On the Scientist Salarian

Much like my thoughts on the USPS in The Walking Dead pilot, here’s a random thought about another piece of pop culture well past the point where it was probably relevant:

So in Mass Effect 2 (the science fiction shooting-of-mans game), the team scientist, Mordin Solus, explains to the player in a dialog scene that he was part of a cultural exchange program between the Salarian (the alien species to which Mording belongs) and Human governments. Specifically, he explains that he performed in some Salarian adaptations of Gilbert and Sullivan. The player has the option to press the issue, incredulous that this terse scientist (and lest we forget, former spy) performed in British comedic opera. Mordin proceeds to perform the Salarian version of “Modern Major General,” which seems to have been re-titled “Scientist Salarian.”

“I am the very model of a scientist salarian, I’ve studied species turian, asari, and batarian;

I’m quite good at genetics (as a subset of biology) because I am an expert (which I know is a tautology);

My xenoscience studies range from urban to agrarian, I am the very model of a scientist salarian.”

Now, if you’re familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan, and the Major General’s song, you know that the Major General is actually terrible at this job.

The Major General, according to his song, is wonderfully skilled and knowledgeable, in all matters not related to warfare. He’s wonderful at math, biology, and history but he lacks a firm grasp on the very basics of strategy. He even claims to not be able to tell a rifle from a javelin on sight, which seems pretty bad.

Why then, in Mordin’s song, is the Scientist Salarian an actual expert, skilled in relevant areas to his field?

This is where it gets terribly interesting.

We know from the in-game encyclopedia, and a few characters we met in the first game, that the Salarians have a very different view of war than most. They don’t care for large fleets or armies and prefer the focus to on espionage and subtle, surgical strikes. They will often take preemptive action to turn the political tides away from war, or focus on attacking an enemies logistical capabilities, making a war untenable. Their Special Task Groups are made of not only spies and commandos, but also doctors, scientists, and other varied experts. They follow this sort of broad, outside the box problem solving as their standard MO.

So what does this have to do with the Modern Major General?

Well, the Major General, rather than seeming the buffoon that Gilbert and Sullivan intended to write, may have seemed an ideal candidate for military service to the Salarians. A Salarian general wouldn’t need to know anything about conventional warfare after all, because the Salarians don’t fight conventional wars.

The Scientist Salarian is good at his job, because as far as they were concerned, the Major General is supposed to be good at his.

So why does this matter?

Well, it doesn’t.

But I think it’s interesting. It serves as a fascinating in universe example of how different cultures in the real world can reach wildly different conclusions from the exact same data, simply due to their own cultural context. The Modern Major General, intended as a satire of the British Army officer class in the late 19th century, becomes the Scientist Salarian, an ur example of the expert.

I just thought that was super interesting, and it’s something to keep in mind when looking at pop culture around the globe.

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