Sunday, October 12, 2014

Captain's Log: Where the Soul Is

There's no new Star Trek on TV to talk about, the movies are few and far between, and so a lot of what fills the Trek sites is news of merchandise: replicas, figures, jewelry, dresses, an Enterprise pizza cutter, a Borg cube cake.  It all has its place, these tools to increase the feeling of participation in the Star Trek myth (probably the best light to shine on it all.)  But it's not the essence.

Neither is the speculation on how to make Star Trek a better "franchise," which has the positive goal of increasing the number of Star Trek stories.  But it might have its drawbacks, and besides, it's mostly on the level of business.  That's certainly an important consideration, but it's not the essence either.  The mythos is part of it.  The franchise isn't.  It's not the soul of Star Trek.

There's an analogy between the merchandise and the technology in Star Trek.  Trek tech is exciting and integral to the Trek universe.  But on its own it is empty.  In an essay on Slate called "Forget the Tricorder," Joey Escrich (in writing about a new book called Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions of a Better Future) asserts "the most important innovations that will shape our future aren’t the gadgets, but the beliefs, values, communities, and relationships that will determine how we use them."

Here's another thought or observation to throw into the mix.  I admit I have been surprised that the JJA or Abramsverse movies, with all their much bigger budget contemporary effects and style, haven't overwhelmed the GR era Star Trek TV shows and movies.  Specifically in their alternate Original Series universe, one might expect New (or Nu) Kirk and Spock to have replaced the old.  That has not happened.  Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are admired for their portrayals, but William Shatner is still James T. Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy is still Mr. Spock.

The conventions (such as October's New York Comic Con) affirm this, as well as the firm grasp on the Trek imagination of the Next Generation crew.  The GR era shows and movies own the conventions, especially when the new cast isn't promoting a new movie.

The conventions are one place that the soul of Trek is enacted, as fans and Trek creators interact within the Trek mythology that includes the stories and the values that Trek promoted and that fans extract from Trek to guide and enhance their own lives.

Another place--which combine these two observations--seems to me to be in the independent films, the web series etc. otherwise known as fan films--pretty much set in the GR Trek mythic universe.

 That's found for example in the Star Trek Continues promotional videos through Wired.  This is participation in a deeper way--creating stories within the Star Trek universe to share with others.  Yet clearly the participants cherish the experience of creating with each other.

That was part of Star Trek from the beginning.  The airing of grievances, chronicles of conflict and misbehavior etc. since may have obscured the fundamental facts of it, that are so often expressed in the earliest interviews and accounts:  people who worked together to solve creative problems, united by the joy of each other and also their belief in the better future Star Trek stood for, the equality of opportunity and the diversity of contributions to the common enterprise.

Some of that future evolved through storytelling, such as the full historic meaning of The Prime Directive.  But a lot of it was there in what people often refer to as simply the relationships, both of the creators and of the characters.

I see the Star Trek universe as a series of concentric circles, with the creators at the center (producers, writers, actors, directors, designers etc.) and gradually expanding rings of ancilliary storytellers (novels, independent films, fan fictions etc.) and the rings of fandom from the most actively involved to the devoted viewers.  That they have always interacted is one reason that the soul of Star Trek is still so strong.  You see this today in the conventions but especially in the independent films--done with love, care, sacrifice, and for no monetary profit.      

Meanwhile, more is happening in the real world that might influence new Star Trek stories in a post-1960s or even 1990s understanding of the universe... First on my list is the astonishing idea that a third to half the water on planet Earth is older than the sun.  It's become fairly orthodox science that a great deal of Earth's water arrived from space, probably borne by comets.  But this discovery, if it holds up, makes that certain--not only from space but from outside our solar system... And right on cue, other scientists believe they've detected water on an exoplanet for the first time, on a Neptune-sized planet in the constellation of Cygnus.

A new study concludes that there indeed may be thousands of alien civilizations in the galaxy, but the vast distances make contact unlikely or at least very rare.Without warp drive anyway, but we knew that.   A survey found that 37% of the Americans polled believe space aliens exist, but proof of them has varied effects on their religious beliefs.  Meanwhile, a researcher of terrestrial life wonders if we will even recognize intelligent alien life if we run into it out there, especially since we have so much trouble recognizing it here.

So long for now.  And thanks for all the fish.

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