Analysis

Mythos in Star Trek Discovery: The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars

I really enjoyed Star Trek: Discovery‘s opening two-parter, which had its premiere date on CBS and Netflix this week. One of the things that really impressed me was how the story interacted with the pre-existing Star Trek mythos. Discovery didn’t just reference familiar terms, but engaged with the key themes of the franchise, and possibly connected itself to some relatively obscure characters and moments. You can consider this blog post as the Discovery equivalent to Game of Thrones writing that explores Jon Snow’s parentage and what it potentially means for the show, but I’m mainly writing to indulge my geekiness.

Firstly, a brief explanation of how everything in the Star Trek multiverse fits together. The Original Series – Kirk, Spock and McCoy on the Enterprise’s five year mission – was set during the 2260s, and ran for three series. The Animated Series continued this mission, but it’s unclear whether all aspects of TAS are considered canonical. The first six Star Trek films are set between the 2270s and 2290s. The Next Generation – Picard, Worf and Data – begins in the 2360s. The events of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and the four TNG films take place in a 17 year period between the 2360s and 2370s. Enterprise, although produced after TNG, DS9 and VOY, was set a century before Kirk, in the 2150s – in the years immediately before the formation of the United Federation of Planets in 2161.

The Romulan Nero later travels back in time from 2387 to 2233, destroying the USS Kelvin, and establishing the Kelvin-timeline, which is the basis for the trio of films starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock, set in the 2250s and 2260s.

Discovery‘s first episodes take place in 2256, a few years before TOS. The style of Discovery‘s ships appears more similar to the Kelvin-timeline than the TOS ships of the same era, but it’s set in the Prime-timeline.

The novels are not considered canonical, though they are often mined for the most interesting bits, which later make their way into episodes and films. Hikaru Sulu’s first name originates in the 1981 novel The Entropy Effect, and some aspects of Andorian culture used in Enterprise were taken from novels.

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Film & Television Opinion

Semiotics of the Vulcan Hello

Semiotics, in brief, is the study of how we construct meaning. For example the phrase ‘green light’ has a meaning beyond a literal green light – it can be used metaphorically as giving permission to go ahead. Even if you’re not familiar with them, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Lorde song Green Light and the Ting Tings song Traffic Light are not about literal lights.

Ferdinand de Saussure wrote about the relationship between a ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ – the sign and the thing it represents. So a nuclear waste sign is not dangerous itself, but signifies that radioactive material is inside a container, or nearby. Similarly a lit green light is associated with the abstract concept of going, and a red light with the abstract concept of stopping.

Semiotics can be confusing – I’ve studied it at university level and still find a lot of de Saussure and Roland Barthes mind-bending – but it’s a process that almost all of us have a basic understanding of on a subconscious level. We make sense of these signifiers on a daily basis without really thinking about it.

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Film & Television Opinion

Initial (spoiler-free) reaction to Star Trek: Discovery’s two-part pilot

It’s been delayed several times from a planned debut early in 2017, but the first episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are now on Netflix. I’m planning to write another post going into detail on the first two episodes in the next few days, but these are my initial impressions, with very little detail of the contents of the episodes.
  • Michael Burnham – a human woman raised by Vulcans – follows in a tradition of Star Trek characters caught between two cultures. It’s a path previously tred by Spock, Worf, Odo, B’Elana Torres and Seven of Nine. This is a good choice for the sake of drama, as it allows for a conflicted main character, and debates around what it is to be Human. By making Burnham a genetic Human raised in a Vulcan culture, Discovery manages to sidestep the dodgy racial essentialism (for example that Torres’ anger comes from her Klingon side) that often accompanies this trope in Star Trek.
  • There are apparent ‘historical’ contradictions in Discovery. For instance the design of the Shenzou bridge is much darker than on Kirk’s Enterprise, despite them being set in roughly the same era. And there are numerous uses of holograms to communicate over long distances, despite this being introduced as a new technology in Deep Space Nine, set roughly 120 years later. But I wouldn’t want a new show to stick to inferior design and creative choices for the sake of consistency, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and let the writers tell the best possible story they can this time around.

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Analysis, Politics

Sean Spicer at the Emmys: The Use and Misuse of Political Humour

It can feel a bit sour-faced to discuss the ‘purpose’ of humour. The primary purpose of humour is, of course, to make people laugh – to help us relax, bond, and bring enjoyment to a stressful day. But in the political sphere humour has another, arguably more important role – to puncture the pomposity and propaganda of the powerful, and challenge the stories they tell about themselves.

