Saturday, 23 April 2016

How EC Henry Missed the Point

Random youtuber EC Henry wants you to know that JJ Abrams and his writers totally, seriously got Star Trek, you guys. And, lucky you, I've got a free morning to spell out exactly why he's talking crap. His video "Did JJ's Writers Know ANYthing about Star Trek!?", is built around the central straw argument that visual and dialogue references clipped from TOS are what trekkies hated about the Abrams movies and yet are what make the movies so close to TOS.

First, I've never heard anyone complain that 2009 and Into Darkness were bad because they contained callbacks, references and homages. These were expected, and mostly they were done adequately. However, they're nowhere near as subtle as EC Henry seems to think they were, and he's pretty patronising when his video suggests that I must have just missed all those "clever", "hidden" references. I'm a serious trekkie, I hold the pretend rank of captain and own the uniform(s) to match; of course I fucking spotted the "Yesteryear" links immediately. I just didn't give too much of a shit, because these stolen images (including the primary colours uniforms) are not what make a good story. What makes a good story is putting the images and dialogue together in an interesting, meaningful way. "Blowin' shit up" was not especially interesting or meaningful, especially by Star Trek's past standards.

What many fans (including me) have instead complained about is how obvious and clunky many of the references to TOS were, especially in Into Darkness. We got some pretty crappy storytelling from the crude stitching together of as many well-known and unmistakable (but generally unrelated) references from TOS and the TOS movies as the Abrams writers could manage. It's also the exact opposite of the subtle and clever referencing that EC Henry claims is so remarkable. I'm not impressed by either style of referencing, though the crudely obvious stuff was really annoying.

At the same time, I've never heard anyone suggest that the Abrams writers knew nothing at all about Trek, so the title of EC Henry's video is also made of straw. Sure, JJ Abrams himself is brick-ignorant and even antagonistic towards Trek by his own admission. But obviously his other writers knew just enough to show us that they knew exactly enough to fuck it up and no more than that; THAT's the real complaint.
via W. Wheaton


Second, as I've argued in excessive detail already, the thing that made Star Trek what it was, the truly distinctive aspect of the original series and the main link between it and the later series, was not the look of it, nor anything else that superficial, but Roddenberry's sense of human optimism. EC Henry is eager to dismiss this "philosophical stuff" as a post-TNG contaminant, but it was plainly there all along, and Roddenberry and the TOS writers are on record explaining, repeatedly, that they always wanted the show to be about making the world better, in a humanist, social justice sort of way. The silly action scenes were usually crammed in there at the studio's insistence, on the assumption that audiences are stupid. EC Henry apparently doesn't know the historical background of the series well enough to get this crucial detail right. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion about what he personally enjoys and doesn't enjoy, but he steps into Bullshitland when he tries to second-guess the original creators' intentions.

Third, a lesser complaint, EC Henry implies that trekkies hated 2009 because it was a reboot, and then tries to use TMP and TNG to say that we've already accepted these reboots in the past, so we're stupid for not accepting it again now. I don't think this is true. I was genuinely eager for the 2009 movie when it came out, and what left me disappointed was not that there were New Things, but that they'd done such a shitty job with those New Things. TNG changed things from TOS, true, but nearly all trekkies accept these changes as good, worthwhile and for the better, no matter how much they loved TOS before it. But 2009, as previously noted, just fucked things around, adding little new of any value, while also failing (contrary to EC Henry's assertions) to bring back lost wonders from TOS. It wasn't bad because it was a reboot, it was just a bad reboot.

I write all of this, not just because I have some time to kill and it amuses me, but also because I remain hopeful that the upcoming 2017 series will finally return us to my idea of "real" Star Trek, in the sense of being good science fiction (and not just "a thing that happens to be in space") with a strong sense of optimism and progressive ethics. I also hope that all of the many fan productions out there will choose to head more and more in that same direction, and show just how many great stories can come from a wide variety of creative minds all playing around with the same shared vision, but with fresh characters and contexts. I would find that far more satisfying than EC Henry's unimaginative notion that we just have to keep repeating the past, over and over, cutting and pasting from what has already been done, without really understanding what it's all for.