Eruditorum Press

We’ve redecorated! We don’t like it.

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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.

14 Comments

  1. Ununnilium
    June 3, 2013 @ 10:22 am

    Hrm. No offense, but you don't seem to have been very interested in redemptive readings so far.

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    June 3, 2013 @ 11:40 am

    I'll be honest. Redemptive readings are a goal of mine, but not a primary one, at least not for the TOS phase of this. The reason is simple: Gene Roddenberry, and TOS more generally, are by and large considered absolutely beyond reproach by the majority of Star Trek fans and critics I've read and I find this to be inappropriate, blinkered and facile.

    Part of bringing a fresh approach to Trek discourse unfortunately involves being very harsh to some much-loved parts of the franchise that haven't really been put under scrutiny before. I've made no secret I'm no fan of TOS and feel Roddenberry is criminally overrated, and revisiting his tenure of the show hasn't done much to change my mind. If I'm to cover them and keep this a personal journey, I want to be honest about my positionality as much as I want to explore the show within the context of its own time.

    Do I like being forced to start this blog with what I am 100% certain is going to be the most pedantic, least creative and most negative section I'm ever going to do? No: It bothers me to no end. This is by no means what I set out on this project to do, and I really don't want people to get the impression Vaka Rangi is the contrarian Star Trek blog. That's not what it is; that's not what it's going to be. But Star Trek under Gene Roddenberry wasn't what most people think it was, and I also feel obligated to point that out. It wouldn't be fair to history not to: We have to see where it starts to understand the transformations it undergoes in the future. Also, sadly, some of these episodes I really did find to be irredeemable.

    Although to be fair, It's only here where I start to get genuinely fed up, but that's only because the show feels like it's fed up too. I liked "The Man Trap" a lot, I praised "Balance of Terror" up and down and I also thought I was very fair to "The Naked Time" and the two pilots. Even "Mudd's Women" I tried desperately to turn into something resembling erudition. No, I didn't like "The Corbomite Maneuver", "The Enemy Within" or "Charlie X", but most people love those episodes so I feel justified in having a different opinion. And there are a handful of episodes coming up I've already written posts on that I liked quite a bit as well.

    Unfortunately, we're in seas that are stormier than I'd like at the moment. Things smooth out quite a bit under the next showrunner, during whos tenure really the most interesting stuff TOS does happens and I can guarantee I'll be unable to shut up about how much I love Trek in the late 80s and early 90s. Even the late-90s and 2000s may bring a few surprises. But this is just something we're going to have to bear with for awhile, at least until we can finally suss out everything that made Star Trek a lasting pop culture phenomenon in the first place.

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  3. Jack Graham
    June 4, 2013 @ 3:41 am

    I'm suspicious of the whole concept of redemptive readings anyway. (It isn't that I dismiss the possibility or desirability of them… just that I think the whole notion needs sceptical handling.)

    To me, simply enjoying something is redemption enough… if redemption means justifying one's enjoyment. The use value of a text is that it should be consumed with pleasure (however complex that pleasure may be). This runs into political problems, of course: the fact that I enjoy hating the Dail Mail isn't reason enough for it to exist… indeed, that perverse enjoyment of it by lefties and liberals is part of its insidious effect. Hence the need to put current and important political considerations (like combating oppression) above personal taste.

    But beyond that, any redemption either has to be based on what the text itself will allow (TBH, I'm for a quite empirical, evidentiary approach), or it has to be openly and consciously 'against the grain' of the text… which entails first noticing everything irredeemable.

    Also, a meta-text like 'Star Trek' or 'Doctor Who' (or whatever) can be meta-redeemed, i.e. redeemed in the general while being damned in the particular. For instance… the overall 'meaning' of TOS will feed into what becomes TNG. If Josh can make a convincing case for TNG, that in itself might be TNG's redemption. Just a thought.

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  4. Gavin Schofield
    June 4, 2013 @ 8:04 am

    "Andrea is one of the most memorable characters in the Original Series, as is the penis-shaped rock Kirk uses to attack Ruk."

    I'm almost certainly reading this wrong, but I don't care – the idea of a penis shaped rock being one of the most memorable characters in the Original Series is just fantastic.

    Reply

  5. Josh Marsfelder
    June 4, 2013 @ 8:13 am

    You're not reading it wrong from my perspective, at least: You're interpreting it exactly the way I wanted it to come across.

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  6. Ununnilium
    June 4, 2013 @ 8:17 am

    Well, I understand, but… I don't know, some of this just feels like an active refusal to engage with the text.

