September 26, 2010

Star Trek vs. Star Wars

On Facebook someone asked people which they preferred: Star Trek or Star Wars? My response: Only a tribble-hating Klingon would say Star Wars!

I then posted the following on my Facebook wall:Captain Kirk or Han Solo? Mr. Spock or Yoda? Enterprise or Millennium Falcon? Darth Vader or Khan? Imperial stormtroopers or Klingons? Data or R2-D2? Princess Leia in a metal bikini or Vina the green Orion slave girl? Wesley Crusher or Jar-Jar Binks? Chewbacca or a tribble? You be the judge.

This led to the following discussion with Michael Cooke:Well, the problem with Star Trek for me is the sexism and heterosexism of the show (I can't forgive Next Generation for having Data explore sexuality and, contrary to character--oblivious to the possibility of same sex sexuality), and the Star Trek fans that really make me regret finding any pleasure in the programming at all.

In my high school experience one unpopular Trek fan was literally driven to tears with the taunt of "Spock is Gay!"--I wonder if she slashed her wrists when George Takei came out?

Star Wars at least has its classic first movie, a truly great movie. Star Trek has had a great many movies, not one coming close to 'great'.
True, the original Trek did have a lot of race and gender problems. But that was a function of the era, not the show.

Let's recall that there were four series (five if you count the cartoons) and a bunch of movies after the original series. Collectively they determined the nature of the Trek universe. And that universe is no better or worse than any typical fantasy universe.

I don't recall any great moments of racial or sexual politics in the Star Wars mythology. And the point of this posting was to compare the two universes. How do you figure Star Wars is better than Star Trek in this regard, Mike?

Data's brief foray into sex was kind of silly. That happened during TNG's first season, when a lot of silly things occurred.Rob, you could as easily suggest Amos and Andy aren't racist, but a product of their time. You'd be right, but the reality that they are racist in a modern context would stop you from announcing your fandom or arguing for it.

That said, I find the Star Wars universe, with its fascism, politics and poor people suffering--it's got a better claim to realism than Trek's utopian vision, in my opinion.
I didn't say the original Trek wasn't racist. Like every other show of that era, it was.

What I said was that the subsequent series and movies addressed the problems. They made Trek 1) no worse than the typical fantasy universe and 2) better than Star Wars in that regard.

True, Star Wars wins on political realism. But Star Trek wins on cultural and biological realism. Every alien race and world in Star Wars is constructed of cardboard. They may look alien, but they have no substance whatsoever.

That's why Star Trek counts as science fiction (barely) while Star Wars is better classified as space opera.

Some better than none

At least the original Star Trek had minorities in it. That's a lot more than the original Star Wars could say for itself, a decade later. "A long time ago, in a pure-white galaxy far away...."

When you say Star Wars has more political realism, you're basically dodging my point, Mike. Let's try again: How do you figure Star Wars is better than Star Trek in terms of racial or sexual issues?

Incidentally, I've criticized Trek at length in postings such as these:

The Indian-Star Trek Connection
Star Trek Voyager:  Chakotay

So try to avoid your usual tactic of assuming you know what I believe. Okay?

If you want to get anal about science fiction, it's a shame my father died. His stance was that unless the piece of writing was on point scientifically in every way and the speculative element perfectly plausible and useful to science as something to inquire about--the work should never be called science fiction! It must be called "fantasy"!

Really the character Data pissed me off royally in terms of 'new Trek'. No artificial intelligence interested in sexuality would be capable of ignoring homosexuality, yet Trek kept it's tradition of projecting into the future the prejudices of today.

The bottom line of course is quality, and really it's perfectly possible to create good stories for either 'universe'. So far the Star Wars cartoon is setting a new standard by being better than the latest few movies. And I have enjoyed the retro ('pre Kirk') Trek show, what I've seen of it.
Star Trek kept its tradition of projecting into the future the prejudices of today...exactly as Star Wars did.

I did call them fantasy universes, not SF universes...right?

I haven't seen the new Star Wars cartoon, so it may be doing great things. Some Star Trek novels are doing great things in terms of adding political and scientific depth to the ST universe.

My TiVo has recorded all the new shows on network TV. I don't think I've seen any gay characters yet. In 2010, homosexuality is still the love that dare not speak its name.

Trek writers = morons?Actually the very latest Trek show (in development?) is supposed to feature a gay character or a gay couple, or such is the gossip I've heard.

I now have no TV and only enjoy what is shown online.

The science fiction argument is my father's, it's all fantasy to me, I don't distinguish. I figure if you're going to use science you should get the science right--but science is not important the way plot and characterization are important.

It actually takes effort to offend me. If the folks writing Next Generation simply thought it through, the character of Data could have developed sexual feelings like we do--not in his control. But NO, they have to have Data not know and be curious--which makes them BIGOTS to have Data never consider homosexuality--because the character most naturally would at least consider it without an existing sexuality.

Star Wars features characters comfortable in their skin and is a war story--in war what counts is if you can fire your gun straight, not who you sleep with. So the heterosexist omission is inoffensive. As for sexism, Princess Leia is far more liberated than Uhura.
Data didn't spring out of thin air, even in his fictional universe. A heterosexual scientist presumably created and programmed him. One could speculate that the scientist incorporated his sexual bias into the programming.

