September 2017

Star Trekkin’ Across The Fanboyverse

Star Trekkin’ across the universe,
On the Starship Enterprise under Captain Kirk.
Star Trekkin’ across the universe,
Only going forward, and things are getting worse!

  — “Star Trekkin'”, Dr. Demento

teH tlhInganpu’ pIm!

I *really* like Star Trek. As a kid I watched the original series in endless syndication, went to all the movies when they first came out in the theater. Best memory from that: during “The Undiscovered Country” when Spock made a reference to “his ancestor” and then quoted Sherlock Holmes, at which point a VERY ANGRY fan near me shouted “BUT SHERLOCK HOLMES IS A FICTIONAL CHARACTER!!!”

I have some favorites (TNG: “Chains of Command”, “The Inner Light”, ENT: the Surak/Syrannite story arc, almost any random episode of DS9) and some not so much (the first season of TNG, very little of TOS holds up in retrospect, almost the entirety of VOY) but it’s safe enough to say I have enough fanboy credentials that I just wrote the previous paragraph using three letter acronyms for every incarnation of the series without explaining a thing. So, yeah.

I watched the new Star Trek (with the tremendously unfortunate acronym STD) last night. It was… pretty good! I liked it. There were parts where I cringed (mainly the unfortunate new Klingon revamp – it wasn’t necessary, it seemed like change for the sake of change) and parts where I cheered (where the fish-out-of-water first officer raised on Vulcan told the mansplaining Admiral Hologram “hi, race does not imply culture, thank you drive through” and I’m pretty sure every geek of color threw their fist up at that exact moment) but overall… it was Star Trek. Admittedly it was DARK Star Trek. Like, 4th season Deep Space Nine, not happy-go-lucky traipsing-around-the-universe TNG or TOS Trek. This is where Shit Is Going Down And People Are Gonna Die Star Trek. Which is part of the mythos – Star Trek has MULTIPLE wars in its canon. And this explains the beginning of one of the most crucial… the Federation-Klingon war.

Ironically, up until now, the best depiction of that was fan-created – a fan film which CBS (for now very obvious reasons) shut down. It’s worth a look, especially if you’re a Trek fan – it’s done with love for the mythos and the culture, and it fits in the timeline. And watching the first two episodes of Discovery… you can see where it fits in.

(Yes.. that is a fan film. You can see VERY quickly why CBS sued them into not making a full film. It would have been competition with the series.)

But, yes, Discovery, at least for what we’ve seen so far, isn’t “let’s go across the universe and fight crimes and eat sushi” adventures. It’s war and death and consequences. It’s serious. It’s currently on a cliffhanger where it could plausibly just end right there and we’d be… well, yep. Everything is horrible. (I presume it will look up shortly, if for no other reason than that there are about 5 more episodes left in the season.)

But it’s a product of our time. And that is what, I think, offends a lot of people.

First off, it’s not going to be your expectation of a science fiction series. It began with two leads who were women and not white, and apparently that disturbed people. It didn’t disturb actual Trek fans, because in the age of Star Trek we got past judging people based on skin color or orientation or gender or ethnic grouping because FULLY AUTOMATED GAY SPACE COMMUNISM, but hey, clearly in 2017 it apparently still matters. But it shouldn’t, because you had a really strong actress who is going to be the linchpin of the series who is by NO means Gene Roddenberry approved (hint: by the second episode she’s serving a life sentence for mutiny) and you also had Michelle Fucking Yeoh who is, well, Michelle Fucking Yeoh. If you need someone’s arse kicked, she’s there for you, and she was there in this case as well, as someone who really did not WANT to be a warrior but if you’re going to do this, well then, let’s go.

If you are wondering what this has to do with gender or race or anything else, you’re right there with me, because I was just enjoying the show. And it was a good one. Despite the Klingon revamp visually (which I still hate… what can be more fearsome than late-TNG Worf? COME ON, PEOPLE) what I adored and loved was the world-building about the Klingon society and why they went to war with the Federation. I won’t spoil the beats, because there are some good ones and you’ll see them and go “…oh. OK.”.  It’s worth watching for that.

The one thing I WILL spoil is that this series makes the Klingons unapologetically 100% straight up blood and soil ethnic purity racist. That… that has consequence. That has resonance. Given the current climate, it plants a clear stake.  CBS has tried to back away from it, but the story stands for itself. T’kuvmah’s chant is “Make Q’onos Great Again Remain Klingon”. They specifically condemn the Federation for race-mixing. The Klingons are straight-up no-shit unapologetic Space Nazis. And in today’s environment… that is a hell of a statement. It’s not one you can disavow. It has consequences.

