This week’s News on China in 2 minutes.The post News on China | No. 71 first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Finally someone, male or female, white or whatever, str8 or lgbtq+, with the balls to give Israel the finger in the mainstream media. Chappelle is the American Hamas, lobbing his homemade rockets, flying his balloons out of besieged America at the dastardly foe, which relentless steals and then colonizes our minds, forcing us to our knees to atone for our inbred antisemitism.
His Netflix special The Closer is 99% about the silliness of the trans hysteria and the self-importance of ‘pride parade gays’, but the real bombshell was his idea for a movie: that UFOs are really earthlings who had an ancient civilization (who built the pyramids?) but “things go terrible for them on the other planet so them come back to Earth and claim the Earth for their very own. I call it Space Jews.”
The Detroit crowd loved it, clapping and chortling delight. One cat call. “All right. It’s gonna get worse than that. Hang in there.” It struck me how easily people cotton on to the Zionist ruse when they are given the chance. Biden could easily convince Americans to go after Israel as the last apartheid state if he had the courage. The Zionists would be left dumbstruck.
Chappelle skewers one shibboleth after another. His first jab was at the pedophilia hysteria. He admitted he’d had covid and felt dirty. “The last time I felt that dirty was when I a little boy and was molested by a priest … Don’t feel bad for me. I liked it. I used to get a kick coming in that fella’s face.”
It was after that, and some pointed words about black punching down on Asians as spillover from the ‘Chinese virus’ (his wife is Asian), that he got to his UFO bit. NPR’s (black) reviewer Eric Deggans was all in a tizzy over the special, not for the diddling priest or any of Chappelle’s other outrages, only the ‘antisemitism’.
“I don’t really care what point he’s trying to make; a joke that sounds like antisemitism gets a hard pass from me,” harrumphs Deggans. “The message Chappelle has for those who have criticized him about transphobic, homophobic or any other phobic jokes seems to be: Race trumps all.” Well, yes, maybe it does.
Truly fighting racism means fighting US-Israeli apartheid. It means dismantling gated communities, taking back our cities where money rules and acts as the barrier dumping 99% in one multicultural pot, and leaving the 1% in control. Yes, there is a sprinkling of nonwhites there, but if you are rich enough, the meaningless term ‘race’ truly becomes meaningless. Chappelle’s implicit corollary is: money trumps all.
Poor Deggans, stuck in the kneeling position, not to honour blacks and protest (very real) anti-black racism, but to fawn over our ‘masters of discourse’ as Israel Shamir calls the Israel/Jewish lobby, which is probably more fully represented around the world than the UN.
72% of Jews live ‘abroad’: United States (51%), France, Canada, Russia (3% each), the West Bank and Britain (2% each), Argentina, Germany, Ukraine, Brazil, Australia and Hungary (1% each), and the remaining 3% are spread around 98 other countries.
Each time Netanyahu/ Bennett blow the clarion call to arms, every one of them in 111 countries hears it. 90% of Jews support Israel. You do the math. The UN, even the US, pales into flabby impotence in comparison.
US blacks – US conscience
Listen closely to Chappelle’s rant and it sounds more and more like a sermon about compassion, tolerance, self criticism. That’s no coincidence. His mother Yvonne Seon worked for Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, and is a Unitarian Universalist minister. Family visitors included Pete Seeger. Chappelle’s inspiration came from Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor.
Wow. America is coming of age, with the black traditions, from slavery to ex-slavery, to third world liberation, to today’s revival of the radical traditions of the Democratic party. You can feel America’s backbone getting stronger, as it grapples to extricate itself from its US-Israeli dead end.
Deggans’ pontificating about gays et al is more about silliness than racism. Chappelle lauds the old school gays who fought for freedom. “I’m a Stonewall nigger, a glory hole nigger.” Those gays were originally much more like blacks. He explained for the str8s in the audience that ‘glory hole’ was a kind of contract. “You had to hope for the best. It took a lot of courage on both sides of that contract.” Now the gay movement is too mainstream, too shallow, for his liking.
“Gay people were a minority till they needed to be white again.” His personal anecdote is telling. A (white) gay interrupted him at a restaurant (be glad you’re not a celebrity), trying to provoke him as an accomplice took a video. Chappelle lost his cool, marched over and told the dinner party what he thought. As the argument got heated, the gay phoned the cops. Despicable, as the cop will automatically be white and take the white’s side. Where’s the minority solidarity?
The trans highlight was when he went into a public washroom and a woman came in and pulled out her penis at the adjacent urinal. He was freaked out. “It would have been cool if a guy came in and turned away from the urinal to pee. I’d just figure this guy is peeing out of his butt. Must be a vet. Thank you for your service.”
He sides with Rowlands (“She wrote all those Harry Potter books!”) on trans women. “Every one of us comes into this world from between the legs of a woman.” He was labelled a TERF, which he had to google (trans excluding radical feminist), and made the telling observation: “TERF look at trans the way we (blacks) look at black face.” He also looked up ‘feminist’ (equal rights for men and women) and realized: “I’m a feminist!” He had a close trans woman friend, and was devastated when she committed suicide, so he set up a trust fund for her daughter and planned to tell her when she came of age: “I knew your father. He was a wonderful woman.”
Blacks get their own lecture. He recounted the case of an slave who was freed, given some land by his former owner, became rich … and bought slaves. And treated them badly. But that was really just an example of how perverse things were in 19th century America, newly capitalist, hypnotized by money. “He was just doing what was accepted.”
Chappelle is all about empowering the victim. Space Jews were victims on their new planet so came back to Earth though that doesn’t give them the right to victimize others. Nothing antisemitic about that. Kids should not be intimidated by adults if the adults are stepping out of line. Women should stand up to the Weinsteins, fire their spineless agents and band together. We are all Asians, all Palestinians, in Chappelle’s worldview.The post David Chappelle’s “Space Jews” first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Balance. Inside out, outside in. From science driven diving, environmental warrior in the 1970s — in AZ, in Mexico, in the Sea of Cortez — to small-town daily newspaperman: Tucson, Bisbee, Wilcox, Sierra Vista, and all these small towns in several rural counties south, on the borderline. El Paso, New Mexico, Mexico, Central America.
Teacher, social worker, mescal-guzzler, photographer, aspiring failed novelist, always moving, always moving on, always distracted.
She’s seen me buoyant and busted. She’s heard me wax poetic and polemic. She’s admired me and feared me. She’s understood me and debated me. She’s heard me embrace her and argue with her.
There is no handbook, no guideposts for being a father . . . or to flip the script: there are no guiderails or throttle governors to learn how to be a daughter of a character like me!
her chin lifts
air of Chihuahua
sink into corner
clouds on wall
painted by Mario
beer in hand
the world his home
her room, sanctuary
daughter is innocence
odors of cumin
green giant chiles
thunderbird on mountain
one day a woman
alone at night
sounds of city
harsh, tumbling humanity
trapped, concrete prisons
she tastes poblano
eagle out there
wings of hope
— Paul Haeder, 7/2/2021
I was in Spokane, helping my amazing daughter get her small business going.
Lots of tough days with her father, me, always on the air, in print, hurly burly, angry at the world, alone writing, man lost of tribe, lone wolf, perfectionist, over “college” educated. Always flapping his lips.
She asked me, “Are you really proud of me, dad? I didn’t finish college? I am not this politically engaged and active person in Spokane. I am not the daughter you wanted, right?”
Shit, now that takes a 64-year-old know-it-all, big blustery dude like me down a few notches.
The reality is, of course, I am proud of her. Of course, I am not disappointed about the lack of a college matriculation. Of course, I am not expecting in 2021 that college means much.
Proud, and with love. Seems like a no-brainer combo in this completely (almost) fucked up (oxymoron) world (theirs, ours, mine, hers).
It is the father issue, for sure. Divorce. Other things in my daughter’s life that not only cemented her spirit into what we call CPTSD — complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — but also her view of the world, with her own beat of a very different drummer in the background, low grumble bass in her chest.
Those are her stories to tell, though my daughter is self-actualized, open, and articulate about her struggles.
“Come to Dust”
Spirit, rehearse the journeys of the body
that are to come, the motions
of the matter that held you.
Rise up in the smoke of palo santo.
Fall to the earth in the falling rain.
Sink in, sink down to the farthest roots.
Mount slowly in the rising sap
to the branches, the crown, the leaf-tips.
Come down to earth as leaves in autumn
to lie in the patient rot of winter.
Rise again in spring’s green fountains.
Drift in sunlight with the sacred pollen
to fall in blessing.
All earth’s dust
has been life, held soul, is holy.
She is in Spokane, since age six, and alas, at 25 she’s feeling everything I lamented and wrote about: small town now traffic snarled; pigs/cops hassling homeless; unchecked building (growth); water issues; broken down buildings; homes and rents out the roof; Californians (other big monied folk) swooping into town and the county buying up stuff, and hiking rents.
I was there, June 30, at a 112 degrees, 101 in the night, 1 am. Planned rolling blackouts by the electrical service, Avista. Roads cracking and buckling. Fireworks stands. Death, sickness, the new normal — unmitigated survival of the fittest (richest) and nothing ever prepared now, yesterday and for tomorrow’s heat domes.
The show is over, with unfettered casino-predatory-disaster-zombie-parasitic capitalism.
Shit, how does a guy like me help a gal like her, 25, 500 miles away (I drove the 2006 van, which I have kept up, worked on it myself, called a sucker for having a rig with 230,000 original miles on it).
I wrote a poem for her, well, many, in fact — Philosophy of a new-birthed esthetician/aesthetician
She’s also an amazing photographer, and she was my photographer for my magazine column — she did this starting at age 16!
Here, some photos of hers with one of my poems — Dystopia Blues – Who Will Write a Song about Ice Caps Melting When All Music Dies?
She’s an on-her-knees kind of photographer, but also right there, with a heart of empathy, for what Eduardo’s poem belies — “the nobodies”. Others call them/us — useless breathers, useless breeders and useless eaters. Makenna is there, in their spaces, and her own heart is so drawn into that unknowable force that makes some people “empaths.”
Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream of escaping
poverty: that one magical day good luck will suddenly rain down on
them—will rain down in buckets. But good luck doesn’t rain down
yesterday, today, tomorrow, or ever. Good luck doesn’t even fall in a
fine drizzle, no matter how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their
left hand is tickling, or if they begin the new day with their right
foot, or start the new year with a change of brooms.
The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the
no ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life,
screwed every which way.
Who are not, but could be.
Who don’t speak languages, but dialects.
Who don’t have religions, but superstitions.
Who don’t create art, but handicrafts.
Who don’t have culture, but folklore.
Who are not human beings, but human resources.
Who do not have faces, but arms.
Who do not have names, but numbers.
Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the police
blotter of the local paper.
The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.”
― Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins of Latin America
She’s stayed in Spokane and has enveloped herself in that part of the Inland Pacific Northwest, because of the fairy like worlds in the woods and in mountains and valleys:
The ecosystems — running water, lakes, mists, the dews, soggy soils — those are the victims of climate heating, bulldozers, human incursions. So, combine this formula after formula:
- bigger than life father
- mother an English teacher
- father on the radio, in the news, making it and writing it
- dad with full-throttle on boats, kayaks, motorcycles, diving, hiking
- a childhood with lots of leeway
- exposure to street life, and Spokane has a reputation of having tough lives on the street, and violence
- being a vegan and self-styled, she was bullied at k8-12
- mother hits the air to move to Australia
- father raising a pubescent girl while on his own, dating
- always railing against the systems of oppression, her father, well, not always a good bedside manner raising his only child
- father moving away — Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Oregon Coast!
I look back and, of course, this is not the life I envisioned, the relationship with a child I was banking on. I wasn’t even thinking of children. I cycled through relationships, and that includes four marriages. I am not prudish or Puritan about this at all, but the ramifications are huge. Hell, I am trained on ACES:
I’ve worked with youth for more than a decade as a social services provider. I have worked with adults who are coming out of prisons, are homeless, are facing addictions, and are poor. I know the epigentics of how even bodies (DNA) change under cortisol loads. I am there, understanding why some old guy with no teeth who just went off the wagon again, using meth, is bawling and apologizing. Old guy at 73, one of my clients when I worked with homeless vets. At 73, sliding into Meth in Portland. Everything goes to shit because he goes MIA for days.
I know these men and women, and they have a boatload of influences in their lives. They did not wake up one day, at age 14 or 21, and say, “Man, I can’t wait to have all my teeth rot out of my head. I can’t wait to have collapsed veins, psychosis, COPD, the shakes, uncontrolled bowels, living in a box at the back of a warehouse, with a criminal rap sheet that is 30 pages long.”
My daughter has kept one good thing her old man instilled — “When you see that person on the street, all greasy and broken down, cardboard sign in hands, and shaky, and, wanting to drink or shoot up, with blathering and blathering as his or her SOP, remember, that person once was a baby. And even if it was a nurse in the delivery room, that old homeless adult once had at least a person in his or her life who swaddled him or her and loved. Unconditional love.”
It is tough being Makenna since her old man is always out there, putting it all out there for everyone to see, hear, read, view. She’s seen her old man locked up for various things, seen her old man sacked for various reasons, seen her old man broken by this or that slight coming at him from the bureaucrats. She’s seen her old man heart-broken. She’s seen her old man not exactly the ideal of a good All-American Father.
Yet, she has stuck with me. She embraces my spouse, now, finding the thrill of my wife’s laugh, the warmth of the chile-embraced tamales my wife makes so all can taste Aztlan on their tongues. She has held my hand and warmed my cold heart. These are valuable humanistic traits in a time of Covid, post-Covid, Transhuman Dystopia, Unbalanced-Unbalancing world. But she is also one of the world’s vulnerable ones — heart on sleeve, deeply tied to humanity, absolutely through and through in constant ire against the authorities, the systems of oppression, the overlords and the mean as cuss cops/pigs/DA’s/judges/CEOs/Captains of Industry/Colonels of death!
During those last hours I was in Spokane — not surrendering to all that heat the real new normal for most of USA — I was being interviewed by Andy, Kenny and Eduardo for their podcast, “What’s Left.” I was in her pad, and alas, while she was getting an ultrasound for excruciating side aches, I was doing the interview.
The closer I look at the Zoom recording, the more fidgety and disjointed I am now after so many decades of railing, screaming to be heard. I’ll post that interview when Andy and his fellows wrap it up.
But am I Beale?
All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.
You’ve gotta say, “I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value!”
So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell,
“I’m as mad as hell,
and I’m not going to take this anymore!!”
— Network (1976)
Thanks, daughter, for putting up with me and my rants, like the one below I just posted on the show I will be on today — What’s Left. I was recorded with Che in the background in your cute, sweet, house-plant invested apartment in Spokane. Hasta luego, chica:
Yes, indeed. All my travels — physically, intellectually and emotionally — have taught me that, of course, communism and collectivism work. Yeah, act locally, think globally. Well, what a hell of a resource extraction world the Capitalists have set forth. You do not have to travel far into history or your own backyard to see that predatory-casino-parasitic-penury-disaster-war capitalism is the gift that keeps giving: fines, tolls, add-ons, penalties, triple taxations, taxes without representation. Rape the land, force pollutants onto the people, charge the people for cleaning them up (they never get cleaned up, ugh, forever chemicals, PCBs, dioxins, radioactive by-products). Epigentics of DNA mutations.
