November 19, 2017

The Complicated Legacy Around STAR TREK

Posted in Pop Culture at 8:15 am by chavalah

Third installment in my 2017 #NaNoBlogMo project.

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, hiding behind a paywall 😛

Fun fact—these next two blog entries both involve Chris Pine. 😛 He’s far less central in this first one, though. He’s just my jumping off point for understanding Star Trek because (I know—shame, shame)—I’m most familiar with his movies.

Like many other science fiction and fantasy fans, I watched the pilot for the newest Trek tv show, Star Trek: Discovery and have been waffling on buying into the CBS All Access bit. I’m just wary of the fact that I’d be paying for this service when I’m only interested in one show; I have the same pop culture dilemma when it comes to The Hamdmaid’s Tale and Hulu. I feel like an old lady as I gripe about missing the old and dependable way for acquiring my moving pictures. 😛

But everywhere I go online, people are whining about the subscription service. Apparently few of us know what to do with this. Meanwhile the show has been renewed for a second season after receiving 83% positive reviews from critics, according to Rotten Tomatoes. Yet whenever I see a news story on Facebook about these developments, it’s always accompanied by several angry face reactions.

Sifting through the comments I’ve come to realize that some Star Trek fans aren’t just mad about the new expense. They’re also upset about the general direction of the franchise’s newest iteration, which I’ll get into later. I’ve also seen a lot of indignation and complaints about the fact that some of the Discovery cast and crew took a knee on premiere night in protest of police brutality against African American men.

Here’s the irony of being a speculative fiction fan. I love science fiction and fantasy for expanding my mind and letting me see real issues and themes in new ways. But I’m still surprised by the idea that socially conservative folks find something in Star Trek. I know that I should tread carefully. I’m not actually that familiar with the franchise. When it comes to all of the past tv shows I’ve only seen an episode here or there.

But I understand the impetus behind Star Trek. I understand that Gene Rodenberry wanted to imagine a future where Asian American men and African American women and (and women in general! Plus Jewish Vulcans) could have a seat at the table…or a spot in command of the Enterprise. 😛 I think my favorite story in the making-of-Star Trek archive will always be how Martin Luther King, Jr encouraged Nichelle Nicholls (aka Lt. Uhura) to stay on the show because of the important work she was doing for the advancement of Black people. According to Nicholls, Dr. King told her, “You are marching. You are reflecting what we are fighting for.”

Dr. King wasn’t naïve. He marched, spoke and died so that the United States could pass civil rights legislation to protect African Americans. But he knew that wasn’t the end of racist violence and discrimination. At the risk of voyaging into hubris, I’ll state that I fully believe that Dr. King, were he still with us, would be kneeling with Colin Kaepernick and the new Star Trek employees.

But not everyone feels that way. Some people apparently believe that Dr. King’s work ended in the ’60s and that current political movements are hiding more nefarious ends. And in all honesty, I don’t know what Gene Rodenberry would have believed. I’m wondering if any of his biographies address this point. Was he one of those people who didn’t “see color”? His future vision—and perhaps that of fans who are angry at “take a knee”—is that we should ignore race altogether.

Personally, I think that is a short sighted approach. In the time since we arrived on this planet, we haven’t been able to shake xenophobia. What magic pill would the United Federation of Planets offer to make us forget this all too human trait? I think that people, and organizations, can strive to be good, but we are flawed. Our society will always carry forward some forms of discrimination against others because we don’t know how not to, as the “bend a knee” movement proves. And even if we could rid all of it from “the system,” we can’t rid it all from the human heart.

So I guess maybe it’s me who struggles with the ideology behind Star Trek. Even moving past the ubiquity of discrimination and hatred, I don’t believe that most human conflicts devolve into a simple good vs bad. Therein lies the structural problem that many fans seem to have with Star Trek: Discovery. The main characters aren’t always squarely in the morally justified camp. And the show, apparently, is pretty dark and serious.

(Side note—many people on Facebook are recommending The Orville to watch instead…but ever since I heard that it’s Seth MacFarlane’s project, I’m just wondering how he can adapt The Mustache Song for outer space. :P)

We can blame Game of Thrones for that, probably. 😛 Since the brutal fantasy series took hold of pop culture consciousness, much of TV drama exists in a sea of gritty realism. I’m trying to remember my favorite show of all time, Farscape (which definitely wouldn’t have been possible without Trek.) The first few seasons, which aired in the early 2000s, handled space chases and vendettas with a little bit of a lighter touch. But as time went on and the show became more serialized, the tone got much darker; it included post traumatic stress and drug use in its final season. Maybe that’s why the show was cancelled; the details of that have always been a little bit fuzzy to me. But such darkness would not merit the red flag in today’s day and age.

I feel so conditioned to fall for the dark and the brooding now that it’s good to remind myself for my love of Farscape and the much kookier Xena: Warrior Princess. Maybe I should watch some older renditions of Star Trek, too.

But at the end of the day, my gut calls out for Discovery. And for The Handmaid’s Tale. Hey—when the world is dark and serious, hope shines out all the more. Maybe it’s time that I abandon old systems, just because they’re comfortable, and go out and make this happen.


Addendum: Concerning staying abreast of science fiction and fantasy television news, I’ve been poking around the Tuning Into SciFi TV podcast again. It’s the brain child of some former Farscape podcasters, and there’s some great (if overwhelming) content on here. Genre-loving friends and family—take note! I already do all of this obsessive behavior books; I can’t handle television, too! Oh, the problems of a pop culture addict. 😛 Their listeners can’t stop talking about the inconvenience of subscriber services, either.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] is a fraught subject, and to jump back to my last post, briefly, I think my inspiration for it got a little lost in the shuffle. Star Trek is predicated, […]


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