The Pex Lives boys have done a supplemental podcast about the Star Trek movies. Got me thinking about why I like Star Trek IV so much. I decided to try writing something about it, since anything that even vaguely twitches my interest is worth grabbing hold of at the moment, what with my blogging mojo being critically ill and lying, sobbing and wailing, in a deep dark pit.
I don’t like the movie because it’s ‘tongue-in-cheek’ or because I have any sort of ideological attachment to the idea that SF in general (or Trek in particular) should be ‘self-aware’ or anything like that. I like it because it is, essentially, a movie about a bunch of old relics from the 60s wandering around Regan’s America and disapproving of it heartily.
This is not a deep movie. It isn’t hard to parse. No great leaps of interpretation are needed. Just look at what happens.
In order to survive in 80s San Franciso, Kirk must sell his beloved spectacles, a gift from Bones. He, a man who – as we learn from this film – comes from a culture without money, must commodify something precious to him.
In order to achieve their aims, Bones and Scotty must – essentially – bribe a sexist business manager with promises of the untold wealth which will come from a new commodity. Commodification again.
In the course of acquiring some radiation (or something) Chekhov gets arrested by the US Navy, gets interrogated, called a “retard” and a “Russkie” by paranoid officers, and is chased to the point where he sustains a life-threatening injury.
In the course of rescuing him, Bones encounters an elderly woman, in need of dialysis, waiting unattended and forgotten on a gurney in a hospital corridor.
Kirk and Spock encounter a representative of a moribund counter-culture where the best the ‘rebellious youth’ can offer is loud anti-social music which screeches that “we’re all bloody worthless”. (This is, admittedly, rather unfair on Punk. The depiction is, at best, a clueless and curmudgeonly parody… but then, by this point in the 80s, the real remnants of Punk were, at best, commercialised and decontextualised parodies of the Punk movement.)
Kirk and Spock must team up with a right-on scientist who seems to be the only person who gives a shit about the whales. Just as the animals are likely to be slaughtered for commercial reasons once they are sent back into the wild, so the reasons for their being so sent are implicitly commercial: they’re not enough of a draw to make them economically viable for the cash-strapped institute.
As if all this weren’t enough, how does Kirk justify Spock’s eccentric behaviour? He places him in the context of the 60s.
Diegetically, Kirk et al are from ‘the future’… but, in this film, the future = America’s past. Specifically, the crew are played as displaced representatives of the culture from which they extra-diegetically come: the 60s. They are remnants of utopian Kennedyish 60s liberalism. Now, however much wrong there may have been with utopian Kennedyish 60s liberalism (and there was a fuck-ton wrong with it), it was mostly preferable to Reaganism, and – more importantly – certainly entailed popular ideas that were far in advance not only of Reaganism but also of its own actual practice. …