Actually, some of our favorite feminist bloggers note the troubling absence of change in the makeup of the crew on the Starship Enterprise in the forty years since Star Trek first appeared. (Historiann was never a “Trekkie,” although she saw a number of the original shows in reruns in the 1970s. All of the neo-Star Trek shows and movies starting in the late 1970s on are a mystery to her.) Anyway, people who know a lot more about Star Trek than I–and who have actually seen the new movie–offer their reviews, exerpted below. (The title of this post pays homage to this silly parody song about the original Star Trek.)
The Bittersweet Girl writes, “unfortunately, feminist sci-fi geeks have less to be excited about.” Hmmm–I wonder why:
There is a conspicuous lack of female characters and the ones there are fall into one of two classic categories: loving but doomed or inexplicably absent mothers or love interests/sex objects. There has been an attempt made to give Uhura an actual area of expertise, rather than just being a glorified telephone operator, but she still doesn’t do much except be ogled at by one male lead or gaze affectionately at another. And yes, she’s still in the micro-mini skirt — when she’s not in her underwear. Sigh. Given that so much of contemporary sci-fi is dominated by ass-kicking females (Starbuck, Echo, that Terminator chick), you’d think they could have given Uhura some previously unknown fighting skills. But, I hope that now that this origin story is done, the film makers can put a little bit more thought into female characterization in the next film. (Are you listening, J.J. Abrams?)
In a review titled “The Summer of Men, Take II,” Prof. Susurro is disappointed by this movie’s Captain Kirk:
I liked [William] Shatner and I liked Kirk. The Director of this film clearly liked neither, reducing James T. Kirk to an overgrown case of blue b@lls barely elevated by the fact that he ultimately saves the day. Centering Spock was a fascinating twist. However, those of us who get the homosociality of Spock and Kirk, as well as the well-honed dynamics of the entire male crew (leaving Uhura aside for a moment), understand that each of these characters plays a beloved role that is only enhanced by the role they play in the ensemble. None of them has ever been diminished or over shadowed by the other characters in any incarnation of the franchise until now.
Finally, GayProf takes to task the disturbing absence of women and people of color in this most recent incarnation of Star Trek in a review called “Boldly Going Where We Have Been Before.” He notes the optimistic, multicultural vision of the original show:
The biggest problem with the “updated” Trek is that it’s not very updated at all. Because Trek has become such a part of the nation’s cultural landscape, we tend to take for granted the many revolutionary innovations it ushered in when it premiered in 1967. Even in the midst of the Cold War, the Star Trek universe (occasionally) promised an end to capitalism and explicitly rejected the accumulation of wealth as a symbol of one’s social worth. It also presented a future peace for earth and an end to national borders. In the middle of the various civil rights movements in the U.S., the show offered an egalitarian future where racism was solved. The show even pledged an end to sexism – Well, sort of.
In the end, “its utopian ideals were obviously always filtered through the social lens of the era it was filmed. Limitations that could be partially justified in the late sixties no longer seem as dismissible in 2009.” He then goes on to school us in the history of the original TV show’s development, which in a pilot featured a strong female character in a leadership role:
When Gene Roddenberry first filmed a pilot for the show, he did have a revolutionary idea for 1967: The second in command of the Enterprisewould be a woman (known only as “Number One”). This first version of the show had Captain Christopher Pike commanding the famed ship along with the “logical” Number One as First Officer. That first episode showed Number One making life and death decisions and playing with really big guns. Alas, the network executives didn’t like the notion that an uppity woman would take over command of the ship whenever Captain Pike was in peril (They were even less pleased that Roddenberry was having an affair with Majel Barett, the actor who played “Number One”).
Thus, after a complete rewrite, Roddenberry’s ambitions for women on the show had been significantly altered. Kirk appeared as Captain and women were demoted to “more traditional roles,” such as yeomen or nurses. Instead of taking over command and making decisions for the crew, women on-board the Enterprisetook the Captain’s messages and made him coffee. Majel Barett, no longer First Officer, assumed a role as Nurse Chapel who spent her days mooning over Spock and handing out aspirin.
Significantly, the show also “sexed up” the women’s uniforms. In place of Number One’s sensible turtle neck and slacks in the first pilot, women officers squeezed into ultra-mini skirts, go-go boots, and beehive hairdos. All of that, I am sure, was real practical for working in space.
Oh, GayProf–I guess they’re about as practical as wearing a bathing suit and boots to help win World War II! (Maybe you just can’t understand how impractical, uncomfortable clothing is clearly necessary, in order for the patriarchy to constrain most women’s inherent superpowers. You can’t handle the sensible turtleneck and slacks!) Anyway–go read and learn from the linked posts above. Why are our visions of the future always so much more of where we’ve been already?
And, while we’re asking the big questions today: can someone please explain to me the reasons for the large cross-section of medieval history reenactors (the Society for Creative Anachronism types) and Trekkies? This is a phenomenon I’ve observed since college, where a group of SCM-ers who would show up to the dining hall with daggers they’d use as their only eating implement were also the big science fiction/Star Trek fans. Do any of you medievalists have a read on this?
UPDATE, 5/15/09, evening: My bad! I didn’t find this review by Erica at the good old days until tonight. (How’s that for due diligence? FAIL!) Erica writes, “the saddest thing is that Captain Pike still ends up paralyzed, although at least he doesn’t end up in a packing box able to communicate only by saying ‘BOOP’ (yes) or ‘BOOP BOOP’ (no). In many ways Star Trek was ahead of its time in 1970; this was not one of them. For a wheelchair ‘operated by brainwaves,’ that thing was extremely pathetic.” Don’t miss the horrifying photo at her blog of Pike in his packing box that looks like it’s decorated with peppermint candy–you know, to make it look all scientific, computerized, and futuristic!