Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why gammas love Star Trek

I've never, ever, been able to figure out the appeal of Star Trek to otherwise intelligent people, nor understood why so its fans are so reliably low in the socio-sexual hierarchy.  But in reading Tom Simon's essay on The Silmarillion, a minor comparison suddenly explained the nature of Star Trek's appeal to the gammas and low deltas of the world, particularly The Next Generation, to me:
Gone, too, are the interesting dissensions among the Valar, for Tolkien in his old age found such things impossible to reconcile with his theological preoccupations. It is duller than the earlier story, for precisely the same reason that Dante’s Paradiso is duller than his Inferno, or that Paradise Regained is duller than Paradise Lost. Or to take another example, distinctly lesser but perhaps more familiar, it is like the difference between the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The second series was more polished and ambitious than the first, but when Gene Roddenberry laid down the law that there should be no interpersonal conflicts among the crew of the Enterprise D, much salt went out of the work. The friendly sparring of Spock and McCoy, or of Ulmo and Ossë, was an element that should not lightly have been lost.
Gammas hate and fear dissension and open conflict.  So, to a lesser extent, do women. This ban on interpersonal conflicts is precisely why Star Trek was, and is, pure rabbit entertainment. It allows them to indulge in vicarious, collective heroism that does not pay the cost that classic tales usually require of the hero, which is his exclusion from the ordinary folk.


A said...

Star Trek is what the rabbits want us all to evolve to, where there's no religion, science is supreme, everyone gets alone with all races to the best of their ability, the prime directive, and so forth. There is a good deal of appeal to this kind of universe for non-alphas, it's pure progressive fantasy.

罗臻 said...

Counter-point: a lot of the same gammas love Firefly.

Dr. Faust said...

Aurini covered this topic and I believe his analysis is more accurate.

verusconditio said...

So, to a lesser extent, do women.

Really? I would not have guessed it was to a lesser extent.

~ Stingray

tz said...

That explains a lot. The original Star Trek had the "diversity and vibrancy" in a better balance - Spock is pure logic, but can you trust him (Talos 4)? Bones took the hippocratic oath seriously. The ORIGINAL was classic Sci-Fi. 3d characters growing and interacting like something real. Not some brainwashed robots. (But isn't brainwashing the ability to think out of the mind the point of TV?).

The Borg have no interpersonal conflict. Why do I have a sudden urge to reread "The Abolition of Man"?

Perhaps that is why what might be the favorite episode of DS9 is where they forge an intercept and blow up the Romulan Ambassador's ship. It at least attempted to do the moral conflicts in the original series.

The only problem with DS9 is the ending. Given the cost of the war, the Ferengi should have owned at least 2/3 of the federation.

The cold war iconography (Klingon Empire = Russia, Romulans = China) was inherited by the later attempts, but they could not use the zeitgeist so had to add and adapt, so Klingons became noble warriors (thinking of the noble savage portrayals of african tribes) while the Romulans were still kept to the sidelines.

I can see Roddenberry's point. In the 1960s, wolf-whistling at the attractive gal in the office was considered crude. By the time of TNG, well, the crewman would be ejected from the ship without a spacesuit.

Part of growing up is learning how to handle interpersonal conflicts. Toleration in the proper sense - the virtue. People are going to disagree and want to do things differently.

I'm amazed on how fast the rabbits will scurry back underground when I simply agree to comply with anything they are willing to put in writing (i.e. make the conflict open and on the record).

Ben Cohen said...

I enjoy star trek as pure entertainment and don't think much about the stupid ideologies the writers are pushing. All I care about is watching a fun bubble gum type of story.

Regardless, I have a friend who's a trekkie and I find it kind of pathetic that he's so into the show.

There's nothing wrong with enjoying some good science fiction. The problem is when it consumes you and you think you're some sort of morally superior being because you watch a stupid show.

Omni said...

wow. Thanks for this analysis. Revealing.

newrebeluniv said...

HUH? Did you guys even watch the show? There was plenty of conflict. They even had self conflict (with the assist of the occasional transporter accident). To a much greater extent minor characters added most of the conflict.

Denton said...

He lost me at the first sentence. There is no evidence for his claim, nor any theological reason for it. The Church fathers have written of competition in virtue, etc... Sounds to me like someone learned a new big word.

Bob Wallace said...

"Counter-point: a lot of the same gammas love Firefly."

Then you don't understand the series. It was about family, and it was about freedom from oppressive government.

Survival Gardener, AKA David the Good said...