Then, attempt to critique or fight this tyranny, and, well, zip up that mouth and lose that job, because a person counting on a dirty boss and dirtier paycheck to make ends meet is not going to be looking that rotting gimpy gift horse in the mouth. You will, however, not see anyone on the right actually fit any humane or human role, so that dead horse don’t need no kicking. I have interviewed, argued with, taught, and even looked down the wrong end of the barrel of right-wing fuckers’ gun, and to a person, they are not in this world to be holistic, to be collective, to be fair, to be one in the whole. Dog-eat-dog, pull-yourselves-up-by-your-own-bootstraps, I’ve got mine, and I give a shit if you don’t have yours.
These are the human eaters. When I say right, let’s make that clear — that’s Clinton or Bush, Carter or Reagan, Obama or Trump. Add to that DNA similarity the mutated minds of the western thinker — sociopaths, pedophiles, bestiality’s punks, torturers, criminals, Oedipus-loving narcissists. So, critiquing lockdowns, or questioning the Big Pharma-Big Tech-Big Finance- Big Capitalization/ Financialization agenda, seems like what Che did, Marx did, a million other communists did and do. Keep up the good work, What’s Left, and remember to have some fucking fun with these snakes and poisonous propagandists and murderers.Check out one motherfucking funny and off the wall dude —
Remember, any motherfucking patriarchal prick who thinks of the 80 percent as useless eaters, useless breeders, and useless breathers, well, it doesn’t matter which side of the “political” manure pile in this country’s duopoly he sits on: those people are, well, mass murderers, in situ, with the power of a mouse click, the power of the rule of corporate law.
Galeano’s work, above, “The Nobodies”! Says it all, if you spend time talking about its meaning, its context, its writer.
Or hell, Pablo Neruda, man — says it all about EVERYTHING, 71 years later: Musk, Exxon, Bates, Soros, the Fortune 1000 thugs, transnationals, the Group of 30 and the 147 companies controlling the world:
The United Fruit Company by Pablo Neruda , 1950
When the trumpet sounded, it was
all prepared on the earth,
the Jehovah parceled out the earth
to Coca Cola, Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, and other entities:
The Fruit Company, Inc.
reserved for itself the most succulent,
the central coast of my own land,
the delicate waist of America.
It rechristened its territories
as the ’Banana Republics’
and over the sleeping dead,
over the restless heroes
who brought about the greatness, the liberty and the flags,
it established the comic opera:
abolished the independencies,
presented crowns of Caesar,
unsheathed envy, attracted
the dictatorship of the flies,
Trujillo flies, Tacho flies,
Carias flies, Martines flies,
Ubico flies, damp flies
of modest blood and marmalade,
drunken flies who zoom
over the ordinary graves,
circus flies, wise flies
well trained in tyranny.
Among the blood-thirsty flies
the Fruit Company lands its ships,
taking off the coffee and the fruit;
the treasure of our submerged
territories flow as though
on plates into the ships.
Meanwhile Indians are falling
into the sugared chasms
of the harbors, wrapped
for burials in the mist of the dawn:
a body rolls, a thing
that has no name, a fallen cipher,
a cluster of the dead fruit
thrown down on the dump.
Re: Challenge Magazine!
In late 6th century Athens (BCE), it was all the rage. Introduced by Thespis, “play-acting” quickly attained widespread popularity among Athenians who, like most people, were looking for diverting forms of entertainment to fill the evening hours. On one such evening the aged patriarch Solon, celebrated lawmaker and civic founder, was persuaded to attend a performance. His reaction?: indignation and an angry rebuke to Thespis, who blithely responded that such “play” was harmless, merely a novel pastime. “No!” Solon retorted angrily (here paraphrasing Plutarch’s account), “It is dangerous. Such a tolerance for pretense and deception will end up infecting all our commerce and civic life.” But Thespis merely shrugged — and, some 2500 years later, we now find ourselves enmeshed in a media-sphere of garrulous, deceitful “actors,” all clamoring for our attention as they exhibit their base arts of “persuasion.” Aristotle, in his book on Rhetoric, had warned presciently that the “base” variety of rhetoric seeks to undermine our self-directed judgment in order to manipulate and control our decisions. Much later, in the mid-18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau followed Plutarch’s account of Solon by writing an angry polemic against the establishment of a theater in his beloved Geneva.
Consulting the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, I find that there are some 70,000 “professional actors” in the U.S. (compared to, for instance, 3000 sociologists). Quite obviously, the requisite job skills require playing different roles, displaying (false) emotions, and “sincerely” persuading us to buy sundry products, “lifestyles” — and candidates. With their omnipresence in all performing media, actors have by now become absurdly over-valued as role-models in everyday life. Writing back in the 1940s, psychoanalyst Erich Fromm had already critiqued the rise of a new American character-type: the “marketing personality” — whose looks, smiles and jokes would be “selling points,” not only in politics, but infiltrating all aspects of social engagement. In short, not the real person and his values (if any), but a simulacrum or image fashioned to display pleasing, if insincere, demeanor, attitudes and opinions.
Sociologist Erving Goffman extended this much further, theorizing that social interaction is inherently “dramaturgic” (read: deceptive), and that those engaged in skillful “impression-management” would “get the job” (no matter how incompetent), and “successfully” persuade others (“leadership”) — into, one can now recall, disastrous debt, blood-drenched wars, and “national security” profiteering. Forty years ago, journalist Lou Cannon wrote his aptly titled book President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime. Hitler once boastingly called himself “the greatest actor in Europe.” As media critics from Marshall McLuhan to Jerry Mander have noted, the visual experience of the television-image has further blunted critical faculties, enabling even poorly skilled thespians such as Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and George W.Bush to nonetheless persuade most viewers of the veracity of their outrageous lies. (This, in part, can also be attributed to the relative credulity of most viewers, who are unlikely to conceive of the magnitude of brazen, cynical insolence exhibited.) Of course, the triumph of pleasing “image” over something called “truth” has long been normalized and accepted. Which candidate “performed” better in that debate (“fact-checks” notwithstanding)? A histrionic, rabble-rousing “performer” — now matter how ignorant, dishonest and uninformed — can provide sufficient entertainment to be elected president (read Trump). By now, movie and TV “celebrities” are often given equal-weight with scientific and scholarly experts, in the “court of world opinion.”
Social media? If mere persons increasingly perceive themselves as commodities to be marketed — whether in “dating” or “employment” — then Facebook ad nauseam were, of course, the logical outcomes of this insidious trend. An artfully contrived “presentation” — looks, “likes,” hyped-up “accomplishments” — may allow for successful competition in the all-encompassing marketplace which is mistaken for the reality of real individuals, struggling and sometimes despairing (behind the figurative mask). Yes, as Solon sadly foresaw, “acting” (aka, dissimulating) would come to infiltrate all social encounters, from hypocritical “concern” to simulated sexual response. Where then, can the individual find nurture and cherish his authentic values and qualities? In the freedom of solitude: self-awareness and rational judgment — with carefully chosen boundaries against unwelcome “media” intrusions.The post A Nation of “Thespians” first appeared on Dissident Voice.
See Part 1.
What is the point of Star Trek? When examined under apposite practical context, the conclusion may validate the argument that Star Trek filmography cannot be separated from the business enterprise that created it. Consequently, it is no-brainer to deduce that special interests control the content, direction, and purpose of such films.
Star Trek (ST) sagas are fascinating—even addictive. One explanation could be that the modifier Star makes us feel good about a Trek that would take us far from problems afflicting our planet. Another may suggest that imagination, storylines, characters, costumes, etc. are put together in such a way that earned them enduring allure and a place in the cultural landscape. Those among us who, as if under “cultic” influence, enjoy watching the various Enterprise ships roaming between the stars may justify the “addiction” in terms of relaxation without guilt. Is that the whole story? No. Beyond the assumed relaxation, progressives would want to see their ST experience as a means to uncover possible new metrics denoting freedom, progress, and effective humanistic principles.
Yet, are we so delusional that we embrace fictional tales of dubious value despite our realization that the hyped trek is not only crudely fictitious but also a mirror for Hollywood greed, its false worlds of extraterrestrial civilizations where most are bad, and only the Federation is good? On a serious note: is it conceivable that all these treks among the stars are, in fact, subtle ways to spread and justify U.S. policies, ideology, militarism, and interventionism?
To be sure, delusion has nothing to do with our affection toward Star Trek. We well know that fictional space adventures cannot possibly ascend to any appreciable value except that of entertainment. We also know that what we watch is only a rendering of fictional tales made in accordance with the cultural and business values of producers and writers. Of course, then, as we do not take this faking seriously, we still enjoy the twists to a story, seeing special effects and futuristic technologies in action, cinematography, and the visions for advanced societies.
Could Star Trek offer clues or means to examine social, cultural, and political situations? Highly improbable— such tasks are manifestly antithetical to the objectives of films that want to dazzle and entertain. Conversely, distancing from (or escaping into) filmic fiction while maintaining connections to it by other means is not vacillation of choice between two contrasting sets of behavior: adolescence coupled with nonchalant innocence and maturity tempered by discernment. There is no competition between these two sets. Proving this point, viewing a fictional story in space (in whatever set of behavior) could be much more gratifying than watching a documentary on, for example, the behavior of desert insects.
Ultimately, fiction will always remain fiction, and material reality will always remain material reality. Besides, neither fiction nor non-fiction has ever changed anything in the mentality and actions of modern states and societies where misinformation, disinformation, blatant political demagogy, gossip as culture, pervasive triviality, pomposity, and inconsequentiality dominate unchallenged—with no end in sight—every crevice of today’s culture.
Did a great movie such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest change anything in the behavior and ethics of hospitals, caregivers, and people toward mental instability? Did the U.S. prison system change after the movie Brubaker? In the book world, did Tolstoy’s War & Peace novel (1869) on the horrors of Napoleonic wars in Russia hinder the path to WWI? Did U.S. violence against countless nations of the planet cease after James William Gibson published his exceptional book: The Perfect War: Techno War in Vietnam? Did Ramsey Clark’s book, The Fire This Time (1992), stop the United States from invading Iraq in 2003?
Along the same lines, did ST stories influence anything important in the real world? The answer is no. Did they, at least, elicit intellectual response to certain topics relevant to empowerment and emancipation? The short answer is still no. Although some ST episodes or films could eventually stimulate some to engage in articulate debates, they are not the proper forums for intellectual tension and analytical drive (to be fair, a few productions do present topics deserving of reflection and respect). Meaning, they seldom contribute to achieving higher levels of consciousness in any concrete way. Does curiosity have a role? The answer is another no. Curiosity for how a plot would end is by no means equivalent to exploratory curiosity of the mysteries enveloping our outer space or the vast universe. Are there morality paradigms, ethical values, or philosophies we could learn from Star Trek? Once again, the answer is no.
To take on ST in a critical context, maybe it is a good idea to relate its significance vis-à-vis similar filmic and writing experiences. For starters, attributing to ST a science-fiction quality is deceptive. This cannot be otherwise. Star Trek is all fiction and just a very little science. Encyclopedia Britannica gives a terse definition for the concept of science. It states, “Science, any system of knowledge that is concerned with the physical world and its phenomena and that entails unbiased observations and systematic experimentation. In general, a science involves a pursuit of knowledge covering general truths or the operations of fundamental laws.”
Accordingly, while Star Trek fits all formats of fiction, it does not conform to the definition of science. However, dubbing the science of ST and similar stock as pseudoscience is acceptable. Regardless, ST remains a fictional menagerie of good and bad—even contentious— scripts. To evaluate ST, it is relevant to point out the basic feature epitomizing the film industry. Together with the vast entertainment, music, and sport industries, the film industry is the highest expression of vulture capitalism where astronomical-paying jobs and moneymaking machines are the norm (in 2018, the global film industry was worth $136 billion).
Within such an environment, the ST franchise (like all similar widescreen and TV movies) is out there to sell a product and make good profits. Concerns for productions conducive to cultural or political debates rarely figure in the calculation of producers. Simply, the gluttonous underpinnings of such industry where business decisions start and end with eyes fixated on advertisers and box office cannot possibly be a voice for social progress through fictional dialog. Even independent filmmakers cannot escape this fate. At the end of the day, they need money for production, for living, and for lifestyle.
About fact-based films, Konstantinos Gavras’ great American film Missing (starring Jack Lemmon) went into fast oblivion despite all awards it garnered. Observation: Generally, American moviegoers are not interested in serious topics such as the abduction and killing of an American journalist in Chile (in the aftermath of the fascist military coup of Augusto Pinochet, 1973) that Henry Kissinger abetted and helped organize. By understated indoctrination, most Americans disproportionately look for entertainment over content.
Another great fact-based film that remained obscure is Z—also by Gavras. U.S. moviegoers and critics have no inclination to see political dramas in foreign lands—Greece in this case. Then there is Gillo Pontecorvo’s outstanding fiction-based film: Queimada (Burn!) that encapsulated the core and modus operandi of British colonialism. It went unnoticed despite an outstanding script and superlative performances by Evaristo Marquez and Marlon Brando.
It is an empirical fact that made-for-high-profit U.S. film industry is resistant to produce quality films in terms of progressive humanistic, artistic, political, or social values. Factors such as the type/size of prospected audience and expected revenues play fundamental roles in the decisions to make films. Consider Finding Forrester. This greatly distinguished film had no success at market level. Despite an impressive thematic value, the system will falsely claim that such movies are not what the moviegoers want.
Because so-called science fiction films have no inclination for intellectual subjects of any sort, filmmakers of this genre compensate by wrapping their productions with attractive illusions of technology with the intent to slide over all other deficiencies including poor dialogs. In addition, because producers follow pre-established financial-ideological guidelines, one specific consequence is notable: their pervasive tendency to treat the audience like kids. That is, to count on viewers’ intellectual passivity versus the meaning and purpose of films. The quid pro quo is apparent: visual and narrative “excitement” in exchange for intellectual indifference to the value of films.
What is preponderant in this context, therefore, is the viewing experience as an end. Mind you, the audience does not accept everything—people are not stupid. What appears to be working, though, is this: as we close our eyes to stupidities, we open them wide in the attempt to enjoy and understand the story. The keyword, therefore, is “enjoyment”. We enjoy, so to speak, seeing Leonard Nimoy pretending to be a logical person from Vulcan while knowing that nearly none of his “logical” remarks relate to the rhetorical craft of logic; and we like to see William Shatner exude “toughness” in the execution of his agenda as Captain Kirk, and so on.
In the same vein, Picard, Janeway, Sisko, Archer, McCoy, Ryker, Data, Worf, Crusher, La Forge, young Kirk (Chris Pine), etc. all had their big share of people’s affection for no other reason than being fictional characters with certain appeal. With the exception of Picard (Patrick Stewart, a fine Shakespearian actor, contributed to make the character excel in the delivery of the act), most other ST characters offered no serious intellectual provocations meant to challenge the mind.
