Star Trek Goes Woke!
Has a franchise that's always been political gone too far?
Writing at Fox News, David Marcus warns, “Star Trek writers take Starship Enterprise where it’s never gone before—woke politics.” I guffawed at the headline but, alas, Marcus (with whom I was not previously familiar) is not as big a dolt as the headline had set me up to believe.
There is no more quintessential American story universe than Star Trek.
Since its creation in 1966 the franchise has had myriad iterations on big screen and small, basically invented the sci-fi convention, and has charmed audiences across every generation. But in two recent episodes, writers crossed a line where no Star Trek has gone before. That is to say, they got directly involved in partisan politics.
The first blatant example of electioneering, on Star Trek Discovery, was a cameo by current and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as none other than the President of Federation of Planets. The second was a weird plot twist in the pilot of new show, Strange New Worlds in which the 2020 capitol riot is depicted and blamed for starting a Second American Civil War and the destruction of the planet. To put it more succinctly, Orange man bad.
So . . . this isn’t about going “woke”—which Gene Roddenberry’s creation has been since literally its first episode—but rather directly engaging specific partisan controversies. While I’m most familiar with The Original Series, The Next Generation, and the motion pictures, I can’t think of an instance where they were quite this on the nose in the past.
But Marcus acknowledges the point I had originally intended to make with the post:
To be fair, since the original 1960s series Star Trek has always delved into cultural and societal issues. It has always been credited with diverse casts, with tackling issues like saving the whales (remember that?) and with reflecting American and global foreign policy.
All of that should live long and prosper, but these two recent incidents go a good deal farther. This isn’t issue advocacy, it’s pure partisan politics.
The Abrams thing is just weird (although she’s a self-described “superfan” of the show) and I certainly can’t recall anything that overt previously. I lost the bead somewhere along with way on Deep Space Nine, never really got into Voyager, and liked Enterprise more than most, but haven’t seen any of the more recent series, so it’s entirely possible that I’m missing something obvious.
The Capitol riots, though, are rather sui generis. Supporters of one political party tried to overturn a presidential election, egged on by the sitting President and aided and abetted by the party’s congressional leadership—which is still trying to stonewall investigations into the matter 16 months later.
There’s really no event in modern American history—which I date, for the purpose of this post, as starting in 1966, the year TOS debuted—that compares. There were various riots associated with the Vietnam War and the last stages of the civil rights movement but the partisan divide was not nearly what it is today. And, yes, there was a whole movie about saving the whales but, as Marcus notes, that’s more niche issue advocacy than party politics.
This is part of a broader galaxy of problems as we saw recently with Disney, which owns Star Wars, going to battle with Florida Governor Rod DeSantis. The central confusion here is the difference between showing broad support for things like basic civil rights and openly advocating for one political party’s answers for securing them.
So, for example, almost everyone supports “voting rights” but that isn’t the same as supporting Stacey Abrams. Almost everyone condemns the Capitol riot and political violence, but that’s not the same and placing unique blame on one single event from one side of the spectrum.
I’d argue that the move for Black civil rights was more controversial than even Stop the Steal and the Capitol riot. It’s largely background noise for the average American already, whereas the effort to end Jim Crow was bitterly fought, with constant eruptions of violence, for more than a decade. But, again, it wasn’t a partisan political issue per se because the parties weren’t sorted in the way they are today. Lyndon Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Wallace, “Bull” Connor, and Lester Maddox were all Democrats.
Still, Trek was always “woke.” Putting a Black woman, a Russian, a Japanese-American, and an alien on the bridge of the ship in command of white men was a radical statement in 1966. And, strange as it seems now, putting a woman in command of the Voyager in 1995—at a time when fuller gender integration of the US armed forces was being bitterly fought—was deliberate. And, certainly, conservatives felt that these statements were aimed at them.
Ultimately, the problem here is that this kind of political signaling is alienating for those fans who are not part of the Democrat Party political tribe. As a fan myself, it hasn’t made me turn off the shows, but it’s jarring and also breaks the narrative spell of fantasy and science fiction which is why people tune-in in the first place.
This is, to be sure, a tricky balance. Going back to at least Shakespeare, artists have used their work to convey political ideas. But it’s best done with a light enough touch that avoids insulting those you’re trying to persuade. Done right, a LT Uhura as the communications officer or CAPT Janeway commanding the Voyager will overcome the viewer’s initial objection that “there’s no way that could happen” and eventually have them thinking “well, why not?”
The Abrams thing, at least as described, is a little weird. I was going to say that it lacks the subtlety of the earlier shows but then I remembered this, from TOS season 3 (January 10, 1969):
The show’s writers have often been, shall we say, less than subtle in their political messaging. In the case of “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” the absurdity of people whose faces were black on the left side and white on the right side hating those whose colors were reversed was almost comedic.
The irony is that all three new Star Trek live action shows are quite progressive in the diversity of their casting. And despite hysterical concerns about a backlash that never actually happens, everyone is on board as long as the story and the acting are good.
Artists can, always have, and should use their work to hold a mirror up to their culture and society, even to advocate for broad agenda items. What they shouldn’t do is beam the equivalent of a 30-second Democrat Party political ad into the middle of a space adventure.
Perhaps what America lacks more than anything today is a shared set of strong stories that help explain our world. Even our entertainment is awash in bitter partisanship. It leaves Americans too few places to ponder their lives and communities outside the context of red versus blue.
Star Trek is one of a small handful of entertainment brands with the popularity, scope and reach to be that shared story. But to do so, its creators must choose that universality over scoring cheap, predictable, and partisan political points.
I agree with Marcus on the broader point. Indeed, the fact that he’s fully aware of the shows’ progressive messaging and doesn’t mind that one bit so long as they don’t smack him in the face with it demonstrates the power of art to broaden perspectives. His argument would be stronger, though, if he focused on the Abrams example (which happened two months ago) and didn’t expand it to the Capitol riots. Or use the tired “Democrat Party” label.
