I had very mixed feelings four years ago when the Star trek reboot got underway. I didn’t want my beloved franchise ruined.
As it turns out, it’s been a fun romp.
I finally got to watch Star Trek Into Darkness earlier today and have a lot to say about it. Because of the nature of the movie, spoilers will be CLEARLY listed at the bottom of the review.
Set a few months after the last movie, this one starts with Kirk blatantly breaking the Prime Directive, Starfleet’s highest order of non-interference, and getting demoted for saving Spock in the process. Things go further south when a mysterious man named John Harrison orchestrates a bombing in London that kills forty-two people and takes out a secret Starfleet facility As it turns out, John Harrison is a Starfleet operative who’s gone rogue and has a plan for the Federation.
That’s when things get personal for Kirk after a second attack on Starfleet headquarters takes a personal toll on him.
And to say more than that would be to spoil the movie indeed.
The story was a character study of both Kirk and Spock, their motivations and how they approach life. Much like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan showed the effects of age, this one showed the consequences of Kirk’s youth and Spock’s too-human side. Kirk’s gung-ho attitude and youth, something many people felt made no sense at the end of the last movie, come back to bite him in the butt, and hard. It was refreshing, and then the movie proceeds to show Kirk going through the pain and challenges that will mold Kirk into the captain we all know.
The film also addressed the contemporary issue of drone strikes, war, and vengeance. One of the major plot points early in the film involves the Enterprise being tasked with launching long-range torpedoes at an inhabited world to try and take out Harrison. Surprisingly, Kirk of all people is fine with this given his emotional investment, but others are very much shocked and appalled at the idea of launching weapons of mass destruction at a populated location to get a single individual without a trial.
The action sequences in this one are brutal, too, possibly to go along with the darker themes. Expect broken bones, crushed heads, and a starship beat-down that’s downright painful to watch. They are, however, utterly bad-ass. I’m also glad Abrams decided to tone down the lens flare effects on this one. They would have given me a headache with the 3D.
As in the previous film, there are plenty of allusions for die-hard Trek fans to latch on to and giggle over, so keep an eye out for them.
Okay, so Cumberbatch is actually Khan, thawed out and used by Starfleet to help design new weapons. A lot of people guessed it might have been Khan from the very beginning, and I tried to avoid any of those articles enough to try and remain surprised.
However, despite Cumberbatch being genuinely creepy as the bad guy, it does raise the unfortunate implication that one of the most iconic characters in Star Trek was recast as a white man. Ricardo Molteban’s run as Khan in the original series is legendary. Even people who don’t know the franchise will probably recognize one of the most famous moments from Star Trek II where Shatner eats the scenery and most of the movie lot and yells Khan’s name. Khan was smart, charismatic, and most of all, dangerous. Rightfully so, many people are complaining that Khan’s new actor is a white Brit who seems to be saying that a man of color can’t be all these things, can’t be dangerous and smart…
However, I’m going to call crap on part of this. Not all of it. Just part it.
The character of Khan is a genetically-engineered superman. His full name denotes Indian and Chinese heritage, and yet he was played by a Mexican actor. Likewise, John Cho, who is Korean, was cast as the Japanese Hikaru Sulu. Zoe Saldana is Puerto Rican and Dominican and plays Uhura, who based on several sources is either Central or South African and was played by Nichelle Nichols, who was from Illinois. But I guess since they LOOK the part, there aren’t too many complaints.
Also, consider the times in which we live in today. Khan is a terrorist, a warlord who wishes to wipe out those he considers inferior. Now consider what would have happened if a brown man had been cast in the part, especially given the movie’s overt theme of terrorism. While it was a noble gesture in the 60’s to make the villain a non-white, the original draft of the episode “Space Seed” did have Khan as a Nordic superman that sounds similar to a superpowered Nazi.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that while I am disappointed that the film went with the decision to cast a white actor, it has its good and bad points. I’m all for going with a great actor as opposed to one that just looks the part. Either way, Cumberbatch did a great job.
And now, if you’re still interested, here’s the final trailer…
Last week marked the 46th anniversary of Star Trek. That short-lived series spawned an entire culture, but for me, Star Trek was about more that cool ships, ham and cheese, and cool effects.
Star Trek taught me how hard heroes can fall.
It was 1996. I walked into a movie theater and saw the trailer for Star Trek: First Contact. Soon afterward, I tracked down where I could watch Next Generation and, within three years, I’d tracked down stations showing Deep Space 9, Voyager, and the original series. I rented the movies at Blockbuster and read about the making of the show, bought books on the artwork, technology, everything. I couldn’t ingest Star Trek fast enough.
As I grew up and new movies and series got off the ground, something felt off. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it. As I re-watched old episodes, I didn’t feel the same excitement. Yes, I enjoyed the episodes, but there was something missing, and it was the same feeling I was getting from the newer episodes of Enterprise and the later movies like Insurrection and Nemesis.
By the time Enterprise was cancelled and Nemesis flopped, I finally figured out what it was that had bothered me for so long. Part of it, I think, was the fact that Star Trek was no longer about analogues to real-world problems or philosophy. Episodes like “City on the Edge of Forever,” “The Measure of a Man,” and “In the Pale Moonlight” are classics that asked big questions about ethics, the nature of sentience, and the morality of war.
By the time Insurrection, Nemesis, and Enterprise came around, Star Trek was about Star Trek. Voyager was probably the worst offender. Every other word was made up and made sense if you knew the internal science on the show and had a complete disregard for actual physics and engineering. Characters were there to function as set pieces. The biggest slap came with Enterprise’s final episode, a supposed grand finale to the story that was really nothing more than a chance to do a B-story to a Next Generation episode.
Don’t get me wrong. I do still love Star Trek, warts and all. My friends and I made it a game to pick out the production errors or blatantly wrong scientific terminology. I still think it made a huge impact on my love of science and speculative fiction, and I have fond memories of finding out my mother was a Trekkie in her youth, watching the redeeming 2009 movie with my now-fiancé, and the shared geekness that links me with millions of people around the world.
But Star Trek did force me to admit that even that which we love can betray us. Oh well. We’ll always have Vulcan.
Yes, they're awesome. Doesn't mean they don't suck.
January 13, 2012
This article was originally pitched to Cracked, who rejected it. I see their point, but I put so much work into it that I thought it would be a waste to just let it sit on my hard drive. Enjoy!
Science fiction is full of weapons of mass destruction, everything from planet-cracking lasers to miniaturized railguns that can put a hole in a tank. Some of these weapons have been the basis for real-world weapons and technological innovation. Others, however, should probably stay as fiction.
They should remain fictional, not because humanity should give up the idea of bad-ass weaponry to stave off the eventual robot uprising, but because some of these weapons would get the designers shot in real life.
If we had the technology to build these devices, would we really want to? This isn’t about whether the weapons suck in the show and everyone just ignores it. This is about the basic physics. Would we want these weapons at all?
6. Organic Weapons (Stargate Atlantis, Star Wars, Farscape, etc)
I’ve talked about this one before, but it bears repeating.
Science fiction, and to some extent fantasy, is full of “advanced” races using organic ships and weapons. In Star Wars, the galaxy was nearly destroyed by the organic technology of the Yuuzhan Vong. In Stargate Atlantis, the Wraith decimated the Pegasus Galaxy in their hive ships and lay waste to the Ancients, a race so advanced that they are known as the Gatebuilders. In every instance, technology based on organic systems has proven superior to good ol’ metal. There is some basis for this.
A year ago, scientists in Israel developed a super-strong nano-material much harder than steel. There’s also a spider that creates silk tougher than Kevlar, and harvesting it would be a boon. It seems us puny humans are just trying to catch up with Mother Nature.
In the real world…
Hive ship would go squish. Quickly.
Organic substances have proven to be VERY strong, but they lack something the fiction insists is the real advantage of a living ship or weapon: regenerative capabilities. A self-repairing system could take a punishment but just heal itself as the battle progresses. In the fiction, this is protrayed as something like Wolverine’s regeneration. However, to be able to regenerate implies that the structure is porous, that it isn’t completely solid. Think of bone. Even though it’s one of the strongest organic materials in our bodies, it’s still generally brittle because nutrients and proteins need to be able to get in to keep the system alive. In a battle, “porous” translates as “squishy.”
