Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Geek Flag Ideologies"

This one turned out to be one of my most popular columns online - and nobody made fun. It turns out that lots of our readers were geeks. Big surprise. It turns out that lots of people nowadays are geeks. And why not? Geeks really do make the world go 'round. We actually had a love-fest online for about three weeks as people shared the stories and admitted which Doctor they loved best. It died out eventually, as all good threads do, but this throwaway column became one of my favorites because I found out how many of these tough, mean-spirited Jacksonians proudly flew their geek flags.

I might as well get this on record first: I’m a bit of a geek. I read science fiction and fantasy. I have a full run of Babylon 5 on tape. I swap Dr. Who references with a few fellow (possibly mentally ill) fans. I have pretty much every Batman and Justice League collection DC Comics has printed in the past ten years or so. I played Dungeons and Dragons for years (actually, I played 2nd Edition AD&D, mostly in the “Forgotten Realms” setting, for those fellow geeks in the know), and I enjoy dabbling in both the Star Wars and the Star Trek aspects of fandom.
I love the brilliance of Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, yet I can still put up with the overly purple prose of Roddenberry’s Trek, the derivative technobabble of Next Generation, and the insipid dialog of Lucas’ Star Wars.

Around the survivors a perimeter create, indeed.

Being a movie buff tends to go hand in hand with being a geek, and I am a buff. In fact, this has been the best geek-movie season I can remember in years. In a span of about ten weeks, I can see Sin City, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Star Wars Episode III, and Batman Reborn. For me, this is quality entertainment.

But right now, I feel a little melancholy. This month, Star Wars comes to an end. With Episode III, it’s all over; there is no more original material to be mined. No matter what tweaks are left for George Lucas to do, there will be no more movies. And this month, one other science fiction institution left us: Star Trek. With the Enterprise finale last week, Roddenberry’s creation is no more. It’s a certainty that there will be no more shows, and I doubt there will ever be another movie.

One of the great geek debates of all time is discussing whether Wars or Trek is better. People (and by people, I mean geeks, of course) argue over who has the best costumes, the best ships, and the best special effects. They argue over dialog, actors, and cultural impact. I like to find more to debate.

Star Trek, for all its greeting-card philosophy and occasionally lunkheaded liberalism, was essentially a series of stories about empire building and the long-term effects of doing such. James T. Kirk’s Enterprise flew around the galaxy exploring, but also flying the Federation flag over every world it encountered. Next Generation was the starry-eyed optimist of the bunch, more about discovery and interaction with unknown civilizations, about finding a role for humanity in the universe. Deep Space Nine was, in a nutshell, about war. It looked at the ugliness of war and the necessity, it looked at the influence religions carry, of what civilians felt and did during wartime, and how basically good people could disagree so vehemently about such an important topic. It was not about finding one’s place in the universe, but about holding on to it. In the end, Voyager found its focus in a war with the Borg – a ramification of events in the movie, First Contact. And Enterprise – which I actually quite liked – spent this last season examining the underpinnings of the entire Star Trek universe, the Federation itself. Events from one series affected the others; choices one person made would echo for years, creating a situation and another series of choices for another character. Love it or hate it, but Star Trek demonstrated that choices matter, that decisions have long-term affects, and that sometimes good people can do bad things, and vice versa.

Star Wars is about Darth Vader, a decent kid who slips into darkness* and becomes a mass murderer. He kills millions of innocent people (or is a willing participant in a regime that does so), a handful of lickspittle lackeys, and his old teacher, and in the end he goes to Force Heaven by keeping an even more evil guy from killing his son. Apparently in Lucas Land, it’s okay to be pure evil so long as you do a good deed before you die. It amazes me that fans believe that Vader redeemed himself by his actions. He didn’t redeem himself; he did nothing to actually balance the vast numbers of wholly evil acts in which he participated. Darth Vader attempted to buy his way into the afterlife, by saving Luke and killing the Emperor. It’s a cheap conceit that George Lucas tells the moviegoers that Vader’s actions worked. Yes, I’m aware it’s only a movie, but the idea of a war criminal of that magnitude being forgiven for that sop of an action is infuriating. The deaths of every character at Vader’s hand – Jedi, rebel, whatnot – is turned into a mere inconvenience. There is no long-term affect, no responsibility, and no real consequences for choices made. There is no redemption.

I prefer the ideology of Star Trek. Silly it might be at times, its understanding of consequence and redemption is light years beyond the ideas espoused by Star Wars. Feel free to let your geek flag fly, but you might want to know what ideas you salute when you do so.


*Probably because his wife (who seems to have carried a love jones for him since before his pubes grew) insists on calling him “Anni.” Can there a more emasculating feeling than being a bad ass Jedi Knight with an effeminate nickname? I’d want to kill Sand People, too.

So why do I like Star Wars? The ships and the light saber duels. Fly your geek flag at planetweekly.

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