While there’s plenty of room for debate on what nomenclature to use to describe the event or what level of punishment any given participant should receive, there’s simply no argument that using violence in an attempt to overturn a democratic election is justified. I’m old enough to remember Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush losing re-election bids and delivering truly eloquent concession speeches that were odes to our shared values. If we can’t agree on something as fundamental as the peaceful transition of power, no television show is going to save us.
Well, this person is clearly not a fan or wasn’t paying attention. Stacey Abrams’ role was that of President of United Earth. 😀
Seriously though, isn’t this all just a bit of kvetching about nothing? She’s a superfan. My husband–a political science major who is pretty up to speed on things turned to me and asked who that was when I exclaimed “HA, omg, that’s funny” when she came onscreen. Some people might have a vague “she seems…familiar” reaction but most aren’t going to have a clue.
The Capitol riots thing blew by in a blink. It was part of a broader indication of a breakdown in society. I’m not entirely sure that it’s not prescient.
Science fiction is virtually always social commentary. Anyone fussing about it being “woke” simply demonstrates that they aren’t typically paying attention.
I guess a show that focuses on morality will seem partisan when a party has so clearly abandoned morality.
Hey conservatives – it’s a tv show, if you don’t like it don’t watch.
And the one in the first series (third season?) w/the “Coms” & “Yangs”.
As far as the Abrams casting, I think a con was “owned” this time. And considering it was announced two months ago, one could imagine Marcus was more offended by mention of the failed insurrection he dismissed as “Orange man bad” than by a cameo role.
All politics aside, as a general rule I don’t like novelty casting. It often breaks mimesis (i.e. breaks the sense of reality), even when you aren’t aware of who the person is and weren’t aware that it was going to happen. A perfect example of that is the Ed Sheeran cameo in Game of Thrones. At the time I had never seen him and so didn’t recognize him, hadn’t heard he was going to be in it, but during the scene I was asking myself what was going on because it obviously broke the tone and acting style of the show.
Ah, yes. We absolutely need to remember that the Republican Party supports “voting rights”.
Much to the dismay of nearly everyone here, I’ll cite Ayn Rand.
She advised not to write contemporary politics in fiction, because 20, 40 or a 100 years from now, people reading it might not have a clue what you’re talking about. that is, you can’t predict whether even a big development now will still be big in the future.
Besides, if anything will unleash a second USCW, it will be the supreme court overturning Roe, combined with a successful coup in 2024.
Everyone supports voting rights, but that isn’t the same as actually wanting everybody to have equal access to voting booths. Almost everyone condemns the Capitol Riots, but that isn’t the same as wanting to see anyone held responsible for planning them or admitting they were part of an attempt to overthrow an election and install a Fascist junta or even refusing to vote participants into congress. Everyone believes in the value of life, but that isn’t the same as insisting that Brown babies not starve to death in detention facilities. And everyone wants equal rights for Jews, but that isn’t the same as demanding they be released from our death camps. We all agree on the underlying principles — why do you awful libs keep harping on these insignificant details?
This creep — and I use that word advisedly — is lying to his readers or lying to himself. The main thrust of his article is “how dare entertainment depict me as I actually am.”
Oh, really? Most viewers of the outlet for which Marcus wrote this piece support the Capitol riot and believe its political violence was wholly justified.
Star Trek put a black woman on a ship’s bridge and made her relevant while Jim Crow still raged in many states. It broadcast the first interracial kiss in American TV history barely a year after interracial marriage was finally made legal nationwide by Loving v. Virginia. And of course as you mention, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” beat viewers over the head with the arbitrariness of race as a social construct. It doesn’t come much more “woke” than that.
The Good Old Days™
David Marcus has a rather large blindspot, as he wholly ignorant of the Republican party’s attempts to impede in any way they can the votes of people known to favor DEMs. It is also Republicans who are trying to shove our collective memories 1/6/2020 into a black hole. I feel it is safe to ignore the opinions of anybody who could write the above.
Let me FTFY David: “Artists can do whatever the F they want.” And so can you.
Haysoos crispo, what a WATB. “Waaaa… the liberals are being mean to me again.”
You know, the quotes around “voting rights” remind me of this from Ryan Reynolds. Fair warning, it’s an “advertisement”, but I find it genuinely funny.
Breaking: Media bros still either stupid, lying, or in denial about today’s ultra-MAGA Republican Party.
FWIW, Abrams really is, as noted above, a superfan. I heard her interviewed on the official Star Trek podcast a year or so ago and I suspect that interview got her cast. It was stunt-casting to be sure, and yes, it had some politics behind it.
(BTW, I would far rather have a politician making a cameo on a TV show than a reality star as president or a TV quack as a Senator, but I suppose one’s miles may vary).
(Also BTW: YES, the orange man was, in fact, quite bad).
The Strange New Worlds ref last week to 1/6 was pretty over, but let me go full nerd and point out that in the established Star Trek timeline the Earth is headed for WWIII in 2026. As such, the turmoil in the US fits rather alarmingly well into that narrative.
But, to echo a lot of the OP and the other comments made: the notion that Trek was never liberal in its orientation and political at its core is just fundamentally absurd. The Klingons were the Soviets and the Romulans were the Chinese. The Federation-Klingon conflict had “Cold War” and even Viet Nam (see, e.g., TOS’ “A Private Little War”) written all over it.
TNG was hardly subtle in it’s references to politics (Picard is quite critical of capitalism in both “The Last Outpost” and “The Neutral Zone” in the first season of TNG). I could go on and on….
Why? Orrin Hatch, Patrick Leahy, Barbara Boxer, Cory Booker, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Harry Reid, and Chuck Grassley have all made cameo appearances on scripted TV shows. Among others.
Triggered GQP snowflakes need to calm down and get over it.
I have been reading science fiction since I picked up Ray Bradbury’s short stories in elementary school in the ’50s. My favorite stuff is always full of politics, whether it be a totally speculative story about something like direct democracy, big corporations having representatives in congress, and on and on. Great food for thought. I have not seen the new Star Trek series, but it feels like tying very recent real events to the story thread instead of creating a fictional event that recognizably parallels it is short sighted and limits where the story can go. But that is a problem only if the show aims to be real science fiction. In today’s political environment, maybe the aim us not to be real science fiction at all, but to get in some political messaging to counteract stuff like conspiracy theories about space lasers starting forest fires.
