Vaka Rangi: One Year Anniversary
Like any good student of synchromysticism, I’m well aware of the importance of dates, in particular anniversaries. Especially when they’re mine.
It was, in a sense, inevitable that I would one day have to do a lengthy project about Star Trek. No large-scale media franchise, or indeed possibly no work of fiction, has consistently meant as much to me or been as much of a source of inspiration (and frustration) over the course of my life as Star Trek. I would have had to address my personal history and issues with Star Trek in some fashion at some point, and that was before my Internet writer colleagues pushed me to work them out through a large-scale serialized blog project.
So, first and foremost, Vaka Rangi has always been more about me than it has been about Star Trek. You may have noticed. Sorry about that. But, as someone trained to notice, analyse and compare positionalities, and also simply knowing it would be pointless to do *yet another* “Let’s watch every episode of Star Trek in order and write about it” thing, I also figured my perspective might allow me to say some things that might not get said in mainline cult sci-fi discourse. But this also means this is a particularly personal project for me, as it’s my reaction to Star Trek that informs not just the kind of critical perspective I offer, but that kind of person I am. I never wanted this to be a straightforward critical history, even a subversive one, and the project was never going to let me make it into one.
Growing up cut off from the kind of pop culture discourse that seems to have morphed into Nerd Culture, I guess I assumed the things I saw in Star Trek were what everyone liked about Star Trek, but it very quickly became evident that I was wrong, and any evidence I found to the contrary seems to have been deliberate misrepresentations in marketing buzzspeak. As a result, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I was going to structure this project to get this across, and I eventually settled on the idea of comparing Star Trek’s idealism (at least the way I saw it) to the philosophy of the ancient Polynesian navigators for various reasons. Obviously, as a cultural anthropologist I’ve read about and studied them a lot, as Polynesia is one of anthropology’s favourite classic case studies and Hawai’i in particular has a very deep and spiritual connection to the night sky. But it’s also a region I feel connected to myself in a very deep and personal way I can’t exactly articulate (there are a few places around the world that are like this for me, but Polynesia was the first one I consciously noticed my connection to). More specifically, I genuinely do see and try to find a kinship in the way the navigators conceived of growing, learning, travelling and the concept of a global community and what I think Star Trek really ought to stand for. This project is for them as much as it is for me and you, if not actually more so.
The result is a reading, and really, a comprehensive reconceptualization, of Star Trek very much informed by the invisible, heretical, voiceless side of fandom, indigenous spirituality and comparative mythology, philosophies that are in many ways mine as well. This also means people like Gene Roddenberry and Nicholas Meyer are a constant analytical headache for me and I worry every single day about making a mistake and lapsing into cultural appropriation.
2013 seemed like the year that, if I was ever going to do something like this, would be the year to finally do it, with mainstream interest in Star Trek looming for the first time in years with the release of Star Trek Into Darkness. Not being entirely blinkered, I recognised an opportunity when I saw it and timed the launch of Vaka Rangi to coincide with the film’s release. Of course the movie itself wound up bombing (or bombing as much as any hyper-blockbuster of that stature is allowed to these days), but this blog is still around a year later and still apparently manages to draw an audience, which I guess is a good thing. I remember being overwhelmed at the start of this project thinking “Oh My God: If I actually *am* still around a year from now, how far will I actually have managed to get?”. As it turns out, as I wrap up the final essay for Volume 2 as I write this, I’m about as far as I thought I was going to be, if not a little farther.
So, exactly one year after I set off on this journey, I wanted to take the time to reflect on what this project is and what it means to me and to thank everyone who decided to join me along the way. I’m especially grateful to the people who have gone out of their way to tell me how important this project has been to them: I never stop being moved to hear something I’ve written has resonated with somebody else, especially when I’m writing something as overtly personal and reflexive as Vaka Rangi has turned out to be.