If pertinence matters, Star Trek tales are not liberating experiences either. Gene Roddenberry, creator of the original series, put his ship in orbit and loaded it with topics borrowed from mentality, cultural, political, and military matters typical of his time. Unlike other fictional writers of the caliber of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and others, and despite his visionary approach to the future of humanity, Roddenberry, being a TV producer, appeared to have been inclined to tell commercially appealing adventurous stories. In practice, he sacrificed substance for commercial success.
What is relevant to the analysis of ST is that unlike Wells, for example, whose impassioned anti-imperialist impulses are known, Roddenberry chose the safe ground of the self-centered American culture. He imbued Star Trek with many problematic plots that, when interpreted rigorously, appear to be glorifying American colonialism, imperialism, militarism, racism, unilateralism, and gratuitous violence. Despite all that, Roddenberry redeemed himself in several valid episodes in the original series and in The Next Generation.
There is no doubt that other Star Trek series after Roddenberry such as Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Discovery and all spin-off series could have merits under certain circumstances. My focus is ST: The Original Series, and ST: The Next Generation. These two series represent the foundations upon which all other series were fashioned, not so much in terms of characters but rather in terms of the ideas that propel the ships and their crews into the infinity of space. Compare Star Trek to George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise. Lucas remained a prisoner of superficial characters and story-lines à la Edgar Rice Burroughs. In contrast, Star Trek evolved far beyond the intent of Roddenberry.
Are there critical issues to debate about Star Trek: the Original Series (ST: TOS) and Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST: TNG)?
First things first, the history of post-WWII science fiction filmography is disappointing. From the moment in which Hollywood took firm control of the genre with its impressive, high-tech production capabilities and computer-generated imagery, filmic artistic values literally went down the notorious drain. There was one superlative exception: Kubrick’s film: 2001: A Space Odyssey (novel by Arthur C. Clark). From its release in 1968 until present, no film has ever matched it—not even close. (Of less artistic/intellectual value but with significant science fiction appeal are Close Encounters of the Third Kind by Steven Spielberg and Gravity by Alfonso Cuarón)
As for Odyssey, who could ever forget the spectacular scene when one among the fighting man-apes threw a large bone (weapon) up into the sky, which then transmuted into a future artificial satellite? With that scene, a glimpse into the marvelous evolution and accomplishments of the human species was depicted to a lofty pinnacle of expression. Kubrick’s cinematography of 2001: A Space Odyssey elevated the film into a unique standard by which all science fiction films are measured. The appendix to this thought cannot be more direct: when the force propelling a film defines its trajectory by embracing the evolving purpose of humanity, the outcome would be another chapter celebrating life and the riches it offers. Do socio-humanistic and progressive cultural values propel so-called science fiction movies (e.g., Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Armageddon, Aliens, etc.)? That is, do they fit the evolving purpose of humanity? Does our “revered” Star Trek fit the purpose of humanity?
The answer to the first question is a resounding no. Films such as these are essentially void of intrinsic values that could promote equality, peace, and social progress. When films concentrate on special effects as substitutes for the story itself, on glorifying wars in space, on creating conflicts with imaginary space nations, on extreme violence, and on simplistic story-lines, they cannot possibly be ascribed to having any valuable purpose except unspecified excitement. To answer the question whether Star Trek fits that same purpose, we need to examine the situation with unbiased feelings and approach. This is understandable: despite our unapologetic, strong affection, the answer is no.
Earlier, I stated that Roddenberry imbued Star Trek: The Original Series with problematic plots that one may interpret as glorifying American colonialism, imperialism, militarism, and even violence as a means to resolve problems. Is there any truth to this assertion? Were these plots a conscious effort to tell a story as a means to re-write history, justify events, or maybe to perpetuate certain ideologies and social philosophies? Could it be that plots’ development was no more than “innocent” expedients meant only to excite, hence people should accept them at face value? Either way, we should never stand for unclear agendas—doing otherwise means that our intent to examine Star Trek has failed.
Was Star Trek: The Next Generation any different from The Original Series? Yes. Keep in mind that 19 years separate the two, which is a long period where daring technical innovations had taken place. Second, with an excellent team of producers, executive producers, directors and writers such as Rick Berman (who later became the head of the franchise), Michael Piller, Brannon Braga, and Ronald D. Moore, the franchise flew to a higher level of quality. (Roddenberry was also a consultant to the new series for some time). Most important, ST: TNG was superior vis-à-vis the original in a very specific way. It induced the demanding viewers not only to interact with the plot, think about variables, and investigate contradictions, but also to react on plot development and conclusion. The following are a few observations with focus on certain episodes from both series.
“Where no man has gone before,” announces captain Kirk. Is that an indirect tribute to so-called American exceptionalism? You bet. With the exception of Spock, Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura, most other recognizable crew members appear to be and are Americans. The mission is American; the Starfleet command is in San Francisco, the computer and medical sciences aboard the ship are American, and many of the stories are replicas of American stories. To stress the American-ness of ST, when a strange magnetic storm catapults the ship back to the 20th century (episode: “Tomorrow is Yesterday”), it does not end up flying over China, Senegal, or Argentina. It flew over an American base on U.S. soil. In short, “To boldly go where no man has gone before”, was supposedly a “modest” American way to declare the “prowess” of Americans who “dare” to challenge the odds of galactic travel.
Again, “Space, the final frontier,” the solemn voice of Captain James T. Kirk intones. But what was the first frontier? Is there a correlation between the first and the final—why frontier in the first place? Could a word such as destination (or any other appropriate synonym) have been more expressive of the intent?
There is a distinct possibility that Roddenberry did not consider that he was juxtaposing the so-called American frontier, which is the conquest of what is now the United States, with the proposed final conquest of the space and its planets by the same colonialist power. Did he overlook a basic fact about the first American frontier expansions—the near extermination of the Original Peoples? If so, why did he not care to set the record straight? On the subject of recorded history, it is of no use that someone would try to minimize or void the juxtaposition, because in both cases the intent and its linguistic expression (final frontier) denotes a planned conquest of the outer space in emulation of the old conquest of Turtle Island—North American continent.
Generally, in the histories of British colonialism and its successors American, Canadian, New Zealander, and Australian colonialisms, for example, the notion of frontier was synonymous with never-ending geographical exploration—all of which are euphemisms for bloody conquests. In the so-called American experience, Manifest Destiny was the embodiment of a frontier always in motion to accumulate one conquest after another.
They wanted to discover new worlds. So they say. It is verifiable history that once European explorers landed their ships on the shores of these new worlds, they started to destroy them, remove and exterminate their indigenous populations, put their own populations in control, and create rules and laws to dominate and govern. Second, what is the purpose of discovering a new life and new civilizations only to destroy them? This happened in many science fictions movies—including Star Trek.
In “The Man Trap” episode, Kirk and crew did find such a life, a shapeshifter who needs salt to survive. Soon enough, they ended by vaporizing its molecules because the shapeshifter was effectively killing some crewmembers to get their body salt. Strange thing is, Professor Robert Crater and his wife (the creature in a shape-shifting mode as a former flame of McCoy), did ask for salt tablets without explaining the reason. Had the creators of ST envisioned a different course of action for the shapeshifter—and for humanity as an altruistic model—, an ideal ending could have been the following.
Instead of killing the new life, for which the crew traveled from planet Earth to find, Kirk could have provided the needed salt (ship replicators can replicate any food item) and deliver tons of it to the surface? Are we missing something? Yes. What lurks behind the concept of killing as entertainment?
Why is it important to discuss the fictional killing of a space life form? First, the concept moving the fictional killing is dialectically tied to the justification for real killing under similar but often invented premises. Second, this raises the question whether killing, as a solution for a problem, could be unilaterally justified by the killer. The answer is no. Killing is an objective-centered action. It is a rationalized act taught by humans to other humans throughout the ages—modern war colleges are an example. Alternatively, could it be that killing is intrinsic to the human genetic code? The answer is still no. Killing is a complex act that involves countless supporting factors including conditioning, thinking, prevailing societal patterns of violence, and ideological motivations. In addition, humans have evolved and eventually learnt to co-exist without murdering each other—ancient villages and cities, and modern urban living could attest to that.
Let us consider the issue of the shapeshifter under this light: do we kill sharks because sharks attack humans? Essentially, sharks attack humans only in water—it is their natural habitat and they need to eat to live. Humans, who cannot live in water, kill sharks either for flesh and fins, for “medicinal” cartilage, or, hypocritically, to fend off potential danger to humans. However, the empress of all universal truths is that killing to feed exemplifies the food chain in nature. With that, it is a common sense to state that the shapeshifter was exercising her or his right to live—does anyone blame the lions for hunting zebras?
Surprisingly, the murder of the shapeshifter on board of the Enterprise was not the end. In the episode “The Squire of Gothos,” the salt-sucking life form appears again but this time as a mummified body placed in a wall niche for exhibition by the villain of turn, the alien Trelane. There are two possible explanations as to why the producers decided for the “macabre” exhibition. The first: may be due to poor budget or poor taste in trying to fill the castle hall with trophies for the childish Trelane. The second is more complex. It is reasonable to speculate that the exhibition had an ulterior motive. It conveys the impression that not only Earth people could kill the “obnoxious creature” but also other space species such as Trelane’s people. To wade into a wider interpretation, it is as if ST producers are saying that killing is normal if the killer “declares it justified”. (U.S. imperialists call it collateral damage.)
A correlated topic: what is the nature of the five-year mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations”? Was the USS Enterprise travelling through space as a warship or as a peace ship? Rodenberry did not specify. Let us assume that the Enterprise was on a peaceful mission. If that were so, how could one explain the frightening weapons it carries? To be clear, there is no such thing as offensive or defensive weapons—only intent can determine their use. So where does the starship stand on this issue?
For those who are unfamiliar with the making and naming of the various American military divisions, suffice it to say that the starship has a military hierarchy. The top is captain (also used in civilian ships), but admirals and commanders are everywhere in space—they give orders, expect obedience, and can, at will, remove captains from the chair of command. In this case, what gives away the military nature of this ship is the presence of cadets. A cadet is a junior trainee in an army. For those who are familiar with the naming processes of the American Navy, they know that the prefix USS and number in the name of the Enterprise stands for United States Ship followed by the numerical sequence of its deployment. (In real context, the U.S. navy has had many maritime ships named USS before the creators of Star Trek introduced a ship sailing through space and named it United Space Ship (USS) Enterprise, NCC-1701.)
To make a comparison, unlike American warships that navigate through our oceans to intimidate nations they deem adversaries, Federation/American fictional starships roam the outer space ostensibly to explore “new worlds”. In more than just one situation though, USS Enterprise ships do use their “shock and awe” weapons to intimidate “stubborn” newly encountered space nations and individuals. In the episode “A Piece of the Action,” a tough Kirk forced two gangster groups (by demonstrating, through Scotty, what the ship can do) to stop fighting among themselves. In effect, he imposed Pax Americana in space on behalf of Federation. A question: what is the positive in making peace between criminals? Did the city-planet benefit? Who knows—we only saw squabbling gangsters.
What kind of weapons do Starfleet ships have, anyway? Memory Alpha (MA) at Fandom dot com gives “serious technical details” on these weapons. Starships, as told by MA, have an impressive array of offensive weapons from phasers that vaporize people, all the way to the formidable photon torpedoes that vaporize ships, asteroids, and small planets. Now, why arm ships with such weapons if the intentions are peaceful? Why take all these imaginary weapons to the stars unless the Federation wants to use them as “torpedo” diplomacy against space species not yet discovered? Was that because this enemy has no interests in establishing diplomatic relations with the Federation?
More intriguing, how do we interpret the stubborn ideological tendency of ST writers to characterize the various space nations as being inherently hostile to the Federation? To push further, did Kirk or other captains of the Federation ever try to invent adversaries and enemies? Star Trek procedures never stated that directly in any episode. It often happens, though, that those the Enterprise encounters are often portrayed as unfriendly, bellicose, treacherous, and, more than often, imagined as having human or human-like bodies but with strange-looking heads and weird facial anatomy.
If observed closely, the message that ST tries to convey about the species populating the universe invariably dances to the Earthly tunes of racism, chauvinism, and imperialism: only the Federation and its implied boss, the United States, are good. In this guise, most space nations, be they Romulans, Cardassians, or Ferengi, etc., are naturally bad, while those who joined the Federation (does NATO ring a bell?) are good. Among these, you find Vulcans, Bajorans, and Klingons. (The latter incessantly dub the Romulans as having no honor. However, are the Klingons themselves honorable people according to the makers of ST? In the episode, Sins of the Father (ST: TNG), producers implicitly conveyed the judgement that the Klingon ruling establishment is conniving, traitorous, and without honor—they colluded to punish Worf to cover up for the misdeeds of a warlord.
Countless viewers and the media celebrated when Kirk kissed Uhura in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren.” Eventually, that kiss entered the racial history of the United States. The uproar was possibly due to the perception that racial segregation and miscegenation in American society, at least in Hollywood, was on its way out. Those who jubilated placed the kiss in the context of changing U.S. race relations.
One moment please: but the episode was supposedly taking place in the 23rd century where race problems were supposed to have been resolved at least two centuries earlier! Then why celebrate a fictional kiss in the future (in outer space, nevertheless), but, in the process, convert it into real progress on Earth? One more thing: Kirk and Uhura kissed under duress by means of the kinetic power exerted on them by the “stepchildren”. Consequently, that kiss was not genuine, not valid, and was not a product of passion or love. By force of this argument, it is outlandish to claim it has any value in the exercise of willpower in normal human and race relations just because actors of different skin colors kissed on the set in the performance of their work.
Kim Petersen and I have discussed this matter. He writes, “I strongly disagree with much of the logic you employ here. For viewers, the fact that it is depicted as happening in the 23rd century and that it was telekinetically coerced is irrelevant. For 1960s racists, the mere acting of this was blasphemy and it broke a filmic barrier…”
My counter-argument: the notion that “The mere acting of this was blasphemy, and it broke a filmic barrier”, is of limited practical consequences. Yes, it might have broken a filmic barrier; but that barrier is situated in a world of moneymaking milieus where the games are played by the rules of the film industry and market response to them. In such milieus, actors can make it or break it based on numerous factors that are inconsequential when applied to those disadvantaged sectors of society where the paradigms for conducting a normal life without discrimination and prejudice cease to work.
Incidentally, before the airing of this episode in 1968, Stanley Kramer’s film The Defiant Ones (1958; story by Nedrick Young) tested the grounds on race relations by chaining two prison escapees; one is white and a bigot (played by Tony Curtis); the other is black (played by Sidney Poitier). Despite winning many accolades, the film did not generate uproar, as did the kiss between William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols. Why is that, especially knowing that the critical content of The Defiant Ones far exceeds the superficial plot of “Plato’s Stepchildren”? Possible explanation: while the tease generated by the scene of a kiss between a white man and a black woman might have raised the anger (or consent) of some, it only broke, if that is what really happened, the taboo in a specific workplace but not in society. Consequently, in a complex societal structure, the” PARTICULAR has no chance in transforming into GENERAL.
