Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Disgust that Star Trek Characters Have When They Travel Back to Our Time

Now just to warn you, this post will go so deeply into the dorkiest reaches of nerdland, that even seasoned geeks may want to take a pass. But for those of you who have watched basically all the trek shows and have a reasonable comfort level with the characters and storylines - maybe you will be sympathetic to this longstanding annoyance of mine.

Have you ever noticed that in the dozens of times when trek characters have been magically transported to other historical eras, they are always utterly delighted and enchanted by the opportunity to spend a little time in history, EXCEPT when they visit "our" time, in which case they are always filled with contempt and disgust?

It's true! Be it a) a time travel episode, b) a holodeck adventure or even c) just being visited by people from other times - Trek characters are guaranteed to have this over-the-top infatuation for whatever era they're in... unless it's the late 20th century. There's no better way to get Captain Picard giddy as a schoolboy than to put him in Napoleonic France, or Robin Hood England, or some such. You with me? You send Picard to Victorian England and before you can blink an eye he's got a pipe, a deerstalker cap and he's excitedly solving mysteries. But you put him in 1990's California and it's all he can do not to spit on everyone he encounters.

The best example of this that I can think of is the Next Generation episode where three 1980's Americans are unfrozen and end up on the enterprise. Picard is entirely uninterested in them (even though history is his greatest interest). Plus, he's quietly disgusted that they froze themselves in the first place (even though they did so, it is revealed, to save their own lives) and he reacts with pure contempt and hostility when they ask to speak with him.

Do you think for a single moment that he would have reacted the same way to, I don't know, someone from the WWII French resistance? I think we all know he'd have been fawning and drooling all over them and inviting them back to his quarters for high tea.

Why does every historical era generate these warm fuzzies and excited curiosity except our own? Here's my theory. I attribute about 60% of the present-day-disgust thing to the sci-fi convention where the futuristic people have to express amazement at how primitive and backward we are. It's just a convention. So when McCoy calls the 20th century doctors barbarians (or something like that) in Star Trek 4, that's really the only point. We're so used to being the advanced society, that aha! Here's how it feels to be the primitive society! It's drama and pathos on the cheap, but that's TV. Now logically, the disgust should apply doubly to even earlier historical eras, but then there'd be no point. You don't see Picard strutting around Elizabethan England saying "Bows and arrows... How primitive!" because there's no bow-and-arrow wielding audience who will thrill to the idea that hey, maybe we ARE primitive?

And it's not all that realistic, because if I was transported back in time 150 years, I wouldn't strut around main street saying "Hmmph! Horses and carriages. What ignorance!" It would be more like "Horses and carriages! Awesome! Can I have a hay ride?"

So that's about 60% - the need to excite us with the concept that weeeeeeee are the primitive people. But then there's that other 40%. The nasty part. And I think maybe I'm going to have a hard time articulating this, but there's some sort of weird moral-agency/anti-capitalism/anti-American thing going on. I'm serious. Like every human society pre 20th century can be forgiven for their vast sins, but "present day" society cannot. We are guilty. We are culpable. It's moronic.

Look, Roddenberry cooked up an interesting premise for the future of humanity - I'll grant him that - but this over the top disdain for capitalism is uncalled for. Can't anyone from the future acknowledge that just maybe capitalism was a powerful engine of progress? Here's a few bits of dialogue from the episode where the evil 20th century businessman is unfrozen on the Enterprise:

   These are not like any other
humans I have ever encountered.
I find them fascinating.

From what I have already seen
of our "guests", there is very
little to redeem them. In fact,
it makes me wonder, how our
species ever survived the
twenty-first century.

How about this exchange? (Ralph is the
evil 20th century businessman)

   I do not think you are fully aware
of your situation, or the time
which has passed.

Believe me, I'm fully cognizant
of where I am, and when. It is
simply that I have more to protect
than a man in your position could
possibly imagine. No offense,
but a military career has never
been considered upwardly mobile.
I must contact my lawyer.

Your lawyer has been dead for

Yes, of course I know that, but
he was a full partner with a very
important firm. Rest assured the
firm is still operating.

That's what this is all about...
A lot has changed in three hundred
years. People are no longer
obsessed with the accumulation of
"things". We have eliminated hunger,
want, the need for possessions.
We have grown out of our infancy.

You've got it wrong. It's never
been about "possessions" - it's
about power.

Power to do what?

To control your life, your

That kind of control is an

Really -- I'm here aren't I? I
should be dead and I'm not.
That's what money did for me.
That's the kind of power I'm
talking about.

All of this occurs after Picard has already gotten seriously pissed off that the 300 year old people even wanted to talk with him at all. And Ralph, despite being a ridiculous caricature, still gets the better of the exchange.

How about the Voyager episode where the crew is magically transported to Los Angeles in the 1990s? The very existence of earth is threatened! But by who? A hostile alien race? A mad scientist? A sentient blob of antimatter?

No actually, it's this evil corporation:

The CEO, motivated by pure greed, intends to launch a time machine that will cause devastating effects on the environment. Does he care? Of course not. Cue the diminished seventh chords and the mustache twirling.

Where's the boundary between the pure delight time travel, and the "you disgust and offend me" time travel? Is it somewhere around JFK? The World War II episodes are pretty safe. Wasn't there an original series episode where they all become Al Capone era Chicago gangsters? Wasn't there a Voyager holodeck episode about racing drag cars in the 50s? Clearly, there's a little wiggle room in the 20th century. Maybe the hatred and disgust sets in around the Jimmy Carter years.

Man do I hate Picard's moral preening. He'll wax spiteful one minute about the foolishness of humanity in creating nuclear weapons, and then the next minute he's defening his decision not to interfere and stop an alien genocide. (It would taint the purity of their authentic culture, you understand.)

