02 February 2012

Shared Delusion Thursday: Clearing Up a Few Things Trek

This is about Star Trek. Superficially, judging by my title, you might think that Trek-related misconceptions are a pet peeve. Nothing could be further from the truth, because if you truly lack any misconceptions, you'll have no reason to read my blog.


The Actors Love It
Or at the very least, they like it a great deal.

It's easy to think that actors don't like being typecast. George Takei (Sulu) said as much in a cameo on The Big Bang Theory where he portrayed a figment of Trek-fan Wolowitz's imagination ("You try and stretch as an actor... but all they want is, 'Course laid in, Captain!' ") Worse than typecasting is being identified as one's character. Leonard Nimoy went so far as to publish a 1977 autobiography titled I Am Not Spock.

But such is the hazard of acting fame, regardless of genre. And if it's slightly more pronounced with Star Trek, it only translates to more fame and more opportunities. You could fill an entire wiki with post-Trek acting and directing credits for former cast members.

More importantly, they get it-- "it" being the message and broad theme of Star Trek, Roddenberry's original vision of a successful future for humanity. Nearly every Star Trek actor ever interviewed speaks in glowing terms about the message of hope and their pride at being associated with such. In one of his autobiographies, William Shatner waxed nostalgic at being the celebrity du jour among NASA engineers in the heyday of lunar exploration. He understands Star Trek's role as an inspiration to scientists and engineers.

As for Nimoy's identity crisis, he followed his earlier work with a 1995 volume titled I Am Spock, telling how he'd come to terms with-- and even embraced-- the character identification. He also realized how much input he, as an actor, had on the character's development. And speaking of Spock...

Vulcans and Androids Do Have Emotions
If you've seen the 2009 Trek reboot, you already know this about Vulcans, having seen the young Spock lose control of his anger. You're probably thinking Data is covered by his emotion chip that he acquired after the death of Dr. Soong.

Yeah, yeah. But that's not what I'm talking about.

Even pre-chip Data and Vulcans in their most coldly logical state are emotional entities. Such is evident from the fact that they don't flop over, lay on the ground and wait to die.

Deliberate action is a means to an end. That an end is aimed at implies the existence of an alternative, and a variance in satisfaction among possible outcomes. The existence of satisfaction implies emotion.


More prosaically, the absence of superficial fear, anger, lust, etc. does not exclude the presence of less flamboyant emotions. Commander Data wants to understand humanity better. That's emotion. He has a desire to serve and advance Starfleet, and to see his comrades safe and happy. Spock, like other Vulcans, wants to advance science and peace. He wants intelligent beings to live long and prosper. He wants to seek out new life and new civilizations, to go boldly where no one has gone before. These are admirable emotions, true, but emotions nonetheless.

Picard or Kirk?
Ah, the great debate of the 20th century. Captain Kirk is a swashbuckling hero, and the eponymous face of Trek. Captain Picard is the smooth diplomat, and portrayed by (arguably) the best actor in any Trek series, Patrick Stewart.

But, really, Captain Benjamin Sisko from Deep Space Nine beats them both.

Kirk was notorious for getting into sloppy, 60's-style fist fights, and beat up his fair share of humans & aliens. Sisko matches that at the very least, having taken on both Klingons and the dreaded Jem'hadar.

Kirk also had a bad habit of encountering God-like aliens who had to be tricked or cajoled into leaving the Enterprise alone. Captain Sisko, on the other hand, spent the entire series with the "Prophets" (a.k.a. "Wormhole Aliens") in his head, was forced to serve as their Emissary to the Bajorans, and eventually had to serve as their surrogate in defeating their evil counterparts, the Pah Wraiths.

Now let's talk about diplomacy and juggling various people/interests/things.

Captain Picard was pretty darned good at making diplomatic overtures to the enemies and mysterious entities encountered by his ship. But Picard had no challenges on the ship. The slightly touchy, potentially violent Klingon, Lieutenant Worf, was perfectly obedient; and if there was ever a personal problem with Worf, it was Commander Riker who handled it. The slightly quirky, potentially annoying android, Commander Data, was even more reliable; and, again, his quirks were the responsibility of someone other than Picard-- in this case, Lt. Commander LaForge.

Captain Sisko, on the other hand, was placed in command of a space station that wasn't even part of Starfleet-- it was owned by the Bajorans! Half his crew, including his first officer, were Bajoran, and if such were generally supportive, there were more Bajorans on the nearby planet (e.g., Kai Winn) who despised his presence and plotted against him. Sisko had to placate and/or cajole and/or bully the greedy, scheming Ferengi on the station, frequent Klingon war allies, Romulan allies, Cardassians with suspicious intentions, various factions on Bajor, and-- of course-- those extratemporal Prophets.

Sisko had to do this while none of the aforementioned groups was under his command.

And he did it all while raising a kid as a single father.

Top that, Picard.

Trekkers Are Not Geeks

No, I can't back that up. But it brings me to my last point...

It's All About the Fans More Than the Shows
Young people often look at Star Trek and wonder: "What's the big deal?"

After all, the science fiction is nowhere near as good as 2001: A Space Odyssey. The action doesn't come close to Star Wars. The only Trek series with a solid, continuous storyline is Deep Space Nine, which is not nearly as highly regarded as The Original Series or Next Generation, and none of these come close to something like Firefly.

But back in the late 60's and early 70's, Star Trek was the only Sci-Fi game in town. And thus it was born as the standard-bearer and the rallying point for all kinds of people: scientists, engineers, technology enthusiasts, and those who simply wanted to share a fantasy universe that had been given life on television.

The standard-- and the cliché-- endures. If a movie or television show wants to portray a character as nerdy, that character shows off his knowledge of Star Trek. And in the 21st century world of high technology, geek is the new chic. Star Trek is a matter of identity. Heck, it's not even my favorite show, but I've been known to memorize a few obscure facts just to show off my geekiness.

Thus those famed Star Trek conventions did not draw ravening hordes to suck up souvenirs and reenact the show. The fans came to be with each other.

My own conventional experience centers on a Trek-based trading card game, one that's taken on a life of its own. Some players are only marginal Star Trek fans, and no small number have become fans via the game. But the community of players is relatively small compared to something like Magic: The Gathering, so we travel great distances, often at considerable expense, to play in tournaments. Why? Why not pick up a more popular game? It's the people. It's a game that attracts, even demands, a high level of interest, involvement, and intelligence. It's the experience of flying across the country to spend a weekend with thirty complete strangers who feel like thirty old friends.

Live Long and Prosper,

Post Script: What the hell, auto spell-checker? You don't have "Bajoran" or "Starfleet" or "Picard" in the dictionary? At least it recognized "Klingon". Premise holds. Trek rules.


Amber T. Smith said...

I've always liked Star Trek, in all of it's forms too. It depends what mood I'm in whether I watch Picard or Kirk, but I can't say I prefer one more than the other. They both have their attractions.

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