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Star Trek Discovery: I find your lack of faith disturbing
This post is frankly the result of pure ghoulishness on my part. There's a lot of negative buzz around the upcoming "Star Trek Discovery" TV series and much of it seems to echo the disastrous 'Ghostbusters' marketing. I was drawn to this by the same instinct that leads one to watch "great helicopter crashes" on youtube (don't tell me you don't look stuff like that up, it's only human). The Ghostbusters remake worried the existing fanbase, garnering a negative initial response. Unfortunately the marketing team seemed to think that by focusing attention on a subset of comments that were misogynistic and then claiming that all their critics with misogynists, they could make the criticism go away. This seriously pissed off most of the fanbase who now found themselves described as "manbabies" and misogynists if they had any negative opinions of the movie, and played into the hands of trolls who were able to pump up the vitriol with Sony playing along with them. In come the SJWs as a force multiplier and the rest is history: the fanbase was enraged, the movie flopped and a sequel is unlikely (I've seen rumors of an all-male sequel. This would also be a mistake. Best thing for Sony to do would be to let the franchise lie fallow for a while).
The tactic of declaring that all people who disagree with you are "manbabies" or racists, or communists or whatever is an old one, but its become particularly popular recently. It can work if you want nothing from the people you're targeting. Yes, you'll make some real enemies, but if they have no influence over you that doesn't matter. If, however, you need people to pay money to see your movie or TV series, or if you're going to need their votes in some kind of election or referendum, it's a really bad idea.
I started off looking into the buzz around the series pretty convinced that it was going to be another study in Hollywood arrogance. This opinion was much influenced by recent announcements about the new Klingons in the series. But is Star Trek Discovery really taking the 'Ghostbusters' path? Digging around a bit it seems to me that some people are posting you-tube videos, often voiced over with text-to-speech systems, that claim this is happening, but the evidence is a little thin. It seems to me that STD (an unfortunate initialism that) hasn't been taking the bait, and some people who want them to take the bait are trying to claim it's happening anyway. Yes, various outlets styling themselves as "feminist" will be pulling the trick of characterizing all the shows detractors as misogynist "bros", perhaps even characterizing all Star Trek fans that way. This is standard operating procedure for them, and they don't care if they harm the show or the franchise, all they care about is that they get traffic driven to their website. Similarly alt-right websites will be claiming that the show has gone "full Social Justice Warrior" because, well, that's what they always say, isn't it? Personally I'd very much like to see Michele Yeoh in charge of a starship, and the frequent claim by trolls that a woman or person-of-color prominent in the cast of a movie or show constitutes "erasing whites" strikes me as complete nonsense. The Star Trek crew in particular is supposed to be diverse and with with Sisko, Janeway, Worf, Data, Sulu, Checkov, Uhura, Spock and Seven-of-Nine it's a long standing tradition of having different races genders and even species on the bridge. The usual suspects may be flinging poo, but I don't see much indication that the cast, crew or marketing are getting drawn in.
The STD trailers look nothing like as bad as the Ghostbusters ones (which were horribly unfunny, a problem for a movie pitching itself mostly as a comedy) but they have given fans the wobblies. The series is clearly re-writing a lot of canon, and this has caused something of a fan backlash. Me, I'm not a fan, so I'm not going to be that bothered. I quite liked, for instance, the daft romp that was "Star Trek Beyond", but a lot of real fans didn't, and I can very well understand why they didn't. If you watch Alachia Queen's review of that film you'll get a good explanation of why some 'true' fans hated it. I totally see Ms Queen's point of view. Star Trek is a unique cultural property and I understand why people don't like it being altered in the neverending search for cash. I'm not that bothered myself, but I understand and respect why others are.
But this weekend Entertainment Weekly published an article that claims the new Klingons in STD are an allegory for Trump supporters. Well, the alt-right are going to be crowing over that. "See? We told you so!" People were getting a bad vibe about the new Klingons from the trailers, noting that they've been made to look more brutal and inhuman, presumably to make for a less sympathetic antagonist. It's also been hinted that they're more religiously inclined. This could play very badly, alienating religious people in the what's likely the anglophone world's most religious country. Rural voters, conservative types in general, and quite a bit of the working class would probably feel they were being cast as 'Klingons', and they are likely to be sensitive these days as they've had a lot of vitriol coming their way. It really smacks of hubristic arrogance by those dastardly coastal elites that the alt-right are always warning us about. Now, I've got to be honest, when I used to hang out in the sci-fi community I experienced that it's swarming with social-justice types who live in a little rich person's bubble and whose entire politics is just middle-class tribalism with the serial numbers filed off. However, I know that if I hung out in alt-right circles (wherever those actually are) the people wouldn't be any better, they'd just have the polarity reversed. But it does raise a question about whether there's people in sci-fi writerly circles who understand the modern political situation at all, or who are open-minded enough to depict people with a worldview radically different from their own. Given my past experience I'd say that the answer was a resounding 'no'. And this implies that STD is going to be exactly what some of it's detractors expect it to be: insulting "liberal propaganda".
But as I looked over the trailers recently, I began to suspect that this is exactly what they want us to think. It seems to me that the STD team could be playing a gambit that's very risky, but which might just pay off.
