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I discovered Star Trek in syndication on a black-and-white TV shortly after it was cancelled for a second time. I remember rushing home from fifth grade to watch the show every afternoon. “Balance of Terror” remains my favorite. I rewatched it recently and it holds up pretty well.
I was part of that cult following that sprang up around 1970. I loved Star Trek.
I remember clearly the day that I watched the show at a friend’s house. They had a color television. I was shocked! It had never occurred to me that they had brightly-colored uniforms, or that they were different colors, or that those colors were determined by their job descriptions: gold for “command”, blue for “science”, red for “expendable”.
But even at twelve years old, I could see that the show was patently ridiculous. The contradictions were manifold. Many of the episodes were just plain silly, and I am not limiting myself to “The Trouble with Tribbles”.
In 1976, I attended a Star Trek convention in New York City at Rockefeller Center. Despite being only seventeen years old, I managed through my father’s company to get hold of a press pass, and I travelled with one of his writers who was a big Trekkie, ostensibly as his photographer despite not carrying a camera. But no one questioned it.
My greatest memory from that event—other than the near-riot that occurred when it turned out the event was oversold and the building managers turned all the escalators to down escalators (watching people try to run up them remains a cherished memory)—was how utterly pathetic the whole thing was.
In truth, it pretty much ended my career as a Trekkie. I’d been drifting away for some time because, well, people do sometimes grow up. But watching grown men, ostensibly “adults”, fawn over third-rate actors, and listening to those selfsame mostly-failed actors brag about their sad œuvre (or lack thereof), wow. That was disillusioning.
Hello, folks! It’s a fucking fantasy. And not even a very good one. It is shockingly lacking in imagination, as was evident to me even then. It is not Shakespeare, for fuck’s sake.
To be more precise, it is an adolescent boy’s masturbation fantasy. So why are so many “grown ups” more interested than even the teenagers?
Want proof? At least in the early days, four out of five Trekkies identified as male. It was one big circle jerk.
And that brings up another point. Star Trek is infantile and ridiculous. Oops! Sorry, but it just is. So why do so many people take it so fucking seriously? It’s like a religion. Maybe it is a religion. It is certainly a fetish of the technophilia religion.
This is nowhere more evident than in the pathetic insistence of “fans” that they are “Trekkers”, not “Trekkies”. When I was a kid, we were all Trekkies and no one had a problem with it. But we were kids.
But when it was pointed out repeatedly by actual adults (now effectively extinct) to the overgrown children who so desperately wanted to be Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock that they were, ahem, overgrown children, well, they got their panties in a knot and demanded to be taken seriously. No, seriously. Hence, “Trekkers”.
So desperate is the need to be taken seriously that there are numerous articles even in peer-reviewed, ostensibly-science-oriented journals calling Star Trek fandom a “cultural phenomenon”. Book smarts and maturity are not directly correlated. Actually, they may be inversely correlated.
Frankly, I think that Peter Pan Syndrome and wishful thinking to the point of dementia should more rightly be filed under the DSM than as “cultural phenomenon”.
I wish I could say that this is a modern disease brought on by our impending doom and a desire to wish it away, or to deny that our technology, far from saving us, is accelerating our rush to extinction, but I’d be lying. People have always been this pathetically puerile. Cf. Plato.
It’s the technology, stupid
Science fiction or fantasy? Which is it?
Well, let’s take a look at the “science” of Star Trek. I’ll begin with the most obvious problems. I am no expert on the later shows, but I’ve seen enough episodes of all of them to note that these egregious errors have never really been addressed, although plenty of desperate rationalizing has been attempted.
But first let’s consider the difference between science fiction and fantasy. For my purposes, I’ll keep it simple: science fiction imagines possible futures while remaining true to the laws of nature. Fantasy has no such limitation. Anything goes, and usually does.
True, most fantasy these days is about enormous tits, obscenely disproportionate musculature, and, oddly, swords. Something about penetration? Go figure.
But science fiction claims to be more believable than all that. More serious. More, um, intellectual.
So is Star Trek or any of its various sequels science fiction? Or is it pure fantasy?
Let us begin with the most obvious problems, commented on endlessly everywhere and just as studiously ignored.
