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The bodies on the gears of the culture industry

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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.

4 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    September 18, 2013 @ 2:35 am

    The only way I can think to criticize that post is that your contrast of these good episodes with The Apple is getting repetitive.

    It's been a long time since I've seen The Ultimate Computer, but it was one of my favourite episodes because of that tension between Kirk and Daystrom, which provokes a kind of narrative collapse (it doesn't collapse completely). Daystrom's working life has culminated in the biggest threat Star Trek has faced so far: replacing Kirk. The dynamics of TOS without Kirk would be disastrous, not only in the way you've described Kirk as being able to subvert and save problematic and otherwise shitty episodes, but in shattering the central character relationship of the show. A Star Trek without Kirk is literally unthinkable.

    The mediocre writers of the show always code Kirk as a hyper-masculine figure, and William Shatner often subverts that masculinity on his own. Yes, this subversion has the wider ethical effect you've covered so far, but I think for Shatner himself, his reason for subversion is that hyper-masculinity makes for a terrible character, both to watch and to play. More than this, hyper-masculinity in real life results in a terrible person: the tyrannically abusive husband and father. Anyone who's gone to college or university can see the destructive tendencies of hyper-masculinity in campus rape culture. And however much we may validate the working class, let's not forget that many working class communities socialize young men into values of masculinity that are openly destructive: solving emotional problems with brute force and physical or emotional violence.

    Now the episode The Ultimate Computer faces Kirk, who so far has subverted masculinity in productive ways, with the horrifyingly destructive subversion that happened to the working class in the real-life North America: mechanization (and the later phenomenon of using the internet to ship real-time service jobs more frequently overseas) destroying the masculine man's ability to gain a livelihood through physical labour. This subversion left all the destructive culture of hyper-masculinity in place while removing their only justification: the ability of men to earn a living through physical labour alone. Facing this prospect, Kirk is left adrift, and if it wasn't for his good luck that technology wasn't up to the task of automating his job (yet), he'd still be drifting.

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    September 18, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

    Funnily enough, the reason I mentioned "The Apple" here is because I figured everyone was sick of me continually bringing up "A Private Little War" and "The Gamesters of Triskelion".

    "The mediocre writers of the show always code Kirk as a hyper-masculine figure, and William Shatner often subverts that masculinity on his own. Yes, this subversion has the wider ethical effect you've covered so far, but I think for Shatner himself, his reason for subversion is that hyper-masculinity makes for a terrible character, both to watch and to play. More than this, hyper-masculinity in real life results in a terrible person: the tyrannically abusive husband and father. Anyone who's gone to college or university can see the destructive tendencies of hyper-masculinity in campus rape culture. And however much we may validate the working class, let's not forget that many working class communities socialize young men into values of masculinity that are openly destructive: solving emotional problems with brute force and physical or emotional violence."

    I absolutely agree, in fact I start to make a somewhat similar argument in the context of the next episode, which also handily serves as an even better signifier of "Star Trek At Its Worst" than "The Apple".

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  3. Adam Riggio
    September 18, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

    Not The Omega Glory. Anything but that.

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  4. Jack Graham
    October 4, 2013 @ 8:43 am

    Captain Kirk faces entry into the reserve army of labour because of the changing organic constitution of capital. I love it.

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