Star Trek Over Time

I’m super curious about the new Star Trek show that will eventually be coming out, a bit delayed. The original is one of the shows I grew up with. And the entire set of series mark the changes of the world I’ve known over my life.

The Original Series is a cult classic. It’s Wagon Train to the Stars! It has the optimistic bravado of the early Cold War with a bit of an edge with the changing culture during the 1960s. It was largely escapist fantasy during a troubled era, but it was written and produced by those who remembered an earlier time. It resonated with the Golden Age of hard science fiction with its focus on technology and spaceships, exploration and adventure, along with some fun and imaginative ideas thrown in. It ended in 1969, before real world events turned even uglier in the 1970s, not to imply that American society wasn’t already taking a severe downturn.

I’ll skip over The Animated Series. It was a product of the 1970s, but it was very much an extension of The Original Series. I never watched much of it. The quality of the animation was equivalent of Scooby-Doo. The 1970s wasn’t known for its great animation, at least not on network tv, even if some of the cheap cartoons could be amusing for a child to watch. Anyway, Gene Roddenberry never considered The Animated Series to be canon.

Moving onto the 1980s and 1990s, there was The Next Generation. It revived the Star Trek world, brought the original out of status of mere cult classic and cheap rerun fodder. TNG was a truly high quality production. It made this future society much more compelling and realistic. The starship was an entire multicultural community with families, schools, entertainment, social events, etc. It was a utopian vision of technocratic socialism where the welfare state and social democracy had been pushed to their furthest extreme with all basic needs taken care of and all resources and opportunities made accessible, although a socialism that offered an alternative to the hard-edged communist totalitarianism of the Borg.

This particular futuristic imagining was the last gasp of Cold War optimism, the supposed end of history where capitalism had won and yet was becoming something entirely new. The show was initially produced during the last years of the Cold War and the beginning of the boom years that followed. It was a calmer time of history in the US and the West with no major wars or conflicts. Yet there was a growing edge of anxiety in the broader society. Threats of societal unease within the Federation mirrored the same in the United States, the tensions of a vast imperial-like civilization in both cases fraying at the edges with terrorism becoming an issue.

Interestingly, the Maquis were introduced in Deep Space Nine. That next series began in the last years of the previous series, The Next Generation. The Maquis were a terrorist group that arose at the frontier of the Federation, as some of the far-flung planetary colonists felt abandoned and betrayed by the centralized government. As TNG was still being produced, the Maquis storyline bled over into that series.

After the Cold War, Americans found themselves subjects of an empire and not sure what that meant. And those societies at the edge of the American Empire also were feeling on edge, as a new era of unchallenged neoliberalism came into dominance. It was a time of political conflict and culture wars. Without the global conflict of the Cold War, public attention turned toward these fractures within the Western world.

Years before the 9/11 terrorist attack, right-wing fanatics in the US and abroad were becoming central concerns. Ted Kazynski, the unabomber, continued his bombings through the early 1990s, the last two incidents killing the targeted victims, until he was arrested in 1996. The same year as Kazynski’s last bombing there was the Oklahoma City bombing, the largest act of domestic terrorism in US history. That was committed as retaliation for the 1993 violent conflict in WACO, involving the federal government and a religious cult that had been stockpiling weapons. There was also much violence by anti-abortion terrorists, including numerous murders in the 1990s. Outside of the US but in the English-speaking world, there was an upsurge of IRA bombings around that time as well, 28 attacks during the 7 years of TNG series.

On top of all that, it was a time of worsening racial and ethnic conflict. There was the police beating of Rodney King and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The tension of that decade was maybe exacerbated by the Immigration Act of 1990, which greatly increased the number of immigrants for the first time in decades. There was a realization that WASP culture was once again under threat. Fox News took advantage of those fears not just with right-wing pundits but also with hiring tall blonde women who represented the stereotype of the Aryan ideal, the white male audience presumably were supposed to fantasize about these women bearing them a new generation of Aryan children who would save America and lead us into the future… or something like that.

It was in this atmosphere that DS9 was produced. It showed a different side of the Federation and presented the first main captain character of a Star Trek series that was black. It was set on a space station near a wormhole and a highly religious planet, former territory of the Cardassian Union. The issues of the show were about conflicts, often violent, between various societies and groups within societies. These conflicts were often religious and ethnic in nature, but it also portrayed a setting of a multicultural meeting point where key characters of different races worked together and formed friendships.

The future of the Federation was being threatened like never before, but the enemies involved weren’t what the Federation was used to dealing with. The challenges faced were less of the variety of mighty space empires or communist-like Borg, but instead primarily the dangers of local religious fanatics and the menace of a highly advanced and secretive race of shapeshifters. The Dominion was an enemy that could be anywhere and appear like anyone. It wasn’t always clear, in DS9, who were enemies and who were friends or at least potential allies, as everything was in flux. Relationships, personal and political, were sometimes strained to the breaking point. And it was the destruction of the Maquis, caught in the middle, that was a prelude to war with the Dominion.

Back in the world of the United States, the sociopolitical mood during the mid-to-late-1990s was beginning to sour with the rise of a new kind of reactionary and conspiratorial right-wing that was given a platform through talk radio and Fox News: Alex Jones, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, etc. The Cold War had been about American might expanding onto the global theater and also a time of exploration of space. But in the last decade of the century, American society had turned more inward. The United States was drifting along into the future, we Americans having lost our cultural bearings. Many sensed an impending doom with our civilization approaching the year 2000 and along with it the third millennium, a symbolic calendrical shift giving rise to a foreboding mood as if almost anything could happen, even the end of the world as we knew it.

The reason the Maquis had been brought into the Star Trek world was as a plot device for the then upcoming series, Voyager. That next series, having begun in 1995, took over when The Next Generation ended. The confident optimism of the earlier Star Trek series had entirely evaporated. The new storyline was about a Federation starship and a Maquis starship becoming lost in distant and unknown stretches of space. The stability and safety of the Federation are gone. The crews are forced to join together in hope of finding their way home again. They are thrown into the unintended role of explorers, a rough-and-ready crew reminiscent of the the Federation’s early years.

Like these former enemies who became necessary shipmates, the bitterly antagonistic two-party system of the 1990s found itself unprepared for a world not expected or understood. DS9 having ended in 1999, Voyager carried us into a new century and a new era. The last episode of Voyager was aired only months before the 9/11 terrorist attack. The Voyager had made its way back to the Federation and soon after, outside of the Star Trek world, the United States would regain a sense of national purpose. But the economic good times were already winding down with the bust of the Dot-com bubble. America’s sense of greatness would be militaristic, not economic.

In the new century, Americans became even more obsessed with the national history. Maybe unsurprising, the last aired Star Trek series, Enterprise, brought us to the beginning of the Federation or rather slightly before its formation. That series demonstrated the mood of simultaneously looking back and peering forward. The period of the Enterprise was the Federation’s past and our future. According to the Star Trek timeline, this present century will involve World War III and a period of post-atomic horror. Following that comes first contact with an alien species. Later this century, human society begins to recover. And it is in the next century that humans become a spacefaring civilization, the story told in the Enterprise series.

Watching that series is to see the initial fumbling steps of humanity moving toward maturity as a species, but humans at that point are still largely arrogant toward and ignorant of the world beyond Earth. Many mistakes are made, as humanity attempts to gain a moral compass. For example, the Enterprise crew are confronted with a situation where they have to decide about intervention and this is prior to any Prime Directive, as there is no Federation yet. The Prime Directive has often been interpreted as a criticism of American interventionism, such as during the Vietnam War, but it took on new meaning during the post-9/11 years when the Enterprise series was aired.

For various reasons, many fans disliked that series. It maybe doesn’t help that it is the only series involving a non-Federation crew. A Star Trek show minus the Federation is not quite the same. It is specifically the vision of the future offered by the Federation that has attracted so many fans. But maybe it would have been hard for Americans to feel much interest in any Star Trek series in that early period of the War on Terror, a time when dark and dystopian entertainment captured the public imagination.

Yet in its own way, the Enterprise series did resonate. It maybe resonated too well, in presenting a future that was too close for comfort. In the 21st century, we are entering into the future history of the Star Trek world and it ain’t pretty. The coming years are supposed to be a time of mass unemployment, poverty, and homelessness which leads to the formation of ghettoized Sanctuary Districts and ends up inciting the Bell riots of 2024. It’s a pivotal moment, the setting of the stage for the events that move us toward global disaster and rebuilding. In its inspiration, it mirrors another pivotal moment, as the idea of the Bell riots was based on two real world events from decades ago: the 1970 Kent State shootings and the 1971 Attica Prison riot.

The era of the early Starfleet is born out of the ashes of, from our perspective, a yet to happen near apocalypse. With the mood of America and the rest of the world right now, World War III and nuclear destruction seems all the more probable. Our present fearless leader, President Trump, is a dumbed down and even less competent version of our last demoralizing chief of state, President Nixon with his inglorious impeachment and resignation, providing yet another link between the events of the 1970s and contemporary developments in the 21st century. As we face the future, it’s an immense gulf between our petty American Empire and the grand galactic civilization of the Federation guided by wise leaders such as Captain Picard.

That leaves us with the next installment. Coming soon is the Discovery series. It will return us to the time period of the original Star Trek, approximately ten years before. So, this will involve a refocusing on exploration and, well, discovery. I’m not expecting a re-envisioned Wagon Trail to the Stars, but I suspect the recent movies in the franchise very well might be indicative of the direction being taken. It supposedly is intended to help bridge the 150 years between the Enterprise and the original. I must say that sounds rather ambitious.

I’ll be curious to see how it might touch upon contemporary issues. One thing that stood out to me is that the cast is described as diverse, including a gay character. I don’t recall homosexuality coming up in the original show, but Captain Kirk had interracial kisses in two separate episodes which was scandalous for mainstream tv at the time. Whatever kind of show it is, it will be nice to return to my favorite fictional universe. And I certainly wouldn’t mind the opportunity to escape dark and depressing present realities, by leaping forward a couple centuries into the future. Star Trek, at its best, has been a visionary show and even leaning toward the utopian. We Americans could use some confident optimisim at the moment.

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Earthbound Capitalism and the Frontiers of Space

I was debating with a guy from more on the right end of the spectrum.

I personally know him and so it is a different kind of debate than I typically engage in while online. Knowing a person allows for a more civil interaction. It also helps that we can agree on many things. We are both principled defenders of our preferred political visions, and surprisingly those visions come close together. Beginning from two different points, we both wouldn’t mind our society ending up in the same place, the world of Star Trek: Next Generation.

As often is the case, we were debating the problems of society and how we move toward a better society. It actually began with the issue of campaign finance reform, but expanded more generally to big money in politics and the related issues of plutocracy.

He is more of a libertarian type. In line with that worldview, he has more hope for a technological salvation to be found in the future and in outer space. He sees the main obstacle of the Star Trek society is our presently being stuck on earth. To be free of earth, means to him to be free of all the problems of earth. In the freedom of space, there will be freedom to explore and innovate, freedom from prying big government and social oppression. A near endless supply of planets to be terraformed and settled by every social visionary or economic entrepreneur.

I’m a fan of technology in general. For example, I’m a big fan of written text, bound books, and the printing press. Such technologies have transformed civilization, in many ways for the good. I wouldn’t want to live in an alternative reality where these technologies had been successfully suppressed and the society itself accordingly oppressed. Even so, I can’t quite get on board with what what seems to me to be a near blind faith in technological salvation. Technology is just as likely to lead to more oppression than less, as technology simply opens up new possibilities, but doesn’t morally limit any possibility of its use and implementation.

As I said to this other guy,

Even with your vision of an ideal society beyond Earth, how do we get there? And how do we prevent re-creating in space yet more oppression and victimization, yet more plutocracy and corporatocracy? If we don’t solve our problems on Earth, what will stop us from spreading our problems like a disease throughout the galaxy?

If we don’t solve our problems on earth, I don’t see why we will do so in space or on some other planet. Maybe we should first prove that we aren’t complete self-destructive fuck-ups before we go venturing off into the great unknown. Just my opinion.

He spoke of space as a frontier where people could escape oppression and could opt-out from the dominant social order. And let a million flowers bloom. He used the example of Jefferson’s vision of the early American frontier, to help explain the vision of what we could hope for on the frontier of space.

I responded that, 

I do like the idea of a frontier where opting out is possible. But frontiers don’t tend to last long or always work out well for all involved.

North America was once a frontier that was created through genocide. And after genocide, it was long before Americans set about creating a new empire. I fear like the American founders, good intentions aren’t always good enough. Jefferson is a great example, as he helped set the foundations for American empire in many ways more than maybe any of the other founders.

A million new experiments in the vastness of space would be an interesting opportunity for humanity. But if those experiments simply are variations of what we’ve already been doing, we will simply create ever new forms of oppression, dysfunction, etc. A wealthy individual who terraforms their own planet will likely just become another tyrant of that planet and any other planets he gains control of. Many a tyrant began their career as private citizens.

Space could just end up another Wild West with the equivalent gunfighters, robbers, cattle rustlers, railroad tycoons, oil barons, and privatized goons like the Pinkertons. What ended the violence and social disorder on the frontier in the US was centralized government, after killing off and rounding up all the free-spirited types and other troublemakers. These frontier people who didn’t fit the government’s plan were put in nooses, in prisons, and on reservations.

What is important to keep in mind is those who wanted big government most were the big business types. The wealthy elite wanted law and order, wanted the Native American’s land, wanted to get rid of the land squatters who settled the frontier.

Before Lincoln was a politician, he was a lawyer who worked for the railroads, which were as big business as they came back then. Lincoln’s job was to find legal ways to kick people off their lands so that the railroads could be built. Many people living on the frontier didn’t have legal rights to their lands or their legal rights weren’t clear, as paper work wasn’t always kept well and property lines were at times vague. Before big gov, the Great Emancipator began his vision of progress by working for big biz.

A large part of the Civil War was a fight about the Northern vision of an industrial economy ruled by big biz, big factories, and big railroads. Many Southerners were wary of this capitalist vision and for good reason. Much of the Southern rhetoric was a criticism of wage labor just being another form of slave labor, but for white men. And they were right to make these criticisms, as the hardworking farmer who could support his own family would be destroyed by big biz agriculture. The American Dream of being able to own and to make a living on one’s own land would become a thing of the past.

The events of the frontier and the events of the Civil War were intertwined. Many of the Confederate veterans headed West to escape this vision of collusion between big gov and big biz. The famous gunfighters and train robbers were often Confederate veterans and Southerners in general. They lost the war, but they went on fighting for their vision of independence. The frontier ultimately isn’t an escape from empire, but simply the outer edge of empire. Frontiers as we’ve known them in this society have been products of empire, locations of the clashes and violence of empires.

The same old frontier drama is likely to play out all over again on the frontiers of space. It is a very old story that seems to never end. I just wonder sometime if an alternative is possible. Might it be possible for us to escape this repeating pattern and create an entirely new society? That is the vision of Star Trek: Next Generation. It offers the hope that we might one day end this millennia-long tragedy.

In a joking way, he offered this quote: 

“What makes wage slaves? Wages!”–Groucho Marx

I responded more seriously:

Actually, what makes both chattel slavery and wage slavery is the slavery part. I have no particular principled argument against either chattel or wages. Nor against wealth as property and capital.

For example, capital is basically just fungible wealth, which means it can be easily moved, transferred, and reinvested. Every society, even communist societies, include capital as part of their daily functioning.

Capitalism isn’t simply capital, but a particular kind of capital, a particular social order and class system revolving around capital, a particular emphasize and prioritizing of capital, and hence an economy and society centered around those who own, control, and influence the movements of capital (i.e., the capitalists).

In a capitalist society, everything is centered on and organized according to capital. The capitalists are those who run society. This is obvious to see with our society in how most politicians are people who have worked in or for big biz, big banks, investment firms, etc. It is easy for a lawyer to go from working for a corporation to working as a politician. American politics has become famous for its revolving door between big biz and big gov, and regulatory capture has become commonplace.

Those with the capital in the US aren’t just those with the wealth, but those with the power. It is a capitalist class of businessmen, CEOs, lobbyists, investors, government contractors, advisers, and the many people who move back and forth between the public and private spheres.

Capitalism isn’t the same thing as a free market. A society could have a free market capitalism, not that such a thing has yet existed in the world to any great extent, but it could in theory. However, capitalism as we’ve known it has never been all that close to an actual functioning free market. On the other hand, an actual functioning free market could be and maybe would more likely be centered on something other than capital.

There are many aspects of an economy that are necessary for it functioning well, specifically in terms of a free market. There is social ‘capital’, there are communities, there is land, there is labor, etc. Many people who have criticized capitalism do so not because it is a free market, but because as we’ve seen so far it isn’t a free market or not as free as its rhetoric claims. Yes, capitalism is relatively more free than oppressive economic systems of the past, but that is a very low bar to reach.

You asked me what my hang up is with wealth. I have no such hang up. My issue is with a limited understanding of wealth. There is a lot more to wealth than just capital. In fact, capital is the smallest part of wealth. The most tangible and fundamental forms of wealth are those that can’t be defined as capital, as fungible wealth.

I then added a thought about how capitalism relates to Star Trek:

Star Trek is a good alternative to capitalism. There are some capitalist markets for mostly non-essential goods. If you want some rare object or an original art piece, there are unofficial markets for such goods. But most of the economy has evolved past the need of capital as an intervening form of wealth.

Technology has become so abundant that the scarcity principle behind capitalism is nearly obsolete. No one is ever in need of any basic need, even if they do no work at all, for so much of traditional labor is also nearly obsolete.

Since capital is almost meaningless in such an economic system, the guiding principle of the economy has more to do with human capital and social capital, not capital as fungible wealth, not as we recognize it anyway. It is communities of people and social/political organizations that have primary values. It is knowledge and experience, not capital, that is the greatest personal wealth an individual can gain.

People work not out of need, but out of curiosity and aspiration, simply to live up to their potential and seeking the betterment of society. It is a much more optimistic vision of humanity than is found in contemporary capitalism that sees monetary reward as the only incentive to make people not be lazy.

As I always find interesting, he fundamentally agrees with me, even though technically we are coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum. I think it is the fact that at a more fundamental level we are both classical liberals.

However, our differences did show up in the worry he noted, which was that class warfare would derail and postpone the progress toward a better future. From his point of view, we have to be more tolerant of the failings of capitalism because capitalism is the only pathway to what is beyond capitalism. If we short-circuit capitalism in trying to fix the problems of capitalism, we will create even bigger problems.

From my perspective, I can’t help but repeating what many on the left have said. Many have argued that the capitalist class started the class warfare and they are winning it. The question we on the left always worry about is how do we stop the abuse of this class war of the plutocrats against the rest of us. Only those winning the class war care about continuing it, and most people in the world today, including those on the left, are on the losing end. If those on the right wish for the class war to end, they’d need to speak to the ruling elites in charge of the charade. Or else they can join us on the left and make sure it ends.

The problem is that our society was built on class war. There hasn’t been a moment in the history of the United States when a class war wasn’t a dominant force. It isn’t yet clear that we are even capable of envisioning a realistic and compelling alternative or have the capacity of making the needed changes. But to envision an alternative, we have to first acknowledge and understand the present reality.

“Think twice and don’t do it”

I was having a discussion with with one of my second cousins, Jason King (I guess his mom and my mom would be first cousins). Anyway, we share the same great grandfather, Rollie Franklin Wininger.

It is nice as an adult getting to know some of my extended family. It is nice for various reasons.

One reason is simply getting to knowing people who I don’t normally associate with.

I get the sense that Jason is some variety of a right-libertarian and, as my mom told me, was raised in a fundamentalist church. I’m somewhere on the left and was raised in a liberal church. He grew up closer to Southern Indiana culture (the Hoosier part of Kentuckiana) and, besides brief visits, I grew up entirely outside of that culture. Yet we are both of the same generation and both have a love of Star Trek. Despite our differing perspectives, we both wouldn’t mind living in a Star Trek future.

Another reason is it gives me a better sense of my family and so a better understanding of myself.

I didn’t grow up around extended family and it didn’t occur to me how strange this was. I’ve been doing genealogy work in recent years and it has been a process of discovery, but Jason has been doing genealogy work since he was younger and had the opportunity of living near extended family. It was because of genealogy work that I finally met him, never having known of his existence before that. Most of my extended family is completely unknown to me, strangers from the past. Genealogy work has been my attempt to make up for this.

In our discussion, the topic was the death penalty. I explained part of my motivation. I wrote:

“About this case, there is one particular way I’m very conservative-minded. I’m a firm believer in the precautionary principle. It is easier to do something than to undo it. It is related to the old saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” The precautionary principle isn’t very popular in our society. We Americans prefer to just do it and deal with the problems later.”

He responded with this bit of info:

“Our Great Grandpa Wininger was even more cautionary–to the point of inaction. His saying was “think twice and don’t do it.””

I’ve heard some stories about our great grandfather. I’m not sure he was expressing precaution or just regret. My view is definitely not regret, more directed toward the future than the past. But in both cases it is about how the past informs the present and the decisions therefrom shaping what will come or what we strive to make happen.

The precautionary principle is what is central to so much that is important to me, so much that makes sense to me. It is easier to do than undo. It is easier to emotionally invest in a belief or cognitively commit to an idea than to retreat from the same. It is easier to create a bureaucracy than to dismantle it. It is easier to pollute and destroy an ecosystem than to restore it. It is easier to knock a building down or bomb a city to oblivion than to build it all over again. It is easier to create a problem than find a solution.

I don’t know about “think twice and don’t do it”. But I’m all for thinking twice or even thrice. After that, one can make an informed decision to do or not do; and if do, then what and how to do. It sure would take a lot of doing if we are ever to get to the future portrayed in Star Trek or, for that matter, if we are ever to move toward any kind of positive vision of society.

Star Trek, Prime Directive, and Human Failure

I grew up on Star Trek, the Original Series and Next Generation.

The latter particularly captured my imagination as it began when I was eleven years old and ended when I was twenty-three. Unlike the original series, Next Generation attempted to fill out the Star Trek universe and form a plausible fully-fleshed set of societies (Deep Space Nine further fleshed out these societies and added some more). The original series was an action show projected into the future whereas Next Generation attempted to envision the future as an entirely transformed place.

A few years ago, I decided to watch every episode of every season from the beginning. I’ve finally made it to the most recent series, Star Trek: Enterprise. I’d never watched it before. Many people seem to hate it. I began to see why in the first season, but I want to offer a nuanced (although short) review.

I liked the premise of this latest, hopefully not the last, series. It’s nice to see how human earth society slowly begins to develop into the Federation we already know they will become. The merit of this series is how human the characters are. They are temporally and culturally far closer to us than they are to the far future Next Generation and Deep Space Nine (it’s only slightly more than a century into the future that is the setting for Enterprise whereas the other shows are a couple of centuries following that).

In watching the episode “Dear Doctor”, the conclusion of the story left me perplexed. It didn’t seem very like the Star Trek I knew. It seems many others agreed with me. After reading some online reviews and criticisms, I considered another perspective. But let me first say a few things about the episode.

Basically, the captain and the doctor are presented with a dilemma. The dilemma is worthy, but the ‘solution’ is beyond unworthy. As others have noted, their response is equivalent to genocide and their rationalization for it has more than a whiff of Social Darwinism about it. It is supposed to be the origin story of the Prime Directive (non-interventionism in less-developed species; i.e., not playing God) and, as some see it, this adds yet another doubt to the merits and hence justification of the Prime Directive itself.

I can understand that view, but maybe it misses a point. No one ever claimed Star Trek society is perfect. A major theme is how imperfect humans are and continue to be. It is what makes us so endearing, right? It makes full sense that humans would carry our cognitive biases and moral weakness into space, and it would be even less plausible to portray a future where this didn’t happen. The Prime Directive was something that evolved through actual interactions with other species and societies. Of course, mistakes would be made and some of them quite horrific.

What makes that episode especially horrific is that it reflects upon our own present society. Some people pointed out, for example, how many governments have refused to intervene in genocides since WWII such as in Rwanda. Is it so surprising that our collective behavior that has been going on for centuries would linger still for another century or so?

