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Trying to Stay on Trek
This is a difficult essay for me to write. As a veteran fanboy, I never like to say anything harsh about about the Star Trek franchise.

So I want to be fair. The special effects are great. As to everything else…perhaps the makers of Star Trek: Discovery were just too ambitious in their vision for the show. Not only did they take on a story arc that spanned 14 one-hour episodes (with each episode capable of standing on its own, complete with cliff-hanger), but they also tried to make it work as science fiction and (I must report) overwrought soap opera.

After Season One, I was filled with hope about this new branching of the franchise. In this space I even dared to call it “the best Star Trek ever.” I knew at the time that this was hyperbole. I wanted (too much so, it seems) for the show to succeed, and thereby guarantee a continuing flow of sci-fi for me and my fellow trekkies. I am less hopeful now.

What I saw last year as an edgy new form of “space noir” has degenerated into over-the-top intergalactic melodrama. As with most science fiction, the stakes are the absolute highest they can be: the threatened obliteration of all sentient life in the universe. Somehow, however, that awful possibility plays second fiddle to the leaden family drama between heroine Michael Burnham and the House of Spock. Now, I’m as reverent of sentient life as the next person, but does it really have to involve this level of over-acting and self-absorption?

This high schmaltziness seems to trump everything else in Discovery. The writers (whom I blame for just about everything wrong with Season Two) repeatedly insert characters’ agonized soliloquies about their personal feelings in the middle of universe-in-the-balance action scenes. Each time it happens, I want to reach for my phaser — and it wouldn’t be set to “stun,” either.

Worse, the goofy/cool science concepts are gone. They are replaced by haphazard tech fixes and look-what-I-just-made gizmos that conveniently advance the plot but do nothing to satisfy my need for nifty scientific notions that actually make sense as part of the story. This failing thus undermines my prime rationale for watching science fiction in the first place. Plus, most of the new aliens have been lame this season. That torpedoes my second big rationale — high quality space monsters.

Another complaint: the starship Discovery is not a credible interstellar vehicle. Such ships could arguably afford some extra roominess in the form of the holodecks and extracurricular lounges we’ve seen on some versions of the USS Enterprise. You’d think something like that would be vital in maintaining the crew’s mental health. The Discovery, though, has vast expanses of open space inside it that don’t appear to serve any function other than showing us how big the ship is.

Furthermore, the command structure is a joke. Direct orders from Captain Pike are routinely disobeyed — often multiple times in the same episode. Crew members walk in and out of areas where they do not belong (including admirals’ quarters) just to drop little melodramatic bombs about their personal struggles. Is this any way to run a starship? No — especially if the fate of all sentient life hangs in the balance.

It may be that Discovery’s creators were trying to broaden the appeal of their show. In doing so, however, they have left me stranded on a different timeline with two episodes to go…and hope for a rescue is fading fast. I have been disappointed before by Star Trek reboots. This time, I had hoped that the ambition of the show and the promise of its first season might portend something of the caliber of Game of Thrones. That show took on a lot of the same challenges as Discovery, with dragons and pure fantasy taking the place of nifty science. Thrones succeeded, perhaps, by having one central writer at the helm and a bunch of pre-existing books that had worked out the tricky plotting and character development.

Maybe Episodes 13 and 14 will save me. I have not abandoned all hope. I’m guessing that sentient life will end up surviving, but my chief concern now is that an away team of writers will find my lost timeline and rescue me at last.

Short of that, I will have to wait for next year for help to arrive — maybe in the form of some new storytellers.
Homo Mean and Stupid
I was channel-surfing yesterday and came across Remember the Titans, a movie about racism and high school football. Denzel Washington plays the tough-love head coach who fights racism while building a winning team.

I like the movie — it’s a serious topic and the movie has a serious take on it — but I do have a quarrel with it. It’s overly harsh in its depictions of lowlife racists. They are all sneering, thin-lipped white people filled with molten hatred toward anyone with a non-pasty complexion. Mean and stupid seem to ooze from every pore, and every temple throbs with hate-fueled rage. It’s the kind of unfortunate stereotype we have come to associate with a history of forced inbreeding and God-fearing lovelessness.

