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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.

6 Comments

  1. Daru
    March 4, 2015 @ 12:54 am

    "And shamans are liminal, possessing elements of both human and spirit. Maybe what we're looking at here is a kind of spiritually recursive utopianism: A utopian storytelling about utopain storytelling, with different groups of shamans each attaining enlightenment in their own way and re-enacting stories about each other."

    I always thought that this is a very beautiful story and it is one of those TNG tales that has really stuck in my memory and my heart. The design of Gomtuu I really find very evocative of Shamanistic concepts as for me there is something very totemic in its design, with it looking like a combination of a seed pod and a carved sacred object – especially as it is conscious, alive and 'animated' – perhaps coming from an animistic view of the universe.

    This is the kind of story I can trace back to inspiring my personal journey into connection with nature as the story presents to me the height of what TNG is about – the personal and collective journeys of beings through the universe and the wonder of meeting the cosmos as a something very much alive.

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  2. Adam Riggio
    March 4, 2015 @ 4:52 am

    It speaks volumes about the potential and the constant struggle of Star Trek that Tin Man exists in such close proximity to Captain's Holiday. Ever since I first saw this episode when I was seven years old, it's meant a lot to me. I had my share of insecurities and mental health issues as a child, and I saw a lot of myself in Tam. Watching it again for the first time more than two decades later, I still do, and it's reminded me to be thankful for the friends I've had over the years who've helped me on my own journey.

    But the proximity of Tin Man and Captain's Holiday strikes me as illuminating another aspect of TNG. Yes, the characters are shamans on their own journeys to and through enlightenment who guide and help along the journeys of others. But they're also, inescapably, people.

    You see, I've always enjoyed Captain's Holiday as a ridiculous narrative mashup, a point I would have made if I'd had the time to comment on Monday's post. Picard resists going on vacation because he knows his nature is to be the chief shaman of the Enterprise and its crew. And even when he does go on vacation, Risa isn't his bag. It's only natural that he be thrown into this weird narrative that doesn't suit him, but which probably evokes memories of his time as a punkish, impulsive, immature cadet. So he rides out his action sex comedy narrative just as if he was on vacation.

    Star Trek is capable of all these narratives, and reconciling them in the overarching structure of its journeys through the stars. It's about the personal and community journeys of its characters and worlds, and they're fundamentally human journeys: complex, paradoxically multifaceted, and filled with potential.

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  3. Daru
    March 4, 2015 @ 5:01 am

    Yeah good points Adam. As you say, the multi-faceted and very human journeys the characters take adds many dimensions to the stories. That's the thing that always touched me deeply about stories like this, that there was a real inner experience translated to me that I could relate to.

    I really like your phrasing of "personal and community journeys" – that pretty much sums up the Star Trek that I love.

    I do appreciate too the 'mash-up' experience of Captain's Holiday and enjoy how Picard's character is a pretty unwilling passenger in that tale.

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    March 5, 2015 @ 10:54 am

    The trick about shamans, of course, is that they're inherently liminal. They travel alongside spirits to learn and bring knowledge back to their people, existing in both worlds yet belonging to none. They have a responsibility to the realm of the mundane just as much as they do to the realm of the mystical.

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  5. Daru
    March 6, 2015 @ 12:11 am

    They are, liminal is the perfect word, and like many Shamans in many cultures, the gift that creates the bridge through the liminal spaces between the worlds comes from a wound. Picard has the wounded heart, Data has the wound of believing he lacks humanity, and Tam has his wound through his mental health issues. All of these allow them as you say to "travel alongside spirits".

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  6. K. Jones
    March 9, 2015 @ 8:31 am

    Tin Man.

    Memorable for me because I can never remember it. I've probably watched this episode ten times, and as one that I'd only caught "the end of" in the TV years, it had that original caveat of being one of those "finally, I've tracked you down and can watch the whole thing" episodes for me. It was a Grail episode.

    But I bloody can't remember it.

    I know it features a Betazoid called Tam Elbrun who Riker dislikes, Troi counseled, has a connection to a space cocoon, and the Romulans want it (the Wiki facts). I know empathy and fitting in are themes (the residual aura of emotion left in my brain). But I seriously can't remember a line of dialogue or the ordering of the plot, even after 10+ viewings. Except vaguely that Tam keeps having the other half of conversations that were happening in people's heads.

    Sometimes things that should resonate fail to do so.

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