Saturday, June 29, 2013

Captain's Log: How Far Into Darkness? And Other Matters

Though I haven't seen Star Trek Into Darkness a second time, I've been having second thoughts.  They're really extrapolations of my first thoughts.  The most serious has to do with the portrayal of Starfleet in the JJA universe.  It's not Gene Roddenberry's Starfleet certainly.  Is it Star Trek's?

I haven't seen anyone else pick up on the Starfleet dress uniforms as mimics of Nazi uniforms in World War II.  But I've been thinking more about it, and its significance.  Here again are the visual comparisons.

What I've come more slowly to realize is the significance of this.  It's one thing to have a renegade officer who is twisting Starfleet's intent (the Peter Weller part).  But it's quite another to signal and suggest that Starfleet itself is a Nazi-like military organization.

Gene Roddenberry and others of his generation would certainly realize what this meant.  Though Roddenberry flew bombers against Japanese targets in the Pacific, the ideology of the Third Reich in Germany was a major motivation for many fighting that war.  The Nazis were a military machine dedicated to conquest and specifically to subjugating inferior peoples, because they were the Master Race. (More than ironic considering what Khan represented.)  Eight million Jews and countless others were actual victims, but the Slavs and other "inferior" humans were the next targets.  The threat to American democracy and way of life was felt to be first of all from Hitler.

As you can see, the shapes of the Starfleet hats and the Nazi hats are exactly the same.  The high peak is quite distinctive.  Nothing remotely as military has appeared as a Starfleet uniform in any previous film or TV show, let alone one that so clearly suggests the Nazis.  It could not have been an accident.

Repudiating the Master Race, the ethic of conquest and subjugating weaker peoples, were fresh in the minds of at least some of the Star Trek creators, for the Nazi era was part of their life experience. These elements were likely to be major motivations in Starfleet and the Federation as alternatives, as models for a better future.

The movie eventually supports an alternative to these perceived evils, though the Starfleet assembled to hear Captain Kirk at the end are still wearing those uniforms.

So how far into darkness is this movie suggesting the Star Trek universe has gone?  Is it too far to still be Star Trek?  And another (and related point): when LeVar Burton recently said that Gene Roddenberry was missing from this movie--by which I assume he meant his vision of the future, and of Starfleet--is this even worse than that?  Is it a pointed repudiation?  It's hard to look at these two photos and not wonder.

In the news...

Star Trek Into Darkness does represent the first crossover in the films of Star Trek and Doctor Who--at least in the form of a shared actor, Noel Clarke.  In June, it was announced that the 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith, would leave the show with the next Christmas special.

The speculation on the new Doctor began quickly, and if the rule holds true this time, you can pretty much forget anybody who is being touted now, they never get the part.  For all the sense it makes that it's time for a person of color or a woman to play the Doctor, fan sentiment seems largely for traditional types. A professional poll in the UK affirmed this, and also found that David Tennant is the favorite Doctor of some 43% of those surveyed, followed by Tom Baker at 16% and Matt Smith at 14%.

In "real" universe news, the announcements that the NASA probe Voyager 1 (V'ger to Trek fans, of course) has left the solar system have so far proven to be premature.  Now scientists think it really is, maybe.  The data has been mixed, suggesting that the edge of the solar system is a more complicated place than human scientists realized.  Which led one to utter my favorite quote of the year: “Nature is far more imaginative than we are.”

In that regard, it turns out that the Enterprise wouldn't need to go to alien planets to discover intelligent plant life, or at least plants that can do math and quantum physics.  We've got them right here on Earth!

Meanwhile, there's an interesting new essay on that other Voyager, the Star Trek series, as the "Trekiest" Trek of all.  Also a very interesting essay on current thought about technologies for interplanetary and intersteller manned spacecraft, pegged on Star Trek tech.

Also in the real world, there's going to be another Enterprise.  The U.S. Defense Department announced at the deactivation ceremony for the current Enterprise, that a new nuclear aircraft carrier being built will be the latest vessel called Enterprise.  No date was given for its launch, but it's unlikely to be before the 50th anniversary of Star Trek's Enterprise in 2016.


TheWrightWing said...

On a related note, the Khan character, who was once a reviled villain is cast as a sympathetic character in this movie.

Eugenics was a big feature of Nazism, Hitler admired American Progressive Margaret Sanger who was a eugenicist and founded Planned Parenthood on those ideals.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

Sargalab said...

Nazi uniforms? Ummm, in my opinion is more Soviet officer uniform. Ok, It's the same: totalitarism. Maybe, Abrams, Orci and Cia thinks Federation is a communist organization because no money and no market...
Beh, no mind. Abramsverse is only ST in name. Not true trek, only a pale imitation.

Adam said...

I'm sorry, but there are any number of military and police dress uniforms that those hats and uniforms are resemble, not just a Nazi uniform. There were also plenty of military-style Starfleet hats in the 2009 Star Trek movie, notably evoking Civil War infantry (the cadet beside Kirk on the shuttle to Starfleet Academy) and French colonial uniforms (the guy who tells Kirk he's been grounded in the hangar bay). I agree that these uniforms seem to signal that Starfleet has evolved in a more military direction since the first movie, but I don't think it suggests fascism particularly.

