There’s been a big push culturally to erode traditional gender roles; to prove that men and women are equal and equally capable of filling roles that were once assigned to just one sex. For example: that women can pursue successful business careers and men can care for children. Or that women can display strong logic and men can be emotional and nurturing.
But somehow this has backfired on us and cultural expectations of gender are just getting more rigid. That statement probably raised a few eyebrows. We’ve come a long way, many will argue. Women are now accepted in traditionally masculine professions. They don’t have to just stay at home and raise children any more. We have freedom, equality! Besides, gender is just a cultural construct and we can redefine it however we want so those roles aren’t so confining.
That’s not what we’ve done though. Take, for example, the problem of people pushing young children to identify as transgendered (which the American College of Pediatricians defines as “child abuse”). If a child displays traits outside the gender associated with their biological sex, they’re encouraged to get their sex changed. Instead of making it acceptable for a little girl to embrace femininity and enjoy “boy things” like superheroes and tractors, she’s told she’s not really a girl. She’s a boy. In a fit of mass cultural insanity, we’re making social constructions of gender more rigid while trying to make a person’s biological sex something that’s flexible.
Stranger Things’ New “Mom”
I started thinking about this topic (at least in the context of this blog post) when I came across this image while scrolling through Pinterest:Like many Stranger Things fans, Season 2 turned Steve Harrington into one of my favorite characters. For those of you not watching the show, Steve was a stereotypical character in the first season but in Season 2 he got some spectacular character development. He grew from a standard jock into a hero who has a great relationship with the younger main characters. And for some reason that gets him labeled as their “mom” by the Internet.Read more →
I first encountered Star Trek at a library. They displayed the 25th anniversary VHS set on a shelf under a window, placing it at eye-level for two budding sci-fi fans desperate for something to watch other than Star Wars (which I love, but once you can recite every line of dialogue in A New Hope from memory it’s time to broaden your sci-fi horizons). When all the videos were checked-in, they formed a picture of the most beautiful spaceship we’d ever seen. Star Trek aired 23 years before I was born and yet I was obsessed before seeing a single episode.
My mother’s only experience with Star Trek was seeing Wrath of Khan in theaters, which convinced her it wasn’t child-appropriate. So my sister and I followed the course of action that worked when we wanted to watch Star Wars. We talked to Daddy. He remembered watching Star Trek with his dad, so we got the go-ahead to bring home one of those marvelous videos.
The Motion Picture wasn’t quite what were were expecting. I’m ashamed to say I was a bit disappointed. Who are these people (and why are they so old)? Why isn’t anyone happy, and why’s Spock trying to get rid of his emotions? Where are the space battles? This plot doesn’t make sense! We were undaunted, though, and Daddy sent us on a quest to find TV episodes. We came back with “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
This was more like it! I instantly fell in love with Spock and my sister with Kirk. We watched several episodes as a family, which was made doubly interesting because my Dad shared his memories of watching The Original Series with his dad. One of those memories involved his dad’s coinage of the word “scrooched.” You can find this in dictionaries with the definition “to crouch or bend,” but the much better definition is “to bring under alien influence.” As in, “That red shirt’s going to get scrooched if he investigates the suspicious sound.”
Star Trek’s 50th birthday is this week on September 8. It’s a great time to be a Trekkie. We got a fantastic feature film (I liked the first two movies set in the Kelvin timeline well enough, but Beyond was the best. It felt like “real Trek,” just as Simon Pegg promised). A new series is coming next year after 11 years without Star Trek on TV and there was a new episode of Star Trek Continues released this past weekend (this fan-made series is fantastic — it’s like getting a season 4 for the Original Series!). My sister and I are watching “Embracing the Winds” together this afternoon, ready to be those two little girls awed by the U.S.S. Enterprise and giddy about the prospect of quality sci-fi once again.
A couple days ago, we finally got a new trailer for Star Trek: Beyond that felt a bit more like “real Star Trek.” Now, there are Trekkies who will say none of the new films are “real Trek,” but I’m not one of them. Though parts of Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) irritated me as a life-long Trekkie, overall I thought they were good stories and I’m nothing but pleased with the cast’s performances of my favorite characters (especially Karl Urban as Doctor McCoy).
I did, however, feel these films were missing a focus that has always been core to the idea of Star Trek. Star Trek’s mission is about exploration, science, new cultures, and ideas. It’s not a space-battle heavy type of science fiction nor was it a “crisis of the week” type of show. It’s much more thoughtful than that. The new movies engaged with ideas of this nature to a certain extent, but they were also fast-paced, explosion-heavy, and largely earth-centric blockbuster films. The first trailer for Star Trek: Beyond made it look like the new film took that to an extreme. It was so bad that Simon Peg admitted he “didn’t love it” and told Trek fans “hang in there, be patient.”
In this new trailer we get discussion about Kirk’s motivation and character. We finally see hints of exploring new worlds, engaging with different cultures, and wrestling with tough ideas. This makes me happy because, at its core, Star Trek is about people trying to do the right thing in complicated situations. Trek should engage with current cultural topics in a unique way. It should support the idea that “good” and “right” are a real things rather than abstract concepts while also acknowledging it’s not always easy to know what’s the good and right thing to do.
Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about. I could list many others (the TNG episode “Measure of a Man,” for one), but for the sake of space I limited it to three episodes. *Spoilers for all episodes below*
TOS: City on the Edge of Forever
Written by science fiction legend Harlan Ellison, “City on the Edge of Forever” is regarded by many as hands-down the finest episode in the Original Series and perhaps all of Star Trek. After Doctor McCoy inadvertently alters earth’s history, Kirk and Spock travel back to the 1930s to repair the time-line, at which point Kirk (predictably) falls for a woman who needs to die for history to play-out as it should. Edith Keeler is a social-worker who runs a soup kitchen and seeks peace for the entire planet. In the correct timeline, she dies in a car accident. If Doctor McCoy saves her life, her peace movement delays U.S. involvement in World War II.
Kirk is the product of a society with the type of peaceful, one-world government Edith dreams of and fights for. He agrees with her ideologically, but he also knows that if she lives Germany’s victory prevents the formation of his unified future-earth. The whole episode grapples with the ideas of responsibility and accountability. Letting someone die is wrong, but letting a planet’s future die would also be wrong. Which is the lesser evil? Can we allow one personal tragedy in order to prevent a global catastrophe? Those are questions we’re still wrestling with today.
DS9: In The Pale Moonlight
While not one of my favorite episodes, “In the Pale Moonlight” is a good example of what we’re talking about today. The story is set during the Dominion War, and the Federation is losing. To borrow from Memory Alpha’s description, “Captain Sisko enlists Garak’s help to ‘persuade’ the Romulans to join the Federation/Klingon alliance to win the war. Sisko unwittingly learns that to save the Federation, he may have to sell his soul and the values Starfleet stands for.” Sisko, and the audience, wrestle with the question of how far the “good guys” can or should go to win a war. He begins with “good intentions,” but they’re the sort that proverbially pave a road to hell.
As the plan becomes ever more complex, he moves from spying, to fabricating false evidence, to paying off dangerous criminals with the ingredients for biogenic weapons, and finally he becomes complicit in an assassination. But Sisko hasn’t gone off the deep end — he simply came up with a plan, received approval, and kept moving forward with sanction from the Federation. Though the assassination wasn’t part of the original plan, there aren’t any repercussions for it. Romulus declares war and the Alpha quadrant is saved. Mission accomplished. But not without great moral wrestling. The episode ends with Sisko staring into the camera ending his personal log with the words, “So I will learn to live with it…Because I can live with it…I can live with it.”
Star Trek Continues really feels like a 4th season of the Original Series, and it continues Star Trek’s rich history of dealing with complicated ethical questions and current cultural issues. In this episode (click to watch), the Enterprise rescues a frightened Orion slave girl from a damaged ship. Having been taken from her family and enslaved, Lolani’s situation is very much akin to trafficked victims here on earth. You might think freeing her is the obvious, moral thing to do, but Star Trek is never simple. The episode wrestles with other issues as well, such as whether or not Lolani’s victimization can excuse her crimes and to what extent Kirk and his people can legally help her.
Since the Orion system isn’t part of the Federation and their law demands any slaves found revert to Orion control, the Federation insists Kirk return Lolani rather than risk an international incident. Kirk initially complies, then chooses to rescue her in violation of Starfleet orders. Before he can, Lolani kills herself and her master by destroying the ship. It’s too late for his change of heart to help; for his moral core to over-ride his nation’s law. That saves the Federation from war with the Orions, but what does it do to Kirk’s soul?
I’m hoping Star Trek: Beyond and the new series coming next year continue Trek’s history of tackling complex ideas, pushing us outside our cultural comfort zones, and looking at issues and ideas from multiple angles. I want more stories that make us think while they’re entertaining us.
The dark side is quick, easy and powerful. The light side requires commitment, bravery and peace. They are always at odds, always battling in the galaxy as a whole, between groups of people, and even within individual hearts and minds.
Star Wars has always been about the classic battle between good and evil. This same battle rages in our world as well, which is one of the reasons this franchise is so popular. We can all relate to the humanity and struggles of the people in this “galaxy far, far away.” It’s a sort of myth or fairy tale for the modern age. And, like many iconic stories, it can prompt discussions about a variety of topics important today, including faith and religion.
In Star Wars, the Dark Side is the “quick and easy” path, just as in the Bible the path toward destruction is wide and easy to find. Darkness has a strong, seductive pull which actually mirrors an analogy in Proverbs where evil is compared to a crafty harlot while wisdom is a gentle, godly woman. Like the Bible, Star Wars teaches the Dark Side isn’t better – the good characters resist it and win, the bad characters find that it ruins their lives and the lives of those around them. Read more →
Since River Song is coming back for the Doctor Who Christmas Special (hurrah!), I thought a bit of re-watching was in order. My sister had already suggested watching the episodes from River’s perspective, so that’s what we decided to do. Selecting an order is more difficult than it might seem, though, because there’s so much wibbly-wobbly happening that you can’t just watch them backwards by air date.
We decided to start with the episode when River met the Doctor (and was old enough to know it was him), then continue from there following her adult timeline. I used the timelines on Comparative Geeks and Tardis Wikia as references. What follows isn’t the exact order we watched them in, but it’s the one I’d recommend after re-watching them all.
Warning: watching in this order will leave you emotionally compromised by the end of “Forest of the Dead.” Like, even more than usual when watching Doctor Who.
Like many with even a hint of interest in film and/or science-fiction, I’m eagerly awaiting Star Wars Episode 7. In anticipation of its release, I’ve been re-watching all the movies, branching out into the animated series and some of the in-cannon books, and working on a new Myers-Briggs Star Wars chart.
While trying to type Anakin Skywalker, I discovered I’d started writing a blog post within a blog post. And so, rather than waiting until December to start blogging about my Star Wars obsession, I decided to give Anakin his own post. Read more →