Thursday, September 19, 2013

Captain's Log: Trouble in Trekdom

It's been more than a little weird over at the Trek Movie site.  A post designated an "editorial" by Joseph Dickerson entitled "Star Trek is Broken: Here's How to Fix It" elicited a blizzard of responses, including several intemperate ones from Roberto Orci, one of the principal writers of the Star Trek JJA movies. 

Apart from any judgment on the validity of his assertions, Dickerson's piece was calm, respectful and reasonably written.  I thought it was pretty tame for an indictment, sincere and quickly positive in the "Trek is dead but I know how to bring it back" tradition that goes back at least to the later Rick Berman era, and probably for some folks back to the first motion picture and the first post-TOS series.

But Orci was outraged.  He called the author "akin to a child acting out against its parents" and concludes this opening salvo with "There is a reason why I get to write the movies, and you don't."  He later responded to a commenter but telling him to F-off.  His responses were so extreme that several commenters questioned whether it was really Orci.  The moderator assured them it was.

 Later Orci returned to say "don't take me too seriously" and explained that twice a year he explodes at "morons."  But by then a commenter asserted that Orci was also on Twitter "dropping all kinds of F bombs" and asked "why can't we have writers with class?  Even Brannon Braga had more."  I could almost hear Braga laughing--he had endured far worse and more personal criticism for a much longer time without (to my knowledge) lashing out in such a public way.

Some commenters agreed with Dickerson at least in part, others didn't.  Some suggested that the polls he cited naming Star Trek Into Darkness among the least favorite Trek movies were a very small and informal sample. (This is what we had editors for in the print world.)

Now there's a new "editorial" up, predictably titled "Star Trek is Not Broken" which ironically and unfortunately is much more negative about most of Star Trek, in a series of opinions and assertions with more profanity and ideology than substantive argument.  But it has its adherents, and I doubt that many of the creators of TNG etc. will be on the board trying to muscle this guy out.

I think what bothers me about all this isn't the mud-wrestling that some fans routinely engage in, at least on the Internet.  It's that the original Dickerson piece was not an opinion slung out in the heat of online wrangling or the deliberate provocation that some take such delight in producing.  It was a considered critique--that I didn't entirely agree with, either in analysis or in prescription, a bit naive maybe, but a reasonable point of view pretty cleanly expressed.  It bothers me that the author of a legitimate editorial article was demeaned by a much more powerful person,  by a principal Star Trek movie writer, with a kind of attempted humiliation that smacks of intimidation.  (Though it must be said that Dickerson's first comment in this thread indicated a cool and even generous response.)

I simply can't imagine Trek principals of any earlier time responding as Orci did to such a critique.  It may be one of the many things that have changed, as ginning up Internet interest becomes so crucial to the first-weekend success of these explosively budgeted movies.  But what I don't want to see happen is this becoming acceptable behavior.  It may be that critiques are going to be made on the Internet rather than in print, but those that make respectable arguments in a legitimate form should be respected as legitimate.  No writers should be shamed as spoiled children, or told their ideas are worthless because they are not millionaire screenwriters.  It's unbecoming and ultimately dangerous.

I am also reminded that a lot of people thought Star Trek was broken back in 2004, as Enterprise entered its final season.  I wrote a New York Times article in which I interviewed fans and Star Trek actors and producers, to confront this question.  The article began: "Could Star Trek be dying?  It's enough to make Spock laugh."  Several quotes from Leonard Nimoy followed, to the effect that Star Trek has been declared dead many times but always came back.  (He really was laughing as he talked about it.)

I have no evidence for this, but I suspect this article and those quotes had something to do with the momentum that resulted in the first JJA film, and particularly in Nimoy's involvement.  Whether or not this is so, criticism of Star Trek has a long tradition, and while some of it has been toxic and had unfortunate consequences, much of it has been thoughtful, sincerely felt, and evidence of the deep involvement many people have in their Star Trek.  And without some of this criticism of a decade ago, Roberto Orci probably would not have gotten to write Star Trek movies.

Elsewhere in the universe....

Scientists are now really sure this time that Voyager 1 is the first space probe, and probably the first  human-made package of technology to reach interstellar space.  And it did so about a year ago when it breached the solar bubble at the far edge of the solar system.

Meanwhile this AP article about "space tycoons" like Paul Allen says they are enacting their Star Trek dreams.

This article about Disney's frantic attempts to make sure there will be some kind of Star Wars feature in movie houses every year for the foreseeable future prompts thoughts about these so-called "tentpoles" as being beyond the realms of fanaticism, entertainment and avarice.  In some ways, the worlds and characters of Star Wars, Star Trek, the Marvel superheroes, the DC superheroes, Warner's Harry Potter, etc. are the locations and figures of our predominant mythologies, substituting for the tales of Greek gods and Greek heroes, etc.  In other ways, they are in danger of being exploited into meaningless repetitions, variations and inflated cliches.  I suppose it is up to those who love them and what they mean to defend them against the monsters that consume everything, eventually including themselves.

[Both images here are from that exemplary site, Trekcore.

1 comment:

Adam said...

The comment threads of TrekMovie are a pretty uncivil place. Most of the times when I start to write comments there I end up thinking, "Ugh, what's the use?" and deleting it without posting. If ever there was a place on the Internet where one of the writers of the movies would have a meltdown, that would be it. It's not Star Trek fandom at its best over there. Still, Orci should definitely know better.

What I don't get is why Trek fandom is suddenly having this "Is Star Trek dead?" debate. If you think Trek is dead, then you probably think it's been dead since 2005... or 1999... or 1994... or 1991... or 1969... Awhile, anyway. It's old news. And if you think it's alive, then it's alive. Why would the release of STID on DVD make people suddenly rush to declare Star Trek dead?

Honestly, I get both arguments. But if it is dead, I think it says more about the fans than the people currently running the series. Because at one point it was a whole lot more dead than it is now and people were wearing tee shirts and carrying signs that said, "Star Trek Lives." I don't see anyone carrying that sign these days.