Archive for the ‘Spock’ Category
Obama and Romney do share a few things. Among them are degrees from Harvard Law and a penchant for Star Trek. But there are some differences even here. Obama was interested in constitutional law and Romney appears to have been interested in how he could use his law degree in business. They also have different reasons for enjoying Star Trek. For Obama, the Federation would make good political sense and we know that he has much in common with Spock. (See the 2008 post, “Obama, Spock, and the New Star Trek Nation.”)
On the other hand, Romney likes the way that the Borg does business. Although it’s not my style to spread rumors, there is word going around the web that at one time Romney was so taken with the Borg approach to dealing with other corporate entities, he considered changing the name of BAIN CAPITAL to BORG CAPITAL. It has also been reported that he thought it would be cool for BAIN (BORG) to say to other businesses he was seeking to take over: resistance is futile.
One of the recurring themes of pieces on Obama at UP@NIGHT is the nature of his pragmatism, which is as much philosophical as it is purely political. With three months or so to go before the election, I thought I would collect here several links to discussions of Obama’s political thought and politics from the past few years at UP@NIGHT.
The entries most relevant to philosophical pragmatism are listed first. There are a couple of critical pieces further down the list. But I think it important that we understand with whom we are dealing as we criticize Obama or his administration. We should not fault him for seeking the possible when the more desirable was out of reach.
And for those who may still not have had enough, there is a discussion of Obama’s pragmatism and cosmopolitanism in an online (read, free) “Afterword” to my new book, Transcendence: On Self-Determination and Cosmopolitanism (Stanford University Press).
It has been over a year and a half since I began UP@NIGHT and my career as a pundit, for lack of a more refined label. I suppose part of the challenge was to see how a philosopher by trade might do in the prediction business. How I would stack up against the pundits in the media. You know, mano a mano.
I thought that it would be fitting and fair to readers, and myself, to look at blogs in which I predicted the outcome of events in the political world to see if my track record was any good. Low and behold, I discovered that if I had been a betting man, I could have made some good money. So, without further ado, and no false modesty, here are the predictions. Roll Over Nostradamus.
The titles are linked to the original blogs.
Semi-correct, although not a exactly a prediction:
Obama, Spock, and the New Star Trek Nation, June 6, 2008. (UP@NIGHT was one of the first blogs, if not the first, to make the connection between Obama and Spock on the Web. It has now become a commonplace.)
The Twelfth Cylon Revealed, May 30, 2008 (I claimed that McCain is the 12th and missing Cylon on the TV show Battlestar Gallactica. I still hold to the proposition that he may prove to be a Cylon. The new series should reveal the truth.)
It’s Going to be Webb for VP, Probably, May 16, 2008
Still up in the air:
Obama’s Pragmatism (or Move over Culture Wars, Hello Political Philosophy), December 14, 2008; reposted April 7, 2009 (Argues that Obama is a philosophical pragmatist, not merely a political one, and that his approach will have an impact on the culture wars. See also, Obama: Conservative, Liberal, or Ruthless Pragmatist?, May 7, 2009; Bronx on the Court, Empathy, and Obama’s Pragmatism, May 27, 2009.)
GOP, Inc. to be Permanently Downsized, January 30, 2009
Leaving aside the Cylon revelation, looks like UP@NIGHT was right about 90% of the time. So I ask you, can you afford not to read UP@NIGHT?
[First posted December 26, 2009. Reposted January 3rd, 2010 to start off the new year and add "Obama's Pragmatism." ]
UPDATE, January 22, 2010.
With the unexpected victory of Brown in Massachusetts I am going to have to amend what I claimed above, namley, that health care will not be stopped by a filibuster in the Senate. It wasn’t stopped, but now it would be. Nevertheless, I am not pulling the original prediction about health care (yet). The Democrats can’t afford not to pass it, which was the thrust of the original blog. No one knows what form it will take at this juncture, or when it is going to happen, but the Democrats will get something they can crow about.
Spoiler Alert. This review talks about details of the plot of the new Star Trek movie.
Part I Hope Springs Infernal for Old Star Trek Junkies
One may wonder why someone of my age and interests would be writing about Star Trek. Well, I consider it a part of the collective consciousness of my generation (baby boomers) and the one that followed. The Star Trek phenomenon is worth reflecting on for what it tells us about where we have been and where we might be going. Popular culture can sometimes do that.