One episode (ST: TOS), “A Taste of Armageddon,” stands out for its peculiar script, for its ideological themes, and for the actions taken by Kirk. The story-line speaks of two planets at war. As for the plot, the episode unequivocally displays a type of decision-making favoring mass violence while apparently promoting a determined intention for unsolicited intervention. There are two points to argue:
First, the co-authors (Gene L. Coon and Robert Hamner) have politicized the script in terms favorable to the American idea of supremacist beliefs. Here is how I read the script: as typical of an overconfident Kirk (or the United States ideologically looming behind him), he decided unilaterally to transform that war from a war-by-computer but with real victims into a real war with real weapons and real victims as well—with the computer numbers resulting in people being disintegrated as per the numbers. In concrete terms, Kirk’s decision was a prescription for protracted violence. No need to say that Coon and Hamner made Kirk win his gambit and the story ended without further deaths. Was there any insinuation working behind the scenes? Of course, the United States, through Kirk’s action and despite it, was “successful” at “stopping” bloodshed from continuing. It seems that a rationale comes into being: Kirk-U.S. intervention “paid off”. Implication: “American interventions are good”. Mike Pompeo expressed the doctrine for intervention in naked terms. He dubbed American wars in the Middle Eat as follows, “The United States is a force for good …”
Second, they injected a biblical term into the script with apparent intent to reinforce and spread the ideology of the “born again Christian”. A question: what was hiding behind the decision to recycle into the future of humanity the mythology of Armageddon (the end of time battle)? Was that a veiled attempt to make the meaning of the term stick in the minds of viewers as a “prophesy” that should happen in the future?
The episode has another angle. It promotes the idea that the United States (the ever-belligerent former cop of the world on planet Earth before space travel) has evolved to become, again, the top cop of the outer space in the 23rd century. (Read how the imperialist media frame the issue of U.S. policing the world: 1) Should the United States be the World’s Policeman? 2) Should the U.S. use its military and financial power to act as the world’s policeman?)
Vilification of lifeforms in space appears in the episode: “A Devil in the Dark”. What is the reason for which ST producers call a life-form, living in its own natural environment on planet Janus IV: devil (which is an evil force according to religious mythologies on Earth)? Was that life-form evil because of its physical attributes? Some may argue that film titles are no more than rhetorical gizmos. That may be true; but experience taught us that derogatory name-calling is the ideological first step to dehumanize people in order to attack them—in the American ideology of wars and discrimination words such gooks, coons, ragheads, brown peoples, etc., are omnipresent.
It seems that many writers of Star Trek series (and other fictional stories in space) do not want—by design or by ideological attitudes—to imagine a future world without wars. You can see that clearly when some writers place an oversized emphasis on wars and mortal antagonisms between imagined extra-terrestrial civilizations. Is there any message here? Are they trying to convince us that wars are normal occurrences typical of all thinking species? Are we dealing with innate predilection for wars? There is no such thing as innate predilection for war. What exists, though, is a rooted ideological construct that sees wars as a glamourous showcase for empire, dominance, and control? The imperialist New York Times explained this horrific construct as follows: “The Pitfalls of Peace: The Lack of Major Wars May Be Hurting Economic Growth“.
In the first episode of ST: TNG, “Encounter at Farpoint,” an omnipotent space “alien” (Q) transports Picard to a quixotic, strange court and puts him on trial for the crimes of humanity.
The premise is fine. But ST writer Dorothy Catherine Fontana was eloquently leading the script to an impressive indictment of Picard representing the Federation and, by allegorical extension, its boss: the United States. Speculation: Q, being a god-like omnipotent, could have brought to trial not only a captain of an American starship, but also all other leaders of the planet. Given that Fontana chose only the U.S. rep, she might have wanted to put only the United States on trial. Or could it be that Q’s (Fontana’s) indictment of Picard because the crimes of humanity pale by comparison with that of the United States?
Picard gave his most memorable performance as a captain in the episode “The Measure of a Man.” (What made Picard shine was an exceptional script written by Melinda M. Snodgrass who was a lawyer and a novelist.) The script goes like this: when a federation scientist wanted to disassemble Data to study him, Picard prevented his transfer by arguing against slavery, and that Data, albeit being an android, has the right to decide for himself if he wanted to be disassembled and studied.
Before everything, expecting that fiction could resolve real problems is non sequitur. That is, winning a solid argument in fiction is not synonymous with winning the same in reality. At one point during the hearings, Picard declares, not in so many words, that slavery ended a long time ago. To beautify an imaginative future, Picard overlooked an important aspect of slavery. While open physical slavery with shackles has disappeared, slavery by other means has continued. In our world, racism, discrimination, poverty, violence motivated by ideology, raging wars by aggressive states (U.S., NATO states, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey, and Israel) on militarily weaker nations are all different forms of slavery whereby the victims often lack effective means of resistance despite putting up strenuous fights.
Since I touched on the issue of slavery by other means, there is one peculiar form of slavery that I call Behavioral Enslavement. In such form, peoples, groups, individuals think, react, and take action in accordance with transmitted, fixated ideas about other peoples, their cultures, and their ways of life. You can see such a form of slavery of the mind in the episode “The Paradise Syndrome” (ST: TOS). The script depicted Kirk and Spock encountering a peaceful oasis inhabited by a tribe of Original Peoples; most westerners still chauvinistically call them American Indians following the name coined by Christopher Columbus.
First, paradise is an idyllic imagination of a place. Consequently, dubbing it as syndrome is odd. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines syndrome as follows: “a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition”. A question: which group of signs and symptoms did the producers find abnormal about the place they depicted?
Aside from its absurdity as imagination, what is wrong with such a depiction anyway? Are we not dealing with fiction? This is fiction; so where is the problem? Consider the following sequence of events. A writer from the 20th century imagined a situation in the 23rd century. In it, the writer continues to see the tribe as still living in teepees. Still wearing the same attire of four centuries earlier, still motivated by irrational passions (as seen when a tribesman attacks and wounds Kirk in a fit of jealous rage), and still believing in the supernatural as the sudden appearance of Kirk from a shrine pushed them to think of him as a divine entity. It is reasonable to conclude that the writer was incapable of seeing the Original Peoples in any other way except that one depicted by Hollywood. Very little thought the producers gave to tribe’s other attributes like synchrony with nature, wisdom of the mind, peaceful relations, and much, much more.
American hyper-imperialism is distinguished for playing the pretext maker, the accuser, the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the executioner in international relations and wars. The undergirding for such a self-arrogated “extraordinary” role is sheer unaccountability—primarily due to its military power, aggressive impulses, and institutionalized gangsterism.
In one episode of ST: TNG, Commander Ryker reprised the role played by the United States on Earth but gave it the allure of a space backdrop in the 24th century. In that episode, “The Vengeance Factor,” a space woman was seeking vengeance against another group with who her people were at war (what else populates the mind of Star Trek writers except war?) Well, when the woman was lunging toward her designated target to kill him, Ryker pleaded with her not do it, which was a fine act of chivalry. To make her desist, Ryker—with a stony expression on his face and a phaser in his hand—kept stunning her. When she made her final lunge, the First Officer vaporized her with a phaser no longer set to stun.
Let us debate the killing. Because Ryker, his captain, and the crew freely express the principles of the Federation—so-called Prime Directive—, why did he not use all other sophisticated means of the Enterprise to subdue and then expel her from the ship without resorting to total annihilation? Had he done that, the viewer could surmise that the humanity of the future had come a long way from the path of violence by implementing carefully crafted humanistic mentalities…. Yes; it is impossible to read the mind of writers; but it is quite possible to read between the lines of thought. So, what to make of a pretentious script that dispenses with elementary ethical concerns for the sake of slipshod story writing that varnishes senseless violence? Alternatively, was the script a subliminal attempt to slip in an ideological architecture whose undeclared end is providing acquiescence for U.S. imperialistic violence in its self-granted role as the world’s cop?
This leads to the foremost issues whereby fictional space stories replicate, reinforce, and rationalize acts of the system’s violence on Earth. The implication is straightforward: the impulse for rationalized killing seems deeply seated on the minds of those who think of themselves as the guardians of state powers and directives. In a word, one may conclude that in travelling from our century to the 24th, the trekkers of the Enterprise have paved no new paths toward peaceful co-existence or prevention of wars. On the contrary, they were enmeshed in terror and discord wherever they went.
Before closing, I must address how Star Trek producers and writers, from the Original Series to NuTrek, composed certain stories. William Shatner once tweeted, “What is NuTrek? Is that like simonizing?” Shatner’s sarcasm is incisive—he hit the nail on the head. Star Trek filmography cannot escape the “curse” of cheap commercialism, contentious writing, poor writing, ideological writing, and writings that cannot (or do not want) to deal with fictionalized space stories on humanistic platforms.
For instance, at the end of the film Star Trek: Into Darkness, a young Kirk gave a speech to a large audience gathered at Starfleet Command. He said, “There are always people who want to harm us …” Where did that come from? Of course, it came from post-9/11 atmosphere where the phrase, “Why do they hate us…” became an everyday ideological construct in the hands of American interventionists. In the same movie, Admiral Marcus, who was plotting a war with the Klingons, angrily asked Kirk, “When war comes, who’s going to lead us: you!” His words indicate one thing: he expected that his pretext would lead to a fighting war and that he would be the one directing it. In this context, it appears that fiction writers are often keen to start wars in space. Why is that?
Star Trek: The Original Series is replete with odd scripts. Among these is the episode “Patterns of Force.” Not only is this episode highly ideological, but also very poor from the viewpoint of fiction writing. Why on earth (after all the Hollywood movies about the Third Reich), does one have to watch a space fiction story set in the 23rd century only to find Kirk and Spock fighting Nazi-like species and humans on a planet called Ekos? In political terms, “Patterns of Force” was a propaganda tool by the producers to keep the talk about Germany and Nazism going. To make the point, did anyone see a Star Trek movie having the landing party come to a planet where Americans have devastated places like Bear River, Wounded Knee, Dresden, Berlin, Korea, Vietnam, or Hiroshima, for example?
Kirk and Spock did it again in the episode “City on the Edge of Forever.” In it, Spock points out that the death of Edith Keeler is necessary to end her pacifist campaign from stopping WWII (otherwise, Germany would have a nuclear bomb). Consequently, Kirk did not try to save her by letting her die under the wheels of a passing car. What is the deal with such episodes: fixation or indoctrination? (Remark: yet, it was okay, from the viewpoint of ST writers, for the U.S. to build a nuclear device and use it on Japan. Why is that?)
To close, Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and all successive spinoffs are interesting to watch. On other grounds, my opinion is that the franchise in its current forms and structures has no intellectual soul. From the viewpoints of reason and hope, it is not promising to see U.S. fictional starships drift in space only to engage in wars somewhere in the galaxy. It is one thing that the United States is ruining our world with real wars; it is another when it is ruining the outer space with fictional wars.
Then there is the nowadays reality: this summer is the scheduled official standing up of the United States Space Force, the U.S. army in space. Stand by!
- First published at Axis of Logic.
The television series Star Trek has appeared in several iterations with a few handfuls of movies thrown in that have fired the imaginations of viewers of all ages for nigh 55 years. In particular, Star Trek captured the viewership of many progressives because Star Trek was much more than science-fiction intrigues or the swashbuckling adventures of humans exploring outer space.
The flavor of the universe was now different. Star Trek: The Original Series (ST:TOS) was set in the 23rd century on a planet Earth where poverty and wars were atavistic remnants of an inglorious past.
The Star Trek series presented a future where humans had overcome so much of the negative baggage that had plagued humankind. The progressivist1 fancy is rooted in tales of morality where the galaxy provides a most interesting backdrop. Humanity’s strengths and foibles are explored. And there is the diversity of the cast of ST:TOS — a big deal for the 1960s. Included among the bridge complement is an African female communications officer, a Russian navigator, an Asian as senior helmsman, and an alien as the chief science officer. The crew regardless of origin, for the most part, were very collegial.
Not a Perfect Progressivism
There might be some druthers. For example, the Enterprise’s Dr McCoy occasionally engaged in irreverent banter with the Vulcan science officer, targeting his alien demeanor and green-bloodedness. And depending on how one defines sexism, the nubile women on TOS were invariably shown wearing tiny mini-skirts and skimpy attire, and frequently women found that captain James Kirk had glommed onto both their shoulders, ostensibly in an attempt to exude 1960’s machismo.
Exploiting sexuality would seem to apply to the skintight catsuit that Jeri Ryan had to wear as the character Seven of Nine. Ryan was fine with it: “I have no problem with the costume…. And it… got the desired effect.” A bevy of female characters appearing on Star Trek are considered beautiful. Is that objectification or is it a facet of the human condition? Ask yourself if you prefer seeing a physically attractive male actor versus a plain Jim with a beer belly or a physically attractive female actor versus a plain Jane with flaccid underarms. The ratings for ST:VOY spiked after the voluptuous Ryan joined the cast.
There is also a rigid hierarchy that can cause friction at times among crew. This is very apparent in the ST:VOY episode “The Omega Directive.” Starship Voyager captain Kathryn Janeway sees fit to keep the entire crew uninformed about the presence of Omega molecules because protocol forbids it. Of course, the entire crew is curious and speculating; an in-the-dark commander Chakotay tells Janeway that she is not always a reasonable woman; Seven of Nine is in conflict with Janeway’s order to destroy the Omega molecules; ensign Harry Kim is upset at Seven’s deployment of crew to set up a chamber to safely contain the Omega molecules; Seven and the doctor argue about access to a patient suffering from Omega particle exposure in sick bay; Seven upsets the patient.”
And although all may appear dandy on screen, what goes on behind cameras may be a stark departure from the Hollywood-created fiction.
The Demise and Rise of Star Trek
ST:TOS never properly found its ratings footing in the 1960s. Season 3 had a new man at the reins, producer Fred Freiberger. TOS was made on a sharply reduced budget, scheduled in a terrible time slot (Fridays at 10 PM, a “death slot” in those days), and it had experienced a dramatic turnover in the quality of the writers room. Thus, season 3 ratings were dismal (… or not). NBC would cancel TOS at the end of season 3, a move generally considered one of the biggest blunders in entertainment history.
Star Trek, however, went on to become a sensation in syndication. Reruns would spread domestically and internationally. An animated series ran for two seasons. The resurgent popularity eventually spawned movies with the TOS cast.
Next up: flash forward to the 24th century and ST: The Next Generation. The cast is still diverse; miniskirts are less common;2 sentience is accepted in whatever form; the Trekverse doesn’t use money; and replicators have eliminated scarcity.3 Three more series followed TNG in a similar progressivist vein: ST: Deep Space 9, ST: Voyager, and ST: Enterprise.
Then, after a four-year run, just as the series ST:ENT was seemingly finding its footing with engaging story lines, the plug was pulled. Star Trek producer Rick Berman pointed to “franchise fatigue” as the reason for a drop in viewership. Actor Connor Trinneer, who played the chief engineer Trip on the show, cited poor scheduling by the UPN network and the departure of a corporate supporter in 2001 as leading to the show’s eventual demise with the final episode airing in May 2005.
An attempt was made to resurrect the ST:TOS brand in 2009 — same characters but played by different actors. The movie Star Trek was highly successful at the box office. This can be attributed to pent-up demand from long-time Trekkies, interest from sci-fi aficionados, as well as good promotion that attracted younger, curious fans. However, the writers, director, and producers had not captured the essence of Star Trek, especially the progressivism.
