3.10.2014

Engage

I don't always set out with the explicit goal of making my posts unreadable: sometimes it just kind of happens. They're either tl;dr (that's some interw3b l337-sp34k for "too long, didn't read") or just 2fs2r ("2 fucking stupid 2 read"). I think my subconscious mind uses my writing to subvert all meaning and sometimes even basic comprehensibility, transmuting it into utter nonsense, unreadable sentences and what basically amounts to some bullshit. But then, with the absence of any real theme, what else could possibly happen? I must embrace the nonsense, for from its fickle flame jumps the unexpected, the force that rules all things and keeps them from inertia.

With nothing really important on the burner, I'm just going to write about Star Trek (TNG and DS9). I'm in the midst of a major Trekkie binge. So far I've seen all 9 seasons of DS9 chronologically and am now doing basically the same thing with TNG. TNG (and later DS9) is a show that I used to watch weekly with my folks as each new one was released, sometime back in the dark ages of the late 80's. Back then at the show's inception, Kreayshawn was embryonic, the internet only existed as a file sharing protocol for pornographic .GIF images and there was Hypercolor. If you don't remember that, you're too young. However, I'm sure almost everyone knows what Star Trek is. I just need to gush about it a little because I love it so much.

It's not really enough to say that these Star Trek series have gotten better with age. It's almost more that from the beginning they were tapped into something so essential as to be entirely without time, or outside of time. This is particularly fitting because so much of what they are in terms of content is to do with time. Our concept of time as an arrow flying straight is dismantled by plenty of Sci-Fi concepts, but never so elegantly, in my opinion, than by Star Trek. A friend reminded me of two episodes of DS9 apropos to this. In one of them, Chief Engineer Miles O'Brien is punished by an alien race via a 30 second incarceration--in which he is implanted with irreversible memories of decades of hellish imprisonment and somehow has to reintegrate back into his normal life with his family aboard the space station Deep Space 9. In another, Jake Sisko, son of the station commander, witnesses an accident in which his father, Benjamin Sisko, is somehow stuck out of time. Jake then lives out his life while his father remains ageless and appears for infrequent disorienting glimpses of his aging son. In TNG time takes a similar deviant path, with doubles of characters from past or future appearing via strange phenomena and temporal distortions wreaking havoc regularly. The Prime Directive itself is a sort of time thought experiment. This is the principal of non-interference that all Starfleet officers swear to uphold, whereby cultures more primitive than those with interstellar travel must have no contact whatsoever with the Enterprise or other Federation ships. With life in all stages of development on different worlds and the ruined technological fossils of wildly advanced cultures hundreds of thousands of years old, time takes on a more apparently circular path than in our world where for all practical purposes we still presume our situation as unique.

The idea of a humanity beyond conflict is central to TNG. It's not so much that human nature has somehow been overcome, subverted. It's more that it is under constant reevaluation from the much greater perspective of a populous universe where humans on Earth are but one of many sentient life forms. While it would be easy to write the concept of a unified humanity and the Federation of Planets off as a pinko-commie utopian nightmare fantasy, this idea of galacticism is the backbone of the show and the reason I enjoy it so much. It was Bill Hicks, the late comedian who said it so well: that what we as humans should really all be doing is taking mushrooms, squeegieing our third eyes and exploring space together. Star Trek makes me agree even more than I would already: if we were able to even approach the necessary level of objectivity for that venture, the differences here on Earth would be astounding. The encounter with the Borg, a hive-mind race of captured and assimilated humanoids is a stark reminder of some of the dangers we face as our societies evolve. I would of course be remiss not to mention the character Data, the android played brilliantly by Brent Spiner. Data's ultimate goal is to become more human. To this end, he is the perfect sounding board for all human conflicts on board the Enterprise and as such provides crucial contrast in developing a coherent sense of what it is to be human. Data is such an accessible character in part because many of us would aspire to his levels of efficiency and dispassionate objectivity; for instance, while I sympathize naturally with the character's inability to experience human emotion, at the same time I envy that same lack of internal conflict that ultimately makes him almost superior. Among an amazing cast of characters, his stands as one of the best-written of all time, with Spiner's acting as top-notch as any I can think of. Also, Spiner's music on his website is worth a listen.

Deep Space 9 deals much more with political and interpersonal conflict, racism, genocide, religion and a host of other huge topics. As such, there is a bit more of a story arc to the show. In a way it's necessary in a series in which much of the setting is a stationary space station as opposed to a starship exploring space. Morality is challenged in both subtly and vastly different ways than in TNG, depending on the venue. The interaction between the different races living on the station and the advent of yet another greater evil in the form of the Dominion provide ample fuel for conflict. The character Worf features largely in DS9 and the conflict between his Klingon warrior sole and his job as a Starfleet Commander becomes yet a more compelling subplot than it was in TNG. Suffice it to say that the Star Trek medium lends itself well to both the dynamic seemingly static and DS9 is a masterpiece that gets more into the gritty side of life far away from utopian Earth.

So much is to like about these series: the maturation of the characters and their roles; the fact that the shows are both episodic but at the same time incredibly thematically controlled; the lack of too much 'filler' (there are several such episodes, of course, out of the combined 360ish episodes); the examination of humanity under a refreshingly large speculative lens; the Shakespearean over and undertones thanks in part to Patrick Stewart's incredible skill and acting career. I see that I'm clearly in the midst of a nerdgasm now so I'll stop this before it gets awkward, but space shows and video games are part of the essence of my soul at this point.

I recommend some Star Trek.