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The Borg, alien hive-mind cyborg nasties from #StarTrek are among the most iconic TV bad guys ever - and for good reason. They’re terrifying. They are legion, they want to assimilate or destroy everything in their path, they adapt to whatever you throw at them, and they just keep coming. They’re like a tidal wave of futuristic destruction, and resistance is… you know.
Ever since they premiered in #StarTrekTheNextGeneration, they’ve had a place in our worst nightmares. But why are they so frightening?
Well, like all things about the Borg, their scary-factor was carefully calculated. If you break these incredibly well-crafted villains down, you can pinpoint where the Star Trek concept developers deliberately tapped into our greatest fears - specifically from an American TV audience viewpoint - for maximum scariness. And the Borg are all about maximum efficiency.
Here are 10 of our collective fears that the Borg tap into.
10. Alien Abduction
I mean, obviously. Let’s start with the big one.
Getting grabbed up by a transporter beam or claw and taken away into some alien ship is a pretty universal Earthling fear. And actual reports of this are a worldwide phenomenon, though America does tend to have its own mythology here. We got our crop circles, our Area 51, and our flying saucers.
And the Borg are a classic alien abduction nightmare. They’ll steal you, probe you, take you to their leader (she doesn’t come in peace!), and they’ll make you one of them. Because they think their way is better, faster, stronger.
9. Technology Gone Wrong
If #GeneRoddenberry envisioned a sci-fi utopia, the Borg are the anti-Trek. But that's not a bad thing, necessarily. Made for some amazing TV, and we're still on the edges of our seats - even now that Y2K is long gone.
The Borg are the dark side of technology, keeping us humble and dragging us down into a nightmare dystopia faster than you can say, “Sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.”
The old fear about artificial intelligence getting too smart, and someday figuring out it’s better off without us? That’d be the Borg. Humanity is messy and inefficient. Our uniqueness should be added to their perfection. (The real kicker here? Look at humanity sometime, and all the awful things we do to one another. There’s always the gnawing little fear that maybe the evil alien’s got a point.)
8. Insects, Except Worse
A hive-mind. A Queen, controlling swarms of her “drones.” The Borg are consistently described with bug-like terms, and bugs… bug us.
Unless you’re one of those unique people who can spend hours studying an ant farm, you probably find the thought of vast numbers of creepy-crawlies pretty… creepy. I mean, that was the entire premise of Starship Troopers. A swarm of locusts was a Biblical plague, and you can’t get much more iconic than this. And now the locusts are back, but from space.
7. Medical Horrors
A lot of people are scared of the doctor. And usually the doctor isn't trying to assimilate you and bend you to their will.
Everything about them can creep you right out: hospitals, surgery, knives, blood, gore - and whenever we see Borg assimilation in action, it’s a terrifyingly medical-looking procedure. A painful injection, surgical implants, nano-probes, cyborg prosthetics, a physical and mental transformation, and when you wake up, you won't be you anymore, because what makes you unique will be gone. In a way, you will die. This is a very reality-based (and therefore brutally effective) scare tactic.
But the Borg tap into a more supernatural one, too.
6. Zombies, Vampires, And Other Monsters
A Borg attack usually starts with a dual-injection right in the neck. A two-pronged “bite” that screams “VAMPIRE!” to me - while the victim kicks and screams “Help!” But it’s too late, they’re gone.
And the undead horror doesn’t stop with a vampire-like Borg-bite. Have you seen the Borg Queen’s casual look lately?
Or the part where the drones will just straight-up ignore you until they consider you a threat (staring, dead-eyed, what's the word, starts with 'z?') - or the iconic red-eye walk?
Wait for it...
Yeah, there are some incredible horror movie monster conventions at work here. And at least subconsciously, we’re picking up (and shivering) at every one.
5. Mind Control
I don’t think anyone will ever forget the moment Picard became Locutus. He certainly won’t.
