We are creatures of duty, Captain
April 13, 2017 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Freshly Remember'd: Kirk Drift. There is no other way to put this: essentially everything about Popular Consciousness Kirk is bullshit. Kirk, as received through mass culture memory and reflected in its productive imaginary (and subsequent franchise output, including the reboot movies), has little or no basis in Shatner’s performance and the television show as aired. Macho, brash Kirk is a mass hallucination.
posted by nubs (75 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've only had time to skim this excellently written and researched article but I agree that Kirk has been given a bad rap in popular culture. Kirk was never written to be as reckless as his reputation suggests, and any attempt at risky action was only after doing it by the book failed.

I think our memories are confused both by the popular spoofs of Star Trek and the fact that although the character of Kirk was seldom the instigator, the show itself contained any number of guest characters behaving in a sexist (how many superiors beings took a liking to a female member of the crew?) or foolhardy fashion and as the main character, Kirk becomes a figurehead for that.
posted by AndrewStephens at 10:07 AM on April 13 [8 favorites]


I think Kirk and Shatner getting combined in their popular image accounts for a lot, TBH. Zapp Brannigan is very Shatneresque.
posted by Artw at 10:08 AM on April 13 [15 favorites]


A-fucking-men. The extreme-douchebro Kirk from the reboot movies is a fundamental misunderstanding of the character that can only be partially papered over by Trek 2009's fatherless-childhood retcon.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:12 AM on April 13 [21 favorites]


The ferocity and tenacity of that piece is nerdery at its best. I'll wager fifteen quatloos on the newcomer!
posted by octobersurprise at 10:19 AM on April 13 [16 favorites]


A couple years back I sat down and watched ST II for the first time in, I don't know, probably like 10-15 years. I was shocked to see how different the Kirk on screen was compared to the Kirk I had in my mind; he wasn't rash and reckless! He took input, he considered things, he took calculated risks, and he was capable of being critical of himself and his actions. At every chance, he put himself out as an exchange for the safety of his crew.

And then my wife and I went back recently to rewatch some of the better TOS episodes, and it really made it clear to me that the Kirk of ST II was not something different, just an older version of the captain of the series. He's not perfect by any measure (both in-universe and from a more meta-cultural perspective), but he's also self-aware and conscious of his duty and responsibilities. I hate how the reboots have just taken his perceived characteristics and turned them up to 11.
posted by nubs at 10:21 AM on April 13 [21 favorites]


And just to add to that, reading this article and my own reflections on things make me think that Picard and Kirk perhaps have far more in common than a lot of internet nerd fights would care to admit. Both are committed to their ships, creatures of duty, and always aware of their responsibilities as a Captain of a starship and a member of Starfleet.
posted by nubs at 10:24 AM on April 13 [11 favorites]


To elaborate: I watched the original series from beginning to end for the first time about 10 years ago, and was immediately struck by Shatner-as-Kirk's high degree of military professionalism and emotional intelligence. He's a compassionate authority figure who more often than not is there to rein in the rowdier elements of his own crew, while also being called upon to argue forcefully and articulately for the humane liberal-democratic ideals of Starfleet. Sure, he occasionally gets into saloon-style fistfights and isn't immune to the charms of women, but it's not a defining feature of the character.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:24 AM on April 13 [29 favorites]


old-school Kirk was a role model. JJ Abrams' version of Kirk is an asshat
posted by zenwerewolf at 10:33 AM on April 13 [21 favorites]


He's better in 3 but slightly boring compared to the rest of the cast.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on April 13 [2 favorites]



Just watch "The Corbomite Manoeuvrer" (the real pilot).

It's all there.

 
posted by Herodios at 10:35 AM on April 13 [9 favorites]


Shatner-as-Kirk's high degree of military professionalism and emotional intelligence. He's a compassionate authority figure who more often than not is there to rein in the rowdier elements of his own crew, while also being called upon to argue forcefully and articulately for the humane liberal-democratic ideals of Starfleet

This is what bugged me about the opening of Star Trek: Beyond; I mean, I get that this is alt-universe Kirk with a different background, but the idea that Kirk would go into the diplomatic exchange that opens the movie and somehow not be capable of being able to deal with the situation, of not being able to argue the position of peace and find some way of managing that situation without just running away bugged the fuck out of me. In addition to a lot of other things, Kirk is tenacious; he doesn't give up and he keeps coming back at things.

