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Hogarth judge

November 2017

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Hogarth judge

How Star Trek went rotten

It seems to me that almost all semi-serious US science-fantasy movies and television have paranoid fantasies at their core. The X-Files is perhaps the canonical example on television, and The Matrix the canonical example in cinema. You will think of many, many others with some slight application.

The problem is, paranoid fantasies are absolute poison to Star Trek and its progeny. The original series was supposed to be an optimistic vision of an American enlightenment extended to the stars; a vision where alien species put their differences aside and united in a Federation of democratic equality for all. Towards the end of Roddenberry's life, even the Klingons were being portrayed as a culture with which some could sympathize, and there was movement to reform even the Romulans.

This was Gene Roddenberry's vision, but his vision has gone out of fashion here. No one expects enlightenment from Americans, or virtue from the U.S. congress. Contemporary science-fantasy instead expects governments to conspire to do horrible things; the heroes are those who confront their evil rulers and expose their dark secrets.

The franchise started going south with Deep Space Nine; the latter parts of the series and the interminable wars got so unwatchable I tuned them out myself. Voyager managed to travel from the Delta Quadrant back home while hardly encountering a friendly alien species or even semi-admirable culture. Enterprise began promisingly, but foundered with interminable season-long or longer story arcs about "temporal cold wars" --- i.e. classical paranoid fantasies --- and the "Xindi" threat --- i.e. space "terrorists." After they put these long story arcs behind them, the episodes began improving, but apparently not enough to save the series.

Contemporary America can't make Star Trek again, and can't cope with the premises that made the series admirable. We just can't handle optimism.

Comments

Urk... I knew there was a reason besides technobabble that we didn't like the post-Roddenberry Treks.

It was like, having established that humanity has solved most of its major problems by the 24th century and is now focused on exploration, they found a way out the back door on that one by getting us embroiled in the wars/corrupt governments/etc of other species. What really made us quit watching DS9 permanently was the whole 'Dominion War' plotline, in which Rick Berman and his writing team basically proved that they couldn't come up with any kind of ongoing plot which didn't involve an Unredeemable Uber Bad Guy and constant fighting. You'd think that at least a few of them would turn out to be decent.

....You know, Ruka wrote this long ramble once explaining the popularity of the Harry Potter books with adults by the fact that they're actually using the device of the corrupt government paranoia fantasy. The meanspiritedness makes them palatable to adults who would normally dismiss fantasy as unacceptable wish-fulfilment and escapism, magic spells quite aside.
I was actually thinking last night, watching Stargate with the boy, that there *are* descendents of star trek, and it's one of them. They rattle off sciency bullshit problem solutions in the same way star trek does, explores other planets, and tries to play nice, without being horribly sickening. Later star trek is just shit; it has nothing to do with culture.