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Seriously, changes in Klingon makeup shouldn't raise continuity issues.
June 13, 2014 6:50 AM   Subscribe

On Talmudic and fundamentalist approaches to continuity in the Star Trek franchise. Just as St. Paul didn't realize he was founding a religion, D.C. Fontana [writer of several episodes for Star Trek: TOS] didn't know she was setting up 50 subsequent episodes in each script.
posted by Cash4Lead (76 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Perhaps the absolute apotheosis of this trend comes when a driving storyline is devoted to explaining in-universe the changes in Klingon makeup between TOS and the movies—something DS9 was willing to treat as a mere throwaway joke. These plotlines resemble nothing so much as creationists’ attempts to explain away the appearance of billions of years-old stars in the sky (God stretched the light!) or to render compatible the size of Noah’s ark and the number of animals it would need to hold to repopulate the Earth from scratch.
Swoon.
posted by whittaker at 7:00 AM on June 13 [6 favorites]


Your audience is a bunch of science geeks. One of their founding myths is the story of Newton revolutionizing the world with the discovery that the laws governing a falling apple and the laws governing an orbiting planet were the same. This is perhaps not the best demographic to try to convince that even different spinoff TV series need to be considered as non-overlapping magisteria.
posted by roystgnr at 7:03 AM on June 13 [10 favorites]


Ah canon. Fandom's obsession with canon is bordering on the frightening. To me, canon matters exactly when it hurts the story. In particular, if I am in film 2 and I refer directly to events in film 1 and have characters appear who were first introduced in film 1, but one of them is now inexplicably ten foot tall then I might be thrown out of the story a bit. Basically, when watching a piece of fiction it's nice to know the rules it is operating under.

I can indeed ignore the head ridges on Klingons, especially if the authors just ignore it (similarly if an actor dies mid shoot and its not commented on then I'm happy to go with that too). Enterprise was a bit frustrating because it seemed to be making an effort to respect previous events apart from when it wasn't in the mood to do so.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 7:15 AM on June 13 [5 favorites]


There's a subreddit, the Daystrom Institute, that is devoted in part precisely to this matter: trying to rationalize continuity errors and explain minor points in episodes, although they do discuss larger fan theories as well. Although it's easy to make fun of this tendency--William Shatner's infamous SNL sketch back in the late eighties had a fan asking him what the combination on the safe in Kirk's quarters was--it can also be a lot of fun to speculate, as with the recent ASOIAF fan theories thread on the blue. (In a recent thread, I found an interesting parallel between the Klingon creation myth and the genetic engineering of the Jem'Hadar by the Founders of the Dominion, and the Jem'Hadar's subsequent attempts at breaking free from their control.) Similarly, the example cited of the change in the Klingons' appearance, far from being the nit-picky obsessive work that is implied, was actually a pretty neat way of tying together the forehead issue with the previous issue of genetic engineering (which had also been brought up in DS9); the people behind those episodes, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, not only have an encyclopedic knowledge of classic Trek canon, but also are able to turn it into decent storylines. It can be fun, as long as you're not insistent on everything having to make perfect sense.

Also, on a tangent, is it really generally accepted that Paul of Tarsus "didn't realize that he was founding a religion"? He sure had a lot of definitive pronouncements on what believers should and shouldn't do.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:20 AM on June 13 [10 favorites]


It's an interesting comparison. Basically, every new series can be seen as a minor schism - related and indebted to its ancestor (and the proto-church of TOS). Then a gritty reboot would be a reformation, throwing out the antiquated traditions and restrictions and keeping to a more direct, less 'meditated' interpretation of the original scripture.

In Battlestar Galactica terms, the original series is to Judaism as the reboot is to . . . I don't know, post-Nicene Christianity?
posted by Think_Long at 7:22 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


(does Kirk’s Enterprise operate under the banner of the United Earth Space Probe Agency or Starfleet, for instance? What is the relation of either of these to the United Federation of Planets?)

Yes. Any large organization has to resynergize the forward thinking synchronicity to reflect the buy in from the stake holders and break through the clutter at the end of the day, reaching out through sea changes to calibrate expectations to current clear goals, empowering disruptive innovation and bringing all the parties to the table to share the Flavor-aid and higher order thinking engagement to correctly reflect the values of all shareholder planet system racial type and subtype organizations. This results in frequent logo / name shifts to continuously encompass the reflectively changing banner of the groups' missions and charges.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 7:24 AM on June 13 [17 favorites]


the original series is to Judaism as the reboot is to . . .

Branch Davidians.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:26 AM on June 13 [8 favorites]


Maybe the implication under all this is that some religious behavior is inherent.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:31 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Also, on a tangent, is it really generally accepted that Paul of Tarsus "didn't realize that he was founding a religion"? He sure had a lot of definitive pronouncements on what believers should and shouldn't do.

There's a popular argument in New Testament studies that Paul and the first Christians weren't founding a church as we've come to know it but were preparing the world for the second coming of Christ, which they expected to happen in their lifetimes. When that didn't happen, the argument goes, the church began to focus more on institutional concerns until it became the Catholic and Orthodox Churches we know today.
posted by Cash4Lead at 7:36 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


The implication being, I think, that religion starts as a way to riff off a central theme and apply it to new situations; but over time it becomes focused on changing the new situations and new themes to align with the rules created by the first few versions.

