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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.

15 Comments

  1. dc3e7394-cdd0-11e2-a81c-000bcdcb8a73
    June 5, 2013 @ 12:13 am

    Very interesting perspective on Star Trek TOS. I agree with your suggestion that Roddenberry only sowed the seeds of a utopian ideal, it had a long way to grow, in many different directions. As you say, exploration is interwoven with imperialism from the start. Another good point you make–while his scripts came across as progressive on issues like mental health or war or racism, he never got beyond the military, and sexism. I always admired Roddenberry as originator of Trek's evolving vision, but had to revise my image of him after reading several books that focus on his relations with women – Yvonne Fern’s The Last Conversation, Nichelle Nichols’ Beyond Uhura, and especially the memoir by his secretary, Susan Sackett– Inside Trek.

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    June 5, 2013 @ 7:10 am

    Thanks for stopping by!

    It's their memoirs, along with those of people like Grace Lee Whitney, William Shatner and Herb Solow and Bob Justman that really get us the closest towards a complete picture of what actually happened during the production of the Original Series. For someone like me they're an absolutely indispensable part of the historical record, crucial for cutting through the cult of personality, studio-sanctioned propaganda and fan smear campaigns that seem to define a lot of the mainline fan discourse and I'm eternally thankful they exist.

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  3. Jack Graham
    June 5, 2013 @ 7:54 am

    "When we say something like rape culture or any other form of institutionalized sexism or misogyny is being “normalized”, we're not saying it's being glossed over and “made normal” when in truth it's not normal at all, we're saying the entire concept of “normal” is an artificial construct produced by the interaction of Western power structures that actively work to privilege some and exclude others unfairly and that this also works to disguise how unjust something like rape culture actually is." I might quibble over the word 'Western', but, on the whole, hear hear.

    BTW, are you planning to do 'tangent' posts? If so, surely there's room for one on the South Park episode 'Roger Ebert Should Lay Off The Fatty Foods'?

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  4. Josh Marsfelder
    June 5, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    I like the word "Western" because, even though it's not without its problems, I still find it to be good at bringing together various trends in Christian (at least Abrahamic), industrialized, late stage capitalist Europe and North America under the same two syllable umbrella. I'd like a better name for that particular culture, but I haven't yet found one.

    As for South Park it's probably something I should cover as something that plays into Star Trek's cultural capital, which is going to become a much larger part of the blog once the 1970s roll around (indeed I don't see how I can not cover Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory at this point, though I'll be gritting my teeth through them). Those shows are really far off from now though and I feel like it should be something I save for when it's contemporary with what I'm covering here, so I'd call that episode a Star Trek Voyager-era concern.

    I do want to do tangent posts (I've already done a few in my Sensor Scan series and there are some more lined up in the gap between the first and second seasons) but I don't want to quite do "Time Can be Rewritten" type stuff the way Phil did on TARDIS Eruditorum: I have my own way of dealing with franchise temporal mechanics that I'm slowly rolling into the blog's structure. I also have a special category for posts on fan lore and errata, but I'll start doing those once Star Trek fandom becomes a noticeable thing.

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  5. Jack Graham
    June 5, 2013 @ 10:47 am

    I must confess to profound ignorance concerning Family Guy and The Big Bang Theory.

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  6. Josh Marsfelder
    June 5, 2013 @ 11:38 am

    It's nothing you should be ashamed to be ignorant of, to be perfectly honest with you. Both shows are pretty much terrible. The reason I bring them up is because Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane is an extremely high profile Star Trek fan and has brought the entire TNG cast to guest star on his show a number of times. There is a similar situation on The Big Bang Theory with Wil Wheaton, LeVar Burton, Leonard Nimoy and Kaley Cuoco.

    Although to be honest these aren't even Star Trek Voyager concerns: They're probably closer to J.J. Abrams movie era-concerns.

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  7. Cleofis
    June 5, 2013 @ 11:52 am

    "I like the word "Western" because, even though it's not without its problems, I still find it to be good at bringing together various trends in Christian (at least Abrahamic), industrialized, late stage capitalist Europe and North America under the same two syllable umbrella. I'd like a better name for that particular culture, but I haven't yet found one."

    Come to that, we should probably also coin a term other than "Christian" for the belief system of said culture, because words like "hollow" and "bastardized" do not begin to describe what the industrial capitalist West has done to my particular faith of choice, but that's another can of worms entirely 😛

    That aside, I eagerly look forward to both the pre-season 2 posts and your thoughts on season 2 itself, which is undoubtedly where TOS peaked.

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  8. Cleofis
    June 5, 2013 @ 11:53 am

    @Jack: I'll second Josh, btw; you are a far, far happier man in your ignorance than the rest of us. Also, big fan of your own blog, by the way; that Ghost Light post was a masterpiece 🙂

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    June 5, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

    One thing I would like to politely remind people, or point out to those who don't know, is that my background is not media studies or political science: It's social studies of knowledge and cultural anthropology. When I use words like "Western" and "Christian" it's not meant necessarily as a value judgement, but a way to describe how what we currently know as modernist, late-stage capitalist culture in North America or Great Britain can in fact trace elements of its lineage back to Christian philosophy. I think it would be something of a fallacy to ignore the influence Christianity has had on much of the western hemisphere.

    That different variations of the Christian faith exist is meant as a given, and the social justice implications of how these beliefs are interpreted and acted on is a related, though separate issue.

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  10. Cleofis
    June 5, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

    Ah, gotcha, my mistake. Alas I'm not yet quite as educated in terms of actual book learnin' on such matters yet, though I hope to be eventually.

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  11. Jack Graham
    June 6, 2013 @ 1:40 am

    Thanks Cleofis – much appreciated.

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  12. Ununnilium
    June 6, 2013 @ 5:40 am

    Now this, this was a good essay!

    Also, I note this was one time where TOS seems engaged with an issue better than Doctor Who; the equivalent story there, "The Mind of Evil", doesn't offer critiques of normalization at all (or so I hear, not having seen it yet).

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  13. Ununnilium
    June 6, 2013 @ 5:48 am

    See, my quibble would be presuming that Western society is the only one that does normalization, in the sense you're speaking of. It's a pretty universal thing throughout history, in any culture culture-ish enough to have a mainstream.

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  14. Josh Marsfelder
    June 6, 2013 @ 6:38 am

    It's true the "normal" is a fairly universal social construct, but what it actually means will differ from culture to culture, and here I'm specifically referring to what's considered normal in Western societies.

    Also, the concept of the "liminal" is a fairly changeable thing. There are some societies where people on the margins are considered special and deserving of respect, sometimes endowed with unique spiritual abilities and roles to play. Those on the margins are not always considered outliers as they are in Scientistic Western society.

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  15. Josh Marsfelder
    June 6, 2013 @ 6:41 am

    I told you I wasn't going to be all hate all the time here 🙂

    That was actually my very first thought upon seeing "Dagger of the Mind": "Wow, this is 'The Mind of Evil' the way it should have been done."

    Reply

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