Thursday, July 23, 2015

To Boldly Goof

I was thinking that my blog could benefit from a light post, but writing about the Trump campaign seemed too easy. Fortunately, Ted Cruz provided an irresistibly geeky opportunity that ties-in nicely with a topic I have touched on a few times before.

The Republican presidential hopeful/clown car passenger opined in a New York Times interview this week that Star Trek's Captain Kirk would be a Republican. "I think it is quite likely that Kirk is a Republican and Picard is a Democrat." My initial reaction to the MSNBC headline was "Um, because Kirk did not honor the Prime Directive and thus the rule of law?"

Well, no, not exactly. Cruz reasons this is because, "Kirk is working class; Picard is an aristocrat. Kirk is a passionate fighter for justice; Picard is a cerebral philosopher."

I could quote Thomas Frank at length about how conservatives have not only duped many working class Americans into voting against their own economic interests, but counterfeited the working class banner as well, but I won't. Of course, Frank is right; but I want to keep this light.

Senator Cruz prefaced this observation with a little "psychoanalysis." His use of the word prompted me to pop some popcorn before reading any further:
Let me do a little psychoanalysis. If you look at ‘‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’’ it basically split James T. Kirk into two people. Picard was Kirk’s rational side, and William Riker was his passionate side. I prefer a complete captain. To be effective, you need both heart and mind.
The Internet isn't having it. Actual fans were quick to point out that Cruz had forgotten Mr. Spock who represented reason to Kirk's passion. And how could any true Trekker have forgotten Spock? Poser! Both shows bifurcated passion and reason into two separate characters. The only difference is Next Generation flipped who sat in the captain's chair. And, of course, both shows were soap boxes for their liberal creator Gene Roddenberry. Indeed, the Federation is a socialist utopia. Cruz's interpretation was pretty blinkered. Even actor William Shatner nixed the notion. I think Senator Cruz is perhaps confusing Captain Kirk with Shatner's Denny Crane character on "Boston Legal."

This is hardly the stupidest thing that Ted Cruz has ever said. Nor is it an isolated instance of his missing the whole point. When filibustering against Obamacare, Cruz had quoted Dr. Seus' Green Eggs and Ham, a book whose central message advocates trying new things. And Cruz's Kirk comparison pales with his saying that John F. Kennedy would be a Republican today - a widely recycled talking point made by Rush Limbaugh and many other Republican pundits.

Indeed, Ted Cruz is just one example of a larger pattern of reactionaries getting things ass-backwards. Likewise, racist Ted Nugent has compared himself with Civil Rights Movement heroine Rosa Parks
and religious "libertarian" Glenn Beck has claimed that the infamously anti-religious Thomas Paine was a Creationist. As I wrote before, I cannot wait until homophobes try to co-opt Harvey Milk.

Of course, the right's selective attention is nothing new. Consider conservative Christians who do not turn the other cheek, judge not, or give to the poor. My book likewise argues that conservatives scorn everything America is supposed to stand for - liberty, equality, and democracy. I suggest this may explain why they are so quick to question others' patriotism. I also noted other parallels:

Robert Bork’s constitutional “Originalism” is a great deal like religious fundamentalism. Both insist on a “strict literal interpretation” of sacred texts while twisting them into pretzels. Both promote fervor over consistency and group loyalty eclipses any political principle.
Examples are legion, but we are seeing a lot more of them in popular culture - particularly science fiction and fantasy as these geeky genres become increasingly mainstreamed. Consider the coup at the Hugo Awards where conservative activists gamed the vote because they thought these genres had been taken over by "political correctness." They forget that science fiction has been teaching tolerance since at least the 1950s. It has always been a vehicle for critiquing social problems. By taking us to future worlds, it invites us to look at our present one with new eyes - the more objective and less defensive eyes of outsiders. The reactionaries' absurd platform prompted Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin to marvel in disbelief, "I mean, we’re SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY FANS, we love to read about aliens and vampires and elves, are we really going to freak out about Asians and Native Americans?" (emphasis original) Likewise, earlier this year, Men's Rights Activists (MRAs) boycotted Mad Max: Fury Road, because they thought it was "feminist propaganda." Never mind that the film franchise had always critiqued toxic masculinity.

Nor is this the first time that conservatives have misinterpreted Star Trek. Almost a year ago, I blogged in this post about a clueless, homophobic Trekker who objected to a lesbian scene in a Star Trek novel. As I wrote then, "
If you have a problem with any form of tolerance, you are in the wrong fandom." To that, I would add, "You are also in the wrong country."

There are serious issues here. But, for now, I am just going to nosh on popcorn and enjoy the show. I cannot wait to see what comes next. Hopefully, George Takei will make a horrific pun on the topic.