Darkness

I am a Trekkie. It started when I was a small child, and our local CBS affiliate would show Star Trek reruns after Saturday-morning cartoons. I don’t remember watching it so often, though, in part because I liked to play after cartoons, and in part because my didn’t like the show so much (because Spock’s ears freaked her out).

Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted when I was in junior high. However, it came on really late at night and I couldn’t watch it. When I moved to St. Louis, a station there was showing Next Generation reruns five nights a week at more reasonable hour of 10:00pm, as well as showing the new episodes on the weekends, and the brand-new show Deep Space Nine. I was obsessed. I had to watch it every single night it was on. I peeved a lot of my dormmates who rightly felt I shouldn’t have sole control over the television in the dorm lounge. Towards the end of my time in St. Louis, the franchise launched Voyager, which quickly became my favorite of the franchise.  Enterprise first aired after I moved to Indiana, but a schedule conflict kept me from the show, and my ability to follow the series was as ill-fated as the series itself.

The internet era has opened new windows to my Trekdom. I can watch nearly every episode of all six series (yes, including The Animated Series) at startrek.com for free (though it’s sometimes annoying which episodes are missing–how do you skip over the introduction of the Vidiians?) About three years ago I started playing Star Trek Online and got to explore my fandom in a whole new way. The game has its glitches, but it is most enjoyable, especially when I get to play with such a fantastic fleet.

Of course, I haven’t even mentioned the movies. I’ve seen all but two: The Final Frontier, which by all accounts is not very good, and Nemesis, which isn’t supposed to be good either, but better that Frontier, and which I wouldn’t mind seeing but haven’t had the chance. I saw the relaunch by J.J. Abrams in 2009, and, though I was confused a bit about how the franchise would proceed (no spoilers, even now), I thought it was good enough.

Now, I have to correct myself–I said I’d not seen two movies. I actually haven’t seen three. I have not yet seen the new movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, and I don’t plan to. I had wanted to see it, but an incident a couple of weeks ago turned me off completely to the idea.

Interestingly, what ruined the movie for me was a completely different franchise: Superman. As I was waiting for a video to load, I got a two-and-a-half minute preview of Man of Steel. I didn’t like what I saw. Most of the preview revolved around the destruction of an entire city, masses of people dying meaningless deaths in clever and innovative ways. It was what some call “torture porn” on a metropolitan scale, the Saw series with a cast of thousands, a devaluation of human life that brought me back to when I quit watching Total Recall after the “human shield” scene. I sat watching the opening of this Superman reboot (how many times has that franchise been relaunched again, not even counting the DC-universe reboots?) and said to myself, “There is no way I’m watching that movie, it’s just torture porn.”

“Star Trek Into Darkness” poster

And then it hit me that this is exactly what the trailers to Star Trek Into Darkness looks like. (Notice that even the poster is focused on a destroyed city, not on, well, trekking through the stars.) And the trailers to the last two Transformers movies. And the second half of The Dark Knight Rises that I saw at a Christmas party. And every other freaking “action” movie that has come out in the past ten years.

And I’m done. When I go to a movie, I want a plot. I want a story. I want the characters’ lives and deaths to mean something. Whether it’s comedy or tragedy, I’m looking for some meaning. And I really don’t get that out of a lot of the movies that come out these days. Now, to be sure, I’m singling out a particular genre in my writing here, and it’s not exactly one in which people are expecting Tolstoy. But if it’s a movie about heroes, shouldn’t the focus be on heroism, rather than the meaningless deaths of thousands?

The last thing I’m saying is that all our media should portray a Pollyanna fantasy. A healthy mind needs a balance of comedy and tragedy in what it consumes. But where is dignity? Hope? Heck, even just some nuance and complexity, instead of a relentless onslaught of explosions, would do nicely.

It has been said that, as a culture declines, its arts are the first to suffer. I think that’s really what’s going on here. I hope I’m wrong, and that we can yet redeem ourselves.

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About Whittier Strong

Whittier Strong is an MFA student in creative writing at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, with a focus in nonfiction. He graduated from Metropolitan State University with a BA in creative writing. He has special interests in sociology and philosophy.

