Eruditorum Press

Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

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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.

8 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    August 3, 2013 @ 10:34 am

    This episode (and I was never a big fan of it myself, not having seen it for at least 10 years) I find interesting after your essay because of the blunt way they collide Greek myth figures into Star Trek. The stories of Apollo, Heracles, and the gods were once the popular myths that defined a culture. It's almost as if "Adonais" aims for the ambition of saying that Star Trek is now supplanting these Greek stories as the founding myths of culture. Maybe that's why it gets held up so highly among Star Trek fans: it's a story where this ropey sci-fi show that just barely got a second season makes this ridiculously ambitious grab for mythic cultural relevance. Like the episode is daring our culture to put Star Trek where it once put the gods. And being able to speak in 2013, that's just about what culture did.

    While this certainly doesn't excuse Apollo's rape of Carolyn, it does make that moment make sense. If "Adonais" is intended to replay the basic beats of Greek mythological stories in order to supplant the gods with the Enterprise, then its goal is to get the major beats out. It goes through the significant beats of all the stereotypical Greek myths: a god appears among mortals and demands obedience and worship, the mortals rebel, the god violently rapes a woman who is sympathetic to him. In the traditional Greek myth, the mortal rebels are punished, but in Star Trek, the mortals win, and literally convince the old god to die at their hands.

    It excuses nothing of the actual moral and ethical horror of treating Carolyn's god-rape so glibly. As contemporary consumers, that trivializing attitude to rape is a total dealbreaker. But again, it fits the idea that the Greek mythos is being replayed, chewed up, and spit out. Carolyn, the character in the story, becomes a functionary role in the Greek myth: the victim of a god's rape. The story of "Adonais" is Star Trek defeating the Greek mythos with sci-fi technical ingenuity (the rules of sci-fi mythos beat the rules of Greek mythos), Kirk's inversion of the Apollonian system, and reducing the epic godly rape to a cheap joke.

    The joke is repulsive. But it fits their destruction of the Greek mythos. But it's also still repulsive.

    Reply

  2. Josh Marsfelder
    August 3, 2013 @ 11:57 am

    I'll tell you when I was writing this I was most certainly not thinking about Star Trek as a shared cultural myth: I was far too incensed and frustrated, and it dragged this post in a different direction. But yes, this is the self-evidently correct way to do a redemptive reading of this episode, and I'm really glad you spoke up, Adam.

    "…it's a story where this ropey sci-fi show that just barely got a second season makes this ridiculously ambitious grab for mythic cultural relevance. Like the episode is daring our culture to put Star Trek where it once put the gods. And being able to speak in 2013, that's just about what culture did."

    And here's the not-so-secret plan: This is exactly where I intend for this blog to end up.

    Reply

  3. Adam Riggio
    August 3, 2013 @ 3:20 pm

    "This is exactly where I intend for this blog to end up." Way to spoil it for me, Josh.

    Seriously, though. If you want to turn all your ethical senses off (and I only can with my sometimes unhealthy level of social and personal irony), even McCoy's horrifying joke about the Enterprise sickbay not having the resources to deliver a god (this god being Carolyn's child-by-rape) fits the thematic assault on Olympus. In the Greek myths, women who bear the children of gods meet some symbolically appropriate punishment/twisted immortality, and the child becomes a mythic demigod figure himself. But instead of getting Heracles, we get a cheap (and contextually sick) joke. Even this trope of Greek myth is made light of and trivialized. And McCoy's line even finishes the last task of rejecting the Greek cultural pantheon of gods. The Enterprise doesn't have the tools to deliver a god — literally, the Enterprise is no place for gods. This is a place for the myths of men.

    Unfortunately for the show at the moment, that's true in the misogynistic sense as well as the humanistic.

    Reply

  4. Adam Riggio
    August 3, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

    I'm also rather intrigued by your chronology moving in production order rather than original transmitted order. I'm guessing that's because your analyses focus more on the production itself, the mind-sets of the creative figures in the program, than its cultural role at this point. I can't help but contrast Vaka Rangi with TARDIS Eruditorum, simply because we're all internet friends, and Vaka Rangi does exist in part from Phil bugging you to do it.

    Because Doctor Who was an immensely popular part of British culture from the start, while Star Trek only became a cultural force after TOS was cancelled, through its underground/convention culture. It was a noteworthy show, simply because it stood out from other television in America at the time, even other sci-fi shows. But at this stage, it might really be the production that counts more than the public impact, because it isn't all that clear if Star Trek had any real public cultural impact at the time of its original broadcast anyway.

    This also means that Amok Time is Monday's post, and I can't wait to see what you'll do with that.

    Reply

  5. Josh Marsfelder
    August 4, 2013 @ 6:10 am

    "Way to spoil it for me, Josh."

    Oh, psh: You think that's spoiled the rest of Vaka Rangi? That's not even a teaser trailer for where I'm heading. That's no more a big hint to the blog's emerging framework than the introductory post in May was.

    This site is going to keep getting profoundly weirder, you can count on that 🙂

    Reply

  6. Josh Marsfelder
    August 4, 2013 @ 6:22 am

    Yes, you've pretty much nailed my reasons for going in (rough) production order. It simply doesn't make sense in my view to focus on Star Trek as a cultural phenomenon yet as basically the only people watching the show in the 1960s were Bjo Trimble and her group of friends (though I will mention them at the appropriate time, of course). If you notice when I talk about the show's impact on pop culture, the earliest dates I tend to bring up are in the 1970s, and that's for this reason as well.

    Also, my main goal for the TOS section of the project is to very clearly lay out exactly what Star Trek actually originally was and to try and get a handle on the positionalities of its creators. As it's something that's subject to almost limitless reimagining and reinterpretation (no matter what latter-day creators might actually admit) I think this is an important first step in tracing the evolution of the franchise.

    Although that said there is very clearly a tension between treating Star Trek as part of an emergent work and a singular text. Hence, temporal incursions ensue…

    Reply

  7. trekker709
    August 6, 2013 @ 12:07 am

    As a feminist who's been watching Trek since 1978, I’ve always read the ending as anger and intimidation after being hurt, but not an actual rape scene. Apollo expands to his superhuman size and becomes part of the thunderstorm; if he does impregnate Carolyn it’s by some impalpable means. Leslie Parrish’s facial expressions are not the terror, rage or repulsion you’d expect after a physical assault; instead she shows sorrow, remorse, tenderness—as in the title poem, like Shelley lamenting Keats, or Aphrodite mourning Adonis.

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  8. BerserkRL
    December 14, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

    Speaking of Doctor Who, Apollo has, according to McCoy, "an extra organ in his chest that I can't even make a guess about," which connects him to a "structure" on the planet that is "the source of his power." Sounds to me like Apollo is a timelord….

    Reply

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