And that’s only the first problem. Organic systems don’t have the kind of electrical conductivity needed to really run much more than a few gadgets. Think about it. How damaged do your nerves get when you get a small current running through your body? We are the conductive equivalent of pudding.
This is a byproduct of the chemical properties of organic systems. The weakest link will break first, and in this case, all that living tissue is going to make for a weak electrical system. Don’t believe me? Try using a piece of bacon to fix a short circuit. You’ll either get no charge going to and fro or you’ll get a really crispy piece of bacon if you turn the current up high enough.
5. Relativistic Kinetic Weapons (Halo, Mass Effect, Eraser, etc)
If you’ve played any video games in the last fifteen years, you know about these. Guns work on a very simple principle. Aim at target. Make bullet go fast. Bullet makes target go away. If you have a super-strong material to build the barrel and the benefit of a thermonuclear reactor pumping out a few thousand gigwatts of electricity, why not take it to its logical conclusion and fire a slug at a significant fraction of the speed of light? In Halo, Mass Effect, and Eraser, this is standard operating procedure and the ammunition usually punches clean through anything short of a planet. In the real world, we’re developing railguns, though they’re nowhere near as powerful. They’re still awesome, though.
So that’s what you’d want in a fight against heavily armored opponents. You want a gun that fires a gram of dense metal so fast it would make Superman look slow. Make it fully automatic and you have a gun that could shred a modern battleship in less than it takes to say “fire.”
In the real world…
This weapon also has two problems. Look at these scenes in Eraser. Notice anything? Ahnold is not being fried by the friction on bullets traveling at thousands of miles per hour. THIS is what a railgun bullet looks like when it’s just moving a few times faster than sound. Now imagine the kind of heat created by something moving that fast. There’s also the problem that a gun that fired even a gram at that speed would fly out of the shooter’s hands fast enough to probably turn said shooter into pudding.
Okay, that’s the second pudding reference. I’m hungry.
There’s a third problem, though. Let’s say we actually had these relativistic weapons and installed them on something very large (like a battle-ready starship) and we fired them in a vaccum so we we didn’t get dangerous trails of flaming atmosphere. NOW we’re talking.
Except the gun wastes a ton of energy.
In the real world, gun manufacturers realized that a faster, heavier bullet could take down a target. A .45 ACP bullet, for example, is pretty good for taking out things like robbers, small game, and velociraptors. However, it has a problem. It carries so much energy that it can easily go through a person and damage property or other people behind the target. That’s why gunmakers developed hollow-point rounds. These bullets have a concave tip that lets the bullet expand and transfer as much energy as possible to the target, causing more damage and not wasting the bullet’s energy.
This isn’t a small concern. Let’s say you have a bullet that weighs 1 kg. To get it moving at 10% the speed of light, you’d need the energy of a 107 kiloton nuclear warhead. That’s more than five times as much as the Hiroshima bomb. If the bullet goes clean through a target, as the fiction proposes, and it still poses a threat, that means it still has most of its energy. This would be a horrendous waste of resources.
Imagine shooting a needle at five hundred miles per hour at someone. Sure, it could go clean through, but it would do less damage than just punching the guy.
Ah, the humble phaser. It’s been a staple of Star Trek since the 1960’s. “Set to stun,” has inspired real-life weapon manufacturers to create weapons that can both kill or simply imcapacitate. In fact, even people who’ve never watched Star Trek have probably heard of the phaser. It’s a classic, lethal weapon in the lore of science fiction.
In the real world…
Have you seen these things?! No, really. Just go through a few of these pictures and see if you can tell me what’s wrong with the general design in a phaser. Nothing? I’ll give you a hint.
Phasers have no gun sights, trigger guards, safeties, or any number of safety features you’d want on a weapon that can vaporize a person. Ask anyone who uses guns on a regular basis if they’d like their sights filed off or their trigger guards removed. These aren’t there for cosmetic purposes, folks. Taking them away will make a gun look streamlined, but you’ll also have a HIGHLY dangerous weapon that could go off if not handled properly by even a professional.
And speaking of handling a phaser…
Notice how the handles are curved. In order to hold and shoot one of these puppies, you have to bend your wrist at an unnatural angle. It’s the only way to hold them and even pretend to aim. Really. Tilt your wrist downward and try holding that position for more than five minutes. You can’t, can you? Now take a look at where the designers put the battery pack.
It’s in the handle, but not like a magazine on a modern semi-auto. The battery is actually made up on the handle’s forward section. You have to remove it from the front, so the only way to swap batteries in the middle of a battle is to turn the weapon upside down, flip it so the barrel points at you, then remove the battery and slap a new one in.
You got that? To switch the battery on a phaser, you have to end up with a loaded phaser pointed right at you.
Even if the tech behind the weapon worked, if it could kill and stun at will, good luck finding someone to actually use one of these suicide aids.
The sight of a colossus of titanium and guns walking into a battlefield would be enough to make any hardened soldier soil his BDU’s. Anime loves this one, and it’s almost become required practice to have one or two of these for every franchise. Warhammer 40K has its own versions, all equally humanoid, and the general rule seems to be that your best fighting machines should look like the things that pilot them.
Tell me you wouldn’t crap yourself if you saw this heading towards you with a sword that could cut a skyscraper in half?
In the real world…
There’s a reason aircraft carriers are sometimes darkly referred to as “bomb magnets.”
The bigger it is, the more chance it will become the target of choice for every weapon on the battlefield. That’s really the smaller problem, though. If it’s tough enough, the mecha might survive, and drawing attention could actually inspire fear in the hearts of the enemy as they see a giant man-shaped weapon’s platform.
But you’d have to actually get the thing built, though.
Military design is, ideally, an exercise in doing the most with the least. It’s the same principle as engineering. You want systems that are simple and get the job done. Just take a look at this space shuttle design. It’s nothing but a cone and an engine. That’s all it needs. Now ask yourself why a piece of military technology would need a torso, legs, and arms?
It wouldn’t. A piece of military hardware that houses guns should do one thing: bring the guns to the fight and maneuver them. Look at a modern destroyer like the Iowa-class. The entire ship exists solely to get the guns places. Its infrastructure is built around those things: ammo, maintenance, mobility, etc. A humanoid battle platform would be a waste of resources.
Just building a humanoid mecha would cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Sure, there are bombers that cost more, but those bombers are nothing but weapon and engines. A humanoid mecha is thousands of tons of metal not counting fuel to get the thing going.
Save the money and just buy a missile launcher and a humvee.
2. Plasma Weapons (Halo, Star Trek, Babylon 5, etc)
The humble plasma weapon is a catch-all term for anything that fires blobs of colored light that burn a target.
Plasma is gas that’s been stripped of its electrons. It’s in everything from computer monitors to thermonuclear reactions, but for weapon purposes, you probably want the nuclear-reactor type. The surface of the sun is made up of plasma, which should give you an idea of how ass-scorching hot the stuff can get. However, scientists recently broke a record and created plasma at 2 billion degrees Kelvin.
The sun, by comparison, is only 15 million degrees Kelvin.
Imagine firing star-blobs at your enemy and searing them with the power of your own miniature sun in a gun. You would rain death and destruction with the power of Helios himself and be a god among the warriors of the world!
In the real world…
Get that burn ointment out. In fact, grab a bucket of the stuff.
Let’s take a trip back to elementary science class. When material heats up, it expands and becomes less dense. It’s the reason a hot air balloon floats in the cooler air. Heat something to supernova levels, though, and it expands a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Plasma is so thin that it makes regular air look like pudding. That’s made out of lead.
And that’s three references to pudding. When’s lunch time?!
This pudding air creates the first problem. If you’re firing your plasma gun in an atmosphere, that’d be like trying to launch a supersonic ping pong ball underwater. Or a potato gun inside concrete. It’s not going to go very far. The plasma goes splat against the air which might as well be steel based on density differential, but that’s not the worst part.
