Saturday, August 26, 2006

Trekcheck: Of Rumor, Roast and SOST in Seattle

SOST in Seattle

It’s confirmed. I will be moderating a panel called “The Soul of Star Trek: The Prime Directive and Beyond” at the Planet Xpo Star Trek 40th Anniversary Gala Celebration in Seattle. As of now it’s scheduled for Friday, September 8 at 3:30 p in the main auditorium at the Science Fiction Museum. Also on the panel will be screenwriter (and TNG writer) Tracy Torme, and authors Jeff Greenwald (Future Perfect) and Dave Marinaccio (All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Star Trek.) So if you’re going to be in Seattle, come on by where no blog has gone before, and engage.


Several sites have repeated this bombshell of a story, all using the same source—a post at the Omega Sector. The post reports on an article in Star Trek Magazine, presumably the Brit magazine, that purportedly quotes a producer of Star Trek XI as denying the rumors that the movie will recast the roles of Kirk and Spock. Since that’s only been the major assumption everyone has made about the movie, it’s pretty significant. But isn’t there somebody else with a copy of the magazine who can confirm it?


I found to my relief that at least the first several comments on the William Shatner site share my view of the Roast on Comedy Central: For the most part it was sordid, dismaying and not funny. There was little humor and less wit on display; the so-called jokes about age were very old and tired, showing that these younger “comedians” have shriveled imaginations; and the jokes about race were not only hoary, they were the kind of jokes that were exhibit A in cultural racism as widely discussed in the 1960s, when Star Trek broke racial barriers on television. The gay jokes were obscene, one-dimensional and ugly. One or two or even a half-dozen might have approached being funny or at least tolerable, but getting continually hit over the head with an infected sledgehammer is not my idea of hilarity.

The level of so-called humor may be familiar and comfortable to those who watch Comedy Central shows, and who count themselves fans of South Park, or even those who like the milder forms of loud, rude, crude, hostile and self-loathing toilet humor that characterizes many of today’s comic films. But for viewers who have seen only The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on that channel, or who tuned in because of Captain Kirk, it must have been profoundly shocking and disillusioning.

Even many of the higher wattage invited guests (including Star Trek actors like Brent Spiner and Rene Auberjonois; I think I spotted Rodger Corman in the crowd) appeared appalled. There was some poor woman in the front, apparently the date or wife of somebody who appeared with Shatner in his police series, who looked aghast and confused from the outset, as well as deeply humiliated.

It was a depressing and humiliating experience watching it. It was all most unfortunate because Captain Kirk is a hero to children, and I’ll bet many badgered their parents into letting them see this. Teenagers who see Shatner as Denny Crain as well as Captain Kirk can now believe that hate humor is acceptable and funny. Well done all.

I probably wouldn’t even have watched it except for the piece in Trek Today that quoted George Takei being very articulate on political matters that relate to his view of what Star Trek means. It also presented some of his lines from the roast, some of which were pretty daring but also witty, and so I thought it might be worth seeing. But not only did his best lines never make it on the air, most of his presentation was more of the same sordid and moronic fratboy obscenities as vomited up by the stage full of surly no-talents around him. This outspoken opponent of stereotypes felt compelled to stereotype and demean himself. I wonder if the others had made the same sort of cracks about his Japanese ancestry as they made about his homosexuality, if he would have joined in those as well. I may have lost some respect for him, especially because he didn’t show much for himself.

As for his attitude toward Shatner, there was so much obvious hostility and vengefulness that it really wasn’t at all funny—it was embarassing psychodrama. I suppose the built-up pressure of all the years of public pretense about his feelings concerning Shatner just got loose, but it sure didn’t look like it was all in good fun.

If you’ve ever seen Nichelle Nichols in person, you know that she is a true lady: regal in bearing, generous and courteous, but she takes no nonsense. Of course there’s nothing wrong in her showing an earthy side in public, and perhaps it was because she didn’t share sufficiently in the ugliness otherwise on display that her part of the roast was cut to a minute or so for the show that aired, and shoved in just before a commercial. But she was a target of jokes that to me demeaned her and Star Trek’s legacy in maters of race and the Other. I’m guessing that she regrets participating.

As for Shatner, this was hardly the affirmation of his status in popular culture—it was a humiliating mistake. Not that he came off so badly himself, but that he participated in this catastrophe in the first place. The only person who came off well was Leonard Nimoy, by refusing to participate but doing an actually funny little preliminary filmed skit with Shatner. (Note the prominent statue of the Buddha in the background at Nimoy’s, very droll).

I’m not against Star Trek stars making fun of themselves, or coming down to earth with their humor (You Tube has a funny piece with Patrick Stewart pretending to talk with another actor about the screenplay he’s writing, which consists of one scene after another of women suddenly getting their clothes blown off “and you can see everything.” It’s especially witty if you know anything about actor lore.) I don’t even care if they make fools of themselves. But I do object to them undermining everything Star Trek stood for, including notions of quality. That roast is worth forgetting as soon and as completely as possible. Maybe an Emmy or two for Shatner on Sunday will help... Now Boston Legal--that's funny.

Now if all goes well, the next installment of the Countdown to 40…

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