Injection Of Politics Into Entertainment - A Star Trek Story
Over the years it seems that the entertainment industry have transformed from entertainment to influence industry, hoping with their various movies, tv-series, games, books and other forms of escapism, push political agendas and attempt to influence people to support their particular viewpoints. While activism and political messaging in entertainment is not a new thing, it has seemed to have taken a centerstage, to the detriment of good storytelling, interesting characters and above all, providing the entertainment. Recent victim of this transformation is a franchise that people have sat down to watch over several decades: Star Trek.
Star Trek is (primarily) a tv and movie franchise created by Gene Roddenberry that debuted in 1966. A sci-fi series that followed the space adventures of starship USS Enterprise with a mission statement "to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before". Over the years the series and it's various sequels, spinoffs etc. have garnered a fandom that spans multiple generations.
Star Trek came into the world in a tumultuous time. The Cold War was on, a nice inheritance from WWII and segretation of the black people had only recently (especially from our point of view in 2020) ended. The scars were still fresh. Genre Roddenberry's vision was unique due to the fact that it depicted a world, where such things were no longer an issue, in a world where such things were profoundly pronounced and highlighted. I mention Cold War and segretation because I want to highlight the existences of bridge officers Uhura and Checkov (a black person and a russian) in the show. While today we take those things as granted, in 1966 it was not so. It would be very easy to draw parallels with today's politics and claim that Star Trek at it's very beginning was meant as a tool to influence. I grant that point but only to a point. Yes, the two aforementioned personnel were ways to point out the inequalities in society at the time but the implication was made subtly. The audience had to get to that conclusion themselves. The larger point was that Uhura's and Checkov's being on the bridge was nothing special. Today they would be lauded as "stunning and brave" for breaking some kind of a glass ceiling. Roddenberry wanted to show us a world where having a black woman as an officer in a militaristic hierachy was just another day at the office. Uhura was not a diversity hire. She earned her right to be on the bridge and carried her weight.
The nature of fandoms are that people take something others might consider benign and attribute an emotional connection to that. Sometimes to a point of great personal stakes, attaching their sense of identity and self to that franchise. Star Trek, being a "nerdy" show, attracted people whom society at large mostly shunned. Not in a way where during segretation black people were forcibly separated but through social norms, bullying and dismissal. People who held interest in computers, sciences, fantasy and other things that put them apart from the majority of their comtempories where considered outside the normal social structures and hierarchies or at best, at the very bottom of it. Even today calling someone a geek can be taken and delivered as an insult. So what are these people to do? Their peers have said, they are not good enough for them so they do one of two things: conform to those norms, or create a community of their own. Some take the latter option and flock together. Thus a fandom is born. And since that fandom is a way for these outsiders feel like being part of something and being accepted for who they are, the emotional connection to the thing that does give them the craved connection to other human beings, becomes extremely important.
The other aspect of fandom and these franchises tied to them, is escapism. People yern for a reprieve of their everyday worries and problems. A change to see and feel something fantastical and feel like being part of that world instead of this dull boring drivel we deal with every day. These are worlds people want to believe in because in them, people might feel more alive. Free. Powerful. In these worlds, people could for a short period of time, be someone else. Anyone else than themselves.
So what happens when someone like Alex Kurtzman is given keys to the kingdom and full rein over something people tie themselves emotionally so strongly about? Nothing good. Let me explain.
In recent Comic-con panel, Kurtzman made a statement that absolutely set the fandom on fire: he called the franchise a platform to deliver political messaging. This Freudian slip confirmed that many in the fandom had suspected, but had no smoking gun to prove it: Kurtzman is not interested in entertainment, he is interested in influencing. Well now they have that proof, straight from the horses mouth (apologies to all horses for impliying that mr Kurtzman is in any way related to such noble equine breed of creatures). Kurtzman wants to use Star Trek for politics. So what? We have established that such things have been done before so where is the harm? That... is going to take some explaining.
So why do people reject Kurtzman's attempt to bring political discource into fandoms? Because it threatens the emotional stability of the fan and fandom.
Let's first examine Kurtzman's statement. He called Star Trek a political platform, aka, the only purpose of Star Trek to dear Alex, is to deliver a message. This statement reveals Kurtzman's utter contempt or indifference he has towards the franchise and the people who hold such dear emotional connection to it. In the worlds of Dictor Van Doomcock, the future ruler of earth: "Without respect, we reject". Fan's reject Kurtzman's politics not because of the politics themselves, those are immaterial, but due to the fact that Kurtzman feels like he has the right to be contemptuous and dismissive of people whose emotional stability is tied to this community. To some the only community where they have ever been accepted. This threat to emotional balance, naturally invokes an emotional response. In order to protect, the outside influences need to to be rejected. For Kurtzman to blatantly say that a franchise, a community, people have spent years of their lives cultivating and nurturing, is not worth being respectful towards, is a slap on the face.
Secondly, by bringing politics into entertainment, Kurtzman also removes a key piece. He takes away the escape. To inject politics so blatantly into the franchise, Kurtzman is saying that members of this fandom do not get to escape the world. He will drag them back into reality and forces them to watch and experience. When human beings are forced to do something, the emotional response to that tends to be negative.
The third step in this wheel of misfortune is Kurtzman's and his crews own response to the fan rejection. The calling of fans isms and phobes. This reveals an inherent misunderstanding between Kurtzman and the fandom: he ties the fan rejection of his attempts of influence to be a rejection of what is being influenced when the truth is that the influence itself is the issue. Since Kurtzman can't reconsile that difference, he lashes out, thinking that fans must really hate his particular brand of politics. So logically, they must be isms and phobes since big A is all about diversity. What really happened was that fans felt their emotional stability threatened, their touchstone vandalized, and their self worth and right to be respected questioned by Alex when to some, this touchstone was all that gave them any measure of self worth.
As a clarification I don't know whether Alex Kurtzman himself have called any fans an ism or a phobe. I use Alex as an generalization of an arrogant wannabe influencer and franchise executive who has no respect for the fandom they are supposed to inject themselves in.
So how does Kurtzman fixes this? Well that would require some introspection from his part. He would have to study the fandom carefully and find the pillars that hold it together. Instead of tearing those down, he would have to incorporate those into his storytelling. He would also have to understand the fandom. In essence, he propably would have to become a fan and member of the fandom by assimilation of ideas and above all, the passion these people have for their franchise. Then he would have to respect it. He would have to respect the rules tha fandom sets down and expect to earn his keep. To do that, he would have to recognize that he was wrong. That the fans DO deserve his respect and are not isms and phobes after all.
Now Kurtzman's respect itself will not automatically ensure success. No, these are means to and end. Steps to take to get to the real golden hill. And that hill is the restoration of escapism. When you respect a franchise and respect it's fans (in fact, if you are a fan) the integrity of the story and the escapist experience becomes more pronounced. The story might become good because Alex wants it to be good for the sake of being good. Injecting politics into that while keeping it entertained? No fan would bat an eye. They might even applaude the creativity in that. They might nod at the anecdotes and respect the allegories. And what happens when a fan sees your attempts of influence and sees that it is done respectfully? He might even consider them. In fact, if you are really good Alex, you might have done an emotional hack of sorts: hide your message so well, people have to work on it. Once a person puts a little work on something like that, suddenly something intriquing happens. The person might think they came up the idea themselves. Arrived at the conclusion themselves. The emotion invoked by the success of discovering this hidden meaning gives a positive spin at your message. Do you know what you have done then, Alex? You have influenced.