Eruditorum Press

This machine mildly irritates fascists

Skip to content

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.

21 Comments

  1. Jack Graham
    June 16, 2013 @ 11:26 pm

    "That our physical existence is somehow a hindrance to enlightenment would seem to smack of Cartesian Dualism, which is descended from a very classical, traditional kind of Christian intellectual tradition that has gone out of vogue even in contemporary Western philosophy." Yeeees… except that Descartes was also a decisive break with older traditions of philosophy and introduced the decidedly modern bases of reductionism and determinism into philosophy, fitting with the rise of modernity and the attendant rise of empirical science, etc. Reductionism and determinism are still very much in vogue in science, as elsewhere, sadly. Descartes represents a convenient point at which to locate a decisive break with the pre-modern tradition of Aristotelian idealist dialectics (which were themselves something of an unfortunate victory over the more material dialectics of Democritus et al). It would take Marx to reintroduce the material dialectic into Western philosophy.

    Reply

  2. Alex Wilcock
    June 17, 2013 @ 2:54 am

    I find myself agreeing with almost every word this time! I’ve always been drawn to stories that had hints of other, bigger histories that you could never see (I probably got that from Bob Holmes and JRR Tolkien), so this one stuck in my head as peculiarly fascinating as a boy – and everyone could do an impression of Captain Pike in the chair. Framed as The Menagerie, I wanted to see more of it… Now you can actually see The Cage, I want to see less of it (a movie! Christ on a bike! Though I suppose Rodenberry got his wish to make the most ponderous and boring Star Trek remake movie imaginable in the end). I think I’m right in that as well as ret-conning the story as you say, it also removes a little of the more egregious drooling sexist scenes (saying ‘they’re voyeurs and icky’ doesn’t really excuse them being icky voyeurs), but it still keeps what for me seems the most jaw-dropping line in the whole of Star Trek, for Jeffrey Hunter playing it absolutely straight and, indeed disgusted: the ‘moral’ that ugly women should stay tranked to the eyeballs and never go outside – “And I agreed with her reasons.”

    As I didn’t comment on The Cage, it seems appropriate to goggle at its toned-down version. I said under Court Martial that even when I was little, Star Trek was so sexist I just wrote that off, but I can remember seeing the unadulterated Cage for the first time, probably when I was at uni, and this one being so bad that my jaw just dropped. And at intro from Gene Rodenberry claiming that he invented feminism too, I think, if I wasn’t hallucinating.

    To be fair to the framing device, as you say it does end up being a critique that’s in its own way an early redemptive reading – The Cage looking so 1950s suddenly becomes a “13 years ago” asset that it never is on its own – but I find it much more watchable this way. It’s when the second episode’s so much more nearly pure Cage that I tend to lose interest. Even the contrivances are more entertaining: Spock’s terrific, which is always fun to watch, and I do enjoy the twist of getting Pike into the trial. Also that the Enterprise holds so many senior officers’ uniforms in its dressing-up box, in case there’s a war they’re losing and Kirk and Spock get promoted to field Commodore so they can have a Carry On Up the Khyber final formal meal as the ship caves in around them (actually, I want to watch that instead). Which reminds me that Kirk is surely the last character who’d interrupt the sexist, “animal” dancing girl clips – Shagger Kirk not caring about the naked green lady being as improbably as Kenneth Williams complaining ‘It’s always at the best bit!’ where the picture goes.

    Excellent meta-reason for the planet being the only one to carry the death penalty. Makes much more sense than ‘Planet of the Lotus-Eaters, death; planet that could wipe the entire Federation from ever having existed, meh,’ as later context would suggest.

    Reply

  3. trekker709
    June 17, 2013 @ 4:09 am

    I like your take on the most curious point–if the Talosians had no further interest in humans, why did Starfleet still consider them dangerous enough to justify the death penalty for visiting their planet? why was that added in the reframed script?
    You suggest that in Menagerie, Starfleet dropped charges against the Enterprise crew because “their actions were judged to be in keeping with the spirit of exploration” thus redeeming the show from the pilot episode….interesting.
    Another view– when The Cage was criticized for being too cerebral, The Menagerie responded by condemning the Talosians for retreating into private fantasy worlds instead of dealing with reality. And–Spock is revealed to have a compassionate side under his cold Vulcan detachment– risking everything to give new life to his former commander trapped in a cage of physical disability.

    It makes sense to me now, that ST was not about utopia in the beginning. Also I agree about GR’s quotes, he seemed to take credit in later interviews for others’ contributions to the show.

    Reply

  4. Ununnilium
    June 17, 2013 @ 6:06 am

    Although not the first time the original pilot had been seen outside NBC (Roddenberry aired both it and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” at the Cleveland, Ohio World Science Fiction Convention in early 1966)

    Considering how much Star Trek is now associated with science fiction conventions, it's a major perspective-adjuster to see that you could do such a canny media move back then.

    Reply

  5. Josh Marsfelder
    June 17, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    I think it's very revealing that the trend to fixate on reductionism, empiricism and rationality as well as the tacitly Christian dualistic conception of the self can in some sense be traced back to the same person, or at least the same intellectual tradition. Westernism, especially western science, isn't quite as detached and aloof as it likes to think it is.

    Now I want to go re-read Avital Ronell's The Test Drive

    Reply

  6. Josh Marsfelder
    June 17, 2013 @ 7:30 am

    "As I didn’t comment on The Cage, it seems appropriate to goggle at its toned-down version. I said under Court Martial that even when I was little, Star Trek was so sexist I just wrote that off, but I can remember seeing the unadulterated Cage for the first time, probably when I was at uni, and this one being so bad that my jaw just dropped. And at intro from Gene Rodenberry claiming that he invented feminism too, I think, if I wasn’t hallucinating."