@Mikey: IIR correctly, the episode with the kiss (“Plato’s Stepchildren”) was preempted in some southern markets.
I would say only somewhat, but no more than TOS.
It occurs to me to note: the plot of Star Trek IV: The One With the Whales (I believe the highest-grossing of those films) is a fundamentally an environmental morality play, linked directly to contemporary issues (including a brief lesson on the problems of whaling in the middle of the film).
In conservative minds this is all some Democratic Party plot, no doubt directed by the omnipresent George Soros from a lair in a dormant volcano. They call it a “Culture War”. Do they ever recognize that it is the culture they’re fighting, not Democrats? I see constant references to “woke corporations”. Do they have any clue that corporations don’t have attitudes, they have marketing departments? And marketing departments tell them how to sell by reflecting the culture. Conservative efforts to hold off culture change with political weapons are misdirected and doing huge damage.
Yes, Star Trek has always been political. One of the main characters was named “Spock.” If the significance of that escapes you, you have very limited knowledge of the Vietnam war era.
I like the non-actor guests that they’ve had from time to time. My favorite was James Worthy as a Klingon. I was used to seeing him in his day job with the Lakers standing next to Kareem and Magic. Seeing his 6’9” frame next to ordinary sized people was impressive.
BTW, does it seem that people, and I’m sure both conservative and liberal, are awfully prone to bitch about every little thing that doesn’t comport 101% with their world view? Can we just ignore them?
When it’s actually “Generational Change.”
Millennials and Zoomers are just not buying the radical right, regressive ultra-MAGA extremism Republicans are selling. They can ban all the books they want: it’s not going to work because young people know the right’s policies suck and that their Trumpist values are vile, disgusting garbage. We — and a not insignificant number of our parents and grandparents — know modern “conservatives” (lol) are bunch of selfish, lying bigots and phony hypocrites who have utterly failed America.
That’s what the GQP’s sore winner rage is all about. They have only pyrrhic victories. Because they are in a race against time that they are going to lose. And there’s nothing they can do but delay the inevitable.
@Steven L. Taylor: “But, to echo a lot of the OP and the other comments made: the notion that Trek was never liberal in its orientation and political at its core is just fundamentally absurd. ”
As is the notion that casting non-actors is in any way a new thing for them. Who can forget Melvin Belli in “And The Children Shall Lead”?
@EdB: “In today’s political environment, maybe the aim us not to be real science fiction at all, ”
And I see before me the potential beginning to an endless internet flame war… and all I’d have to do is say “So what exactly is “real” science fiction, buddy?”
But I’m in a good mood today, so let’s all live in peace!
I also want to note that a conservative whining about politics being injected into a tv show in a very minor way, while forgetting that FOX news is a propaganda arm of the GOP, is just a wee bit rich.
Pot? Meet Kettle, you’re black.
@wr: And I’m not even convinced that “everyone supports/everyone condemns” in the first place. I keep seeing that about 40% or so of the population only supports voting rights for themselves and their kind. A similar group, though not necessarily the exact cohort, not only doesn’t condemn the riots but holds that most of the participants weren’t rioters at all, merely tourists whose enthusiasm wasn’t sufficiently curbed by the barricades and armed officers they were shoving past and striking with sticks and fists.
But other than that? Yeah, I guess “everyone” agrees and is appropriately outraged–especially that Star Dreck has become too woke.
And an instigator of white supremacist terror attacks.
Lachlan Murdoch, Suzanne Scott, Marianne Gambelli and other Fox News executives should be publicly named and shamed, for being enablers of fascism and vectors of radicalization. As should Tucker the Terrorist’s corporate sponsors.
It’s far past time to stop being sanguine about extremists’ attacks on the American people.
@Steven L. Taylor: :”Earth is headed for WWIII in 2026″
Does that mean that Putin has about 4 more years to turn the deNazification of Ukraine into something bigger? (Personally, I’m not willing to bet he can’t pull it off. 🙁 )
@Steven L. Taylor: Is “The One with the Whales” really the subtitle of Star Trek IV? I’m asking because I’ve never watched that one (or most of the other Star Trek movies for that matter). If it were the actual subtitle, that would almost be cool and clever.
I read somewhere, ages ago, a piece in which Gene Roddenberry claimed that every episode of Star Trek OS was intended as a comment on the Vietnam War.
@Steven L. Taylor:
What’s incredible to me is that for decades afterward, network executives were still trying to avoid showing kisses–or any romantic interactions–between white and black actors. (Also, in context, even the Star Trek kiss didn’t represent a romance between Kirk and Uhura; in the episode they were being forced to do it by aliens who had kidnapped them, so it was essentially sexual assault.) What really threw me was when I read about the movie Hitch, from 2005. Initially, Will Smith’s love interest was supposed to be a white woman. But the studio execs didn’t want it. They didn’t want the woman to be black, either, because then it would be “a black movie.” So they “compromised” by casting a Latina actress (Eva Mendes). I am not remotely making this up.
History makes very clear that movie and TV execs strongly tend toward moral cowardice. When they’re “woke,” it’s only due to massive public pressure in that direction. The narrative that they’re trying to force this stuff on the public is laughable.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: No, the official title was “The Voyage Home,” but I really like “The One with the Whales” better too.
The more I think about this, the more annoyed I get. David Marcus is either an idiot or lying about being a fan if this minor cameo triggered him. This reminds me of some of the whining about Roswell, New Mexico when the show included the undocumented status of the lead’s father–lots of complaining about including social issues in a sci-fi show. All I could do was shake my head–if you don’t get the “Aliens=feelings of alienation” subtext, you’re probably part of the cohort who thinks that professional wrestling is “real.”
We truly are headed–if not already in–Idiocracy.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: It’s actually “The Voyage Home.”
