This Land is Our Land

In the previous post, I had consciously decided not to take on the task of arguing why Star Trek doesn’t suck, but in responding to a comment I found I went there anyway. So here’s the response that broke out of the little comment box to become a real post:

There is a point where my skepticism comes full circle and turns back into optimism. I think it would be foolish to believe this is the last we’ll see of Star Trek. Roddenberry is dead, and the last three series have mostly been products of hacks who don’t care for or about the franchise. But eventually Paramount will realize yet again they’re squatting on exploitable intellectual property and be tempted to go back to the trough one… more… time.

It would be nice if such an effort could be driven by a Kaufman- or Whedon-level creative talent, but I’m not sure if the fans would accept it. Blandness is part of the appeal of Star Trek. The farther you try to go outside the box—DS9, Voyager, Enterprise—the more the fans (and the critics) hate you. Unlike some of the more fantastical works cited, the Star Trek world is supposed to be our world just a little farther down the road and somewhat improved. No ghosts, no mysterious forces. Remember, when Star Trek first arrived on the scene, we had an honest-to-goodness space program. We had guys walking around on another planet (yes, our binary sister, but it counts) all the damned time! This was not fantasy, it was projection. And yet, as we’ve seen, Enterprise has spent most of the season breaking out of that connection to “our” reality, with alternative-reality and -timeline stories, and I bet this has alienated the fans while elating the critics, who can finally pick out the shark-jumping moment. But from Card’s argument and examples of “good” sci-fi TV this is what they should have been doing all along: creating real jeopardy, taking chances with big story arcs, getting jiggy with the frame of reference. So which is it to be? The bright, shiny, imaginable future that we can all hope for and work toward, or the gritty, complicated, sometimes-hallucinatory, dystopic fantasy that we think of as cutting-edge entertainment these days? What was it Bruce Sterling said at SXSW this year? We have two choices: the unimaginable or the unthinkable. The unthinkable is what you get if you don’t work toward the unimaginable. The whole point of Star Trek is that it’s utopian. It’s supposed to show us there is a future waiting out there, a place that’s better than what we have now but which can logically be projected from today. Because guess what, that was somewhat in doubt in the late 60s and it’s even more in doubt in 2005. So what’s wrong with a utopia that still manages to share our problems, and maybe even gets to solve them once in a while? It may be “bad” entertainment, but it’s the best kind of propaganda. I think this was the real appeal of the Star Trek universe, and if anything we need this kind of reminder now more than ever.

So yeah, maybe it’s sentimental and over-simplified. Maybe it fails on many levels to be “good” sci-fi or drama. But I don’t think you can ignore the longevity and popularity, and yes even the rabidity, the fact that even when it’s been produced by people who don’t really give a shit and for all the wrong reasons, it’s still managed to connect deeply with people across huge demographic gulfs. There’s more to the story than production values. And you know what, bottom line, if Orson Scott Card hates it, I want to like it right there. The enemy of my enemy and all that.

3 thoughts on “This Land is Our Land”

  1. A bit of irony for you, your pithy subtitle when I read this post was “Engage”.

    So this got me thinking about the franchise as a whole, from the warm fuzzies of TNG with Jean-Luc snuggling you as he reads a Shakespearean bedtime story to the more recent, more fantastic and yet less encouraging story lines, and I wonder; what’s not working?

    I wonder even more about it when the newer versions certainly appeal to the current, less optimistic sci-fi mood, which you and Mick Farren point out in your post “Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full of Stars” (https://www.dickdiamond.com/2005/02/is-glass-half-empty-or-half-full-of.html) is definitely not realizing some futuristic dream of utopia, but rather trying to survive. Certainly something like Voyager would have even more appeal now that we all hate our lives than it did coming out of the cultural N2O that was the Clinton administration.

    Timing, ideas, understanding of the importance of the franchise all important, and you’re right, there’s no way Paramount will sit on this for too long, but hopefully they realize that an old rock star has to disappear sometimes before he can make his comeback.

  2. Good point about waiting a bit before jumping in again… how about a new Star Trek when we get a new administration? That way I can hope for more than one thing at the same time.

    Not to start anything here, but I had no idea that the people who’d been raising money to save Enterprise are now offering refunds. Man have those people spent a lot of time and effort trying to keep the show afloat. Makes me want to kick Jolene Blalock in the money-making behind for the way she trashed the show in her Playboy interview.

  3. this is farce, right? i’m not even sure i should dignify this with a response. although part of me wants to. that part wins. he apparently has no idea what he’s talking about. how can we take him seriously when his paragon of sci-fi is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?
    “finest science fiction film of all time so far”… really?
    most of the article is an overgeneralization based on the fringe element.

    i’ll admit that we have outgrown star trek… not because it is trek… but because it is trapped in its formula. he does make a few vaguely good points.
    however, none of them have anything to do with why Trek ever appealed to so many for so long— which he just doesn’t seem to comprehend. besides the fact that it’s fun, it’s interesting… if you like that sort of thing. he would have us believe that trek became beloved not because of the mythology, but because people didn’t know any better. this whole thing has the maturity level of “i will attack that which i do not understand”. it’s different, it must die. why single out trek and not mention other shows like dr. who or buck rogers or battle star, unless you have a grudge? i suspect he doesn’t even really know sci-fi, and listed big name writers like Asimov because they were well known in the genre.
    he comprehends neither trek’s historical context/significance, nor it’s psychological context/ significance. he deserves no more credit than a 10 year old commenting on what it’s like to perform brain surgery. he has no clue.

    what’s next? maligning star wars because it uses a simplistic narrative?

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