star trek

The New Star Trek Series: Hermeneutics and Ferengi Trek

Star Trek is back, baby.

CBS announced that a new TV series of Star Trek will premiere in 2017. I simply cannot wait for this. It was personally some of the best news I’ve gotten in a long time. I teared up some.

There’s a lot to say about all of this. And I’ve read a lot of think pieces–some which I’ll try to link to here. But pretty much everything that can be said so far about the topic has been said. So a lot of this post is a synthesis of what I’ve read (if any of my students are reading–I’m trying to cite via hyperlinks, as is the custom for blogs). But I do want to focus on the distribution model for the new series, which is perhaps the most controversial.

What will the new series be about?

The announcement says that it will not be related to the new movie coming out, Star Trek Beyond. What does this mean? It probably won’t feature the new Kirk/Spock/McCoy etc. That’s all I get from that. Some have speculated that it will take place in the Prime timeline (Michael Dorn’s negotiations for a Captain Worf show seem to suggest this is possible). Others have expressed a preference for the Romulan War storyline we didn’t get to see in Enterprise.

This is all wrong and won’t happen.

The 2009 reboot was necessary to clear up the continuity so that future Star Trek could tell new stories without being bound by the extensive history of the Prime timeline. Paramount invested a lot of money in this new storyline. The new series is most definitely going to happen in the new timeline. We should stop calling it the Abramsverse or NuTrek. Fans use those terms to express the fact that they’re upset with the new direction of Star Trek. I’m among them. I’m not a fan with the plot technicalities introduced by transporters that can move people across thousands of lightyears, as shown in the new timeline. But I have to accept it. The new timeline is Star Trek now.

And that’s the way it’s always been.

Next Generation upset fans by screwing up the ideal of the Starfleet captain. Deep Space Nine upset the Rodenberry anti-war focus by telling a serialized war story (that, still true to Trek, was anti-war). Voyager upset TV tropes by portraying a competent woman in command. Enterprise upset fans by reinterpreting continuity and providing a cultural arc for the Vulcans.

Star Trek isn’t static. Star Trek is defined by the culture and the time that is written and produced. It is a response to that culture and time. As my hermeneutics professor, Dr. Strege, would say: Star Trek “forms and is informed by” the community that it exists in. It is always already a cultural artifact.

Star Trek always changes in each iteration. This one will be different. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Accept it. The new series is in the new timeline. Enjoy it. We’re all going boldly where no Trek fans have gone before.

Along with the next generation of fans, who know Trek because of J.J. Abrams. And God bless him for it.

How will people watch the Star Trek series?

They will have to pay 6 bucks a month to CBS to watch it via their streaming service. This I have one philosophical issue with.

As a practical matter, it makes sense. CBS has been trying to get into the future of TV via their own streaming service. I almost signed up for it when I was watching Madam Secretary. I most definitely be signing up now that Star Trek is on it. They got my money. It’s 6 bucks. I can afford it. And I want to watch it. Plus, now they have Supergirl. And I find CBS to have some of the better news programs on network news, from Scott Pelley to CBS This Morning to CBS Sunday Morning. So it’s fine. Whatever. I like CBS. I don’t mind spending some money.

But Star Trek is about a future where money doesn’t exist. Primarily because money leads to greed, and greed is something that humanity needs to grow out of. In Star Trek’s future, we grow out of it. We abandon greed. We become better.

But we’re not there yet. And that’s the philosophical issue.

On the one hand, it’s philosophically contradictory. It’s like Walmart selling Che t-shirts. It’s capitalism promoting socialism. It’s one philosophy supporting another philosophy that seeks to undermine it.

On the other hand, Star Trek has always been paid for. In the past, it’s been via ads. So there’s always been money involved. But there is something that feels especially perverse about asking viewers for 6 bucks to watch Star Trek, rather than viewing ads. Not everyone can afford the extra 6 bucks. I’ve been there. And Star Trek is about our future as humanity. It should be for everyone. It is essentially egalitarian. And now it is not. It’s Ferengi Trek. Quark would be proud of this move by CBS. I am not. I’ll watch, but I have misgivings, and I’m hoping they’ll relent in some way.

As Spock would say, “There are always… possibilities.”

Final Word

I’m excited. I’m happy.

And I think it’s important there will be a new series. Star Trek comments on our culture not only by offering dystopian warnings, but by offering us a positive outlook on the future that we can strive for.

We need this. This is a terrifying time to be alive, sometimes. And it’s going to be nice for once to have a voice in the culture that says we can go into the future… boldly.


The Prime Directive in Linguistics: Problems with Non-Interference

In the new Star Trek film, Star Trek Into Darkness, *SPOILER ALERT* Kirk and Spock debate the Prime Directive, which is the principle of non-interference with people who have not become interstellar space-faring civilizations. In the process of saving a non-Industrialized culture from a volcano, Kirk reveals the Starship Enterprise to the people he is trying to save. As a result, they draw an icon in the dirt that represents the ship, implying that the Enterprise will now become a symbol in their culture–either for good or for ill. The point is: Kirk violated the Prime Directive. Because of this, he is stripped of his command and demoted by Starfleet brass. *END SPOILERS*

I see a principle like the Prime Directive operating in descriptive linguistics. (more…)