That's the point behind the "no-win scenario" conversations in ST II; Kirk refuses that as a possibility. As long as he is breathing, there's a chance for a win, for success. Bones often misses the subtleties in a situation, that's part of his character, but this exchange from STIII hits the mark - "My God Bones, what have I done?" "You did what you have to do; what you always do: turn death into a fighting chance to live." To see Nu-Kirk just walk away from a failed negotiation, a negotiation to bring about peace; to have that situation treated for laughs, it just hit the wrong mark for me in that film.
posted by nubs at 10:35 AM on April 13 [13 favorites]


I have been rewatching TOS on Netflix and find the romancing parts to be quite chuckle worthy (such as the one episode where everyone uses their skills to defeat the aliens and Kirk's skill is...making the alien woman's partner jealous :D) But yeah, Kirk is no Zap Branigan.
posted by Calzephyr at 10:40 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


That article is longer than my dissertation.
posted by Damienmce at 10:54 AM on April 13 [5 favorites]


I'm not completely convinced by the extensive lists of times Kirk does a thing as evidence he doesn't do them very often.
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on April 13 [8 favorites]


The article makes a good point, but it would have made it better if it had been half the length.
posted by Urtylug at 11:04 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


TOS in high definition is a delight. Spock's facial pores!
posted by exogenous at 11:04 AM on April 13 [2 favorites]


A very thought-provoking essay. I will definitely seek out more writing by Erin Horáková.
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:09 AM on April 13 [5 favorites]


The article makes a good point, but it would have made it better if it had been half the length.
"Good article, but shorten it."
posted by Wolfdog at 11:16 AM on April 13 [33 favorites]


A phenomenal essay.
posted by Errant at 11:27 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


As it happens, I'm nearing the end of a TOS rewatch (in parallel with a TNG rewatch). There are plenty of Problems with Trek, and there are probably things to quibble with here (I mean, the show is just super riddled with sexist artifact-of-its-time stuff, and the Exotically Dressed Hot Girl of the Week thing is pretty hard not to notice), but in the main, this is a really good essay with a ton of interesting and I think broadly correct stuff to say. Even if it could have about half as many sentences in it.
posted by brennen at 11:28 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Awww yiss this is the good stuff, just put it right in my veins

If only I had a tenth of the skill, drive, and patience of Erin Horáková.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:36 AM on April 13 [5 favorites]


So nice to finally see that I'm not alone on my opinions about Kirk. Excellent, excellent essay.
Also, seconding the reccomendation about watching the Corbomite episode. There's a scene in there, an exchange between Kirk and Spock, that I am convinced is the wellspring from which all the rest of the kirk/spock stuff comes from. And it's right there, in the first regular episode they shot, the third one to air.
posted by KHAAAN! at 11:41 AM on April 13 [8 favorites]


So nice to finally see that I'm not alone on my opinions about Kirk. Excellent, excellent essay.

Came here to say exactly that. I've long been frustrated with the misunderstanding of Kirk in pop culture, especially in the horrible reboot universe.
posted by mordax at 11:47 AM on April 13 [4 favorites]


It was a really good essay, but I'm curious why she framed the womanizer-kirk figure as a lauded one - I've only ever encountered that image of kirk as an object of derision*. I think that could use some unpacking as well.

*I am obviously not JJ Abrams.
posted by The Gaffer at 11:48 AM on April 13


I'm not alone on my opinions about Kirk

From hells teeth, etc... etc...?
posted by Artw at 11:49 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


While I'm quibbling with an essay I very much enjoyed, I take exception to the notion that Kirk and Picard are of a piece. Kirk exists in a more hierarchical, pre-post-scarcity time and helps to create the world of TNG - that lack of completion of the Federation, that lack of supremacy and cultural equilibrium make his worldview more recognizable to us. Paradoxically, the more mature culture produced the less emotionally healthy Picard, who is more (benevolent) monarch of his ship than the working captain of Kirk.

Also, Picard can't swing a holocat without hitting a demigod, which has got to fuck you up.
posted by The Gaffer at 11:54 AM on April 13 [8 favorites]


This is an excellent article!

In re original Kirk being a role model and new Kirk being an asshat: part of this is, I think, a shift in how we understand fantasy and fairytales - that whole nineties thing (of which I'm a bit tired by now) where we re-write a myth or fairytale precisely in order to show the characters as flawed, etc. Of course, this relies on the ideas that flaws are interiority and that people are always, inevitably, radically different than they seem or are recorded by history. Useful ideas when new but now recaptured by dominant culture.

So basically, I'd argue that original Kirk is a role model and new Kirk is not because we've moved away from the idea that someone can be a role model. On the one hand, this represents a healthy skepticism about authority but OTOH it leaves us with assholes all the way down.

In a way I'm reminded of the wonderful, wonderful essay which I think was linked on here, We Are All Very Anxious. This essay says that the experience of economic misery of the fifties through seventies can be characterized as boredom - basically, that in the rich West, you could get a job and make a life as long as you were willing to conform and accept personal and political quiescence - "good factory jobs" that were soul-killing and didn't go anywhere but sure did pay the rent, for example. I'd argue that the asshole-izing of Kirk reflects the institutionalization of "anti-boredom" politics - Role Model Kirk must be a fraud and a phony and in reality a seducer and an asshole, because everyone knows that the very idea of role models is a bit of a laugh and we all know what people are really like. Unfortunately, it turns out that a world run by "real" people of this kind actually sucks.