Makes me think of genetic algorithms where anything is possible, but the first few random spawns really dictate how things will look in the future as the changes become more and more minute.

the only solution is revolution
posted by rebent at 7:37 AM on June 13 [6 favorites]


Part of the shift to more obsessive "canons" of continuity has to do with material changes in the way we relate to what was once disposable entertainment. The era of trade paperback and pricey hardcover comics reprints, and the slightly later age of of Complete Series archiving through DVD/DVR/Streaming video tend to make all of these things into more permanent, reviewable, and stable bodies of material.

The same is true of religion. Once you have a means of reproducing and disseminating stable bodies of written material, canonicity can become a central question and the use of "the books" as a reference point seems to become central.

Add in a Western cultural ethos that prizes accurate reproducibility, widespread distribution, and coherent abstraction, and you have a recipe for geeky and religious emphasis on canonicity.
posted by kewb at 7:42 AM on June 13 [8 favorites]


Similarly, the example cited of the change in the Klingons' appearance, far from being the nit-picky obsessive work that is implied, was actually a pretty neat way of tying together the forehead issue with the previous issue of genetic engineering (which had also been brought up in DS9);

Agreed. In fact, the Klingon problem episodes were the highlights of a series that was otherwise generally pretty awful.

And as with Cannon Fodder (eponysterical) above, I can ignore lots of smaller canon deviations (like, say, retconning the Trill b/w TNG and DS9), but big things like the radical change in the Kilngons take you out of the story.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:42 AM on June 13


Personally, I loved the way they dealt (or didn't deal) with the Klingon makeup thing in DS9. Michael Dorn's expression and line read were just priceless. It didn't matter that it didn't answer it at all, really. You could make up your own explanation in your head just from Dorn's performance.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 7:42 AM on June 13 [10 favorites]


I was really enjoying this piece and felt like the writer was doing a good job of linking their observations together. I finished the sixth paragraph eagerly anticipating the payoff...

...and it abruptly ended without even a conclusion. I want to believe that there's a second half to this piece, because I would really love to read it.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:43 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


For some reason, this discussion reminds me of Emo Philips' greatest joke:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"

Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

posted by Paul Slade at 7:43 AM on June 13 [28 favorites]


I appreciated Enterprise's handling of the Klingon ridges (though I thought the Soong connection was a bit forced -- we don't need any more Spiner characters, Star Trek) and never actually seeing a Romulan is fine, too -- they are known for surveillance and subterfuge, after all. In the alternate universe episode, they did an excellent job making TOS design look futuristic in comparison.

The weak attempts at continuity I did not appreciate were those that were hand-wavey and unnecessary; those in which, if they were that concerned about continuity, they just should not have made the episode in the first place (and there are many episodes of Enterprise that simply should not have been made). Yes, we've seen the Borg before, but there aren't any records of it. Yes, we've met Ferengi before, but they never really identified themselves as Ferengi.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 7:45 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


From the (two) comments: Given the Talmud metaphor, you really ought to point out that fan fiction = midrash. That's pretty good.
posted by kozad at 7:47 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


big things like the radical change in the Klingons take you out of the story

I've really never understood why anybody thinks the Klingon makeup thing needs to be explained. It seems irrelevant, and not because "it's just a show" or whatever, but because exactly zero episodes of TOS hinge on the presence or absence of Klingon forehead ridges. It's a change that contradicts nothing, plot-wise. It has no real impact outside of a single point of visual style.

Or maybe I'm just cavalier about it because I don't actually like TOS that much.
posted by my favorite orange at 7:52 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


...and it abruptly ended without even a conclusion. I want to believe that there's a second half to this piece, because I would really love to read it.

Yeah I felt the same way. Also, I know it's a blog by a theology grad student, but I would've liked a tiny bit (like one sentence?) of explanation about what exactly was meant by "talmudic." I can infer from the context that it's basically not-fundamentalist, but I don't know if there is more to that metaphor that is important? I'm sure the author didn't really write the piece for random non-theology student Star Trek nerds, but well, here I am.

It was interesting, nonetheless.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:53 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Enterprise, in my opinion, suffered from the problem most prequels have: the outcomes are, by and large, known. While it's interesting to know how we got there, by definition everything you had before is a spoiler. Being a slave to this canon and trying to retcon loose ends simply weakens them.

As I said, it's interesting to know how we got here, I don't think it's enough to sustain a TV series or a trilogy of movies (I'm looking at you, Star Wars episodes 1-3). Dropping it into an existing series can be interesting, as it can be somewhat throw-away. It's just a drop or two of flavor, without creating a whole new binder of continuity to worry about. Firefly's "Out of Gas" is a good example of this.

For that matter, it could be one movie. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith gave us the Kenobie vs. Annekin dual we longed for since our youth. Tightening the origin story to one movie may have left me feeling less betrayed.
posted by MrGuilt at 7:55 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


Get back to me when they've un-retconned the whole Zefram Cochrane thing.
posted by mikelieman at 7:56 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


I used to be pretty fundamentalist about religion, when I was into that sort of thing. I think, for me, Star Trek is a much healthier outlet for my fundamentalism. And Doctor Who. And the Ace Attorney universe. Robocop. Etc.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:02 AM on June 13


I wonder to what extent the ways that we have to watch and talk about Trek have resulted in the changes that Sean Capener is writing about in the FPP.

In the 60s and 70s, fans had reruns, cons, mimeographed fanfic. To a considerable extent, fans were being inventive around Trek.