Our beloved Captain Jean-Luc Picard was forced to commit horrible atrocities. Thousands of people lost their lives as Picard lost himself. At Locutus' command, the Borg destroyed hundreds of Federation ships and starbases, and the tragic consequences swept the galaxy—the traumatic Wolf 359 massacre was the springboard for the next series, #StarTrekDeepSpaceNine.
The effects stayed with Picard his entire life, and the victims and survivors of those Borg attacks for their entire lives. And the films and books do a good job of following up on Picard’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (which it certainly is). The terrible fear of losing your mind and control over yourself, killing your friends and thousands of innocent people, is a nightmare in every sense.
And this violation of the mind starts with one of the body.
4. Physical Violation
We see a lot of the Borg as terrifying enemies in TNG, but it’s not until #StarTrekVoyager until we get to actually talk to one up close and personal for an extended time.
When we first meet Seven of Nine she… isn’t herself. We watch her go through a long recovery and adjustment from a very real trauma. She and her family were abducted (see #10 above) when she was a little girl, and subjected to every horror on this list. Becoming a drone was terrible, and she didn’t want any part of it.
Seven - her name was Annika then - fought every step of the way. When she talks about what she experienced as a child, she uses language like ‘abduction,’ ‘assault,’ ‘controlled,’ and ‘forced.’ In flashbacks, we see her hiding under a bulkhead, scared and crying. If you didn’t know this was a science-fiction show, and these were robot aliens we were talking about… you’d draw some really painful conclusions.
But she gets better. One of the best parts of Voyager is Seven's recovery. Resisting really isn't futile.
3. Scary Female Sexuality
Kind of goes with the above point. It’s something #Disney’s known for ages and used to great effectiveness in their villain-design: to make the audience an extra bit uneasy, make the antagonist sexually threatening toward the heroes — especially if she's female.
Look how the Queen moves, disregards personal space, and just basically gives off aggressive, creepy vibes. She is right up in her prey's face, and she will do whatever she wants with them whether they like it or not. And they're assimilated by now, so they can't argue one bit.
The dominatrix outfit and restraints don't hurt. So to speak.
2. Fascist Imagery
Star Trek faced a lot of criticism that the show was ‘communist’ when it first aired because of its ‘moneyless society’ utopia (and also that Russian guy on the bridge).
But it’s used symbols and tropes American audiences associate with its historical rivals and enemies just as often. The Borg, with its millions of identical drones, are deeply associated with the American ideas of what’s communist, although they more closely resemble fascist armies and totalitarian dictatorships.
Star Trek really isn’t subtle about who we’re fighting, either on-screen or in real life. It doesn’t have to be, not when fears run as deep and intense as in our collective American consciousness.
AND FINALLY… You knew it was coming. The big one:
Erasure of self. Loss of identity. The total deletion of who you are as a person. There is no ‘you,’ there is only ‘us, the Borg.’
American audiences in particular treasure our “rugged individuality.” It’s in our historical DNA, as we refuse to let anybody forget, including each other. We just have a deep, psychological need to establish, maintain and protect our independence and personal identity - and so does the United Federation of Planets/Starfleet, which has always very much been an America analogue. We really hate being told to conform, even when the TV show we’re watching is ostensibly about a military organization, with uniforms and everything.
So when the Borg come in all ‘you must comply,’ we go…
Data: Saddle up. Lock and load.
See what I mean about why the Borg are so good at getting to us? Seriously, it’s like the writers went around the room and said “Okay, what's everybody most scared of?”
- “Losing control of my life!”
- “Losing my identity!”
- “Technology going rogue and killing us all!”
- “Evil dominatrixes in BDSM outfits!”
The Borg are incredibly rooted in our subconscious fears. Mostly our shared, collective, often American-tailored fears. They’re made to scare us, and it works. But the great thing about common fears is that we’re never alone. And once we understand our fears, they’re easier to face. So like Star Trek proves time and again, resistance really isn’t that futile. At least it’s always worth a shot.