Another thing that struck me - when we look back at sixties Star Trek and think "ah, that was misogynist and shitty, look at the mini-skirts and Kirk the womanizer" even though this is an ahistorical and inaccurate reading, we're also making excuses for the present - we're not just saying "everything gets better and better until we arrive at the glorious now", we're also avoiding saying "actually history is uneven, and you can make great strides in one era and then lose your gains in another" and "we could have built on the foundation laid by Star Trek, but we decided that being reactionary was better instead".

"Everything and everyone in the past sucked, and needs to be CALLED OUT NOW, or at least viewed with extreme suspicion" is a way of letting ourselves off the hook - we didn't have good roots or role models, after all, because everyone in the past sucked, and we had nothing to build on, ditto.
posted by Frowner at 11:56 AM on April 13 [71 favorites]


Also, Picard can't swing a holocat without hitting a demigod, which has got to fuck you up.

To be fair, while I haven't actually run the numbers, it sort of feels like the TOS-era Enterprise can't go more than a couple of weeks without running into an alien force (post-singularity borderline omnipotence, apparently malevolent computer, what have you) capable of commandeering the ship and stranding an embarrassingly undersupplied away team.
posted by brennen at 11:58 AM on April 13 [4 favorites]


While I'm quibbling with an essay I very much enjoyed, I take exception to the notion that Kirk and Picard are of a piece

I'm not saying they are of a piece; there are some obvious differences between them, because they are each men of their times. I am saying that they do share certain core characteristics around their roles and their sense of duty, however, even if those are expressed differently because of their different contexts.
posted by nubs at 11:59 AM on April 13 [3 favorites]


I've seen many of these ideas stated before in various Tumblr posts (my Tumblr feed tends to favor Trekkies), but this is a fine explication of them. Also, " the womanizer-kirk figure as a lauded one" tended to get a lot of favor in the late eighties, where a certain type of TOS fan tended to contrast Kirk with Picard.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:01 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I'm relishing this fantastically wonderful textual ride, dammit. Though I just stalled on "lord of the manner" and reminded of another orthographic corruption from a different article: deep seeded.

But the heart of this article has my ear for more hours than the words will supply...
posted by lazycomputerkids at 12:08 PM on April 13 [11 favorites]


Not enough eloquence to express my appreciation of the article: viewpoint, depth, and style. Ditto the comments - this is such an outstanding community. Very grateful for y'all.
Time to go rewatch TOS I think.
posted by emmet at 12:32 PM on April 13 [6 favorites]


Well, old Kirk had both his parents around, and new Kirk's dad died in heroic and spectacular fashion and was replaced by a dick of a stepfather.
posted by Autumnheart at 12:36 PM on April 13


I commented on this when we were discussing Star Trek a while ago. It's really interesting how a meme becomes the accepted reality.
posted by tavella at 1:15 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


Well, actually... The Corbomite Maneuver was the 10th episode to air. Third one shot (behind the two pilots), but held to air to get some 'planetary' episodes under the audience's belts.
posted by hanov3r at 2:04 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


There is an element of swashbuckling in the original that is lacking in TNG or even the movies. Watching the movie Master & Commander, I was struck at how much it reminded me of Wrath of Khan (especially the battle scenes).

The reboots don't capture any of that.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 2:19 PM on April 13 [4 favorites]


Well, old Kirk had both his parents around, and new Kirk's dad died in heroic and spectacular fashion and was replaced by a dick of a stepfather.

But then the question is, why did the director feel he needed to do that? Why did the director feel the best direction for Kirk was to change him into an entitled, irresponsible broseph?

It says a lot that the director felt that the best way to portray Kirk was as a cut-rate Star Lord. It's that the idea of creating a hero people would want to emulate is now costars not just antiquated, but boring.

Relevant comparasion: the 80s Superman vs the new Superman, where the idea of letting a bunch of kids down to protect his secret identity was seriously floated.
posted by happyroach at 2:27 PM on April 13 [8 favorites]


In 1966, a Starfleet Captain character was going to have to exhibit some degree of seriousness because a huge share of the audience had direct experience of military command: observing it, exercising it and/or obeying it, thanks to World War II and (more or less) universal service of the 1950s and early 1960s. And teenagers weren't going to be able to watch a show on the family's one color TV in the iiving room if Dad thought the Captain was a joke.

A Chris Pine-type Captain would have been cashiered long ago since but in 2017 that's going to sail right past a huge share of the audience.

