Tuesday, January 16, 2007

TrekCheck: Of Vulcans and Klingons and Life on Mars

Trek references are so normal they aren't often noted. But in my continuing mission to note just how normal they've become--and how deeply the often maligned Star Trek saga is embedded in the common psyche--I have two pretty remarkable references, both on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC program, "Countdown," which is rapidly becoming one of the most watched cable news shows.

Last Monday, Olbermann discussed the news that a scientist had theorized the 1970s Mars mission may have unknowingly killed Martian life, and he did so within the context of the Prime Directive. Don't believe me? From the show's transcript:

OLBERMANN: United Federation of Planets starship captain James Tiberius Kirk could tell you that the prime directive prohibits any interference in primitive cultures, the ones that have not achieved warp drive yet. But Captain Kirk was not above violating the prime directive when circumstances or a blue skin the female in a fir bikini warranted. In our number three story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, it turns out that, as you can see in this computerized simulation we prepared, NASA may have accidentally violated the prime directive big time during its landings on Mars in the 1970‘s. In layman‘s terms, the NASA lander may have made it all the way to mars, might have actually found life on the surface, and then smashed it.

He then introduced his guest to discuss this by saying, Beaming in via satellite transmission right now Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer of the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, one of our favorite guides through the final frontier.

Trek references like those in the introduction of the astronomer (who made a few of his own) are common enough when dealing with anything about outer space, although they do tend to show that Trek remains the predominant reference point in terms of space mythos. But the context of the Prime Directive was quite apt--which shows the influence of Star Trek on how we think about some of the important moral, ethical, value questions regarding the universe.

But the Trek reference of the week had to be from a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. David Wu, who used Vulcan and Klingon analogies to talk about the latest Bush proposal to escalate the Iraq war. He refers to the neocons who call themselves the Vulcans--or at least according to a book about them. Their Vulcan analogy is to the Roman god of fire, but Rep. Wu's is to Trek. Again, it was Countdown that broadcast this excerpt on Friday:

REP. DAVID WU, HOUSE MEMBER: This president has listened to some people, the so called Vulcans in the White House, the ideologues. But, you know, unlike the Vulcans of Star Trek, who made their decisions based on logic and fact, these guys make it on ideology. These aren‘t Vulcans. They are our Klingons in the White House. But unlike the real Klingons of Star Trek, these Klingons have never fought a battle of their own. Don‘t let faux Klingons send real Americans to war. It‘s wrong.

I love the "real Klingons" line.

Update: John Stewart used this very clip on Tuesday's Daily Show, with on-air comments from Leonard Nimoy and George Takei. It was pretty funny. I'm sure it'll be on YouTube any minute now, and on the Daily Show/ Comedy Central site.

In Trek news...

Star Trek Enterprise has begun its run on the Sci-Fi Channel, which inspires two observations. First, the Sci-Fi Channel has already done a better job of promoting the series than UPN ever did in 4 years. And second, it was the Sci-Fi Channel's counterprogramming of Battlestar Galactica and the other programs in its "Sci-Fi Friday" lineup that helped to doom Enterprise in its last year, despite the first half of its last season was probably its strongest and most promising period.

Trek XI news and/or gossip is that a script draft is complete, William Shatner has been asked to appear in the film, he says it concerns Kirk and Spock in younger days, and the exec producer suggests that those who aren't familiar with Trek might be a better audience for the film that those who are, because they will come to it with an "open mind."

That seems to signal some noticeable changes in the Trek universe--or in what fans have come to call "continuity." (The term is partially from the dictionary definition, and partly from the more specialized film term. There's a position on movie sets that used to be called "script girl," then "continuity" and now "script supervisor." But it doesn't mean what "continuity" means in Trektalk. Continuity within a film is a matter of managing scenes which are shot out of sequence, to make sure everything is consistent in terms of one thing following another in the script's world of time--the costumes are the same when they're supposed to be, script changes don't violate the logic of the script, etc. Trektalk continuity is more like consistency with the established Trek universe in the "canon" of previous TV and movies.)

On the other hand, the script is also said to jump around in time, capable of including Shatner's Kirk and Nimoy's Spock, so continuity in that sense is embraced. So will Trek XI satisfy the keepers of canon? (Another borrowed term, originating from canon law, as in the Catholic Church, and these days debated as constituting the indispensible works of literature, the canon.) Or will there be changes in Roddenberry's Star Trek universe, to the extent that Trek becomes a mythos more like Superman and Batman--told and retold in different ways? No one knows yet, but that second possibility is a big change, if it happens.

And in site non-news, yeah, I promised the Trekalog essay on Generations by now. I'm working on it. Soon.

1 comment:

Edward Ott said...

ok but when was there ever a blue skinned female in a fur bikini