So let me quickly say what I thought we were going to get initially. It seemed to me that Michele Yeoh's starship captain, who for me would be the major selling point of the new series (hey, I want to see Michele Yeoh command a starship, is that so wrong?) might not make it past the pilot episode. We see scenes of her looking distressed on the bridge of a burning ship with a skeleton crew, and I felt she might go down with her ship early on. This is further supported by scenes that appear to show people abandoning a vessel. Our viewpoint character, played by Sonequa Martin-Green and oddly named 'Michael' despite being female, winds up on a new vessel under the command of Jason Isaccs. Now, I gotta say I'm not that excited about Jason Isaccs as main star-ship captain, as we've had three white guys play that role and only one woman and one person-of-color previously (yes, I know exactly what I sound like at this point, but what can you do, it's the truth. And no, there's no inconsistency with my previous post about a female Dr Who, 'cos Yeoh wouldn't be a temporary gender-swap, she'd be a lasting female character). Yes, Sonequa is black, so 'diversity' is satisfied, but she's not a captain she's first officer, though she's the viewpoint character. But... I don't know, I just want Michele Yeoh in the captain's chair. Furthermore I saw worrying signs that Yeoh goes down because she sticks to starfleet principles, "Starfleet doesn't fire first", whereas both Martin-Green and Isacc's characters exhibit a disposition to violence. Add to this that the main antagonist seems to be the Klingons, who we're told represent Trump supporters and who we're told are religious, and whom the trailers imply are implacably evil, and you've got a recipe for disaster.
If this is what we get, this will piss off everyone and the show will likely lose a bundle of money for CBS. Ditching starfleet principles will massively alienate the fanbase, it destroys what Star Trek is about. Portraying Trump voters as ridged-head space rednecks will alienate half of America, including many religious people. Dumping Michele Yeoh for Jason Issacs will enrage the SJW crowd (but admittedly they're always enraged) and will dispose of someone who would surely help the show sell in Asia. All in all we'll have a disaster that will make Ghostbusters look like a triumph.
But there's something I've noticed in the trailers. Early on we see Yeoh and Martin-Green on a desert planet. We also see some kind of insectoid denizen of this planet. It has distinctive curled-claw hands. Later we see a shot of one of those hands coming up through some kind of hatch as though this alien has been hiding on a ship somewhere. We also see a scene where Martin-Green is looking at a chamber full of what look like trees in a kind of horrified wonder.
What if the Klingon's aren't really the primary antagonists? What if there's someone else in play? What if the Klingon Empire and the Federation are being manipulated into conflict?
Admittedly, the question of casting people who voted against Hilary Clinton as Klingons remains a delicate one. But depending on how the Klingons are portrayed, you could get away with it. If the differences of opinion are sensitively handled it could work. The "shoot first, ask questions later" attitude of Isaccs and Martin-Green's characters would now be understandable: they are being manipulated too. This would solve everything, everyone could eat their cake and have it too. Starfleet principles wouldn't be thrown out, except by a few misled characters and the plot would very much concern those characters gradual return to core principles. Klingons wouldn't be two-dimensional bad guys anymore. The show could go through a gritty, dark period, but end on a positive unifying message. Hints that the show is going to take a more "Game of Thrones" style of story arc now make some sense: we're going to see the kind of political machinations that characterized George RR Martin's writing. Everything starts to make sense. Of course, stories of socio-political manipulation are right up my alley, so I'm probably projecting here. But the really cool thing if I'm right is that what the marketing team have done to the fanbase and public exactly mirrors the kind of social manipulation going on in the series itself! That would be a clever use of what I call 'Eris tactics'.
So, if I'm right about this (and there's every chance I won't be) who are the primary antagonists? Well we know Harry Mudd is turning up, but surely he's not a villain of sufficient scale to pull this off, though he might be in someone else's employ. My guess (after spending some time on Memory Alpha Wiki) is that the insectile creature is either a Tholian, or an insectoid Xindi. Both these species have been active in about the right timeframe, as both appear in the 'Enterprize' TV series. Now people would be upset about it being Tholian, because Tholians have a particular look and are a crystaloid species, not insectoid. But we know the new series is happy to play fast and loose with the look of alien species. And the recent appearances of the Tholians do have a kind of insect-like look, and they did once have an insectoid slave-species under their control. And the Tholians have had past conflicts with the Klingons. The Xindi, on the other hand, are a coalition of different races, one of which is insectoid, and one of which is 'Arboreal'. Now the arboreals were originally depicted as having evolved from some kind of tree-sloth, but what if the new series is going to take the name literally and have them be evolved from trees? Eh? Eh? Okay, that last bit's pretty unlikely, I admit.
For me, I probably won't be tuning in. I don't have a TV and I'm not really that into Trek or anything else. In truth, even Ms Yeoh in the captain's chair wouldn't get me to fork out time and money (though I might watch it at a friend's house). But I do find the drama that plays out around shows and movies these days interesting. On the one hand I dislike that everything has become so politicized. On the other hand it's fascinating to watch the tribal conflicts play out, and I'm always interested when I think a show is trying to play the long con with the fanbase. If STD really turns out to have trolled everyone, and delivers something genuinely complex and nuanced, that will be quite a triumph.