The only remotely equivalent universality in 2017 might be a show set in high school, where a drama would face a similarly high bar on verisimilitude.
posted by MattD at 3:21 PM on April 13 [10 favorites]


I shared this on FB, and FB's autothumbbot assigned the image of nuTrek Carol Marcus in her skivvies as the representative image. Point made.
posted by mwhybark at 3:21 PM on April 13 [7 favorites]


Happy to join the bandwagon to diss on nu-Kirk. TOS Kirk was a superlative human being, one in a million who could command a star ship. Nu-Kirk...the slacker f-ck-p who somehow manages to reach command of a star ship against all conceptions of intelligence, grace under fire, or real maturity. I don't think the culture has changed so much as Nu-Trek is simply a naked profit grab by suits who could care less about the ideals in Star Trek. Their target demographic: slackers who think they should be commandeering star ships.
posted by diode at 3:25 PM on April 13 [10 favorites]


Well, old Kirk had both his parents around, and new Kirk's dad died in heroic and spectacular fashion and was replaced by a dick of a stepfather.

And this would work for me if I felt there was a sense that NuKirk was supposed to be portrayed as being different than TOSKirk. However, NuKirk feeds directly into the mass culture perception of Kirk as a womanizer and a reckless and rash leader. I don't think there was much, if any, intent in the creation of the reboots to say "let's give Kirk a different background and use it to explore a Kirk who is a little bit different from the one we knew/expect"; it feels more like "let's kill off Kirk's dad as part of establishing this as an alternate timeline. Now, the audience expects Kirk to be bold and rash and reckless, so let's turn that up to 11. As for Spock, he's logical and analytical still, but let's take the subtle angst/discomfort that TOS gave him about his heritage and turn it up to 11. And give him a girlfriend, that will be unexpected and wacky!" I've said it before, but it always feels like the reboots are relying on a lot of shorthand and audience expectation about who the characters are, rather than taking the time to show us who they could be in a different universe with different choices/experiences.
posted by nubs at 3:29 PM on April 13 [12 favorites]


Riker, meanwhile, invokes the old “womaniser Kirk” chestnut. He’s even initially styled a little like Kirk.

Unfair to Riker. The womanizer-Kirk of nu-Trek is apparently fine with sexual harassment. Riker may want to invite every sentient being regardless of species or gender back to his quarters for a trombone party, but he's all about consent.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:33 PM on April 13 [26 favorites]


Well Riker's more like the old vision of womanizer Kirk. The fact that he's still more respectful towards women than nu-Trek Kirk makes nu-Kirk even worse.
posted by Zalzidrax at 3:45 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


I commented on this when we were discussing Star Trek a while ago. It's really interesting how a meme becomes the accepted reality.

It's interesting because over a longer timeline, that's what we do to everything that makes up our history. We take thousands/millions of people over years/decades and turn the entirety of their existences into a quick summary that becomes the accepted wisdom. Nazis were brutally efficient in all things. The Renaissance is a total break from everything that came before. The Founding Fathers believed in representative democracy above all.
posted by Copronymus at 5:16 PM on April 13 [10 favorites]


Well, this explains to me why I enjoyed the first Star Trek but found the reboots hard to take. I thought it was because I got more critical but it may have been more than that.

I had forgotten that mini-skirts were considered liberating. Yeah. They were.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:46 PM on April 13 [3 favorites]


I understand the essay is addressing the perception of Kirk across the whole series, but I'm a bit disappointed that, despite even using a screenshot from the episode, nowhere does the author discuss the events of The Enemy Within.

That's the episode where a transporter accident splits Kirk into a mild-mannered"good" Kirk and a savage "evil" Kirk, the latter of whom tries to drunkenly assault Yeoman Janice Rand, forcing her to scratch his face in self defense. The episode makes a point of stating again and again that the two Half-Kirks, though different as night and day, are both essential parts of Kirk's personality as a ship captain. That his leadership drive comes from the same impulses that unchecked, would make him feel that it was ok to force himself upon a subordinate. As a view, it's a product of its time, but it certainly had its share in coloring the fans view of how Kirk interacts with women, showing the other side of the coin from the advice he doles out in Charlie X.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:18 PM on April 13 [6 favorites]


IIRC that's the episode that real-world sexually harassed a cast member off the show.
posted by Artw at 6:22 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Counterpoint: I thought the depiction of Kirk in the 2009 reboot was interesting, because we saw him at a point that we never saw him in TOS, meaning before he actually became "Captain Kirk." I wasn't a big fan of the 2009 movie, but it did show well how jerky, callow Young Kirk and uptight, angry Young Spock wound up tempering each other into the great men we know from TOS via the conflict between their opposing flaws.