I won’t go through the litany here of all that this show may have meant for those who followed it. Let me just say that it embodied an Enlightenment sensibility about the future that had been very much a part of our culture. The future could be better, not only technologically, but ethically. For those of us shaken by the Cold War and the Vietnam War, Spock’s rationality certainly appeared preferable to Dr. Strangelove. And now, of course, there is the Spock/Obama connection, which has been much talked about. A president who might be rational (and feeling, but in a deep sort of way)? Very cool. So, a new Star Trek movie seemed like just the ticket in the spring of 2009. I really wanted it to work.
Part II The Reboot
The producers and writers of the new Star Trek knew what they were doing. They wanted a reboot. They got it. They wanted to reach a larger audience. They have. People, young people, appear to love it. They are going to make some big bucks. Hats off to the big Hollywood corporate establishment.
I am not one of those old fans of Star Trek that feels that any tampering with the “brand” is necessarily a bad thing. (As a matter of fact, I like what I have seen of the upgrade of the first two seasons of the original Star Trek. The improvement in special effects is welcome.) But I do resent the attempt by Abrams, the new movie’s director, to dismiss criticism by claiming that 10% of the old fans won’t be satisfied with anything that he does. The new Star Trek movie may be a success financially, and it may provide entertainment for some, but it certainly doesn’t measure up to the old series, and not because 10% of the old fans are cranky. Deflecting criticism in this fashion won’t cut it.
Part III The Trailers
I have a list of reasons for why the new movie is problematic. But first I recommend that you take a look at a trailer for the new Star Trek and compare it to the trailer for The Wrath of Khan, a movie that many have claimed is similar to the new one. And then as a treat, check out a third trailer. It was done by a fan, Dustin, several months ago. (According to his bio, he’s 24, so clearly not a boomer.) He didn’t like the trailer for the new movie, even before he saw it. One of the things that makes his edit interesting is that it invokes a sense of wonder, as well as an anticipation of the new, that was part of the old series, and which is totally absent from Abrams’s movie.
It’s too bad Abrams didn’t make Dustin’s movie.
Notice in Abram’s trailer that there is only a short image of the latest villain, Nero, while the older villain, Khan, fills the screen with his voice and personality. (How novel is this one? A Romulan named Nero. Give me a break. Both Nero and Khan are seeking revenge, but Nero looks like a tattooed motorcycle gang member, who’s fuming about someone stealing his bike. While Khan is, well, Khan.)
Part IV The Dozen Reasons (although there could be many more)
Okay, I promised a dozen reasons for why the new movie doesn’t cut it as a satisfying member of the Star Trek universe. Not in any particular order:
1. Suspension of disbelief. There are limits. This movie requires one to believe that a frustrated Spock, instead of sending Kirk to the brig, throws him off the ship to land on an ice covered planet, where in all likelihood he would die. Low and behold, Spock prime, the real Mr. Spock, is on this very planet. After being chased by a monster, Kirk just happens to run into a cave in which Spock has been hanging out, having been marooned by Nero, the tattooed villain. Spock then takes Kirk to a Federation outpost, where, low and behold, he meets Scotty. And how did Kirk get into the Star Fleet? No exams for this young man. Just a dad who was a hero and a note about his being a genius. I won’t go on. This is not only poor science fiction; it’s poor fiction. And it doesn’t work as fantasy, because even in the latter genre there are some rules.
2. Cavalier attitude toward violence and genocide. Okay, there are times that planets have to be destroyed in science fiction, but in this movie, two of them are gone in a New York minute, each with billions of people. In one case the apparent need for this plot device is to create a madman, Nero, in another, to make Spock emotional. You don’t go killing off billions of people, even if they are Vulcans and Romulans, in order to account for the psychology of two characters.
3. Pacing. The T.V. series was paced in a way that was often hypnotic. (This is less true of the movies, but there are some exceptions.) Time slowed down. One had time to look around and see what this new world looked like. The new movie assumes that everyone in the audience suffers from ADD. Look another star ship just blew up. Look people are falling off ledges. Look at all the lights….
