In the wake of my review recently, I had a lot of great responses both here and on Facebook from fans and non-fans alike. It appears that the piece opened up a good dialogue about the subject of Trek-fandom and their disdain for the Abramsverse. What I found out, and I really kind of knew this, is that there is a segment of the fandom that really didn’t like the first film for all of the goofiness and, well, f*cking with the established history of the franchise, but don’t necessarily hate the film or the Abramsverse. They’re skeptical of the new film, but they aren’t the butt-hurt, hater crowd. I just want to make clear that my criticism of the negative attitude by a certain segment of the fanbase is by no means a criticism overall of fans who are skeptical and have issues with a lot of the goofy shit present in both of the Abrams films. After all, there’s seriously a lot of goofy shit in both of these films (more blatantly in the first) and I wouldn’t expect fans to not take issue with them or to dismiss them out-of-hand.
I recently noted that that it had just dawned on me that the aft-end of the nacelles (engines) on the Enterprise in Star Trek (2009) glowed (and glowed brighter when the engines were “revving up”) and how as a Trek fan that annoyed the piss out of me because Roddenberry was insistent on the fact that the propulsion methods should not bare any resemblance to contemporary methods of propulsion, i.e., nothing coming out of the tailpipe. This is why the end-caps went from having all of those little round vents on them in the first pilot to just being those round globes during production.
That’s an important detail that the producers just ignored. To make matters worse, what did they do with the engines this time? F*cking CONTRAILS.
Then something very unexpected occurred: I realized those contrails looked bad-ass. Yes, they are in complete contradiction with everything I know about the franchise, but eff me if they don’t look wicked awesome and if I think that (considering I hate the concept in general) you damned-well know that the non-Trek fan in the audience thinks so, too. And that’s kind of where I think a lot of us fans stand. There’s a bit of self-loathing going on and guilt, here. “I shouldn’t like this but I do,” and that’s what kind of made me realize that you have to take these films in from the objective perspective of someone who’s just being introduced to the franchise… or just likes kickass action films. The foundation for the principles of the franchise are certainly there even of they eff up some of (or a lot of) the details of the minutiae but, on that note, Ron D. Moore does make a very good point that it is that minutiae that has contributed to making the franchise inaccessible to new audiences.
What I think has made it difficult for the fanbase in general to not be skeptical was the shock over the destruction of Vulcan in the first film. That hit me like a ton of bricks because of how integral Vulcan is to the mythology and because there wasn’t even any setup to get us prepared for it. It was like, “Pew, pew, pew… BOOM… Vulcan’s gone.”
That being said, having issues with the goofy shit is normal. Being cautious is normal, but I have to tell you that there really is a certain segment of the fandom that has hated this new vision of Trek since the Vegas Trek Convention of 2008 when Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy were on stage on the last day discussing it and warning the fans that it’s going to be different but they’re going to like it. This carried on through December of 2008 when more and more details were starting to come out and the chorus of hate was reaching a fever-pitch… even though they had not seen a single frame of the film. That just seemed absurd to me and it especially seems absurd when I see the irrational hate spewed at this new film by the fans who hate it for the sake of hating it at this point. I get skepticism as a reaction to the first film, but the “haters” have the exact same complaints about this film that they did the first one (or they’re just contriving false criticism about the plot) and I don’t even know how one could rationally come to that considering how much better EVERYTHING is about the new film and how it actually felt like Star Trek.
Lens flares… seriously? Spock and Uhura having a relationship? It’s not Star Trek, it’s Star Wars? C’mon… seriously?
I’ve come to a conclusion about this irrational hatred toward the Abramsverse and I’m not saying that my conclusion is right or wrong, but it is something to consider. I have a feeling that this segment of the fanbase doesn’t want Star Trek to be popular. Whether they realize it or not, their issues have nothing to do with the quantifiable changes to the franchise, just the idea of change itself. Allow me to explain.
Star Trek, for better or worse, has a justly earned reputation for having a strong appeal for kids who were, shall we say, less than popular. A lot of these kids felt excluded by the more popular and athletic kids because they were different. These “nerdy kids” were smarter, they were more intuitive, they were more curious, they were more creative and they were also socially awkward and they were non-conformists. There’s nothing worse than being a non-conformist during elementary and high school.
Then they found Star Trek which provided an outlet for their personalities and interests as well as an escape but more importantly they found a community of other like-minded folks to belong to, and that’s very important for all human beings. Star Trek is theirs and theirs alone and I can tell you from my own personal experience, the Trek fandom that was excluded socially easily transitioned to becoming the excluders when they found their niche.
