Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Going Boldly Where

To be honest, going boldly where quite a few men have gone before. Nevertheless boldly. Nevertheless necessarily; I told Briullov that I’d respond to his contextualized review of Star Trek. [Most of you are probably just going to skip this entry. That’s fine. It’s here if you ever want to come back to it.]

A few definitions are in order. First up: Briullov’s conception of Star Trek. It is based on The Next Generation, a series I, admittedly, did not watch, but understand to have been less swashbuckling and more idealistic; Gene Roddenbury’s utopian scenario into which he could throw any problem of the modern age, for which to see how the citizens of Utopia would respond. Because of that definition, Briullov bemoans JJ Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) for failing to respond to any of the challenges that have arisen in the world philosophies since TNG, let alone since the original Star Trek. Instead, the movie restates and reanimates the neuroses of 1960s white male supremacy, the racist, sexist, classist idea that the paragon of virtue, even of that future century, is the handsome white male.

I want to backtrack this next definition to the first series of Star Trek, to the quest of going “boldly where no man had gone before.” I think it’s better summarized in the trope of “handsome-male-protagonist-saves-day-gets-girl.” I have no idea what Number Myth that would be in the folklore-numbering schemes, but I’m sure it’s there. Even those of us too young to have watched the original series know its format, by reruns or by so many forms of mockery: the Evil Overlord’s Handbook, the gags about being a red-shirted ensign, Futurama, etc., etc. At the most collective the glories of the day were spread between Kirk’s physical intelligence, McCoy’s emotional, Spock’s logical, and maybe, to mix it up a bit, Scott’s mechanical. But, to paraphrase a movie critic lauding the Abrams movie for not resorting to this aspect of the original series, “it seemed that any problem could be solved by a pair of overweight men, either shirtless or in strange alien gear, grappling with one another in a sweaty avatar of Greek wrestling.”

I like throwing in something random to the mix
one of these things is not like the other
and in this case, that random definition is Cloverfield, the 2007 “American Godzilla” adventure JJ Abrams created. Cloverfield got right everything that the American remake of Godzilla (I forget the year, the one with Matthew Broderick) got wrong. Where Broderick had the know-how, and got inside Godzilla’s head, and saved the day, Cloverfield got into the psychosis of the American public and its fear of unstoppable forces. The monster is indomitable, all the more terrifying because it doesn’t seem to have purpose so much as general rage at anything and everything. It is horror, to think that there exist such enemies and forces as can’t be reasoned with, as can’t be leveled by bombs and firepower; politics and military might brought to nothingness. The end of the American man’s burden.

And now this readaptation, where I see not the blatant disavowal of the Western status quo Briullov may have wanted to see, nor even forward-thinking philosophies constituent to moderates of today’s political bodies. Instead, I see minute but systematic perversions of the original scheme: McCoy’s not in touch with emotions, he’s still haunted by divorce, an angry and poorly-functioning doctor; Spock is truly half-human, playing tonsil hockey with Uhura or letting PK Shitstorm loose on Kirk and the Romulans (as opposed to the original Spock, half-Vulcan, 35% robot, and 15% human when the writers needed him to have an emotional meltdown because they couldn’t think of a good alien backdrop). Uhura – well, she’s no longer chained to her post by a weird device in her ear, instead
1) initiating the Hero’s Journey
2) discovering the Bad Guys
3) proving to be highly intelligent, better at the communications job even as a student than the man assigned to the post is
4) highly forceful, demanding that Spock recognize that specialization (#3) that earned her a place on the Enterprise.
Uhura, it seems to me, pokes a hole in both Briullov’s and my own arguments, being a legitimately strong, female, black character on the screen. No return to the 1960s there, but no subtle perversions either. Let’s move on.

Central to my perception is Kirk, and his role in the plot. That is – to his non-role in the plot. A babe in the opening scenes, one must forgive him for not helping to fight the Romulans. Later: saved in the bar by the Captain, saved from expulsion by serendipity, saved by Sulu, saved by old!Spock, and, the coup de grace, in my mind, to the Kirk of old: saved by the Enterprise’s crew itself. All Spock and Kirk did by themselves would have been for nought if the Romulan’s bombs hit home, had it not been for the Enterprise appearing. It was a collective effort that saved them. It was Sulu and Chekhov and Scotty and Uhura, again, whose close-up shots proved that Abrams wanted us to pay attention to the fact that they were the agents of change, in this case.

These subtle perversions are how Abrams brought Star Trek up to speed. Introduce a fully Marxist society and the public starts seeing Red and screaming for Lists of Black. Need the reader remember this summer’s “rational,” “democratic” town meetings?

Even the green woman, who is lascivious and might have made me say something about feminism, proves to be a twisted allusion to the original green women. We see it in Uhura’s response to her, and, more so, we see the twist in its placement in the narrative, hardly thirty minutes in. We are not yet proud of Kirk at that moment. We stick with him because, in that part of our mind that’s not fully suspended disbelief, we know he’s going to be captain. That is, we’re pretty sure he’s going to be captain someday, in spite of strange sci-fi timelines, in spite of how poorly he functions as a young man at this point in the narrative. Someday he’ll straighten out. The indelible mark James Dean left on the American Dream.

Even that which originally upset me – that old!Spock got the final voice over, instead of the young Captain James T. Kirk, serves to distort the old. All is not as all was. If Kirk had received the voiceover, the message would have been, “There. Now everything of backstory that needed to be said was said; now we’re where the original series started.” No. Instead, that bit of the original series, like old!Spock himself, is just a remnant, a deus ex machina in the wings, strutting and fretting its hour upon the stage, signifying nothing.

To me this is all quiet dissidence. I compare it, in the subjective reality that is my mind, my memory, to the loud, kicking and screaming, slamming doors dissidence, that I saw in many of my compatriots prior to the presidential elections. The pronouncements, like from an acquaintance, Nietzsche, that “If McCain wins, I’m going to X Country.” I don’t know that Nietzsche could have outlined O’s campaign goals, truth be told. But that is another post.


Nam pridietsia ne obratit’ nekakoe vnimanie na eto soobshchenie. - We shouldn’t pay any attention to this post.

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