Last week I rewatched the 2009 Star Trek reboot from JJ Abrams, because I am a huge fan of the film. Does that make me a huge fan of Star Trek? And if not, why do I like the film?
It struck me that all Hollywood reboots, and TV show reboots (I’ll get to Dr Who shortly) appeal to audiences’ yearning nostalgia, and they feed off that nostalgia and the rabid fandom that eminated from the originals, attempting to invite in a new generation of fans to the universe. They take the core ingredients – characters, locations, catchphrases – and remould them onto a modern audience, many of whom would not have been born when the original aired.
Of course, it is easy to pass these endeavours off as cold money-making exercises, cannabilising past glories for a whole new raiding mission on the wallets of the young and ill-informed. On the whole, these reimagined franchises prove hugely succesful, and the studios will keep them coming as long as they do so. Star Trek, in the hands of hitmaker JJ Abrams, auteur of the hugely popular Alias, the historic Lost, and more recently the underrated Fringe, not to mention silver screen goliaths Cloverfield and MI:3, feels well looked after. I realise that argument appears to be completely contradictory, but all those prodcutions, despite their massive success, also hold a strong sense of care and authorship. JJ Abrams is a man that knows his geek.
So is this what is important? Being fair to the ‘proper’ fans? Perhaps, although I doubt the studios the studios truly believe that (ok, time to shut off the evil corporate conspiracy switch in my head). Star Trek was already a huge phenomenon, I know that, you know that. The core of the text, ignoring it’s various spin-offs and movies, would be the original 60’s series then, that of Shatner and Nimoy and those great doors that go ‘shhhhdkum’. It was great wasn’t it, that’s real Star Trek, yeah? This is why I loved the movie, the loving references, the accuracy of the recastings, Spock?
Except I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen an episode.
I’ve seen a couple of the later movies, maybe a bit of Patrick Stewart here and there, but there is no way I could regard myself as a Star Trek fan. Why would I want to be? Trekkies were those weird kids at school who combed their hair really straight and who didn’t see sunlight and who asked you to come round for a sandwich at lunch because they didn’t want to play football, weren’t they?
So suddenly we’re all pretending to love Star Trek because it’s fresh and cool and we can say we get the references? Or is it something else? I think it’s seperate from the need to be a Trekkie, it’s just a knowledge thing. I haven’t seen Star Trek, but I could tell you almost all of the basics, even before I went excitedly to see this movie. I knew of Spock and Kirk and the doors and Vulcans and hand symbols and ‘live long and prosper’ and ‘to boldly go where no man has gone before’ and ‘captain’s log’ and a hundred other things. These are ingrained in our culture, through references (Family Guy’s Sulu and Mike Myers’ Scotty impression off the top of my head, but thousands more) and subconcious BBC2 dinnertime background viewing I imagine.
Yes, I think the power of the geek is outing a lot more would be closet-geeks, and that once we leave school and mix with a more diverse range of people we realise that it is much more normal and acceptable than playground bullying would suggest, but in this post-modern environment where nearly everything seems to reference, pay tribute to, or pastiche an existing text, we all want to be in on the joke. Maybe we don’t want to be social outcasts, but we want the newly found status that goes with it. We appreciate the reference because we get the reference, and not because we feel that it keeps our beloved original series sacred and secure.
We could therefore congratulate JJ Abrams and the like for standing up for geeks and nerds, for elevating their social status and making their knowledge a goal for us simpletons on the outside the Star Trek communities who mocked them so. Who’s laughing now?
I also see it another way though, and it’s a point of view that stems from my growing up with my own defensiveness about seeing the things I was passionate about be dissapated and spoon-fed for the masses. It’s that little twinge of annoyance that comes from, say, your favourite band suddenly becoming huge, that feeling that you put in the groundwork and built this ‘relationship’ with a text (I call it text for semantic purposes, but substitute in band/book/person/show as appropriate) only for masses to be given it so easily, often at a perceived detriment to the quality of the output. A big personal example for me here would be Harry Potter, a brilliant series of novels lauded for encouraging a new generation of young readers, now easily accessible to slob infront of on the big screen in all it’s watered down heroic glory.
I realise this argument is becoming slightly unfocused and rambling, so to wrap it up until next time, it seems basically that falling in love with a reboot via a claim of prior love and knowledge of its parent text, although highly self-satisfying and enjoyable, also seems a little unfair on those who truly understand the cultural signifance of the remake; those who would doubtless have been dreading this remake coming to the big screen, despite, I imagine, being a key part of the target market**.
Next time, Doctor Who, and where fandom divides are drawn.
**incidently, I have no idea how defensive or negative long-term Star Trek fans were towards this film. In fact I have read in the past that the various levels of in-jokes in the film, lovingly woven in by the writers, allowed the film to appeal to all sides of the spectrum, but then they would say that, wouldn’t they? Anyway, why would I care what those pointy-eared weirdos thought? 😉