Starting around in the early 90s (we can argue the date, but I think that's when Internet access started to take off for the technically inclined), fans could hang out on Usenet and debate the fine points of canon. All. Day. Long. We also had DVDs. And those of us who were old enough had probably seen every episode of TOS…well, a lot (my college roommates and I would play a game where we'd race to see who could identify the episode first when a rerun came on. It rarely took even 15 seconds).

This way of interacting with the show may have resulted in the tendency to analyze and pick nits.
posted by adamrice at 8:02 AM on June 13


I've really never understood why anybody thinks the Klingon makeup thing needs to be explained. It seems irrelevant, and not because "it's just a show" or whatever, but because exactly zero episodes of TOS hinge on the presence or absence of Klingon forehead ridges. It's a change that contradicts nothing, plot-wise. It has no real impact outside of a single point of visual style.

Or maybe I'm just cavalier about it because I don't actually like TOS that much.


I'm actually not really a TOS fan either. For me, as a fan, when I am watching a TV show about the future and space travel and aliens, I am obviously suspending my disbelief. So I can accept things that are internally consistent with the story universe, even though they are obviously outside the bounds of reality. You present me with an alien species that looks a particular way, and ask me to believe that that is the way those aliens look, and in fact it is a plot point in at least 1 TOS episode that Klingons can physically pass for humans, and then sometime later present me with characters who are supposed to be Klingons but in fact look dramatically physically different. New Klingons cannot in any way pass for humans, and the differences are big enough that it breaks the suspension of disbelief.

Now obviously it's not like I stopped watching Star Trek because they changed the Klingon makeup, but it was a point that remained a nagging annoyance. I do agree that the Worf's line in the DS9 tribbles episode was funny, and it would've been way to awkward & jarring in that episode to have some sort of explanation, which is why I appreciated the way Enterprise came up with an explanation that basically made sense, from an in-universe perspective.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 8:11 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Was anyone else perturbed that a wordpress.com blog had a Drupal theme?
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:11 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Nope nope nope nope.

I'll argue that his fundamental assertion is incorrect. Fandom may be notoriously characterized as being about continuity, because it makes for good jokes on The Big Bang Theory, but it does not follow that its heart and soul is about continuity. No ma'am.

Having been one of those people he describes briefly as being involved in fan fiction, before canon-followers supposedly took over the heart of Trek fandom, he's WAY overlooking that fan fiction continues to be a major mode of fandom. Fan fiction has always been driven by the "what if" impulse, not a rage to maintain canon. It's still there. It didn't go away! I bet he has no idea how many best-selling authors or creators started in fan fiction or started by reading fan fiction (for example, Ron Moore).

In fact, and I wonder if he knows this - fan fiction has driven many of the things now understood as canon - for example, it was a fan writer who first gave Sulu his name "Hikaru". Elements of the Kraith story cycle also made it into televised and filmed Trek.

It's not exclusive, certainly. But just as in the past, women tend to read and write fan fiction, and work on costumes; men tend to focus on things like blueprints, special effects, building their own sets (and some costumes) and yes, nitpicking over canon. Men did not engage in as much fan fiction, with some exceptions like the cartoons done by Phil Foglio and editors like the late Bill Hupe (much missed).

Fan fiction hit the mainstream when cons started to sell these copied books, and reporters and theorists like Camille Bacon-Smith wrote about the phenomenon on a national & international level. But these guys working on an individual basis, or regionally with their local Starfleet or independent group, didn't bond on a larger level until BBS systems were supplanted by national links like Prodigy, America Online, and finally the internet. NOW you see a much louder group of people than the fan fiction creators, who seem to have a bigger footprint, because their technical zeal has enabled them to create and execute more websites, and because there's a lot of people say, talking about Trek on sites like Reddit. Trek, and Star Wars, have always been wildly popular with women but women still don't participate in many of the spaces that are characterized by arguments about canon (for example, Reddit or Google Plus), where many people who like Star Trek, but who wouldn't call themselves members of fandom, participate.

Now, an aside - my husband has thousands of people following him from the Google Plus Trek community, which he finds pretty funny, since I'm the bigger fan and have been more connected in the fandom. More than once a friend or colleague has expressed that he must have one in a million type luck - "Your wife watches Star Trek! WOW! My wife hates that stuff." In fact the author starts with that complaint. But lots of my close female friends, including those who don't participate in fandom, are passionate about Star Trek. They just don't fit the stereotype - a fat or bespectacled fan who William Shatner has to point out "Get a life" to. None of them participate in the communities of the Trek BBS, the Trek sub-reddit, StarTrek.com, or the Google Plus Trek community. (Though one of my best friends was involved in a Klingon clan.)

There are at least 20,000 Star Trek stories on Fanfiction net alone. But - you have to seek it out in this database or on relevant sites. You also have to know that fan fiction trends ebb and flow - some fan writers go pro, others start working in other fandoms. Right now the biggest fandom in the world is probably Harry Potter fandom. But, I'm willing to bet the author is not even aware of the website Fanlore, which talks about the work that fan fiction creators (including myself) created for decades, or the sheer number of fanfic sites. AFAIK, TV Tropes and similar projects are driven by women. Livejournal and Dreamwidth fandom blogs? Driven by women. I'm betting he doesn't spend time in these places, and thus thinks that the heart of fandom revolves around dumb arguments about proper star date placement.

