Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

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Copper Bezel

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Star Trek has always had politics, but the difference between the writers of various iterations is the level of subtlety with which they weave it into their stories.
That's a very apt and subtle choice of phrasing that carefully avoids propping up Star Trek as a whole as exemplary at subtlety. X ] I don't think subtlety per se is actually what makes it fly or not, though. Or if it is, it's subtlety of craft, not subtlety of message. TOS had some very good and unsubtle episodes and TNG had some very milktoast veiled commentary that managed to ring false both to the real world and to the fiction. And Star Trek is okay with being didactic, that's a quality of the series that we're all aware of and that a lot of its stronger merits depend on. But like, does the story actually back up the message they're trying to present, does the show handle the balance between representing real-life analogues while being true to the situation actually presented in the narrative, does it handle serious subjects respectfully, is there an appreciation of complexity, etc., all that makes the difference. It's a matter of insight and of craft. That's different from the kind of subtlety that says you could have missed that a thematic element was there, more that it does right by the story enough that you could pretend it didn't have that resonance and it still more or less works.

I hope I'm not spoiling anything to say that SNW has touched on politically topical themes once or twice thus far but I think they've been very carefully handled to respect both the real groups of people and the fictional characters in their presentation.
 

Kalidor

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It all comes down to the difference between commentary and preaching. For the most part Star Trek has always been progressive but that wasn't its identity. There were definitely instances where it was a very narrow focus on certain social issues - but they were always done from a point of view that caused the viewer to think about the various viewpoints and come to their own conclusions about how it compared to what society is now and what it could one day become.

Some of the newer stuff removed that element of objectivity and made it be wholly subjective about people in the 24th-31st centuries mimicking the same social problems that should have been overcome long ago. That's why allegories are a thing and they lost the target. It was no longer about how humans overcame the adversities that we face today and only got to experience through parallels from encounters with people who have yet to reach that level - it was about how everything became about showing viewers why they're all racist/phobes or something. Instead of a nuanced story it could sometimes used as a cudgel.

In truth, Disco and Picard were no where near as extreme as certain groups make it out to be. The media fawning over certain things did more for that. Where those two shows fell short wasn't the overly progressive tones or preaching (it really wasn't that egregious), it's just that it wasn't ever backed up by compelling storytelling. In the end, it was "ideas" that became a sloppy mess.

But at its core, Gene had the right idea and that philosophy was upheld througout most of Star Trek. It was never "about" diversity. Diversity was just a baked in concept to show us a time when it didn't matter. No one ever dwelled on how black Uhura was or how Asian Sulu was - they simply existed. They were there to tell and experience the same stories as anyone else. Humanity had progressed beyond caring what race or gender someone was. They were just there and got to be involved in ways no different from anyone else.

Yeah, there were certainly episodes that dealt with racism, war, or discrimination - but those were just a few of many different types of stories.

It carried through TNG and beyond. No one in canon actually said "It's nice to see a black engineer" or "It's an honor to serve under a woman captain". They were just there, as it should be.

And in the end, if people stop listening to external media for a minute, they'll see that it's no different in Discovery or Picard. Out of all the shitty episodes you ever saw of Disco, not a single time did anyone comment on Burnham being black, or Culber and Stamments being "gay". It was never hyperfocused on that - they were just part of the normal world that everyone else was. That's why the "STar TreK is WokE nOW" people don't carry a lot of weight since, despite all its flaws, Discovery was never *about* the races or orientations of the characters. The closest it ever truly got to pandering was the pointless stuff surrounding Adira and Gray - and that stuck out like a sore thumb to almost everybody.

It's a real shame Disco and Picard were handled so badly with the story telling and plot pacing. It really had the potential to be good but that got pissed away at every opportunity. The reason people love SNW is because it actually *is* compelling. It tells interesting stories that put characters in interesting situations. It gives life to the characters through these stories. That's why it's better. There will always be people who will shit on SNW because it has women in it, but it's a dual edge sword because there will always be people defending Disco likes it's the most enlightened and compelling Star Trek ever made solely because it has black people and gay people in it.

