary assistant, Nurse Christine Chapel (Majel Barrett – later Majel Barrett-Roddenberry), happens to be engaged to the missing scientist and had signed on to work aboard the Enterprise in hopes of eventually finding her fiancé.
What we quickly learn is that Dr. Korby’s research is in the realm of artificial intelligence and robotics. Not only has he created an entire staff of androids, but he has come to the conclusion that the artificial intelligence that he has created is far superior to humanity. Dr. Korby goes to great lengths to try and prove his assertion – at one point kidnapping Kirk and creating an android duplicate to take his place. As the episode progresses, it is evident that Dr. Korby has lost his grasp of reality. At the end, it is revealed that after a bout with severe frostbite, Korby had transferred his own consciousness into an android body several years ago. As he realizes the extent to which he has gone to prove his ideas – no matter the moral violations, and no matter who he hurts in the process – Korby also sees that, in making himself a machine, he has lost his grip on humanity. Upon having this realization, Korby turns a phaser on himself and vaporizes what was left of him.
Delving into the questions that were brought up in this episode, I want to reference a TED Talk on the nature of humanity from Chris Abani, a Nigerian author and activist. His 2008 talk, “Chris Abani: On Humanity,” details inspiring stories of the human spirit, compassion, and specifically reflects on the concept of “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu is a philosophy or worldview originating out of southern Africa. There is no definite definition to what exactly Ubuntu is, but the concept is generally summed up as an idea on how humanity should function through “extroverted communities, socialization of prosperity, redemption, deference to hierarchy, and humanism.” Simply put, Ubuntu is altruism through community as a way of life. Abani’s stories of inspiration, compassion, and Ubuntu display the best we have to offer, however this quote specifically stands out to me as a fitting description of humanity:
“We’re never more beautiful than when we’re most ugly; because that’s really the moment we know what we’re made of.”
These words ring true at the very end of What Are Little Girls Made Of?, when we see Dr. Korby finally recognizing the folly of what he has done and what he’s become. The moment he acknowledges this, he is at his most vulnerable and transparent. He observes who (or what) he now is, compared to who he once was, and knows that he is no longer human. In Abani’s words, Dr. Korby stood at this moment as the most ugly he had been, and thus revealed his most beautiful, albeit tragic, self.
Many of the world’s great religions and philosophies share a similar idea of what makes us human. They postulate that we exist through an eternal battle, or compromise, between our physical essence and our spiritual essence. When Kirk responds to Spock’s concerns about Dr. Korby at the very end of the episode with, “he was never here,” he is affirming the concept of our existence as based on this philosophy. This one line acts as a confirmation that Dr. Korby’s work was no less than playing God; that by cheating the system and taking away the challenge of compromise between our physical and spiritual selves, he took away the essence of what truly made him human.
The earlier Star Trek episodes, The Enemy Within, and to a lesser extent, The Naked Time, both delved into the concept of what makes us who we are. At a glance, this episode is seemingly treading on old ground, however I see it as more of a continuance of those themes as opposed to a duplication. The Enemy Within and The Naked Time look at what makes us who we are on an individual level, whereas What Are Little Girls Made Of? expands on this by looking at what makes us all collectively human – as a society and a species.
The moment that Dr. Korby understands that he has lost his humanity and destroys himself is arguably his most human moment throughout the story. It is this moment, despite Kirk’s final comments on Korby never truly being there, that poses the question to the viewers: if humanity is lost, can it be regained?
Humanity is known to many people and groups through countless philosophies and systems of thought. To some, humanity is a virtue, a recognition of who we are and the set of standards to which we hold ourselves and each other . To others, it is the human condition, or the totality of our existence as beings in this universe. Still others see it as simple nature; the physical and psychological characteristics that make us collectively different from other variants of life.
To end this post, I would like you to think: what do YOU believe truly makes us human? Is it our capacity for altruism or ubuntu? Our ability to consciously recognize ourselves at not just our best but at our worst as well? The eternal struggle to maintain peace between our physical and spiritual selves? A collection of physical traits that make up our species? Or is it something different altogether?
Also, as an afterthought, I don’t think I could end a post on What Are Little Girls Made Of? without including this classic screenshot from the episode. Enjoy!