Geek Love: Star Trek and Hybridity Revisited

May 21, 2009 at 6:48 am 13 comments

OGs, Star Trek, 1968

OGs, Star Trek, 1968

Here’s the kind of Star Trek geek that I am—I went to Star Trek conventions back at the dawn of time before the movies were made. In the lean years between the cancellation of the original series (TOS) in 1969 and the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979, only the most hardcore dorks attended Star Trek conventions and I was right there with them. I was in junior high back then and had discovered TOS in syndication, on some UHF channel in San Francisco. In typical obsessive fashion I watched every episode religiously, so when the annual Star Trek conventions came to the Bay Area I was totally there.

Star Trek convention habitues

Star Trek convention habitues

At that time the conventions were shaggy, grassroots affairs, with socially inept misanthropes attending in their homespun costumes clutching hand-rigged tricorders. The TV show’s stars were also pretty desperate then, since they’d been typecast in the original series and couldn’t get work once it went off the air. The show was probably the biggest sci-fi cult item at the time, though that still only put it a few notches above Dark Shadows, but its glory days as a billion-dollar franchise were yet to come. So I was able to witness William Shatner recite “Rocket Man” in person at the Oakland Convention Center and I also got Walter Koenig’s autograph (I think I asked him what sign he was).

When Paramount revived the franchise in 1979 and the movies and the new TV series started to take off again, I dutifully followed along, but as the sequels and spinoffs multiplied, my interest gradually waned. It’s not that I didn’t like and enjoy some of the new shows and characters but there were eventually so many of them that I couldn’t properly keep track. Plus by the time Star Trek 6 rolled around in 1991, the original cast was getting mighty long in the tooth and it felt a bit unseemly for them to be running around all over creation in their unsightly hairweaves.

So the new Star Trek reboot is a rare treat for this geekster, as it features actors who are actually young and vigorous enough to be convincingly roaming all over the galaxy in high-powered starships. I saw the movie in its opening weekend and was pleased with its faithful yet innovative reworking of the original series’ mythology.

I was also keenly interested in seeing how John Cho fared as Lt. Sulu, since as previously noted in earlier posts, good roles for Asian American males are few and far between in Hollywoodland. Cho as Sulu acquitted himself just fine, but surprisingly enough, it was the new young Spock that really grabbed my attention.

Spock’s always been coded as “other” in Star Trek lore—Leonard “Bones” McCoy shamelessly let fly with many a culturalist epithet such as, “You green-blooded (mumble mumble),” or “you pointy-eared . . . .” In TOS, Spock’s mixed heritage provided plenty of dramatic tension as he played out a toned-down version of the tragic mulatto trope.

The new old Spock, Star Trek, 2009

The new old Spock, Star Trek, 2009

In the current film, Spock seems to have been given a new dimension, as a sexy young thing who snags the hottest woman on the starship (no spoilers here but it’s a mighty fine, unexpected and yet completely feasible pairing). The filmmakers seem to realize that Spock’s constant need to suppress his hereditary Vulcan rage as well as his human emotions makes the character into a smoldering mass of brooding antihero. Compared to this angsty creature, Kirk’s breezy rebel seems juvenile and shallow.

I’m hoping Spock’s latest incarnation in the new Trek alternaverse further develops the character’s intriguing cultural possibilities. Instead of a conflicted half-breed, maybe Spock can become a new and improved representative of the joys of hybrid vigor, embracing and celebrating his dual heritage rather than constantly lamenting it. It would be so 21st-century to go beyond the last couple hundred years of beating ourselves up over race-mixing, miscegenation and other supposedly unnatural acts. I for one am wholeheartedly rooting for it.

Thanks to Barbara Jane Reyes and Wei Ming Dariotis for helping me to incubate the ideas herein.

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Gann Matsuda  |  May 21, 2009 at 6:59 am

    Hey Val…love your insight into the Star Trek movie…agree with your take on the new Spock character. It will be interesting to see how they develop it further in the 2011 sequel.

    And…if I had known you were that much of a Star Trek geek back in our S/CP days, I might’ve avoided you! 🙂 I’m a Star Trek fan too, but I’m not THAT bad! 🙂

    Reply
    • 2. valeriesoe  |  May 21, 2009 at 6:07 pm

      I think I was over Star Trek by the time I got to college, but it’s always be a latent fixation so it’s easily triggered!

