Saturday, January 31, 2009

Boldly To Go

I am a big fan of Star Trek. This is always a bit of a problem for me, since I am neither a fanatic collector of minutiae about the series nor a person who would dress up as anyone, besides possibly Johnny Cash. And that's an accident: we both just like black. I could be dressing up as Death too.

But I really do like the series, everything about it. I love the grand themes, the "wagon train in space" conceit of it all, the Kirk/Spock dynamic...everything. Detractors of the series focus on the poor production values, and the acting of Kirk, as major problems. To me the sets are just sets, and I never get that into special effects or scenery. As my buddy Herc pointed out when discussing the first Godzilla film, a theme that invokes the human experience survives poor production values much better than a film with good production and zero heart. The original Star Trek had some great scripts, some mediocre ones, and some bad ones. But at its best, it was a great show.

Unlike the hardcore Trek fans, I like the other shows in the Trek universe as well. I mean, Enterprise was not so good, granted. But even that had some nice moments. Honestly my least favorite was probably Voyager, just because as someone without access to tv all of the time it became hard to follow. "The Next Generation" was fun, because it expanded the theme of humanity's potential. Patrick Stewart was so great to watch, and always dominated the show. It seemed like the show was really the continuation of the Kirk/Spock story, grown up. Picard was the person who said, "Yep, got that, logic and heart, I do it all. I'm so smart and enlightened all my hair burned off. Our ship can do anything you imagine, we're the best, bring on the Borg."

The original series, or TOS as people insist on saying, is the classic. The setting is at its most basic here, a ship out in space, cut off from civilization, an emissary of that culture but not wholly encompassed by it. As I have gone on and on about before to friends and family, I love the Kirk and Spock interaction in that context.They represent the two aspects of humanity that would choose to make that voyage, the heart and the mind. (Yeah Spock is not a human. But that's just to make it all sci fi. He's a human from another planet. It's like a brother from another mother, but in space.)(The end of "The Wrath of Khan" is the best explanation of this, when Kirk praises Spock for teaching them about humanity.)

Spock wants to explore in order to gain knowledge, and expand his mind. Kirk feels driven to explore. It's his nature to expand, and he doesn't care why or how. It's about the experience for Kirk, and because of this he doesn't always make the clearest decisions. They are each there to remind the other of the benefits and weaknesses of their approach. Kirk: Logic isn't important if it isn't applied to people, for people. Spock: Boldly going is great, but step back and think of the impact before you do. Whatever elements the series had to begin with, this basic theme comprised the heart of the story.

I am way more of a Kirk person, and Jaime is a Spock. (Please for the love of God don't read too much into that. If I even hear a hint of the term slashfic in the comments I will cry silently to sleep for weeks.) I don't think, I'm impulsive and emotional, and Lord am I sentimental. (See the above scene in "The Wrath of Khan" for sappy sentimental Kirk, with whom I identify more than I should.) Jaime is logical, intense, and serious. She doesn't have patience for incompetence or mistakes, especially her own. We need each other, and that's why our relationship has lasted so well. We appreciate the respective strengths and weaknesses, and make it come together.

Kirk operates on faith. He cobbles together a solution when he needs it, and hits the ground running when he falls, assuming a problem will come with a solution. And of course it does. Much is made of the structure of the episodes, where Kirk meets a girl, brings her to sweet Federation bliss, then goes and fights a monster. This has silliness, of course, but there is something awesome to it. Kirk is acting from the heart, but he can be shallow without the balance of wisdom that Spock brings. He woos the girl, gets in a fight, and goes in guns blazing to solve the problem. That doesn't work in every situation, and he often is forced to confront his own shallowness in the course of a story.

There are times, however, especially in a strange place with people out to get you, that it does work. Fighting a certain enemy, such as Khan, means you need Kirk. "I don't believe in a no win scenario," he says to the logical minded among the crew during his battle with Khan. More importantly to me, this aspect of Kirk appeals to men precisely because it taps into that sense of honor that is latent within all men, the idea that you sometimes have to dive in and make things right. Shatner hammed it up to no end, but in this way he nailed the character of Kirk perfectly: he's a gunslinging, fighting and loving man, no holding back. It isn't the most inspired screen performance, but when you are around full throttle people like that, they must seem a little over the top. I'm not nearly that uninhibited, but if you put my antics on a television I bet I'd look a little hammy too, arms waving and voice rising and falling. Letting loose isn't pretty: great actors are taught to restrain, to say little and project. Kirk isn't like that, and certainly Shatner isn't.

I was raised with Star Trek. I'll always remember watching it as a child, and listening to my dad's take on it. He told me that the future could look like that, we could keep exploring and expanding if we allowed it to happen. I think a central theme of my life is the hope that humanity is as good as the image we portray in this story. Because if we can ever be that, looking back on this, I don't think I'd have such a hard time with this. I still get excited when I see the show, and watch the Enterprise orbiting a planet. (I think the new movie is using CGI, which is a shame. The models are so great.) It's a toy ship, but it's a possibility. We have free will, we have intelligence, we can make something like that, and that's exciting to me. It's the sentimental side of me, yes, but I get excited about the future. I don't know what it'll bring, of course. But I get excited. I wonder what my kids and grandkids will see. I imagine that Viri II and Arkaedi Jr. will be living their own lives, making do in whatever society they find themselves. I hope they aren't in solid pastel uniforms, but you wear what fashion dictates, I suppose. I sure as hell hope they boldly go, though, wherever their hearts and minds tell them to go.


jeff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
jeff said...

its funny to do the captain comparison and then try to figure out why. i love picard. adore him, wish i could be like him. but it might be because i'm much more of the "woo the girl, get in a fight, and go in guns blazing" kind of person, and so seek some kind of balance. or have some kind of latent self-hating thing going on. who knows?

its fun for me to take kirk, spock, and mccoy and understand them as archetypes: the passionate hero, the thoughtful hero, the fearful hero. because, i guess i've always understood the dynamic as a triad. it seems like the kirk/spock thing gets emphasized a lot, but i'm not sure where they would be without mccoy to mediate between them (mostly by insulting them or yelling at them); without that word of caution, or timely bit of "don't be a fucking idiot" (to paraphrase the good doctor).

of course, in a sense, i suppose mccoy is a bit of both kirk and spock; the cautious, fearful bits, realized in a separate person. if they both contained the mccoy element in themselves they wouldn't be as functional as archetypes. for example: you and j are very kirk / spock, like you pointed out. but you both have the mccoy factor inside of yourselves... so you're people instead of archetypes.

and then there's picard: kirk, spock and mccoy all rolled up in one. and its interesting in first contact when his inner mccoy fails him and he needs audrey woodard to kick him in the nuts a bit.

anyway, target that explosion and fire.

WildBeggar said...

Yeah even tho the internets has ruined that debate in some ways, i still find it fun. I wonder how the new movie will do with mccoy... it's Karl urban, which is awesome. Eomer the doc!

jeff said...

haha i didn't even realize that there were any internet debates about this stuff. tho i should have figured. (the only message boards i read are martial arts ones. go figure.)

damnit jim, i'm a rider of rohan, not a bricklayer.

xmiyux said...

Classic Trek is the absolute best.

I agree with everything you said about Kirk, although of all the characters I like Bones the best.

Many of the secondary characters in the original series were also great: Uhura, Chekov, and Sulu

Sadly enough though, I would totally be geeked to go in costume to a decent convention.