4. Humorlessness. The humor in the writing is contrived and characters at times appear to parodying lines from the series. I simply don’t understand those who have talked about the humor in this movie. It is weak. It is saccharine. And a Star Trek without humor is like space without time.
5. This movie could have been made with virtually no reference to the Star Trek universe. It’s bang and shot em up vision of space would have worked just about as well with another cast of characters.
6. If the villain is not a tattooed member of a motor cycle gang, then he is an escaped patient from a mental ward who is off his medication. He certainly has nothing of the Romulan in him. (He doesn’t even look like one.) Special effects can not compensate for weak villains. And weak villains undermine the character of the heroes. (The worst Star Trek films all had weak villains.)
7. The music is claustrophobic. Check out how different Dustin’s edit is of the new trailer, in part because he is using music from older movies.
8. The young Kirk is caricature of the original Kirk. Again, lack of humor is part of the problem. The character is one-dimensional. He might as well be a bad boy who turns star football captain. (And the bits with the little convertible and then the motorcycle…..This guy is not James Dean, and neither was Shatner.)
9. There wasn’t one original science fiction idea in the entire movie. Every single “idea” can be found in countless movies. (Did we really have to see the ship saved by dumping the warp core? Oh, no, not the warp core again. And then there was “the ledge.” Just how many times did the young Kirk find himself hanging off a ledge of some sort?)
10. The movie had nothing to say. This is fine if your aim is simply to entertain. But you would think that the reboot of a series that did have some ideas would have tried just one or two.
11. I prefer Apples to P.C.’s, but really, did the Bridge have to look like it was designed by the Apple folks. (There were times that I thought I might have seen an Apple logo or two.) This is a small quibble, but I believe that it reflects a lack of imagination on the part of the film’s creators.
12. This movie was not about boldly going where no one has gone before. It was about staying close to a formula that has succeeded in recent action films. It is bread and circus of a particular vintage, post 9/11 escapism.
Good or great movies (or series) leave us with scenes to remember. What will you remember about this film 10 months from now? (Young Kirk hanging on to some nondescript ledge?) Oh, I know. At least I know for boomers: Leonard Nimoy’s face as the aged Spock saying to Kirk, you have always been my friend and always will be my friend. And the only really funny line in the movie, when the older Spock tells the younger Spock that he was messing with Kirk’s head when he claimed that a terrible paradox when ensue if the two Spocks met. A terrible paradox did not ensue, unfortunately. That might have been fun. Just a weak movie.
I rest my case.
Well, just when you think that you have carved out a niche for yourself, it seems that the whole planet has moved in. In June 2008 I posted a blog,” Obama, Spock, and the New Star Trek Nation,” in which I drew a connection between Spock and Obama, and I also discussed how the times might be right (once again) for Star Trek’s positive utopian vision. I even quoted from Shatner’s (Captain Kirk’s) book, Up Till Now, about how the fans had saved the original Star Trek.
“As a result of this campaign, NBC received, trumpets blare here, more than 1,000,000 letters urging the network not to cancel the show….[It was not cancelled] Perhaps more important the people who wrote the letters suddenly had an emotional attachment to a television program unlike any viewers ever before. They had actually influenced a network’s programming decision. They had ownership. Star Trek really had become their show. This marked the beginning of the most unusual relationship between viewers and a TV series in history.”
I compared this sense of ownership to what many of Obama’s supporters were experiencing due to their involvement in his campaign. In any case, I/we now have to deal with this:
It seems that sometime last year a toy company, a one Jailbreak Toys, starting selling Obama action figures. Is nothing sacred? Or perhaps this is how we express what we most admire in America, we turn them into action toys.
UPDATE, May 10. It turns out the the Jailbreak Toys does make action figures, including ones of Obama, but those of Obama and Biden (above) were from an event held in NYC in which artists created action figures. The photo, which I thought had come from the company, can be found at iPhoneSavior.
AP Photo/Ron Edmonds
Just in case you haven’t heard, Rush Limbaugh is now calling the shots in the Republican Party. It seems that you can’t criticize Rush if you are a Republican, especially if you are in the House of Representatives. Here is an excerpt from Congressman Phil Gingrey’s “apology” to Rush, on Rush’s radio show, for having dared to criticize him. (Select the link to view a video of Rush speaking with Gingrey.)
