15th Jul2009

watchoo mean ACTION!? (#33)

by jerad.formby

adventure excitement a trekkie craves not these things

From the time that I was a wee tike, the night sky fascinated me. I loved the stars above and the possibilities that pushed my imagination in so many happy and wondrous directions.

imagination is a beautiful thing

The media at the time, back in the early eighties, did much to shape the circles my mind would spin in. Alien life was demonstrated in E.T., Star Wars made space just a little bit scary, and Star Trek reserved that place in the back of my mind that turned the “what if” into something that seemed real.

Star Wars and Star Trek always get compared (even more so by formula this year), but I want to take a time out this week and talk a little bit about what makes Star Trek different from its space faring brothers and sisters. I’m sure you already know that I think the Trek is superior to the other models, so I’ll use this space to explain only why it is different.

Since you already know that I think it’s superior.

this obviously needed to be reworked

Space. The Final Frontier. These are the Voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s five year (continuing) (ongoing) mission to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life(forms) and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man(one) has gone before!

Those words from the sixties that were written by Samuel Peeples encapsulate the spirit of the show absolutely. The mantra suggests adventure of the highest calibur. Action might be suggested or inferred, but adventure indeed. Yet not as popular as some other forms. You don’t hear about “closet Star Wars fans” or “closet SG1 fans.”

there are more of us then anyone will ever know

No us Trekkies alone get that stigma!

Star Trek for the longest time has been associated with obsessive nerds and geeks. The Star Trek fan started the stereotype of “living in a mother’s basement.” These fans have been easy to ridicule. For the sake of argument, I try and see Star Trek through the bully’s eyes.

First off, I guess it might be the costumes. Next, it could be that there’s a lot of discussion in Star Trek (no matter the form). Lastly, perhaps, it is a lack of space action that yields this sort of stereotyping of Trekkies and their favorite form of storytelling.

I site the lack of action simply because to the bully, there are more acceptable forms of space adventure. Star Wars comes immediately to mind. The model of Star Wars is found in its title. War amongst the stars.

you can see which might be most popular just by their titles

The Wars seems more palpable because it deals with broad, melodramatic strokes. The characters in the Wars are easy to identify and easy to know. The spectacle of the battles is exciting and has a very epic feel to it. More like a roller coaster than a story, Star Wars doesn’t demand much attention in the realm of thought.

I’m not here to offend Star Wars fans, but to really mediate on the ramifications and promises of Star Wars drama is to find oneself contemplating only the biggest emotions. Fear. Hate. Love. To truly decipher the meaning behind those emotions within the Star Wars framework leads only to confusion (so it’s just better to not really think about it).

these bizzare choices are best explained by aspects of the Force that fall apart the more you think about them

It’s more acceptable than Star Trek because the spectacle is easy to identify. There are soldiers with charges. There are smugglers with debts. There is a galaxy of action (and some adventure too).

Another thing that makes Star Wars more agreeable to the popular masses is its military structure. People are in charge of platoons or battalions. On both sides of the conflict, there are generals and commanders. This is as easy to understand as rolling up a game of Risk.

The popularization of military action in science fiction is found in every movie or television model I can think of. The blue-collar worker from Alien becomes more popular and dare-I-suggest more accessible when the marines are added in Aliens.

upon seeing aliens roddenberry asked his staff to make a sexy powerful woman

Battlestar Galactica (in both forms) is lots more attractive to a general viewer because of its aggressive military structure. Soldiers. Ranks. Weapons. Attacking and defending. These battles are the spectacle most people want from their space environments.

Galactica of course brings together some wonderful, intriguing characters, but I would argue that the spectacle of its battle sequences makes the show more attractive to general viewers. Ask any general viewer what they like most about Galactica and I’m betting they will site the awesome battle sequences over the awesome struggle of humans and their own humanity.

Stargate and its series goes even further by taking our own modern military and placing them in space. Instant access and understanding in regards to rank and file, action all the time.

I’m not belittling any of these concepts because they are brilliant in their own right. Within the frame of each, these space fights are instantly engaging, easily comprehended, and moving on to the next action set piece. This is what seems to make popular, acceptable, science fiction.

i don't mean just awareness of the human condition lots of sf does that

Star Trek obviously has its own share of epic space battles. People will throw down with their phasers. The action in the new Star Trek movie isn’t forcing the Star Trek model into the Star Wars model –all of it is believable Star Trek action.

It’s simply not the point of Star Trek.

Star Trek, as imagined by Gene Roddenberry, honed and whittled by the terrific minds of others, is not about the battles. It’s about avoiding the battles when possible and finding an understanding between different cultures. This idea might just be too “heady” for the bully who would much rather watch a lightsaber fight, a dogfight, or quick draw characters who basically rock a glorified western in space.

Trek goes out of its way to ensure that there is no sense of a military presence for good reason. This is an imagined Starfleet wherein the goals of the fleet are not domination, but understanding. In Star Trek, the marines aren’t sent in to secure the position before the diplomats come down to discuss membership to the Federation.

The military structure for Star Trek begins and ends with rank titles. That is all. In the Star Trek model, the ensign or the enlisted are invited to contribute to any situation with the same amount of weight as those with higher ranks or higher titles. It is a better, more imagined model.

This is why Kirk going from cadet to Starship Captain is at once acceptable and understandable. His recognized potential was far better than any existing promotion structure or petty politics over who gets what ship. Why did he get the Enterprise? Because Pike wanted him to. Easy. Not realistic, you say?