There is also a new mode of fan fiction, driven by a mixed crowd of men and women - audio dramas and web dramas, some even using members of the original cast like George Takei and Grace Lee Whitney. Some of them are continuity driven. Others, like the excellent Dr Who universe/influenced Minister of Chance (whose producer I know very casually) go off into their own merry direction.
posted by mitschlag at 8:12 AM on June 13 [27 favorites]


Talmudic: the Talmudic texts weren't written, they accreted. An endless spiral of footnotes to footnotes, but the footnotes don't explain what came before, they add and twist (while claiming, implausibly, to be mere explanations. Also, they're not A book, not a Bible. The Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds are sort of like TNG and DS9, more or less in continuity with each other but written sort of in parallel, both forks of a common tradition based on the Mishnah (TOS).

"Here's a new part of the tradition" might be one way of describing the approach.

(Note - this is not my area of expertise and I might off)
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:23 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


I think fanfic works best when it's somewhat "cracky," something you'd never expect to see on either the screen or on the pages. There's the weird feedback loop these days of shipping cultures insisting that not only are their ships the only reasonable interpretation of the officially published works. Then they insist that future published works should change to make this more explicit because of issues of LGBT representation.

However, it does seem that a fair bit of fandom has been taken over people treating officially published works as something akin to fundamentalist scripture. I don't think it's entirely reasonable to maintain strict continuity and thematic unity across multiple versions involving multiple creative teams separated by decades. TOS and TNG Klingons would ideally be treated as variations on a theme. Especially since the political subtext changed radically between Cold War and Glasnost.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:28 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Ah canon. Fandom's obsession with canon is bordering on the frightening.

And we ought to think about 'canon' in terms of its historical origins, where the model here isn't Talmudic but Christian, in terms of establishing orthodoxy, heterodoxy and heresy. Online communities of interest -- fandom for all values of '-dom' -- are very good at establishing orthodoxy, because it's not really possible to participate in a non-orthodox subcommunity without being aware of the extent and limits of orthodoxy.

In that context, the importance of continuity isn't approached like the laws of physics, but more like the nature of the Trinity.
posted by holgate at 8:43 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


I have never watched Enterprise, (big TOS fan here) but a friend of mine does and was telling me about it the other day. He talked about how it was set before the Federation and how Earth sent the Enterprise off on its own to check things out, and I asked excitedly if it was under the aegis of UESPA, since I thought that would be a really neat little callback and a great way to use that little tidbit, but nope, Starfleet, even though it seemingly doesn't make any sense. Fail.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:47 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Although I forgot that TNG was following in the lead of Star Trek III, which established the krinkly head and hired a linguist to create the Klingon language. Of course, TNG just moved the cold-war politics to the Romulans instead.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:49 AM on June 13


I have a fuzzy memory of a Canadian-produced SF show called The Starlost, and an even fuzzier memory of reading a Harlan Ellison essay -- maybe in one of his Glass Teat books -- about how he had been part of the creation process of the show, when it was initially going to be a big-budget American production.

As he described it, the canon was absolute and well-defined: the entire show was a mystery box leading up to the Big Reveal, but designed to be rewatchable and enjoyable even post-reveal.

[Spoilers for a pretty crap Canadian SF show from the '70s]

The idea was it was people travelling from one radically different environment and culture to the next through portals, and only eventually realizing that they were on a massive out-of-control "Ark" that had been launched from Earth possibly millions of years ago, and that each pod in the Ark had undergone its own distinct evolution.

But I balk a bit at the idea that canon and continuity was a '90s and onward thing. The Starlost failed, but is good evidence that creators even back in the late '60s were very concerned about internal logic, consistency, and ongoing stories. I'm thinking also of the recent Doctor Who 50th anniversary "biopic," showing that it came down to William Hartnell schooling new writers and directors on how the TARDIS worked, but it was still a thing back then. People cared.
posted by Shepherd at 8:55 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Speaking as somebody who's spent a large chunk of his life studying the Talmud, (a) I have no idea what the author of this piece thinks "Talmudic" means, and (b) it doesn't appear to bear any resemblance to the real thing. (As evidenced by the fact that he thinks the Talmudic approach is somehow opposed to fundamentalism. The definition he gives for the latter—"the point becomes to harmonize every small detail possible"—is indeed the driving force behind much Talmudic discussion, and the need for same is a bedrock principle.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 8:56 AM on June 13 [7 favorites]


I thought the krinkly heads first appeared in TMP?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:57 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


They did.
posted by Naberius at 9:00 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I always forget about Motion Picture.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:03 AM on June 13


Everyone does.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 9:18 AM on June 13


*sad space trombone*
posted by Think_Long at 9:20 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


I have no idea what the author of this piece thinks "Talmudic" means

Somehow the definition "hairsplitting" made it into a dictionary at some point -- thus the lowercase used in the article. And I think here "fundamentalist" means "rigid adherence to dogma".
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:43 AM on June 13


Bless you, mitschlag, for that post. I'm always being called upon to explain (or defend) this view of fandom history, and I'm not an active fan anymore and don't know many people from that world, so it's easy to feel very isolated (especially when the other person is starting from the belief, say, that that the first women in fandom arrived a few years ago with the advent of Twilight). I'm going to start linking to your remarks when this subject comes up.