Space ships don’t go whoosh. There is no medium in space for the propagation of sound. When creating the sequels, there was some discussion about this, I believe. They stuck with the whoosh. Really.
If your space ship can accelerate suddenly to “warp speed” or even high “impulse” speed, then you either need some kind of field that negates inertia, or you will need to replace the entire crew after each maneuver. When the ship is hit by weapons of some sort, the crew are tossed around like ice cubes in a cocktail shaker. Um… no. We’re gonna need a big hose.
Aside from occasional carpet-covered-in-puke (“The Devil in the Dark”) or stuffed-animal-based “life forms” (“Tribbles” again), a surprising number of planets have humanoid life forms. Wow! What imagination! What are the odds? My favorite is the good-mime/bad-mime planet.
The “science” varies widely from episode to episode and series to series based on the needs of the plot—the writing is incredibly lazy and unimaginative. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that science actually works that way.
Humans have no imagination at all
It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that the vast majority of homo sapiens sapiens have no imagination at all. None, really.
Go back through history and inventory all the “monsters” that humans have dreamt up. Are they unique, original creations? Or are they nothing more than mash-ups?
Need a monster? Take the head of a gerbil, paste it to the body of a kangaroo, and add the tail of a donkey. Done! Scary, too.
Snakes for hair? Yup. Half human, half goat—um, how is this different from most human males? Horse with horn? Old news. Eagle + human, horse + human, bird + human, fish + human, fly + human: been there, done that, running out of options.
You want true imagination? Read the eponymous second part of Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves. Hard and soft bodies; three “sexes” represented by the Rationals, Emotionals, and Parentals; mutability and the ability to “melt” with solid objects. There is even a different concept of time.
True, it is still pretty derivative—obviously a product of the whole left brain/right brain era—but it is light years beyond most sad “sci-fi”.
Or consider the brilliant trilogy by Octavia Butler—for my money the most imaginative science fiction writer of all time—in which she imagines the Oankali, who perceive the world through sensory tentacles all over their bodies making them look a bit like mobile trees.
The Oankali also have three sexes: male, female, and “ooloi”. The latter are necessary for the former two to mate, and they have the ability to perceive and alter genetic material. Their space ships are essentially living things.
The Oankali have a biological imperative to evolve by interbreeding with alien species. Wow. Maybe you can make that shit up. Xenogenesis FTW.
So what is imagination? I would say that it is not the ability to dream up impossible things, but to dream up utterly new concepts and technologies that are within the realm of possibility. And then to form an image in the mind—hence image-ination—of how such concepts and technologies would play out.
Ignoring the impossibility of an idea is cheating. We call that fantasy. “Science” fiction should have nothing to do with it.
Imagination thus means the ability to imagine the consequences and ramifications of any new idea: anticipating, as it were, Virilio’s “integral accident”.
Just how fucking stupid is Star Dreck?
Well, on a scale of one to ten, with ten being utterly imbecilic, I’d have to say… eleven.
Let’s take the most obvious problem, discussed endlessly by idiot Trekkies who recognize the problem and desperately work to make it go away. Whole forests have gone to the blade to write treatises trying to work around the science mumbo-jumbo perpetrated by Star Dreck and it’s ilk.
Thomas Aquinas had nothing on Trekkies.
The biggest problem is, of course, the transporter. The problems with this technology were actually discussed before it was first introduced, but the “plot” (I’m using the term very loosely) required that our heroes don’t spend most of their time just getting from point A to point B, let alone point X, Y, or Z.
This is also the reason for the warp drive. Where’s the fun if Kirk and his kids and his grandkids all die before they get even to the very first planet—which, naturally, turns out to be barren? Not much of a show.
But the transporter, more than perhaps any other element in the show, acts mostly to “transport” the show (heh) from the sci-fi genre deep into fantasy and magic.
The technical issues aren’t even the worst of it. But let’s start with them.
How the fuck is this thing supposed to work?
Well, gamerant.com offers this explanation:
Star Trek transporter tech works by breaking down matter such as living organisms, cargo, even gas or liquid-based matter into an energy pattern, in a process that the show calls “dematerialization.” Once each atom is broken down into this pattern, it is “beamed” across to another transporter pad, where it is converted back into matter. This is aptly named “rematerialization.”