Famous people, including politicians getting a cameo had been done before and will happen again. Complaining about this is just whining. Using a real event to branch into an alternate outcome is also a common sci-fi/fantasy ploy. January 6h really happened and projecting it out into the next civil war is well within normal sci-fi parameters. The author just doesnt like it.
@Jen: Coincidentally, I just gave the film a re-watch last night. It is my favorite of the Star Trek movies I have seen (and I have only ever seen 2-7). I’ve noticed over the years that this one tends to be the favorite among non-Trekkies or more casual fans, whereas the hardcore Trek crowd views the second film (Wrath of Kahn) as the best in the series–though 4 is still generally well-respected among them.
One thing I will say, keeping this on topic, is that 4 does show how it’s possible for a movie to address a contemporary issue and still be entertaining. It never comes off as overly preachy (maybe a little, but not excessive), because the topical element is so well-woven into the story.
Off topic, but to your point…
In the 80’s and 90’s, there was a very upscale restaurant in West Hollywood called “Spago”. It’s proprietor, Wolfgang Puck, made sure it was very exclusive. A reservation was almost impossible to get if you weren’t rich or famous, or both. My boss at the time was producing a very popular series on HBO, and he wanted to go to Spago, but he couldn’t get a reservation. For two years, he tried. Finally, he wrote Wolfgang Puck into an episode, and sent the script to Puck and offered him the role, as himself in the series. He accepted, and did a great jog on the episode. After that, my boss was a regular at Spago.
Non acting celebrities have been getting cast in series and films on a regular basis for a myriad of reasons for a long, long time. Nothing to see here. Move along.
The irony is that the overwhelming majority of Star Trek viewers would have no idea who Stacey Abrams actually is. This writer just called more attention to it.
David is writing for Fox News. That means that he is a professional liar, pure and simple.
In fairness, though, isn’t most fiction about contemporary life and politics, one way or the other?
Jane Austen’s work isn’t steeped in contemporary issues? Shakepeare’s?
What is Red Badge of Courage,, The Scarlett Letter, To Kill a Mockingbird, or A Catcher in the Rye about?
I try really hard to forget, because that may well be the worst episode in all of Trek!
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
I was being cheeky. The actual subtitle is “The Voyage Home”
I am struck by how, despite all the talk that Hollywood is dominated by the woke and such, how timid most shows are about homosexual intimacy in mainline shows.
Also: it has always been striking to me that even in “liberal” programs the clear default position is monogamous marriage (as the goal, especially–heck, most romcoms about people pining for marriage) and also how often when a character is faced with an unwanted pregnancy how often that character choose to have to child.
The notion that entertainment is dominated by wacky lefties does not stand up to basic scrutiny, IMHO.
@Kylopod: I believe there’s unanimous consent, especially among the participants, to pretending V, The Final Frontier never happened. Easy to remember, with Beethoven symphonies, the odd numbered ones are the good ones, Star Trek movies, the even numbered.
@Steven L. Taylor:
The difference between literature that lasts and literature that dies is that the former makes whatever the issue is a timeless, universal one.
David Marcus sez…
… and that’s his tell right there. Marcus wants to claim that the GOP (for which he is a mouthpiece without even trying to be balanced BTW) supports basic civil rights while they are actively subverting them.
This has nothing to do with a TV show or entertainment media more generally. It’s just another opportunity to do some gaslighting.
@gVOR08: Nemesis was the 10th. The rule has to be revised to include a leap year type thing to acknowledge how awful Nemesis is.
And the JJ Abrams movies break the pattern with only the third being good, and even then, not really good, just better than the previous two. And having a Jeff Bezos cameo.
Um… I don’t think Marcus is paying attention to his employer’s coverage of January 6th. There’s no condemnation, just minimization.
Further, the episode just uses the footage to show conflict, without taking any stand on which side of the conflict was wrong — Pike mentions “different visions of liberty” which is deliberately avoiding saying anything. He fvcking “both-sides” it.
From the context of the show, it’s entirely possible that the noble common people were standing up against a coup.
If Marcus finds this offensive, then that’s on him knowing what happened on January 6th and being offended by that.
@Steven L. Taylor:
More gaslighting, but it serves it’s purpose. Anything that isn’t the “default position” (the white, heterosexual, monogamous default position) is radical, wacky and “woke.” There can’t be a spectrum, because a spectrum undermines Us vs Them and the purpose of creating an enemy to justify the authoritarianism against the unruly Other that is the GOP brand since Obama was elected.
It’s all in the playbook. If the enemy isn’t insidious and horrifying, then you might be expected to compromise and negotiate with them. The enemy has to be radical and beyond reason in order to rationalize insurrection.
The DS9 two-parter Past Tense inserts Sisko, Bashir, and Dax into the far into the future year 2024, just a few days before the Bell Riots, a riot against the increasingly stratified social inequality that has taken grip in the US.
As noted by Dr Taylor, that is a precipitating event that leads to WW III.
So did the premiere of Strange New Worlds include a brief flash of Jan 6 in its descriptions of the lead up to WW III. Yes. But the only reason it was able to do so is because the rioters voluntarily inserted themselves into the Trek timeline.
Speaking of movies with political cameos, I’m a little surprised nobody has mentioned Traffic. Harry Ried, Barbara Boxer, Orrin Hatch, and others showed up for the meet/greet party scene.
Random but related trivia: “I Spy”, the comedy series starring Bill Cosby and Robert Culp, was resented in the South because the black character was portrayed as the equal to the white one. Sheldon Leonard, the executive producer, had to fight studio execs to keep it that way. FWIW, Leonard was also an actor, for instance as the bartender Nick in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
@Steven L. Taylor: And there is the fact that tRand had the mental development of a thirteen year old and seemed to write for thirteen year olds. Boys. Boys who were only children and spoiled by obnoxious parents.
Not my first choice for writing advice.
@Jen: ” No, the official title was “The Voyage Home,” but I really like “The One with the Whales” better too.”
You can only call it “The One With The Whales” if it has a significant subplot about Ross and Rachel.
