Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Libertines In Space

I saw the trailer for the upcoming re-imagined Star Trek movie yesterday, and at first glance it seemed moderately interesting. Plenty of sweeping panoramas of high-tech futuristic places, action, drama, and some creative explosions: what else could one want in a schlocky science-fiction movie? But then I saw some other things about the film, especially the items about steamy encounters between Kirk and Uhura; clearly, like just about all Star Trek franchises, the story line is going to have its usual tendency to devolve into the ordinary pattern of witnessing Kirk's colossal ego and endless libido boldly go where they haven't been for at least the last ten minutes.


It's one of the most maddening things about schlocky science-fiction. I don't mind cardboard characters and cardboard plots and cardboard action sequences and cardboard aliens with the usual assortment of unbelievable appendages and cardboard ship battles with their complete laws-of-physics violations of weaponry use and cardboard explosions complete with bass notes too low for the average human to hear and the predictable ring-pattern of the explosion which an intelligent person once explained to me would be completely and utterly impossible to see in the vacuum of space, though I've forgotten the details. But the older I get, the less tolerance I have for all the cardboard sex.

Because I can suspend my disbelief, when I'm asked to believe that two ships moving forward at relativistic speeds can outrun each other or engage each other in battle; I can overlook the impossibility of the ring-pattern explosion and appreciate the coolness factor of it instead; I can pretend that some plan of God's might have permitted the evolutionary process on some planet or other to create an intelligent centipede that for some reason only walks on two oversized legs, waving the other 98 in rippling patterns which ought to warn our heroes that the creature is getting angry and might spit some highly implausible centipedesque poison at them any second; for the sake of a reasonably well-contrived and entertaining story I'm prepared to overlook whole series of impossible things. But when it comes to how men and women interact with each other, I'm getting awfully tired of having schlocky fiction-writers pretend that the real world operates like some teenage boy's fantasy, and that a man can be a hero and also treat women like disposable playthings--and that the women actually like being treated this way.

Even in this postmodern postfeminist paradise, a funny thing has happened to women. Liberated, they tend not to remain licentious, even if they start out that way; encouraged to play the field, they find themselves coming back over and over again to some umpire who actually wants to play by the rules, and who will make a commitment to her that's not predicated on the notion that she should have to put up with a man's culturally approved polyamorous and piggish ways. Women's impulses and desires aren't wired the same way that men's are, and over time she'll find herself daydreaming not about some hunky intergalactic hero with a girl on every planet, but about the kind of man who will be a good husband, and even a good father. I've noticed this even among women who don't have a religious upbringing; a girl I worked with once at a department store between college semesters was "settling" for moving in with her boyfriend who would not marry her until some goal or other had been met, but when I came back to work there again the next summer she was married--not to the oafish boyfriend, but to a nice man who worked in the store's receiving department and who was ready to back up his considerable affection for and attraction to her with a marriage license and a couple of modest gold bands.

So aside from the Muppet variation, I just don't find "Pigs in Space" all that amusing anymore. It might have seemed like a new, fresh thing for the writers of the original Star Trek series or even some of the iterations that more closely followed it to cast off all that oppressive small-minded small-town American morality and make the Captain-hero a man of tremendous appetite and catholic tastes in women, not even finding it necessary for his amorous objects to be human, so long as they were reasonable approximations; but today it is a cliche, not only of space-fiction but of a lot of other fiction as well. I can imagine that some observers of our culture in the distant future might think, based on our television and movies and bestsellers, that every American business office, law firm, police or fire department, detective agency, and so on was a hotbed of hanky-panky, a den of dalliance, populated by the seductive and aggressive who traded beds more often than they attended meetings or solved crimes or put out fires; and that all of this coupling led to no greater complications or lasting effects than some slight awkwardness in planning the seating-charts of the company's annual "Holiday" party.

