Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Star Trek: Into Bikinis

So I did indeed take a troop to Star Trek: People Jumping Off Shit on the weekend. And it was big, shiny, explodey fun, with people Jumping Off Shit all over the place. What's not to like?

Well, according to an increasing number of rather bitter-sounding commentators, there was that heinous sexism. It's astonishing the number of people for whom an entire film can be ruined by an (admittedly gratuitous) bikini shot.

And of course, those offended people want their pound of flesh. (Male flesh, naturally.) "I thought we were past this!" they howl. "Misogyny!" they cry. "Where are the bold female role models?"

Here I pause for a deep breath.

Hello? Which fucking Star Trek series were they remaking here?

Look, Trekkers are notoriously amongst the most nitpicky fans in the history of nits. The original series was very much a product of its time. Klingons were thinly disguised Russkies, out there among the stars to thwart Kirk and the American Way. Women wore vanishingly small miniskirts and giant beehive 'dos. Kirk's penis was pretty much permanently set on "Orgy", and there wasn't an alien babe in the galaxy who could say 'no' once he got his shirt off.

At the same time, the writers back then tried a bunch of great stuff. They tackled issues of race and politics head-on, and did their best, given the TV limitations of the time. Obviously, the show wasn't perfect -- but they went after the targets they could envision, and sometimes they nailed it.

Twenty years later, of course, along came Patrick Stewart and his merry band, and oh, look! Suddenly Star Trek had lots of female role models in strong positions, wearing sensible space jammies like everyone else. And though they were supposed to 'boldly go', mostly they went quite meekly, with frequent consultations from their Ship's Counsellor and all her touchy-feeling prognostications.

That went pretty well for them. Seven or eight seasons, wasn't it? And there followed a space station with a black commander and an alien female leader of the local rebel-types. Also another Trek, but this time with a female captain and a female engineer.

Times had changed in the viewer's world, and accordingly, the writers of these new shows moved on, and gave us another vision of a future Star Trek.

But here comes JJ Abrams. And he's given a brief: revive the movies. Go back to the beginning. Show us young Kirk, Spock and the rest where it all starts. Here: use this couple-hundred-million bucks, but make sure we get it all back, right?

Pop quiz: in attempting to recapture something of the spirit of the original, and trying to do so in the face of the most quibblesome fans of all time, do you really think Abrams should have tried to make Kirk's era politically correct and fully femme-friendly? Do you honestly think Trekkers would have supported a movie that didn't acknowledge the flaws of the much-loved original series?

Just how fucking believable would a non-cocksman Kirk have been, anyway? For fuck's sake: the character has been the punchline of jokes for more than forty years now!

Personally? I think Abrams played it very, very smart. Yes, there's the bikini scene, and it does objectify the female character gratuitously. In particular, it does so by invoking Kirk's presence and his priorities. In this, it recalls the only other scantily-clad-girly sequence in the film, wherein Kirk wakes up in bed with two space babes -- a scene which provoked considerable laughter in the cinema where I was.

But away from Kirk? Well, we don't see a bunch of female admirals and leaders. That's true. But then, this is meant to be the era of Original Trek, right? Give them some fucking credit: we don't see a bunch of fucking beehives and miniskirts, do we? Go back and watch the original series again, sometime. Compare what you see in the background and in the non-Enterprise character groups with what you see in Abrams film. If you truly don't think Abrams cleaned up the 60s-era sexism pretty drastically, I think you may be wearing the wrong glasses.

So: Abrams tidied up where he could, but where Kirk was the focus (and for fuck's sake, when wasn't he, back in the day?) he acknowledged the sexism of the original. But he also did his level best to turn it into a joke, to make fun of that aspect of the series, and of Kirk's character.

To my mind, that works a shitload better than any po-faced political retconning. Playing Kirk's misogyny for yuks (in all of two scenes) makes viewers aware of that misogyny in a way that the original series never did. On top of that, it serves to make fun of the underlying attitude. It highlights this as a weakness in Kirk's character, not a strength.

No. It isn't a perfect solution. But operating under the constraints laid down by finance and fandom, it's a pretty good compromise.

Bottom line? If you don't like this element of the remake, I think that's gotta be just your tough shit. They weren't remaking Counsellor-Trek. They weren't remaking Janeway-Trek. They weren't remaking Sisko-Trek. They were remaking the original goddam Star Trek series, and the original series had some highly visible political incorrectnesses. And if you truly think that the fans of the Star Trek shows and movies would have been happier with a retrospectively corrected Star Trek universe, then I submit you probably don't know nearly as much about fandom as you imagine.

The movie was fun. If you really wanted more, you'll have to wait until they reboot Patrick Stewart.


  1. I simply MUST see this film.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I pressed submit too soon.
    And now I have forgotten the rest of the spiel I had in my mind.
    Anyway I was agreeing with you in a roundabout way.
    Nothing would have satisfied all of the old fans. Satisfying some would have annoyed others.

  4. I think you argument is logical and reasonable.

    I think they could have dropped the bikini scene with no loss to the story or character development but in terms of 'ruining the movie' not so much.

    Can I just say for me the standout performances are what made the movie. The story had plot holes you could drive a starship through but I didn't mind because the actors playing those roles played them so goddamn well.

    In particular for the amount of screen time big thumbs up to Karl Urban's Bones. The man is brilliant in McCoys role. Pitch perfect, without being a simple copy. My biggest regret is that with this series being movies they will have to focus on Kirk/Spock who are also magnificent but it means we don't get to see Bones, Scotty focused stories like we did in the TV series.