@Steven L. Taylor: “I try really hard to forget, because that may well be the worst episode in all of Trek!”
Herbert! Herbert! Herbert!
@Jen: I’m not seeing him as either an idiot or not a fan. Marcus is a simple racist cracker lamenting the days when, if Stacy Abrams had gotten a guest shot on a show, it would have been as a bag lady or motel cleaner. I thought he was pretty straight forward.
And I eventually remembered the original subtitle for STIV. Without even looking it up on the innertubes.
Ain’t that the damn truth.
@Steven L. Taylor: Well Catcher in the Rye is about how many times a “serious” author can write the word “fuck” in a novel before he loses credibility. Apparently, the number is pretty big.
I still remember from my high school days that many of my fellow students were assigned Catcher as part of the curriculum, but our school library didn’t have a copy of On the Road because it had the word “fuck” in it. Hmmm…
@OzarkHillbilly: Sure, but I’ll bet you my dollar against your donut that absolutely none of the three was cast as an important BLACK government official.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: ETA: In a role written specifically to make white children feel bad about themselves and hate themselves for their racism (and racist parentage, too!).
@Just nutha ignint cracker:
From the article:
He’s a *self-described “fan”* of the show.
I’ve been doing mundane stuff (laundry, mostly) around the house today, and so this post has occupied more space than it normally would, I acknowledge that.
It’s been several months since I watched the episode with Abrams in it, and I don’t remember her lines at all, but I don’t think they had anything to do with voting rights.
That means there was nothing–absolutely nothing–“overt” or “weird” (Dr. Joyner’s words, in the OP) about her cameo.
Literally, what is being complained about both in this post and the babbling screed over on Fox, is the simple fact that she was on the show. That’s the whole thing. They are mad that she got a cameo. Because she wasn’t pushing any agenda that I can recall, there were some lines about a United Earth being ready to rejoin the Federation.
James complains that this is about “rather directly engaging specific partisan controversies,” but it isn’t. In neither case, did the show “engage” (LOL, Picard nod there) on specific issues.
James, you wrote a post stating that you agree with someone who has overreacted in an extremely snowflakey way without having watched either episode?
The problem Hollywood has is not that it’s woke, but that it’s woke with a sledgehammer. Original Trek was sledgehammer woke, but that was right for a time when there were just three networks. A bit more subtlety, a bit more intelligence would make the medicine go down easier in the current environment. I’ve been arguing that people should not fear the woke when it comes to Trek, to Star Wars, to LOTR, etc.., but should fear the shitty writing and the insufferable arrogance.
I have hopes for Amazon’s LOTR series but I have very little confidence that the writers can pull it off. That is going to be a heavy lift, and with GOT we saw what happens when Hollywood writers run out of the author’s original material. World-building is hard, it requires discipline as much as imagination, and shoe-horning contemporary issues into it demands a deft touch. I’ve written a lot of fantasy and sci fi and it’s all been political, but never felt political. That’s the trick.
As for Trek I gave up on the newest iterations. They made a stupid decision to go dark and dystopian. Dumb, dumb and dumb. Know your fucking brand, FFS.
DS9 was dark and dystopian 30 years ago and it’s the best Star Trek series IMO.
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” looks pretty good, actually. Might have to check that one out.
What a strange subject…. well while it’s usually quite lame when a political figure appears on such shows and generally a bad and lame idea, just from the visual Ms Abrams really looks quite convincingly Star Trek there. If she managed to act convincingly, doubtless as Jen has noted only various flavours of political obsessives offenderati will notice.
@Gustopher: I should have clarified I was really speaking of movies from the original canon. I enjoyed TNG, Voyager, DS9, and even Enterprise, although I’ve since drifted away. But I fear I tend to disregard the later movies as CGI extravaganzas. As I do the later Star Wars movies. I will admit the later Trek movies had some pretense of plots and characters you could care about and some non-silly dialog, unlike the later Wars movies.
@Slugger: I saw Kareem play in a celebrity game at Dodger Stadium in the early ’80s. He was in the outfield, & he towered over everyone else.
This is why I keep coming back to the crackerness of the author (s?) rather than stupidity or fandom.
@Michael Reynolds: ” That is going to be a heavy lift, and with GOT we saw what happens when Hollywood writers run out of the author’s original material.”
“Hollywood writers.” Geeze, you sound like Barton Fink here, railing against all those horrible movie hacks when the real writers were crafting social realism for the stage. “Many writers do everything in their power to insulate themselves from the common man, from where they live, from where they trade, from where they fight and love and converse and… and… so naturally their work suffers and regresses into empty formalism.” Or wokeness, these days.
“Hollywood writers” are responsible for The Wire and The Sopranos and The Good Wife and Wandavision and Lovecraft County and Watchmen. And everything great — and everything good and everything terrible — in this new golden age of American television.
And the same horrible “Hollywood writers” responsible for the last season of GoT were, shockingly enough, the same “Hollywood writers” who did the first seven.
I’m reminded of the female star of a show my partner and I ran that shot its first fourteen episodes in Bath then came back to LA for the final six (due to a legal falling out between the American and British production companies). She kept bitching about how terrible it was having to act in these script written by horrible Hollywood writers when she had gotten used to the brilliant scripts of the British writers. I don’t think I bothered to say anything to her, considering she was so stupid it never occurred to her to look at title pages of the British scripts she loved so much and discover that every single one of them was written by my partner and me.
Although to be fair, not in Hollywood. In Studio City.
@Lounsbury: “If she managed to act convincingly, doubtless as Jen has noted only various flavours of political obsessives offenderati will notice.”
Credit where credit is due. Generally your prose makes me want to poke out my eyeballs with a pencil, but I have to say “offenderati” is quite clever.
Wait a minute. It’s described as partisan and woke. This is either a reflection of the writer’s inability to separate party and ideology, or an attempt to paint Democrats as the party of woke.
The former would be a reflection of his own party’s evolution over the last decade and a half.
But the latter seemed as subtle as a sledgehammer. But I don’t think this has been mentioned so far.