Yes, the author seems to mistake a change in which fans are most visible for a fundamental change in how fandom operates. I still really like his lens and terminology here; I just wish he hadn't fallen into the idea that fandom used to be all Kirk/Spock zines and is now all Reddit and Badass Digest.
posted by thesmallmachine at 9:57 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


mitschlag, it's also worth pointing out that the concept of the Away Team first appeared from fandom- in the pages of Trek magazine, where people pointed out the stupidity of having the captain beam down onto unknown planets (leaving aside the point that it's a riff on British naval explorers like Cook). Likewise, the piecing together of a number of sources to speculate that some ancient race had engineered the current races came out of fandom.

Anyway, back in the 70s and 80s, I knew Mary Ellen Wathne, who had a huge comprehensive library of fanfic from back in the mimeographed fanzine days, including what she stated was the first fanfic- coming out of Starskey and Hutch fandom, oddly enough. And in that time, the vast, vast majority of people involved were women who expanded the Trek canon with "what if" questions (often in the nature of "What if Spock goes into Ponn Farr and only Kirk is there).

Sure there was a lot of speculation and trying to link things to make a canon. But overall, fandom back in the day was primarily a creative and social experience, about sharing thoughts and ideas.
posted by happyroach at 10:43 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


I have a fuzzy memory of a Canadian-produced SF show called The Starlost . . .

Can I be of  ^^  assistance?
 
posted by Herodios at 11:01 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


An important thing to know about Paul is that he didn't write most of the things attributed to him, and I think that speaks to how powerful canon is. Some Christian types wanted some clear, canonical direction, so they attributed their writing to Paul. You could imagine someone producing a forged forehead bump memo from Roddenberry to smooth out these inconsistencies.
posted by chrchr at 11:02 AM on June 13


Think about the children TRIBBLES!!!
posted by sammyo at 11:07 AM on June 13


happyroach: Sure there was a lot of speculation and trying to link things to make a canon. But overall, fandom back in the day was primarily a creative and social experience, about sharing thoughts and ideas.

If I remember right, individual fan clubs often styled their titles around officer positions. President = Captain and Secretary = Communications for example. These days, the idea of having an original character in the universe is generally taboo, unless you're specifically in the MMORPG world.

Sheperd: Yes, there were people sticking to show bibles and written canon before then. Jeremy Brett famously researched all of the Holmes stories and would argue over divergences from Doyle.

But I think that concepts of canon and continuity need to be treated flexibly when you have different creative teams separated by years or decades of changes in culture and storytelling technique. And the obsession with canon in fandom leads to methods of interpretation that are just not very interesting. For example, trying to figure out what "really happened" behind an ambiguous scene.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:13 AM on June 13


One of my favorite writers, Lois McMaster Bujold, needs only to say that The Author Had a Better Idea.
posted by Soliloquy at 11:15 AM on June 13


I meant to include a link about the authorship of the Pauline epistles.
posted by chrchr at 11:31 AM on June 13


Of course, the whole point of having that Temporal Cold War nonsense in Enterprise was to allow them to ignore bits of canon as they saw fit, which makes it all the more silly the amount of effort that series made to harmonize the canon.
posted by ckape at 11:40 AM on June 13


I always go back to the idea that when James T. Kirk is having a mid-life crisis in Wrath of Khan, dealing with regrets and staring out at the Marin Headlands from his condo...he can't possibly be thinking of the time he found Abraham Lincoln floating in outer space ("The Savage Curtain"). But you would think it would be on his mind, right?

This could not have all happened to the same guy. Kirk as much as admits this in Roddenberry's Motion Picture novel, where he implies the TV show was an exaggeration of his real-life Starfleet career.
posted by johngoren at 12:28 PM on June 13 [5 favorites]


the point becomes to harmonize every small detail possible. This trend comes to a head in Enterprise—several of the latter seasons’ episodes are devoted to minor throwaway points from TOS (for instance, despite possessing basically the same communications technology as TOS, the writers are careful to obey the throwaway line from ‘Balance of Terror’ that no human had ever seen a Romulan until that episode).

Perhaps the absolute apotheosis of this trend comes when a driving storyline is devoted to explaining in-universe the changes in Klingon makeup between TOS and the movies—something DS9 was willing to treat as a mere throwaway joke.


First, I'm a bit unclear how the apotheosis of a trend and a trend coming to a head would be different. Perhaps it is the zenith of the trend exemplified by the high point of conflating talmudic study with fundamentalism. Be that as it may, these examples are quite different from each other, aren't they?

Knucklehead Klingon vs Panhead Klingon: As pointed out above, this made no dramatic difference -- their appearance is not a plot point -- but it is visually pretty obvious, and as such begs to be addressed. So Whorf says, "relax, it's just a show". Honestly, that worked just fine for me, and I enjoyed that episode. It's only too bad that later some people apparently couldn't leave well-enough alone.

Never seen a Romulan: This is not a throwaway line, it's a major plot point. The crew's view of Spock changes suddenly (Stiles' in particular) when, mid-episode, they are enabled to see that Romulans and Vulcans resemble each other in exactly the ways that Hyu-mons and Vulcans differ. Is Spock a spy? Is it valid to judge people by their appearances? (This episode came out in 1966. It's a shade more subtle than the later Bele and Lokai ep [by which time MLK was dead and cities were burning], but it's the same message.)

How could you miss that if you had ever actually watched the ep?

