Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On Going Where 'No Man Has Gone Before"...
Oh no, not a Star Trek blog! Normally, I wouldn't stoop to such geekiness and publicly announce that next to WWII documentaries on the History Channel, I probably watch more Star Trek, per capita, than most people. And though it isn't current, I still feel a need to complain somewhat about the original and it's offspring.

The original Star Trek was a creature of it's time, blending the prevalent Sci-fi themes with the politics of the 1960's, all surrounded by a lame future-art-decco aura. Look hard enough and you will find a lava lamp in Mr. Spock's quarters. The initial foray into multi-culti pap was evident; a Japanese helmsman, Scottish chief engineer, African communications officer, Russian navigator, Vulcan (alien) science officer. Note, however, that the blowhard who kept it all together was American, a midwesterner, played by a Canadian, no less.

It reflected the mores of it's time: women in short mod skirts with knee-length boots --- this was considered the height of sexy in the day, and it worked on some of the Star Trek babes. Half naked, alien women willing to help Capt. Kirk through full rut, reeked of taboo. The notion of alien pre-marital sex was considered racy, I guess.

Star Trek gave us a glimpse into our future -- you will find the forerunners of the cell phone, the floppy disk, amazing medical progress, voice-reponse-capable computers, vido conferencing. Even the Shuttlecraft is eerily reminiscent of the SUV -- a boxy, all-purpose vehicle capable of hauling just about anything and anyone, but not really all that utilitarian at the same time. It did little to show how all this technology affected mankind, except to brag that they had created a society without 'want'. Socialism dressed up as entertainment, to a certain extent.

The show tackled the issues of it's day: civil rights, anti-war protests, overpopulation, creeping, world government, interracial relationships, humanity's inhumanity. Watching the original shows, you get several impressions: it's campy, over the top for it's day, brave and bold and occasionally, silly. In short, it summed up the 1960's very nicely; people kept trying new things but kept coming up with the sme problems. It became incredibly repetitious. If it wasn't for the occasional masterful performance by Leonard Nimoy (let's face it --- it's hard to do that stuff with a straight face, imagine trying to do it with no emotion at all), the show would have all the allure of a Congressional Hearing on the Crisis of Tooth Decay. Still, it was entertaining.

Fast forward to the 1990's, when we get the updated version, The Next Generation, which set out to destroy stereotypes with a vengance; French Captain with a backbone, blind engineer, sentient androids that somehow get definied as living organisms because they merely felt that way. It has those other touchy-feely aspects that made life somewhat disgusting in the 90's; a ship's counselor, ensuring that enough psychobabble was injected into every episode, a boy-man techno-genius intended to ratify Whitney Houston's theory that 'children are our future'. This new Star Trek added the quintessence of the 1990's; a call for a return to family values (the crew brought their families aboard, causing stresses --- just ask Worf, Troi, and Dr. Crusher,-- as they struggle to juggle career with the demands of parenting and familial bonds), moral relativism with it's repeated paeans to the Prime Directive (i.e. do no harm unless by doing harm you increase the power and reach of the state, i.e. thge Federation). When the shallowness of the series became too evident (after say, five episodes) the writers simply threw out technospeak, theorhetical physics beyond the capacity fo the audience to understand, a few cameos by the stars of the original, and occasionally picking up a loose thread from the original series and following it to it's (I'm sorry) logical conclusion. All in all, a pale shadow of the original with more whiz-bang gadgets. After 30 seconds, it usually devolved into the Commander Data hour (btw, Brent Spiner is a consumate actor).

The show progressed (or is it regressed?) to more 90's-oriented themes with Deep Space Nine. The Federation acts as U.N. Nation-builders in a place reminiscent of Somalia or Afghanistan --- a planet wracked by war, with no natural resources and anchored by slavish devotion to a barely-understood, falatistic religion. We see other 90's icons in this show: the corrupt, greedy businessman who sometimes, despite himself, manages to do good (Ferenghi, btw, is a rendering of an old Hindu word that was used to describe the British East India companymen), the outsider (Odo, the unknown shapeshifting, alien entity who cannot even tell you about his origin, but is always on a quest to 'find himself'). Along the way, we're introduced to more multi-culturism than we can stand: science officer with an implanted creature inside her, more Klingons than you can shake a stick at, a station where three million different aliens mix in somewhat-peace, an Arab doctor, a female, Amazon-like freedom fighter, an finally, a black commander.

It got old as soon as it aired. We were that jaded by then.

Followed up by Star Trek: Voyager, in which Kate Milgrew leads an even more mixed crew through a galaxy that she just happened to get them lost in. Captain Janeway was the epitome of the 90's woman: seemingly strong, yet capable of bawling if she broke a nail, and so headstrong that she refused to stop and ask for directions. All the hallmarks of the gender-confused society. We see a protest against HMO's with a holographic doctor. We're treated to a hot Borg-Human combination that emulates the 90's ice princess to a T. Just to remind you that you are, indeed, watching Star Trek, we're treated to a Vulcan, and a black Vulcan at that. Diversity just doesn't extend to other worlds, it's invaded them as well.

And finally, we come to the worst of the series, Enterprise, an attempt to emulate Star Wars by making the series into a "prequel". I watched it exactly 4 times. It was that bad. Except for the very sexy female Vulcan with an iron rod shoved up her ass, it was thoroughly not memeorable. Another 90's rage: throwbacks.

And somehow, I can't help but think that Star Trek will have yet one more permutation in it's future. Perhaps they'll call it Star Trek: Legacy, in which we'll trace the unintended consequences of all the previous shows. We'll see what happens to the string of illegitimate children scattered around the galaxy by Kirk. Perhaps we'll see Vulcans degreaded by Earth culture in the same way the French complain they are corrupted by American. Perhaps the Federation will become as contentious as Republicans and Democrats arguing over a judicial appointment, leading to dueling press releases and sound bites which ultimately say nothing. Maybe, just maybe, if we're lucky, we might even see a show that does away with the touchy-feely philosophy, heavily laced with scientific crap.

BTW, I felt compelled to write this because I've just watched two incredibly bad episodes of DS9, and came away with the reinforced notion, that as always and in all things, nothing matches the original. Even whent he original wasn't all that great, nostalgia still builds it up to be more than it was.

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