In either case, I'll listen to as much as I can stomach of their biased and pre-formed opinions. But I won't take it at face value and will judge the shows on the merit they deserve.
 

The Doctor Who

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Dis and Picard are more political intrigue than social reflection. More about the drama of the plot than the meaning of it. Which isn't a bad way to write TV, but doesn't make a great Trek in traditional terms.

It probably worked better with Picard because he was always the Diplomat Captain and clandestine politics are his wheelhouse.

...

And now I'm wanting to categorize the Trek captains. Kirk, the Enlightened Soldier. Picard, the Diplomat. Sisko, the Paladin of Justice. Janeway, the... Impulsive Survivalist. Archer, the... Amorphous... Punch Sponge...?

Modern Trek gives us Lorka, the Deceiver. And Pike, the Compassionate Commander.

Not sure who's in command of the Discovery these days, so I can't comment on that.
 

Copper Bezel

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It was Saru, and it's now Burnham. I wouldn't know how to sum them up - Saru's command style seemed to be very measured as well as empathetic, but at times not decisive enough, like an overly put upon mom who just wants the kids to try and behave. Burnham's biggest problem before S4 seemed to be loner tendencies, which feels like the TV protagonist equivalent of saying your weakness is that sometimes you're too detail oriented actually, and she seemed to have more or less solved it by S4, but it's possible that I still haven't fully got over my frustration with her character's Mary Sue aspects in past seasons (including S3, where some of the packaging had been improved but she was still the solution to every problem) and that I'm missing the more characteristic aspects of her command. I think possibly what she brings to the table is her conviction - once she sets herself a course, she's going to smile through the pain and make it happen. A bit like the action hero version of Picard from the movies.

There will always be people who will shit on SNW because it has women in it, but it's a dual edge sword because there will always be people defending Disco likes it's the most enlightened and compelling Star Trek ever made solely because it has black people and gay people in it.
Yeah, some people are excessive in their genuflection, and some people are excessive in their blatant reactionary racism etc. Fine people on both sides I'm sure. This isn't a Star Trek thing, though, it's a nerd culture thing, it's exactly the same in Star Wars and superheroes and everything else. I don't know if it's even particularly enlightening to talk about it specifically in the context of Trek. Like you said, it's not really a factor in the writing. (I feel like we're a decade or two out from media that feels the need to explain what gay people are as a plot point, but perhaps that's optimistic.) Disco went hard on the Diversity Space Method, and that's a political choice in itself, but I really do feel very strongly that anyone who's tired of the media shoving black and gay people down their throats, like they're supposed to accept that those people exist or something, really can die mad about it. I'm also pretty sympathetic to people who want to cheerlead for shows like that when those people are the opposition.

In terms of actual political themes in the writing as opposed to casting, I know part of your point is that Disco and Picard are actually not wildly different from other Trek shows in how they handle political elements, which I don't disagree with. I do think that it's easy to downplay how pointed political commentary was in work from previous decades, simply because those things can't be surprising after the first time and can't be immediate when the present they openly reference isn't this one outside our windows. I do think TOS is unambiguously "preachy" in those cases where the Enterprise encounters a planet with a 20th century social problem and solves it, followed by a speech from Kirk about the moral of the story, and I don't see that as inherently a weakness. (Because I can't dismiss it as a planet of hats with a lesson of the week without acknowledging that the first episode of SNW was deliberately and exactly another one of those episodes, and also a damn fine hour of television.) But I think we might all be reaching at naming the same thing, whatever it is in the writing perspective that allows these things to ring true instead of inducing cringe headaches. It was also pretty preachy and contrived that time explained being gay by having a trans alien decide to be straight for Riker, and there are reasons that's not remembered so fondly.

Whether or not the Federation and future humanity is presented as evolved past our present social bugbears is a very specific issue within that larger space. I think getting Picard S1 just after Discovery had been doing Into Darkness things with a Federation that might be slightly evil all felt like a very big shift in the stories Trek was trying to tell. After Discovery bipped into the future to find an unambiguously good Federation and Picard S2 was just whales, it seems a lot more like those two shows happened to be trying very hard to tell stories that the setting was not built to tell and damaging both the story and the message in the process. And for all the many issues of Disco S4's everyone's-in-therapy plot thread, it did illustrate for me that optimistic stories in better futures don't have to ignore real-world problems, and they can actually model very positive responses to them.

