Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Women in the Future: A Star Trek Pondering

I saw Star Trek this weekend. I also was in a Norwegian Day Parade and finished watching Fringe, but that's neither nor there. It may be important to note here that I'm not a Trekkie (or a Trekker); I have seen all of the movies and a whole bunch of episodes from the old television show, but none of them have really stuck in my mind, aside from the phrase "Only Nixon could go to China". My parents are closet Trekkies, arguing about Romulan technology from time to time, but we're really part of the Star Wars fandom in my house. That being said, I thought this new reimagining of the series has merit. My closet Trekkie father liked it as well, though he did feel that it was too much of a 'real' movie and had lost much of the campy appeal the original movies/television show encompassed. To be honest, the loss of the camp and the ability of the actors to, well, act was what made the movie more than palatable for me.

I liked that the movie wasn't truly a prequel, but a reimagining that worked its way into cannon; now, J.J. Abrams can do whatever he damn well pleases, and not have to worry about how to fit these stories into the context of the stories told before. I'm kind of in love with Chekov, and Simon Pegg as Scotty was brilliant casting. Spock, for his part, was almost as compelling as ever, though Zachary Quinto doesn't exactly have the voice for the role.

And yet, as much as I liked the film, and as much as I had fun sitting there in the theater watching it, it still frustrated me. Part of this comes down to Kirk. Kirk isn't incredibly compelling; whether Shatner or this new kid, Chris Pine, he doesn't exactly inspire my utter devotion - or trust. Shatner's Kirk has always seemed like the Tom Jones of deep space adventures, and I've always been one to find Tom Jones skeezy. Pine's Kirk wasn't so down with the Tom Jones impression, but I also didn't find much to like about him. I liked others' devotion to him. I liked that Bones would (a) get up early to help Kirk with the Kobayashi Maru, and (b) infect him with a virus in order to smuggle him aboard the Enterprise. I loved the scenes where Kirk and Spock both came to the same conclusion regarding Captain Pike's aquiescence to Romulan demands, and both using their own points of reference to back up said conclusions. But Kirk? I'm still a Spock girl. Nimoy's Spock, by the way, confounded me with his unerring belief that this Kirk, changed by the very nature of a timestream altered, would automatically make a better captain that Spock himself. I'm not saying that the movie didn't (helpfully) prove Original!Spock right. I'm just saying that a dude who prides himself on his logic should maybe look at the "forced off of the Enterprise" thing a bit more carefully before signing off on what was essentially a coup.

The thing is, I could have dealt with that. This isn't a reimagining of Star Trek as a series; just a reimagining of how these specific people get to this specific place. Kirk is still going to be the main guy, the cast is mostly going to remain men and white, and we'll be zipping around this galaxy with the somewhat simplisitic idealist vision of a 1960s liberal white guy. But there is a problem with the series being a retelling of the 1960s simplistic idealist vision of the future from a liberal white guy. It begins to feel extremely dated. Its stories don't necessarily feel like they are all that progressive, all that liberal, all that - well - great for the future. It kind of feels like the world we should be attempting to move beyond; a world where the ship's still being captained by a white guy, men are a majority of the crew, and the only woman around is in a miniskirt and a love interest.

It isn't that Uhura was ever as captivating a character as Spock, or as quotable as Scotty or Bones. She has always mostly been Sigourney Weaver's character in Galaxy Quest in the "I have one job on this ship! It's stupid! But I'm going to do it!" kind of way. I don't mean to take anything away from Uhura; she was one of the first major African American characters on national television, and she did do a lot to make the 1960s show more progressive. She was important. And yet, I find myself thinking of the current Uhura as not being a complete character.

Part of it is how passive she is throughout much of the movie. Chekov gets to run through the ship to heroically grab Kirk and Sulu from smashing to bits on the ground below. Kirk gets into rough and tumble after rough and tumble. Scotty, by the very nature of his job, gets to run around and fiddle with things. But for Uhura, everything takes a more docile note. She doesn't announce her discovery of a distress call; Kirk does. She doesn't run around like a nut like Chekov; she slides into her seat in her miniskirt. Her one moment of assertiveness comes when she demands to be placed on the Enterprise. And then there's her relationship with Spock. John had a three word condemnation for the relationship (and I really wish everyone could hear how appalled he sounded when he actually said it): "He's her teacher!" I had a more jumbled reason. My reason starts with the fact that the roles for women in fiction tend toward those of lover or mother; in a great many instances, women's roles tend toward their relation to the men in power rather than being characters in their own right. Star Trek itself played into that with the women in the film with speaking roles being limited to Kirk's mother, Spock's mother, the green alien who slept with Kirk, and Uhura. Uhura's sexual relationship with Spock seemed to be more about Spock and illustrating something about him than it was about Uhura. Tied to that is the fact that other characters had reasons for ending up on Enterprise that had little to do with who they wanted - or who they had - in their beds. The other characters had journeys separate from their function as sexual beings; Uhura's storyline was enveloped by what she was doing sexually. That is a problem for me, because it seemed as though the writers felt like Uhura needed a story, needed some kind of motivation, and all they could come up with was sleeping with Spock. For an idealistic vision of the future, the places alloted for women seem rather grim.


John said...

While not grammatically correct, I would've written my response as "He's. Her. TEACHER." It's the old '90s comic book trick of separating each word with a period (or a word balloon) for emphasis.

Anyway, let's run down the fan-service treklist, shall we?

1) Kirk is a macho douchebag, but the audience loves him for it.
2) Spock finds human behavior to be highly illogical, and says so.
3) Kirk gives Spock a friendly slap on the arm.
4) Bones exclaims that he is a doctor, not a [insert other profession here].
5) Kirk needs more engine power, but Scotty reports that she [the Enterprise] is giving all she's got.
6) Kirk sleeps with an attractive, green female alien.
7) Uhura ... wears a miniskirt.
8) An engineer dies needlessly.
9) Sulu fights with blades.
10) Chekov's mispronunciation of English words leads to hilarious misunderstandings.
11) An away team consisting of nearly every essential officer (plus one superfluous engineer) is dispatched on a highly dangerous mission.
12) The crew pulls off an incredible last-ditch effort involving an untested maneuver (that likely breaks even the series' highly flexible laws of physics) and ultimately wins the day.
13) A tribble is shown.

I'd say all they're missing is a run-in with Khan and their mirror universe counterparts, but they've got to save something for the sequels.

Rebekah said...

I did love Chekov too. But yes, major failure of the Bechdel test in this movie, even though overall it was enjoyable.

VK said...

I'm just saying that a dude who prides himself on his logic should maybe look at the "forced off of the Enterprise" thing a bit more carefully before signing off on what was essentially a coup.I thought that was the point - Spock says it himself, he is emotionally compromised. He has just seen his home planet blown up - as far as he knows his parents have not survived. But then his best friend in the whole world turns up (a friend who died about 80 years from his perpective)... and he doesn't know who he is, or like him and he isn't the man he remembers etc.
So I can see why trying to recreate as much of the old relationship as possible, even at the expense of the universe appeals more than logic. (And fits in nicely with his comment to babySpock at the end)