At its most basic level, plasma is steam. Steam has this nasty habit of wanting to expand. That’s why tea kettles whistle. But that’s just regular, run-of-the-mill steam. It’s not heated to millions of degrees. No tea needs to be boiled to millions of degrees.
Even if you somehow managed to keep plasma together and level and fire it fast enough so it could blast through our super-dense air, and even if this plasma weapon was only used in space where you don’t have lead air to worry about, it would still want to expand, and QUICKLY. Trying to shoot plasma at a target is basically trying to focus an explosion. Just imagine trying to remove an appendix at fifty feet with a stick of dynamite and you get the idea.
Plasma is not only too diffuse to move through the air, but it’s so hot that it will expand almost instantly in every direction, creating a cloud of death and destruction.
Said cloud of death and destruction will, however, be made up mostly of the atomized bits of your own gunners.
What? The Death Star? Sure, it had a single little point that had to be shot to blow the whole thing up, but it took a Force-sensitive with plot armor to do it. The second one would have been fine if it was finished, so why say that the Death Star II was a terrible weapon? This one could blow up ships with pin-point accuracy. Once shielded, it would have been like trying to attack a small planet. It had enough stormtroopers that, statistically, one of them would have hit something every minute.
Here’s the thing. The sources differ on the size of the second Death Star, but they all agree it was much larger. Volume increases faster than diameter. The second Death Star is between 3 and 6 times in size, meaning the internal volume was between 27 and 216 times larger than the original one. Death Star II was built in less than two years. That means that in the time it took to build the ONE massive superstation, the Empire could have used the same materials to build a small fleet.
In real life, it’s one of the reasons massive ships were so controversial in the early 20th century. If you destroy the one big ship, you’re out one whole ship, crew, ammo, and all. It’s the ultimate case of putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s a similar problem to the humanoid mecha. If something is that big, you better believe the enemy is going to throw anything and everything at it to get it out of the battlefield as quickly as possible.
And that’s it. Hope you all had a good week, I’ll see you Monday with a video, a short article, and hopefully I get this new grantwriting job I was pitched.
Stay safe, keep sharing links, and I’ll see you in two days. In the meantime, please enjoy this video of an epic space battle from the Freespace mod The Fall of An Empire.
"You have good warp drive? I pay many ruuuuubles..."
December 2, 2011
This is an edited version of something i wrote for a class back in college. It got me an A, too. As you can see, while I enjoy Star Trek in all its forms, I still have serious reservations about one little aspect of its mythology…
In the Star Trek Universe, there is no greater commandment for Starfleet personnel than the Prime Directive, otherwise known as General Order #1 (“The Drumhead” TNG 095). It dictates that Starfleet personnel must not interfere with the development of less technologically advanced worlds. This includes, but is not limited to, sharing advanced technology, “helping” a world develop, or even revealing that there are other intelligent beings in the universe.
At first glance, the Prime Directive seems both benign and logical. If a pre-warp1 civilization is exposed to the truth about life in the universe, or is given technology too quickly, they might self-destruct. Our own history shows that when two societies with a large technological gap between them meet, the results can be disastrous. The Prime Directive serves to both protect alien cultures and the Starfleet personnel who study them.
However, the Prime Directive also prevents humanitarian action and places all other priorities, even sentient life, on the back burner. It is an absolute law. In effect, it prevents Starfleet captains from taking action that could save lives, even in instances where such help would go unnoticed by other civilizations. In the two hundred years since it was created, the Prime Directive has become a plague upon the Federation. In fact, despite Starfleet’s protests, a captain’s test of morality should be judged on whether he or she had actually broken the Prime Directive, not whether they upheld it.
The United Federation of Planets was founded in 2161 (“The Outcast” TNG 117). Ten years before, the various species in our section of the galaxy existed with each other through loose alliances and treaties. Humans had barely left the Solar system and lagged behind several other species, notably the Vulcans. In an effort to prove themselves, Humans entered the world of galactic politics with a small fleet of ships capable of nothing faster than warp 52 (“Broken Bow” ENT 001).
The first ship sent to explore the galaxy, the Enterprise NX-01 commanded by Captain Jonathan Archer, faced hostile alien species and caused shifts in the political field. For example, Archer and his crew exposed Vulcan spying equipment on the Vulcan monastery of P’Jem, increasing tensions between the Vulcans and their neighbors, the Andorians, in the summer of 2151 (“The Andorian Incident” 007). By mid-fall, both sides were on the verge of war, and the Vulcan consulate on Earth placed the blame on Archer’s meddling (“Shadows of P’Jem” 014).
Throughout Enterprise’s mission, the Vulcans, who exercised a control over Starfleet3 that many Humans did not appreciate, shepherded Earth. Captain Archer, for example, often blamed the Vulcans for stifling human technological development. It took Humans nearly ninety years after inventing warp drive to even hope to become a truly interstellar civilization. The Vulcans, however, insisted they did not interfere because Humans were irrational and driven by impulse.
In the Vulcans’ eyes, they never interfered and only offered their services where needed (every episode after “Broken Bow”). In reality, the Vulcan High Command unofficially controlled Starfleet for many years. They could say what ships could launch, where they could go, and even what Humans could and could not do once in space. In early 2151, they tried unsuccessfully to delay the launch of Enterprise, citing threats to planetary security from the newly encountered Klingon Empire. In some cases, the Vulcan ambassadors asked Starfleet to divert Enterprise so the crew could help with Vulcan internal affairs (“The Seventh” ENT 033).
Meanwhile, Vulcans condemned Humanity’s intrusion into alien affairs since they felt Humans could cause more harm than good. This fear would later be echoed by the Federation towards its own captains, and the Prime Directive would be written in such a manner that it bound Starfleet from acting on emotion.
Even in pre-Federation times, however, the Vulcans had something akin to what would later be called the Prime Directive. As early as 1957, when a Vulcan survey ship crashed on Earth, the survivors knew they could not interfere with human development4 (“Carbon Creek” 027). Starfleet adopted a similar, unwritten system nearly two hundred years later.
When the crew of Enterprise explored new worlds, they tried their best to not interfere, although there would be no legal repercussions if they did. The Prime Directive was not made into law until sometime after 2168 (“A Piece of the Action” TOS 049). The early Starfleet (pre-Federation) is shown trying to prevent cultural contamination in “Civilization” ENT 009 and “The Communicator” 034. In both instances, the crew disguised themselves in order to blend into the culture they were studying.
In “The Communicator,” though, Archer is faced with the choice of either sacrificing himself or telling the people on the planet his real identity5. In this instance, only the crew’s quick thinking saved him. He was willing to sacrifice himself to protect a culture bent on killing him. Even before the concept of the Prime Directive was made law, Captain Archer knew the importance of preventing cultural contamination. However, had Archer actually shown the aliens who he really was, there would have been little legal repercussions from Earth, though the Vulcans would undoubtedly have put pressure on Starfleet to either court marshal or reprimand him.
There may actually be a reason why the concept of the Prime Directive was not made into a written law with pre-Federation Starfleet. Humans were in the lower end of the technological spectrum in relation to their neighbors. They lacked shields, advanced weapons, and even transporters were fairly new to them. There would have been little for them to interfere with in the way of technological development. They only encountered a small handful of species that lagged centuries behind humanity. Therefore, early captains had leeway with its application.
The unbending nature of the Prime Directive, however, may also have come about because of the nature of space travel.
Starfleet ships employ a mode of faster-than-light travel known as warp drive. Though the early warp drives required weeks or months to travel from one star system to another, the warp drives of the 24th century (TNG, DS9, VOY) still required many hours or days to travel from place to place. Points along the Federation frontier often require travel times as high as several months (“The Neutral Zone” TNG 026, “The Icarus Factor” 040, “Second Chances” 150, etc).
Even though ships also use faster-than-light communications known as subspace radio, it still takes time to receive orders when a ship is far from the core Federation worlds (“Heart of Glory” TNG 040, “Ensigns of Command” TNG 049, “Night Terrors” TNG 091, etc). Since direct contact with Starfleet Command is impossible in many cases, the lawmakers who originally created the Prime Directive as an unbending rule may simply have been trying to automatically destroy any possibility for cultural contamination. If the law leaves no room for interpretation, it is unlikely a starship captain would attempt to find some way of breaking it. However, in the 22nd and 23rd centuries, the Directive was not enforced with an iron fist. Human ships never wandered too far from contact with Starfleet command, so orders could be received in real-time. Violations of the Prime Directive were analyzed on an individual basis, as was shown in the hundred years after the Federation was founded.
