What is the deal with my Star Trek fixation lately?

You may have noticed that I’ve been blogging less frequently in the last several months. Part of the reason is that I’m trying to make some headway on my devil project during the semester, so a lot of my excess intellectual energy is taken up with that. (Though I’ve written posts on the devil in earlier phases of my research, I generally don’t find it helpful to blog about something that I’m actively drafting.) I’ve also continued to be generally busy for the whole school year, as The Girlfriend’s move to Minneapolis has further complicated an already travel-heavy lifestyle (by my standards).

All of that presumably makes sense. What perhaps makes less sense is that I’m contributing multiple posts per week to the Daystrom Institute, a Star Trek subreddit. I mentioned this a couple months ago, and things have if anything gotten worse since then. I’ve continued to stake out unpopular positions — for instance, I think Enterprise was actually pretty good, all things considered — but my most explosive contributions have challenged the “fundamentalist” approach to Star Trek that most hardcore fans embrace. Most recently, I proposed that maybe we shouldn’t take the specific future calendar dates mentioned in Star Trek literally, since doing so results in the bizarre situation that Star Trek’s future takes place in our past (most notably, Khan should have been a warlike dictator in the 1990s).

Why bother? I think part of it is a simple desire to satisfy my desire for online argument in a no-stakes environment. It’s much easier to agree to disagree about the dating of the Eugenics Wars than about serious political issues. In a weird way, too, these very debates are becoming a kind of “comfort food,” much like Star Trek itself — because they really do feel like debates with biblical fundamentalists. More specifically, they’re like an idealized version of those debates, with the edges sanded off and some (though strangely not all!) of the self-seriousness and self-righteousness deflated. I was always fascinated with the Bible and wished that I could find someone willing to discuss and debate it without prematurely shutting down the conversation or worrying about my soul. It’s really hard to find that sweet spot with the Bible even now.

This exercise is also helpful in that it retrospectively shows the fundamentalist enterprise to be one of treating all the biblical traditions as belonging to a coherent “fictional universe.” Obviously biblical fundamentalists don’t embrace that term, but neither do Star Trek fundamentalists — for them, we must treat the onscreen events as real, or else we’re lost in the seas of relativism. The only difference is that the Star Trek fundamentalists no longer view Star Trek as our possible future. Their strict adherence to the canon means that all the events we see are also the result of an alternate past (which “forked” with the premature invention of transparent aluminum or something). The biblical fundamentalists, by contrast, are willing to continually retcon the struggle against Antiochus Epiphanes or Nero into the future.

2 Responses to “What is the deal with my Star Trek fixation lately?”

  1. seanchristophercapener Says:

    This post sparked an idea:

    I recently attended a conference session in which Jonnie Russell gave a paper on the Protestant fundamentalist movement’s use of media technology. ‘Religion’ and ‘media’ go together, of course, in all sorts of paradoxical and symbiotic ways (Derrida) but fundamentalism in particular, according to Russell, involves a particular kind of media-tech logic at its very core, due to it’s rather strange relationship to modernity. Basically, fundamentalism refuses the separation of ‘human’ and ‘scientific’ registers that things like Darwinian evolution and Kantian ontology seemed to require, and subsume everything into a sort of weird-Baconian scientific worldview; biblical truths, the humanities, etc must accede to the register of Baconian science. Thus, creationism, literalist hermeneutics, etc. become important hills to die on.

    The fundamentalist position, then, is in a strange sense hypermodern, except that it is insistent on an outmoded interpretation of scientific activity to advance its modernity. Those crazy dispensationalist charts plotting out every event in salvation history–past, present, and future–on a chart of logical and causal relations building expansive theories of everything that attempt to incorporate as much as possible (like logical Rube Goldberg machines, the inverse of a theoretical attraction to ‘elegance’) become the hallmark of the mechanics of fundamentalist logic.

    Here and here are examples of those charts, btw.

    Anyway I bring this up not just because of the obvious parallels to our discussions about Trek fundamentalism, but also because I’d be curious to see if similar attitudes towards science correlate with fundamentalist Trek fandom. I know that my time as a fundamentalist Trek fan coincided largely with my own adolescent Christian fundamentalism; but I wonder as well about the large percentage (or so it seems by loudness of voice) of ‘science fans’ and new atheists who also tend towards Trek fandom, and whose interpretations of science often rely on a similar ‘collapse’ towards science as a master discourse or singular register of the real–one which the actual practice of contemporary science seems to preclude.

  2. Alex Says:

    If you ever want to do a conference on Star Trek…


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