On this, the eve of this blog’s Month of Feminism, let us pause for a moment to honor a manly man, James Tiberius Kirk, and a self-consciously girly man, Klaus Nomi.
There’s a marvelous and unexpected moment in the new trailer for next year’s J.J. Abrams Star Trek relaunch film when we hear a figure identify himself as “James Tiberius Kirk,” and between that and the urgent-looking action montage that follows — complete with the classic Red Alert Noise and shots of dangerously-tilting shipdecks (in space) — I suspect Abrams will be making good on his confession of being more a Star Wars/action film sort of guy than a cerebral Star Trek fan. And you know what? That’s still Star Trek.
I mean, let us not become so guilty of believing Star Trek’s own hype that we actually think the show’s greatest appeal, back when it started in the 60s, was simply math-problem-like cerebration. It was an intense, driving, action-fueled confrontation with the unknown, in which Kirk was frequently on the brink of death and had to angrily order his crewmen — and complete strangers from other worlds — to get a grip on themselves so that they could work together to blow something up or kill something.
We all complained for the next four decades that something about the spirit of the original series had been lost in later iterations. Well, it was largely Manly Kirk that was lost, with Capt. Picard, wonderful as he is, effectively hybridizing Kirk’s emotion and Spock’s cool rationality and putting an end to the tension that made the show come alive — sort of like when Scully finally admitted there’s an alien invasion going on.
Trek needed Kirk’s he-man adventure-seeking impulse, which the show Enterprise tried but failed to recapture by turning the clock way back to the primitive and emotive twenty-second century. (The Manny Koto-guided fourth season was fantastic for attentive nerds, but it was too little too late, even with a Khan- and Data-related explanation for the two different types of Klingons — not to mention seeing a CGI Gorn, Tholians, the moment of First Contact, and the Mirror Mirror universe all in one episode.)
Absent that Kirk/Abrams tough-adventurer impulse, the emasculated future might very well look like Klaus Nomi’s memorable performance from the New Wave documentary Urgh! A Music War (which Helen and I saw at Brooklyn Academy of Music). Not that I’m saying that would be bad either, and Nomi sort of reminds me of the emcee from the Restaurant at the End of the Universe from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with a little more Joel Grey and some Pee-wee Herman thrown in (particularly from the Pee-wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special, which had special guest stars k.d. lang, Little Richard, Magic Johnson, Cher, Grace Jones, a Marine Corps Choir, and even muscular shirtless construction workers building a new wing of the playhouse out of fruitcakes, I kid you not).
But diversity is good — there is room enough in the future for both Gary Numan’s motorized chair and Capt. Pike’s, so long as no one threatens, like Davros, to coerce others into doing things his way.
Agreed that Kirk was missing from future iterations – but it’s beyond the missing character. TNG was clearly, to the discerning viewer, a chick show. TNG (which sometimes featured View host Whoppie Goldberg). Was clearly meant to attract a female audience. It was an egalitarian command structure, and even the nominal leader, Picard was cast old enough to avoid a peer-male giving orders, instead having the second in command as the male interest. Instead of Spock, you have a feeling oriented empath character. There is an episode where Beverly Crusher roughly grabs Data by the shoulder into another room and reprimands him for asking about her past as a ballroom dancer. “Don’t you know how difficult it is for a woman to maintain the respect of her male peers without drawing attention to my dancing ability” she reprimands him. Picard confides in his empath friend that he’s not sure whether he should date a subordinate (or some other soap opera plot) in one episodeThere is more, but I’m fairly certain that the show has been aired on Lifetime, fer gods sake!
DS9, they were obviously going back for the male demographic, because I remember lots of explosions from the little I saw of it.
But most interestingly, in Voyager, if you pay close attention to Janeway, she is written like Kirk. She’s a tough leader, not able to rely on government support for her command. They kind of got the Kirk-without-paternalism formula at least close with that one.
I think there is a lot to be said for your explanation of Trek’s enduring appeal. One of the most successful films of the franchise – and done on a shoestring budget to boot – was TWOK. Harve Bennett made a deliberate decision to play the “paramilitary” nature of Starfleet. “Master and Commander” works better in Outer Space than, well, uhm, Frost/Nixon…
Und now viz ze time in za future vhen vee DANCE!
And the most popular and most memorable episodes of TNG were typically those when diplomacy failed and stuff had to be blown up– namely, episodes about Klingon politics or about the Borg. Picard got to be manly when getting tortured by Cardassians in another good episode.
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