Oh! Of course! It’s all so clear now! Except I’m pretty sure you don’t need that second transporter pad.
I recently saw a comic that neatly exposes the shell game attempted above:
The key word in the above description is pattern. We’ll come back to that. But first let us address some simple and obvious issues.
How does this complete conversion of matter to energy occur? How do sparkly lights “break down” matter? Doesn’t that require, um, nuclear processes? More importantly, does it hurt?
What kind of energy is this “beam”, and how does it transmit this incredibly complex “pattern” over long distances and through solid rock? Oh, but they’ve upped the ante! Now it can transport humans from a planet to a starship half a galaxy away and traveling at “warp” speed. Again, I guess you can “make this shit up”.
Most importantly, how the hell is the energy-to-matter “rematerializing” accomplished at a distance and without a receiver?
But we can solve all of this with a very special scientific method called “hand waving”. No, really, it works! Try it. You can hand wave almost anything away if you just try hard enough. Then a miracle occurs.
But there is one thing you can’t just wave away, and that is the ramifications of such a technology. The most obvious of which is this:
If we can break people down into patterns at time t1, and put them back together again at time t2, then we must have stored that pattern for at least a duration of t2 - t1.
Based on a careful scientific evaluation of the original show and spot checks on sequels, that delta can be anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes or even hours, days, weeks, years.
Oh, but the pattern degrades after just a few seconds! It has to or there will be inconvenient questions like the ones below. Except all we have to do is use the plasma stream to amplify the charge in the buffer to keep those patterns from degrading. Easy peasy.
I know that is true because at some point the plot required it to be true.
An infant could do it. Actually, only an infant can do it.
About those ramifications
So, we can murder you into a pattern and store you, temporarily at least, in the transporter until we resurrect a new copy of you somewhere else. These copies can be bifurcated occasionally into “good you” and “bad you” because everyone knows that good and evil are not the result of poor decisions, but are somatic and stored in our cells. Damned evil cells. I’m pretty sure mine are in my liver.
So, um, why does anyone ever die in Star Dreck?
After all, we can just use the pattern to create a new you. Sure, like any backup copy, it will be the you of whenever the last backup was made, but that’s better than nothing right? Your wife and kids will understand, won’t they?
Actually, what is to stop us from creating hundreds or thousands of copies of you? Wow, that would be a terrific help with the housework, homework, plain old work, etc. except … we’d have to feed them all. Sigh … nothing’s perfect.
Oh, but it’s impossible to store those patterns because if it isn’t, then it reveals that Star Trek is utter poppycock and has about as much relation to real science as the “man in the moon”.
Star Trek is fantasy, folks. Not science. Get over it.
Oh, there is so much more, but this is getting tedious. For example, why can the replicator in the galley make both organic and inorganic matter (again, from generic “energy”, apparently), but can’t make “dilithium crystals” or “phasers” when you need them?
Oh, right. It is plot-blocked. You heard it here first, folks! Plot blocking!
So the biggest problem with the show is that it is sold as “science” fiction despite being actually quite anti-science. It is an insult to real science. And it doesn’t even attempt to hide this, if we’re honest.
But then anti-intellectualism is part and parcel of consumer capitalism. We can have consumers or critical thinkers, but not both.
And that helps to convince a gullible audience to mistake magic and magical thinking for science. And that leads directly to science-as-religion, or more accurately, a cargo cult.
Yup, science is the gift that keeps on giving. The magical god in the sky that rains cool shit such as iPhones and AI on us—comped, of course, ‘cause we’re VIPs—and will soon herald the coming of the tech ex machina and the arrival of paradise! Why bother maturing into adults when Science with a capital S will save us from our infantile selves?
In this, Star Dreck and its cousin, Star Bores, usher us happily to our doom, smiling and waving as we fast approach the rotating knives. Look at me, everyone! I’m going to paradise.
What about the cultural critique?
OK, so maybe Star Dreck is a bit short on scientific realism, but what about its critique of human culture and stupidity?
Um, what critique?
