Wednesday, April 23, 2003

I'm getting fed up of Star Trek Enterprise. While all of the Star Trek series have taken a while to get going, Enterprise is well into its second series now and my interest is flagging. The premise - going back in time - never really held for me, but what makes it worse is that the ideology of the programme also appears to be taking a retrograde step. To give an example - in Monday's episode "The Crossing", the crew encountered a group of aliens whose ship had been damaged. These aliens looked like bits of blue light, and in order to survive, they occupied the bodies of the crew, so they could get home. This "alien possession" storyline has been used many times on Star Trek before. So far, so good. In the past, say in a Picard, Sisko or Janeway episode, the crew would probably have figured out what was going on, gained control and then helped the aliens to repair their ship or find their way home. But in this episode, they simply gained control. The episode ends with the alien ship being blow up and all the aliens being killed. And that was it. No "what a shame they had to die". No "what a shame we couldn't have negotiated with them or helped them." It was like - "Hurrah - we're Americans and you'd better not mess with us, you motherfuckers! And you Axis of Evil countries had better be watching this, because that's how we do things from now on!!!" Perhaps recent world events have made the tv network and script writers more aggressive. But I didn't like it.

All historical drama (whether set in the past or the future for that matter) can be viewed through three lenses of "reality" or interpretation. First - by the time period that it's supposed to be set in. Second, by the time period that it's made in. Third - by the current time period that the audience is watching it in. So for example, when watching I Claudius - about Ancient Rome, I always note the weird 1970s hairstyles of the Roman characters and the cautious attempts at sexual decadence, which by the standards of 2003 seem tame. I'll probably have a compeltely different take on the show if I was to watch it in 10 years time (guessing that tv will be even more liberal by then). And I think this 3-levels interpretation can be applied to Star Trek. The 1960s Original Series told us an awful lot about the 1960s, as well as imagining what the future would be like. The Klingons could be said to represent the Russians for example. By the late 1980s/1990s, the newer series were more based around the concept of identity - could people of different species learn to live together in harmony? Storylines tended to have a liberal, humanitarian bias to them. They often explored complex issues, where there were shades of grey.

And now what do we have? George Bush in space! Shoot first, ask questions later. The central premise of Star Trek is no longer about who people are, but what they do. The emphasis and storylines are now on action rather than identity. It's about doing stuff rather than character development. After two series I hardly know anything about the characters on Enterprise - except that they're two dimensional and uninteresting (although I do know what most of them look like in their underwear).

To use a phrase that's no longer particularly popular any more, Star Trek has dumbed down. And I don't like it.

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