Meanwhile, back in the universe of ST:Enterprise, Vulcans are the first extra-terrestrial species we meet -- in fact, they found us -- and relations between species is far from good. If Hyu-mons knew during the first Romulan War that Romulans and Vulcans were related (or whatever) that'd be a huge change in this timeline that would be unlikely ever to develop into the world of ST:TOS -- as well as making gaaak salad out of Balance of Terror.

Neither of these 'apotheoses' seem to support the idea that there's a movement to "harmonize every small detail possible".
 
posted by Herodios at 12:33 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


The odd thing about the Klingon forehead is that the change is obviously born out of the advances in movie makeup. Period. End of story. When TNG came around, it was a different era and the producers (wisely, of course) wanted the aesthetic of the new show to be updated from what was possible in the 60s. Which is necessary considering how limited the tech of 60s TV production was, really on all fronts, from fabrics for costumes to special effects makeup to the overall image quality. The TNG universe was just never going to look like the TOS universe, period, end of story.

So... that's it. It seems so odd to me to need to reconcile something that is so clearly just a necessary aesthetic choice.

OTOH, yeah, sorry Enterprise writers, but there was an entire TOS episode -- my favorite episode and in my opinion the best of the series -- where the entire dramatic heft of the thing is built around the idea of the Romulans as a threat that the Federation knew of but had never formally met.

It is canon, and canon in a way that Klingon foreheads are not. And , as a show, was not good enough for me to just respect that continuity changes and let's give them the benefit of the doubt. You come up with the lamebrain idea of a "prequel" for Star Trek, and you spit out a few completely underwhelming episodes, and now you feel like you're ready to just start throwing out babies in favor of all this sweet, sweet bathwater? Nope. Fuck off.

If you retcon the Romulans, you ruin Star Trek. If that makes me a "fundamentalist", so be it.

posted by Sara C. at 1:50 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


This could not have all happened to the same guy.

Bit of a derail, but I remember having this thought all the time watching TNG as a kid. Where it's really heightened since there are like 180 episodes of the thing, over seven years.

This presents a few different scenarios (to my preteen mind anyway):

1. The many adventures over seven seasons of TNG don't correspond directly to seven years of the characters' lives, but instead are just sort of an abstracted longer arc of time which was mostly normal, but sometimes punctuated with the occasional temporal phenomenon, godlike omnipotent alien, breakdown of the barriers between different parts of the multiverse, Borg invasion, etc. This allows for the idea that all this stuff maybe could have happened to "the same guy". Maybe?

2. The seven seasons of show corresponds to seven years of the characters' lives, and basically everyone on the Enterprise D has constant PTSD at all times. Poor Troi would have been fucking jelly by the end of the series, both because of being kidnapped every other week and also having to counsel a thousand people through the fallout of all of these bizarre experiences. I mean, if all this happened to "the same guy", man, that poor guy.

Since the later movies make reference to the idea of time passing since the original glory days of the Enterprise-D, I can only surmise that scenario 2 is what the writers had in mind. In which case I postulate a final film where all of the surviving major characters are in some kind of convalescent home for Starfleet officers who were given over-long missions to over-mysterious parts of the galaxy.
posted by Sara C. at 2:13 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


Q: How many ears does Captain Kirk have?

A: Three... a left ear, a right ear, and a final front ear.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:52 PM on June 13 [9 favorites]


No. This essay betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of serial fiction.

In a stand-alone work, like a novel or movie, it is possible to distinguish between essential plot points and unessential details because you have the entire finished work and can see what details at the beginning had significance at the end.

But a defining feature of most serial fiction is that later episodes are written after earlier ones have already been published. In some cases, later plot points will have already been decided when the earlier episodes are filmed, but there are almost always some later plot developments that are conceived of after the earlier episodes are broadcast.

Also, a common trait of serial fiction is that writers will choose an event or detail from a previous episode and use it as a hook for a later episode. In fact, one kind of excellent writing unique to serial fiction is for a writer to take something that seemed insignificant and give it significance in a way that fits so well it seems it could have been intended from the start.

So in serial fiction, there can never be a detail that is definitely unimportant. Any detail, in the hands of the right author, can be become the hook for a fantastic story.

Now a good writer of serial fiction will write in a way that can be enjoyed by fans who have seen every episode and people new to the series. But it's clear that fans who know the details from previous episodes will get the most satisfaction from seeing them pay off in subsequent stories. So it follows that to get maximum satisfaction from well-written serial fiction, it pays to know all of the details.

Clearly, as a series grows in length, this level of familiarity is untenable for any but the most devoted fan. Nevertheless, the narrative principles driving this obsession with continuity cannot be denied. DC Comics has tried harder than any serial fiction I know of to cut ties with their previous continuity. Over and over and over they have said, "This is it. We're starting over. There is no continuity." But writers cannot resist going back to earlier stories to find hooks for new ones.

Nor should they. It is impossible to pretend that the earlier stories don't exist and that no one knows about them. Even a story that deliberately avoids referencing earlier continuity is thereby making reference to and being influenced by that continuity.
posted by straight at 3:29 PM on June 13 [5 favorites]


Maybe the implication under all this is that some religious behavior is inherent.

Or maybe that obsessive-compulsive disorder is widespread?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:37 PM on June 13


Sara C., I tend to default to option 3: genre characters, especially in adventure-drive storytelling, are not psychologically realistic when it comes to trauma and stress. It's not so much resilience as a kind of inconsequence; anything that doesn't visibly and severely impair a person in an instant doesn't seem to impair them much at all in genre universes.