Then Into Darkness was stupid and gimmicky, and I haven't watched Beyond, but I do still appreciate that the 2009 movie was a good origin story for one of the greatest relationships in genre fiction history.
posted by ejs at 8:44 PM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Artw: IIRC that's the episode that real-world sexually harassed a cast member off the show.

I've not actually heard this before, and the one cast member I can think that it would be stated in her autobiography that she enjoyed filming the episode. Cite, please? Maybe by MeMail to not clutter the thread further?
posted by hanov3r at 8:27 AM on April 14


Here's an obit that mentions both the episode and the incident, but does not explicitly tie them together as co-temporal. The obit's source is the memoir to which you refer. The assailant is not named by Whitney but instead referred to as The Executive.
posted by mwhybark at 9:47 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


Here's an obit that mentions both the episode and the incident, but does not explicitly tie them together as co-temporal. The obit's source is the memoir to which you refer. The assailant is not named by Whitney but instead referred to as The Executive.

Wikipedia indicates that the assault happened during the filming of Miri, a later episode in which she also has a significant role. A lot of people assume The Executive was Roddenberry - because his skeezy side is now well known, and because circumstantial details align - though she declined to name a name to the end.
posted by atoxyl at 5:44 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


Counterpoint: I thought the depiction of Kirk in the 2009 reboot was interesting, because we saw him at a point that we never saw him in TOS, meaning before he actually became "Captain Kirk." I wasn't a big fan of the 2009 movie, but it did show well how jerky, callow Young Kirk and uptight, angry Young Spock wound up tempering each other into the great men we know from TOS via the conflict between their opposing flaws.

Then Into Darkness was stupid and gimmicky, and I haven't watched Beyond, but I do still appreciate that the 2009 movie was a good origin story for one of the greatest relationships in genre fiction history.


I will say that I agree - the 2009 movie was fun, although it definitely wasn't in the spirit of the original. The two follow-up films showed that the writers didn't really get the spirit of the original, at all. Into Darkness was a callow, shallow rehash of some of the original series/movies greatest moments done in such a manner to be crass and insulting. Frankly, it was pretty off-putting. Beyond was just dumb, with a few moments that were meant to be in the spirit of the original, but were actually more in the spirit of Lost In Space.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 7:52 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]


I wasn't a big fan of the 2009 movie, but it did show well how jerky, callow Young Kirk and uptight, angry Young Spock wound up tempering each other into the great men we know from TOS via the conflict between their opposing flaws.

Well ... .... not really. TOS Kirk as a student was canonically a bookworm, and a perfectionist, obsessed with having the right answer to every situation. He wasn't cocky. He was traumatized from surviving a famine and a holocaust, and he was determined to win out over every situation he would face in the future. He studied history, tactics, math, logic, every scrap of information he could get his hands on. He knows the chemical formulas for obscure centuries-old military technology because he has done his darnedest to know everything.

In order to become the captain we know and love, he had to get a few successes under his belt so he could chill the fuck out and trust his own capabilities. He can act with confidence because he has earned that confidence, and he earned it before he ever met Spock.

It actually really bugs me that Nu Kirk and Spock so goddamn young. One of the - not core, but - periphery values of Star Trek is the value of expertise, the wisdom and expertise of people who have devoted themselves to their field for a very long time. Kirk is still a Special Genius Whiz Kid, being the youngest Starfleet Captain at age thirty-something. Letting him be captain at 22 is just overkill. And when a 22-year-old cadet is as confident and cocky as a highly-decorated 35-year-old captain, it's actually not a good look.

(i don't have time to read TFA right now but I am so so so happy it exists)
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 7:57 PM on April 14 [12 favorites]


Hmmm... Interesting. Thanks for posting - epic article.

The insightful nugget I got was the idea that Kirk was dumped by more scientists than he scored with alien vixens. And that he was a competent captain who got his macho urges out through fistfights instead of poor captaining. I'd have liked to hear more on the issue of the actor's Jewishness vs perceived Jewishness.

But I do think part of why we have this Kirk Drift (a great concept!) is that the show is absolutely steeped in sexism; there's a sexist fog all over the show and that's why we remember it as sexist, even if we're getting the details a bit wrong.

It's not just the clothing difference between men and women, although that is a valid concern, it's not just the lack of women on the bridge or in engineering, although that is a concern. It's not just the difference in how much women and men speak when on screen together, or the repeated use of sexy underdressed women over and over. Sexism did pervade the culture of the mid-sixties, and sexism pervades the show. Was it worse than other things on TV at the time? Seems better than some, worse than others.

Pookleblinky's epic Star Trek twitter threads have totally reshaped my thoughts on the show. 1, 2, 3.
posted by latkes at 8:07 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]


The only remotely equivalent universality in 2017 might be a show set in high school, where a drama would face a similarly high bar on verisimilitude.

I... but... have you ever seen...