From the essay:

"To me, the most moving, indeed heartbreaking, line in The Lord of the Rings comes in Appendix A, at the end of ‘a part of the tale of Aragorn and Arwen’:

Here ends this tale, as it has come to us from the South; and with the passing of Evenstar no more is said in this book of the days of old.

Already, when the Red Book of Westmarch took its final form, Aragorn and Arwen had passed into history, and their deaths were in ‘the days of old’. It heightens still further the poignant sense of loss that hangs over The Lord of the Rings as a whole, and to me at least, makes it almost unbearable. It reminds us that the vista we have just seen is truly unattainable. Most fiction leaves us psychologically at the end of the principal action, looking forward in our imagination to the characters’ future. Tolkien takes that away from us, reminding us again and again that even victorious heroes die, and are forgotten in the depths of time."

That is excellent. I feel the same way about TLOTR but couldn't quite articulate it. The sense of true and palpable loss that hangs over the trilogy is one of its greatest strengths.

redlegben said...

I just saw the newest ST in the theater. It seemed pretty blatantly anti-Obama to me. The whole drone strike on a criminal hiding in enemy territory without a trial was less than veiled. I never liked TNG, but the old Trek remains decent sci-fi TV to watch. Especially compared to the vast majority of what passes for sci-fi today.

Some Guy said...

"Then you don't understand the series. It was about family, and it was about freedom from oppressive government."

That's why they cancelled the series. Wouldn't want people loving a character that actively hates the government and tries to live free now would we?

mina smith said...

You have obviously never watched Deep Space Nine.

Jeremy said...

Ah, what? no interpersonal conflict in TNG?

How about all the times Picard clashed with either one of the two doctors? That was fairly regular.
How about Worf disobeying Picard a few times, even resigning because he disagreed with Picard's action?
How about the times when Riker was getting on the case of an underling in condescending way?
What about all of Worf's problems with his son Alexander?

I think what you mean is that there was no childish sniping between humans. This, while very uncommon, is possible to achieve in a well-managed team. However Starfleet is more like the NAVY, or at least I would expect it to be so. The lack of childish bickering amongst the crew for various reasons does detract from the message, I agree. However Star Trek TNG does have interpersonal conflict amongst the crew, it's just so polished over as to beg disbelief.

sunshine mary said...

Star Trek had some good lessons in it, but not because they were put there on purpose.

We were just discussing the J'naii yesterday on my blog, for example. They were a "genderless" race, and we were supposed to feel sympathy for gay people upon watching this episode, I think. In reality, the Ja'naii were so unappealing to look at that one wishes to become even more masculine or feminine to avoid such a horrible fate of a genderless world. said...

star wars. the original trilogy. all day, everyday, any day.

mina smith said...

"Star Trek had some good lessons in it, but not because they were put there on purpose."

I wouldn't be so sure about that.

cailcorishev said...

The best Trek is DS9, because the Roddenberry crew was busy with TNG and then Voyager, and it kinda got left to do its own thing. It had loads of interpersonal conflict, and religion was a big part of the story. Think Star Trek crossed with BSG -- which makes sense since Ron Moore became one of the main writers on DS9 in the second half of the series when it got darker and less episodic.

IrishFarmer said...

Star Trek may be appealing to Gammas for Gamma reasons, but it appeals to others for other reasons as well. If you're a trekky, though, you're probably a Gamma. If you're a casual enjoyer of the show, then maybe not.

IrishFarmer said...

Star Trek may be appealing to Gammas for Gamma reasons, but it appeals to others for other reasons as well. If you're a trekky, though, you're probably a Gamma. If you're a casual enjoyer of the show, then maybe not.

GF Dad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GF Dad said...

When the original Trek was the only game in town and Kirk would jump anything with lady parts, I think the audience was mostly betas AND gammas. Now that sci-fi has moved on and we have seen Babylon5, Firefly and SG-1, I have to agree with VD on his conclusion. Since coming to know the gamma by observing him on his natural state (whatever), I see him for the disgusting, loathsome creature he is - an enemy to all I cherish and believe in. The things I now associate with him and the other rabbits now make me feel similarly, including things I used to enjoy. Much of sci-fi and fantasy now is rabbit food and doesn't hold a lot to draw or hold my interest, but hasn't it always been that way to a certain extent? Asimov's Foundation seems juvenile and contrived like a Brannon Brags or JJ Abrams script. So, I wonder if VD's feelings about Trek (and mine also) come less from a real analysis of the material (though I don't really disagree with him) and more from our shared disdain of its fans.

Southern Man said...