Also, genre worlds don't have even the basics of OSHA or work safety and.or deployment policies. For instance, I'm not sure how in a realistic universe you could even be placed back in charge of a starship after the Borg assimilate you for your knowledge for all sorts of reasons.

All of this is because the characters are as much metaphor carriers and bundles of narrative function as they are representatives of physical or psychological reality. Really, the demand for "more reality" in genre fiction is itself not something I totally get behind because the genres are fundamentally steeped in deliberate irrealism.
posted by kewb at 3:40 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


But a defining feature of most serial fiction is that later episodes are written after earlier ones have already been published. In some cases, later plot points will have already been decided when the earlier episodes are filmed, but there are almost always some later plot developments that are conceived of after the earlier episodes are broadcast.

I think this is the major reason why Enterprise represents such a continuity problem within the Star Trek franchise. AFAIK, aside from the Klingon non-issue, there really are no major continuity problems within the Star Trek franchise until you get to the fucking prequel. Where there's just so much pre-existing canon that your hands are completely tied, on almost everything, and you basically can't do any of the things that a new Trek series needs to do to satisfy the viewers.

No wonder the whole thing was a disaster and is constantly either having its hands tied by continuity or having to drastically retcon things to tell the stories it wants to tell.
posted by Sara C. at 4:09 PM on June 13


The seven seasons of show corresponds to seven years of the characters' lives, and basically everyone on the Enterprise D has constant PTSD at all times. Poor Troi would have been fucking jelly by the end of the series, both because of being kidnapped every other week and also having to counsel a thousand people through the fallout of all of these bizarre experiences. I mean, if all this happened to "the same guy", man, that poor guy.
I wonder just how much counseling Troi does. Considering how many pharmaceuticals we have now with our still limited understanding of the brain, just imagine how much more advanced pharmacological science must be in the in the 24 century! The vast majority of mental disturbances would probably fall under Doctor Crusher's area of expertise rather than Troi's.

Are you in shock because your best friend was sucked into space and converted into a Borg? Take this hypospray for the immediate symptoms, and one of these tablets each day for the next week to handle the stress of mourning. Afraid to go on away missions? Here, let's give you something to adjust your baseline courage, while still maintaining a high caution level.

Maybe that's the reason why humans are so advanced and conflict free in the future, like Roddenberry wanted them to be. They've made themselves that way with science. Every once in a while there's a throwback like Barclay who won't take the meds, so they need to keep real counselors like Troi around.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:12 PM on June 13 [4 favorites]


Sara C: don't forget option 4: they have time travel, so it's quite possible that New Generation goes through a couple resets, eliminating any number of episodes from ever happening. Soliton Wave is going to change evey- Soliwhat? Never heard of it. Space thinning is going to restrict warp travel- except no, I found a solution scribbled on a notepad on my desk.

Can there really be continuity in a universe with the Guardian of Forever?
posted by happyroach at 4:15 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


For instance, I'm not sure how in a realistic universe you could even be placed back in charge of a starship after the Borg assimilate you for your knowledge for all sorts of reasons.

This kind of bothered me after my recent rewatch of TNG. Especially since they mark the significance of the experience, but they do so with a fucking vacation to France.

I'm pretty sure a modern series would have the whole Season 4 story arc be Picard convincing Starfleet that he is not only up to a command, but that he is the one and only one person who could command the Enterprise, specifically. Or they'd come up with something where Riker takes command and Picard stays on as the Federation's Diplomat In Charge Of First Contact, or something, but Riker totally respects him and involves him in command decisions all the time.

In a lot of ways rewatching TNG made me nostalgic for a less serialized style of TV storytelling, but the constant need to reset the clock really stretches any concept of verisimilitude to the breaking point. Unless, like Kevin Street points out, you just assume some kind of bizarre Better Living Through Chemistry situation where people don't really experience emotions anymore.
posted by Sara C. at 4:17 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Can there really be continuity in a universe with the Guardian of Forever?

As long as new writers can't resist referencing earlier stories, there will be continuity, no matter what sort of in-universe contrivance you try to create to stop it.
posted by straight at 4:25 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


Oh, they experience emotions, but just the ones they want to experience, and in the right socially mandated proportion. Maybe each planet in the Federation has slightly different norms, so Earth is chill with most people happy doing their hobby projects like Sisko's Creole Kitchen, while Risa is more sensual and hedonistic, and newly colonized planets like Data's home Omicron Theta emphasize emotions like a strong work ethic and belief in the future.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:37 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


That is so terrifying.
posted by Sara C. at 4:40 PM on June 13


I can't stop thinking about this now...

There's no law that says you have to feel one emotion over another. (The Federation is a democracy, after all.) Even on the Enterprise where everybody is in a paramilitary organization people like Barclay can go emotionally au naturel. The captain will never order him to take a courage pill. But over time there's a subtle social pressure to be like everyone else, and that eventually evolves into whole planets and societies that have a similar psychological makeup.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:52 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


But over time there's a subtle social pressure to be like everyone else, and that eventually evolves into whole planets and societies that have a similar psychological makeup.

