Well, we heard the big guns roar behind the battle line;

Every member of the Corps, by our officer’s design,

Affixed his bayonet to his trusty laser gun.

The order, as of yet, had not come to anyone,

But we knew we’d have to charge at the foemen’s barricade,

So, in battle armor large, in a phalanx we arrayed.

Our satellites looked down at the enemy’s artillery

Which was set up in a town that our cavalry would pillory.

The UAV’s report went directly to the Colonel

(Who was resting in the Fort, with an injury internal)

The plan that he devised had been centuries rehearsed,

It would have been recognized by Napoleon the First.

But for every gee-whiz gadget, and with all of our  technology—

The upper management has yet to send us an apology.

The strategies they made were completely obsolete

And so our whole brigade met a horrible defeat.

All our battle droids broke ranks, and we knew our fate was sealed–

So we took our hover tanks and retired from the field.

(more…)

A guy I know once told me that he thought Star Trek: The Original Series was a “fascist” TV show.  I asked him to elaborate, and he listed me some reasons:

  • All the heroes are military personnel.
  • All of them belong to a socialist federation
  • They all wear uniforms that signify their rank within the rigid hierarchy.
  • The main hero, Capt. Kirk, is a Carlyle-esque “Great Man” figure. A masculine paragon of excellence, who often triumphs through a Nietzschean casting aside of Spock’s “logic” in favor of genuine emotion.

I didn’t buy it then and I don’t buy it now, but it’s a fascinating argument.  Of course, I made some counterpoints:

  • The Federation is clearly supposed to be a neo-liberal society, built on tolerance and understanding between different groups.  It is more like an idealized version of the United Nations.
  • The Enterprise’s goal is ostensibly exploration and understanding, not conquest.
  • The real “fascist” version of Star Trek was shown in the famous “Mirror, Mirror” episode, in which the war-like crew of the parallel universe Enterprise fit the Fascist bill much better.
  • Besides this, there at least two other episodes where they bump into copies of the original fascists and the most famous of the “modern day” fascists.
  • The show’s values were generally liberal and progressive, as evidenced by the diverse cast and certain moments like Kirk and Uhura’s kiss, which was very controversial at the time.

Naturally, I think my argument stands up better.  However, my friend’s idea is still kind of interesting.  After all, despite that “peace and understanding” stuff, the Federation did find itself at war with those swarthy foreigners, the Klingons, awfully frequently.  (I think it’s significant that they changed this for The Next  Generation.)

What was the deal with the Federation?  Were they just a bunch of nice guys, or was something more sinister at work?  Does upholding the virtues of tolerance, inclusiveness and diversity except for the primitive and brutal “Others” still get you into the Tolerant Liberal Club, or does it put you in the Conquering Empire with Good P.R. Club?

Somewhere—I can’t find the exact quote, sorry—the radical libertarian Albert Jay Nock wrote that the people who opposed fascism and also supported a “league of nations” seemed to be saying that a drop of something was deadly poison, but a gallon of it was a miracle elixir.  What, Nock’s thinking went, was one-world government, a “league of nations”, if not authoritarian nationalism writ large?

Of course, Nock was wrong, at least in the case of the Earth.  For if there were a “one-world government” modeled on the United States, with each country being functionally equivalent to a State,  it would have no “Other” to make into its enemy.  It would not, as far as I can see, have the ultimate hallmark of a fascist nation: the racial or at a heritage-based class system.  This does not at all mean a one world government is a good thing, but it is not fascist.

But in Star Trek the Federation did not encompass all known sentient life in the universe, although it did seem that its doors were open to all who would join.   There were other systems of government and life-forms.  The Federation was just trying to… triumph over them.  Fascism!

There is an old quote I’ve seen attributed, probably incorrectly, to Huey Long: “When Fascism comes to America, it will be called anti-Fascism!”  I suppose you could say that is what the Federation has done, since they are committed to freedom and tolerance… and will destroy anyone who isn’t.

