THE DAILY BLADE: The Politics Of Star Trek
As the cultural and the political are inextricably intertwined these days, movie critics are indulging in political analysis and pundits are critiquing the plot development and special effects. Slate movie critic Dana Stevens asks, “can't you picture our president - levelheaded, biracial, implacably smart - on the bridge in a blue shirt and pointy ears?” For the MSM, this is not a rhetorical question, notes Politico (“[c]omparisons between the enigmatic president and … Mr. Spock have become a media meme of late.”) In plain English this means the media have taken to comparing - really, likening – Barack Obama to everyone’s favorite Vulcan. Here’s a round-up:
† Newsweek pronounces us “all Trekkies now” and posits that “Star Trek” is way cool” … [b]ecause the geeks have inherited the earth, and the White House”:
Spock's cool, analytical nature feels more fascinating and topical than ever now that we've put a sort of Vulcan in the White House. … Like Obama, Spock is the product of a mixed marriage (actually, an interstellar mixed marriage), and he suffers blunt manifestations of prejudice as a result. …Just about every third episode Captain Kirk managed to evade or flout the Prime Directive, with the full knowledge and support of his officers. Kirk understood that the Federation - like today’s U.N. - had no idea what was going on in the real world, um, universe, and did not hesitate to take whatever extralegal shortcuts were necessary to fulfill his mission, protect his ship and crew, and save innocent lives – in other words, he was “willfully hegemonic.”
There's one more intriguing allegorical overtone to the new "Trek," perhaps completely accidental. With the willfully hegemonic Bush administration now gone, the tenets of Roddenberry's fictional universe feel very much in step with current events. Whether you're happy about it or not, the Obama foreign policy, at least for now, emphasizes cross-cultural exchange and eschews imperialistic swagger. That sounds very much in sync with the Federation's Prime Directive, which stipulates that humanity should observe but never interfere with alien cultures (no Iraq-style invasions, in other words).
† In a piece for Salon Jeff Greenwald flat-out declares: “Obama is Spock: It's quite logical”:
[T]hinkers in both print media and the blogosphere - from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd to MIT media moguls - have referenced the Enterprise's science officer in recent months, drawing parallels between the dependably logical half-Vulcan and another mixed-race icon: Barack Obama.Greenwald relates this story Leonard Nimoy told about meeting one of his fans:
They're not just talking about the ears. For those of us who watched the show in the 1960s (or during the countless reruns since), Nimoy's alter ego was the harbinger of a future in which logic would reign over emotion, and rational thought triumph over blind faith. He was a digital being in an analog world; the Pied Piper who led our generation into the Silicon Age.
Anyone who followed the early "Star Trek" with regularity knows how charismatic Spock was. If there were two characters I wanted to be as a young man, they were Spock - and James Bond. Both displayed total self-confidence, and amazing problem-solving skills. Both traveled to exotic destinations, and were irresistible to women. And both shared a quality that my generation lacked completely: composure.
"About a year and a half ago, I was at a political event. One of our current campaigners for the office of president of the United States saw me - and as he approached, he gave me the Vulcan hand signal." You can practically hear Nimoy's eyebrow raise. "It was not John McCain."Yeah, well, if ever Captain Kirk had a real-life counterpart, it’s John McCain: A handsome, hell-raising, daredevil naval officer whose sense of honor and duty is uncompromising. (And being all grown-up now, The Stiletto has come to realize that Spock is great for a game of chess but if a girl wants to get physical - more frequently than once every seven years, that is - Kirk’s got the more interesting moves.)
The New York Observer briefly touched upon the McCain-Kirk comparison back in October while – wait for it – going on and on at length about how Obama is like Spock: “Mr. McCain, of course, is the passionate, emotional and all-too-human candidate who strikes a chord with voters but can often be seen to be doing battle in real time, Kirk-like, with the enemy within.”
More recently in a U.S. News & World Report commentary FOX News pundit and New America Foundation fellow Jim Pinkerton posits that Kirk - whom he describes as one part John F. Kennedy, one part Christopher Columbus, one part Hugh Hefner - would have voted for JFK. Perhaps he would have voted for McCain, too. In any case, Pinkerton shares The Stiletto’s opinion that in Gene Roddenberry’s alternate universe, American exceptionalism is writ large:
[T]hat's the gallant America—transmuted into the United Federation of Planets - that Roddenberry envisioned for the 23rd century. Guardians of galactic freedom, the Federation's Starfleet patrolled the ramparts of civilization, pulling lonely tours of duty in a long twilight struggle stretching into eternity.In that respect, Roddenberry himself was channeling JFK.
† Commenting on Greenwald’s piece, Kyle Koster of the Chicago Sun-Times asks, “Is Barack Obama the modern day Mr. Spock?” (assuming you buy into the premise at all, the question should have been, “Is Mr. Spock a more evolved version of today’s Barack Obama?”), concedes that “[a]ll of this space-aged analysis is too much for me to wrap my human brain around” and throws the question back to the readers: “Is Greenwald on point here or is this just another example of Obama-related hoopla running amuck?”
Well, Kyle, since you asked, The Stiletto thinks it’s definitely “amok time,” for the MSM, especially The New York Times, where columnist Maureen Dowd goes beyond likening Obama to Spock, and has begun calling him “Barack Spock."
Editorial Note: Columbia Graduate School of Journalism professor David Hajdu has an interesting take on the cultural underpinnings of “Star Trek” – and how various storylines were less a product of the writers’ imaginations than “creative re-use of studio sets” that created “a kind of loopy pastiche pulp art by appropriating, referencing and recombining ideas from film history.” For something a bit less weighty, check out “Star Trek 2.0,” Jonah Goldberg’s disquisition-cum-critique on National Review Online: “So J. J. Abrams has reimagined (“rebooted” is the popular term) the Star Trek franchise by starting over with a whole new cast playing James T. Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Spock, and Sulu - now with twice the macho gayness.”