Do you think you could indicate which high-verisimilitude high-school shows/movies you're thinking of?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:15 AM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I'd have liked to hear more on the issue of the actor's Jewishness vs perceived Jewishness.

Bill himself touches upon this some in his touring show "Shatner's World - We Just Live In It", including a story where he, early in his career, was trusted with the task of driving a rabbi and the rabbi's wife on a cross country road trip that for religious reasons, needed to be finished before sundown on Friday. Unfortunately, I don't think it ever had a video release, and the last tour dates I see listed are for 2016.
posted by radwolf76 at 6:51 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


One thing the author does is excuse Kirk for all the times where seducing a woman was necessary to saving his crew/ship/etc. Which gets me thinking, part of it is a conflation of the character's attitude with the show's attitude. Like, from the character's perspective, he's doing it for duty rather than for his own libido, but for a viewer it's suspicious how often he ends up in this kind of situation.
posted by RobotHero at 11:50 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


Super super suspicious.
posted by ethansr at 12:46 PM on April 16


I really enjoyed the multipart essay on novelization style that Erin Horáková linked to. It's worth checking out, especially if you've found a certain kind of popular fiction off-putting.
posted by Kattullus at 12:59 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Oh man, this "novelization style" is something I've noticed myself but not articulated as clearly, and now I'm never going to be able to stop noticing it, am I?
posted by mbrubeck at 6:27 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the essay defines it very clearly. It's one of those styles that do the reader's thinking for them, which I always find disconcerting when I notice it happening.
posted by Kattullus at 12:17 AM on April 17


If it were just about "people read Kirk wrong" -- here's the claims, the evidence, and the link between then -- it would be solid. But it's deeper and neater than that, giving the reader an approachable way into critical theory, some home truths about "progress" and the nuances of how we engage with texts and with history, and some fascinating links along the way. I appreciate the length here because Horáková uses it to scaffold the reader's understanding and to make more accessible the more complicated cerebral bits. It's something like 14,500 words and I am glad Strange Horizons didn't tell her to compress it smaller than that.
posted by brainwane at 6:09 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I have to admit to not reading through the whole thing yet by the time of posting, but some of the concluding sections are the most impactful - this is about Kirk Drift as a specific example, but also about the general concept about how stories (fictional or otherwise) get changed and re-interpreted and that the re-interpretation is often in the service of the powerful; that what is remembered is determined by those who are in control.
Besides, if Star Trek is going to be part of the conversation whether or not the Left wants to claim it (and look at how SFnal texts are being deployed in the discourse for conversation surrounding the Reprise of Fascism—look at how authoritarian forces are deploying the grammar of Star Trek, and at Nu!Trek’s imperial subtexts), then our memory of the text should not actively derange said text to suit political projects we do not necessarily consent to participate in. For these projects live in us and through us, like parasites that make us their unwitting and unwilling hosts. Like dybbuks that possess and consume us, taking our thoughts, our very eyes, and making them their own.

Thus it becomes a matter of reclaiming texts via attentive reading. In the post-truth world, attention is a skill. Reading is a skill. We must vigilantly listen to the hum of the currents of power running through texts and their interpretations, to actions and their spin. We must insist upon reality in order to meaningfully and morally do the work of relativistic interpretation: there are four lights, for fuck’s sake. We do have to have stories, and so we need to be able to see them. It’s important both to add marginal voices to canons and conversations and to protect the marginal elements already there from conservative erosion, for the sake of accuracy, artistic quality, and politics. We need to have access to their resources and to be able to use our own, not to host within ourselves an enemy that occludes all we see, that drains the progressive potential of everything we have access to. What good things we have done ought to be preserved. There are histories of resistance, large and small, that we ought not to lose; that we cannot afford to lose.
posted by nubs at 8:07 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


It's great that somebody has pointed out that TV Kirk is not the same as Wrath of Khan Kirk, and I'll admit I hadn't noticed the whole "Nice Guy" thing in Charlie X, but other parts? Uh... Wow.

I haven't watched TOS since like 1995, but I remember being distinctly creeped out by the way Kirk treated Janice Rand. The article makes a big point about consent, but it's mostly about *Kirk's* consent. The whole "Captain taking advantage of a new, young crewmember for a whole season" thing sort of gets wept under the rug. That right there is enough to convince me that Kirk is a sexual predator and a creep. And, I think, it all started with the "bad" Kirk trying to rape Rand. What kind of basis for a relationship is that? What kind of conversation went on between episodes? "Okay, yeah, maybe I do kind of want to rape you, but if we're dating I'll be able to control that part of myself. Also, I won't have to give you a really bad performance review and have you booted out of Starfleet. So, how about it?" Now that I'm thinking about this, I can't help but see his response to Charlie about how Rand isn't the one as "This is my yeoman. If you want to push around a woman, get your own starship."

