fandom, Star Trek, storytelling

It’s only trivia if you’re not a fan.

Three more-or-less obvious points which form the background of my second song of praise for superlative fan effort. I’ll ask alert readers to excuse my inconsistency with title punctuation.

Fandom has become a curious force in the entertainment marketplace. To nobody’s surprise, the growing aggregate of fans who spend much of their personal time with fantasy entertainment properties has become a collection of subcultures that exhibit an increasingly bizarre, chaotic stew of behavioral categories which range across middle-class entitlement, OCD-level obsession with detail, stark conservatism, slashfic fetishism, and deliberate evangelical misinterpretation.

The relative democracy of personal anonymity on the Internets has given millions of people safe niches where they can settle into each of their own unassailable personal universes, if only to reinforce unshakeable (if undereducated) opinions about any subject, whether historically significant or ephemeral.

Star Trek in particular draws out some precious specimens, having provided more than forty years of content with which fans around the world build little fortresses around personal prejudice, cherished ignorance, or cultural myopia. Battlestar Galactica‘s current creator Ron Moore discovered this when it was first made public that he intended to significantly update 1978’s original sorry excuse for entertainment that bore the show’s name. Die-hard fans were livid and offended, much as they had been when rumors of Spock’s death began circulating before the release of Trek‘s second movie in 1982. Violation of canon is not taken lightly by the faithful.

All of which stokes my admiration for a relatively new project which will probably never see the fulfillment it deserves. Jeremy Grunloh is a fan with a good amount of horse sense and an ability to step back from a subject that few ever bother to consider in any context other than as scripture. He has written a series of stories in teleplay form (and plotted far more) that lift essential ideas from Gene Roddenberry’s crowning 1966 achievement (a success he never recovered from), and remade them for an audience which has far more modern sensibilities and concerns.

Star Trek (Reborn) (or simply “Star Trek” as the script titles read) is a contemporary occupational drama, set in a 23rd century where humans have indeed joined up with an interstellar community of their alien peers, but not as the dominantly moralistic force which Roddenberry posited as his response to Cold War politics. Its “first season” is freely available for download in pdf form, and aside from the absence of a proofreader’s hand, it reads like something we should be seeing on our televisions.

In Mr. Grunloh’s version of the show, Humans are simply one of a handful of races which together strive to deal with messy issues like cultural ambiguity, trade, notional threats from mysterious and distant aliens, and the inevitable real threat from within, as the paranoid and fearful in power seek to create political and tactical advantage by betraying the ideals they have sworn to protect. Grunloh makes no bones about having been influenced by The Manchurian Candidate (the remake of which I have yet to see), and I can only applaud, having been teased—along with every other fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—by subplots involving covert extra-government agencies that have created their own morality in the face of real or imagined threats.

Grunloh, having done away with the credulous idealism of Roddenberry’s weak New Age “beliefs,” has replaced smirky retro embarrassment with contemporary solidity. His stories contain almost no plot-enabling “magical” devices like transporters, replicators or even focused-energy weapons. His Starfleet characters, true individuals with well-defined personal issues and history, have to work harder to accomplish what they do, while patrolling a jurisdiction that effectively makes them the true equivalent of a modern peacekeeping force, maintaining order within known space.

Since this region is somewhat smaller in volume than in the original far-flung exploratory mission, this particular Starship Enterprise (a vessel which more closely resembles a component of a spacegoing navy) returns to Earth fairly often, where the engines of global intrigue and individual fallibility generate the difficulties with which the cast of this show must cope. This tighter architecture also allows the primary cast to mix directly with scattered supporting characters more often.

Yes, the cast. Grunloh has fantasy-footballed this project, assigning his ideal choices of familiar Hollywood talent to every role of consequence. As a young James Kirk (newly promoted after an attack cripples Enterprise‘s Captain Pike): Sean Patrick Flanery. This Kirk isn’t very sure of himself in his new command, but exhibits the qualities that will enable him to overcome such insecurities. Spock is imagined being portrayed by James Marsters, a role that takes the original character’s hybrid origins and adds the stigma of personal tragedy to make things more tasty. McCoy is no less a rocky role, having been assigned to no less a talent than Gary Sinise (who was briefly rumored to have been in J.J. Abrams’ Trek movie cast before actual facts were revealed). This more realistic McCoy is also afflicted with personal issues which threaten to impair his ability to function within Starfleet, his hopeful escape from the demons of civilian life. I would love to see Sinise tackle something this sloppy and distinctly human again.

Season One’s story arc necessarily concerns military action taken against a purported enemy whose apparent actions in the series’ pilot episode have polarized an entire world’s population. It’s what Moore’s Galactica did. It’s what we’re about now, and it needs to be kept visible in popular-entertainment allegory until the least intellectual of our population understands its importance.

Star Trek (Reborn) deserves to be filmed as written. I have a very strong hunch that I won’t feel this strongly about the Abrams movie when it premieres.


2 thoughts on “It’s only trivia if you’re not a fan.

  1. The sad truth about “Star Trek” is that it’s devolved from a concept that attracted and inspired scientific minds to something that now only attracts ‘followers’ capable of prepubescent remarks like “Cool!” and “Awesome!” to describe their impressions of the latest visual effects smorgasbord. Oh sure, Trekkies will prattle on about how all they care about is the story and character development. And yet, how many debates do you see on Trek sites on whether Kirk’s reaction was justified in such a situation as compared to the visual presentation of various minutiae that’s meant to serve only as the backdrop to the story?

    Regardless, fan-generated content is on the decline, at least in terms of overall Trek community interest. The reality is that many of them succeeded in garnering the attention of the fan base because the paltry offerings of “Star Trek: Enterprise” were causing Trekkies to go online to air their grief and frustration over how far Star Trek had fallen. There was comfort in the notion of seeing vintage Trek in its heyday – either defined as being in The Original Series timeframe or that of The Next Generation – being brought back by like-minded fans. But now that several years have past since new Star Trek material was offered on a weekly basis, not only is there little to keep intelligent conversations going, but that fix has since dissipated. The impending arrival of Abrams’ film will further prove the obsolete vision behind many of these fan projects which opt to bathe in nostalgia instead of trying to prove “Star Trek” is capable of adult-level science fiction storytelling.

    Star Trek: Reborn might be trying to go against this tide. But having those two trademarked words in its title is going to make it a difficult sell to SF fans if not the general public, who may have been exposed to what the self-promoted ‘popular’ fan projects have been churning out, that it’s not more of the same drivel.

  2. moeskido says:

    Jeremy is aware of the issues you describe, and more. He’s not afflicted with the need to pander to OCD-afflicted fans who need to recite lines along with the DVD. He’s just writing good television for those in the audience who are not yet infantilized.

    I disagree that fan-generated content is declining. It’s just not as Trek-specific any more. There are other projects springing up, ranging from absolutely amateur to semi-pro, that are telling stories of considerable interest to Trek fans, even if they’re not using Trek to do so.

    I’m going to try to write about as many of these here as I can, time permitting.

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