By the mid-23rd century, the Federation had spread to include several species and encompassed at least a thousand planets (“Metamorphosis” TOS 031). Humans and Vulcans remained the most influential species, and Starfleet worked to protect the Federation and study the galaxy. By this time, the Prime Directive was a much more powerful force and every starship captain was willing to uphold it to the fullest extent. Blatant violations could be prosecuted.
However, one captain saw that the Prime Directive was too unbending to adapt to the challenges of exploration. Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the starship Enterprise NCC-1701 (the second starship to bear this name) was notorious for his utter disrespect for regulations when he felt the greater good was at stake. During his historic five-year mission onboard the Enterprise (2264-2269), Kirk amassed a record of seventeen time travel violations, a record even into the mid-24th century (“Trials and Tribble-Attions” DS9 503). His disregard for the Prime Directive was also infamous. During his mission, however, he influenced only those cultures he felt needed help.
For example, in late 2266, the Enterprise accidentally became embroiled in a war between Eminar VII and the planet Vendikar. Since neither planet was a Federation member, Starfleet had no right to intrude. The inhabitants of both planets, though spacefaring for five hundred years, lagged behind the Federation technologically, making them candidates for non-interference. However, when the Enterprise visited the planet and was declared a casualty in an electronic war, the crew was required to report to disintegration chambers so the kills could be confirmed. Instead of sacrificing his crew, Kirk worked to end the computerized war, ending the conflict and saving his crew (“A Taste of Armageddon” TOS 023). Though his interference was a blatant disregard for the Prime Directive, Kirk was never prosecuted for it. In fact, Kirk felt he was justified in breaking the Prime Directive. He placed sentient life and the welfare of his crew above regulations. In his mind, the countless lives lost to the war outweighed any cultural contamination.
A few months later, in early 2267, the Enterprise encountered a pre-warp civilization in the Gamma Trianguli system. Upon closer inspection, the crew found that the inhabitants had lived in cultural stagnation for ten thousand years. At that time, they created a machine named Vaal who fed them and protected the planet, extended their lives, but also prevented them from growing culturally. Eventually, they reverted to a technological stage similar to the North American natives at the time of Columbus’ discovery. Kirk saw this and concluded Vaal had to be destroyed in order to free the people from its grasp (“The Apple” 038). In this case, however, the security of the ship was also threatened. Vaal concluded that the Enterprise could disrupt the balance of power, so it tried to destroy the ship. Even before the crew was placed in danger, however, Kirk already contemplated freeing the people fromVaal’s influence. Ship’s doctor Leonard McCoy also supported Kirk’s decision, citing it is every culture’s right to change and grow.
This pattern of interference repeated throughout Kirk’s five-year mission. If he felt something threatened freedom or life, he acted. His interference into other cultures also included the inhabitants of Betta III (“The Return of the Archons” TOS 022), the Terran Empire of the mirror universe (“Mirror, Mirror” 039), and the miners of Ardana (“The Cloud Miners” 074). In each instance, Kirk placed the Prime Directive below the lives of sentient beings. No legal retribution was ever brought down on him, and he became a legend to other Starfleet officers for over a hundred years after his missions (“Trials and Tribble-Attions” DS9 503). This should come as no surprise since, in modern times, legendary heroes are the people who defied authority and helped change history: Thomas Jefferson, Doctor Martin Luther King Jr., Abigail Adams, etc. Kirk understood a law is not just simply because it is a law. Laws exist in order to preserve the common good, but if the law prevents a greater good from occurring, then that law must be broken.
By the mid-24th century, however, both the Federation and Starfleet underwent several changes in policy. The United Federation of Planets changed from a capitalist society to neo-Marxist system6, and Starfleet hid its intentions behind a mask of exploration. Though some spirit from the vast expansion of the 23rd century remained, the 24th century was marked by armed conflicts and massive political changes.
This might be linked to something called the Tomed Incident, which occurred in 2311 and created a fifty-year-long isolation between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire (“The Neutral Zone” TNG 126). Thousands of Federation lives were lost (The Defector TNG 158), and the Federation agreed to never develop or use cloaking technology onboard their starships7 (“The Pegasus” 264). In this new era of political and military conflict, the Prime Directive changed in order to protect the Federation more than it protected others.
For example, the Prime Directive forbade Starfleet officers from interfering in the affairs of any government, regardless of its technological status. It even forbade humanitarian aid towards other worlds, even if it could be kept from less civilized species. This was not the case in Kirk’s time. Violations of the Prime Directive for humanitarian aid were not explicit, but since Kirk never received punishment, it is likely Starfleet Command thought his actions were justified. By the 2360’s, however, any interference in the affairs of another world was seen as worse than death for the inhabitants of that world.
In late 2365, the crew Enterprise NCC-1701-D discovered that the fourth planet in the Drema system would destroy itself through a geological anomaly and kill the native population, a pre-warp culture. Captain Jean-Luc Picard could not prevent the catastrophe, even though the Enterprise-D had the technology and time to do it. In the end, Picard violated the Prime Directive and restored the planet’s geologic stability (“Pen Pals” TNG 141).
Picard actually needing to figure out whether or not to help means that the Directive was engrained so deeply into Starfleet behavior that even basic humanitarian instincts were called into question. A similar situation occurred in mid-2370 when the Enterprise-D received a distress call from a Federation observation post on Boraal II. The planet’s atmosphere underwent violent electrical disruptions, and, by the time theEnterprisearrived, most of the planet was uninhabitable. Though Picard could have saved a single village of the native population without their knowledge, even taken them to a new planet without contaminating them, he chose to sit by and watch the planet destroy itself (“Homeward” 165). The difference between the motivation in the first and second cases is not clear. Except for the fact Picard heard broadcast pleas from someone on Drema II, the situation remained the same. He could have helped Boraal II without cultural contamination. Instead, he adhered to the rigid Prime Directive and allowed countless people to die.
Picard is not the only member of Starfleet to display this isolationist and non-interference policy. For almost forty years, the entire Federation stood by while the Cardassians tortured, enslaved, drove the Bajorans from their home world, and left for many more for dead after the Cardassian Occupation finally ended. In those forty years, the Cardassians killed roughly ten million Bajorans (“Cardassians” DS9 425). Since the early 24th century, the Cardassians occupied Bajor and left only after decades of terrorist activities (“Ensign Ro” TNG 103, “The Emissary” DS9 401), but not before they poisoned much of the planet’s farmland (“Shakaar” DS9 470). Throughout the Occupation, Starfleet cited the Prime Directive as their reason for non-interference. As Captain Picard would later lament, it occurred in someone else’s territory, so it was not the Federation’s place to intervene.
Keeve, a Bajoran resistance fighter, replied to Picard:
…You were innocent bystanders for decades as the Cardassians took our homes… as they violated and tortured our people in the most hideous ways imaginable… as we were forced to flee […]. How convenient it must be for you. To turn a deaf ear to those who suffer behind a line on a map. (“Ensign Ro” TNG 103)
In the 20th century,America turned a blind eye to the plight of the Jews during Hitler’s reign, then later as he stormedEurope.America only became involved in both World Wars because we were attacked directly. Politicians feared that the situation inEurope was an internal affair, therefore something we had no business in.
In both instances, Star Trek and real life, a major superpower with the means to end suffering and destruction failed to live up to its own principles. Both theUnited States and the Federation claim to value life and freedom. In both cases, each failed miserably. The Prime Directive makes it worse because it makes it illegal to assist someone, whereas in the real world, it was simply a matter of politics. The Federation therefore condones the most hideous acts, like the Cardassian Occupation, under the guise of neutral bystanders. However, there are no neutral bystanders. As soon as someone learns of a preventable catastrophe, they become participants. An unwillingness to help when one has the means is tangible to negligence and apathy.