Star Wars is a war every aspect of it that isn't political or military is one-dimensional cardboard. Didn't I say that already?

Captain Janeway, Major Kira, T'Pol, and Dr. Crusher are among the female Trek characters who are deeper than Princess Leia.They have more time devoted to them as well, Star Wars was never a TV show.

That's no excuse, the show demonstrated that sexuality was new to Data, as such they put themselves between a rock and hard place. They could have Data discover sexuality has been programmed into him and there would have been no harm, no foul. But what they did was put a character in a place where homosexuality is an inevitable question--and not raise that question. Not cool, and I know the writing is of such a caliber the writers put it in and a producer removed it! No other way unless you want to tell me TNG was written by morons.
Given the uneven quality of TNG, a lot of episodes probably were written by morons. <g> I suspect you or I could've done better.

But the real problem was the producers. Here, read about LGBT in Star Trek:

LGBT in Star Trek
Homosexuality in Star Trek

Anyway, you're putting a lot of emphasis on Data's one sexual encounter. It was a few minutes out of 178 hours in one series out of six. I'm judging the whole when I say Star Trek is better than Star Wars overall.

For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.


Anonymous said...

Okay, let's have fun with this:

1) "Spock's gay! LOL" Actually, ponn farr demands bisexuality. What are you going to do? But Star Trek coined "slash" fiction. As in Kirk slash Spock. Has since gone on to include Anakin slash Obi-Wan, Sam slash Dean, Aragorn slash Legolas, etc.

2) Great moments of racial and sexual politics in the Star Wars mythology? Err, slave girl kills her master with the very chain he used to enslave her? The general agreement is that black and white team up against blue and green in the Star Wars universe.

3) "Biological realism"? Yeah, that's why all the aliens look human.

4) Seriously, neither strike me as science fiction in the traditional sense. Even when V'ger drops random physics terms that don't make sense, no, just no.

Burt said...

I disagree Anonymous.

If Star Trek was created just to appease your individual taste and limited creative thought processes, you hit the nail on the head.

Technically speaking though, Gene Roddenberrys' concept of a shootout at the OK Corral in space mixed with a historic "interracial kiss" on primetime TV and a multiracial casts, far exceeds the Star Wars saga and the animated alien characters children love with Lucasfilms.

Forget all the homophobic rant and trying to define Vulcan sexuality, or lack thereof, even the new Star Trek film clearly represents Spocks attraction to earth women, and I was not impressed with the new release altogether. Combine that with the scene in, "In Search of Spock", the Vulcan experiences ponn farr with a female Vulcan. Perhaps it is you that is aroused by the Chief Science Officer?

Star Wars lost me after the aliens became to "silly" and cartoonish, but I did like the redux productions, the villians and the storyline.

Star Trek actually has an episode from the 1960s that involves natives and I saw a photo of Leonard Nimoy (Spock) dressed as a native somewhere.

Mike Cooke said...

Well, in a way this is akin to arguing if Superman or Hulk would win a fight. Stupid argument.

But if you're interested in comparing argument styles, it's instructive how desperate a person can be to 'prove' even a silly position.

I harp on Data because that once the show had no out - they had to raise homosexuality to just make sense! And for me, it is internal logic that is the basis for my heartfelt nit picking of TV and movies.

Anonymous said...

I'm just saying. Biological realism isn't "all sapient species are human", any more than it is "all animals are dogs" in cartoons. There was also the unfortunate implications of the Vulcan veganopia. Not so bad, until you're familiar with the reality behind veganism: See Watson, Paul. Now, an interesting episode would've had a debate in one of those time travel episodes over whether the devil you know is really better than the one you don't. Finally, the aliens were all steroetypes; the Vulcans were always logical, the Klingons (as of TNG) were all warriors, and TNG went farther: The Ferengi are all corrupt executives, the Borg are all an Instrumentality, etc.

Perhaps it's because I'm younger; I know that the Kirk/Uhura kiss was a big deal, but it doesn't seem like one now. And for my generation, well, we have Riker and the androgynous aliens. Intended to be an Aesop about same-sex sexuality, and Frakes himself wanted to be paired with an alien played by a man for this episode, but instead it looks like a bunch of psycho lesbians.

I have noticed that Star Trek fans inevitably start these Trek vs. Wars debates. And God forbid you like both. Why, next, you might like both anime in Japanese and dubs by 4kids!

Rob said...

"Biological realism" means some Star Trek species have physical traits that go beyond mere appearances, Anonymous. For instance, Vulcans, the Borg, Trills, the Gorn, the Horta, Odo, and the creatures of BEM's world. And Trek tried to explain why there were so many humanoid races and why the chief races could interbreed.

That may not be much, but it's more than Star Wars gave us. If its aliens offered anything except strange appearances, I must've missed it.

I don't consider freeing yourself from slavery an example of racial or sexual politics. Not unless you explicitly make the point that the slave system is racist or sexist.

I don't think there's ever been a case of same-sex pon farr in the canon, so I don't know what your "bisexuality" refers to.

You don't seem any more desperate than usual to prove yourself, Mike. Although you did devote an inordinate amount of time to Data's brief foray into sexuality, as I said.

I just asked the questions, Anonymous. I wouldn't have debated the issue except Mike started picking on Star Trek. Then I took the time to correct his false or misleading statements.