Posts tagged ‘john cho’

Geek Love: Star Trek and Hybridity Revisited

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.

May 21, 2009 at 6:48 am 13 comments

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