The new Star Trek movie Into Darkness especially seemed to accentuate the fascistic element of the series.  The grey uniforms the cadets at Starfleet wear (especially the hats), and the warmongering admiral make it seem like it’s on its way to being the Evil Empire.

I saw Star Trek Into Darkness yesterday.  There is a plot twist of sorts in the movie, which a friend of mine spoiled for me, although I don’t think it detracted from my enjoyment.  But be warned, I will spoil it in this review.

Let me begin by stating that I–alone of everyone who saw it, as near as I can tell–didn’t much care for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I thought the first Star Trek movie was better, even though it was 50% exterior shots of the Enterprise doing nothing. Wrath of Khan was lame because the titular character was a completely over-the-top cartoon villain, constantly quoting literature for no reason.

I mention Wrath of Khan because this movie is practically a remake of it.  Benedict Cumberbatch plays a criminal who turns out to be none other than the alternate-universe Khan.  In the beginning, his Khan isn’t that different from his Sherlock Holmes–he’s a brooding man in black who hangs around London.  But he does a good job as the film goes on–in my opinion, better than Ricardo Montalban did in the role.

Anyhow, in the first part of the film, Kirk is relieved of his command of the Enterprise for violating the Prime Directive like he always does.  This lasts for about ten minutes until the criminal-not-yet-known-as-Khan kills the new Enterprise commander and Kirk is reinstated and sent on a mission to bring him to justice, by firing a mysterious new kind of photon torpedoes at him.

Alas, it develops that Khan has gone to a Klingon planet, and a Federation ship cannot go there without risking war.  Even so, one Admiral  Marcus tells him to do it anyway; war with the Klingons is inevitable.  So, Kirk and the Enterprise and a mysterious new crew member named Carol head off. Except for Scotty, who resigns because he doesn’t like the look of the new torpedoes.

They arrive at the Klingon planet, send a message to the fugitive that they will blast him with torpedoes if he does not surrender, and are then attacked immediately by (what else?) Klingons, who are in turn attacked by a mysterious hooded figure who is obviously Khan.

This is my favorite scene in the movie: Khan is not shone close-up or center frame, but appears silhouetted against a large glowing orange background firing his weapons at the Klingons and taking them down with ease. When they are all disposed of, he turns his attention to Kirk and asks “how many of those torpedoes are there?”  When the reply comes: “72”, Khan immediately says “I surrender.”

It’s a great scene, and very unnerving.  Here you have this obviously highly-capable villain who could easily take on the three people sent to capture him, and yet he is surrendering to them.  Normally in these action-adventure flicks, it’s the heroes who get captured by the villains at this stage of the game.

Unfortunately, the film goes downhill after that.  There are revelations that Admiral Marcus has been lying, trying to start a war with the Klingons, that Khan’s people are in cryogenic pods sealed in the torpedoes, that Marcus revived them for his war… bottom line, Marcus is a jerk, but Khan is ruthless and willing to harm innocents in his mad quest for vengeance.  After many explosions and lots of running, falling and punching, it all gets sorted out, with the heroes none the worse for wear.

Spock gets overly-emotional at the end.  It’s out of character, as is the romance between him and Uhura.  Dr. McCoy also does something unbelievably stupid when he neglects to save a sample of Khan’s miraculously regenerating cells.  They are an incredibly useful for medical purposes, and yet he barely pays them any mind?   Too often, the script uses clever one-liners at the expense of characterization.  There is also a pointless cameo by Leonard Nimoy, reprising his role as original Spock.

Star Trek used to have a lot of talking, punctuated by the occasional fight.  These new movies are mostly fighting punctuated by banter.  It may be a bit higher-quality banter than you’d get in most sci-fi action movies, but still that’s what it is.

It’s a mildly entertaining film. Kirk is a good hero, and Khan is a good villain.  It’s a shame they don’t get to interact more, because what scenes they have are very well done.   I felt like there was more verbal sparring between Shatner and Montalban in the original than there was between Pine and Cumberbatch in this one.  If they had just remade the original more faithfully, shot-for-shot even, with this cast, I think it would have been better.

As the original Khan, literature student that he was, might have been moved to remark: “it is full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”