August 30, 2007

Confessions of a Soon-to-Be Former Trekkie

That's right - I said former Trekkie. As of right now, I am hereby announcing my resignation from the whole of Trek Fandom... and will be turning my pointy ears and commemorative combination Tribble/toupee at the door.

When did it start? Well, I don't know, but some recent stirrings out of Trekdom didn't do all that much to impress me. No, it's not the casting issues...although I am a little bothered by William Shatner's petulance at "not being in the movie." Of course, his Direct TV ad doesn't exactly scream "hire me, I'm a professional actor"...and his devotion to Trek seems inversely proportional to his need for steady work. (Don't believe me - the documentary How William Shatner Changed the World manages to insult your intelligence and dismiss Star Trek fandom.)

I actually think it came to a head when I was reading the free "e-newsletter" from Star Trek: The New Voyages. None of their past episodes have really been all that impressive - mostly just slightly fannish attempts to recreate the past...and that's what hit me, and why I've been growing disgusted with Trek.

It's the new "big lie" - that as future series "got away" from Gene Roddenberry's vision, they became less popular. However, the "big lie" is that Roddenberry's vision was never about a ship, characters, or a setting - it was about humanity moving forward despite itself, and learning to live comfortably within its own skin.

The original cast, on the surface, seemed to be a few security guards short of a Jerry Springer episode: the bookworm-turned-horndog captain. The ensign who continually showed nationalistic pride. The helmsman who harbored swashbuckling dreams. The half-human half-alien hybrid struggling with his dual nature. A gruff doctor and overachieving engineer who both enjoyed hear the current "party line", this was as best as Trek ever got. When you consider that the Next Generation crew were close to perfect, and there was rarely, if ever, strife amongst crew members (based on Roddenberry's own "everyone in the future gets along" edict), there may be a point.

However, I think Roddenberry's vision, ironically, is best fulfilled in Deep Space Nine, with flawed - yet believable - characters working towards a common goal. A captain who has suffered a deep loss, and who is also struggling to balance spiritual, political, and military needs with the demands of being a father. (Which is why Benjamin Sisko is my favorite Star Trek captain - well, that and he is played by the coolest man on the planet). A former freedom fighter struggling to see her home planet regain its dignity. A shape shifting alien struggling to fit in. A business owner who sees changes around him, and worries about his culture. A young woman with hundreds of years' experience...these were not perfect people, and they did not live in "perfect" times (which is anathema to Trek fans), but they were able to move forward despite them.

(By contrast, both Voyager and Enterprise offered one-from-column-A-and- another-from-column-B casting, weak plots, and...well, it always seemed that the latter two shows were more exploitive about its women (especially Voyager), and DS9 has some of the strongest female characterizations in Trek. When Leeta (who was the equivalent of a showgirl and a "minor" character) gets strong story lines - and I am being sexist and patronizing - that says more about the quality of the show than any fan film ever can).

In contrast, what the New Voyages (and the "party line") seem to be saying is that, well, it's all about Kirk, Spock, and the original crew - and since Gene Roddenberry is not around, there's no argument. However, it is not Trek in's the equivalent of New Coke for Trek. It's getting attention because it's...well, a professionally-made fan film, but even with increasing participation from Trek alumni, it still doesn't feel right. It's not the acting, or the sets, or the special effects, but somehow a real lack of pioneering spirit. Of writing a new mythology. I remember a lecture on creativity, where the professor said that putting a pen to paper is not necessarily creative, but conceiving of five new ways to use the pen and/or the paper is creative. Trek should always be about exploring new frontiers, not revisiting past glories.

So what's the point of this admittedly rambling post? I've given up on something I've loved since I was a child. Yes, I'll still watch on occasion...but with a sense of longing. I've removed the Trek feeds from my RSS reader. I'll settle for the new Battlestar Galactica, and Doctor Who...and classic Twilight Zone. Even watching The Prisoner again has given me that familiar chill of excitement.

But more. Let the New Voyages continue to make new episodes for other people's enjoyment. Let Shatner continue to utilize Trek in lieu of making any creative career choices. Because so many who are involved in Trek failed to realize Roddenberry's greatest lesson:

The future is always being written....and is always a work in progress.


Roger Green said...

I've seen five movies, the first 3 series, but never thiought I was a member...I just faded away, myself.

How William Shatner Changed the World link doesn't work, but is easily fixed, I think.

Ben Varkentine said...

I was never a more than a casual fan myself. I especially can't take the idea of Roddenberry as some sort of visionary futurist seriously.

But, as one does, I've seen the "original cast" movies and the first couple series.

What turned me off is something I heard one of the "NextGen" bigwigs (I think it was Rick Berman but I can't be sure) say.

He was talking about the first NG movie on Larry King and said of the fans, "If we make it, they will come."

That spoke of such arrogance to me that I never saw a NG movie in the theater, and don't think I've ever seen one in its entirety.