I wasn’t always a Star Trek fan, I became one in 1997 because of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. When I was growing up, I was a casual viewer. I would watch Star Trek and then Star Trek: The Next Generation when it happened to be on but I wasn’t ever scheduling time to watch the franchise. I enjoyed it but my life certainly didn’t revolve around it. I was 18 when Star Trek: Generations came out and I was at a friend’s house on opening night and some of his friends had come over who had just seen the new film. Even if you weren’t a Trek fan, you knew that the big deal in that film was the “rumor” of the death of Kirk. When I casually asked one of these guys whether or not Kirk was killed, I was given a response something along the lines of, “Yeah, but it’s complicated… the Nexus, blah, blah, blah…” with eye-rolling and dismissive short responses pretty much implying, “You’re not a Trek fan, you wouldn’t understand and I’m not explaining it you.” To sum it up, instead of embracing my interest in Trek, they basically rejected me from their clique the same way they had been rejected socially… which was a mistake because I was good at getting girls and booze… which they weren’t good at.
And this is kind of the attitude that I’m reminded of and I’m seeing, now. These same people who bitched (and still do) relentlessly about what producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga did to the franchise in the mid-to-late 90’s and into the 00’s want to see Trek in 2013 go back to those days. Not because it was better, but because it was their exclusive domain. They may hate Rick Berman (which is something that Berman alludes to on the Star Trek: Enterprise Season One Blu-ray Special Features and seems very taken back and upset by even to this day about) for being “the sonofabitch who ruined the franchise” (a sentiment that I believe is unfair, in general… there were many factors involved) but he’s their sonofabitch.
Trek is their club and it shall not be interfered with by that Star Wars lover and non-fan J.J. Abrams and the legions of other non-fans that now like it. As I noted, my wife liked the first film and her interest in Star Trek is so beyond limited that when it’s on, she stares at the screen like one of those magic eye pictures waiting for the sailboat to appear and the last thing a Trek fan wants is for pretty women to like it (despite the fact that if they cleaned off the coke-bottle glasses off and opened their flippin’ eyes they’d notice that there are plenty of hot Star Trek fans right at their damned conventions). They want Trek to be just popular enough that it only gets other Star Trek fans involved.
Well, unfortunately for them, this is an absurd goal because as I pointed out in the review, there simply aren’t anywhere close to being enough of us to support the franchise and keep it successful. Trek has to make its tent bigger in order to survive and if that means tearing down a lot of the established aspects of the franchise and introducing more ‘splosions and action, well that’s just a reality that has to be accepted or we’ll lose Trek forever. Sorry, but the best thing for Trek to be successful is that it has to get fans of Star Wars (which is pretty much everyone) to watch it. Historically, it has been rare to find Star Trek fans that weren’t also fans of Star Wars. On the other hand, however, it was rarer yet to find Star Wars fans who were also fans of Star Trek. There’s a reason why that has held true until recently and it comes down to accessibility.
At its core, the principles and concepts of Trek have been able to find mass-appeal for more than 46 years regardless of race, creed, age, income level, educational level, sexual orientation… whatever. The issues the franchise has had to overcome have been in regards to execution in production, not theory or principles. And that’s really, at this point, what the major changes have been about; how Trek goes about telling its stories and from my perspective, if telling Trek’s stories in a manner that appeals to all audiences requires an execution more like that of Star Wars and less like that of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, that’s what needs to be done and it should be embraced by all of us… provided that the finished product isn’t total shit.
I don’t think the “hatred” (if we really can use that word) is all that irrational. I do think that it is largely instinctive. A few years ago I had a very fortune encounter with Kate Mulgrew, an intruiging bit of conversation (all too short unfortunately) which somehow came back to me when the first Ambramsverse movie was released, and once again with its follow up movie recently.
In a nutshell, there is an inherently strong element embedded by its original creator at the time of the universe of star trek being predisposed to carrying a message in a format of inspiring outside of the box of the medium. Something which Kate was seemingly intruiged about, was how this over the various decades had driven young people to build lives and seek careers outside of what probably would have been established boundaries for them. One of her most intruiging points in that was that of various female fans she had spoken with, fans in careers of sciences, but also in careers of other types they would have been unlikely to have worked towards (against various odds). More so, she said that Star Trek is a cultural phenomenon that stretches across generations.
The Abramsverse did a lot of things, made a lot of decisions. Most important however is that the decision to “kill off” the universe as it was for commercial and easier creative purposes (as it often said by fans) is something which subconsciously yet more importantly instinctively is often felt as derailing that intruiging cultural phenomenon which has impacted societal trends and cultural patterns since its first incarnation. When people internalise in to their mental awareness and general behaviour certain variables and stimuli, it should not come as a surprise that if such variables and stimuli are removed after a certain amount of passing of time, people react to that removal in manners all too easily coming across as irrational.
