Politics in Fiction

I am a Trekkie and a general sci-fi/fantasy geek. I watched many Star Trek series, and my favourite one is Star Trek: The Next Generation. I have been watching Star Trek: Discovery, and I have been enjoying it, despite its many flaws… and I have been getting bored from all the same criticisms brought against it and today I want to respond to them here.

The main recurring criticisms against Discovery and other recent fiction in movies and series in various IPs such as Star Wars and the MCU is: they sacrifice consistency with previously established lore, characters and themes to push an extreme left-wing hamfisted forced progressive agenda. How much of that is really happening, and how much of that is more right-wing people reading intentions where there aren’t ones necessarily there?

SPOILER WARNING: Please note, there will be spoilers in this post for various Star Trek episodes from various series, including Star Trek: Discovery up to season 2 episode 11 and Captain Marvel in the MCU films.

I am an amateur actress, in the Tel Aviv Gay Ensemble. We are currently working on getting a new play off the ground which will focus on gay parenthood across the LGBT spectrum where I will be playing a trans childfree character, much like myself. In fact, many of the characters in the play are based off of personal stories each of the actors in the cast have shared so the characters are somewhat based on us but with many changes to accomodate the needs of the play and our needs as individuals to protect our privacy.

In the first sketch sent to me of my scenes, I found no less than 25 inconsistencies between the script and how I think a trans person in that situation would behave or react to it. At first, I was very stressed from this. I knew we don’t have time for there to be a complete rewrite so I thought I could propose alternate scenes that fix all of those, so I spent many hours of a sleepless night writing 4 alternate scenes to replace the 3 scenes I was given which addressed all 25 of my concerns. They were rejected outright for diverting too much from the overall theme of the play, not working with the other parts of the play plotwise and when I shared it with other people they said the original packs a bigger emotional punch and didn’t understand why certain characters acted in a certain way which from my queer polyamorous asexual childfree point of view seemed totally logical.

Also, I’m not a playwright… I’m an actress, an amateur one at that and even that description of my acting skills might be too flattering – of course I wouldn’t be able to write something with the same emotional punch as a playwright.

What is the point of all this? Inconsistencies are a compromise in every work of drama, every attempt at entertaining to one extent or another. It’s the director and actor’s job (and for movies and series also the editor’s job) to try and distract the audience from those inconsistencies by “acting the shit” out of any scene to sell it despite those inconsistencies, at least for the moment you are experiencing it, if not also after the play/episode/movie is done – and that can be more difficult for shows where the audience is expected to think about what they saw and ponder it after the curtains draw such as Star Trek.

It’s easy to be a couch script writer and punch holes in works of fiction on YouTube, it’s hard to actually write something that moves people and entertains them. Fixing inconsistencies is not necessarily so hard, but it could leave you with something that loses all of its emotional punch and perhaps make sense to you, the nitpicker who saw every episode of every season and knows the smallest things about the entire universe, but within the episode they might make absolutely zero sense to a newcomer. To me as someone with intimate knowledge of living as a trans woman, I felt very happy with my changes to fix my 25 problems with the original scense I was given and felt very moved by what I had written, but other people who saw my scenes seemed to actually connect more with the original.

How a newcomer to Star Trek watches and enjoys it is very different than how a veteran might experience it… so you need to balance somehow writing for both types of people because both of them might want to watch it.

And even if you wanted to go hardcore fan service and make sure everything is airtight consistent with previous lore, the established lore is already so vast and convoluted even when taking only Prime universe content into account from previous compromises between drama and consistency. For example, I just rewatched Enterprise: Regeneration… (spoilers ahead for that)

…and them dealing with the Borg in that episode contradicts Starfleet seemingly knowing nothing about the Borg in TNG when Q forces a meeting between the Borg and the Enterprise in Q Who. That’s just one example, but every series in Star Trek prime cannon, probably every episode, has these kinds of flaws. Inconsistencies are nothing new to Star Trek series, just like with any work of fiction, and it becomes harder and harder to avoid them the bigger your canon gets and the more you try to make the content serialized. It’s easy to praise the original series for being relatively consistent when it was the first series and was almost, if not completely episodic and I’m sure you could poke plenty of holes there as well.