Writer David Gerrold who worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation gave his thoughts about the first two JJ Abrams Star Trek films:
… a lot of the movies being produced by the studios have fallen into the blockbuster trap of we have to have big moments, big blockbuster, CGI, exciting moments. And so what gets sacrificed is the emotional growth of the characters. There is no emotional through line. For me that is the problem in the JJ pictures is that they [are] very exciting but they don’t get us back to the heart and soul of the original Star Trek which is that Kirk has an interesting problem to solve that forces him to deal with a moral dilemma of the prime directive, being a Starfleet captain, and following the rules. And if you look back there was a severe limit on what Kirk could do because he was a Starfleet captain.
Moreover, because of corporate intricacies, there was a stipulation that the movies had to differ at least 25 percent from the original source material. Based on the initial box office success, two more movies would follow. But the numbers of movie-goers would diminish, and a fourth movie could not muster sufficient corporate backing. Given that we now live in the age of COVID-19, cinemas regaining popularity might be a fraught proposition.
Franchise fatigue? Yet when considering the comics, paperbacks, magazines, memes, action figures, model ships, cosplay, the number of people attending ST conventions, cameos and mentions in other TV series (e.g., Stargate, Family Guy, Big Bang, etc), and the plethora of ST fan films produced over the years, one would surmise that ST has always been in vogue.
An article in the culture section of GQ, “This Is How Star Trek Invented Fandom,” posed two questions that point to a disconnect in Roddenberry’s progressivist Trekverse and the corporate world within which Star Trek finds itself immersed:
Star Trek Las Vegas is perhaps the largest meeting of pop culture’s most famous fandom and certainly its priciest. The questions hover above the convention like a cloud of Tachyon particles: to whom does Star Trek really belong? How much, exactly, is that worth?
Despite the unwavering popularity of ST conventions and the ongoing making of fan films, currently produced ST television series had mirrored the vacuity of outer space. The fans were out there and clamoring for ST, but the corporate number crunchers were wary about what the eventual bottom line would be.
The long on-air gap between production of new Star Trek episodes or series spurred some among its fan base to create new fan episodes. Among these fan films were ST: New Voyages and then the 11 episodes of ST: Continues, both of which told stories of the further adventures of Kirk and crew.
A novel fan film is Star Trek: Aurora, a two-episode CGI animation about the experiences of a Vulcan and a human who crew a cargo ship in the Trekverse.4 It was exceedingly well done, with appealing characters and fascinating storylines.
Then along came a documentary-style ST fan film, Prelude to Axanar, which drew a large audience on Youtube — over 5 million viewers. Subsequently, a Kickstarter to produce a Star Trek: Axanar movie raised over a million dollars. That was too much popularity for CBS. That corporation, apparently, feared dollars flowing into pockets not its own. CBS launched a lawsuit for copyright violations and issued “onerous” guidelines for fan-film productions based on the Star Trek brand. Is that any way to treat your fans? The strict guidelines raised quite a kerfuffle among fandom, and CBS felt compelled to trot out an official to offer explanation.
No film and the failure to reimburse all donors to ST: Axanar has placed creator Alec Peters at the center of controversy since.
The world of television continues, but it faces new challenges from streaming services, such as Netflix. This has caused a ripple through the marketplace. CBS introduced its own streaming service, CBS All Access,5 and sought to revive and profit from its dormant Star Trek brand. Thus, in September 2017, Star Trek would reappear with a new TV series, titled Star Trek: Discovery.
Following the disappointing 2009 Star Trek movie, I wrote of a hope that:
… any future TV series will preserve the dynamism but also engage its audience with episodes exploring, for example, the depths of humanity, moral dilemmas surrounding the Prime Directive and cherished principles of the Federation, and progress toward egalitarianism in the future. In this way, Star Trek might recapture the progressivist attraction of the earlier series and appeal to the sanguinity of many viewers.
Yet, the ST:Disco series has stirred up extreme consternation among many Star Trek fans, often called Trekkies.
Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Deanna Troi on ST:TNG, opined about subsequent Star Trek series:
I actually think that Star Trek got it right in our show and in the original show because the shows were about something. They weren’t just entertainment… They were little morality plays and that is what Star Trek lost after we were done. And it ought to go back to that.
I will agree with Sirtis insofar as the new iterations of Star Trek — created by Alex Kurtzman — have spectacularly missed the mark on what drew so many devoted fans to Star Trek in the first place. Many Trekkies reject these newer iterations as being Star Trek and refer to it instead as NuTrek. Or sometimes the difference between pre-2009 and subsequent Trek as “Old Trek” versus “New Trek.”
To be fair, the musical scores in NuTrek are excellent, the special effects are first rate, exotic shooting locales are used, and the acting is professional. But the core progressivist tenets of the Trekverse established under Roddenberry have been obliterated under Kurtzman.
The half century of Star Trek canon, built up by six previous Star Trek TV series and 10 movies, was swept aside through intentionality and ignorance. Continuity between the ST iterations has been irrevocably ruptured.6 Right away, longtime fans would notice that a popular alien species, the Klingons, had completely morphed into what appeared to be an unrecognizable species. This is despite the physical differences between the TOS Klingons and later Klingons, who had developed prominent forehead ridges, having been satisfactorily and cleverly explained in ST:ENT — seemingly all for naught now.
At the time ST:Disco was about to be launched, fans of Star Trek were informed by executive producer Akiva Goldsman that ST:Disco would take place in the prime timeline, preserving the canon therein. Yet during season 3, ST:Disco had officially declared the Kelvin-timeline movies canon.
Wokism on Steroids
Another criticism of NuTrek is that wokism and identity politics were now being rammed down the throats of viewers, although Roddenberry’s Trekverse saw humanity as having evolved beyond this.
Wokism even claimed the “acclaimed” author Walter Mosley, a Black man, who was onboard as a writer for Star Trek: Discovery until he quit after he was “chastised” by human resources for using the N-word on the job.
The Hollywood Reporter interviewed Mosley:
Mosley went on to explain that the individual in HR said that while he was free to use that word in a script, he “could not say it.” Mosley then clarified, “I hadn’t called anyone it. I just told a story about a cop who explained to me, on the streets of Los Angeles, that he stopped all n—ers in paddy neighborhoods and all paddies in n—er neighborhoods, because they were usually up to no good. I was telling a true story as I remembered it.”
Mosley wrote that he is unaware who complained about his use of the word. “There I was, a black man in America who shares with millions of others the history of racism. And more often than not, treated as subhuman,” he continued. “If addressed at all that history had to be rendered in words my employers regarded as acceptable.”
Contrast this approach with that in the ST:TOS episode “The Savage Curtain.” When the attractive lieutenant Uhura approaches, Abraham Lincoln is moved to exclaim, “What a charming Negress.”
Uhura replies, “But why should I object to that term, sir? You see, in our century, we’ve learned not to fear words.”
To this, Lincoln states, “The foolishness of my century had me apologizing when no offense was given.”
Too often missing from woke consideration is intentionality. It is necessary to discern what were the intentions of a person using a word that some people consider inappropriate. Thus, Walter Mosley found himself attacked despite not having sinister intentions. Uhura recognized the innocuous terminology of Lincoln and was not offended. It was just a word anyway. Lincoln was engaged by Uhura instead of attacked for what some might have deemed been inappropriate wording. A willingness to engage in respectful discussion along with the attempt to understand are required to change minds and improve the human vocabulary. To attack a person without attempting dialogue risks a backlash from a person who might otherwise have been found to be well-intentioned or, at least, not ill-intentioned.
Any Vulcan will inform you of the simple logic that, in human parlance, honey is far likelier to attract bees than vinegar.
Robert Meyer Burnett, who is best known for directing, co-writing, and editing the feature film Free Enterprise, has also been extremely critical of the writing and storytelling in NuTrek. In his Robservations he asks, “What is Star Trek: Picard about and Who Really Created It?” and “What exactly is Star Trek Storytelling?” Yes, Burnett is extremely disappointed in the writing and storytelling of NuTrek. But he doesn’t just point out the flaws with writing, he also proposes how it could have been better written to appeal to viewers.
This is not to say everything was artful and hunky-dory in the pre-Bad Robot (read JJ Abrams) and pre-Secret Hideout (read Alex Kurtzman) ST. There are some clunker episodes such as “And the Children Shall Lead” in TOS, “Code of Honor” in TNG, and “These are the Voyages” in ENT. There are inconsistencies with canon, albeit usually not blatant and usually not intentional. And it is granted that in the TOS era, the special effects and technology to produce aliens and creatures was sorely lacking by today’s standards. For instance, in TOS’s “Arena,” captain Kirk fights the Gorn which is obviously a man in a lizard suit.
Nonetheless, NuTrek does have its fans. I appreciate that there are people who derive enjoyment from viewing NuTrek. One Youtube channel that is somewhat predisposed toward NuTrek but makes a reasoned case for its leaning is Ketwolski. Ketwolski acknowledged problems early on with ST:Disco. However, he contends that by the conclusion of season 3 that Disco has grown its beard; that “thematically, it was all very, very connected…”
In his review and breakdown of ST:Picard season 1, a NuTrek series based on the ST:TNG captain Jean Luc Picard a few decades hence, Ketwolski described parts of the finale as “frustrating,” “very weird,” and noted how the plot lines were disjointed. But he concludes, “Overall, I can say that Star Trek: Picard is the best first season of any Star Trek show to date, and that is quite the feat.”
Burnett disagrees: “I’ve been a Star Trek fan pretty much all my life. It’s pretty much my favorite thing.” But he feels baffled and perplexed looking at ST:Picard.
Burnett posed a question to himself about ST:Picard: “What is the element that I cannot stand about this show?” To which he replied, “The callousness with which it approaches life, humanoid life specifically.” He pointed to an example in episode 4 that left him “gobsmacked,” that of Picard walking into a Romulan bar “to stir up shit” that resulted in a Romulan migrant being beheaded. The message being that it is okay to murder your enemy — which, he said, is “straight up antithetical to Star Trek.” To adduce that this iteration of ST is “painfully stupid on every level,” Burnett noted that the sign at the Romulan bar was written in English.
NuTrek’s Absence of Likeable Characters
Probably the biggest gripe about NuTrek is the inferior writing and storytelling. The creator, writers, and showrunners do not seem to have a handle on what ST has been about and why it attracted such a fervent fanbase. This is despite clinging to the species and characters that comprised previous Star Trek. Thus Klingons and Romulans are recycled. We are presented with a bastardized captain Picard and the iconic Spock, as first played by Leonard Nimoy, has been reduced to a caricature. Thus the contradiction that what is labeled NuTrek is relying on previous Star Trek without grasping the ethos of Star trek.
I do not complain about the actors or the acting in NuTrek. But I am thoroughly unimpressed with the writing and storytelling. It must be quite difficult for actors to perform in an appealing manner to viewers when the script they base their acting upon is one of inferior writing with poorly developed characters or on previously developed characters that have been pretzeled into incoherent aberrations. While the crew of the spaceship Discovery is still diverse, the characters are all so unlikeable.
This is particularly so with the lead character of Michael Burnham who is played by actor Sonequa Martin-Green. Much of the fandom concurs about disenchantment with this character. Michael Burnham is often referred to as a Mary Sue; which has come to mean something along the lines of a young woman too extraordinarily capable at everything. (The male equivalent has come to be called Marty Stu.)
A Youtube channel, Trekpertise, asked the question: “Is Michael Burnham a Mary Sue?” Trekpertise concluded she wasn’t, and this conclusion was much pilloried in the comments section (albeit some especially devastating critiques seem to have been removed).
Many NuTrekkers dismissed complaints about the Michael Burnham protagonist as racism. This is an ad hominem argument, and it does not hold water. Racists are highly unlikely to be attracted to Star Trek because of its embrace of diversity. Then there are the facts that Uhura was a Black bridge officer in ST:TOS, Geordi La Forge was the Black chief engineer in ST:TNG, and Avery Brooks played the Black captain in ST:DS9. One excellent DS9 episode, in particular, “Far Beyond the Stars,” stirred abhorrence for the mental weakness and anti-humanism of racism.7
A comment by W PlasmaHam reads:
It seems as if the ultimate goal of this [Trekpertise] video was to defend Burnham by asserting that all criticism was motivated by race, gender, or dislike of a serialized format. I feel that such an argument is quite dismissive of legitimate criticism towards her. It appears that the majority of people in the comments agree that Burnham is a flat or unlikable character, even those who say that Mary Sue accusations are unfounded. Will you address those? Because it feels as if you took a quite easy approach to analyzing her character.
To which Trekpertise replied:
That wasn’t the purpose of this video. The purpose of this video is too illustrate that the Mary Sue criticism isn’t applicable to Michael Burnham, or indeed any other character in film and TV. It belongs to the fanzines of the 1970s. There is plenty else to discuss with Michael Burnham.
Early on there was the intriguing and mildly charismatic Saru, a Kelpian who represents a new species introduced by ST:Disco. However, the writers would later have Saru neutered (figuratively) by Michael Burnham. The writers also saw fit to promote ensign Tilly in one fell swoop to number one. A fan favorite character, Spock, was also diminished beside the perfection of his sister-through-adoption, Burnham.9
Is NuTrek a Copycat?
The writing is so egregious that several seeming instances of plagiarism are apparent in ST:Disco. For example, some scenes appear to have been lifted from the films Die Hard, Total Recall, and The Day After Tomorrow.
Is it Disco paying homage? But there is no acknowledgement of the idea emanating from elsewhere.
A comment by OneBagTravel opined that “… these similarities is that they’re not just ideas being borrowed, they’re visuals nearly shot for shot stolen. It’s far too blatant to just say it’s coincidental.”
The criticism of plagiarism by Disco, however, started right off the bat when a lawsuit was launched against CBS and ST:Disco over the alleged stealing of the idea of a mycelial network traversed by a giant tardigrade across space-time and other similarities from the game “Tardigrades” created by Anas Abdin. The lawsuit was dismissed because Abdin had to “prove” the idea theft by CBS.
This points to NuTrek sadly lacking creativity and imagination.
How Popular is NuTrek?
In 2009, J.J. Abrams directed the science fiction action film Star Trek, written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 94% and fans 91%; it had a gross in the US of $257.7M.
The next film was titled Star Trek into Darkness. Again the ratings were favorable at Rotten Tomatoes: critics rated it 84% and fans 89%; it grossed $228.8M in the US.
The third film was Star Trek Beyond. Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 86% and fans 80%; the gross in USA had dropped to $158.8M — still a significant number.