Rush, thank you so much. I thank you for the opportunity, of course this is not exactly the way to I wanted to come on. … Mainly, I want to express to you and all your listeners my very sincere regret for those comments I made yesterday to Politico. … I clearly ended up putting my foot in my mouth on some of those comments. … I regret those stupid comments. Huffington Post, January 28, 2009.
And who does Rush want to see as the Republican standard bearer? Sarah Palin, of course. And he is not alone.
Coming off a shellacking at the polls in November, the plurality of GOP voters (43%) say their party has been too moderate over the past eight years, and 55% think it should become more like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in the future, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. Just 24% think failed presidential candidate John McCain is the best future model for the party, and 10% are undecided. Rasumssen Reports, January, 29, 2009.
Now there are many sound arguments for not taking Palin seriously. But let’s not bother with arguments here. Let’s just follow the video
Let me show you something…
A thanks to the (anonymous) person who did this video.
UPDATE 3/2/2009 Rush has really got them on a leash. A GOP senator can’t even say the words, Rush is wrong.
You will laugh. You will scoff. You will be befuddled. But I have finally figured out why Obama is so familiar. At first I thought it might just be his politics. In my day job as a political philosopher, I recognize deep similarities between Obama’s political orientation and a tradition of American progressivism that had its heyday in the early 20th century. This form of progressivism had roots in the Midwest and was linked to the Social Gospel Movement. In some ways Obama is reviving this tradition.
But there was something more familiar about Obama, and about how his campaign has managed to galvanize so many young people. Well, maybe it was simply a flash from the past, the political organizing that many of us engaged in to stop the Vietnam War and for Civil Rights. He is leading a movement in which people of color and whites are linked once again. Perhaps this was the source of the deep familiarity.
Yes, certainly, his campaign has brought back memories. But it somehow didn’t get to another level of familiarity. And then it hit me. Obama is Mr. Spock and his campaign the Star Ship Enterprise, that is, if you allow for the vicarious presence of millions of fans aboard the ship. Consider Spock and Obama: cool, logical, trustworthy, a great deal of presence of mind, etc. Further, Leonard Nimoy, the actor who plays Spock, is Jewish. Obama went to Harvard Law and taught at the University of Chicago Law School, which makes him an honorary Jew. (Being Jewish, I can say this.) And what have we heard about Obama’s blood pressure, 90/60; not that of an ordinary mortal, just like Spock. But don’t consider character traits, or arguments, gaze on their images.
We must broaden our horizons. It is not merely the similarity to Spock. Star Trek ran during a war that most of us could do little to stop. Here we are, once again. (And there is a Texan in the White House, again. Don’t get me wrong. I lived in Texas. I am fond of Texans. I married one. But let’s just keep them out of the White House for the Next Generation.) Star Trek was a fantasy refuge, before the Internet. But Star Trek was going to be canceled by NBC. What saved it? According to William Shatner, Captain Kirk, in Chapter Three of his book, Up Till Now (don’t ask how I know this), a letter writing campaign was launched to save the show. Here is what Shatner tells us about the campaign.
“As a result of this campaign, NBC received, trumpets blare here, more than 1,000,000 letters urging the network not to cancel the show….[It was not cancelled] Perhaps more important the people who wrote the letters suddenly had an emotional attachment to a television program unlike any viewers ever before. They had actually influenced a network’s programming decision. They had ownership. Star Trek really had become their show. This marked the beginning of the most unusual relationship between viewers and a TV series in history.” [emphasis added]
Okay, you will accuse me of trivializing one of the most important recent movements in American politics. But Obama the community organizer would understand the connection. Star Trek was a collective experience mediated by a visual medium. It also expressed utopian ideals at a time when young people felt impotent about changing the course of a war and the world. (Star Trek began before the full impact of demonstrations against the war became apparent.) Obama and his people have harnessed the Internet to allow people to feel that they are not mere bystanders but full participants. They have provided a sense of “ownership” (although I am not crazy about the term). Most importantly, and here the analogy begins to break down, Obama and his team are providing not only a fantasy utopian moment, but the possibility of actually changing things. Live Long and Prosper.
P.S. Leonard Nimoy is an Obama supporter.