Not to mention that just about every Dem and everyone in the woke camp would laugh at such an assertion. In short, if a commentator can’t tell the difference between Ocasio-Cortez, Manchin, and Pelosi then they probably aren’t saying anything reality-based.
Or maybe dude is, contra Joyner’s assessment of the piece itself, actually a dolt. Or a partisan. Or a cog in the bullshit machine.
No edit button.
I should add that Marcus himself never uses the word, “woke.” Perhaps he personally disagrees with the headline.
Also by total coincidence this is the T-shirt I’m wearing today.
People don’t notice subtlety. For a lot of people who claim New Star Trek is “woke”, they claim to be fans of the old stuff.
Here’s what they tend to think of as “woke” in the recent series:
1. Black people.
3. Queer people.
4. The Abrams cameo with no message
5. A mention of January 6th with no condemnation
6. An ICE subplot in Picard Season 2
Really, only number 6 could be considered political. The objection is typically that everything is not being seen through the eyes of white men.
What is the more subtle version of Black people? Lighter skinned?
Ok, Discovery has a single token straight, white man in the cast, which is kind of hysterical. He’s Admiral Dad. He also has a brown wife and kids though.
Do we need more straight white men to be more subtle? What percentage? Strange New Worlds has a white male captain and only two black people, so that might be more subtle…
(There might be two — we know nothing about David Cronenberg’s character other than he’s white and male…)
Strange New Worlds is very bright and optimistic so far. There’s an overarching doom as Pike knows his future involves being trapped in the beep chair, but it’s all fun and games for everyone else. It’s also pretty episodic so far, but there’s a thematic link, so we will see how episodic it remains. It feels like classic Star Trek.
(This show is apparently “woke” because a slight majority of the bridge crew is women…)
Last season of Discovery is pretty optimistic as well.
@Lounsbury: Being really bad with faces, I didn’t realize it was Abrams, and there was nothing in the dialog that pointed to the actor being special in any way.
Just the president of Earth was a heavy-set black woman delivering a couple of slightly wooden lines.
Now, when David Cronenberg makes his appearances, it’s really clear that he is random stunt casting because he very pointedly does not look like he belongs on that set.
DS9 was not only dark and dystopian at the time, it was also prescient. If you rewatch it right now today, it feels like it was written as commentary on what is happening in the world right now. As I noted previously, the Bell Riots happen in 2024.
How many times does this a variation on this exchange happen in DS9:
Major Kira: Bajoran Lives Matter.
Gul Dukat: All Lives Matter, Major.
I will 100% grant that the first three seasons of DISCO are dark and dystopian and overtly convoluted for… reasons? And Picard is just plain odd. However, Lower Decks is the opposite of dark and dystopian. And the new series airing now, Strange New Worlds, is an intentional call back to the atmosphere of the original series and is committed to episodic storytelling.
Strange New Worlds is (so far and in my opinion) the best Trek since DS9. CBS has posted the premiere episode to YouTube. So everyone here who seems to have an opinion on it without seeing it is more than welcome to watch it without needing a Paramount+ account.
There’s nothing stopping any of you all from developing an informed opinion on the Jan 6 reference. Or the supposed “darkness” of the new series.
@Kylopod: I recently rewatched Star Trek 3 The Search for Spock and it’s surprising still holds up as a good ST film. I say surprisingly because so many people say how it’s bad, maybe to hold up the idea that the odd numbered ones are bad and the even ones are good.
But 3 has some real merits in fun and action. Especially the escape from Starbase scene! “Don’t call me tiny!”
@Gromitt Gunn: Just watched the first episode of Strange New Worlds. Will be signing up for Paramount+ tomorrow to watch the rest.
It just started a couple of weeks ago, so as of right now they are only up to Season 1 Episode 2. Forewarning you, in case you won’t use the service for much else. If that matters, you may want to wait a few weeks until more have accumulated.
@Robert in SF:
I agree. I liked 3, though not as much as 2 & 4.
I have heard people say 2-4 form a kind of trilogy. The other films in the series show continuity from one film to the next (with the possible exception of 5 which as mentioned earlier everyone tried to pretend never happened), but 2-4 tell basically a single three-part story.
Oh, no no no, I am not dissing Hollywood writers as a class. I admire the fuck out of a whole lot of Hollywood writers – movies and TV. I could give you a long list running from Paddy Chayevsky to Lisa McGee. But taking over a pre-established world and advancing the story coherently is hard. Especially hard in a world where writers have so much less autonomy than we book people. Especially hard when there are eyes on you all the time. When money is an inevitable part of the picture. As I’ve often pointed out to my fellow author types, there are no budget considerations when we decide we need space ships or aliens or natural disasters. Our sets cost nothing.
No, you’ve got me wrong there. I have never written a better line of dialogue than Armando Iannucci cranks out every five minutes. No, it’s just that the assignments, for example – take JRR Tolkien’s appendices and turn them into a coherent story across multiple seasons – are damn near impossible. Do it while pacifying both the literalist fandom and the uber woke? That’s turning the difficulty up to 11. I wouldn’t touch it.
Adding: I do BTW have a couple of dogs in this fight. We were very happy with The One and Only Ivan (not so much the Covid-driven, straight-to-streaming). It did everything we wanted from an adaptation. We knew of course that it needed to get outside of the original text, knew what needed to be done, and Disney’s writers did it.
OTOH, there’s An1morphs, which is being developed and which we absolutely dread. The producer rejected the ‘right’ writer in favor of a writer with no familiarity with that world and no experience with science fiction. Itchy to put their special spin on it all without having a clue what it was to begin with. The first idea proposed was exactly to take something we had done with subtlety and beat it with a fucking sledgehammer. And no one out in the world beyond Hollywood ends up blaming the unknown screenwriter, no, it’s our work that ends up being diminished.
Then there’s another project which involved a Muslim character and community acceptance where we had to intervene to stop them grabbing a guy who’d written a propagandistic movie for the Turks on the Armenian genocide. And then the writer who wanted to do it as a rap. (Obviously, I’m short-handing here).