I have had reservations about the "evolved sensibility" concept, but I think they all have to do with TNG. Sometimes TNG really lacked empathy and could be a bit self-righteous, and I think it ran into the issue of being so embedded in a fiction where all the real-world problems have been solved that it couldn't really say much constructive about how to solve them. As long as SNW can stick to a more TOS model as it's been doing, I think it can be a good thing.
 

The Doctor Who

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TNG, as much as I loved it, was very much TOS on steroids. Bigger, bolder and more ready to shove its idealogical phallus down your throat.
 

G.B.Blackrock

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Star Trek has always had politics, but the difference between the writers of various iterations is the level of subtlety with which they weave it into their stories.

I haven't seen any of SNW yet, but Discovery and Picard have been about as subtle as being hit in the face with a neutron star. They're just a notch below Supergirl's writing team when it comes to lacking nuance. And while I don't even disagree with their politics, at some point it's like "could you guys try to tell a coherent story while you're also piling this other stuff on, please?". Discovery's gotten a lot better with this in S3, while Picard is dumpster fire for so many other reasons, it doesn't even matter what they do going forward.

Based on what I've heard, I am looking forward to SNW, though.
When TOS had aliens that literally used Nazi swastikas, I'm not sure you can say that they were more "subtle" than modern writers.
 
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Cybersnark

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And now I'm wanting to categorize the Trek captains. Kirk, the Enlightened Soldier. Picard, the Diplomat. Sisko, the Paladin of Justice. Janeway, the... Impulsive Survivalist. Archer, the... Amorphous... Punch Sponge...?
Kirk was explicitly described by Roddenberry as a West Point Grad, so yeah, an Officer's Officer. Picard was definitely the Diplomat.

Sisko was the Dad. The first and last things we see him doing in his series involve being a literal father, and that carries over into both his command style; nurturing and disciplinarian by turns, eager to celebrate the personal triumphs of his crew (and fully prepared to commit atrocities to protect them and the world they live in). Even in his spiritual capacity as the Emissary, he treats it as a position of responsibility rather than authority.

Janeway was the Scientist (again literally in canon, though we never saw young blue-shirted Lt. Janeway onscreen), (over)eager to throw herself and her crew into the unknown, and considering their mission of exploration to be just as important as getting home.

Archer strikes me as the Astronaut. A relic of the days of NASA and American patriotism and "The Right Stuff." He may not have been as. . . polished as later captains, but he's exactly the kind of predictable, reliable, uninteresting person you want commanding a space shuttle mission (and getting jerked around by the Suits in Washington San Francisco and saddled with external observers who think they know better than you is also a part of the job).
 

Kalidor

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I really do feel very strongly that anyone who's tired of the media shoving black and gay people down their throats, like they're supposed to accept that those people exist or something, really can die mad about it. I'm also pretty sympathetic to people who want to cheerlead for shows like that when those people are the opposition.
My only objection to that is that people by and large aren't upset about gay and black people being shoved down their throats - just the blatant disingenous nature of it being performative and fake. You can only have so many "first ever X in Y" celebrations before you realize that none of this is new anymore and people need to start focusing on good story telling once again instead of being dishonest about the representation.

A perfect example of this is the nonsense surrounding Reva in Obi Wan. Before the show ever even aired they were already pushing the narrative to "expect the racist backlash" where, up until that point, there was none. So of course anyone who, after they've seen it, calls out the character for being bland and the acting not really being that good, it's going to fall on intentionally deaf ears because anything that isn't positive going forward is "racism"

Couple that with the thing I mentioned about always claiming to be an unheard of pioneering effort when it's not, this is a quote taken directly from Moses Ingram herself:

"Obi-Wan is going to bring the most diversity I think we’ve ever seen in the galaxy before,” Ingram told The Independent. “To me, it’s long overdue. If you’ve got talking droids and aliens, but no people of colour, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s 2022, you know. So we’re just at the beginning of that change. But I think to start that change is better than never having started it.”

