Plumb Lines

May 26, 2009

Is Star Trek the First Movie About the 2008 Election?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 4:31 pm

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A series of cataclysmic events leads to the annihilation of a war-mongering elite. All that remains is a rogue group of working-class types who are motivated by racial resentment, obsessed with drilling, and led by a balding, blue-collar spokesman. Not only does this describe the 2008 GOP — the party of Joe the Plumber, “Drill, baby, drill,” and supposed anti-intellectualism — it also describes the Romulan villains of the latest Star Trek film.

In the movie the Romulan home world is blown up by a supernova, a cataclysm that recalls the successive electoral defeats of 2006 and 2008 that destroyed the Republican elite and allowed blue-collar avengers like Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber to take up its cause. The film’s villain is cast from this mold. He fights like a professional wrestler and talks like a truck driver. The most painfully obvious reference to the 2008 election is the fact that this villain decides to get back at his enemies–those damn liberals like the half-breed Mr. Spock and the hippies of the San Francisco-based Starfleet–by drilling to the core of Earth and Vulcan.

Star Trek has always been a political show, with the crew of the Enterprise an ideal of humanitarian liberalism. The original series showed a cold-war-style battle between the Federation and the Klingons, while The Next Generation depicted hopes for an end-of-history pax Americana. Gene Rodenberry, Star Trek’s creator, not only crafted a vision of the future, he helped create it by showing the first interracial kiss on American television.

How does the new film compare to the franchise’s past aspirations for relevance? The most striking thing may be the narrowing of the show’s ambition. Rather than provide an allegory for world affairs, the new Star Trek merely delivers a parsing of electoral politics. Perhaps its new motto should be: to timidly go where many pundits have gone before.

-Matthew Schmitz

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6 Comments »

  1. I predict we shall soon become a film blog devoted to reviews of the latest blockbusters.

    But really, my father always said George W. Bush watched too much Star Trek as a child because he sought to interfere with so many cultures, just like James T. Kirk does. All this despite the Prime Directive of non-interference in pre-warp societies. They almost always end up breaking it. Then again my father blames Star Trek for the rash of split infinitives in modern American English, too.

    Comment by Michael E. van Landingham — May 26, 2009 @ 6:47 pm

  2. Six or eight months ago, I started toying around with the idea that Star Trek was both paradigmatic and symptomatic of an individualistic society in which commitment to any kind of traidtion is eschewed. Think about it: where does Trek find its ideal society? Not on any particular planet–the planets are invariably the locations of primitive, corrupt, and/or dysfunctional societies, and often of repressive regimes–but rather on a free-floating starship, with (literally) no ties to any of the planets it encounters. It’s a literal utopia, located in the literal no-place of space. It has little if any history to which it has to answer, and little if any posterity for which it has to plan. The starship is just the modern “self,” and the society on board is the contemporary ideal of a society in which everybody is merely free to “be him/herself,” wherever and whenever.

    The one major check on this, of course, is the Prime Directive, which is a purely negative command: DON’T impose our society on other societies; DON’T interfere. It epitomizes what has become the cardinal virtue of contemporary ethics: not the positive virtue of love (caritas), but the purely negative one of harmlessness.

    Not that I don’t still enjoy Star Trek . . .

    Comment by Tracy S. Altman — May 27, 2009 @ 11:52 am

  3. Another support to your theory might be the film’s nasty little waterboard torture bugs which are only employed by the embittered drillers.

    Comment by millinerd — May 27, 2009 @ 1:50 pm

  4. […] Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 2:05 pm Writing in the comments of my previous Star Trek post, Tracy Altman has made an observation that may pain some fans of […]

    Pingback by Star Trek « Plumb Lines — May 27, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

  5. […] ~Matthew Schmitz […]

    Pingback by a quote for the end of the afternoon | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen — May 27, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

  6. […] “A series of cataclysmic events leads to the annihilation of a war-mongering elite. All that remains is a rogue group of working-class types who are motivated by racial resentment, obsessed with drilling, and led by a balding, blue-collar spokesman. Not only does this describe the 2008 GOP — the party of Joe the Plumber, “Drill, baby, drill,” and supposed anti-intellectualism — it also describes the Romulan villains of the latest Star Trek film.” – Matthew Schmitz […]

    Pingback by Quote of the Day: Star Trek/GOP Edition | Heretical Ideas Blog — May 27, 2009 @ 9:54 pm


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