This is science fiction at its most relevant. At its most ballsy (to use an unfortunately gendered term). It is taking risks.

And, online, it’s suffering for it.

the main protagonist couldn’t be more unlikable if they had her kill a baby in her first scene

I just want a star trek show about exploration. Is that too much to ask?

I also hate how grim dark the Klingons turned out to be. Yes, they are a scary warrior race, but they also knew how to party.

Here you have a captain who is not in control of an unstable first officer, let alone the ship. Both of whom leave the bridge during a face-off with a known hostile alien race to discuss orders the captain received from Starfleet. That’s not the way it works and it has a terrible impact on a crew.

And the one online comment that set me off and made me literally log off the internet for a day:

Too bad about “Star Trek:Estrogen” though

REALLY. You call yourself a Trek fan, and you’re upset because the leads don’t have a penis. Well, OK then. I’m sure Seth McFarlane has a TV series queued up… oh wait! He does, actually! And… it’s trying to be a serious Trek successor? OK then.

So here’s where I give you a mea culpa. I haven’t actually watched “The Orville”, for the same reason you may not have watched “Star Trek: Discovery”. Specifically, I don’t want to watch the bro-approved Star Trek imitation, which from everything I’m reading is the target audience. I might have tuned in if it was played strictly as a comedy.. but for some crazy reason it isn’t! Apparently McFarlane literally wants to be a Star Trek star, so, well, he is now. There you go. And they’re going to do serious examinations of social issues along with the occasional joke about breasts.

I’m sure I’ll watch an episode or two eventually; people whose opinion I trust in such things have the reaction “it… doesn’t completely suck! My expectations were exceeded!” But I’ll have to get past the MANOSPHERE which fills up every comment thread on the internet about the new Star Trek series with nitpicking to ludicrous extremes to hide the fact that they don’t actually like a black woman being the new Captain Kirk, and ending always with the coda “the REAL new Star Trek is “The Orville”.”

That’s a hell of a thing to make up for. Even without Seth McFarlane.

The Failure of the Status Quo

I’ve been reading Hillary Clinton’s latest this weekend.  It’s quite an interesting read, both for what it says and for how everyone reacts to it.

First, the reaction. There was the insta-reaction, from leaked early copies, that immediately played up where she complained that Bernie Sanders had the temerity to run for office. This was a small part of the book, but her interviews on her book tour this past week indicate it’s not such a small part of her memory. There’s some irony here given the drama at the 2008 Democratic convention, where Clinton played the part of Sanders and “HillaryIs44” played the part of “BernieBros”, but re-litigating the primaries is, again, a very small part of the book.  (After all, there was the small matter of Donald Trump.) A great many reviews from the left side of the aisle have a difficult time getting past this. But I don’t think that’s really the larger point here.

Clinton is, to put it mildly, not particularly happy with the way the general election turned out (neither am I) and some of her rawest writing comes through when The Donald pops up. She points out, justifiably, how howlingly unfair a double standard she was held to, where her every phrase was parsed for meaning, subtext, and emotional honesty while Trump had a difficult time using sentences with vowels. She also points out, to a punishing and accurate degree, how much gender still played a factor in her treatment, both by the media and by the electorate (if nothing else, when a tape is found of a candidate bragging about being a sexual predator and that candidate is still elected, we have a few issues), which contributed to the sense that the entire election was Clinton’s Kobayashi Maru – at every point she was expected not to be the equal of her opponent, but perfect, to the point where a head cold turns into a conspiracy theory.

And yet, her book also makes it very clear how, in the circus of Annus Horribilis 2016, there was no way she could ever win. The Clintons of the 1990s come through many times, in some ways unintentionally (a paragraph about her longtime “housing manager” – aka house servant – is particularly jarring) and in some ways infuriatingly, such as when Clinton comes this close to proposing a Universal Basic Income system for the US based on shared returns from national resources, financial system taxes and carbon tax mandates (it even had a peppy name, “Alaska for America” based on that state’s oil revenue sharing) and then just draws back from the brink because it might be a little much.

What energizes Clinton’s fury, more than anything, is how unfair it all is. She’s the most qualified to be President – that was, literally, the reason she gave for running, and given her eventual opponent, it’s very, very difficult to disagree. Yet it drives so much of her animus with the media (which, she begins to realize, is feeding back and making her path to electoral victory that much narrower) – why don’t they realize that Trump is a joke and she isn’t? Why are they normalizing him? Why are people treating him seriously? Haven’t they listened to her? Haven’t they read her policy papers?