But, if the only thing you are counting is the number of times Kirk actually has sex on screen, then no, nothing bad ever happened.

Also, Kirk is not Hornblower. Kirk never has to vomit, for one thing. Hornblower wasn't an orphan. I don't recall Kirk thinking of himself as a coward. Kirk is not Hornblower. Just as Hornblower is a faint echo of Thomas Cochrane, Kirk is at best a faint echo of Hornblower. So, the whole "Hornblower wasn't an oversexed predator, thus Kirk isn't either!" line is complete BS.

Oh, and the part where everyone who disagrees about Kirk Drift has a weird self-insert Kirk slashfic going on seemed... not good. Did Horáková learn rhetoric from angry teenagers on the Internet or something?
posted by Fanghorn Dungeon, LLC at 10:07 PM on April 18


no u learned rhetoric from angry teenagers on the internet
posted by RobotHero at 10:24 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Are you the Wrath of Khan Kirk?
posted by Fanghorn Dungeon, LLC at 10:33 PM on April 18


I saw this a while ago and thought it was a fantastic article. I didn't think it was too long, It think it's needs to be this long because it's a nuanced discussion:
Yet there is a colossal insipidity in both patronising “this art product was good for its time” arguments and in Columbus-discovering sexism (or other forms of injustice) in the cultural materials of the past (gosh, what a find). Both can be somewhat valid positions to take, but they are often the lazy products of a false consciousness of our own differently-coded era as universally better, and of history as neatly and linearly progressive.
Too often these article get stuck on either "yay, this is really progressive by the stanards of its time" or "boo, this is really regressive by the standards of our time", this article seemed much more balanced. One thing that seemed really interesting was this:
ST:TOS had significant female writers and producers, whereas J. J. Abrams is now handed every nerd property in the world despite showing little special fitness for the task (unless Joss Whedon is free). The problem is hardly confined to Star Trek. Since 2008 only two women have written (single) episodes of Doctor Who, and their inclusion occurred after significant criticism.
That's fascinating, and suggests in some ways things have got worse rather than better.

One point about the period is that we usually associate the Sixties with the counterculture of the "The Sixties". But Star Trek seems to me not really connected with Sixties counterculture, except for the presence of miniskirts and the episode where we all laugh at the space hippies. Gene Roddenberry was no baby boomer, he was born in 1921. Kirk is a character who would fit neatly into the Forties or Fifties: a benevolent authority figure putting duty before his personal wants or needs. Star Trek TOS wasn't particularly sixties-ish as a show: authority in the form of Starfleet and the Federation is to be respected not rebelled against.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:46 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]


I haven't watched TOS since like 1995, but I remember being distinctly creeped out by the way Kirk treated Janice Rand. The article makes a big point about consent, but it's mostly about *Kirk's* consent. The whole "Captain taking advantage of a new, young crewmember for a whole season" thing sort of gets wept under the rug.

I might have missed something but I 100% don't remember him taking advantage of her at all, outside of the Evil Kirk episode. I remember he explicitly wanted to keep her at a distance. He didn't want a female yeoman, which is a different sexist dynamic.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 6:54 AM on April 19


I might have missed something but I 100% don't remember him taking advantage of her at all, outside of the Evil Kirk episode. I remember he explicitly wanted to keep her at a distance. He didn't want a female yeoman, which is a different sexist dynamic.

There was never a scene where they emerged from a turbolift together and Kirk's shirt was on backwards, but I remember there being enough unsubtle indications that Rand's crush wasn't one-sided that even *I* noticed. Maybe the point was to criticize the kinds of things that a lot of guys in power get away with by making it super obvious to the audience that Kirk was interested but was behaving less badly than he could?
posted by Fanghorn Dungeon, LLC at 9:45 AM on April 19


There was never a scene where they emerged from a turbolift together and Kirk's shirt was on backwards, but I remember there being enough unsubtle indications that Rand's crush wasn't one-sided that even *I* noticed

There was always an undercurrent of tension/attraction there that sometimes bubbled to the surface; but I always felt clear that Kirk & Rand never acted on their feelings even though they were there; it was a way of sharpening Kirk's character as far as his devotion to duty in that the possibility was there but never taken. But I think the Kirk/Rand relationship and how we perceive & remember it now, in addition to how it was written and the context of the times, builds right into the point the article is making. It's entirely possible that my reading of that relationship is a layer I've put in place to maintain an image of Kirk that isn't fair.