You might also be interested in hearing a bit about where this project goes next. It’s no secret that we’re on the cusp of beginning the Star Trek: The Next Generation era and, all I can say to that is if you’ve been upset by how personal I’ve gotten so far…It’s about to get a lot more personal, so, be forewarned. While I don’t actively dislike the Original Series (except the parts that are misogynistic and reactionary, natch), it’s not a show or a set of characters I have any particular affinity for, which I know is yet another thing that makes me a bit of an oddball in Trekker circles and why parts of the past year have felt more clinical than introspective. This next period, however, is something I actively and unapologetically love, or rather, I love the setting, characters, ideas and the memories and images it’s left me with, and I’m really hoping to be able to convey this in the posts going forward. This also means that while I’m not going to stop being critical, I am going to loosely shift from the perspective of the offense to that of the defense, at least for a while. I mean yes, “Code of Honor” is every bit as bad as you think it is.
Aside from seeing a *lot* more of me cropping up in the blog, I’m also going to be changing the structure around a bit. Flatly, we’re entering a period of Star Trek history that’s incredibly long and incredibly monolithic: With three series of seven, 30-episode seasons *each*, plus one with four, there’s an incredible glut of material to get through the likes of which I’ve never had to deal with before, and it also happens to coincide, at least partially, with an era of Star Trek history I know almost instinctively. This means there will be several occasions where, instead of doing one post per episode, I’ll take three or four stories centred around what I find to be a unifying theme and look at them all together. I won’t do this all the time, but I think it will help clarify the points I’m trying to make and further emphasize my positionality, the way I was exposed to these works and how I read them. And also, you know, believe it or not, I don’t actually want to be doing this for the rest of my life.
Also, since I mentioned volumes earlier, I thought it might be fun to actually post a (highly truncated) version of my outline here. It’s sort of an open secret that the ultimate goal for this project is a multivolume book set, and I’ve been planning and structuring this project with that in mind from the beginning. I’m not going to tell you *everything* I’m going to cover, of course, that would spoil the surprise, and I’ve got a *lot* of surprises planned. But, this should help anyone who might be trying to mentally work out the different categories and divisions I split Star Trek into and the different underlining themes and motifs I see in each era (and indeed, what the eras I see actually *are*):
Volume 1: Star Trek, Star Trek: The Animated Series and Raumpatrouille Orion (contains the posts from Foundation to “The Counter-Clock Incident”, plus bonus exclusive coverage of the entirety of Raumpatrouille Orion, among others).
Volume 2: Star Trek Phase II, The Lost Years and Star Trek in Pictures (contains the posts from Star Trek: Year Four, Issue Number 1 to Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, plus bonus exclusive coverage of Star Trek Continues, among others). Also includes the movies Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Volume 3: To Be Announced, To Be Announced and Star Trek: The Next Generation, Seasons 1-3. Also includes the movies Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Covers the period roughly from Spring 1980 to Summer 1990.
Volume 4: To Be Announced, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Seasons 4-7 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Seasons 1 and 2). Also includes the movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Covers the period roughly from Summer 1990 to Summer 1994.
Volume 5: Star Trek Voyager and the Dominion War (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Seasons 3-7). Also includes the movies Star Trek Generations, Star Trek First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. Covers the period roughly from Winter 1994 to Summer 2001.
Volume 6: Enterprise and other material to be determined, though likely including the movies Star Trek Nemesis, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness.
May 14, 2014 @ 3:11 am
Great work so far. Really looking forward to what lies ahead.
While I'm looking forward to pretty much all of it (secret projects!), I suspect that Volume 5 will be particularly interesting, as it's the point where Star Trek begins to slide out of the mainstream and into cult status again. And you have this wonderful dichotomy of the audience getting smaller so that it becomes an echo chamber where empassioned fans tend to either LOVE (Dominion War) or HATE (Voyager) to a degree that becomes almost deafening. The audience gets smaller and the reaction gets more extreme, as the franchise sort of spiral downwards and inwards, approaching vanishing point. Very looking forward to your take on it.
Congratulations on a year up and running. I suspect that this will be the big year for it.
