Thursday, April 1, 2010

Star Trek by the Minute 093: Prep for Battle Stations

"Thanks for the support" is Kirk's sarcastic response to McCoy's fallacious but overall appropriate incredulity at Kirk seizing captaincy.

Uhura then approaches Kirk to declare, "I sure hope you know what you're doing..." and almost an afterthought adding "...Captain," delightfully dripping with malice.

Glancing briefly up from his acting com officer's chest, (the glance passed too quickly for screen capture), Kirk replies "So do I..." in what could almost be considered a character development moment.  Here, our protagonist is given a total of 3 words expressing normal human emotions appropriate for having some awareness of his situation, the risks he is taking with many billions of lives, perhaps the survival of Earth and the Federation, and the fact that he has no plan and no practical knowledge of the enemy.  Sun Tzu describes this as ideal situation for losing a thousand battles, even if the commander has the ability to use words longer than 2 letters, unlike Kirk here.  Well, we can't all be geniuses...

As much as I like Zoe Saldana's looks and acting with the role she received, I can't help but consider her recent comments in at least one interview relative to those of Nichelle Nichols, the original series Uhura and how these differences illustrate the profound contrast between this film's worldview, and that of Roddenberry's better goals for Star Trek. 

While Nichols goal was determined to portray a strong, intelligent, professional black woman, she saw one of her proudest moments when she had the opportunity to meet with Martin Luther King Jr., who summarized the historic importance of her work by opining something close to: "You have taken our people into space and into the future." This was when African-Americans were still subject to race laws by government and widespread, degrading ignorance and hostility leading to violence, crushing poverty and endemic suffering that regrettably persists today and will be with us for some time.  The creators realized that science fiction offered a unique opportunity to address important issues of life, freedom, justice, and discrimination & violence against "others" (based on country, religion, economics, politics, etc.), and the original series tried to produce something of value with that opportunity, and make a reasonable profit at the same time.

The overwhelming focus of this film has been maximizing profit with Paramount Studios crowing to investors and the media about its zillions in profit from the film, yet the movie offers virtually nothing of substance for intelligent viewers.  It is a sloppily written plot relying on miracles and special effects, and pandering to our most xenophobic stereotypes and their attendant justifications and inevitable affinity for violence, war, and murder.  One cannot help but note that an inhuman corporation's "love of money is the root of" this picture's creation.  Principled criticism of this change in Star Trek is often met with "It's just a film!"  which is perfectly plausible in a coarse and materialistic way, and may also be said with equal accuracy of  "The Eternal Jew", but hypocrites never apply to themselves the rules they apply to others and deflecting criticism with apathy in one case is seen as having nothing to do with the other.

But what was Saldana's comment reflecting views in alignment with what some might call the "evil" of this film?  A significant aspiration for her role in the next film, she gushed, is to "get more action" which she suggested could be something like kicking a man in the groin.  Both with the film itself and comments from actors and production team members like Saldana's, I can understand why some fans of the earlier Trek efforts claim: "Star Trek is dead for me now."  From hoping Trek can bring greater justice and defend the weak to hoping Trek can have more the noble has fallen.

"Attention crew of the Enterprise" announces Kirk on ship-wide intercom, "Mr. Spock has resigned commission and advanced me to acting Captain."  That is a very unusual way to describe Spock's actions, i.e.: as a promotion.  Spock made no such mention of any intent like this.  In fact the story presented suggests he had gone further than merely relieving Kirk of duty.  As Spock considered Pike's decision initially a joke, he was later forced to waste valuable time during an emergency as Kirk ranted incoherently, then he finally had to order Kirk off the Bridge after Kirk began obstructing ship operations the defense of the Federation during a time of war, then Spock put Kirk off the ship for pick-up by the "authorities" after Kirk had begun violently attacking ship personnel.  Spock's resignation, (as silly and irrational as it was, and based on an insanely unworkable regulation Spock prime brought from an alternate universe), seems awfully mischaracterized by Kirk with this announcement, but at least he's merely lying to the ships crew, rather than trying to kill or injure them, so this dishonesty could be seen in a positive light - if one were desperate enough to try that.

"I know you were all expecting to regroup with the fleet," continues Kirk as Spock walks down the corridors, "but I'm ordering a pursuit course of the enemy ship.  I want all departments at battle stations and ready in 10 minutes. Either we're going down, or they are. Kirk out." 

We cut the the gorgeous transporter room set where Spock gazes at nothing in particular as Sarek approaches Spock and gently directs his son "Speak your mind, Spock."

"That would be unwise."

"What is necessary is never unwise."

"I am as conflicted as I once was as a child."

Uhura's one sentence line is the only female voice in this segment, out of the four speaking parts.

Sarek reveals to Spock that (gasp!) he loved his wife in Star Trek by the Minute 094: Uncontrolled Anger.


Reverend Jim said...