In the "Corbomite Maneuver", Kirk complains of having been assigned a female yeoman, though I don't think he outright says why. In "The Naked Time", it's explicitly clear that Kirk is attracted to Rand, but even while under the effect of the the virus, he doesn't act on it - he mutters something about "no beach to walk on" after stopping himself from reaching out to her, a reference to an earlier conversation in the episode which made it clear that Kirk's primary relationship and love is the Enterprise herself. ("The Naked Time" is interesting in that it really draws that aspect of Kirk's character out - his devotion to the ship and his duty is so strong that he is able to resist the virus even before McCoy crafts the antidote. Picard, in the TNG episode that deals with the same issue, does not have that same strength). There's another episode, "Miri", where Rand's attraction to the captain is made explicit at a time when Rand is quite vulnerable, but Kirk provides comfort in that moment rather than anything else. "The Enemy Within" is where the relationship is at its most problematic, in terms of Dark Kirk's behaviour, which we've touched on in this thread, but I also think that scene doesn't work as well if there wasn't a latent tension present; it makes sense for Dark Kirk to seek out Rand because of it; it doesn't make it right or comfortable or anything else. And there's the layer of what sexism looked like in the 60s that overlays it all; for all that the show tried to counter some of the more overt aspects of sexism and the role of women, everyone was still swimming in it.

How the departure of Grace Lee Whitney was handled was all around poor, however, and the CBS statement about the captain needing many "girlfriends" certainly feeds into the conception of Kirk & Rand having a deeper relationship that was never made explicit in the text (though I'm quite sure the fan-fic community has handled that).
posted by nubs at 10:41 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]


In "The Naked Time", it's explicitly clear that Kirk is attracted to Rand, but even while under the effect of the the virus, he doesn't act on it - he mutters something about "no beach to walk on" after stopping himself from reaching out to her

That is actually a fantastic point. All I remember about that episode is that they managed to avoid having Sulu turn into a racist caricature of a samurai, but now I want to watch it again. Any chance you have a good reason for Wrath of Khan Kirk to have refused to put up shields when somebody else pointed out that regulations required it and when even Kirk himself thought the situation was super sketchy?
posted by Fanghorn Dungeon, LLC at 4:00 PM on April 19


Because old?

And, to be honest, as soon as he feels it's sketchy, Kirk orders Yellow Alert, raising defensive screens around the bright.
posted by hanov3r at 4:05 PM on April 19


Kirk ignored regulations and only put up shields around himself, basically. That seems like the kind of thing that should come up as evidence against him in a court martial where Kirk gets thoroughly broken, and where Starfleet makes darned sure he isn't even allowed to own a picture of a starship ever again.
posted by Fanghorn Dungeon, LLC at 4:16 PM on April 19


Star Trek II: Kirks Midlife Crisis gives us an opening act with a Kirk who feels old and doubts himself; he's hesitant and unsure and scared he's lost a step. He's suddenly in command in a situation that is ambiguous - Regula One has gone dark and the Reliant - attached to Regula One - is showing up where it isn't supposed to be.

So the scene builds on that uncertainty in both Kirk and the audience to make us all wonder if Kirk has lost the magic. But - and this was interesting for me - I went back to watch that first encounter again.

Saavik: May I remind the admiral that General Order Twelve states that on the approach of any vessel where communications have not been established --

And that's it; Spock interrupts her. We never hear what General Order Twelve states. I believe it concludes with shields being raised, but I now don't know where I have that idea from. It could just be that the ship should go to Yellow Alert. I'm sure somebody will be along to correct me; I don't have the desire to go into Memory Alpha right now.

Anyways, as far as the yellow alert and the defensive screens (and I've never quite understood the difference between the screens and the shields) go, note that Khan's whole purpose in the attack is to cripple the Enterprise - he isn't targeting the bridge. He wants Kirk to know who beat him and he wants to get access to Genesis. The defensive screens being in place on the bridge make no difference in the outcome. But all that aside, the overall purpose is to push Kirk closer to the no-win scenario; to establish that despite it all, Kirk can't always find a way out without losing something.

I tend to forgive Star Trek II an awful lot, so take my comments with that in mind.
posted by nubs at 10:18 PM on April 19 [2 favorites]


And just because I can't stop myself when it comes to STII and Kirk these days - track down a copy of the Directors Cut. There's one extended scene that I think is telling, in sick bay after the first attack. Kirk has just finished consoling Scotty about the death of his nephew (an important thing in itself for understanding the grieving Scotty is doing) and he and Bones chat.

Bones tries to reassure Kirk that he gave as good as he got in the exchange. Kirk points out - rightly - that they only got away because Kirk knew something about 23rd century starships that Khan didn't. He won't have that advantage next time. Kirk is full of doubt about his ability to best Khan and that his skills and abilities have slipped away.

Which all just leads me back to my point that the movie isn't about Starfleet regs and directives and if Kirk followed them or not; the film is about Kirk and the passage of time and about facing mortality. Everything the film does is to drive Kirk and the audience there.
posted by nubs at 5:05 PM on April 21 [4 favorites]


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