Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Seat Belts Please, We're Imperialists

I've taken the opportunity--while being responsible over the past 10 days for the lives of the various dogs
...and cats...
in two homes with big TVs (while their owners fled to warm climates and broke out in rashes, some of them, no lie, from sudden exposure to the Sun)--to watch massive amounts of the follow-up Star Trek series (TNG, DS9, VOY, and ENT).

I have to take back what I said about my ability to change starship captains. I tried; but it turns out, for me, there can be only one. And that one, of course, is that ham-and-cheese delight, Captain Kirk.

Except for TNG, the later Star Treks are all pretty good, but they're just TV shows, while the original Star Trek, with all its myriad flaws, is right up there with the Aeneid, the tale Virgil made up about the founding of Rome. It catches who we Americans are, for better or worse, on a mythic level.

We are a lot like the ancient Romans--big bullies who built top-notch roads and stuff and held together an empire by marching heavily armed soldiers into town and saying, we come in peace, would you like to buy a Coke?
I bet the Romans were just as surprised as Americans seem to be when the edges began to crumble and bridges to fall.

And basically Kirk is an imperialist like Aeneas, all talk about the Prime Directive respecting native cultures be damned. A hugely likable imperialist! Sort of like Pope John Paul II. That guy was a fascist, but I couldn't help liking his media image. You felt he would truly be sorry as he held your hand and explained you couldn't be a priest because you were [fill in the blank].
Kirk would be the same: Sorry, you just didn't have the right stuff for Starfleet. Had you thought about the Merchant Marine?

There's a lot of complexity to Star Trek's weird appeal, but the thing I actually set out to write about here was the connection (slim) to Ralph Nader. He was one of the heroes on my childhood radar for making the Klingons put seat belts in cars. OK, not Klingons, but close enough.
Which got me thinking that one of the things uniting all 5 of the Star Trek series is none of the starships ever employ seat belts. All these years, every time a ship runs into an asteroid or whatever, everybody goes flying out of their chairs.
In an early episode of Enterprise, the last of the series made, when the ship is about to get blasted, the captain calls out to his crew, "Hold on to something!"

Hold on to something? That's the extent of passenger safety on starships?
Sure, why not? We don't need seat belts! We're the Roman Empire.

Different motivations rule in the real-world perspective: if the crew didn't fling themselves about the bridge, we'd never get to see under Uhura's skirt.

[image of car crash from physics site at Georgia State U]

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