The isolationist policy of the Prime Directive also has a secondary effect: since Starfleet cannot provide aid unless a world is a member of the Federation, less advanced worlds that achieve warp capabilities must vie for membership.
In effect, the Federation lures other worlds into becoming full-fledged members by promising to protect them and give technology (“The Price” TNG 156, “The Hunted” 159). Since many hostile species roam space, it is a bargain many less advanced worlds cannot afford to pass up.
It is a weighed bargain, however. New worlds must conform to the ideals of the Federation or they may not join. Bajor faced this problem when their ancient caste system was reestablished for a time. The Federation does not tolerate caste systems (“Accession” DS9 489). Member worlds are therefore assimilated into the Federation, leaving them well-protected and economically secure, but without some traces of their former culture. The Prime Directive is used as a political tool. Instead of exploring new life, the Federation exploits it.
It should be evident by now that the Prime Directive, despite its idealistic beginnings, has been turned into a political safety net by the 24th century. Over two hundred years of implementation, it is apparent a captain needs room to make choices that can affect millions. Starfleet often finds itself in situations it never encountered before since it usually charts areas of space unknown to others.
An unbending law like the Directive can cost millions of lives, and cultural contamination is placed even above the preservation of life. On at least two occasions, Captain Picard was willing to let millions die simply to preserve their culture (even though said cultures would become extinct). In the Federation (at least in Starfleet), such an act is proof of high morality. In the real world, it is a perfect example of the consequences of isolationism. It was not seen as a problem in the 22nd and 23rd centuries. By the 24th, however, the Directive’s goals made it incompatible with the government’s policy. Therefore, captains of this era are certainly justified in breaking it when the situation demands it.
If we discovered a technologically inferior society in some remote corner of the world, untouched by modern civilization, we would undoubtedly try to study them. If we then discovered that they would be killed within a week by some natural disaster (hurricane, lava flow, or maybe some disease we have a cure for), would we sit by and watch them perish? If we assisted them, even if they knew where the help came from and they saw our technology, would it really damage them more than death? Picard and the rest of the Federation seem to think so. They place themselves on a high pedestal and watch the rest of the galaxy as wars and injustices occur all around them. The Federation may claim to be enlightened, but they ignore basic ethics, like the sanctity of life, and the edict that with great power comes great responsibility. Instead, the Federation is content as long as it is safe and Starfleet stays out of trouble. Preventing cultural contamination is a lofty goal, but it is not the only ethical Starfleet should vow to uphold.
If modern-day Earth followed the Federation’s example, President Roosevelt would have followed his political advisors when they declared the Nazi invasions as an internal European matter, something the United States had no concern with. Powerful nations would turn a blind eye whenever an earthquake devastated a section of a third-world country.
Might would make right, and the people with the most power, hence the most responsibility, would be content to let death and destruction ravage the Earth. The Federation is a powerful organization. It commands resources that dwarf modern-day standards (fusion power, massive engineering projects, etc), and it holds the technology to wipe out hunger and disease across entire planets. Instead of helping where they can or when humanitarian issues are at stake, the Prime Directive steps in and the resources remain unused. Starfleet then claims to be a neutral bystander.
The Prime Directive started as nothing more than something to consider when exploring new worlds. It was intended by the Vulcans to prevent Humans from letting their emotions get the best of them. In the first hundred years, it evolved into a law designed to protect less-developed worlds and help them find their own way. By the 24th century, however, the Prime Directive was a shell of its former ideology. The Federation used it to boost its membership, and countless lives were lost elsewhere as isolationist policies took hold. Captains and Starfleet officers who break the Prime Directive should not be court-marshaled. If anything, they should be given commendations. Each time a Starfleet officer breaks the Directive in order to help someone, or to fight for basic freedoms the Federation cherishes, he or she sees beyond the law. Laws can never be absolute, or justice will be stifled.
And now, before we get to the end notes and the references and all that jazz, let’s enjoy a little fun with Trek, shall we? I love the shows and movies (for the most part, but as you can see, I’m willing to have some fun with it. See you Monday, and keep sharing links and telling people about the site!
1The term pre-warp refers to a civilization without faster-than-light capabilities. In essence, it is any society that is confined to its home solar system. “First Contact” TNG 089 establishes that the Federation makes official contact with a world once it develops warp drive, but even then only after extensive study and even surface reconnaissance by trained operatives. Captain Picard called First Contact missions the most dangerous mission any starship could be sent into.
2Starfleet started out as an Earth-based program. It was apparently assimilated by the Federation after the Constitution was ratified, probably because it had proven its merit in the Romulan Wars of the late 2150’s.
3The Vulcans had ships capable of warp 7, and speeds beyond that were rumored for other species but never confirmed. Though no actual speeds for warp factors were ever given, “Broken Bow” (ENT 001) suggests than the Enterprise NX-01 is capable of at least 100c, and as high as 125c at warp 5 (the official policy is that warp factors for TOS and ENT-era ships are cubed in order to get their respective speeds. Warp 2 would therefore be 8c and warp 5 would be 125c, which is consistent with the shows).
4During the months the Vulcan crew stayed on Earth, though, they affected Earth’s development in several ways. T’Mir, the leader of the expedition, sold a piece of Vulcan technology to allow a friend of hers to attend college, a young boy named Jack. The technology she sold was an adhesive substance called “Velcro”.
5Archer and Lieutenant Reed were captured while trying to retrieve a piece of advanced technology they accidentally left behind on a pre-warp world. The government that captured them mistook their physical differences to mean that their enemies had engineered super-soldiers. As a result, Reed and Archer would be put to death and dissected.
6The reasons behind this assumption would require a report onto themselves, so I refer you to Mike Wong’s excellent essay on the subject, “The Economics of Star Trek”, at http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/index.html. In short, there is no money, the government controls nearly all means of productions, there are never any references to private business beyond something small like a restaurant, and military work is the best chance to advance in society.
7In early 2371, however, the Federation reached an agreement with the Romulans. The Empire agreed to lend Starfleet a single cloaking device for use onboard the Defiant NX-74205 when the Dominion threatened our section of the Galaxy.
“Ensign Ro”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Michael Piller. Directed by Les Landau. Produced by David Livingston. NBC,20 October 1991.
The Original Series
“Balance of Terror”. Star Trek. Written by Paul Shneider. Directed by Vincent McEveety. Produced by Gene Roddenberry. NBC,15 December 1966.
“The Return of the Archons”. Star Trek. Written by Boris Sobelman. Directed by Joseph Pevney. Produced by Gene Roddenberry. NBC,9 February 1967
“A Taste of Armageddon”. Star Trek. Written by Written by Robert Hamner and Gene L. Coon. Directed by Joseph Pevney. Produced by Roddenberry. NBC,23 February 1967.
“Mirror, Mirror”. Star Trek. Written by Jerome Bixby. Directed by Marc Daniels. Produced by Roddenberry. NBC,6 October 1967.
“The Apple”. Star Trek. Written by Max Ehrlich. Directed by Joseph Pevney. Produced by Roddenberry. NBC,31 October 1967.
“Metamorphosis”. Star Trek. Written by Gene L. Coon. Directed by Ralph Senensky. Produced by Roddenberry. NBC,10 November 1967.
“A Piece of the Action”. Star Trek. Written by David P. Harmon and Gene L. Coon. Directed by James Komack. Produced by Roddenberry. NBC,12 January 1968.
“The Cloud Miners”. Star Trek. Written by Margaret Armen. Directed by Jud Taylor. Produced by Roddenberry. NBC,28 February 1969
The Next Generation
“Heart of Glory”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Maurice Hurley. Directed by Rob Bowman. Produced by Gene Roddenberry. NBC,3 April 1988.
“The Neutral Zone”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Maurice Hurley. Directed by James L. Conway. Produced by Gene Roddenberry. NBC, 29 May 1988.
“The Icarus Factor”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by David Assael and Robert L. McCullough. Directed by Robert Iscove. Produced by Robert L. McCullough. NBC, 7 May 1989.
“Pen Pals”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass. Directed by Winrich Kolbe. Produced by Robert L. McCullough. NBC, 14 May 1989.