The arrogance I despise is that meddling for meddling’s sake, ‘I’ll put my stamp on it!’ approach. Neither of us believes we chisel in stone, on the contrary we know the difficulties of adaptation, what we don’t like are ignorant producers hiring middling writers to take on heavy lifts because, after all, hey it’s for kids. It’s not fun to create something and have it forever re-defined by arrogant producers and hacks.
DS-9 was a dark corner of an optimistic world. It was great. Erase the optimism and leaving nothing but the dark is a mistake. It was the optimism that made Trek. And I get it, it’s hard to write utopia, easy to do dystopia – as I know well having created the first of the modern-era YA dystopias.
I don’t think it’s about race alone, it’s more about gender if anything. It’s the ‘strong female characters’ that set off the nuts. But I’m not even talking about the various YouTube literalists who treat books as holy writ, never to be altered. I’m talking about the MESSAGE as opposed to the message. It goes back to the hoary old ‘show don’t tell.’
You know who did really excellent ‘strong female characters’ without causing eye-rolling? Ozark. Darlene, Wendy and Ruth? They dominated that series.
One last point, then I’ll stop. Re: Amazon’s LOTR, as I said, I wouldn’t touch it, given the constraints. But would I have done a better job than the two D’s on the last few seasons of GOT? Absolutely. They had no clue how to handle story on their own. It wasn’t just season 8, I felt the thing wobbling in season 5, got noticeably worse in 6, by season 7 disaster loomed, and then season 8 was the meltdown. Tyrion and Varys had nothing to do but trade castration and dwarf jokes for years. Years! Jesus Christ. And the final denouement was just inexcusable.
@Gustopher: Had she not been IDed I would not have recognised her in that photo, and I am quite good with faces…. thus my comment only political obsessives being concerned really so long as her acting was no worse than your average Star Trek extra (this being to my memory, not being either particularly a fan nor a hater of the series, not a terribly high bar)
Making an appearance as oneself on a show set today is very different than playing President of Earth on a science fiction show.
But those are very different things! Fox is disinformation disguised as infotainment pretending to be news. But Trek and other scripted television shows are sold as entertainment, with politics often sandwiched in in not-that-subtle ways.
As I thought I made clear in the OP, my initial intent was to point out the absurdity of the titular charge until I got into the piece and realized he was making a more subtle point. And then I contrasted the casting of Abrams, acknowledging that I’m relying only on the author’s characterization, and the reference to January 6. Casting a controversial politician is clearly designed to send a political message. Even if the scene was totally innocuous and had nothing to do with voting rights, one can’t imagine Trek casting Ted Cruz or Tom Cotton as President of Earth.
@Just nutha ignint cracker: Again, if a prominent and controversial Republican politician were cast on a fictional show you cared about, you’d probably have a reaction to it. It’s just ham-handed.
Hey, that whale rescue was a great movie scene and I won’t have that flick dissed. Whaling vessel is homing in on whale, lining up their really nasty-looking harpoon for the kill and firing it. It sails through the air and then with a giant “CLONG” sound falls into the sea. All the whalers stare, not believing their eyes or ears. Then the Enterprises uncloaks and reveals itself as hovering between the whalers and the whale. Best “oh crap” movie moment of my late adolescence.
Also, I think it’s the same movie but the crew have to go rescue another crewman from a 20th century hospital and McCoy gets caught up in talking to patients in the hallway about their ailments. One woman is having surgery for an internal organ, and McCoy is horrified: “Barbaric!!” He slips her a pill from the 23rd century and cures her almost immediately. End shot is the crew getting their rescued guy out of the hospital past doctors rushing to the side of the patient who’s been miraculously cured and no longer needs surgery. She’s waving her arms and excitedly telling them about the nice man who gave her a pill.
Lighten up, Fox, it was a fun movie.
@James Joyner: “Making an appearance as oneself on a show set today is very different than playing President of Earth on a science fiction show.”
Jams, I am not sure what you are saying here.
@Michael Reynolds: “No, it’s just that the assignments, for example – take JRR Tolkien’s appendices and turn them into a coherent story across multiple seasons – are damn near impossible.”
Can’t disagree with you there. All those hundreds of millions Amazon is spending can’t guarantee the kind of greatness this show needs. Especially since there is no insanely compelling novel to adapt, as there was with LOTR.
And I’ve seen the first episode of The Wheel of Time after reading the first five books during lockdown… and while I have no doubt there’s a lot of talent behind the show, it just comes across like Willow or Krull or any other other mediocre fantasy films from the 1980s…
@Michael Reynolds: ” The producer rejected the ‘right’ writer in favor of a writer with no familiarity with that world and no experience with science fiction.”
TV networks used to work like this all the time. When I was on seaQuest, the showrunner not only knew nothing about science fiction, he had never seen a single episode of Star Trek. And so he would proudly come up with those kind of “after the nuclear war, there are only two people left… and they’re named Adam and Eve” ideas that are so obvious once anyone first starts thinking in terms of science fiction that they became first cliches, then jokes, almost a hundred years ago.
Then again, when I was hired as supervising producer on a long-running mystery series, the replacement showrunner not only hated mysteries, he thought that plots were really stupid and unnecessary. That one had more of a happy ending, though, since I had his job the next year…
@Michael Reynolds: “It wasn’t just season 8, I felt the thing wobbling in season 5, got noticeably worse in 6, by season 7 disaster loomed, and then season 8 was the meltdown. ”
I’m not as down on those seasons as you, but I wouldn’t strap on the armor to defend the show. The funny thing is, the same thing happened to George R.R. Martin. The last book in the series he published — A Dance With Dragons — published in 2011, is essentially the book that Jack Torrance was writing at the Overlook… 1100 endless pages of “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
@Not the IT Dept.:
You mean the harpoon bounces off the Bounty, the captured Bird of Prey they are using. 😉
But that was from “The Way to Eden”!
(man, the third season had some stinkers!)
@Steven L. Taylor: “But that was from “The Way to Eden”!”