As I said before, poking holes and even rewriting something to not have those holes is relatively easy… I did it myself with no training to my scenes, just based on my own experiences as a trans woman… but does it make it better not just for me, but also other people who have no idea about the things I know? Does it make it better even for the people who do know these things?

Later on, as we began work on actually playing the scenes, many lines were cut, entire parts were removed and replaced, and my issues were resolved with entirely different strategies than what I would have used, to benefit the intentions of the playwright who has the bigger picture. I’m just an actress, and my job is to try and sell my part, warts and all, with all the inconsistencies. In that regard, Star Trek: Discovery has some damn fine acting, especially in the last two episodes I saw – The Red Angel s2e10 and Perpetual Infinity s2e11. For example, at the end of The Red Angel, when Michael sees her mom come out of the red angel suit, the way she says “mom” – it may sound silly to you, but it feels so real to me, how Michael is suddenly a lost child again finding her long lost mother. Something about the way she says “mom” screams all of that to me, in that one word much stronger than if she had literally said that and I felt I was seeing for that moment a small helpless child in that woman.

Or when Leland tells Michael that her parents died (we later learn her mother survived) due to lack of intelligence that the Klingons could find them while they were working for Section 31 – the way she reacts emotionally makes perfect sense, and the way she acts that reaction is amazing, while on the analitical level it is kind of strange that she would be so hostile to Leland when getting 100% accurate intelligence all the time is impossible and mistakes are inevitable… but in reality, in the heat of the moment, it’s realistic that she wouldn’t be able to see that.

Yet even as a trans person myself who is starved for LGBT representation, I can’t help but cringe when it is done badly, in a forced way, like I felt was done in the whole “you were both pansexual rather than gay and imply we had fun times in an alternate timeline” scene… but that’s just one scene in that episode. You honestly claim that in TOS and TNG there were no attempts at humor that were cringe inducing? In general, I would say Star Trek is not at its best when it tries to be funny, but when funny “happens” in the natural flow of the episode as a by-product… and again, it’s obvious to me the actors and director did their best to sell that scene, and I can appreciate at least that.

But back to the central question… is Discovery entirely focused on selling a progressive extreme left-wing agenda at the expense of a good story and lore consistency? I don’t think so. Why? For the same reason the original sketch I got for my part had so many inconsistencies – don’t rush to attribute malice of intent where failure is a satisfactory explanation. As I said before, writing a dramatic story to balance the needs of die hard fans and welcome newcomers with an ever bloating sum of lore, constantly accumilating more inconsistencies from previous iterations – is an uphill battle that is impossible to win. It’s easy to poke holes, it’s hard to write something with all those constraints…

…and pretending Discovery is the first Star Trek show to be riddled with inconsistencies and use that to demonstrate it’s all part of an extreme left-wing agenda, in my opinion is more indicative of the biases of the person reviewing Discovery than it is of Discovery.

It’s much like what’s going on with the World of Warcraft, that the more it is modernized to try and cater to many different playstyles, the more we hear of disgruntled die hard fans feeling the game is horrible and the developers are out of touch and just don’t get it. The way WoW Classic is being treated is evidence in my opinion that Blizzard truly want the customers to have fun, but it’s much easier to do that with Classic because the target audience there is very narrow and specific, whereas the modern game tries to cater to many different types of people, and in so doing makes compromises for all types of people that play the game. Perhaps the solution could be to create seperate servers or game modes with diverging implentations to fit every type of player – but that has its own pros and cons and there are no easy fixes for that.

Personally, I am still enjoying my time there and feel I can play it more casually now than before without missing anything important, which is actually good – I can balance WoW with acting and singing. It’s all nice and dandy to want to get that feeling of “oh my god I am so hooked I want to drop absolutely everything for this and play 24/7” but the people who played WoW as teenagers are now adults, and as such making a less addictive game is perhaps actually catering to the main chunk of the WoW demographic while the Youtubers and hardcore gamers that feel are no longer motivated to immerse themselves all year long in the World of Warcraft perhaps do not represent the main audience of WoW, for whom if the game was too engaging and dare I say, too much fun for more than the few days or hours a week or month when there is new content to enjoy or when there is a raid to have fun with as a group once or twice a week – well, then they would have to extricate themselves from it, because they couldn’t maintain their lives and also continue playing, unlike people who make a living making videos on YouTube about gaming and stream games.