      Reply
  • 3. Rea  |  May 21, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    It always seemed like Spock would make a great romantic lead. He’s tall, dark, and handsome and who doesn’t like the silent, brooding type. Now that the movie’s paired him off with (SPOILER), wonder what they’re going to do with Nurse Chapel. Make it a love triangle? Toss her off to Kirk? GET RID OF HER???

    Now that you’ve mentioned it, Spock did come perilously close to overshadowing Kirk had Chris Pine not sought to chew up the screen with his badass character.

    Reply
    • 4. valeriesoe  |  May 21, 2009 at 6:08 pm

      Nurse Chapel’s thing for Spock was so totally unrequited, so maybe they’ll do something clever with it in the new alternate reality. They can’t get rid of her, though! She was cool!

      Reply
  • 5. mrpoopypants  |  May 21, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    Spock-the first hapa on tv?

    Reply
    • 6. valeriesoe  |  May 21, 2009 at 6:09 pm

      Absolutely! Ahead of his time–

      Reply
  • 7. duriandave  |  May 21, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    I was initially turned off by the trailer, thinking I really don’t want to see another Star Trek with even more CGI spectacle. But since this is the second recommendation I’ve heard in past 24 hours for the new movie, maybe I should check it out. Then again, maybe it just means that I know a lot of Star Trek geeks.

    So, I have to ask: did you ever dress up for the conventions? ;D

    Reply
    • 8. valeriesoe  |  May 21, 2009 at 6:11 pm

      Luckily I never dressed up for conventions so that’s one less skeleton I have to worry about. Sorry about that! No hidden pictures to reveal.

      Reply
  • 9. Brad  |  May 21, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    I never knew that about you! I watched all TOS as a kid too and remember how kids used to threaten each other with “I’m gonna Spock you!” It hurt but no one fell unconscious.

    I also think the new film is the best thing to come out since. I loved the mythic origins story it provides and the fact that Spock, not Kirk, gets the hottie. This move radically unsettles the homosapien-centricity of the original and, as you suggest, opens up a space of post-hybridity that threatens to overrun essentialized identity categories including those of mestizaje.

    Reply
    • 10. valeriesoe  |  May 21, 2009 at 6:12 pm

      Homosapien-centricity! Love it! Let’s hope they run with it–that would really be revolutionary. Another side product of the election of our illustrious President, perhaps?

      Reply
  • 11. Barbara Jane Reyes  |  May 21, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    Hi Valerie, thanks for the shout out! And yes I am with you on this, the “other,” including the multiracial other as a this/that trope rather than a fleshed out character with actual complexities beyond his issues with ethnicity/heritage. That is, this Spock was not just a product of his human/Vulcan heritage but also his experience as a teacher, a commander, (SPOILER)’s love interest.

    I think you are right about Spock’s hotness factor having to do with the suppressed emotions, which while we attribute this to his being Vulcan, can we also just think of it as a personality trait not specific to a certain group? (I hope this makes sense).

    Also I like what Brad says above about this movie unsettling the homosapien-centricity of the original. TNG’s encounter with non-bi-ped aliens (i.e. outside of Starfleet) such as the crystalline entity, the giant baby space blob that thought the Enterprise was its mother, also did this, though we rarely did see non-bi-ped aliens IN Starfleet.

    I’ll stop rambling now…..

    Reply
    • 12. valeriesoe  |  May 21, 2009 at 6:18 pm

      while we attribute this to his being Vulcan, can we also just think of it as a personality trait not specific to a certain group?

      Let’s hope so—I hope the filmmakers can wrap their heads around this since it’s a pretty big concept for mainstream entertainment. But since Gene Roddenberry’s day, Star Trek has a tradition of trying to deal with significant social issues in a populist medium, sometimes successfully, sometimes not, so we’ll see if the current regime builds on that legacy. It will be interesting to see where they go with it.

      Reply
  • […] enough, the next-most-popular posts are about the Star Trek reboot and the Tiananmen Square tank man, so it’s not just thrill-seekers stopping by. […]

    Reply

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