Congratulations on an outstanding and insightful post. If I had to pick only one "minute" of the 92 minutes so far to represent the core problem with the movie this would be it. The contrast between the values expressed by Nichelle Nichols and Zoe Saldana could not be more stark. Abrahms and company have perverted everything we admired about Roddenberry's vision.

muser said...

Do you REALLY think it's appropriate to support your position with a reference to an infamous work of Nazi anti-semitism? I don't.

BurntSynapse said...

1st, I generally agree with the old saw: if we do not study history, we are bound to repeat it.

2nd: I would point out that Roddenberry saw Nazi propaganda an appropriate context for his "position" in TOS, and his participation in WWII may in some way put him in better position than I to judge appropriateness.

However if the shoe seems to fit, I claim such comparisons are not merely appropriate, but actually *critical* if we take seriously our responsibilities to avoid industrial scale evil for which the Holocaust is a generally accepted exemplar.

Striking similarities between dominant military, political and economic factors shared today by the US and other countries, and post WWI Germany, combined with their effect on citizens certainly gets my attention, but I don't think many people study Nazi propaganda, and so most people are unable to identify errors that lead smart, confident, faithful people to commit unimaginable horrors. We must note that under the similar conditions, these errors would *seem* proper and good to just about anyone, and similar atrocities would result.

Many in the U.S. and much of the world admired Germany's economic miracle, which gave rise to the huge popularity of the Nazi's both in Germany and in the U.S. during their rise to power. Understanding this to a degree that enables us to improve our decisions in the present strikes me as a very good thing.

I would be interested in understanding your unexplained objection. Also, why does my use of this example raise suspicion of error or dishonesty conveyed by "REALLY"?

muser said...

Once again thanks for your reply.

My meaning of "REALLY" was that the example is too extreme to make the point you are trying to make. Here is my reading:

1. People are telling you "lay off of Abrams' Star Trek, it's just a film."

2. You say in response "The Eternal Jew" is just a film also, therefore we can't just ignore films simply because they are just films.

Now, I agree we can't dismiss ALL films because they're just films just as we can't dismiss Fox "news" and say "it's just a TV show" or say "Hey, 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion' is just a book". On the other hand I feel I can say "don't take 'Harry Potter' too seriously, it's just a book."
Because Harry Potter is not a book that tells us that a group of real, actual, non-fictional people are secretly sacrificing babies and plotting to take over the world.

In other words, we need to make a distinction between a movie sponsored by a government and purporting to be a documentary (The Eternal Jew) as opposed to a movie that is clearly a work of fiction made just for entertainment (Star Trek XI).

This is an argument I might not make even for any other Star Trek film, since in general they had some sort of message (i.e. the search for religion leads to delusion, or don't blindly obey orders, or we must recognize when we get older and step aside for the young, or hatred blinds us, or friendship is more important sometimes than obedience...)

On the other hand the movie we are discussing is clearly an action movie with no real message. So I think we can indeed say "it's just a movie" even though you and I are analyzing the heck out of it and feel it's messing up a franchise we both love. I don't think it's appropriate to equate Star Trek XI with a work of anti-semitic propaganda any more than I thought the Pope's minion last week during the easter season should have compared legitimate criticism of the Catholic Church to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. Now it happens I have a special interest since relatives of mine were persecuted and killed, and yes, that's a "special pleading" fallacy. But tell me how, ignoring my feelings, it's logical to equate a Star Trek film with a work of Nazi propaganda. It's like comparing a match to an atomic bomb. I think the two things are so different that the comparison is utterly inappropriate and borders on being offensive. It either elevates Star Trek to a ridiculous degree, or it trivializes the causes of the Holocaust. In either case it makes your argument seem too extreme to be taken as you seem to intend.
Can we ignore all films because they're just films? No.
Can we equate Star Trek XI with "The Eternal Jew"? Also No.

I hope that clarifies my reasoning.

BurntSynapse said...

Thanks for clarifying - I understand now that I have been misread.

First: I agree with your point about the usefulness of distinguishing films claiming to be documentaries and made with explicit agendas from films of fictional entertainment, one issue that concerns me is the lack recognition of similarities fictional films can have in content and effect.

I believe the inaccurate claim (widely asserted) that ST XI was "made just for entertainment" repeated above reflects this type of lacking recognition. I believe the support of the U.S. military for Abram's past work based on his favorable depictions of military and its business of violence, with a good vs. evil portrayal of the world merits consideration. History suggests that the so called "free market" can be every bit as propagandizing as the most repressive state, but in free and open societies such propaganda is more crucial for control. In totalitarian states, elites can control what people do, so what they think is less relevant, but in free societies indoctrination is vital to prevent people from eroding or eliminating elites' societal control, as was discussed as early in the US as the Continental Congress, and Constitutional Conventions.

The claim that "there is no message" in this Trek can, I think, only be maintained by an absence of what we might consider minimal education on accurately assessing such things.