I mean... really...? None?

It's stuff like that the general audience is tired of because it happens EVERY time. Couple that with the fact that out of the gate her entire premise is based on being a space Nazi, I'm not sure how that really plays into "representation" anyway. [Note: I don't care about that because it's a fictional character in a fictional world, but some people get really upset about fiction sometimes]

As I said above, there will always be a small segment of vocal people who will love it or hate it no matter what - but I think the general audience can see through the bullshit on either side.
 

TM2-Megatron

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When TOS had aliens that literally used Nazi swastikas, I'm not sure you can say that they were more "subtle" than modern writers.

Can you show me where I explicitly mentioned TOS?

Anyway, as Kal said, it's often just the difference between commentary and preaching. If I feel something is demanding I feel a certain way... even if it's the way I already feel... I'm going to find it inherently off-putting because of the deep-down contrary part of me that hates being told what to do. It's more interesting watching a story that intelligently examines an issue, even if the "right" and "wrong" viewpoints are already a foregone conclusion in the mind of the writer. It's also a lot more likely to actually change minds (which I can only assume is at least one goal of some of these writers) than just brow beating them over and over again.
 
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Kalidor

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TOS has always been somewhat "take it or leave it". One advantage TOS and TNG has over say, Disco or Picard, is that when people reflect back on what they loved, they can mentally omit the shitty episodes and only recall and cheris the episodes that truly left a mark on them.

In 2020 upon rewatching ALL Star Trek ever made for TV or movies, I came to the conclusion that there were more bad episodes in TOS than good ones. People remember iconic episodes like Balance of Power and Amok Time and those episodes were indeed important. But TOS was only really *good* throughout season 2 and certainly not season 3 which was downright terrible.

TNG had more good episodes than bad ones, but there were definitely some bad ones. That's why I've always had low hopes for Disco or Picard ever being memorable. In 4 seasons of Disco and 2 of Picard, I can't recall a single episode that truly stood out as being iconic and could easily withstand the test of time. They're all bark with little substance.

This probably strays away from the point you were making about TOS and subtle allegories vs blatant propaganda, but I thought it was worth noting that nobody holds the Nazi episode or the "Yangs vs the Comes" episode in any particularly high regard.
 

The Doctor Who

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My only objection to that is that people by and large aren't upset about gay and black people being shoved down their throats - just the blatant disingenous nature of it being performative and fake.
Just want to note that very few bigots actually realize they're bigots. They usually make arguments that don't directly state their prejudices and frequently sound perfectly rational, as long as no larger context is considered. That's how so many get away with it.

Like, obviously I can't comment on specific individuals you know or are referring to, but your argument does seem a little... Naive? Implying that only people who directly complain about the minority involved are working from bigoted perspectives.

Like, dog whistles are a thing.
 

Kalidor

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Oh I get what you're saying - there certainly are bigots. But I think that number is overinflated due to the idea that "if you don't like it it must be because you're racist"

Maybe I am being naive. I just don't believe that because someone says "FFS can we just focus on good stories, cast whoever you want" means they're bigoted.

And maybe I'm speaking from my own experiences. It doesn't resonate with me because I just want to be engaged with the storytelling. Like, it didn't even occur to me to think about 80% of the cast in "The Man Who Fell To Earth" as being black. I'm just totally engaged with the story and got surprised when not that many people are talking about it. Then you go down that rabbit hole and find a few shitty comments. Actually, that should get its own thread anyway because who the hell *isn't* watching that show and why? But I hope you get what I'm saying.

(It mostly came up in Doctor Strange when Mordo showed up and I was like "Hey! It's Faraday!" and people were like.. who?)
 

TM2-Megatron

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TNG had more good episodes than bad ones, but there were definitely some bad ones. That's why I've always had low hopes for Disco or Picard ever being memorable. In 4 seasons of Disco and 2 of Picard, I can't recall a single episode that truly stood out as being iconic and could easily withstand the test of time. They're all bark with little substance.