Or, as she put it:

And yet, people did treat him seriously – not a majority, but enough, where it counted – and here we are. Clinton failed. Which, to her credit, she admits, even if she doesn’t quite understand why.

As to why she failed, the answer, as always, depends on who you talk to – if you talk to the hard-core Trump supporters, it was because she was corrupt and Trump somehow wasn’t. (I know. I KNOW.) If you talk to Sanders supporters and points left, it was because she didn’t take risks and embrace full space communism. If you talk to Clinton supporters, it’s because James Comey is an idiot.

The real answer, in my view, is actually closer to space communism than you’d think, but a few points on the curve away – although that might be one of the eventual endings. One of the first writers who I’ve seen describe our current situation clearly is Chris Hayes, the MSNBC commentator who is basically the Lawful Good version of Tucker Carlson. As part of that, he writes decent, well thought out books – one of which is called Twilight of the Elites: America after Meritocracy. His thesis is, essentially, that America relies on a technocratic elite to keep things running – the “adults in the room” – and for the past few decades, well, they’ve been really awful at their job.

Chris Hayes, naturally, notes the irony of his making this argument while being part of that technocratic elite. (A self awareness which for much of the time, sadly, eludes Clinton.) He drills deeper into the causes of this break – income inequality enforcing social separation, a justice system that is clearly different depending on which class you are a member of, and most critically an educational system that is designed solely to produce investment bankers and little else – and it’s hard to argue given the general state of, well, everything in American society.

Another view is from the British film maker Adam Curtis, whose film on the subject, HyperNormalisation, is readily available (and embedded below). It tries, sometimes insanely so, to find a unified theory of everything awful, to the point where Donald Trump and Hafez Assad exist in the same narrative in the 1980s. Yet Curtis’ point, at its core, is the same as Hayes’ – that, as Curtis puts it, the world became too complicated for the elites to understand, let alone run, so they, along with everyone else, retreated into a fantasy world of simplicity while everything around them collapses into chaos.

Chaos is not exactly a long-term solution. You can argue, as Clinton does, that the answer is more competence, to tinker with the edges and find common sense solutions – you can argue, as the left does, that the answer is to take steps back from our capitalist system and up-end our society since it’s fairly broken already – or you can argue, as the right does, that the answer is blood and soil.

When everyone’s a revolutionary, what’s a moderate liberal consensus builder to do? This is what I find to be the final takeaway from Clinton’s book. She tries to argue that the Obama promise, the Clinton promise is still there and still valid… that America is still “a good country, with good people,” and that the answers lie in individual responsibility – of course it does; that is the Clinton lodestone. If only everyone could find the bootstraps her housing manager helpfully left by her bedside.

What. The. Fuck.



How did we even GET HERE.

Was it that we had a black president, was that so horrible, that we had to loop around and then get a retard president just to keep things karmically in sync?

Does anyone even CARE about our government any more? Because it’s like a zombie, moving aimlessly to and fro, waiting for the headshot (give Robert Mueller time, he’s working on it).

At least we now know how epically devoid of actual coherent reasons for governance our gerrymandered-imposed Congress is. We had a sexual predator masquerading as a world leader elected to high office and they just shrugged and said “yeah, whatevs. Can we pass a corporate tax cut now please? Also, can we kill Obamacare? Because that’s our entire platform at this point.”

And yet that bit of moral vacuity is more honest than ANYTHING coming from our executive branch, which has as its apparent reason for being diverting as much money into Trump Corporation properties as possible. You might think there might be annoying brakes on that process, such as, oh, I don’t know, “laws”, but apparently not! The President, by default, literally cannot be corrupt! So we now have the most corrupt individual to hold that office, which means that we are watching immovable object vs. unstoppable force as a daily reminder of how much we fucked up in voting because Hillary’s emails.

And yes, Democrats, you failed. You need to own this. You ran a dynastic candidate against someone from Dynasty, the TV series. You lost an election that by every god-given evaluation of anything involving actual facts should have been literally and entirely impossible to lose, and I’m sure you were just as surprised as the rest of us, but unlike the rest of us, THIS WAS YOUR FUCKUP. You’re why we have a joke of a government. It’s on you.

There is so much more I can say. There is so much more that should be said. But overall what should shame you more than anything else is this one essay from Ta-Nehisi Coates, who puts forward in very open and blatant honest terms how the fuck this happened. Spoiler: because we’re racist fuckheads and we deserve this.

Sorry if you just tuned in and wanted to hear me crack jokes about Star Citizen, or Derek Smart, or really anything involving online gaming, but look. We’re in crisis mode. Our country is so fucked. We are a national joke. And the punchline is ugly.

Take our country back.