May 14, 2014 @ 6:19 am
Congratulations! After today's post on The Wrath of Khan I'm definitely looking forward to your views on the other movies. Your blog has been something of a corrective for mainstream attitudes I hadn't significantly rethought, especially the canonization of Gene Roddenberry. (I mainlined Star Trek as a child throughout the 1990's (until Voyager drove me off–I'm in the HATE camp Darren mentioned above), and so absorbed a lot of fandom views before developing much of a critical faculty.)
May 14, 2014 @ 7:17 am
Congratulations Josh. It's been a great year of posts. Fascinating, clever, entertaining, educational and inventive. I'm hooked. Roll on the rest of it.
May 14, 2014 @ 11:43 am
Congrats! I've been following this blog religiously from the start — can't believe it's already been a year. I, too, am a child of the TNG era and for most of my life I strongly considered myself a TNG fan, rather than a Trek fan. However, thanks to Netflix I've made my way through the entirety of TOS, TAS, DS9, and VOY over the last 3 years (most of which I'd seen nothing of before) and am now an out and proud Trekkie. I even really enjoyed Voyager (make of that what you will). This project has been a great companion over the last year, and has really given me cause to reconsider Star Trek and the cultural conception of it. Your writing has also been a great inspiration to me and I hope to one day write with as much wit, insight, cleverness, and conviction. I see you don't want to work on this for the rest of your life, but I hope we at least get a 5 year mission. 🙂
May 14, 2014 @ 4:41 pm
Thanks very much for the comments and well-wishes, everyone. It's always heartening to hear my work has meant something to people. It's important for me to finally have a podium to work out all my weird thoughts on Star Trek, and that this seems to actually resonate with so many people makes it all the better.
May 15, 2014 @ 1:12 am
And thanks – on your recommendation I bought myself the Raumpatrouille Orion box set, despite having about asuch ( Ja !!!) German abilities ( Nein !!!") as certain gene spliced laboratory mice I could mention, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I look forward to owning your books when they come out.
I didn't realise Into Darkness had bombed though. Not that I'm surprised – remaking the previous film then welding in bits of an earlier, much loved, entry in the series, was a recipe for audience indifference generation.
I agree with your decision to try to cover the upcoming stuff thematically in lumps too. This project should be a pleasure, not a chore after all.
So, are you going to touch on the DC comics series by Mike W Barr, Tom Sutton et al ? I'd understand if not – probably tricky to assemble a full set these days I'd think, but there are some interesting precursors to the future, not least one of THEM !!! in the crew.
Keep up the fantastic work, Josh.
May 15, 2014 @ 7:51 am
Absolutely: I already covered "The Final Voyage" between Star Trek: Year Four and Star Trek Phase II and "The Wormhole Connection" is tomorrow's post. I might elabourate more on the first volume of the DC TOS series when I revise this series of posts for the book version: Volume 2 is running pretty thin compared to the other VR books at the moment.
You may have noticed, comics are a big part of this project as they're a major aspect of my history with Star Trek. They were pretty much my only expanded universe works aside from the stories I made up in my head, so they're quite precious to me and will play a much larger role in Volumes 3 and 4.
(That's also why I've tended to shy away from the spin-off novels here, aside from the fact there are other bloggers who can do them far better than me. Though certainly the Pocket Books line is going to be worthy of several mentions eventually.)
And, in case anyone's interested, there's a great CD put out by GitCorp that collects scans of every single Star Trek comic book from the pre-IDW days: That's everything from 1967 to like 2003 or so, including quite a few absolute classics that we need to cover, all for under 20 USD. There's a link in the Amazon store if that sounds interesting. I know it's been a tremendous help to me and I at least highly recommend it.
May 16, 2014 @ 5:54 am
I learned about your project from Phil Sandifer's great blog and read it as much as I could. I've caught up to the journey and look forward to much, much more!
