Where To Boldly Go Went
Dang, I am too tired to really get into a discussion of the issues brought up in this post of TigerHawk's. It's too bad, because he's talking about something I've been wanting to get into writing about for a long time: how our society (by which I mean American society and Western society in general, though the American part of it is the only part I really have the authority to talk about) has changed in its attitude towards risk from a "risk is necessary and even good" viewpoint to a "risk bad! stay at home lock doors hide under bed!" viewpoint.
I'll at least try to get into some of it. Here's how I express my own point of view: I am a Captain Kirk girl as opposed to a Captain Picard girl. One of the main themes of the original Star Trek is the idea that human beings needed risk and adventure, often expressed as "freedom" but usually more openly admitted to be the need to have obstacles to overcome, rivals to compete against, and dangerous tasks to take on, in order to not stagnate and then decay and die out. How many episodes shows the OST crew landing on some paradise where ostensibly their every wish was granted but which turned out to be a trap of one sort or other? True, there was that one episode, "The Menagerie," where the crippled space captain ended up living a life of "illusion" in a "healed" body -- but even that show was geared towards the idea that even the illusion of free movement and physical fitness is preferable if reality consists of paralysis and constant medical care.
However, by the time they decided to resurrect the series (and I glom all the new STs -- Next Generation, Deep Space 9, etc. -- into one grouping, because the same overarching themes governed all the shows, with the exception of Enterprise, which I have not seen an episode of), times had changed and so had attitudes, so what we ended up with is a "future" where the characters were too busy questioning their own motives to get anything done; "superior" beings (such as "Q" -- one of the better characters in the new series, or at least one of the few really confident ones, until they decided he needed to question himself too), instead of being hoist on their own petard, were shown as being basically right about humanity and who had to be coaxed into giving us a "second chance"; war-weariness instead of eagerness to fight for a cause; lots of multicultural twaddle (Klingons turned into gruff teddy bears aliens, even Romulans weren't allowed to be good, old-fashioned enemies, the crew of the Enterprise had to understand them too); and lots and lots of therapy-speak with made-up alien neuroses sometimes, but not always, standing in for human ones (for instance, with the Trill alien-within-an-alien characters the writers seemed to be trying to confront issues of identity and sex, but they were in over their heads and the attempt, IMO, went nowhere).
The therapy-speak was the most annoying aspect of the new show. No one was allowed to simply be brave or adventurous or even rash -- everything had to be explained away according to whichever article in Psychology Today the episodes' writers had skimmed at the dentist's office. In the old misogynist days of Kirk and Spock, the character of Counselor Troi would have existed to have her complacently perfect psyche overset by a real emotion, usually expressed as a violent attraction to one of the major male crew members. And she usually would have ended up tragically killed (so as to leave the heroes free to go on adventuring), or simply never mentioned again, such as Scotty's lady love in "The Lights of Zetar." But in the later shows that wasn't allowed, and we couldn't get rid of her. (It is interesting that the women who often ended up meeting a bad end were the ones who were what we would have known in my childhood as "tomboys" -- "warrior" type women with "masculine" characteristics such as adventurousness, belligerence, and so on, and a marked lack of "nurturing" characteristics such as a tendency to talk about their and everyone else's emotions and feelings, unless it was feelings like "I'm going to beat up that Romulan!" -- characters such as Lieutenant Tasha Yar, who was played by Denise Crosby.)
Anyway, the two sets of Star Trek series, the original and the new, show how our society's attitudes towards risk, and people who seek risk, have changed, and not for the better. I guess the most obvious explanation for the change is the fact that the generation currently in charge of the arts, the news media, and the educational system -- hint, it was born after a certain war and the initials of its nickname are "BB" -- is growing old and sickly, so everyone has to live through their increasing fears of falling over and not being able to get up just like we had to live through everything else they felt and did. This can't be good, because after growing old there is only one experience left -- the one you don't live through. Then again, at least the grave is silent.
Next day update: hey! I resemble that remark. Actually, I have to admit Udolpho's bashing of scifi fans has an element of truth in it. Back when I was "into" scifi I was as geeky as they come. However, I hope I've cast off most of the "the mundanes don't understand me therefore I am special and better" attitude that too many science fiction afficionados foster in themselves. The fact that you enjoy reading/watching adventure stories where the characters are on other planets doesn't make you more intellectual than people who read spy stories or Harlequin romances.
Udolpho's criticism of science fiction on literary grounds is the basic genre vs. "literary fiction" argument that I've discussed elsewhere. I'm not up to getting into it here -- I'll just say that there is crap in all genres. I won't argue for the literary merits of Dune or any of Heinlein's novels -- for one thing, I haven't read those books for years. To tell you the truth, I don't read much science fiction these days -- the old mainstays that I've got in my bookcases like Andre Norton (who never made a pretense of being anything other than a storyteller), Jack Vance (his writing style is somewhat elevated above mere storytelling, but unlike many writers of modern lit-fic, he doesn't let his prose get in the way), and a few others. Very few new science fiction novels find their way into my home these days. Most of the stories are either rewrites of the same old stuff, more "hard" scifi, or dreary "thought-provoking" socio-political polemics thinly disguised as entertainment. The fantasy genre is in even worse shape. I've actually been trying to catch up on the Canon.
In any case I never seemed to get out of scifi or fantasy what other people seemed to get out of it. For instance, many of my female friends who are still big fans are really into the "power" aspect -- that is, the "magickal" or "psychic" powers the characters, especially female characters, are granted in many fantasy and science fiction novels. I never was really interested in that aspect except insofar as it was necessary to drive the story forward. I think that Andre Norton was one of the few people who (however inconsistently) was able to write about men and women with "powers" without making the idea ludicrous or an obvious deus ex machina. Other science fiction fans are really interested in the idea of societal improvement due to fabulous technological advances/alien contact/offshoot notions from various Social Darwinist fancies. In other words, it's okay to dream about eugenics and "improving the race" if you say it's just fiction.
One complaint against genre fiction is the fact that characters are usually set up to a variety of standard templates, and are in fact simply better-looking, more successful stand-ins for the authors of these stories, or deliberately set up to be blank enough that the reader is able to make the character into a stand-in -- stronger, cleverer, and more heroic -- for himself. This is mostly true (except in the case of a very few works), but that can also be true of literary fiction. Making people is a dangerous business.
Anyway, more later, maybe, in a new post. Right now I want my tea.