But real life is not like that, and plenty of women have awakened to the sad reality that sexual libertinism in our culture may have seemed like a step forward for man, but that it was a giant leap backward for women, relegating them back almost to the status they had in pagan times. How many women have believed that they are giving their full selves to a man, only to find out later that the man in question never really saw them as anything but a desirable and convenient collection of anatomy? How many women have found themselves struggling alone to raise a child or children their "Captain Kirk" never wanted, and whose idea of fatherhood is to assure her over the phone that the check is in the mail? How many men have been damaged by our culture's elevation of such men to "hero" status--the guy who gets every thing and every woman he wants, and walks away unscathed in pursuit of newer and younger and easier ones when he gets bored or restless or is otherwise unhappy?

Just once I'd like to see a well-developed plot wherein a casual tryst leads the main character in a science-fiction film on an inexorable path to darkness, and danger, and betrayal, and pain, and sorrow. Just once I'd like to see the "hero" man up enough to be a hero to the woman he has thought a pleasant enough companion for an evening's entertainment, but nothing more. Just once I'd like to see our cultural sickness held up in a mirror the size of a planet, and show the true results of what happens when men and women treat each other as the vehicles for meaningless and cardboard sex.

Now that would be to boldly go where no man has gone before.


Anonymous said...

I think Zap Branigan of Futurama is actually a more realistic portrayal of the "Captain Kirk" type.

--Elizabeth B.

Scott W. said...

Great entry. Think I'll forward it on to Dawn Eden.

freddy said...

I pretty much had the same reaction: A grin for the eye-candy followed by a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Not this old song again! Grow up, already! Sigh, indeed.

Just stick to reading sci-fi: John C. Wright and Timothy Zahn are among the many who craft with words worlds that are fascinating and entertaining trips into speculation.

matthew archbold said...

great post. thanks. The line about centipedes on two legs made me laugh out loud. I too do not have high hopes for this movie.

Tim J. said...

Well done. Like Matthew M., I laughed out loud.

Think I'll link to this one.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Red? Are you deleting my comments, or is blogger? =)

(had one earlier about walmart that got lost, and today the Bab 5 one was there, then gone....)

Red Cardigan said...

It's not me, Deirdre! Blogger must be having one of its Annoying Random Glitches. So sorry you lost your comments--anybody else post earlier and then not see the post later?

CrimsonCatholic said...

The word verification for Blogger is a little flaky. If you spend too long typing a comment, then it won't accept your submission, in which case you have to hit "Publish Your Comment" again (and re-enter your password if applicable) to have it actually be submitted. The problem is that whether your submission fails or succeeds, it returns you to the beginning of the combox, so you might not realize that your comment didn't make the cut. My advice is to always scroll down to the end of the combox to make sure your comment got entered (and of course, always hit Ctrl-A, Ctrl-C after you are done with a post to prevent it from being lost into the ether).

Babs said...

Excellent post... so right you are; just another herd of Pigs in Space. Another flick I can't take the kids to see.

I just read that in zero gravity it is impossible for men to have sexual relations. So, there is some hope for our own real space program to avoid the snares of unchastity in the great beyond.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Thanks Crimson! =) I couldn't figure out what Erin had against Babylon 5! (comment in brief--more realistic male sexuality from the captain. marriage/loss/etc. )

LarryD said...

If you like the cardboard scenery with cardboard ships and everything cardboard, you'd probably like the original Dr Who series, Erin. I think the BBC budget in those days only allowed them to use really cheap materials.

The new series is pretty cool, and the character development and realism is much improved (so much so they win the British version of the Emmys every year, which may not mean much, actually, but it says something about a sci-fi show). My boys (10 and 13) love it, actually get scared from time to time, has good humor (I guess that would be "humour") and while a little bit sexualized, it's tame compared to anything on US TV today. I'd say it's more unrequited love than uncoitered (is that a word?) lust. I recommned it highly.

Steven P. Cornett said...

Sounds like I can add another notch to Ben Sisko and DS9 over the Original Star Trek and this new movie. Ben, along with other things, was a man with a son and, later on (he was a widower) a wife.

Very different indeed from the Capt. Kirk ego meter.