The main thing I appreciate about your project is that you're looking at Star Trek with a critical eye and you're not afraid to say so. I grew up with Star Trek— one of the first movie memories I have is about STII, and I will leave that comment there. I remember watching TOS on my local channel, KAME in Reno and on the Cable Superstation KXTL from Sacramento channel, TWICE a week before we got a VCR, and then I'd watch it, The Outer Limits, and The Twilight Zone once a day. I followed the movies and TNG and followed until the end of Voyager, which totally turned me off to Star Trek and got me interested in Doctor Who….
I didn't realize how BAD and reprehensible some of TOS was. I only started to when the Sci–Fi Channel showed the uncut episodes and I saw them again with a new eye. WOW. Awful in SO many ways. It would do that many Star Trek fans review TOS and the movies with a critical eye since there's so much there to see and wonder about.
Still, Star Trek is what got me into both reading and watching science fiction, as I’d suspect many people of my age and younger. I have much to thank it for and I have a very soft spot in my heart for it, despite it all. I look forward to the continuing journey across the stars and I hope I can start really commenting more since TNG is when I really started watching Star Trek.
Thank you for this and cheers and slack!
May 16, 2014 @ 8:52 am
Thanks for stopping by and saying so!
I think there's a veneer about TOS that makes it far too often appear to be beyond reproach. So much of it is so iconic and the aesthetics of the show have been so influential and ubiquitous the material reality of the actual TV series that ran from 1964-1969 has been effaced. Part of my goal for the TOS section was to bring that back.
Star Trek is what got me interested in science fiction and speculative fiction as well. As a matter of fact, it in many ways remains unique: There's no other genre work that approaches the impact and stature Star Trek has in my mind. I appreciate Doctor Who, but I wouldn't call myself a serious fan (more on that later), you already know Star Wars does nothing for me and while Close Encounters of the Third Kind is probably one of my favourite movies, it's for very different and personal reasons. There are a few other works I'm going to be talking about in the next two or three volumes that are exceptions, but, by in large Star Trek is sort of it for me.
Star Trek Voyager seems to be the breaking point for a lot of people, which I find interesting, as it in many ways runs contrary to my memories of the show when it was on the air. There's two different narratives I've observed in regards to that show, and that's naturally going to be a theme we'll have to address later on.
Pen Name Pending
May 18, 2014 @ 11:00 am
Congrats! I'm very much looking forward to what you have to say about TNG, since it's really the only Trek series I've seen extensively. Trek has never been a big part of my life, but I was always curious about its cultural impact and your points nicely contrast with the fan lore I've heard, and since I'm not all that invested with it personally, I don't mind the criticism and find it very interesting. I'd never seen TOS and frankly I'm not sure I need to catch up with it after reading this…but I also know next to nothing about Voyager and DS9, so I can't wait to read that too. Also when the first book comes out, I know a Trekker who I will recommend it to!
May 18, 2014 @ 3:48 pm
I'm glad to here you say that, because I think your experience is a common one. That actually reassures me my take on the TNG era does indeed have some historical merit and it isn't just me: I do see it as the commercial and aesthetic peak of the franchise in a sense.
If you like TNG, you might like the first two seasons of DS9 too, as IMO they're very much the same sort of thing, in a good way-They build on TNG's core themes and take them to the next level. Just stay the hell away from the rest of the series.
But, all shall be covered in time!
June 19, 2014 @ 7:02 pm
Late congrats but well done Josh! I am loving taking the journey with you and completely hooked on seeing where you go with this. I am here for the duration. I guess for me I would say that Doctor Who, Star Wars and Star Trek have been there equally for me, each with things to adore and each with things to laugh at. Great work – keep it up!
June 20, 2014 @ 5:21 pm
Thanks for the well-wishes! Glad to hear you're sticking around, I always enjoy hearing from you!
Star Trek, Star Wars and Doctor Who, huh? Well, we've got two of those squared away already. Guess it's time to go three-for-three 😉
June 20, 2014 @ 8:42 pm
Cheers Josh and well done again! Glad you like my contributions. Look forwards to what's coming… 😉 And synchromysticism, love it.