The following is cross-posted at Marc Andreottola’s excellent new moving pictures blog, CINEMA IS YOUR SYMPTOM. Keep an eye on that one, believe me.
The trailer for the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie came out last week. My RSS feed lit up, as they say, like a Christmas tree. No fewer than three Facebook messages arrived to inform me of the fact (from not-trekkie friends who are sympathetic to my plight). “It raped my childhood” was a popular reaction on the blogs. With each day, more trickles out—scene screenings, rumors, interviews, hints. The movie doesn’t even open till May. We’re given six months to stew in anticipation or dread.
The trailer starts with a young, buck-toothed James Tiberius Kirk on a farm in Iowa. Something’s happening. He jumps into a car—yes, a car, as in a 20th century car, when this is supposed to be the future! Rrrg. He tears off in it, chased by a motorcycle cop, and is about to run over a cliff (in Iowa?) when he jumps out and grabs onto the ledge, narrowly escaping doom, etc. Thank goodness at least the cop’s motorcycle levitates. After that, a bunch of starship action scenes with young Kirk and young Spock flash before our eyes, and then it’s over. Horrible.
Really? What’s so wrong about that? Let me try to explain.
More than anything else quite has, Star Trek dictated the way that I see the world. My metaphysics (resplendent science), anthropology (good and frenetically curious at heart), and eschatology (technology will make everything awesome), are all, in the main, Roddenberrian. Gene Roddenberry was the L.A. cop-turned screenwriter who invented the first Star Trek series and midwifed The Next Generation into being just before his passing. That was the one, with Jean-Luc Picard and the helm, that did me in. Specifically, seasons 3 thru 6 1/2.
It hit at a very formative moment, some lucky sweet-spot between 4th and 6th grade, when puberty must have been all in the brain because nothing had happened yet in the body. But as soon as something did happen in the body, I dropped Captain Picard like a dead cat and picked up the more chick-friendly electric guitar. One day, I actually went to Goodwill and gave away every last bit of my hundreds of dollars in merchandise.
Gene “the Great Bird of the Galaxy” Roddenberry died in 1991. By ’95, his beatific vision of the future had fallen into total disrepair. At first, I liked that fact that with each passing year there were more space battles and more interspecies wars. But then there started to be money. Picard always said humans were beyond that. The third series, Deep Space Nine wore on, it became clear that they came at the cost of everything good and true, in my book. Two other series, Voyager and Enterprise, stunk. The last full-length picture was the worst movie ever made.
For a time, I was hopeful. A few weeks ago, Abrams was quoted saying, “It was important to me that optimism be cool again.” But soon it became clear what that meant. “This is a treatment of Star Trek with action and comedy and romance and adventure, as opposed to a rather talky geekfest.” No, thank you. Spoken like a closet Star Wars fan. Confirmed: “[Abrams] was engaged by the possibility of a Star Trek movie ‘that grabbed me the way Star Wars did.'”
I had to come to a realization: the brand is a lie. Or the franchise, or the saga, or whatever. Probably they all are.
Let me tell you: I’ve been to a few Star Trek conventions in my day. Wander through them, and it is plain to see when each person caught the bug. Why? Because they’re dressed like a character of whatever period makes them feel warm and fuzzy. ’60s Kirk or ’80s Kirk? Data or Spock? We’re all umbrella-ed under this single Star Trek™ package, but each carrying separate experiences. Now, I want to finally accept that those can never quite come again, whatever the promises of Paramount Pictures or of fan-made episodes.
It’s like Spock once said: “If we were to assume these whales as ours to do with as we please, we would be just as guilty as those who caused their extinction.” (The whales are our experiences, big as whales, in the aquariums of our lives.)
I can’t possess or re-possess what Star Trek has done; it possesses me. I can only let it get worse with equanimity and protect my childhood from the inevitable rapists.