    In this case, I felt that way about its handling of the android-ized humans; it seems to me that there's a reading to be made – possibly even an intended one, who knows – where the programmability thing is the main problem, and the fact that the androids are capable of human emotions and experiences but can be forced to do things contrary to those is the dehumanizing thing. (Can you tell I've just now gotten up to the episodes with Auton Rory? But it's a common – though not common enough IMHO – point in these debates.) And the way you just kind of wave off any possibility of interesting philosophy in this episode, it just grates. Y'know? ^^;

    Reply

  7. Josh Marsfelder
    June 4, 2013 @ 8:46 am

    I'd be more willing to engage with the episode's philosophy if the show itself were interested in engaging with its own philosophy.

    To be blunt I was grasping at straws to get even this reading: The script is an absolute mess. Korby and the androids are villified from the start, Kirk and Chapel constantly protest about how scary and inhuman they are (except when Ruk gets angry and Andrea gets "confused", which the episode itself handwaves away and doesn't follow up on) and when Korby reveals he uploaded himself into an android body he goes straight from "antagonist" to "horrifying evil sci-fi monster".

    I don't think there's any moral or philosophical complexity here aside from what the script brings upon itself by being sloppy and disjointed, which makes perfect sense as it was largely considered a poor script in the first place hastily re-tooled by Roddenberry in the middle of filming. Trust me, if I felt there was more intellectual content to explore here I would have made more of an attempt to do so.

    The thing about Roddenberry at this point is that I don't think he's actually interested in ethical complexity-I think he wants Kirk to show up at a place, get in a few scrapes and teach everybody what they're doing wrong. He's interested in proselytizing, not exploring. Just look at the blunt "don't fence me in" and "absolute power corrupts absolutely" declarations of the pilots or the many flavours of the logic vs. emotions debates we've seen.

    Roddenberry's scripts to me feel like they're aiming for the philosophical depth of a Grimm's Fairy Tale, and because the show is so unambiguously sided with Kirk as the moral authority, any interesting personal identity stuff Korby raises can only be construed as "the wrong choice". But I've gone over that in every single Roddenberry script I've looked at so far-What was I going to add to that by bringing that up again here, aside from giving the impression I've run out of things to say and am just repeating myself?

    So if we have a showrunner more interested in preaching than debate, a troubled script and a stressful behind-the-scenes climate, my argument goes we wind up with something that ends up feeling broken and unsatisfying. If my critique feels the same way, then maybe it just reflects what I saw onscreen.

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  8. Cleofis
    June 5, 2013 @ 11:43 am

    Speaking of the early 90s, I'm greatly looking forward to see your take on DS9, for numerous reasons; especially given that it's the incarnation of Trek with the most passionate affection for TOS while simultaneously being about as far from TOS in every other respect as it's possible to get.

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    June 5, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    Fascinating. While not completely dissimilar to my reading, you've chosen to word your take in a most curious way 🙂

    Fear not: Covering DS9 is going to be a labour of love for me. I'm planning how I'm going to approach it already.

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  10. Jacob Nanfito
    June 6, 2013 @ 10:20 am

    Josh,

    Are you going to be looking at The Animated Series at all? I think it's probably the most "vaka rangi" version of Kirk and Co. there is.

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  11. Josh Marsfelder
    June 6, 2013 @ 10:38 am

    Absolutely: I'm picking up the Animated Series right where TOS leaves off at "Turnabout Intruder".

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  12. Jacob Nanfito
    June 6, 2013 @ 10:45 am

    Lovely. Looking forward to it. TAS seems to generally get disregarded as a piece of Trek … but I've found it to be one of the strongest incarnations and suprisingly forward-thinking in some of its stories.

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  13. Josh Marsfelder
    June 6, 2013 @ 11:04 am

    I find TAS to be particularly interesting because its "canon" status seems to vacillate back and forth: It was immediately disregarded after it aired, but then there was a renewed interest in it come the early 1990s when Starlog started to do interviews with the production team and episode recaps, following which some memorabilia based on the show started to come out. Then everyone ignored it again until 2006-7 or so when it started streaming online and now Memory Alpha considers it the canonical fourth season of TOS.

    Of course for me it's also useful as a showcase of where Trek fandom was in the early 1970s and it's especially helpful for learning about Dave Gerrold and D.C. Fontana, both contributors to TOS at various points who became major creative figures in the first season of TNG. TAS is very much their show in more ways than one.

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  14. Jacob Nanfito
    June 6, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    Well, I'll be looking forward to learning more about TAS then. I've only seen it for the first time fairly recently, thanks fo the magic of Netflix. I do remember catching it now and then on Nickelodean when I was a kid … I don't know a whole lot about Fontana, except that it's generally a good thing when her name pops up in the credits. I'm a bit more familiar with Gerrold, mainly because my buddies and I were semi-obsessed with "War Against the Chtorr" as teenagers.

    Reply

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