Yeah, that's the terrifying part.
posted by Sara C. at 5:43 PM on June 13


Don't worry- this will all be sorted out at the First Council of Khitomer.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:38 PM on June 13


I started writing My Little Pony fan fiction in order to scratch intellectual itches: how exactly do Earth Ponies, Unicorns and Pegasi relate to one another? Is Equestria a country or the world; is the world round or flat? (There was much celebration in fandom when the first globe was spotted.) And why are the ponies so creeped out by the Everfree Forest which, from their description of it, is so much like our world?

I actually wrote a story that explained why a gigantic river serpent is named "Stephen Magnet." And I did this, not in some desperate attempt to maintain continuity, but for the challenge of coming up with a rationale.

But when Cerberus appeared in Ponyville, with the tossaway explanation that Tartarus ("where are the evil monsters are") is just over the hill from Ponyville, I figured at that point that the show's writers were deliberately trolling the fans. Explain this, hotshot!
posted by SPrintF at 7:30 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


basically everyone on the Enterprise D has constant PTSD at all times.

Think of the poor crew of NCC-1701 (no bloody A) without the crutches of synthehol, holodeck vacays and soothing beige interiors!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:09 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


But they only had a five year mission, and they at least got to meet Abe Lincoln. Also aside from "City On The Edge...", "The Naked Time", and "Spock's Brain" there wasn't nearly as much mind-fuckery as TNG had, which has to really mess with a person. TOS has a lot more episodes where they have a tense situation with the Klingons, or there's a weird alien on a planet, and a lot less "we were stuck in a time loop for possibly years, who knows, and also Kelsey Grammer was there."
posted by Sara C. at 8:42 PM on June 13


I mean Worf's birthday party was about as fucked up as it ever got on the original Enterprise, and that was probably not Worf's weirdest birthday.
posted by Sara C. at 8:42 PM on June 13


I don't know, it's got to mess with you to know that there are, like, a billion godlike races out there. In fact, that seems to be more the norm than not, so humanity and it's pals (like the Klingons) are pretty much the rents of the litter.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:55 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I mean, if all this happened to "the same guy", man, that poor guy.

Actually, that's exactly the line Grant Morrison took when he began writing Batman some years ago. Here's how he explains it:

"As I was researching his rich history, I became fascinated by the idea that every Batman story was in some way true and biographical - from the savage, young, pulp-flavored “weird figure of the dark” of his early years, through the smiling, paternal figure of the 1940s and the proto-psychedelic crusader of the ‘50s, the superhero detective of the ‘60s, the hairy-chested globetrotting adventurer of the ‘70s, to the brutally physical vigilante of the ‘80s and snarling, paranoid soldier of the ‘90s."

Amazingly enough, Morrison actually made this approach (more or less work). When faced with acknowledging the silliest Batman stories of the 1950s as canon, for example, he found an old story from that period which placed Batman in a sensory deprivation chamber. Bingo! All the Rainbow Batman stuff and the visits to alien planets were merely the hallucinations he experienced there.
posted by Paul Slade at 2:59 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


And Batman's life is 100X weirder than Kirk's, so that was quite an achievement.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:55 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


PTSD. Bah! By the time Captain Archer took his second or third tour that problem had been fixed; a pioneering study in mind-melding by To'Pol and some engineer on the Enterprise revealed that sex with Vulcans renders you incapable of having PTSD. Also, that's where the brow ridges began.

I beg you to remember that the Star Trek series and all the movies are dramatic representations. In real life, Kirk wore his hair in a Samurai tonsure, and he was born in North Carolina. Whorf was really a Ferengi statesman with outstanding martial arts skills. 7/9 was pretty much as represented, except the series didn't show her tail. She eventually formed a marriage contract with C3PO, and they settled down on Talus V to raise a family of digital watches.

Please lease the fans alone. They know what they are doing.
posted by mule98J at 10:03 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


SPrintF: how exactly do Earth Ponies, Unicorns and Pegasi relate to one another?

I'd always been curious about the same thing, which is why the backstory-heavy historical pageant episode, Hearth's Warming Eve, was one of my favorites (along with being a sucker for anything that mixes two different levels of "reality" the way it does, while implying a third, unseen historical one). It even featured somewhat nasty racial stereotypes/insults from the Bad Old pre-unification days! (Presumably they're still around in the cultural consciousness, just considered outdated and offensive) And then the episode with the Cake's toddlers answered the remaining questions about genetics, or at least provided a reasonable basis for fan beanplating on the subject.

Between that type of thing, the flashback to Luna's banishment, and the DBZ-style fight in the last finale, the show seems intent on making a fair amount of fanfiction superfluous (and not in a bad way), outside of obviously verboten scenarios like Fallout Equestria. I give even odds on there being a Lower Decks-style episode in the next two seasons focusing on all the popular background characters.

Re: Tartarus, the idea that Celestia maintains a cavernous underground dungeon guarded by a Hellhound is perfectly in keeping with my conception of her character (he said, only half-jokingly)


Also Re: The Enterprise Crew's PTSD, I seem to remember one of the Star Trek novels implied that the inordinate amount of spatial anomalies they kept running into was the result of one of Q's race scattering them in their path for fun, which is an explanation I've always found amusing. Of course, you start doing that with too many basic genre conventions and you end up on TVTropes ranting about how everyone's really a Time Lord...
posted by Wandering Idiot at 7:54 PM on June 14


Can there really be continuity in a universe with the Guardian of Forever?

This is actually a really funny sentence.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:52 AM on June 15


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