Furthermore, I don't get accusations that this movie doesn't have the Roddenberry feel. Undoubtedly, it is updated for the 21st century, but the idea of showing Starfleet in an ideological battle between their traditional peace/science/exploration role and the role of a military as an allegory for the ideological battle waged in the US over the past 12 years seems like EXACTLY what Roddenberry would have done. I also find Kirk's struggle to overcome his military tendencies in this film totally consistent with episodes like "Arena." To me, the film seemed to sitting in judgment of more military interpretations of the Federation and Starfleet, such as the ones on DS9, and reaffirming Roddenberry's version in the end. On classic Trek, it was often a struggle for the human characters to live up the Federation ideals, and I think it's okay to show that here.

Margaret Sanger believed that immigrant women should have access to birth control because she grew up in squalor as part of a large, poor Irish family. She was lucky enough to escape poverty and the immigrant experience through marriage and she wanted to offer large immigrant families like the one she came from access to the same birth control that was improving the quality of life of wealthier women. She did believe in eugenics as a theory, like many prominent figures of her era -- including Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt. But she never forced her own ideas about which populations should be controlled on anyone. She offered people, especially women, the right to choose for themselves. That is why it is wildly inappropriate to compare her to Hitler, who tried to force his own ideas of eugenics onto the world.

Captain Future said...

I agree with Adam that Sanger's views are far from Hitler's--and I hope to go into this eugenics subject here soon.

But I'm sticking with my other points, including that the uniform hats of Darkness Starfleet and the Nazi officer are identical in shape and relative size. The Nazi uniform and what it represents is too potent to miss.

But Adam makes very good points. However, as I wrote, I see a a difference between the struggles and errors of individuals, and the official position of Starfleet. Roddenberry portrayed conflicts that mirrored contemporary issues, but he also created a model, an alternative, in 23rd and 24th century Starfleet. I agree (as I wrote in my previous post) that Darkness seems to come down on the "exploration" side in the end, but this portrayal of Starfleet is troubling. And the movie provides very little rationale for it, apart from one supposedly renegade officer's fears. Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful comments.

Sargalab said...

I quote Adam:

"(Abram's trek) is updated for the 21st century."

So, 21st century does not want smart, elegant Star Trek? only mindless action movies? GIJOE Trek?
Poor 21st century, a technologic middle age...Violence, but no ideas, power but mindless power...

I don't think so. Mindless action movies are (easy) choices (for earning money), no a need.

You can make this 'Star trek' or you can make Oblivion (very good movie) or next Interstellar by Nolan.
A studios' choice.

Adam said...

@Captain Future -- I definitely agree that the dress uniform is meant to evoke Starfleet's nascent militarism early in the film (if not Nazis explicitly). It doesn't look like something Starfleet officers should be wearing, and I think that was the point. Keeping the uniforms at the end of the movie was

@Sargalab -- I think the 1960s Trek was only smart and elegant in its finest moments. It was also pretty dumb and awkward at times. This movie has got some of both. The key to being a Trekkie is to love Classic Trek for its moments of greatness and for its stupid moments. That's why "Spock's Brain" is the eleventh episode on every good Trekkie's Top Ten list. Star Trek's faults just make it more lovable.

Of course, it's easier to feel that way about 80 old TV episodes that you have been watching for most of your life than it is about a movie that has just come out.

The Star Trek Into Darkness is violent, but it is not true to say that there are no ideas. Mindless power is exactly what the characters in the movie find themselves opposing. Star Trek movies are almost always more violent than episodes (one reason episodes are usually better). For example, the villain is almost never killed at the end of an episode, but the villain dies in 9 out of 12 movies. The movies where the villain doesn't die? The Motion Picture, The Voyage Home, and Star Trek Into Darkness. I find that very revealing about what exactly this movie has to say about violence.

A lot of the complaints about this movie seem to come from the fact that the characters haven't already learned the lesson at the beginning of the film. But I don't think that's quite right. TNG era characters find it easy to be the best of humanity, but Classic Trek characters have to work for it. Any film exploring the role of violence and militarism in the Federation -- and, allegorically, in the United States of America in the early 21st century -- necessarily needs to feature some violence and militarism.

I talked a lot more about this in my review of Star Trek Into Darkness:

Scott Dunphy said...

Smon Pegg was in Doctor Who.

All modern military traditions have a common origin in the Prussian Empire so it is incredibly easy to draw a connection between almost any military uniform and Nazi uniforms.

Brian Beard said...

JJTrek is far leftist, and I am not surprised by the stuff he puts in his films. I personally have had it with JJTrek/Abramsverse and want to see the return to the Primeline.

There is no way the Spock Prime would have stayed in that universe. I could list the episodes that prove this, but I assume ya'll know them already.

The next film should rstore the timeline, so lets call Ron Moore and Manny Coto to write it.