So the demographics and their needs are changing, and sometimes companies make mistakes in gauging what their audience wants and where they can make money but at the end of the day, companies just want to make money. They don’t really care about agendas, politics or ideals because they live or die by their profits. Just like mobile games are laced with scummy micro transactions which are now becoming mega transactions, as long as people will buy it, companies will continue making it… and the few people making videos complaining on it on YouTube? They are giving them free publicity to attract the ones for whom these company’s product appeals to check what the fuss is all about. Perhaps those Youtubers are aware of that themselves, and don’t care because they are profiting from the controversy – such as YouTube channels saying they don’t care about Captain Marvel while making 100 videos about Captain Marvel.

As for Captain Marvel and Brie Larson’s expressed views, you really think what one actress, even the lead actress, says in a public event, dictates how the movie will take shape? In my example, where I am in the gay ensemble and I shared with them my opinion of how they represented my trans character, they didn’t do me any favors and changed the script to fit my vision. They took my comments into account and together we figured out a different way to work around the problems, many of them just through how it was acted, some of them by removing lines or even replacing a scene… but we didn’t use any of the scenes I wrote. There were no special favors for me as a trans woman to take what I wrote into the play because the trans woman said and we must obey the trans woman because intersectionality tho and PC culture tho. In fact, I felt that all the changes were made thinking of the good of the play and only by happenstance worked out with my personal needs and concerns.

In the same way, it’s ridiculous to think that Brie Larson’s views have more than a fractional impact on how the movie is made – the sheer size of the “machine” required to make such movies, especially an MCU film, does not allow that kind of influence to come from just one cog in it.

As for her actual views, I feel many people have straw manned what she said. The reason it matters the gender and race of who gets to review movies in the full context of her comment, is very similar to the difference between a die hard Trek fan and a newcomer. They each see different things in the work of art. In the same way many die hard Trek fans who are used to certain messages being promoted in previous shows are feeling alienated by the current Star Trek iteration for being too progressive, others who feel they have never had representation of their experiences in the entire history of mainstream television and cinema suddenly feel validated and we need new voices in mainstream media to help those people find the media that helps them feel less alienated and alone.

Is this the first time this has happened with a Star Trek show? When TNG, Voyager, DS9 and Enterprise came out, didn’t we go through this cycle all over again? Hell, when TOS came out, it completely went against a lot of the social norms held at the time – was it not? Star Trek was always a show that pushed the boundaries of promoting acceptance of the different and strange… and while at times the way it was done felt somewhat hamfisted, but today might feel to you benign and natural, remember that it might just be because you grew up on that, you got used to it, but to the people who were your age then, it may have felt just as hamfisted and forced and maybe it really is hamfisted and forced – but the point is, this is not new in Star Trek – this is just more of the same, just that we are older now, and many of us have become somewhat set in our ways, opinions and ways of perceiving things…

…and if you think TOS did it all perfect and was the pinnacle of consistency and logic? Well, I’m sorry, but as much as I enjoy watching TOS, it often feels like a campy cross between science fiction, westerns and the original live action Batman series. It is very silly very often. It’s far from the perfect ideal series. In my personal taste, TNG was the best series of them all but guess what? I grew up on TNG, so that’s my bias and I can recognize that and temper my criticism of Discovery accordingly.

Personally, I feel Discovery is getting much better with these last two episodes, despite the cringe inducing bad representation in my opinion of pansexuality in The Red Angel and we also have The Orville in parallel which is also great in its own way, giving much more of those TNG vibes and I am glad we have both and can enjoy both. There is no need for there to be a fight between Orville fans and Discovery fans – they are two perfectly good and wonderfully different cups of tea or flavors of ice cream or whatever metaphor floats your boat. I think this is a great time to be a Trek fan, to be able to enjoy both of these new flavours of Trek and scifi/fantasy in general is bigger than its ever been, with Avengers: Endgame and the 8th season of Game of Thrones fast approaching. What a wonderful time to be consuming media!

Ruth Peleg – scifi and fantasy geek

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