In that regard, unfortunately, even the later "Prime" Trek kind of falls in closer to Discovery territory. While Voyager and Enterprise both featured episodes ranging from abysmal to excellent, I can think of none even among their best that are likely be remembered as "iconic" television moments in the way certain episodes of DS9, TNG and TOS will almost certainly be.

As far as social commentary and holding up a mirror to our world goes, personally I think DS9 still takes the prize, even these many years later, for 'Far Beyond the Stars'. DS9 had a lot of things to say, and it almost never failed to do so intelligently. TNG's probably better for the "idealized Trek philosophy" as long as you aren't interested in the mechanics of how it all works, and most of Picard's speeches aren't to be missed (except everything involving ST: Picard), but generally a good DS9 episode can resonate with me emotionally more than TNG.
 

G.B.Blackrock

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Not to criticize love for "Far Beyond the Stars" (one of the best DS9 episodes, yes) but it was both preachy and non-subtle. Neither prevented it from being excellent, but I simply don't buy an argument that says it wasn't preachy or was being subtle about what it was saying.
 

Kalidor

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It was nowhere near subtle. But it was still a look into a different time and tackled a problem in a way that stands the test of time. Not "I saw on the news today ICE likes to hunt Mexicans, let's put that in there!"
 

G.B.Blackrock

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It was nowhere near subtle. But it was still a look into a different time and tackled a problem in a way that stands the test of time. Not "I saw on the news today ICE likes to hunt Mexicans, let's put that in there!"
The thing is, "stands the test of time" really isn't something I think one can say until something has... or hasn't... done so.

I have no objection to people liking things I dislike (or perhaps in this case, vice-versa), but I strongly object to this idea that there are objective things that make things worse when every example thus far cited is very much in the eye of the beholder.
 

TM2-Megatron

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Not to criticize love for "Far Beyond the Stars" (one of the best DS9 episodes, yes) but it was both preachy and non-subtle. Neither prevented it from being excellent, but I simply don't buy an argument that says it wasn't preachy or was being subtle about what it was saying.

I didn't cite it as an example of that. But in the time period the majority of the episode takes place in, the world was a much less subtle place in that regard, so it doesn't come across as especially hamfisted.

What it did do a much better job at than more modern Star Trek's idea of commentary is actually putting the audience in the shoes of the subject of racism/persecution. It made you feel the helplessness, the total lack of power. More hackish modern writers tend to just throw something up on the screen with some accompanying dialogue or shallow story that's supposed to tell the audience how wrong it is. It doesn't make you feel anything.
 

Kalidor

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Well I know as someone who watched it live I thought Far Beyond the Stars resonated with me then as much as it does now. I ask people.. I beg people.. to please tell me an episode of Discovery that hit home and made them think. Something they'll carry with them for years to come. It's *been* years that the show has been on so there should at least be a few... but all I ever get is deflection. They cite the concept of the show "It has people that aren't white and straight in it" which is all fine and good - but where does it resonate? No one can (or refuses to) tell me that. I want to know.

SNW has done more in 4 episodes than Disco and Picard has done with years to work with.

There's one episode of Discovery I remember the most about - it was an early season 2 episode. But even then I can't tell you any dramatic impact it had one me aside from "I wish they did more stories like this."
 

G.B.Blackrock

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One issue I have with this discussion is that some of it is apples and oranges. I prefer 80s/90s Trek (and SNW) over Discovery/Picard (both of which I enjoy) because I greatly prefer the episodic storytelling in those things over the season-long arcs of Disco/Picard. That's not a "bad writing" issue (IMHO), but very much that each self-contained episode is, being self-contained, better suited to stories that "resonate" (to use your language). I prefer old-school comics over modern "decompressed" storytelling for much the same reason.
 

MrBlud

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As far as Voyager goes, “Drone” , “Living Witness” and “Shattered” are episodes I’ve rewatched repeatedly.

“Living Witness” and “Shattered” being noteworthy examples of episodes ONLY Voyager could really do.
 
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