    Yeah, that sounds like something Roddenberry would do alright.

    "Also that the Enterprise holds so many senior officers’ uniforms in its dressing-up box, in case there’s a war they’re losing and Kirk and Spock get promoted to field Commodore so they can have a Carry On Up the Khyber final formal meal as the ship caves in around them (actually, I want to watch that instead)."

    Careful, you'll give Ron Moore and Ira Behr ideas 😉

    Reply

  7. Josh Marsfelder
    June 17, 2013 @ 7:33 am

    "You suggest that in Menagerie, Starfleet dropped charges against the Enterprise crew because “their actions were judged to be in keeping with the spirit of exploration” thus redeeming the show from the pilot episode….interesting."

    Uhura actually says as much in the show itself: After the court finishes watching "The Cage" she calls in to say Starfleet Command has been watching the whole thing and are making a special exception to General Order 7 in this case due to the value Spock's actions had for "exploration". While it doesn't go much further than that, it's fun to extrapolate that out to a redemptive reading.

    Reply

  8. Josh Marsfelder
    June 17, 2013 @ 7:34 am

    It was a surprise to me too. Even back then Roddenberry was very good at selling himself and targeting his fans.

    Reply

  9. trekker709
    June 19, 2013 @ 12:34 am

    If you’ll forgive one further comment on this –wonder if the word Talos had a particular significance? many inconsistent stories about this figure in Greek mythology. In one version he (or it – a living statue) was destroyed by being driven mad with hallucinations. Maybe the Talosians are imagination itself (?) portrayed as unisex, and morally ambivalent– abilities used for both harm and good. The cage metaphor can be the human body, or a schoolroom with the Talosians as sinister teachers, or marriage where each partner feels imprisoned by the other, or a career where one is trapped with manipulative superiors, etc. As you say, the episode is one of “the single most iconic stories in the original series.”
    There are some interesting asides on startrekhistory’s “The Cage Page” – Susan Oliver became a record-setting pilot who wrote a book about flying solo around the globe. Jeffrey Hunter is quoted as saying “the show is actually based on the Rand Corporation’s projection of things to come….the underlying theme is a philosophical approach to man’s relationship to woman.” In some ways I can see why he’d say that, about GR’s work at least.

    Reply

  10. Josh Marsfelder
    June 19, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    No, by all means, comment away! Since I get an email notification whenever a new comment gets posted, I frequently dialog with people on older entries. Time is not linear within this domain, you see.

    I think that's a really great reading of the Talosians, and definitely supportable. That's what's so great about episodes like this, I feel: They're oversignified enough that the material is really there for you to take it any number of fun ways.

    In regards to the actors: Yeah, I can totally see Hunter coming away with that take given what working with Roddenberry at this point must have been like. As for Susan Oliver, well, that just makes me even more confidant in my belief actors are frequently far more interesting people than the characters they play.

    Reply

  11. BerserkRL
    June 20, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    The phrase "Aubrey-Maturin pomposity" is a bit like saying "Spock-McCoy stoicism," or "Scully-Mulder skepticism," or "Quark-Odo avarice."

    Reply

  12. BerserkRL
    June 20, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

    Reductionism and determinism are still very much in vogue in science, as elsewhere, sadly.

    Aristotelian idealist dialectics … which were themselves something of an unfortunate victory over the more material dialectics of Democritus

    This is an odd conjunction of judgments. If (as I agree) reductionism and determinism are bad things, why would their defeat by the more holistic Aristotelean view be a bad thing?

    I'm also not sure what you mean by calling Aristotle's position "idealist."

    Reply

  13. BerserkRL
    June 20, 2013 @ 1:38 pm

    I've always been surprised that Spock grinning wasn't one of the things they cut.

    Reply

  14. BerserkRL
    June 20, 2013 @ 1:41 pm

    In my own post on "The Cage" I write: "In Greek mythology, Talos was a giant mechanical man that Zeus gave to Europa for her protection after he had abducted her – so, not a bad symbol for a life of security in captivity."

    Reply

  15. Josh Marsfelder
    June 20, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

    I agree: That and the cringe-inducing "The Women!" line, which I actually though for some reason they had cut.

    Reply

  16. Josh Marsfelder
    June 20, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    I agree, but I had to come up with some way to encompass that style in once phrase on the one hand while acknowledging all the contributions…Maybe I should have gone with Hornblower instead on that one.

    Reply

  17. BerserkRL
    June 20, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    I always assumed Spock was referring to the Clare Boothe Luce play. He'd been trying to remember the title for days.

    Reply

  18. BerserkRL
    June 20, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

    My comment seems to have vanished into the ether, so I hereby reconstruct it.

    The following conjunction of judgments puzzled me:

    Reductionism and determinism are still very much in vogue in science, as elsewhere, sadly.

    Aristotelian idealist dialectics (which were themselves something of an unfortunate victory over the more material dialectics of Democritus

    If reductionism and determinism are bad, as the first quote implies, why would their displacement by the more holistic Aristotelean view be a bad thing, as the second quote implies?

    Also, in what sense is Aristotle "idealist"?

    Reply

  19. Josh Marsfelder
    June 20, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

    That is hereby part of my official headcanon.

    Reply

  20. BerserkRL
    June 20, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

    I also want to quarrel a bit with this:

    Descartes was also a decisive break with older traditions of philosophy

    I think Descartes's actual views were much more continuous with Thomistic Aristoteleanism than the the textbook-cartoon of Descartes. See for example Paul Hoffman's work.

    Also:

    It would take Marx to reintroduce the material dialectic into Western philosophy.

    I'm not sure how much Marx added that wasn't already part of late 18th and early 19th century French sociological thought.

    Reply

  21. BerserkRL
    June 20, 2013 @ 2:28 pm

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.