Well get bent, you late 20th century hating, all other historical era loving, prime directive obeying lackey. Go dunk your head in some Earl Grey.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

These Women-Only Rooms at the Gym

Here's another issue that, like my position on refusing to buckle-up on command in the back seat, I can't get anyone to agree with me on. This despite the fact that I'm absolutely right on the merits.

My gym here in Vegas (to remain anonymous) is a relatively new facility. Well appointed. Well staffed. The water fountain water is usually cold. Plenty of parking. So, generally, not a bad gym. But, a crowded gym. And I tend to go after work during their evening rush. Sometimes, you have to squeeze in a set between other people. Sometimes, you're standing on line for an elliptical machine.

So, there's this room on the first floor, for women-only, that has the works: nautilus, cardio, free-weights, workout-mats, plenty of space. And never full, by the way. I see one or two women in there, max. I don't exactly know how much good stuff there is in there, since I can't see the whole room from the door and I can't just stand there squinting through the window lest I look like some kind of perv. Who knows what kind of xanadu lies around the unseen corners? What could there be back there? A climbing wall? A smoothie counter? I don't know.

It's not fair. Why should I have to stand in line for a cardio machine while plenty sit unused in the ladies-only room? What happened to equality? What happened to the great principles of Susan B. Anthony, Sacagawea, and others who have appeared on our one dollar coins? Do they mean nothing?

Now let me explain exactly where I stand on this. If the gym wants to install a ladies-only workout room, I don't object in theory. But, they must do one of the following:
1) Give men a discount on membership, proportional to the reduced availability of the facilities
2) Open a mens only room of equal size and appointment.

That's all. Doing one of those thing fairs it up entirely. Notice, the whole issue of why women want these separate rooms is irrelevant to the complaint. They don't want to be hit on and/or intimidated. Personally, I think they should quit whining and grow some tougher skin, though I admit that men who try to pick up women at the gym are engaging in the worst brand of slimy behavior. The solution should be to curb the behavior, not to segregate the genders. But that's a digression. If the gym wants to create a womens-only room, that's fine - so long as you give me the mens-only room or the penis discount on membership. That would make it fair.

Of course, I don't think you'd see much enthusiasm for a mens only room. So, uh, let's go with the membership discount as the preferred alternative.

I put the issue to a female friend at work, who as you might expect, took a contrary position. "Deal with it." was the substance of her rebuttal. She got quite animated and seemed to have as strong an opinion about it as I did. I pressed her for a more robust argument, and she actually came up with a savvy one. She said something along the lines of "You never hear women complain when we get overcharged at the dry cleaner. Or for a haircut."

Me: "Haircut? But women get all that fru fru shit done when they get their hair cut. Men's cuts are simpler."

Her: "What about women with short hair who just want a simple hair cut? Why should they get charged double?"

Me: "hmm.........."

Her: "Whatever you pay at the dry cleaner for a shirt, they charge double for a women's shirt, even though its the exact same process."

Me: "Really? That doesn't seem fair. Wait a minute. Aren't women's shirts all silky and scented and dainty and what-not? Don't they require extra care?"

Her: "No! It's the exact same process!"

So okay, she's got a point. Now, my position on the womens-only room at the gym is unchanged. Two unfairs don't make a fair. But I now hereby stand for haircut and dry-cleaning gender-based pricing reform. And I am against all other such bullshit raw deals.

Someday, when I'm on a one dollar coin, you'll all realize I was right.

Sunday, November 04, 2007


Is it me, or is "Awareness" completely worthless? All this ribbon wearing, all the marching - can someone articulate what the point is? What does it accomplish? "We want to promote awareness." What does that even mean?

Let's say you care passionately about an "issue". And by "issue" I mean one of the issues that currently is represented by an awareness ribbon. Wikipedia has a list here. If you really want to make a difference for, for example, cancer sufferers, wouldn't you donate money? Volunteer at a hospital? Lobby for more public funding for research? Something along those lines? How exactly does wearing a ribbon, or marching to promote "awareness" do a damned thing? Who, specifically, in the audience of the awareness pageant wasn't already aware of cancer? And, if their awareness is temporarily heightened, what exactly does that achieve?

I am unconvinced that "awareness" does anything at all besides advertise the do-goodedness of the ribbon wearer and/or provide a outlet for frustration for people who want to make a difference but have no idea how. "But girls need to know the importance of doing regular checks for breast cancer." Agreed. But isn't communicating that message the rightful job of parents, teachers and doctors? Why exactly do you want that message communicated via parade? Isn't that less effective?

Someone coined the word "Slacktivism" to indicate someone who pretends to be an activist but doesn't actually do anything besides making the most superficial and lazy gestures. Ribbon wearing is cited as textbook example of slacktivism. Now, I actually don't agree 100% with this perspective. I can be an incredible slacker activist if I sit at home in my underwear, eat doritos, and occasionally click my mouse to donate money via paypal to cancer research. In my opinion, that's 100 times as valuable as a high energy, ribbon wearing dude who spends all his free time promoting "awareness". The awareness guy is doing diddily shit, accomplishing nothing except fueling his own superiority complex, while I'm greasing the wheels on actual research.

But of course, he cares so much that he sees it as his mission to educate others. By not wearing a ribbon, clearly, I must care less than he does about cancer.


Not Helpful

This sort of ties back to my old complaints about political protests on the streets. What do they ever accomplish? What CEO ever heard the commotion on the street below, walked over to his venetian blinds, pushed them open between his index and middle fingers, looked through the crack at the throng of determined protesters on the street and said "My God. What have I done?" Nooooooo one. And what has ribbon wearing and "awareness" ever accomplished, besides giving useless people a vague sense of accomplishment? Nothing!