“Ensigns of Command”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass. Directed by Cliff Bole. Produced by Gene Roddenberry. NBC,15 October 1989.
“The Price”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Hannah Louise Shearer. Directed by Robert Sheer. Produced by Gene Roddenberry. NBC,26 November 1989.
“The Hunted”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Robin Bernheim. Directed by Cliff Bole. Produced by Ira Steven Behr. NBC,21 January 1990
“First Contact”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Dennis Russell Bailey & David Bischoff and Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore and Michael Piller. Directed by Cliff Bole. Produced by David Livingston. NBC,3 March 1991.
“The Drumhead”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Jeri Taylor. Directed by Jonathan Frakes. Produced by David Livingston. NBC,29 March 1991.
“Night Terrors”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Pamela Douglas and Jeri Taylor. Directed by Les Landau. Produced by Gene Roddenberry and Rick Berman. NBC ,31 March 1991.
“Ensign Ro”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Michael Piller. Directed by Les Landau. Produced by David Livingston. NBC,20 October 1991.
“The Outcast”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Jeri Taylor. Directed by Robert Sheerer. Produced by David Livingston and Herbert J. Wright. NBC,29 March 1992.
“Second Chances”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by René Echevarria. Directed by LeVar Burton. Produced by Peter Lauritson. NBC,6 June 1993.
“The Pegasus”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Ronald D. Moore. Directed by LeVar Burton. Produced by Ronald D. Moore. NBC,23 January 1994.
“Homeward”. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Written by Naren Shankar. Directed by Alexander Singer. Produced by Peter Lauritson. NBC,30 January 1994.
Deep Space 9
“The Emissary”. Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Written by Michael Piller. Directed by David Carson. Produced by Rick Berman and Michael Piller. NBC,3 January 1993
“Cardassians”. Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Written by James Crocker. Directed by Cliff Bole. Produced by Peter Allan Fields and Peter Lauritson. NBC,24 November, 1993
“Shakaar”. Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Written by Gordon Dawson. Directed by Jonathan West. Produced by René Echevarria. NBC, 22 May 1995.
“Accession”. Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Written by Jane Espenson. Directed by Les Landau. Produced by Hans Beimler and Steve Oster. NBC,26 January 1996.
“Trials and Tribble-Attions”. Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Written by Ronald D. Moore and René Echevarria. Directed by Jonathan West. Produced by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Steve Oster, and René Echevarria. NBC,4 November 1996.
“Broken Bow”. Enterprise. Written by Brannon Bragga and Rick Berman. Directed by James L. Conway. Produced by J. P. Farrell and Dawn Velazquez. UPN,26 September 2001.
“The Andorian Incident”. Enterprise. Written by Rick Berman, Brannon Bragga, and Fred Dekker. Directed by Roxann Dawson. Produced by J. P. Farrell and Dawn Velazquez. UPN,31 October 2001.
“Civilization”. Enterprise. Written by Phyliss Strong and Michael Sussman. Directed by Mike Vejar. Produced by J. P. Farrell and Dawn Velazquez. UPN,14 November 2001.
“Shadows of P’Jem”. Enterprise. Written by Mike Sussman and Phyllis Strong. Directed by Mike Vejar. Produced by J. P. Farrell and Dawn Velazquez. UPN,6 February 2002.
“Carbon Creek”. Enterprise. Written by Chris Black. Directed by James Contner. Produced by J. P. Farrell and Dawn Velazquez. UPN,25 September 2002.
“The Seventh”. Enterprise. Written by Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. Directed by Davig Livingston. Produced by J. P. Farrell and Dawn Velazquez. UPN,6 November 2002.
“The Communicator”. Enterprise. Written by Andre Bormanis. Directed by James Contner. Produced by J. P. Farrell and Dawn Velazquez. UPN,13 November 2002.
If you squint, you can almost see the public domain rights.
November 16, 2011
As I work on the next Charcoal Streets story and edit the manuscript, I can’t help but wonder at the morality of borrowing characters, ideas, even entire storylines. Every writer’s done it. House? It’s Sherlock Holmes in a hospital. Lion King? It’s pretty much Hamlet with animals. Even my beloved Batman is a copy of Zorro, another childhood hero of mine.
Speaking of which, where did the Spanish and Mexican superheroes go?
Anyway, back to the subject at hand…
Borrowing ideas is not a necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re just starting out. They can be the launch pad for another, better idea. When I first started writing fiction, it was mostly science fiction and I shamelessly borrowed ideas and plots from Star Trek, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and anything and everything I could find in the genre. Looking back on those old stories will no doubt show shameless plagiarism, but it was a way to learn the ropes, how to structure a story, characters, etc.
One assignment I received in college was to try and imitate a poet’s style. I can’t for the life of me remember who I picked, but I remember thinking that imitation was the last thing you wanted to do at that level. I wanted to find my own voice. However, we found that trying to imitate the style made us aware of our own style, for better or worse. We saw the words we used over and over again and even the type of diction we were more comfortable with.
Such an exercise is good for any writer, or any artist for that matter. If you’re a photographer, try to imitate a style or even a photograph you really like. You may find a new angle or even location filled with opportunity. Painters and other visual artists can do the same thing with famous works of art.
There is, however, a flipside to this exercise. You can easily become enamored with someone else’s style and forget to develop your own. For example, a lot of young artists start by drawing anime-style. It’s a simple, well-known set of designs that people can use to learn things like proportion and movement. Fine. I get that.
I don’t, however, get why many people continue to use that same style for everything they draw. I can’t tell the difference between one person’s chibi and another’s manga. This is also the problem with action and horror movies. It’s one thing to try and imitate John Woo or Alfred Hitchcock, but some people never get past the imitation. Musicians can also easily fall into this as they religiously hold on to certain styles. It takes skill to get past that initial exercise and make something unique.
Take the Ravenloft campaign for Dungeons and Dragons, for example. The original setting and adventure are shameless copies of everything from Bram Stoker’s Dracula to Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Strahd stands in for the Count just like Adam stands in the Frankenstein’s creature. Over the last several years, though, the setting has been fleshed out. The Vistani, who originally stood in for the gypsies in Stoker’s novel, are now a full-fledged culture in the game with their own rituals, history, and the like. The land of Barovia is superficially Transylvania and any other European country that can’t pronounce its w’s, but now it is part of an elaborate prison for dark forces and offers a lot more than just Gothic locales.
Indiana Jones was a throwback of old pulp stories and tropes. Now, it’s a standard in action-adventure. Battlestar Galactica was a blatant rip-off of Star Wars, but it evolved into one of the most acclaimed SF series in a long time.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It was can also be a wonderful exercise into your own limitations or an experiment to try new techniques. It should not, however, become the end.
Now go out there and do some plagiarism.
Uhm, I mean research.
And if you need a short break, here are a group of guys who took eighteen different genres and turned them into something new and awesome.
Welcome back, folks! I hope you like the new site design. If you haven’t read it yet, the first Weekly Muse short story, “Treats,” is up and I’m working on the second one for next week. Vote here or on Facebook, but you can only input more than one option on the main site.
I have friends who are LARPers. I myself enjoyed a little Kanar back in college. I experimented a bit with some friends. We just messed around with it at Sigma Nu. It was fun, and I can already hear you snickering at the double entendre. Overall, though, LARP always held this aura. It was like the lowest rung on the nerd ladder. It was barely one step above furries. It’s one thing to play D&D with your buddies, but it was something else to dress up and run around a field with foam weapons. It was the kind of thing little kids played.
But something really struck me. As I talked with these guys and gals, all different ages, all out there, willingly, in the 112 degree heat of South Texas, I realized something.
Okay, they’re fraking nerds. No getting around that. We all loved Lovecraft, made Star Wars references, and could quote Monty Python.
Forget trying to figure out the attack bonus of a Star Destroyer when its crew isn’t skilled. Never mind trying to figure out the intricacies of 3.5 d20 spell mechanics or whether Pass Through Metal applies to constructs or just walls.
YOU try sword fighting out in the sun without any shade, high humidity, and temperatures best suited for making a five-course meal.