To answer the question, I do not think fans want Star Trek to be unsuccesful or unpopular, but I can understand the question of whether it really is too much to ask for entertainment which does not merely entertain but which also challenges within and beyond the scope of the actual production. Roddenberry once mentioned in an interview that the power of Star Trek was not in technology or science fiction as a genre, but in the essential human condition of seeking to embrace a mythology testing us not with old lessons but with encouragement to better ourselves and thus create a better mythology.
That is the difference between the “old” and the “new” Star Trek. The old managed to step by step build not an epic, as the Greeks would say, but a mythology. One with message and means to view ourselves and those around us. The new Star Trek obviously does not have that advantage of decades of myth building, but it also does not try to do it either. It focuses on providing entertainment, and it does so well. But there are people who somehow have a subjective but instinctive issue with a sentiment of a myth being transformed into an epic. They see certain elements lacking, elements they have grown to know, elements they seek. Elements they have seen to drive people as society around them was impacted by that itself.
Sure, in those days society was different than it is today, that is always the case as there is always change, but one should not that easily discount the impact of the message of Star Trek becoming a phenomenon that was internalised by society until it became a cultural phenomenon where people who had made inspired choices were crazy enough to name a spaceshuttle after a ship that did not exist.
Granted, later incarnations of Star Trek had different trending in cultural phenomena, but they did have them, predominantly because they aspired to instigating such trending. DS9 as the “darker side” of a universe brought and faced challenges of remarkable parallel to developing trends at the time. The Next Generation did the same, but from a different angle. Voyager once again opened those very doors Kate Mulgrew so much loves to open 😛
So what did the Abramsverse set out to do, and what did it deliver? By words of its director it set out to create a visually stunning reboot of an existing creative baseline using modern methods of mass marketing and targeting. Which it did deliver. But the differences in perspectives should already be clear at this point. It does not matter whether someone things that is good or bad, human beings are individuals. But we should accept that conditions, targets and methods are distinctly different, and subjective.
So no, ofcourse fans want it to succeed – if it doesn’t how are they going to “get” more for their universe. But can we blame them for wanting more than Avenger styled entertainment? Can we blame them for feeling unsettled with foundations taken away beneath the continuity of the myth they have embraced so long?
You don’t have to create stories to appeal to all. All too often attempts to do so result in stories designed to cater to median averages among variables of archetypes of users – whether it is gaming or film as industry, there are reasons why both invest so much in this kind of profiling. Sometimes it is good to create stories that do not seek to appeal to all or averages. If anything common business sense teaches us how it is remarkably easy to work a niche into a market that outperforms non niche markets for continuity and growth at lower costs over time. Ofcourse, that does require that one does not just look at short term gain (and the control over margins of cost by recycling the old), it requires one to look further than that. We should be honest though, nobody today can be surprised that an entertainment industry grasps for the short term perspective instinctively, after all, we can all see how there is little room for much else as our collective circumstances created by such lines of thinking have created conditions which predispose our entrepreneurial thinking to playing “safe” by means of short term focus. Catch22, with a heavy dose of intrinsic irony considering Roddenberry’s mission statement 😛
A real bit of irony is found in Star Trek’s focus on the changed drive for man to better himself, whether you look at the original series with Spock’s or Uhura’s comments (particularly in those days) on that or the Next Generation with Picard welcoming an old capitalist to the future.
Star Trek never set out to face that challenge of “accessibility”, or as some fans (and several writers of scripts and books in its universe) sometimes say “Star Trek is not there to just sit and watch and go back to common daily life” (one of the more rude ones once called it “average life” at a writer’s convention). It set out to encourage people knowing each other to provide that accessibility through interaction with each other.
Roddenberry gave it a mission of appealing to something other than median user archetypes. That has held it back as much as it has grown it. What is painful to quite a few, is that the new Star Trek has shrugged off that drive, replacing it with exactly that which it did not set out to do. To merely entertain.
Mack, thank you so much for the incredibly well thought-out and sincere commentary. There’s a lot I agree with you on and there is a lot that I believe you and I could discuss and debate about the franchise and even metaphysics for hours on end over a bottle of tequila. I also appreciate the fact that you’re as long-winded as I am which just means you have a lot to say because so much is going on up there in that melon. It also means that based on this great comment, I am compelled to try to recruit you to write for the blog. I’ll contact you directly but if you see this post before I get a chance to, feel free to contact me.
Also, I really would like to give your post a response it’s worthy of but I’m just sleepy, right now. I will give it the full attention it deserves shortly.
Thanks so much for reading and for imparting your insight.
No need to thank me, I thank you, yours was a post that welcomed a response by means of its writing. I simply read it, and took the opportunity presented 🙂
Feel free to drop in at any time, and yes perhaps we could come up with something. Let’s see 🙂