ST:NG improved quite a bit after the second season when Gene was no longer directly involved with the show. Some of the first two season's worst lines were pretty much pure Roddenberry.

Also, note that Kirk gets a threesome in Into Darkness.

LTD said...

"Star Trek had some good lessons in it, but not because they were put there on purpose.

We were just discussing the J'naii yesterday on my blog, for example. They were a "genderless" race, and we were supposed to feel sympathy for gay people upon watching this episode, I think. In reality, the Ja'naii were so unappealing to look at that one wishes to become even more masculine or feminine to avoid such a horrible fate of a genderless world."

That episode was ridiculous. We're supposed to believe that poon-hound Riker, who could bed just about any woman he chose, would fall for a genderless freak - to the point that he would risk his Starfleet career. Not likely.

Ben Cohen said...

You want to find gamma science fiction? Look at the new show called Defiance. I've watched 7 episodes and have concluded it's the worst science fiction show ever made. It's chock full of "strong, independent women," paints a patriarchal alien race as suffocating and evil, and is all around full of boring old ripoffs of other science fiction series.

Retrenched said...

"This ban on interpersonal conflicts is precisely why Star Trek was, and is, pure rabbit entertainment."

Something else that appeals to gammas is the idea that conflicts can be resolved and won through reason, negotiation and intelligence, instead of through physical strength and toughness - two areas in which gammas tend to have below average capabilities.

OT, but here's another example of the feminine imperative made into law, from British Columbia.

e96dd1c6-d05b-11e2-ad29-000bcdcb2996 said...

Original Trek was pretty good. The characters had spice to them. TNG was bland. There were some good episodes in the 3rd and 4th seasons, but not enough.

It makes an interesting comparison to Babylon 5 - JMS was willing to go overboard on putting flaws in his characters.

ajw308 said...

Red Dwarf if you want to see bickering between crew members. Also, the Brit humor there will sneak up on you when you're wondering just why it is you're still watching it.

Nate said...

The borg episodes were always good... Especially the episode that showed the whole star fleet wrecked... that was freakin' awesome.

Then I think there was another episode...where they got into this alternate reality where the enterprise was a full-on military ship. That was badass.

En-sigma said...

Geeks like this stuff because aliens are so well excepted and they are the aliens in this culture.

Otherwise, I don't think story has much to do with it. This series, as well as Star Wars, Firefly, ect., all give the viewer the same video game feel, except in a TV show.

Flying through space, with new bad guys that we don't have to feel bad about when we blow em up, hot chicks (who say really stupid stuff, true) that are nearly naked who always end up "unrestrained in their sexuality," lasers, car/ship chases, get-aways, funny looking aliens who are supposed to be fierce...

His Lordship said...


It is no feminine imperative. It is simply the further going-out of a tide that is already going out.

Beefy Levinson said...

Ironic that TNG is probably the most gamma incarnation, but "First Contact" is the best Trek movie after "Wrath of Khan."

Derrick Bonsell said...

I don't think there are really any anti-Obama messages in Star Trek: Into Darkness, but if they are there they certainly aren't put in by JJ Abrams, who is as much a Democrat as it gets.

I've started to watch DS9, and it's probably the most palatable series to my tastes.

Stickwick Stapers said...

... but "First Contact" is the best Trek movie after "Wrath of Khan."

Pfft. First Contact, like all TNG movies, was just a generic action movie with a veneer of Trek. Mr. Plinkett provides an in-depth analysis. Even Star Trek V: Shatner Ruins the Franchise was better than the TNG movies.

The CronoLink said...

Internal group conflict, I'll keep that in mind

natewinchester said...

Not quite... Vox needs a bit more knowledge here.

Gene laid down the law of "no conflict" in EARLY TNG (detailed by SF Debris in his review of "the bonding").

Once Gene parted from the series, they started putting in more and more conflict (not the least of which, the Best of Both Worlds). By DS9, enough new blood was there to really start taking the show in new directions so there was conflict galore. (note how the show runner from there later went on to do BSG)

Voyager was where they started going back to "gene's vision" and removing all conflict. Then tried to get it back in Enterprise by having stupid conflict.

What's interesting is that DS9 (the most alpha of the franchise, it does have The Sisko!) has only grown in popularity and respectability over all the others. (though TNG has maintained a steady grip on the cultural zeitgeist - and most of that is for it's later, more conflict laden seasons)

cailcorishev said...

The driving vision behind TNG was Roddenberry's secular-humanist Utopian future, where humanity was supposed to have evolved beyond things like sexism, racism, and religion. The show threw lines in supporting that idea now and then, such as the ridiculous notion that they no longer used money, or the claim that Starfleet wasn't a military organization despite the fact that even its "science vessels" could hold their own against other species' warships.