LARPers, I now fully realize, are like the sports fans that wear the jerseys and drive to another state to watch the big game. It’s a level of commitment other hobbies just don’t ask for, and, much like my beloved Cortex or Dungeons and Dragons, it’s all made up. I guess the real stumbling block for me was all the effort it takes to create the scenario.
Don’t get me wrong. I won’t be trading my dice bag for foam shortswords any time soon (although I did get a couple of kills). Personally, it takes WAY too much effort to have the same amount of fun. And all they’re doing is the same stuff the rest of us forked over $40 a book or a monthly subscription for. All I’m saying is…
Can’t we all just get along? Nerds, unite! From the chainmail-wearing LARPers, to the Funyun-covered D&D player, to the guy at the Star Wars premier dressed like a Sith… let’s all embrace our collective love for roleplaying. United, we are stronger. Let’s look past the petty squabbles about which Doctor Who is better. We need to put aside the debates of Trek versus Wars or at what point Anne Rice jumped the shark. We can unite into a global force that knows no bounds!
But we still don’t want the furries. Sorry, guys, but that shit’s weird.
You know how we keep saying “the customer is always right?”
The customer is usually a moron. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever worked in the food or retail industry. I’m right there with you. I worked as a waiter at Flamencos and served food to very wealthy individuals who felt it would have been insulting to somehow pay more than five percent on a hundred dollar tab.
I can’t go into specifics for various reasons, but a lot of events lately have really made me think about that saying.
The customer is always right? Really?
Let’s say the customer walks into a mechanics’ shop and says he needs a new plasma conduit for the warp drive he installed in his Honda Civic. Is he right? Would you supply him with the dilithium crystals he needs to get back to Ceti Alpha-V?
The customer would like to THINK he or she is right. If voting patterns and general knowledge are any indication, the general population really has no idea what it’s talking about. That being said, I’d like to know why we think that people who work anywhere are our servants.
Some of us go through training, often for years in my current job, and must meet stringent criteria just to get hired. Typically, to work in a restaurant, you have to know the menu and at least try a few things. A barista has to know all the yuppie terms for coffee sizes and the right combinations of flavors. I, as a writer, have to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to language. I’m not perfect, but I guarantee I know a lot more than someone who’s last use of the word “verb” was in high school English sophomore year.
I’ll tell you this much. I was recently told it would be inappropriate to say that a piece of writing, a single sentence, was “bad.” It might make the writer feel bad, they said.
Well, guess what? Tough. I’m not going to sugar-coat it just for the writer’s benefit. Honestly, “bad” was about as nice as I could have put it. It wasn’t a lie, and I wasn’t going to stop there. I was going to include an explanation of what made the sentence harmful to the rest of the paragraph and what would be done to fix it. You, that thing called “constructive criticism”? Yeah, it’s also called “teaching.”
This is really the same reason why movies and television generally suck. We put everything in front of a group of the “average” viewer. To be fair, this is what gets you ratings. Give the people what they want. It’s why the boycott against Beck was so successful in getting him off the air. If writers and artists aren’t afraid to push the boundaries of good taste or do something shocking, we’ll keep getting the same boring crap we always get. It’s the one thing I love about Joss Whedon. I know he’s got his MANY flaws, but the man’s not afraid to kill off someone you like to get the story to a different place.
I won’t pretend there aren’t bad employees out there in every field. I’ve worked with and been served by them. But here’s my promise to the world.
I’ll assume you know what you’re doing if you promise to act like a professional.
Unless you’re the jackals at Triple-J that tried to charge me $1,400 to replace my engine when my future father-in-law fixed said car by replacing ONE $100 piece. On his own. During his lunch break.
If people wonder why there is no more company loyalty, it might be because companies, whether they’re governments or corporations, sell out employees for the sake of “customer loyalty.” Yeah, the employees are the ones that make the whole thing run. In fact, putting employees first actually gets you better customer service than throwing said employees to the wolves.
And now, I leave you with a bunch of people who should probably stay away from any job that does not require a paper hat.
The Meat-Wearing One released a new song, “Judas,” that she sings as Mary Magdalene. The lyrics are found here, and you can hear the song by clicking the video below.
Let me start by saying that I cannot listen to this song more than three times because the music’s just… ear-splittingly horrible.
But let’s look at the lyrics for a second. It’s basically a love song to Judas Iscariot. Okay. Weirder things have been done in the name of art. And who was Judas Iscariot? Why, he was only the man responsible for the greatest betrayal in all of Christian teaching! He kissed our Lord Jesus Christ and sentenced him to death. How DARE she sing a song, as a harlot no less, to the man who killed Jesus?
Well, it’s more complicated than that.
If you believe that Jesus was prophesized to die, that his death was needed to save the world, then I propose that Judas was nothing more than a patsy. Judas was framed. Think about it. If this had to happen, if there was no way to avoid it, then he had no say in the matter and was therefore a victim just like Christ. Anyone would have fit the bill. In that sense, the lyrics touch upon the subject by having Mary Magdalene forgive Judas and apparently love him.
That’s not enough for some people. Cue Right Wing hysteria and outrage:
Oh, the number of things that are wrong with that statement… But first, let me wash off after those last ten pseudo-pervy moments…
Lady Gaga does not have a problem with religion. As was stated in the interview, she’s exploring her own religious background. She’s not going after Muslims, as Donohue suggested, because she’s not deconstructing Islam. It’s the same reason I’m making Charcoal Streets a deconstruction of Hispanic Christian beliefs. That’s my background. I’m not about to use European mythology because, frankly, I’m only about one-eight French.
And someone else already cornered the faerie novel.
Donohue then laments that, while Gaga has talent, she’s part of a pattern of artists that seem to go after religion. Why, oh, why, won’t the artists leave him alone?!
Maybe it’s because, again, WE LIVE IN JESUS LAND. Look, I have my qualms with religion in general. And yes, I guess some of the things I say in Charcoal Streets could be applied to organized belief, but I’m targeting Christianity (and I can’t believe I’m writing this) much like Lady Gaga is looking at religion in her song.
It gets even better when Donohue says that Christians don’t enjoy the protection of Muslims because Muslims will react violently if you mock or criticize their religion. Well, yes and no. While I concede that a lot, if not most, Muslims would be offended by something as supposedly innocent as an image of the Prophet, and I’ve explained why that’s actually a really stupid belief, that’s not the point. Just because members of another religion are willing to behead people for the slightest religious offense does not mean that ALL religions are off-limits.
Furthermore, the belief that artists don’t need to criticize religion really misses the point. It’s movie Imperial Stormtrooper-like accuracy. Of course artists need to go there. Hell, I LIVE there. Artists, as John Lennon said, point a mirror to society. That’s our job. If you don’t like what you see, close your eyes and be happy in the darkness.
You can’t lament that radical Muslims will kill you for criticism, then turn around and say you wish you had that kind of protection. You can’t lament that radical Islam has no tolerance, then complain that someone is looking at your religion through an artistic lens. This sums up the Right Wing’s stance to a T.
“Critique anything you want except my own beliefs and stances.”
Also… “You hang out with Bill Donohue, I’ll buy you a beer, honey, and maybe we can straighten you out.” Did anyone else feel dirty after hearing that? Like, “stepped in gum and had to clean it off with my fingernails” dirty?
Anyway, let’s get some links up in!
Just in time for Easter, check out the latest blog from the Cheezeburger network… Sketchy Bunnies!
And finally, Weird Al is one of my personal heroes. He takes pop culture apart and gives us back comedy gold. It looks like Lady Gaga didn’t like his newest parody and so didn’t give him permission to use it… but she finally said yes! Take a listen to “Perform This Way,” which takes a few swipes the Gaga, but it’s all in good fun. Have a good Easter weekend and I’ll see you Monday.
If you’re anything like me, you love you some science fiction, fantasy, and horror. There’s nothing better than an epic space battle with battleships the size of Alaska blasting each other with nuclear-yield weapons, a suspenseful chase as a vicious killer chases the last remaining protagonist you actually like, or the swarms of eldritch sigils flying through the air as a practitioner of the dark arts invokes otherworldly powers to crush his foes.