This kind of “othering” is wrong. If we are to move on from racism and the internal divisions plaguing this country, we will have to bring along the lowlife racists on our march into a kinder, gentler future. After all, they are people, too. For the most part.

It should be noted that I speak here as a white guy whose own pastiness borders on the translucent. I am human, too…for the most part. I consider myself a proud homo sapiens, but I’ve got my share of Neanderthal DNA and maybe even a little homo erectus in there as well. After all, we’re all Africans here on planet Earth, even if some of us have evolved a Gollumish skin more suitable to a subterranean lifestyle.

People who are otherwise complected are still my brothers and sisters, and so are the lowlife racists. We all have common ancestors, and those connections are a lot more recent than we might think. So I think we should really try to stick together. — try to connect with our inner homo habilis and co-habitate as well as we can. That’s what Denzel’s Titans ended up doing, and everybody went home happy.

Except, that is, for a few of the lowlife racists. The ones for whom mean and stupid is a way of life…especially the mean part. In Titans, they just left the story, never to be seen again. I’m not sure what we’re going to do with them here in the real world. They are fellow homo sapiens, after all...part of the human family.

But I’m not inviting them to Thanksgiving.
It's not the heat
It's the humanity
Pushing and shoving and
Shouting profanity
Humans all hurtling
Toward a calamity
Maybe next time I'll
Come back as a manatee
Assuming, of course
We still have a planetee
Pump Not
May I have everyone’s attention, please? Thank you. I have a small request to make of worldwide human culture.

It’s about the fist pump. I’d like to see it go away completely.

Okay, I know that this gesture has been widely used as a method of celebrating all kinds of victories, large and small. Furthermore, it has come to be seen as an amusing display of good, clean competitive spirit. For that reason, I certainly don’t want to rain on anybody’s parade. Sometimes, however, as a service to the public good, I allow myself to become a light drizzle — on your victory march if necessary.

I know these things can take time, so let’s make sure all 8 billion of you know exactly what my request covers. First, it’s not the fist bump. I have no problem with the bumping of fists with another as a means of expressing mutual satisfaction. And I’m not talking about a fist that is simply raised in the air as a sign of victory or other transcendence. Same with a fist held up and waggled in an amusing fashion or a fist thrown as an exaggerated air-punch (a la tiger Woods upon sinking a 40-foot putt). Nor do I have a quarrel with a fist brandished in anger or as a threat. All these usages would be permitted under my ban.

The fist pump I am concerned with involves a very particular pumping action. According to Webster (and me), it is “a celebratory gesture (as by a sports player) in which the fist is raised in front of the body and then quickly and vigorously drawn back.” Webster goes on to report that its first usage in print was in 1981. Other than that, its origins seem to be unknown, but its introduction to broad public awareness might be attributed to Kirk Gibson after his miraculous walk-off homer off Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. As Gibson limped around the bases, he swung his bent right arm again and again with this exaggerated pumping action.

I didn’t like it then, and I still don’t. Apparently, given the widespread usage of the fist pump, the world disagrees. So allow me to make my case for its absolute forbiddance. At the core of my argument — the root, you might say — is the unseemliness of the gesture, especially when used in a repeated fashion. It mimics, to my eye, sexual intercourse. And please, don’t tell me that has never occurred to you. The imagery is obvious: copulation of the most exuberant variety.

Now, I am not a prude. (If you doubt that, I have a large sheaf of documentation here, including photographs, testimonials, and police reports, that you are welcome to look through.) The messaging of fist pumping, however, is unmistakeable. The pumper is saying one of two things: A. what just happened is as good or better than sex, or B. a big “fuck you” to his opponent.

In either case, the gesture is just plain wrong. If you are getting the same feeling out of winning at sports that you get from good sex, then the sex you’ve been having isn’t nearly as good as you think, my friend. And if your gesture is meant as a more demonstrative version of flipping the bird, then you are the most unsportsmanlike of sportsmen.

I hope that I have made myself clear. Fist pumping should never have been accepted as a legitimate form of celebration. It defiles sport and gives sex a bad name. And now that it has metastasized into a global phenomenon, it needs to be removed from our culture like a giant, malignant growth.

I can see by the expressions on your faces that we have unanimous agreement. Thanks for listening and for your prompt attention to this matter.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon