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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

7 Comments

  1. rayna
    August 26, 2013 @ 4:49 am

    Funny about the coat of arms on Claudius Maximus’ jacket. It’s strange to me, how allusions to Shakespeare–who you might think reflects humanitarian values as much as any famous author– seem to be mostly associated with negative characters throughout Trek. Maybe that’s an exaggeration.

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    August 26, 2013 @ 7:17 am

    I saw it more as a dark mirror/evil parody sort of concept. Coon tried as hard as anyone to stress Star Trek's performativity: Remember "The Conscience of the King" was only the second script he oversaw, and Kirk was as much a Shakespearean character in that episode as Lenore and The Actor.

    So, much like Trelane (or, actually, "Mirror, Mirror"), we have the show's best aspects reflected back at it in a dark, twisted way and used against it.

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  3. Cleofis
    August 26, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    "It's one thing to be a work of fiction with a Christian subtext, or even to be pop Christian by coming out of uncritical Western hegemony. It's quite another thing entirely to overtly act like a Christian missionary, thus equating your faith with neo-imperialism. This is something I need to come right out and say I have zero tolerance for, as its a line of thinking that was singlehandedly responsible for the collapse of countless spiritualities, cultures and ways of life, not to mention, well, the one this blog comes out of. It's fine to have a faith. It's fine to talk about your faith and try to explain why you think you're correct-That's just discourse, ultimately. It is not fine to declare yourself arbiter of Truth and explicitly work towards erasing the beliefs of everyone else, because it's Right and Natural for everybody to end up exactly like you."

    This. So much this.

    And skipping season 3, I see? Much as I would've like to see you rip "The Omega Glory" a new one, probably for the best.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    August 26, 2013 @ 7:42 am

    Who said I was skipping it? 🙂

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  5. Flex
    August 26, 2013 @ 10:49 am

    I rate the ending of this as one of the original series' two worst moments (since we're not playing trivia, I'll just say that the other one is the end of "The Enemy Within"). I don't know if, ideologically speaking, the end is really any worse than "The Apple" but that episode managed to just be awful and tacky through and through, so no single moment in the episode felt like a particular blow to the viewer's sensibilities. By contrast, as you illustrate in your post, the bulk of "Bread and Circuses" is actually quite good, even brilliant. Which makes its final moments so particularly grating.

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  6. K. Jones
    August 26, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

    Conflation between sun and son always leads to Apollonian parallels in my art historian head, and in a post "Star Trek Continues", there's something quietly unsettling about that. But, in spite of christian subtext or even the unbridled strain of it here, I've never really found anything wrong with "how Christianity became mainstream". A really underground phenomena spread by the lower classes via bootleg scriptures, graffiti in the alleyways, preaching loving thy brother to a world ruled by conservative Cains. The Christian movement in Rome was Superman t-shirts. This is an episode which in advance lays bare the Star Trek fandom having sub rosa conversations, passing bootleg videos and only meeting in a gathering place ritualistically (and in full pageantry!) once a year, or any of these underground scenarios which become overtly mainstream by word-of-mouth or movement.

    Christianity was a movement before it was bought and paid for, before Apollo paintings were painted over to be Christ and turned into The Church. I'm no great fan, having grown up mired in Catholicism and never having reconciled that with the gnawing cultural self-loathing inherent in pagan cultures "civilized" by Rome's imperial expansion, but I try not to forget that the "first few years", it was working class rebellion.

    The cool bit for me would have been seeing how prescient Star Trek could've been if they ever revisited this world – to see if a Magna Roman 1% could have co-opted this new brotherly love movement from the poor in a world where technological documentation devices existed. Could the Roman Imperial class have stolen Christianity if video recording had existed? Would people still demand glorious blood sport? Would there be a Gladiators Union? Socialist healthcare for slaves?

    For me it's never that Kirk and by representation, Mankind, are incapable of these parallel atrocities, it's that they choose not to. Not to kill, today. Not to expand this planet, this way. Not to break the prime directive, this time. But like everything in life it seems to happen on a situation-by-situation basis, and the nature of 60s television production means those situations have forces of status quo battling them every step of the way – which makes the televised bloodsport sort of a double layer of effectively brutal satire. But after all, Kirk is a Prototype. This sort of thing will become simultaneously more implicit and explicit when the next two Captains effectively undergo "Trials of Humankind" crafted by Space Gods, to see if Humankind can really grow beyond the limits we see so often here, or to see how Humankind can interact with the galactic community.

    I always really liked the basic grey t-shirt with a stylish "chain" motif on the slaves. I also like the blatancy. I've seen a few blatant sci-fi films lately and it's sort of a breath of fresh air after all the attempts at being clever out there. Lastly, in the "what might have been" category, despite the obviousness of the Romans being a "human parallel" and thus looking exactly like humans, I always thought these should have been Romulans – a Romulan colonial world where the "Federation equivalent" military presence was lax (the fringes of a vast star empire, after all), and Claudius Marcus an opportunity to finally put Kirk in the same room with a representative of the Praetor. Then it would have served the duel role of mirroring the Federation (and mankind's) imperialistic cycles, as well as building on the Vulcan story; where you could almost see how these would be twisted but related to the bloodsport we saw on Vulcan itself, where sure enough, two men fought to the death in front of a callous onlooker of great power and influence. McCoy's speech to Spock here about his fear of his human half would have played powerfully in a world of Romulans.

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  7. Cleofis
    August 26, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

    Oh you devil, I thought that might be it :3

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