This is what I wanted to talk about the other day, before Blip.tv pissed me off. This weekend I watched the Insurrection reviews from SF Debris and Red Letter Media back-to-back. It was interesting to compare these two critics and see what issues each of them brought up.
One thing to note is that they both listed a lot of logical flaws, continuity errors, nonsensical character behavior, plot holes, and events that conflict with established canon. However, their issues overlap about as often as they don’t. That is, you can watch one of these forty-minute reviews all the way through and still only see about half of the things that don’t make any sense in this movie.
I rented the movie once some years ago and more or less forgot about it. My only recollection of watching the film was my constant irritation at the sanctimonious Rich White Hippies and their ludicrous technology-free paradise. (Example: A couple of hundred people living off of a farm the size of a tennis court. Snort.)
Star Trek – particularly TNG – seemed to suffer from this a lot. There were several episodes where they seemed to advance the idea that paradise = Land of the Young White people. In another sci-fi series you might just blame it on the usual lazy and unimaginative casting that we see elsewhere in Hollywood, but this is Star Trek.Trek originated with Roddenberry’s vision of a truly pan-racial crew. That wasn’t just creative casting. In the sixties, that was a statement. Fast forward twenty years, and you have a show about the heroic white people who save the universe with the help of their token black friend. Maybe that’s not fair, but when compared to the original series, the new ones do come off a little…
Eh. That is a lot of white Americans. I mean, they’ve got an African-American in there. And a Frenchman, played like an Englishman. That sort of counts, I guess? And if you want to count Worf as a black guy then I’ll count Data as a white guy. And throw in Pulaski and Transporter Chief O’Brien.
I’m sorry, I’m not usually the sort of person to sit and count up the ethnicity of all the characters. I realize that happens all too often and usually a Big Deal is made over something of very small importance. But Trek began as a vision of a colorblind future, and it frequently presumes to tell us how primitive, prejudiced, and backward we all are, so it really, really rubs me the wrong way.
It’s sort of like when a television preacher gets caught having an affair. Adultery usually isn’t that big a deal, but when you catch someone at it who normally speaks from a position of moral superiority, it gets a lot more attention. Likewise, if I (the guy who rails against both DRM and piracy) was caught willfully pirating games I would expect it to cause more outrage than random internet commenter #278 promising to pirate a game when it comes out.
Both Red Letter Media and SF Debris bring up other cases in the history of Picard & Crew, where the crew didn’t side with the indigenous people. The case of the Native Americans (or whatever they were, I didn’t see the episode first-hand) strikes me as being a shocking oversight. It really does make the crew seem like racists.
But of course, the crew aren’t racists. A lot of this is simply the product of having a show written by dozens of people with no plan, who don’t know each other and rarely share notes, working over the span of decades. See also: Comic books and their twisted goofball morality.
A great example of what I’m talking about is the TNG episode Justice, where the crew visits a supposed paradise world. The ladies look like the Victoria’s Secret lineup, and the guys look like they just jumped off the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. Everyone is a white-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed, 24-year-old American swimsuit model. I’ve heard people excuse it saying, “Oh, they have to make paradise world like that or the audience wouldn’t ‘get it'”. That’s a hell of a claim. That’s basically the writers saying, “No, no. I’m not the racist… the audience is! I’m just pandering to their narrow worldview and deeply ingrained prejudices.” Which, if you think about it, isn’t much of a defense.
A while ago I wrote a satirical piece about Star Wars and what Hollywood would do to it if Lucas pitched it today. In that, I took a few shots at what I see as the typical “enlightened” Hollywood writer:
[…] Then, when the bounty hunter comes in, I think we need a brawl. I mean, here we are, in a bar and these two guys are enemies. The audience is going to expect a brawl. I say, like six bounty hunters come in, and Solo takes them all on. Alone. Solo. I love it. They should be really big black guys. Well, not black guys, or it would be racist. And I hate racists. So, we get a bunch of big black guys and color them green or something.
Although, these guys are like the mob. Maybe they should be Itialians? We could have James Gandolfini play Jabba.
Again, I admit the “who is the most racist” is a lame game of race-baiting “gotchas”. I’m sure I can’t claim any moral high ground. Odds are my fiction isn’t any more diverse than the norm. I don’t pretend to be a champion of diversity or a paragon of colorblind thinking. But is it too much to ask that Trek not be so much worse than everything else? Or that it spend a little less time on its high horse?
Sorry about the rant. I didn’t even realize I was going to write that. Apparently it’s been bothering me for a long time. My only real goal was to hold these two reviews up side-by-side and compare them. Here are the links again:
Shamus Plays LOTRO
As someone who loves Tolkein lore and despises silly MMO quests, this game left me deeply conflicted.
The Brilliance of Mass Effect
What is "Domino Worldbuilding" and how did it help to make Mass Effect one of the most interesting settings in modern RPGs?
Joker's Last Laugh
Did you anticipate the big plot twist of Batman: Arkham City? Here's all the ways the game hid that secret from you while also rubbing your nose in it.
What is Vulkan?
What is this Vulkan stuff? A graphics engine? A game engine? A new flavor of breakfast cereal? And how is it supposed to make PC games better?
Quakecon Keynote 2013 Annotated
An interesting but technically dense talk about gaming technology. I translate it for the non-coders.