Gene Roddenberry was a remarkable man. He managed to retain his infantile philosophy of life right up to the very end. A rather flexible philosophy as expressed by Roddenberry himself when discussing making a statement in the show in favor of “Christian” views:
I am interested in a statement couched in dollars and cents of what this means to the Roddenberry treasury…
Whoops. Well, it was show business, after all. Roddenberry considered himself a humanist, but he bent easily.
For example, the episode about “sun” worshippers—odd that such an advanced technological society should have such a primitive [sic] religion. Until Uhura enlightens Captain Kirk: "It's not the sun up in the sky. It's the Son of God." [“Bread and Circuses”]
Cough, cough, gag. Not “primitive” at all, then.
Kirk is really into bestiality. He’ll fuck anything with a vagina (or similar orifice), it seems, and usually does. It is shocking, really, how many alien species, many of whom apparently wear only lingerie, are attracted to bombast and wooden overacting. There’s no accounting for taste, I guess.
Spock is utterly unemotional and logical, because ignoring the insights that emotion, and specifically empathy, can bring is, well, utterly logical, right? Except, of course, that Spock is not the least bit logical and even less unemotional. His “logic” is utterly specious. It is whatever drives the flimsy plot forward.
What’s more, his logic is proven worthless over and over again by the “humans” who show that the seven deadly sins are the secret to triumphing over adversaries. Fuck diplomacy. Boring! Wrath, lust, gluttony … bring it on!
Even as a teenager I regularly reacted to Spock’s “logic” with “Say what??? How the fuck did you come up with that?”
Somehow he can calculate odds to several decimal places without even considering all the facts. I am fairly certain that Spock is banned everywhere in Vegas.
Dashiell Hammett this is not. It’s not even Agatha Christie.
Bones? Don’t get me started. He’s a ham, not an actor! A one-joke guy. The straight man (pun intended) stuck in the middle of the Kirk-Spock homoerotic dance.
But it gets worse and worse and worse
Roddenberry was widely viewed as a peacenik and an idealist stuck in the Sixties zeitgeist. Bah. He was an utter hypocrite.
Ironic, then, that a general cheer went up (respectfully, of course) when he kicked the bucket and Deep Space Nine finally had permission to get downright naughty. If “playing doctor” and showing girls your pee-pee is your idea of “naughty”, I guess. Still infantile.
Another grave disappointment, although the pilot had one truly great idea with Sisko emotionally stuck in the moment that his wife died, returning to it over and over again. That made me cry.
But it was all downhill from there, with Frodo the Fungus, er, Ferengi, and that weird dude that can take on any shape regardless of mass. Um, I might be mixing up fantasies a bit.
Almost as bad as when they invented a “female” captain to prove that the franchise remained as sexist and misogynist as ever. Pay no attention to the scantily clad nymphos, er, women or the satyriasis of the most famous captain in Star-fleece. We got a woman in charge now!
Except we put her in charge and then threw her ship to the other end of the galaxy where she could safely do her womanish things without polluting the pure masturbatory joy of the rest of the “galaxy”.
And the best part? Ha, ha. Captain Janeway is a man!
No, for reals. She may be the female sex, but she is the masculine gender. You see we can’t have any soft, emotional, empathetic women in charge! Oh, hell, no. She needs to man up, to be more man than men, to be the Hillary Clinton or the Madeleine Albright of the Star-fleece. A sheep in wolves’ clothing.
Even at the ass end of the galaxy, she is still prohibited from being feminine.
Oh, and while we can never, never, never admit that Kirk and Spock were a gay couple, Janeway absolutely must be a lesbian. Captains can never be cocksuckers, am I right? It’s about domination, not submission.
Sadly, she wasn’t all that great in bed. Seems she only got seven out of nine.
But that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that the franchise is utterly pro-militarism, authoritarianism, and even totalitarianism. Frankly, this may be where the current Orwellian, one-size-fits-all, our-way-or-the-highway cultural fascism got its start.
Think I’m joking? Riddle me this then: In the world centuries hence, humans have given up on money and violence and work together like, oh, a Sixties hippie commune to benefit all of humanity, right? We are all equal, except, of course, that as usual some are a little more equal than others.
But hey, it’s a meritocracy, right? Hmm. Maybe Roddenberry was a secret libertarian. He clearly had some seriously repressed sexual obsessions, a well-known marker for libertarianism.
Let me set you straight once and for all.