Posted on 19 June, 2013, in Commentary, Personal life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I promised myself that I would not say whether or not I liked Star Trek XII until I have seen it at least three times, due to my knowing that I’d be disappointed in it just because it is a reboot. I had that same rule for Star Trek XI, and I kept to it; it was because of that film I wrote my baccalaureate thesis.

    I rather enjoyed Nemesis, myself, and whilst Star Trek V was rather campy, it did help me pass my religion classes back in high school. I suggest watching both of them at least once.

  2. I’ll take the recommendations of Nemesis and Final Frontier under advisement, thanks.

  3. I have to say, I really love this blog. “Torture porn”–what a brilliant assessment this is! I don’t watch horror movies, so I haven’t seen “Saw,” or any of its “sequels.” The previews were enough to give me bad dreams. I miss the days where directors were smart enough to make the point, without being so bloody graphic. The last Batman (Bale) movie was enough to make me ill, and I really regret that it got so violent. It’s too intense. More people need to say “no” against this stuff; artists need to reclaim their territory, so to speak, and remember what it was like to poetically infer, as opposed to blatantly display, graphic action in a movie.

  4. I have noticed the same thing. My first hunch is that it’s a reflection/exploitation of the general fear and dread of mass destruction that permeates the zeitgeist. Sort of like the fear of nuclear war was reflected in the horror flicks of the 50’s. And the proliferation of “young adult” literature and movies that are filled with individuals fighting a dystopic future filled with dictators and zombies. The world is restless and changing, and for Americans, not much for the better.

    Or, I could be full of crap, and it’s just that mass destruction makes a lot of damn noise and spectacle, and that’s an easy way to make a movie without having to worry about good writing. 😉

    Really enjoy your blog. Thanks!

  5. I agree with the critique that our culture glorifies, even revels in, violence. Perhaps especially meaningless (or, more accurately, sudden/overwhelming but meaningful) violence. I don’t think this is something new to the last 10 years – I mean, if you look to Independence Day in 1996 a central premise of the movie is widespread destruction and death to the point of near-extinction of the human race. Or Pulp Fiction, from 1994, which I would personally say fits more clearly into my own idea of what “torture porn” looks like (as do most of his films, IMO, even as in many of them the violence and deaths do have a form of meaning).

    I can’t speak to the levels of balance, dignity, hope, nuance, or complexity in these films as I haven’t seen them yet either, but I guess the counterpoint here would be that lives often do end without meaning (at least, for the person who died) – perhaps most lives, certainly many lives when there is a crisis such as a war, terrorism, or.natural disaster. I mean, in a sense this is the existential crisis of our era – we witness so much death that seems meaningless or avoidable, what is to be our response (as individuals, groups, humanity)? One could argue at least some of these films are grappling with those questions.

  6. nice blog.. i too have thought about the violent and destructive streak most films have now… and wonder why… bring back the stories with happy endings and content… They say that violence and destruction is what sells… what we want… but I’m sure its not, i believe too many people have just lost faith in their reason or purpose for living and allowed themselves to believe there is no hope and aligned with fear…that is wide spread across the world now… Instead of knowing that each and every person is unique and all powerful and is the creator of their own destiny… aligning with love and being a part of active community creating their hearts desire… a happy ending… If we keep looking and have faith, there are happy people who have started a happy virus… and making happy films…

  7. By happy endings, I mean that people are focusing on themselves, caring for themselves, being meaningful in their life and creating their destiny….. and, I suppose, this won’t be portrayed in most of the films, until more of us actually live like this… which brings to mind that these violent and destructive films are reflecting human life… OMG…

  8. I saw the movie and liked it, but the one thing that disturbed me about it was the scenes of massive destruction which seemed merely incidental to the main plot. It was basically an excuse for impressive special effects, and nothing was said about the immense human tragedy (albeit fictional tragedy) that these scenes implied.

  9. “There are things about ourselves that we need to get rid of; there are things we need to change. But at the same time, we do not need to be too desperate, too ruthless, too combative. Along the way to usefulness and happiness, many of those things will change themselves, and the others can be worked on as we go. The first thing we need to do is recognize and trust our own Inner Nature, and not lose sight of it.” (Benjamin Hoff)

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