While I do not equate Eternal Jew with this film, I do equate equally fallacious arguments dismissing highly probable suffering likely to result from films that encourage and support violent, aggressive worldviews. This is not equating the films themselves in any way, it is only a statement regarding appeals to apathy based on knowledge and education less than what seems an acceptable minimum - a vital deficit controlling elites need to maintain in order to protect their interests.

muser said...

In your comment above you say: "The claim that "there is no message" in this Trek can, I think, only be maintained by an absence of what we might consider minimal education on accurately assessing such things..."

Yet in your comment on July 8, 2009 (minute 1) you said: " far as I can detect they had no story or message worth telling."

Now I suspect you're going to say "the movie DID have a message, but it wasn't worth telling." I on the other hand, perhaps due to my "minimal education" in such matters, don't think it had a message at all (as a film). In the meta-sense, it had the message "we want to have fun and make money... lots of money."

However, I do appreciate you clarifying what point you were trying to make by referencing Nazi propaganda. I don't think it was a good way to make the point that media in the US and by extension throughout the world where it is viewed is controlled by a few rich conservatives who pretend that the media has a liberal bias. I agree with the assertion, but I still bristle at any mention of Nazism. I think most people do, and that's why it's never a good way to make a point about much of anything other than racism or totalitarianism. And, fortunately, despite the best efforts of Dick Cheney, we aren't living under a totalitarian regime. Yet.

BurntSynapse said...

On serious reflection, would you maintain that most people's discomfort with discussing Nazism outweighs the justification presented that discussion and understanding is vitally important?

R. Anthony Steele said...

I'd like to answer Muser with an observation that clicked for me awhile back. I wish I could remember who it was, or what context it was in.

Essentially, someone was asking the speaker if he really thought we lived under fascism like Nazi Germany had (or perhaps it was socialism like Russia. Stalin killed 60 million people, and he was on our side. Let's pretend it's Germany though, it works better for the story) his response was "No. That was German fascism. This is American fascism. It's going to be different, because it's a different time and we're different people."

There are many influential people who's livelihood completely depend on the U.S. continuing it's current level of violence across the face of the planet. From the insane war on drugs, to the never-ending war on terror, these people bank on the U.S. being willing to fund both sides of the violence, indefinitely. One of the ways they are promoting this is to package violence as being 'sexy', as making it the preferable form for problem solving.

In that sense, this film is propaganda, American propaganda. It's message is that mindlessly pounding on somebody, or some problem, will yield a positive result. No, it's not a message worth relating.

The more overt forms of manipulation, such as Fox news, simply mask the fact that propaganda is all around us. Most of us are just too numb to notice.

This is probably a complete aside, but go check out "Thank You for Smoking". For some reason, Nick Naylor springs to mind right now.


BurntSynapse said...

Yeah, I watched "Thank You for Smoking" twice, and it is great. I would recommend "The Corporation" and what I've seen of "Capitalism: A Love Story."

R. Anthony Steele said...

The problem with Micheal Moore is Micheal Moore. Like Sicko, he looses touch with reality in Capitalism: A Love Story. His screed against the evils that he sees ends up defeating the truths that he's trying to document.

Sad, really.


BurntSynapse said...

I haven't seen the entire film, where should I pay attention to him losing touch with reality, and what does he say/claim?

R. Anthony Steele said...

I only saw the both of them once, and it's been years ago now.

Basically, my objection is that he targets capitalism, the idea that an individual should profit from his own work, while documenting the excesses of America's current system, which is capitalist in name only (I generally describe it as corporatist, myself) and as in Sicko, his solutions involve some form of government takeover of the industries being documented, as if government isn't already responsible for a huge portion of the mess, through regulation of the industries in question.

Too simplistic, I guess that's my take on it. He has a conclusion in mind when he starts the film, instead of documenting a problem and then forming a conclusion. Bad science, but then it's not really science, it's entertainment.


BurntSynapse said...

Are you sure we are talking about the same film? Capitalism was released to DVD late March.

BTW: I've never seen your definition of Capitalism before, nor did I see anything so far that suggests he is critical of the idea that and individual should profit from his labor.

I do think he probably argues against the idea that people should be thought of as individual atoms with no responsibility for helping maintain the community. We all need to carry our fair share of the commonwealth, IMO.

Corporations are creations of the government which violate of Adam Smith's warning: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices... though the law cannot hinder people of the same trade from sometimes assembling together, it ought to do nothing to facilitate such assemblies; much less to render them necessary."

R. Anthony Steele said...

I paid to catch it in a theater last summer, I think.

No fan of corporations myself. "Corporatist" is a reference to who dictates policy in our current system, and a vague reference to Italian fascism.

No, no one ever comes out against an individual profiting from his work. They just slam capitalism, which the average person doesn't realize is the same thing.

To tie this back into Star Trek, that's why the Ferengi are the silliest villains Gene ever came up with. How much of a threat is a civilization built on profit going to be to a civilization that has outgrown money? (I have my own interpretations of what that means, but I'll stick to the accepted view) The real question is, why would the Ferengi do business with the Federation in the first place? There's no profit in it...