Monday, June 3, 2013

Your Illogical Approach to Chess Does Have Its Advantages on Occasion

Star Trek – both the original series (TOS, in fan lingo) and its later continuations – has been hailed as an inspiring vision of a peaceful future, and condemned as a glorification of militaristic imperialism; praised for its inclusiveness toward women and non-European ethnicities,  and criticised for sidelining and tokenising them.  It’s been described as a celebration of multiculturalism – and of American hegemony; as propaganda for socialism, or perhaps capitalism, or democracy, or fascism, or libertarianism.   Star Trek has been seen as an icon of science-fiction television, setting the standard by which all other efforts in the genre must be measured – and also as a pernicious influence against which other sf efforts should seek to rebel.

And of course everyone is right: Star Trek is all these things, and more.  

Star Trek is also far more widely known and studied than the other two 1960s tv shows I’ve been (sort of) blogging my way through.  So it doesn’t really need a new blog devoted to it.  But last Christmas left me with a new blu-ray player and a stack of Star Trek blu-rays.  So since I’m planning to watch these anyway, I thought I might as well blog about them.  Indeed, I’d already started in on the first few episodes, and found enough to say about them to justify a new blog project.

Since I conceived this blog and drafted the first four posts, a new Trek blog, Josh Marsfelder’s Vaka Rangi, has appeared which shares some of my perspectives (anarchist, feminist) but is plainly going to be better than this one.  But I soldier on.

One advantage of the TOS blu-rays is that, unlike the dvd versions, they give viewers the option of watching the beautifully remastered episodes without the “enhanced” special effects.  I (mostly) dig the enhanced sfx – but as a cool extra, not as the canonical version. (Ditto for revised sfx in Doctor Who.)  Indeed, the contrast between up-to-date effects and cheap 60s props in the enhanced versions can be rather jarring.

I’ve seen all the TOS episodes before, but not recently; and I’ve never run through them in order (whatever “order” means here, exactly; in general I’ll be going by airdate, not production date, though for obvious reasons I’ll be making an exception for the two pilots).

I’m struck by how many of the early episodes feature mind control or advanced psychic powers or both; the show’s initial focus seems much more the exploration of mind than the exploration of space.  And that indeed is the main (not sole) working interpretive framework I’ll be using – Star Trek as an exploration of the mind (and not just in its paranormal or otherwise “amok” phases).

In this connection, it’s sometimes said that Spock represents reason, McCoy represents emotion, and Kirk represents a healthy balance of the two.  I don’t think that’s quite right.  While Spock is for a short time presented as lacking emotions, his characterisation soon changes to that of someone who has strong emotions but represses them.  And McCoy is hardly devoid of rationality (happily for his patients).  The three characters, as I see it, represent three different ways of negotiating the relationship between reason and emotion, and indeed three different ways of conceiving what reason and emotion are.  And I don’t agree with either the standard view that the show embraces Kirk’s perspective over Spock’s, nor with what seems to be Josh Marsfelder’s view that the show embraces Spock’s perspective over Kirk’s.  Each perspective is shown, I think, to be a partial truth; and part of Kirk’s and Spock’s maturity is their ability to recognise the value of the other’s approach even when not fully embracing it – just as McCoy’s inability, or unwillingness, to appreciate Spock’s approach as fully as Kirk does renders him a less mature character.   

But more on this anon.


  1. Have you ever heard the story about how Roddenberry took several core concepts of Star Trek from trance channellings he participated in that were supposed to be communications with extraterrestrial intelligence? Might explain why he was so focused on the psychic frontier. See this as the easiest example I could find:

  2. Congrats on the new project! I look forward to more of this awesome Trek insight!

  3. Extending my own congratulations on the new project, and a thank you for the mention! Though, I'm not so sure my blog is necessarily better.

    Spock is definitely an interesting character for me: Whether or not the show always sides with him, I do feel he's uniquely central to the narrative, thanks in no small part to Gene Roddenberry's own positionality and the character's history. I pick up this thread a bit in Wednesday's post, actually.

  4. I find Josh's blog unreadable, because he judges a 50-year-old project by contemporary standards and seems to have no understanding of either the standards of the time or the limitations under which the series labored. So I find your own analyses much more interesting, and I hope you will continue them!