Tropes in SciFi

Tropes in SciFi

Posted on Oct 7th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
I’m watching the movie Stargate Atlantis: Rising.  Its decent.  The special effects are good and its fairly imaginative.  The acting is adequate… not awesome though.  The plot holds my attention if somewhat predictable.  I love SciFi, but this show is mostly typical for the genre.  In general, I’d say the Stargate series is not as good as the Star Trek series.

The reason I’m writing about this movie is because it reminds me of the tropes site.  A show like Stargate is filled with tropes.  For instance, the characters are largely stereotypes.  I don’t mean to say that this show is worse than most shows.  Actually, its an enjoyable show, but the stereotypes do annoy me.  I don’t empathize with the Stargate characters to the extent that I empathize with the characters in Star Trek: Next Generation.

Genre shows are often filled with cliche’s and predictable plots, but there are some very good genre shows.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that uses tropes but manages to bring new life to them.  And then there are shows like Dead Like Me which step outside of the typical tropes of a genre.

What I was wondering about is why people enjoy tropes, and furthermore why people enjoy tropes used in unoriginal ways.  Creating original stories and characters is challenging, but that can’t explain the vast amount of copycat shows.  I suspect that most people enjoy shows because it gives them an escape from their normal lives.  Life is mostly unpredictable and so people turn to shows with a desire for the predictable.

Access_public Access: Public 3 Comments Print Post this!views (107)  

Nicole : wakingdreamer

27 minutes later

Nicole said

I liked the first Stargate movie, but it is probably worse than the series in terms of stereotypes, eh? I liked it because it was so unreal 🙂

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 7 hours later

Marmalade said

I’m very forgiving of SF in general whether written story, tv show or movie.  I love anything that is imaginative.  Stargate is definitely imaginative.  The Stargate series mostly creates a believable world, but it does demand a bit of suspension of disbelief.

I was considering what makes shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer stand out.  For one, Joss Whedon is a master in creating excellent tv shows.  The dialogue in Buffy is always top-notch and the story is rarely predictable (even though it has plenty of predictable tropes).  Another extemely important element is that the actors are quite talented.. way beyond anything seen in Stargate.  Is it that the script of Buffy attracted good actors or is it that Whedon knows how to pick good actors?  Do stereotypical scripts attract stereotypical actors?

However, it must be said that apparently Stargate was more popular than Buffy.  The original Stargate show is the longest continually run SF show ever… so, they must be doing something right.

I’ve noticed that I have different standards for different types of entertainment.  I’m less accepting of stereotypes in written stories and I’m less accepting of stereotypes in ‘realistic’ tv shows and movies.  I’m more accepting of this in genres such as SF because genres are by definition based on well-known tropes.  I’m even more accepting of stereotypes in kids shows and movies. 

Its very interesting how kids don’t mind stereotypes at all.  Most kids’ shows if anything go out of their way to be predictable and simple.  Partly, kids don’t mind them because a kid has had less exposure to stereotypes and so they won’t even notice the stereotypes until after they’ve grown up.  But also kids just enjoy stereotypes.  Its how cultural knowledged is transmitted, how kids learn about the world they’ve been born into.  Kids learn through repetition.  An example of this is the Teletubbies.  The show repeats itself a second time.  Its boring enough to send an adult into a coma, but it was an extremely popular show for little kids.

Maybe adults like predictable stories because stories put them into a child-like mindset.  They spend the whole day pretending to be an adult, and when they get home they want to forget their adult selves.  A predictable story is comforting.  The recongnition of stereotypes allows us to relax with the sense that we know what to expect.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 17 hours later

Nicole said

that’s very interesting, Ben. I hadn’t noticed before that I too have totally different standards for different genres at different times. Sometimes I really like the housecoat and fuzzy slippers comfort of a predictable story and sometimes I just feel bored and annoyed. Usually though I am very indulgent toward science fiction and fantasy as long as it is skilfully done.

Of course, there are some classics in really bad movies that are fun to watch 🙂 good ol’ Ed Wood and Plan 9, for example. Why do we love really bad movies, is it the fascination that makes people slow down for car accidents?