The NuTrek TV series present a different picture. For ST:Disco there is a notable distinction between the ratings of critics and fans:
- ST:Disco Season 1; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 82% and fans 50%
- ST:Disco Season 2; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 81% and fans 36%
- ST:Disco Season 3; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 90% and fans 46%
- Short Treks: fans only at 37%
This notable distinction between the ratings of critics and fans also applies to ST:Picard:
- ST:Picard Season 1; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 87% and fans 56%
A NuTrek animation series also completed its first season:
- ST:Lower Decks Season 1; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 65% and fans 44%
Of interest is a series called The Orville that is contemporaneous with NuTrek. It was created by the Star Trek fan Seth MacFarlane who was enamored with ST’s morality, writing, and characters. Although campier than ST, The Orville has captured the essence of ST’s progressivism and crew camaraderie. Work on season 3 of The Orville is, reportedly, underway, having been disrupted by the pandemic. For The Orville, the fan and critic ratings are the obverse of that for NuTrek in season 1. It was loved by both fans and critics in season 2:
- The Orville Season 1; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 30% and fans 94%
- The Orville Season 2; Rotten Tomatoes had critics rate it 100% and fans 94%
The numbers indicate that The Orville, obviously an homage to Star Trek, is quite popular with viewers.
Intellectual Property and the Rights of Fans
Intellectual property rights accord priority to the owner of an idea over the benefits that could accrue to the wider society from access to the idea. Intellectual property rights have been used to hamstring the greater good for humanity, as well a ST fan films.
Yet Jeff Macharyas argued,
There has been no other TV show in history that could be considered as “open source” as Star Trek. In true open source fashion, fans have used the universe originally created by Gene Roddenberry in 1964 as “the source code” for fan-made films, cartoons, games, etc. If one considers the characters, settings and general plots of Star Trek, then it’s easy to understand how Star Trek has been a true open source universe.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, would seem to agree. He wrote in the foreword to Star Trek: The New Voyages (1976):
Television viewers by the millions began to take Star Trek to heart as their own personal optimistic view of the Human condition and future. They fought for the show, honored it, cherished it, wrote about it–and have continued to do their level best to make certain that it will live again.
…We were particularly amazed when thousands, then tens of thousands of people began creating their own personal Star Trek adventures. Stories, and paintings, and sculptures, and cookbooks. And songs, and poems, and fashions. And more. The list is still growing. It took some time for us to fully understand and appreciate what these people were saying. Eventually we realized that there is no more profound way in which people could express what Star Trek has meant to them than by creating their own very personal Star Trek things.
Ella von Holtum, affiliated with the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa, examined “Freedom of Expression and Intellectual Property in Fan Fiction of the early 1980s.” She summarized some learning points:
- Intellectual Property and Freedom of Expression exert very different forces upon cultural productions
- Intellectual Property applies economic principles to the realm of creative expression
- Freedom of Expression does not contribute to an oppressive power dynamic, and supports the work of all creators
- Intellectual Property should not be invoked in discussions about creative products – it simply doesn’t apply, and demonstrates deeply harmful effects
Gene Roddenberry passed away in 1991. Unfortunately, Roddenberry had sold the rights to Star Trek to Paramount for one-third of future profits.10
In the meantime, as far as Star Trek is concerned, the corporatocracy determines what will be produced and when it can be viewed. The only power of the fans is to tune in or not to tune in; in the end, this is a mighty power. It is the fans who will determine whether a show is profitable or not. The corporations may control what is made available for viewing, but the public decides what they will view.
Hope for a Star Trek Future?
The world is far from achieving the morality of 23rd or 24th century Star Trek.
Nonetheless, Star Trek is important because it presents a vision of what the future could be, something people could aspire to. Becoming an astrophysicist, astronaut, scientist, film industry writer, social justice campaigner, etc. To work toward the abolishment of poverty, racism, the penal system11 and war. However, we don’t need to wait for the 23rd century. We can start right now in the 21st century. It is a matter of will and determination. China didn’t wait for the 23rd century. It took action and demonstrated that absolute poverty can be eliminated now.
In the Star Trek future, Earth is united under one government. Humans of all ethnicities and nationalities are as one. That doesn’t mean Star Trek is free from propaganda. For instance, prominent human characters in the Trekverse tend to be American, although countries are a thing of the past. In the film Star Trek: First Contact, Zefram Cochrane invents the first warp drive spaceship in Montana, leading to first contact with Vulcans. Captain Kirk is from Iowa. Captain Pike who preceded Kirk is from California.
The TOS episode “The Omega Glory,” features the Yangs (Yankees) and Kohms (Communists), the Pledge of Allegiance, and the flag of the United States. This patriotic reverence for Americana takes place in a distant solar system on the planet Omega IV. However, this is not surprising for a series produced by an American TV network for an American audience.
Twenty-first century Earth is a planet riven by militarism and violence, imperialism, hegemony, factionalism, classism, racism, prejudice, poverty, inequality and inequity. It is the moneyed classes that control the media. It is the moneyed classes that will determine what appears in mass media. Warring is normalized as patriotic, and that may well explain the militarism and warring among planetary factions that is so prevalent in NuTrek. The rich thus become richer by launching wars to be fought by the poor who are speciously told they fight for honor and country.
In NuTrek, the United Federation of Planets is no longer governing, and Earth, one of the founding members, is no longer a member. The principles of the Federation lie at the core of what Star Trek is about: “liberty, equality, peace, justice, and progress, with the purpose of furthering the universal rights of all sentient life. Federation members exchange knowledge and resources to facilitate peaceful cooperation, scientific development, space exploration, and mutual defense.” Yet NuTrek even goes as far as to depict the much more distant future as regressivist, factional, battle-scarred, wracked by poverty, and dealing with energy scarcity. This is what the crew of the USS Discovery encounter after exiting a time vortex to emerge in the 32nd century.
What is this message from NuTrek? Clearly, the 32nd century is not aspirational. This is why NuTrek is anathema to so many Trekkies.
Finally, midway through season 3 of Disco, I gave up on watching what I hoped would be Star Trek because I finally reached the inescapable conclusion that NuTrek up to now (i.e., Disco, Picard, and Lower Decks) was not Star Trek. I had watched (and rewatched) every episode of every ST production until this moment. Nonetheless, I will hope that future ST series will reconnect to serious grappling with moral dilemmas, the advancement of the human condition, the positivity of what is to come, and the writing of thoughtful scripts with developed characters (some of who are appealing) in line with previous ST series (i.e., before NuTrek).
Poor audience ratings and criticisms have plagued NuTrek from the start. Surely those criticisms have been heard by the corporate suits, but will they respond to what the fans want? Netflix didn’t pick up ST:Picard for international distribution. ST:LD went without an international distributor well into its season. Clearly streaming services weren’t fighting each other for NuTrek.
The financial markets became bearish for ViacomCBS in late March, as the stock began to precipitously plummet.
Yet, NuTrek is filming a fourth season of the much reviled ST:Disco and a second season of the already tired retread ST:Picard, which tries to slip in many cameos for Patrick Stewart’s former colleagues with mixed results; e.g., Data, the android who doesn’t age, has appreciably aged. NuTrek didn’t even bother in a few cases to hire actors who previously had played the ST characters, so viewers were expected to overlook the incongruencies.
Knowing that there is a hardcore Trekkie fanbase seems to have jaundiced some in the NuTrekverse to a possibly negative reaction. Did Jason Isaacs who played captain Lorca in season 1 of Disco take this fanbase for granted when he said:
I don’t mean to sound irreverent when I say I don’t care about the die-hard Trek fans. I only ‘don’t care’ about them in the sense that I know they’re all going to watch anyway. I look forward to having the fun of them being outraged, so they can sit up all night and talk about it with each other.
An antipathy has arisen among a section of NuTrekkers toward those who do not share their appreciation for NuTrek. They frequently call critics of NuTrek “haters.” While some of these people probably would admit to hating NuTrek, most people do not respond well to be called a hater.
What I hate is ad hominem, so I am unimpressed when people resort to the tactic of disparaging other people through name-calling. Calling others “haters” is illogical, regressivist, and antithetical to the Trekverse as conceived by Roddenberry.
A glimmer of hope?
Season 2 of Disco saw captain Pike of the USS Enterprise injected into that series for one season. Afterwards, fans clamored for more of Pike and the Enterprise, and such a series is, reportedly, in the works. It offers a ray of hope for the fans. But given the NuTrek track record, don’t hold your breath.
Next: In Part 2, B.J. Sabri will discuss Star Trek from an expanded political viewpoint.
- To define: “What Is Progressivism?“
- This is definitely not to imply that wearing a miniskirt is negative; it would just seem to indicate that the gams of female characters were now being downplayed in favor of their other attributes.
- Manu Saadia, Star Trek fan and contributing writer for Fusion.net, has written a book that delves into the utopian economics of the Trek universe: Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek. Review.
- The second episode is titled “Mudd in Your I.”
- Subsequent to a corporate merger, it has now been renamed Paramount+.
- Why didn’t Secret Hideout (Kurtzmann’s production company) hire a super knowledgeable Trekkie or two to check the scripts for canon and continuity errors? If Secret Hideout did do this, then it has a bad HR department. But I suspect that Secret Hideout intended to rip up ST canon and continuity.
- Having added an adjective denoting preponderent skin pigmentation in this essay was very frustrating, and so some level offensive, to this writer because fans of ST do not see race; they just see humans. And it is hoped that all humans would recognize that we all are that: humans.
- For additional argumentation for Michael Burnham being a Mary Sue, view “Michael Burnham is The Best at Everything (Part 1),” “Michael Burnham is The Best at Everything (Part 2),” and “Michael Burnham is The Best at Everything (Part 3).”
- Spock’s sister having suddenly appeared out of the NuTrek ether — canon be damned again.
- James van Hise, The Man Who Created Star Trek: Gene Roddenberry (Pioneer Books: 1992): 58. Via https://archive.org/
- They still have the brig on starships, but the dignified treatment of internees is light years beyond the gulags of Abu Ghraib, Alcatraz, Attica, and Guantanamo.
A new radio play by Tayo Aluko based on events surrounding Paul Robeson’s concert in Peekskill, New York in 1949, and the racist, anti-communist riots that came before and after it, drops on Paul Robeson’s birthday — April 9th — and it seems more timely than ever.
If I weren’t paying close attention, it would be easy to dissociate and forget what time zone I was in. Racist, anti-Semitic mobs laying siege to an event, attacking participants indiscriminately as police were completely absent, or stood by and did nothing.
Their explicit aim was to lynch someone — musician, activist, athlete, linguist, and African-American, Paul Robeson. Though they failed in this effort, they injured many people, and destroyed a lot of property in the form of cars and buses as people were trying to leave town — succeeding in the latter efforts particularly because of the active cooperation of the local authorities in directing traffic their way, down narrow roads. They succeeded in creating an atmosphere of terror that resulted in events being canceled across the country soon afterwards, among many other consequences.
The mob was not only protected by the police, but they were very actively encouraged by the local press, which had a familiar, one-sided orientation — if you didn’t believe in capitalism, you were a communist, the enemy within, out to take away our freedom and prosperity.
And it wasn’t just the local press. Although it may not have been necessary to lie in order to make people look bad, the most incendiary claims that motivated the mob to act as they did were fabricated from whole cloth, with parts of a speech that soon became globally infamous being sent across the wires before the speech was delivered — and inaccurately.
But it wasn’t just the right wing, racist, anti-Semitic mobs motivated by ideologues, assisted by fake news put out by some combination of press outlets and politicians, with the active collusion of the local police, laying siege to established, annual, local events that seemed so familiar. There were so many other things.
While it was a prosperous period for many, for many others it wasn’t. Especially for those struggling to find a job after so many industries were in transition in the years following the Second World War — in Peekskill, New York, and across the country.
Before Westchester County became the extremely wealthy New York City suburb that it is today, it was the nearest rural area north of New York City where people from the big city could have weekend and summer getaways. Before it was that, it was a river valley dotted with factory towns and farms.
That combination of radical ideologues with control over huge propaganda machines, spouting lies, egging on mobs to create an atmosphere of terror, in the context of rapid societal transformation, with so many people sacrificing so much to live such precarious lives, is not a new one. And it is a combination that has caused so much damage in the past.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers for salvaging this society, but I’m sure wherever those answers lie, they must probably involve first understanding what led to the events of August and September, 1949, in Peekskill, New York.
• Tayo Aluko’s radio play about the Peekskill Riots, Paul Robeson’s Love Song, drops on Paul Robeson’s birthday, on April 9th, 2021. More info about the launch will be up on Tayo’s website soon.The post Days of ’49: Remembering Peekskill first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Each couch by the street has a story
I wonder what this one maybe
Did they leave their home and move into a car
Or find a sofa to sleep on at a friend’s house
Did they stay near, or go far away
Disappear without a trace […]
When they come to evict your neighbor, what will you do?
— “Each Couch by the Street” song by David Rovics
When I checked the Street Roots archives by putting in the search window, “David Rovics,” I got one hit: a March 8, 2010 press release, “Peace groups, parents, children and folk musicians Steve Einhorn, Kate Powers, and David Rovics will all be at the rally outside Portland Public Schools headquarters.”
It was a protest against military influence in Portland’s K-12 Portland Public Schools. He was there singing to inspire parents opposing a $320,000 revenue contract for Starbase, a 25-hour educational program funded out of the Department of Defense recruitment budget.
Fast forward a decade: If you’ve been part of the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, you might have heard David Rovics perform social justice and protest songs outside Mayor Ted Wheeler’s condo or at Revolution Hall after the election.
The 53-year-old father of three (ages one, four and 14 years) has been working the protest concert circuit since 1993, helping lift spirits at WTO protests, environmental actions, antiwar events, and more.
Think of Rovics as an iteration of Joe Hill, a la Arlo Guthrie-Phil Ochs-Pete Seeger-Joan Baez. And Buffy Sainte-Marie, for sure!
Journalist Amy Goodman referred to Rovics as “the musical version of Democracy Now!” Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan called him “the peace poet and troubadour of our time.”
Accolades aside, we talked about the landscape before and now during (and post) Covid-19 being littered with dwindling hope for all artists. Many artists will not make it, study after study bear out.
“I definitely know folks who have either gotten on unemployment or gotten a job not related to their art, as a result of the pandemic. Of course, I also know a lot of artists who had to throw in the towel long before the pandemic, as a result of Spotify, Amazon, etc., and theses corporations’ cannibalistic orientation towards the arts.”
He came to Portland from Berkley almost 14 years ago, and he too, like so many artists I have spoken with, experienced a Portland that was a Mecca for artists – thriving music, theater and graphic arts scenes that allowed creatives to live and provided venues at affordable rents in order for artists to show their stuff.
That nirvana didn’t last long – “Artists started clearing out of the city, with most of the Black population from the inner neighborhoods moving to the exurbs.” That wave started around 2007.
Rovics is acutely aware that most of the thriving artists who might weather economic tsunamis are white artists, but there are thousands upon thousands of BIPOC artists who continue working but do not have those “safety nets” underneath them. The mainstream and commercial art scene will continue to be a white wave.
This gentrification is now coupled with lack of income(s), Rovics says, as artists who used to be able to show and sell their work (and bar-tend and wait tables), and in the case of musicians, perform and then peddle “merch” at venues, have zero options for in-person engagement.
Mounting debt, continuing eviction threats, and increasing vulnerability to disease and illness also are additional factors to the mental health stress of artists. David knows of artists who just have shut down, and can’t work. Others are manic, going through sleepless periods but producing a lot. For Rovics, he fits this latter category, but he admits he is not immune to GAD – general anxiety disorder. He told me he watches a lot more news feeds than he did before the pandemic, and doesn’t sleep through the night.