That was kind of my point… that there were worse episodes than the Melvin Belli one…
@Robert in SF: I love STIII and always have. I think people just like to say “the even-numbered ones are good.”
The scenes on the Genesis planet while Spock ages drag a bit, but stealing the Enterprise, from the moment Kirk says “The answer is no. I am therefore going anyway” is pure gold.
I think this is a valid point. (Although I do think a lot of the criticism of Abrams can’t be divorced from the “wokeism” criticism of new Trek in general, which puts some spin on it beyond: I just don’t want to see Newt Gingrich have a cameo on Better Call Saul).
@wr: Gotcha! Although I actually think “And the Children Shall Lead” is worse. “Way to Eden” is nuts (and more contemporary political commentary) but it is still better than “And the Children…” Woof!
@Steven L. Taylor: Anyone remember the controversy some years ago in which a History Channel short showed a Satan with a supposed resemblance to President Obama? Conservatives began mocking Obama over it—a reaction that is about the epitome of DIYDDIYD. Had they made a Satan who looked like Bush or Trump, those same conservatives would have been screaming about media bias.
You’re hurting my soul
I guess I’ll point out that both of these are sitting US Senators. Right now, Abrams is running for Governor, but she hasn’t held office since 2017 and was a private citizen when she participated in this episode.
So, by the standards established in this post, any former politician can’t participate or appear on a fictional television series, movie, etc., even if they are a superfan, because it might injure the sensibilities of members of the other party, even if said role and lines have absolutely nothing to do with politics.
That’s a pretty far-reaching edict.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Benioff and Weiss were adapting in the early seasons. Then they ran out of GRRM’s book and they needed to do something an order of magnitude more difficult and they just flat didn’t have the chops. But @wr is right, neither does GRRM, apparently. I have a vague theory based on no data. I wonder if he’s become superstitious and started to think if he ended GOT it would be his end as well. It can be. . . strange. . .ending a series. When I wrapped GONE I spent about a week listening to Hanson’s Mmmbop. I don’t know why, except, “In an mmmbop you’re gone.” It would not surprise me if George got a little weird contemplating completion.
I used to think any writer could take on any writing project, because not to be arrogant (moi?) I’d always been able to. And then I sat down to work on something that required me to write jokes. Well. That was like driving straight into a brick wall. Witty banter? Sure. Set up and punchline? let alone a routine? The more I went at it the more I realized it wasn’t something I could brute force, I would need a whole new world view, and it’d take a good ten years, and if I was lucky I’d be able to write at middling hack level.
@Jen: I’m also not sure what’s so controversial about Abrams. She’s been promoting voting rights, which shouldn’t be controversial (yeah, I know, I know…). But even with that, she’s not a lightening rod the way Democrats such as Hillary Clinton or AOC are, or the way Republicans such as Marjorie Taylor Greene or Trump is. I’d bet that if Tom Cotton were to appear on a TV show, most people wouldn’t recognize him, either. (Cruz’s smarmy look stands out too much, though).
@Steven L. Taylor: I confess, it’s probably been more than 40 years since I saw either of them, so I will bow to your judgment.
@James Joyner: Entirely possible. And would not make my reaction any less determined by my crackerness and/or bigotry/intolerance/whatever.
@Monala:..I’m also not sure what’s so controversial about Abrams.
‘Right now, Abrams is running for Governor, but she hasn’t held office since 2017 and was a private citizen when she participated in this episode.’
D’oh.. you’re right, of course!
I am taking pleasure in the fact that this very enjoyably silly conversation has more comments than multiple mass shooting threads combined.
Why is there a fireplace in the Captain quarters of a Star/Space ship in Star Trek Strange New Worlds?
Note that CBS has acquired one of Abrams’ books to develop into a show. Entirely possible one of the creatives heard about her fandom and thought it would be nice to do.
@Paul L.: All of the more recent Star Trek shows have had fireplaces (in Discovery, the fireplace is in the bar). We’ve arrived at the conclusion that they must be holograms for effect.
Cuz it’s dope?
@Monala: ; @Mister Bluster: For God’s sake you lot are precious hypocrites and sophists.
She’s a partisan party political leader. That is going to be structurally controversial as having any party political leader popping in for appearance, whatever your pretence as she’s Your Team.
It may not be wrong (or right) but spare the pretence “oh I can’t see how this is controversial” FFS.
Hilary Clinton, Al Gore, Bernie Sanders have all played fictional characters without any real backlash.
Ms Clinton shows credits playing herself
Mr Gore as well or comedic representations of himself.
Spare the tedious transparent pretence, it’s boringly precious posturing.
@Jen: By that logic can we completely disqualify Trump from office because he was on tv and had cameo in a movie?
Asking for a friend…
@James Joyner: Wrt to casting controversial political figures, I seem to recall seeing G. Gordon Liddy cast in a number of roles – sometimes more than cameo – in various tv series. Somehow no one howled about that. But then he was a straight white male from the very conservative side of the aisle.
@Michael Reynolds: “Erase the optimism and leaving nothing but the dark is a mistake.” It would be if Disco or Picard had done that, but they did not. Like much of the best Trek, the shows deal with dark times and themes, but the message is ultimately hopeful – about a vision of a better world, but also about not losing hope or giving up no matter the darkness you face. In all of them, the good guys stand up and work together and refuse to be defeated. Seems perfectly in keeping with the Trek I loved as a kid.
That doesn’t mean some of the episodes weren’t clunkers or didn’t have cringe-worthy plot holes. They did. But every Trek series has. TOS and TNG both several with plot holes you could drive a Borg cube through. But overall I think the new series are pretty good and in keeping with the franchise.
@Lounsbury: how’s about senator Fred Thompson having a recurring co-star role in law and order and in numerous movies while being a sitting senator? No gnashing of teeth or rending of garments over that at the time…wonder what the difference is? I can possibly spell it out for you since American culture is one hell of a blind spot for you.
HRC has played herself a lot, and that’s fine. She’s also played fictional characters and that’s also fine. Gore as well. The fact their characters were comedic and the joke was based on who they are IRL is exactly the same as what Star Trek did.