Too much to buy or imagine.

The Star Trek approach to science fiction suggests that humans as individuals are the single greatest thing in the universe. Each of us has amazing potential and the philosophy is so powerful that it dwarfs the technicalities of something as trivial as “military structure” or most especially what we perceive as “realistic” right now in our 21st century.

specifically dis-included from the show by its writers and creators

I obviously am not suggesting that Starfleet doesn’t have its rules and regulations. They do not rock a crowded bridge where every single human being is invited to participate in any given decision. We always know who gets the final say and in its purest form, these decisions are made by Captains who have had input from other characters who may or may not have a given spot within the Starfleet structure.

starfleet captains always solicit advice and sometimes find it in the strangest places

Did you find a New Planet? I’ll tell you who meets the natives: Captain. Or First officer. Or someone high ranking. A couple of security guards.

That’s Star Trek.

Of course, it wasn’t always. Star Trek: Enterprise introduced the concept of the MACOs. They were a military arm of Starfleet designed to handle rough and tumble situations. I’m fine with them on that show. I see them as Starfleet doing some very necessary growing –becoming the ideal that is the norm when we meet Captain Kirk.

This is an imagined, possible future and to view it through the prejudices of our own modern era is to give Star Trek unnecessary bonds and limitations. A forward thinking approach bereft of intimidation or threats of force (implied or otherwise).

If you’re a Star Trek fan who wishes there was more of a military order to your Star Trek stories, you might be thinking that the presence of soldiers and the lack of a high ranking, authorized diplomat wouldn’t change much in a First Contact scenario.

I think it would change everything.

the sort of presence gene roddenberry wanted to avoid

Starfleet assumes friendship will be accepted in these kinds of scenarios. They are not sizing up potential threats. They are not demonstrating a show of force. They are not Klingons.

Starfleet practices an example that they expect other worlds and cultures to follow. This example doesn’t stem from the idea of “protecting the highest ranking officer above all else,” it stems from “look how much we trust you, new planet, can you trust us just as much?”

When the challenge to Star Trek is that its First Contact policy is unrealistic because starships lack a military, it has to be said that Star Trek isn’t about soldiers, it’s about officers. Every time it’s suggested to me that soldiers should be more involved in Star Trek it just sounds to me like they want Star Trek to emulate other popular forms like the Wars, or the Gate, or the Galactica, or even the Starship Troopers.

Star Trek imagines space without these sweeping conflicts and when you look at the other space brands, it really stands boldly alone with this one poetic, brave, and almost incomprehensible notion. We will always put our best foot forward and hold out a hand (until you knock the hand away).

This philosophy might be too forward thinking for the action sci-fi set. It might be too much to swallow. But Star Trek has been rocking that model for over four decades and Hey Star Trek! thinks that’s what makes it different and even more amazing.

peace and long life yo


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  • http://chicana_tigre@yahoo.com D Kleparek

    Holy cow! Storm troopers in red shirts. That’s awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mistervogel Shaolin Kenobi

    First of all, this is another well crafted and wildly ingenious entry Jerad. As David has said, not only is your blog well written, it is extremely creative and I for one really enjoy it. This particularly entry has a few sticking points with me however that I would like to flesh out. It is true, for the most part, Star Trek does lack that militaristic edge that so many other science fiction stand-by’s rock. Agreed. However, is the really the crux of the argument that is superior? Despite the absence of the typical command structure (Generals, battalions, platoons, etc) we are still dealing with a galaxy of divisiveness, deception, violence, and malevolence. Additionally, Kirk was nearly as much a bronco-buster as the next space cowboy– bustin’ heads at the Ok Corral was just one of the more literal examples. Although your point is well taken about the 5 year mission and the general attitudes of Starfleet. Similarly, the Jedi did not instigate conflict, rather they are the guardians of peace and justice. They have their own worthy principles and tenets that guide them. Again, I wouldn’t say I completely disagree with your assessment. After all, I believe your primary point was how the devices employed by the other sci-fi franchises have a greater “mass” market appeal. But I do think behind the blaster fire, you can find the deeper themes that you also find in Star Trek. After all, Star Trek 11 is now within the top 50 all time box office grossing films… it has become the darling of the masses too. That fact takes nothing away from it’s more engrossing ideals.

    With all that being said, IF I had to choose between Star Wars or Star Trek for the rest of my life, as much as I adore the Star Wars universe, I would select Star Trek hands down… It may in fact be superior, but I don’t know if it is for the reasons you outlined here.

    Hey Star Trek! keep it coming Jerad… We love it.

  • Michael Magnes

    I agree wholeheartedly Jared and though I love the Wars, it’s no Trek.

  • VegasAndorian

    Well here we disagree! Understandable? Kirk getting the Enterprise right out of the Academy was 10 year old Annikin winning the pod race, a Mary Sue for the audience, look-I’m-25-and-know-it-all-put-me-in-charge-everything-will-be-great.

    Leadership is learned with experience, it’s not genetic or bred. Shatner-Kirk getting his command in his early 30s was a testament to ability and achievement. Pine-kirk getting his command as a cadet was the unicorns of the starfleet academy castle cloud giving poor neglected farm boy a magic pony, or maybe I should say a light sabre and an x-wing.

    Save the fantasy for fantasy, let Star Trek be science-fiction.