As much as I’m a fan of the genre, there are those things that just… bug me. Really bug me. They’re things that seem to have just taken hold of the collective imagination for both writers and fans. They’ve become standard, not necessarily something you choose to use. Imagine if you suddenly found out that you didn’t need to use a ball to play baseball and could use rocks, or if you learned that cars could easily be built with three wheels and we picked four because, well, someone did it like that first.
Look at The Ring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Exorcist, and The Last Exorcism. What do they have in common aside from mentally tormented young girls and an overuse of the term “exorcism”? If you guessed a white nightgown, you’re right.
I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure The Exorcist started this one. It made sense back then. Regan was a young girl who was thought to be sick, so it makes sense mommy dearest put her in her sleeping gown to make her comfortable. But why oh why did every woman dealing with a ghost or demon (or herself a ghost) have to wear this now? It’s like the similarly ridiculous “ black trench coat = mysterious badass” mentality.
Why not a hospital gown or even regular clothes? Why not just regular pajamas? The easy answer is that such clothes can easily date a character, but a nightgown is something that, at least today, looks old. How many women out there own a nightgown like the ones worn in these films? Anyone?
What’s that? An alien ship approaching your interstellar flagship? Oh no! It’s organic! It appears to have been grown by an advanced civilization. All its systems are carbon-based weapons and armor. All your ship has is a laminated alloy hull with ceramic plates for heat dissipation, high-powered coilguns, and thermonuclear missiles.
Really, though, this one is just plain annoying. It’s hard to really pin down where this one started. Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Timeline stories have a version of this little cliché wherein the god-like Xeelee “grow” their technology, although it’s not organic, so the description is a bit vague. Babylon 5, Star Wars (New Jedi Order), and even Battlestar Galactica to an extent all used the assumption that organic technology is superior to simple metal and artificial materials designed from the ground up to perform a specific task.
Do you think “organic” is better? Would you rather wade into battle with a vest made of hardwood or advanced ceramics and Kevlar built to withstand such strain?
Would you rather have a dozen mathematicians in a room perform split second calculations for orbital reentry or have a single computer system built with accuracy to the trillionth degree?
Would you rather have an artificial weapon, like a gun that fires ferrous slugs at a fraction the speed of light, or biological weapons that are indiscriminate, can be killed by extreme temperature and radiation, and may even mutate?
This one’s a personally sore spot for me. For a show like Star Trek, one which claims to be multicultural, to not have a single prominent Hispanic character besides the animalistic B’Elanna Torres is inexcusable. Want to know how many Hispanic characters I can count in speculative fiction?
Johnny Rico from Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie), Bender from Futurama, and Vazquez from Aliens.
Adama doesn’t count because although he’s played by a Mexican American actor, he does not portray a Hispanic character.
It seems that, in the future, there are no Mexicans, Ecuadorans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, or anything else. We’ve got Europeans, Asian-inspired culture to pander to the anime crowd, and some assorted ethnicities for flavoring. But where are the Mexicans?
Or the Costa Ricans? Brazilians? Chileans? Iraqis? Turks? Libyans? Anyone brown?
I really can’t find a good example of these demographics in speculative fiction. Sorry. Any idea?
Why do writers still use these ideas? The best explanation is that at some point, it sounded or looked cool. The nightgown made sense from a storytelling perspective. Biological technology has some useful applications. At one point, Latin Americans were a fringe minority. We know better today, and yet these ideas linger on. These are only three little clichés, but I was thinking about them this weekend. There are many more, and maybe I’ll explain some later.
In the meantime, enjoy these links, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.
I will drop neutron bombs on Hollywood if this goes through...
December 3, 2010
Perhaps now more than ever, Hollywood is entranced with the idea of reusing old ideas and trying to make them hip and gritty. This is nothing new. They tried it years ago with Super Mario Brothers and to a spectacular failure. Sequels are old hat. Remakes are nothing new. Re-imaginings are a newer concept.
But there’s a reason some work and some don’t and now Hollywood is after my beloved Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
This one got the ol’ nerd rage going. How could anyone, ANYONE, think he or she could recreate the campy cheesiness of the original series? How could you out-Shatner Shatner? Whatever its faults, Star Trek had decades of history on the pop radar. Even people who’ve never seen it knew about Klingons, knew the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty,” and could pick out a Star Trek parody a mile away.
It’s part of American pop culture, so why did the 2009 re-imagining work so well?
If you ever get the chance to see the original, the pilots for Star trek, “The Cage” and “Where No man Has Gone Before,” you’ll notice something absent from later incarnations of the story. People die. People and human emotion drive the stories. There is ZERO technobabble.
The new Star Trek got back to the roots of the original series. Cowboys in space, unapologetic, brash, and full of humanity. Yes, even Spock. J. J. Abrahams brought us back to a time when men were men, women wore miniskirts, and no one routed SHIT through the deflector. The greatest Star Trek episodes of all time, whatever the series, deal with people first and use the technology to advance the story, not the other way around. The moment characters become secondary to science, you have hard SF, and Star Trek has enough holes in its plots to preclude any possibility the science will get it right. Hell, they can’t even get basic continuity right. Do you really expect them to respect relativity, core engineering principles, and quantum mechanics?
Can we erase Batman and Robin from our collective memories? The movie is barely tolerable with Rifftrax and did more damage to Batman than the Adam West series. Yes, I loved the old live-action series, but let’s face it. Given the tone of the old comics, the darkness and noir roots of the original, it’s a bit like trying to adapt Sam Spade into a Broadway musical staring The Situation.
Chris Nolan actually did something similar to J. J. Abrahams. He made the characters human again and gave us real darkness, not some emo-crap. It wasn’t about the cool toys as much as it was about the people. Batman Begins was dark, and The Dark Knight brought it to an epic crescendo with a real-world, creepy-as-hell interpretation of the Joker.
Because these characters were people, we cared for them. The Joker became a menacing, mesmerizing villain not simply because of his nihilistic genius, but because we saw Bruce Wayne grow up and slowly become Batman. We watched Harvey Dent knowing he would become one of Batman’s greatest foes.
When I first heard Ronald Moore was going to remake Battlestar Galactica, I had one question.
“Wait, the guy from Star Trek is going to redo the show with the walking toasters?”
I like being proven wrong.
While the original Battlestar Galactica has a camp value of its own, it was an attempt to cash in on the Star Wars craze of the late 70s. Let’s face it, though, there’s plenty of appeal for cheese, and BSG built up a loyal fanbase. Even if it was never as popular as other franchises, people knew about it and it remained relevant.
Moore, however, again did the smart thing and made people the focus of the new show. The BSG Writer’s Bible even made it a commandment. No aliens, no gee-whiz tech, nothing like that.
Notice the pattern. Most of these remakes were based on properties that had faltered or became the subject of ridicule. As much as I hate to admit it, Nolan’s Batman, Star Trek, and BSG all benefited from being based on ideas and series that, quite frankly were considered jokes. When the bar is that low, it’s easy to impress, but even ignoring that, the final products built new mythologies and drew new audiences in.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (2011)
The original movie, as Joss Whedon has said many times, was a distortion of his original script and vision and the show staring Sarah Michelle Gellar. It was more than just a cute blond fighting demons. It had story. It managed to use rounded characters, ongoing story-arcs, and used horror, science fiction, and fantasy as metaphors. Despite some shortcomings, it was as close to a perfect show.
So what exactly are we going to add?
No Angel or Spike.
It’s not set in high-school or college.
Joss Whedon’s signature dialogue will not be making an appearance.
The tongue-in-cheek references to horror and fantasy, critical to the success of the show, will likely be gone or turned into self-referential humor.
We are left, ladies and gentlemen, with an athletic girl fighting monsters with medieval weaponry in a modern setting.
So…. Pretty much any half-assed anime.
Pretty much the only reason to make a sequel or remake something is because the original fell short somewhere. This is worse than remaking foreign movies. Most people in the United States have probably never seen the original foreign versions. This will be a show based on a show based on a movie. And the show was closer to the original script of the movie, so if they’re basing this on the movie, it’s the twice-removed bastard child of Buffy.
No links today. Classes are winding down, but the work is increasing. it’s like we’re nearing the academic singularity.