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Star Trek: Cultural vector and Hollywood cash-cow (Part Four)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted June 8, 2009

Star Trek has spawned a huge number of sometimes very intense enthusiasts (the so-called "Trekkies" or "Trekkers"). The passion of this attachment, the memorization of every episode down to the last word, the attendance of conventions which strengthen "the faith," and so forth, strikes one as an over-concentration of time and effort. Star Trek has sometimes grown to command a greater allegiance in the hearts and minds and ways of life of its followers, than many actual nations and religions that have existed for hundreds or thousands of years. Living in the mostly history-less milieu of late-modern, urban North America, many young persons have been filled with all kinds of ersatz substitutes for "meaning in life." However, Star Trek is obviously only one of the very many identity options available today. And one should stress that comparatively few of such modern-day identities are total -- there is a constant crosscutting and dynamic interplay between the ever-changing and sometimes dizzying array of "roles" one can play. However, most of these "roles" tend to work in a direction that strengthens the current-day system, with virtually all of the "diversity" taking place under a broadly left-liberal banner. For example, one of the lesser-known aspects of Star Trek fandom is a distinct subgenre of fan writing depicting homosexual relationships between Kirk and Spock!

It might be added here, to give some further nuance to the argument, that science fiction fandom is emphatically not monolithic. For example, there are enthusiasts of literary, printed science fiction, who look with varying degrees of disdain at Star Trek or Star Wars fans. Many of the more serious SF fans see Star Trek and Star Wars as "too vulgar," or "sci-fi" (sometimes pronounced or written "skiffy"). Some literary SF people openly call Star Trek "the Blob" – as it envelops such a huge portion of the science fiction genre. "Trekkers" (who see themselves as serious students of the phenomenon), look down on "Trekkies" (seen by "Trekkers" as the particularly intense and socially-awkward devotees). Some Star Trek fans look down on Star Wars fans, as even more socially-awkward than themselves.

Ironically, some crypto-conservative aspects can also be identified in Star Trek, notably the obsession by some with the Klingons (to the point of studying their invented language, which has been codified by a contemporary linguistics scholar), and an often understated hankering for a more "robust" Star Trek universe. For example, among the most popular Star Trek episodes are "Mirror, Mirror" (TOS) (which depicted an "alternate universe" where instead of the Federation, there was a vicious Empire), and "Yesterday's Enterprise" (TNG) (which depicted an alternate Federation that was far more military-oriented, owing to a protracted war with the Klingons). The "paratrooper outfit" of Security personnel in the first Star Trek movie was quickly dropped, while the handsome maroon uniforms in the second Star Trek movie were highly popular. The old psychological core of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, almost certainly has more appeal than the increasingly de-centered and dis-integrated later versions of Trek.

One thing that can be said about the Terran Empire shown in "Mirror, Mirror" is that it looks to a great extent like a liberal parody of an authoritarian empire. The parallel-Enterprise crewmembers in "Mirror, Mirror" are full of viciousness and lust, continually plotting against each other; they are "without honor." While it may be admitted that an authoritarian empire would have fairly negative attitudes to those perceived as servile classes or as outsiders, the relations within the ruling and warrior-elites, would more usually be characterized by mutual respect and courtesy. The more telling critique of the authoritarian empire is NOT that it lacks a sense of community-closeness and personal decency in relations within the ruling or military caste, but rather that it treats those perceived as servile classes or as outsiders, with contempt.

The DS9 crossover episodes were based on the premise that the parallel-Spock had been able to shift the entire Terran Empire in a peaceful, positive direction -- as a result of which it fell prey to a Klingon-Cardassian-Bajoran alliance. Again the theme of "Spock, Messiah" -- although his apparently positive intervention had highly negative consequences for Earth.

The author had also seen briefly part of what was apparently a crossover episode of the latest series, Enterprise, but the alternate-Captain Archer was shown as so ferociously evil that it was rather unpleasant to watch.

The author of this article also remembers glancing at a TNG novel, Dark Mirror, which apparently portrayed a parallel-Picard from the Terran Empire challenging the Federation Picard. But that is itself now an alternate interpretation of the history of the crossover universe.

One thing that can be said about Star Trek, with its hundreds of novels and comic-books, as well as an enormous body of fan fiction, is that it can never be a perfectly coherent, consistent universe. Indeed, one of the first Star Trek novels published, Spock Must Die!, can now be considered as only a Trek "alternative-history." (As it ends with the Klingons denied space-travel by the Organian superbeings.)
Actor William Shatner's reaction to the more socially-awkward Star Trek fans speaks volumes. A skit on the long-running Saturday Night Live comedy and entertainment show depicted him (dressed as Captain Kirk at a stereotypical Trek convention), screaming at these kinds of hapless, pimply-faced geeks: "Hey, you there, get a life!!! Have you ever kissed a girl!?!" At one of the Billboard Music Awards in the 1990s, an obviously drunk, completely bald Mr. Shatner, re-iterated his message, saying words to the effect, "Captain Kirk is dead -- get a life!" (Around that time, the Captain Kirk character had finally been "killed off" in Star Trek: Generations, the seventh Star Trek movie. A movie, incidentally, with a cyberpunkish, Nordic villain). In what is perhaps an ironic acknowledgement of Star Trek's central role in his life, William Shatner titled his recent book about his acting career and Star Trek, Get a Life. It could be argued that William Shatner's relationship with Star Trek was ultimately far more complex and profound than is suggested by that one famous or infamous skit -- in the end the so-called "great myth" enveloped him, too.

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.





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