But you can't make a TV show by filming people flying around being perfect and peaceful all day, so the episodes naturally involved conflict. And there were plenty of times when humanity wasn't "evolved" at all, and humans caused trouble by being greedy, vain, or otherwise immoral. But for the most part, the conflicts were external -- with aliens or spatial anomalies -- and not with other humans. More often than not, they were resolved with a Patrick Stewart Speech rather than with violence (poor Worf didn't get to kick anyone's ass until he moved to DS9). And as this article says, there was remarkably little conflict among the crew itself; they were definitely portrayed as one big happy family. I doubt there were more than a dozen episodes that involved as much as harsh words between two crew members who weren't being controlled by some alien/force/virus of the week.

I enjoyed the show when I was 19 years old and pretty idealistic and, to be honest, pretty gamma. So I can't argue with this article's claims. If I watch it now, I still have a soft spot for some of the characters (I always wanted to see Riker get more of the spotlight), but I cringe a lot at the liberal and egalitarian stuff it pushes. If it weren't for nostalgia, it'd be hard to sit through most episodes.

lj3 said...

"Counter-point: a lot of the same gammas love Firefly."

"Then you don't understand the series."

@bob wallace: 罗臻's statement has nothing to do with the series itself. He's stating that the same people who love star trek also love firefly, despite the shows having two completely different (and competing) philosophies. To me, that makes me think Gammas will believe/invest in whatever they see on TV so long as it makes them feel good.

"The medium is the message." -Marshall McLuhan

The CronoLink said...

Thanks God I was never into Star Trek even back in my gamma days; though I've been thinking if the original Star Trek is worth a try

mina smith said...

Having now shared the love for DS9 and TOS (I also like a couple of the movies including of course the two prequels) - who here finds Galaxy Quest at the very top of their "Science Fiction" movie list?

"I have one job, it's dumb, but I'm going to do it!"

redlegben said...

My twelve year old daughter saw the Obama is bad for killing Americans out of country message. I sincerely doubt JJ Abrams didn't put that in there on purpose. There were plenty of ways to deal with a re-envisioned Khan without that particular scenario.

retrophoebia said...

So, what's Vox's take on readers of Iain Banks's Culture series? The society is ostensibly utopian, yet the Minds are willing to throw down when needed.

plus plenty of sex and violence.

Maybe this is better suited for the other blog, but since we're talking SF...

Tobias Templo said...

So what does it say about those who are never interested with series?

yousowould said...

It's really far simpler than that, - it's just pure escapism.

So much time has been taken to create a rich, detailed universe within the Star Trek series that it's quite possible to lose yourself within it, and for a brief time forget about your pathetic gamma existence, and be a part of something bigger. It's precisely the same reason MMORPGS appeal to so many nerds, and to a lesser extent, the reason so many people play any kind of computer game.

The happier you become with your own world, the less you feel the need to escape from it. I almost never play games or watch Star Trek any more, when in my youth, they were the mainstays of my leisure time.

cailcorishev said...

It occurs to me that maybe Farscape got cancelled after four seasons because it couldn't pull the gamma nerd audience, and unfortunately, they make up the bulk of the built-in audience for any SF show. It was sort of the anti-Trek: hugely flawed characters, no clean solutions, lots of bodily fluids.

I ran across this bit in a Farscape recap that pretty well sums it up. It's about John, a human astronaut who gets sucked through a wormhole into another part of the universe, where he ends up on a living prison ship with some escaped alien convicts. So right off the bat, it's the opposite of the clean-cut Enterprise. It says (my emphasis) exactly what's been suggested here about nerd idealism:

They're not aliens because they're blue or gray or made of rubber; they're alien because they're violent convicts and soldiers, and he's just a nerd. We assume, as nerds, that he's on the right side -- that violence and conflict are less necessities than just hiccups in the system, problems to be worked out -- but so much of his growth and becoming a man is about violence (the science of violence, the violence of science), about learning to cross and use both sides in order to become something else entirely from either of them. When he brings peace, it won't be through science and it won't be through violence. It'll be through both.

In the Trek ethos, especially TNG, that's just not acceptable. Violence can only be a last resort, and can never have any positive value in itself. (One of the best DS9 episodes is when the captain gets what he wants through violence and then has to admit to himself that he's satisfied with that.) Science! is the "evolved" solution for everything, in theory making violence unnecessary, if you can just get the science (and the diplomacy) right.

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