Stephen Colbert’s performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner is a near-perfect example of this. In character as ‘Stephen Colbert’ (a right-wing not particularly good television propagandist) he challenged the contradictions and hypocrisies of the Bush administration, right in the heart of Washington with the world watching. The performance is hilariously funny, but also serves a useful social purpose in challenging the Bush administration’s presentation of themselves as strong and wise protectors of the American people. Really ruthless political satire of this sort draws drawing attention to the emperor’s nudity, reframing him from a strong, dynamic leader into a small, pitiful creature worthy of contempt.

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Egotism

IWSG: The Problem of Consistency

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. It cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge 2016

One of the biggest problems I have as a writer is writing steadily and consistently. Looking back through my blog there is plentiful evidence of this – I have often gone months without posting, and my posts seem to cluster around a few weeks of activity at a time.

Most writers will have felt the instinct to wait for inspiration to strike, to write when the ideas are flowing most readily. But sometimes ideas have to be wrung forcefully from our minds, so that there is at least a terrible first draft when inspiration does strike – a rough skeleton that a better version can be superimposed on top of.

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Opinion

Feminist Values in the Life and Fiction of Joss Whedon

Over the weekend Joss Whedon’s ex-wife Kai Cole wrote an article on The Wrap saying that Whedon had “multiple affairs” during their marriage, including with women he had authority over on shows he ran. Obviously, social media’s reaction to Whedon has not been gentle.

When I first saw Chinatown I wasn’t aware of Roman Polanski’s crimes, and so I was (and to an extent still am) able to think of it separately from it’s director. Maybe it’s because I formed an opinion on the art before I knew about the artist, or because the film is an excellent neo-noir that is incredibly compelling and immersive, but I’m able to keep my opinions of the two separate. Even though Polanski appears on-screen in a significant role, I’m able to draw a line in my mind and consider it as a story in its own right.

When Polanski adapted Robert Harris’ novel The Ghost, his involvement caused controversy throughout production. (Though he’s always directed steadily, this was a fairly big name cast, including Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor, alongside Kim Cattrall and Tom Wilkinson.) I felt the film was a slightly inferior adaptation of the novel, which lost a bit of the tension but added more action. But I also felt a little uneasy about the film’s existence before watching it, and the extent to which McGregor seemed willing to defend Polanski struck me as self-serving. That’s not to say that I totally condemn McGregor’s statements – the fact that Polanski’s victim has forgiven him and wants the conviction dropped complicates the issue. But I doubt I’ll be able to watch another Polanski film without a sense of unease.

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Analysis

Themes of Abuse and Solidarity in Netflix’s Jessica Jones Season One

Trigger Warning – abusive relationships.

The goal with this blogpost is to build on the post I wrote the other day about the importance of themes in fiction. I’ll be exploring the themes and thematic importance of characters a particular work of fiction and their relation to the real world, in this case the first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones is the story of a superpowered private investigator in the superheroic world of the ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ – the world of The Avengers. The scale of the story is smaller, making the tone more grounded and noirish. The first season covers Jessica fighting against her abusive ex-boyfriend Kilgrave.

For the purpose of this analysis I’ll be focusing on the following key themes:

  • Abusive relationships
  • Entitlement and abuse of power
  • Trauma, PTSD and guilt
  • Heroism
  • Female solidarity and empowerment
  • Male allies and ‘nice guys’

and the following key characters:

  • Jessica Jones – a superpowered private investigator
  • Kilgrave – her superpowered, abusive ex-boyfriend
  • Trish Walker – Jessica’s closest friend
  • Jeri Hogarth – Jessica’s lawyer and employer
  • Hope Shlottman – Jessica’s client and a fellow victim of Kilgrave
  • Will Simpson – Trish’s love interest, a cop and an ally to Jessica and Trish
  • Luke Cage – Jessica’s on-off lover and ally
  • Dorothy Walker – Trish’s mother, a TV executive
  • Albert and Louise Thompson – Kilgrave’s parents
  • Malcolm Ducasse – Jessica’s neighbour
  • Dr Wendy Hogarth-Ross – Jeri’s wife
  • Pam the Secretary – Jeri’s secretary and girlfriend
  • Guy in the Jacket
  • Guy at the Bar

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