The Enterprise, in whatever version, is not a scientific survey ship. It is a heavily-armed military vessel. The crew are not a group of colleagues of equal rank. They are a highly regimented caste system with the alpha “man” on top, and everyone expected to obey him.
And they run around blowing shit up and killing species in direct violation of their “prime directive”, which I can only conclude is the 24th century equivalent of the “rule-based order”.
Ditto for Voyager. And Deep Space Nine is, frankly, a military outpost. After all, Star-fleece is a military organization run by admirals, no? And the commander of Deep Space Nine is an officer who commands other officers. Sir, yes sir. Make it so!
The alpha-worship would do well as an emetic in an emergency.
Where is the anarchist commune? Forget it. The world of Star Trek is tribal and hierarchical, just like our own. Coincidence? How are the “science/medical” staff any different from the Crips and the “engineering/security” staff any different from Bloods?
I’m a nightmare walkin’, psychopath talkin’, king of my jungle, just a gangster stalkin’ … my colors, my honor, my colors, my all.
Hello! They are all wearing uniforms. Uniform clothing is for uniform people. You go along with the tribal shibboleths or we’ll burn your ass at the stake.
Remember all those times when Picard took a vote to decide whether to risk all life in the known universe? Yeah, me neither. He is the new Adam with the authority that goeth before a fall.
This is our glorious future? This is the best we can imagine for ourselves?
What is obvious from Star Trek and its inescapable clones is that humans are incapable of evolving. We just want flashier tech.
At least Firefly got that right: Shiny! Let’s be bad guys.
And this is no accident. Star Trek is a commodity, created to be sold to gullible suckers. A techno-masturbation fantasy. No one wants to watch an advanced, wise species that exposes our utter infantility and stupidity. Oh, fuck, no.
When the “advanced” species does show up, they are quickly shown up by the barbaric human race. Straw men, all.
Let’s take the stupidest and most infantile of us and project them into a make-believe, magical future where the laws of physics (and of credulity) are broken at will and we will all have the shiniest toys and no responsibilities. Or accountability, of course.
Let’s also pretend that we are going to make it to the 24th century without destroying ourselves and probably all life on Earth. But then a realistic show about a planet devoid of life and covered in plastic, toxins, and radioactive particles doesn’t make for much drama, honest though it may be.
And so, Star Trek and its ugly cousin, Star Wars are nothing more than narcotics for intellectually dishonest, emotionally stunted infants. Every bit as addictive as fentanyl, and even more destructive because they help us to turn away, to pretend that we are not destroying our world and ourselves along with it.
But you don’t buy that. Ha, ha. Clearly, I’m demented. Everything is going to be fine. There’s no need for you to wake up. Back to sleep now.
Turn that shit off
If you want some reasonable examples of true imagination (beyond the Asimov and Butler ones already mentioned), try Outer Limits or Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. Both are light years beyond Star Dreck.
Hell, Firefly beat the hell out of Star Trek. There was more sparkling wit, humor, and intelligence in a single episode than it all the dreary Trek franchise. And more respect for science, as well. And without all the fucking smug pretentiousness.
Naturally, it was canceled before the end of the first (aborted) season and they couldn’t even be arsed to show the episodes in the right order.
Or in the movies, check out Arrival, probably the greatest science fiction film of all time, hence largely ignored. Yeah, I like 2001: A Space Odyssey, too, but Arrival beats the hell out of it. Moon is also quite good, if desperately sad.
And, of course, Солярис (Solaris), the 1972 film, or Tartovsky’s 1979 Stalker (the book, Roadside Picnic, is even better)—another possible nominee for best sci-fi film ever.
Imagine if advanced aliens came to Earth and they didn’t even recognize humans as sentient! Ha, ha. Brilliant.
And while the original Blade Runner, even in its “final” form, is a kitschy mess (although well ahead of its time) and Ford can only barely eclipse Shatner in the “acting” department, the 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049, is an intellectual masterpiece and a deeply moving love story, although that seems to have gone over the heads of most viewers who came for the adolescent boy masturbation fantasy and bitched afterward that it was “too slow”.
I could write dozens more articles on everything just so wrong with Star Trek and its bastard offspring, but this will have to do for now.