“The whole response of this country has been a disaster,” he points out. “Whole industries have collapsed. There have been anemic shreds of money, but it will not magically keep society as we know it going. What is it, the day after Christmas when unemployment benefits run out?”
We both agreed Charles Dickens, if alive, would be in a 24/7, 365 days a year flurry of creativity and commentary.
There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth! Poverty and oysters always seem to go together. To close the eyes, and give a seemly comfort to the apparel of the dead, is poverty’s holiest touch of nature.
— Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers
Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs Gone Haywire
It’s difficult to not keep circling back to the fact many people – artists included – are both depressed and inspired by the events that have unfolded since February. “I’ve talked to a lot of artists who tell me the isolation takes away that creative edge. I also know of people succumbing to more serious mental health issues. I have one friend in a psychotic episode who was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning.”
Painting in a studio by yourself is one thing, but Rovics points out that because all venues for performing artists are shuttered, touring musicians are really having it hard. “They are addicted to performing, so this isolation has been devastating.”
The pandemic might be the last nail in the coffin for truly independent, thriving, outside-the-box artists. Rovics has studied the wave of predatory capitalists running Spotify and Amazon that has helped move the minuscule profits from artists to investors: millionaires and the billionaire owners like Jeff Bezos (Amazon).
The music industry has been trying to separate music from politics for years now, trying to get artists to believe that politically oriented music is not attractive for mainstream audiences so they produce work that is safe and preferably only between two people. But artists are part of society too, so they can’t expect to be above politics, he stated in a 2009 interview.
Spotify is another beast Rovics condemns. According to Rolling Stone’s Tim Ingham, “In total, at the close of last year, SEC documents show that exactly 65 percent of Spotify was owned by just six parties: the firm’s co-founders, Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon (30.6 percent of ordinary shares between them); Tencent Holdings Ltd. (9.1 percent); and a run of three asset-management specialists: Baillie Gifford (11.8 percent), Morgan Stanley (7.3 percent), and T. Rowe Price Associates (6.2 percent). These three investment powerhouses owned more than 25 percent of Spotify between them — a fact worth remembering next time there’s an argument about whose interests Spotify is acting in when it makes controversial moves (for example, Spotify’s ongoing legal appeal against a royalty pay rise for songwriters in the United States).”
The problems artists are facing are part of a many-headed Hydra Rovics calls “vulture capitalism.”
He also confronts this problem from renter’s and the affordable housing lenses. He naturally comes to the conclusion that Capitalism in this sense is fraught with parasites:
“The way forward is about solidarity, but achieving solidarity will require moving beyond the false consciousness that says it is okay to run a society like this,” he states. “That housing is a privilege, whose cost is to be determined by profit-minded individuals and corporations, protected by the state’s armed enforcers. We must collectively come to realize that housing is actually a right, that we must demand, as a society. And that a rent strike is an activity to engage in not only if you can’t afford to pay the rent, but if you believe that it is wrong to pay the rent, when so many others are unable to. That an injury to one is an injury to all. That the parasites in this society are not the unemployed, the homeless, the recipients of meager government aid programs, the housing insecure, the couch-surfers, the car-dwellers. The parasites are those who own multiple properties, and profit off of renting them to people who need housing. This is a parasitic activity, whether hiding behind the fig leaf called ‘mom and pop,’ or whether ‘mom and pop’ has successfully managed to turn their little operation into a bigger one.”
The people who control the rents for galleries, theaters and cinemas answer to the owners, the investment boards and many times to behemoth property management entities, he states. And while artists’ careers will pile up by the wayside like those couches in Portland he wrote a song about, what is worse is that the “art” that is and will be coming out of the corporations controlling culture will be narrowed down and basically “crap.”
The reverberations of artists not making it go way beyond the axiom of “where you find one successful artist, you will find a thousand starving artists behind them.” The hoarders of capital are the dream hoarders, and these Titans of Predatory Capitalism are galvanizing a highly commercialized, denuded, lowest-common-denominator “arts.” Disneyfication, infantilization, consumerist, apolitical and anti-working-class pabulum might be another way to couch what is happening in the arts.
Rovics and I talk intensely about these series of preventable events in a Time of Covid.
No matter where the reader stands on this question of what is art, the fact of the matter is people need housing to not just survive and shield themselves from the elements, but to be dignified, spiritually available to the world and to be creative.
Rovics is part of Artists for Rent Control (ARC) and a more recent group, PEER – Portland Emergency Eviction Response (his creation). When I went to PEER’s website, I found a plethora of information, podcasts of mostly Rovic’s songs and ways to stave the flow of blood that both artists and non-artists living in Portland face with their housing.
PEER is definitely grassroots, sort of a network with no financial backing or lobbying clout. It has one clear strategy, and one tactic.
The goal is the abolition of forced eviction as an option for landlords and police forces. The implementation of the goal is to form a large and militant rapid response team that can respond quickly to attempted evictions as they are occurring, and at that point either stop them from happening, or move the tenant back in to the property after the police leave the scene,” Rovics states. “Specifically, or at least ideally, the process we’re talking about goes something like this: Tenants facing potential eviction because they’re pretty sure they’ll be unable to pay the back rent due when the eviction moratorium is over are faced with various decisions. They may have family they can move in with — a majority of young adults now live with their parents in the US, for the first time since the 1930’s. A tenant will often prefer to move into a vehicle or do any number of other things other than attempt to stay in their home after receiving an eviction notice. Forgive the harshness of this sentence, but these are not the tenants that are tactically of interest to PEER. We are looking to work with tenants who want to challenge their eviction notice by attempting to stay in their homes. We realize the stakes are high, and you do, too. People may decide to try to stay in their homes because they have no other options they want to consider, or because they want to challenge the whole system of forced eviction, or both.
Seeds of Creativity, Germination into Activism
Rovics grew up in New York with two musicians as parents. They also taught music, and they were progressive and anti-establishment. He started touring in the 1990s dialed into groups like Students for Environmental Action. He did a lot of college campuses concerts. He worked as an activist songwriter/performer in the anti-war and Occupy Wall Street movements. He was a long hair white guy with a guitar and anger.
“In places like Germany and Scandinavian countries, unionism has always been strong. I’ve performed in trade halls, union halls, theaters. Take a country like Denmark – the government supports the arts in a big way.” Even punk rock squat concerts were financed by governments and unions.
Before the pandemic, Rovics toured Europe two months in the Spring and two more in the Fall. He said he was paid well. “Students and activists would come in for free, drink cheap beer and my merchandise sales were significant.”
So, Spring would have Rovics crisscrossing nine countries, mostly in Scandinavia. Then in the Fall he would tour in Britain and Ireland. Each concert, each interaction created a bigger and broader group of adherents and fans. Getting people’s emails is like a gold mine, the musician tells me.
While the gigs attract a wide variety of people, he emphasizes it is mostly left-wing idealists and organizers unified in the anti-war, anti-imperialism, global justice, environmental movements. Not all left-wingers fit the same mold, though, so socialists, anarchists, hippie environmentalists and even in Ireland Sein Fein members would populate the audiences in his concerts.
Even though Rovics — before he started his own family — lived out of a vehicle as he toured, and was homeless for two years in his youth, he knows he came into the world and into the arts with a boatload of white privilege and that his two musician parents and his life back east provided him with untold advantages.
“I play for people across the board, from wealthy to the homeless.” He has written and performed songs about homelessness.
When I asked him about artists forced onto the streets because of the pandemic, Rovics said he wasn’t aware of any in Portland who hit that far into rock bottom land. “I was just talking with a panel discussion of artists — one in Detroit who got a job as a welder, another in New York who got on unemployment, another artist who has felt very inspired by the pandemic, and one who has not done anything in months, because of the negative impact of the isolation she’s experiencing.”
Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
— Victor Hugo
We talk much about activism welded to the arts – “Activists, many of whom are barely making a living or working two jobs just to make ends meet, are also stressed out for a variety of reasons, but they tend to be among the happier people in society because they are trying to do something. That is empowering. My line of work permits me to travel around the world regularly and I meet people like that all the time and they’re lovely.”
Not so ironically, the murder of a friend in 1993, was to him, a seminal moment in his life: a gang shooting that was intended for someone else. He was moved to action on a global justice plane. He composed a song about it in “Song for Eric”:
San Francisco at night
And the warm summer breeze
Walking back alleys
Just as free as you please
And I think of those poor boys
Who drove up to say
“Give us your money”
And then they blew you away
With one pull of a trigger
Your sweet life was through
Every time I see that street, I think of you
As a final (side note), I contacted David to help facilitate another piece for this column about two artists and two others associated with the arts concerning their thoughts on Art in a Time of Covid. What unfurled was a deep discussion with this inspiring man, active in Portland on many levels. While he is not “down so long everything looks up to him,” David and his family have been on a rent strike and are having issues making ends meet.
“As of November 21, just in case it’s of interest to your editor, my family’s situation is that we have been denied unemployment since last April, inexplicably, so other than the $1,200 per adult and $500 per kid we received from the feds early on, we have gotten no federal aid.”
They’ve also been denied food stamps because they make too much money, but they’ve been getting the supplementary food aid ($500 for a family of five) Oregon has added to the usual amount people get over recent months.
The reality is an anarchist like David Rovics is optimistic and less hopeful in the same breath He tells me social democratic countries are faring far better than capitalist countries like the USA. He believes system change is best taught through storytelling. “People get turned off if you tell them what should and should not be.” Being a troubadour allows him to relate to the individual struggles of our time, set forth universalities hardcore lectures on the ills of war, capitalism and climate change can’t facilitate, he believes.
This statement Rovics made in 2019 in response to the “concentration camps” set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) highlights this dichotomy of hope and struggle:
“We all had that conversation when we were kids about how if we could go back in time and shoot Hitler, even though we’d be sacrificing our lives in the process, we’d do it, but we probably wouldn’t, and we don’t. The overwhelming majority of humanity, quite sensibly, according to the historical record, don’t stick their necks out like that unless they think there’s at least some remote chance of coming out the other end with their heads intact, along with a victorious social movement and an end to the fascist dictator they’re trying to get rid of in the first place. Social movements are based on optimism, and this isn’t an optimistic moment in America. So, this is what it’s like.”
Check his music here, and these are David’s top picks of his current work: Say their Names; Anarchist Jurisdiction; Essentially Expendable; Each Couch by the Street; Wear a Mask. David Rovics music —
The post On the Streets, In Union Halls, On the Frontlines: Have Guitar, Will Travel first appeared on Dissident Voice.
On October 16, Avi Dichter, Israeli Member of Parliament from the right-wing Likud Party, announced that Assaf’s special permit to enter the occupied Palestinian West Bank would be revoked.
Assaf, originally from Gaza, now lives with his family in the United Arab Emirates. He achieved stardom in 2013, when he won the ‘Arab Idol’ singing contest. His winning song, “Raise your Keffiyeh”, represented a rare moment of unity among all Palestinian communities everywhere. As the audience, the judges and millions of Arabs danced along when Mohammed took center stage in Beirut, Palestinian culture, once again, proved its significance as a political tool that cannot be disregarded.
Since then, Mohammed has sung about everything Palestinian: from the Nakba — the catastrophic loss of the Palestinian homeland — to the Intifada, to the pain of Gaza to every Palestinian cultural symbol there is.
Assaf was born and raised in the Gaza Strip. Here, he experienced Israel’s military occupation first-hand, several deadly Israeli wars, and, of course, the ongoing siege. Both his parents are refugees, his mother from Beit Daras and his father from Beir Saba’. The young man’s ability to overcome his family’s painful legacy, yet remaining committed to the cultural values of his society, is worthy of much reflection and praise.
Dichter’s announcement that Assaf would be barred from returning to his homeland is not as outrageous as it may appear. Israel’s war on Palestinian culture is as old as Israel itself.
Throughout the last seven decades, Israel has proven its ability to defeat Palestinians and whole Arab armies, as well. Moreover, Israel, with the help of its Western benefactors, succeeded in dividing Palestinians into rival groups, while breaking down whatever semblance there was of Arab unity on Palestine.
Even geographically, Palestinians were divided and isolated into numerous little corners in the hope that each collective would eventually develop a different set of aspirations based on entirely different political priorities. As a result, Palestinians were holed in besieged Gaza, in segregated zones in the West Bank, in East Jerusalem, in economically marginalized communities within Israel, and in the ‘shataat’ – diaspora.
Even diasporic Palestinians, some made refugees multiple times, subsisted in political environments, over which they exercise very little control. The Palestinians of Iraq, for example, found themselves on the run at the onset of the American invasion of that country in 2003; the same happened in Lebanon prior; in Syria later on, etc.
Israel’s incessant attempts at destroying Palestine, in all of its representations, moved from the material sphere to the virtual one, pushing to censor Palestinian voices on social media, removing the reference to Palestine from Google Maps and even from airline menus.
None of this was random, of course, as Israeli leaders understood that destroying the tangible, actual Palestine had to be accompanied by the destruction of the Palestinian idea — the set of cultural and political values that give Palestine its cohesiveness and continuity in the mind of all Palestinians, wherever they are.
Since culture is predicated on myriad forms of expression, Israel has dedicated much energy and resources to eliminate Palestinian cultural expressions that allow Palestine to exist despite the political division, Arab disunity and geographic fragmentation.
There are numerous examples that amply demonstrate Israel’s official obsession with defeating Palestinian culture. As if the physical erasure of Palestine in 1948 was not enough, Israeli officials are constantly devising new ways to erase whatever symbols of Palestinian and Arab culture that remain in place.
In 2009, for example, Israel’s right-wing government began the process of changing the names of thousands of road signs from Arabic to Hebrew. In 2018, the openly racist Nation-State Law degraded the status of the Arabic language altogether.
But these examples are hardly the start of the Israeli war aimed at defacing Palestinian culture. Israel’s founders were aware of the danger that Palestinian culture posed in terms of its ability to unify the Palestinian people, soon after the ethnic cleansing of nearly two thirds of the Palestinian population from their historic homeland.
In an official letter sent to Israel’s first Interior Minister, Yitzhak Gruenbaum, the latter was tasked with swapping the names of newly depopulated Palestinian villages and regions with Hebrew alternatives.
“The conventional names should be replaced by new ones … since, in an anticipation of renewing our days as of old and living the life of a healthy people that is rooted in the soil of our country, we must begin in the fundamental Hebraicization of our country’s map,” the letter said in part.
Soon after, a government commission was assembled and entrusted with the task of renaming everything Palestinian Arab.
Another letter written in August 1957 by an Israeli foreign ministry official urged the Israeli Department of Antiquities to speed up the destruction of Palestinian homes conquered during the Nakba. “The ruins from the Arab villages and Arab neighborhoods, or the blocks of buildings that have stood empty since 1948, arouse harsh associations that cause considerable political damage,” he wrote. “They should be cleared away.”
For Israel, erasing Palestine and writing the Palestinian people out of the history of their own homeland has always been a strategic endeavor.
Fast forward to today, the official Israeli machine remains dedicated to the same colonial mission of old. The agreement signed in 2016 between the Israeli government and the social media platform, Facebook, to end Palestinian ‘incitement’ online is part of that same mission: silencing the voice of the Palestinian people at any cost.
Palestinian culture has served the Palestinian people’s struggle so well. Despite Israeli occupation and apartheid, it has given Palestinians a sense of continuity and cohesion, attaching all of them to one collective sense of identity, always revolving around Palestine.
Israel’s announcement to bar a Palestinian singer from returning, thus performing to other Palestinians under occupation is, from an Israeli viewpoint, not outrageous at all. It is another attempt at disrupting the natural flow of Palestinian culture, which, despite the loss of Palestine itself, is as strong and as real as it has always been.
The post What Does Israel Have against Palestinian Singer, Mohammed Assaf? first appeared on Dissident Voice.
Always tell the truth. Always take the high road. Live each day like it could be your last. Drink it in. Be adventurous, be bold, but savor it. It goes fast.
— Ben, from the movie, Captain Fantastic.
Once you drive down the road overlooking Olalla Slough, you end up on a 6.7-acre paradise. Before humans emerge from the ranch-style house, the visitor is greeted by clicking of tongues, screeches and whistling.
Ram Papish and his wife, Dawn Harris, have a residence that includes an outbuilding called “The Love Shack.” No, the B-52’s song is not on a loop. Rather the colorfully painted aviary is home to a dozen parrots affectionately named, Love Birds (genus Agapornis).
There are other avian family members on the property, in another aviary — blue fronted Amazon parrot, Solomon Islands eclectus and an orange winged Amazon parrot.
I am first greeted by Dawn who has a cold soda for me in hand. I recognize her from one of the trainings I was a part of with the Oregon chapter of the American Cetacean Society as part of my certification to become an ACS naturalist. That was March 2019.
She works as the visitor services coordinator for the US Fish & Wildlife Service.
Then Ram emerges with his N95 mask in hand — we all three agreed to the interview and photo session outside.
I first met Ram at the State of the Coast conference at the Salishan Resort in Lincoln City, Oregon. That was November 2019. He imparted a tidal wave of facts and riffs about what it means to be an artist. He is king of anecdotes tied to a life as an illustrator and field biological technician.
Today, on a sunny late June 2020 day, he reiterates at his home what he told the large group at Salishan last year: He considers himself “an illustrator . . . and artists look down their noses at illustrators.”
At the State of the Coast conference, young people abounded, including youthful scientists presenting their research through the elegant process of postering, a mix of science and illustration, something very close to Ram’s heart as he considered in these parts, “The Wayside Interpretative Panel” impresario for the Oregon Coast.
The State of the Coast crowd was in awe of Ram’s hand-painted pants — colorful tufted puffins adorning his trousers is one way to get an audience’s attention.
On the minds of many at the breakout session was, “How do you become an artist?” First, Ram answered in the negative:
“When I went to college, I didn’t think I could make a living at it. I sent out dozens of portfolios to publishers and children’s book publishers. I was really naïve.”
The introduction to art class at Cornell was a turning point in his pursuit: “The professor was basically trying to teach us how to be a snobby artist. I wasn’t going to have any part of that.”
Without question, Ram’s personal and professional drive is to connect people to nature. He works on commission — paid gigs assigned by Oregon State Parks, other agencies and publishers. His drawing avocation started when he was very young; by age 14 he was designing nesting dolls.
Birds of a feather…
Ram and Dawn met in 2002, at the Newport Christmas bird count. He was a single guy and she was married at the time. The three were friends until her divorce. Ram and Dawn eventually dated and then tied the knot.
Dawn beamed ecstatic about their birding trips, including one to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) where penguins and albatrosses were part and parcel on their birder’s log.
She’s from South Carolina, having attending K12 in S.C. Ram is originally from San Diego from a hippie family fulfilling a vagabond lifestyle.
“My father considered himself somewhat of a poet, a man of letters,” Ram says, smiling. They lived in a tent and spent time in trailer parks. “I was outside all the time.” In eighth grade the family ended up in Eugene.
He is one of five — four boys and one sister. He laughs as Dawn relays how they range in age from 40 to 50.
“Outside” for Ram meant observing nature.
Dawn’s community college years encompassed Manatee Community College in Sarasota, Florida. From there, a BS in wildlife ecology from University of Florida and an MS in the same field from Oregon State University. She ended up as a seasonal employee with US Fish and Wildlife doing work in California on seasonal wetlands and mallard duck transitional ecosystem research.
Ram, the archer
Pronouncing his name means knowing Ram (variant of Rama) is the most common male name in India, the Sanskrit origin meaning as “archer; pleasing.” Think “raw” plus “hmm.”
We have much territory to traverse around Ram’s incredible illustrations and his early proclivity for and talent with drawing.
As a couple, they fit perfectly, as Dawn, 48, and Ram, 47, frequently finish each other’s sentences. It’s obvious Dawn is his biggest fan. I ask them what makes for a good marriage, or couple. Dawn seamlessly states: “We have so many shared interests.” Those include gardening, landscaping, bird watching and travel.
While she has no artistic bent, Dawn supports spiritually and emotionally Ram’s commissions, which include wayside panel illustrations up and down the coast. He has painted more than 100 panels reflecting the area’s diverse ecosystems and flora/fauna.
His interpretations entice the visitor to reflect on the ecology but also to realize the illustrator behind the images is deeply ensconced into the land. It’s a case of love for and deep reflection of nature.
Anyone hiking around Toledo high school might hear those love birds (the parrots) and other rescued parrots this birding couple has helped settle in this exotic land (for an Amazonian bird, yes, Toledo is super exotic).
I try and find more than eight feeders and eight bird boxes on the property. As I leave their home, Dawn shows me the mason bee box they made. I am happy to recall that this April, the couple came in second statewide with 48 bird species sightings in the backyard one-day bird count.
“The earth is what we all have in common.” — Wendell Berry, Naturalist and writer
There are questions about what comes first, art or the environment. There is a passion in art, and yet for Ram, it’s nature that he works with as his universal canvas. Berry’s comment isn’t lost on Ram.
He uses water color techniques with acrylics. He is in his studio showing me the new iteration of his techniques using a computer screen, program and smart pen to design and illustrate work.
He’s working on a junior biologist book for K3 youth. It’s a cool learning tool, sponsored by the Alaskan Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. He’s got one double-page ship cut-away illustration with the goal for readers to spot 15 rats Ram has strategically drawn onboard.
As a panel illustrator Ram knows “less (text) is more.”
“No more do we have textbooks on a stick,” he stated at the conference about the old style of wayside or historical signage where page after page of text dominated markers and panels.
He utilizes the “Rule of Threes” — three seconds to read the headlines; 30 seconds to glance it over and get the gist; three minutes to read everything including the captions.
His work includes tidepool life in Pacific City, shorebird stop-over on the Bandon Marsh, tidepool explorer at Cannon Beach, sea bird islands at Ecola State Park. He has illustrations in field guides, to include Oregon birder books.
He’s a veritable encyclopedia of ecosystems, bird life and aquatic, river and terrestrial species.
In the field
The couple can’t wait for outdoor activities and group meetings to resume with the Yaquina Birders and Naturalists group, of which Ram is president.
Both Dawn and Ram have been speakers on separate occasions for the Oregon Chapter of the American Cetacean Society. Birds and their habitats are their focus, with Ram’s added panoply of art from the field.
Dawn has seen many changes in the Fish and Wildlife Services and her profession: more women. She reflects on what has influenced women to embrace nature and the outdoors.
She attributes this to the power of narratives of such female scientists like Rachel Carson (“Silent Spring,” 1962) who is considered the mother of the environmental movement and who also worked for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Add to that Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle and thousands of female scientists and educators growing the field to include girls interested in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.
Obviously, the STEAM. movement — add Arts to STEM — links to Ram’s avocation.
For Harris, wildlife comes first. For Ram, art comes first but his art would be a shell of itself without the integration with and interpretation of the natural world. They have no children, and their lives are intertwined with landscaping, gardening and those darned long-living rescue birds.
The whimsy Ram imparts is universal. He has some amazing paper mâché masks and animals, such as a bigger-than-life turkey vulture. Two books he illustrated and wrote for children — “The Little Fox” and “The Little Seal” both published by the University of Alaska Press — captivate the child’s imagination and wonder for the seal’s and fox’s world.
Ram reiterates he’s always willing to go to public schools to wow youth with his incredible background in art and science, while deploying his flair for public speaking to captivate young and old alike.
A fast-paced PowerPoint with all his illustrations projected on a screen are both impressive and awe-inspiring for young and old.
The best things in nature
The biggest thing Ram misses in this time of lockdown is the summer sea bird camp coordinated through the Pribilof Island Seabird Youth Network, which covers four volcanic islands in the Bering Sea. He’s been the wildlife illustrator there for more than eight years.
The camp works with youth, many Aleut, covering these areas:
• Open doors to careers in science and natural resource management.
• Increase sense of ownership and understanding of local resources.
• Provide training in marketable multi-media skills.
• Provide education in seabird ecology, research and conservation.
Dawn reiterates how disappointed Ram is now that the camp has been cancelled due to Covid-19. The youth are big losers, since they will miss the collective IQ and creativity of the staff, the comradery amongst themselves, and the amazing ecosystem splendor including 11 species of birds that breed on the island.
As part of the team, Ram works in a partnership between the Pribilof School District, the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, the City of St. Paul, Tanadgusix Corporation, the St. George Traditional Council, St. George Island Institute, the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and the wider scientific community.
The program’s website, http://seabirdyouth.org/ shows the amazing facial and body language of not only the youth getting so much out of the time, but also people like Ram, who in many photos has these ear-to-ear grins while he’s mentoring and instructing youth.
Both Ram and Dawn assert this is the best way for young and old to learn, engage in life long critical thinking and to continue on as mentors and teachers themselves, whether they go into educational fields or not.
Where are people — students — going to get the in-the-field and on-the-canvas wisdom Ram Papish brings to the proverbial table unless they are there, hands on, with him, in a learning environment with the tools of the trade — camera, brushes, paints, photographs and field research?
Ram qualifies as a unique illustration instructor at the Sea Bird Camp because he has also had 20 field seasons working as a biological sciences technician studying birds and other wildlife, primarily in Alaska. He’s a hands-on artist who encourages youth to create art.
What’s more inspiring to youth than an illustrator who has his work published in books and publications, including the Handbook of Oregon Birds, Northwest Birds in Winter and Oregon Birds?
His last big outing was in January, at the OSU Extension office for a talk, “Drawing on Nature: Connecting People and Wildlife Through Art.”
From paperboy to illustrator
We’re looking at the round plates adorning the kitchen where Dawn is setting up some chips and salsa. It’s a new obsession Ram is involved in creating — sgraffito. These are amazingly simple images of nature, and birds, to include one of my favorites, a kingfisher. The word is derived from the Italian, “graffito,” a drawing or inscription made on a wall or other surface (think graffiti) .
In ceramics, sgraffito is a technique of ornamentation in which a surface layer is scratched to reveal a ground of contrasting color. Ram mentioned this at the State of the Coast talk, too.
Before Ram was designing dolls, he was a paperboy. He recalls how in Eugene he was throwing the newspaper on the lawn of who would be one of his illustrator idols — Larry McQueen.
“I recognized him from a biography of him I had been reading.”
McQueen is still around, and his biography and bibliography are deep when you go to his page on Artists for Conservation.
Here’s a snippet from McQueen’s page:
“I grew up in the small town of Mifflinburg in central Pennsylvania. Birds fascinated me from the start. With colored pencils, I attempted to draw birds that I observed on early morning forays around the neighborhood. One of the first books my parents gave me was “The Junior Book of Birds” by Roger Peterson, illustrated with a small selection of paintings done by several bird artists of the time. Each illustration in this slender book presents the bird in a full page of habitat. As a child, these images influenced my perceptions of the bird in nature, profoundly. Around the age of ten, I was given two books with impressive artwork: a 1937 edition of reproductions of Audubon’s ‘Birds of America’ and another large volume entitled ‘Birds of America,’ with illustrations by Louis Agassiz Fuertes. I have since studied the original work of these great bird artists, with veneration. The inspiration of others continues and I regard as pivotal, the paintings of the great Swedish wildlife artist, Bruno Liljefors, of early 20th Century.
At age twelve, I was invited to be a founding member of the Bucknell Ornithological Club at Bucknell University, close to my hometown. Involved with regular meetings and field-trips, I was learning about ‘ornithology’ as a subject, and my birding skills greatly improved.”
At age 15, Ram tells me he worked at a public relations firm producing illustrations for brochures and advertisements. At 16, one of Ram’s paintings was hung in the US Capitol building.
He was the political cartoonist for the South Eugene High School newspaper. “I did a lot of political cartoons.” Pen and ink drawing was his forte.
He did illustrations of jet boats for a business on the Rogue River; wildlife scenery for different chambers of commerce; designed nesting dolls of endangered species for the Nature Shop. That was by age 16.
He’s still a lifelong vegetarian, incubated at birth by plant-based diet parents. “When you grow up without eating meat, you just can’t stomach it.”
Dawn bends with Ram’s dietary choices, but she still dives into BBQ pork when she ends up back in North Carolina. Ram is experimenting with sushi — tuna — and so far, he’s faring well.
Dawn and Ram’s last trip together on a flora and fauna safari was in Tanzania on the Serengeti plain during the heart of the migration. “The power of those herds of wildlife I have not experienced before. I took around one hundred thousand photos,” he tells me.
For most of us, we will have to vicariously live those trips, through the prism of colors Ram deploys and the interpretations he makes with brushstrokes as our naturalist guide to the art of nature.
Maybe Ram really is the Doctor Dolittle of the illustrator’s world, and he is in good company, with one of this country’s more well-known “illustrators” defining his art:
“Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I’ve always called myself an illustrator. I’m not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life.” — Norman Rockwell
Paul Haeder: What’s the most difficult aspect of wildlife and conservation settings to paint?
Ram Papish: I find people to be difficult.
PH: What would you tell a young person wanting to major in and practice with art?
RP: Start networking immediately. I worked at many different agencies and companies as a biotech that later hired me to do artwork. That type of connection building tends to pay off in the long run.
PH: What animal in the wild would you like to see and why?
RP: Helmet Vanga of Madagascar and Blue Crane (most easily seen in South Africa) are high on my bird bucket list.
PH: Thought experiment — If you believed in reincarnation, what animal would you want to come back as and why?
RP: Great Sapphirewing. They live in the beautiful high Andes and spend their days in cool comfort sipping sweet nectar from alpine flowers. Also, they are relatively free of external parasites.
PH: What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
RP: A rainbow of different artwork including different styles, more sculpture, paintings on glass, computer-based drawings, 3D murals.
PH: Wildlife illustrations can enhance the visitor experience by “adding an extra dimension.” Can you expound on this?
RP: I feel that one of the reasons art is appealing is that it depicts reality through the filter of another person’s vision.
PH: What’s your dream commission?
RP: A series of books called “The Secret Life of Birds.” Each lavishly illustrates the natural history of a different bird species.
PH: If you Google, “greatest wildlife illustrators,” it’s all men. What is up with that do you think?
RP: Like in many professions, traditional gender roles have a strong historic influence. This will change over time.
Note: First appeared in Oregon Coast Today, Deep Dive column. Paul Haeder retains all copywrite and republishing rights. Thanks!