Why the Abramsverse Is True Trek, and Why I’m No Longer a Trekkie

Put on your boots and muster your nerd rage: It’s ranting time.

*Deep breath.* It has been too long.

Kirk, Spock, and John Harrison in Star Trek Into DarknessStar Trek Into Darkness is almost upon us (my kingdom for a colon), and now seems a good time to address my feelings on JJ Abrams’ take on the Star Trek universe, and why I no longer consider myself a Trekkie.

Let’s start with the backstory.

Space: The final frontier…

My father was a fan of Star Trek, and I was raised on The Next Generation (TNG) and Voyager. One of my earliest memories is getting a replica of the Enterprise-D (With lights and sounds!) for Christmas.

By age ten or so, I was a full-blown Trekkie, and I got farther into the fanbase as I aged. I hung out on the forums, I wrote my own series of fan fiction, and I even got myself appointed head of the international Save Enterprise campaign after the series was cancelled.

Yes, the same campaign that raised millions to fund a new season and held rallies all around the world. The campaign was long past such heady glory days by the time I took over, but I did what I could, organizing letter writing campaigns and the like.

But in retrospect, it’s a bit strange that I loved Star Trek so much, because I actually don’t like very much of it.

Mission patch for the international Save Enterprise campaignI respect the original series (TOS) for being innovative in its day, but it’s too dated to take seriously at this point. I love TNG, but I always viewed it as quite hit and miss. I can only handle Voyager in small doses. I loathe Deep Space Nine. What part of sitting around the promenade and listening to Odo pine over Kira qualified as boldly going where no one has gone before, exactly?

Enterprise was my favourite incarnation of Star Trek, but I’m in the minority there — more on that later.

Here’s the thing: I love the idea of Star Trek, but not necessarily the reality of it.

Star Trek, in my mind, is about exploration. It’s about physically exploring the universe, and it’s about exploring the limits of human potential. It’s about inspiring us. As Picard said, “That is what it is to be human: to make yourself more than you are.”

But when you get right down to it, that’s not what Star Trek is. That’s what it claims to be — and what its fans claim it to be — but it’s a lie. And it took JJ Abrams to make me realize this.

To seek out new markets and new demographics:

I had pretty low expectations going into Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot. I didn’t like the idea of destroying the old canon to reboot it. If you want to reboot, just have the balls to start over from scratch.

The cast of Star Trek (2009)Abrams himself didn’t impress me, either. His interviews made himself come across as incredibly arrogant and utterly disrespectful of Star Trek’s history. I still haven’t forgiven him for the infamous “talky geekfest” comment.

And when I saw the movie, I wasn’t disappointed. It was a mindless, generic popcorn movie with more lens flare than plot. It bore no resemblance to the Star Trek I loved.

I came out of the theater feeling very bleak about the Star Trek franchise. It was doomed to another few years of pointlessness.

I was also distressed by the reactions to the movie from my fellow Trekkies: Everyone loved it. Even those who had been haters going in were converted. Normally a fractious and argumentative bunch, Trekkies had finally been united around the banner of JJ Abrams.

At some point, I had the odd thought that Abrams had tipped the scales such that there was now more Trek that I didn’t like than Trek I did like, but then it occurred to me that’s always been the case.

The cast of Star Trek: The Next GenerationI wondered how I could be a real Trek fan if I didn’t actually like most Star Trek, especially since the versions of Trek I loathe — Abramsverse and DS9 — tend to be the most popular among Trekkies.

Eventually, I realized I wasn’t. I’m a fan of what Star Trek claims to be, not what it actually is.

To Blandly Go Where Everyone Has Gone Before:

The original Star Trek was a ground-breaking show. It broke down barriers of race, nationality, and gender. It showed a future where all humanity was considered equal, and it did so at a time when this was a fairly radical thought.

But while future Star Trek incarnations have paid lip service to Gene Roddenberry’s ideal of infinite diversity in infinite combinations (IDIC, to Trekkies), none of them have really lived up to the bar set by the first series.

Think about it. What barriers were broken by Trek after the original series? What daring chances did they take? I can’t think of any.

Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Nyota Uhura in the original Star TrekEnterprise came close by actually have some complexity in its morality and not being afraid to go to dark, unexpected places, but perhaps not coincidentally, it was also viewed very poorly by most Trek fans.

Star Trek could have taken the lead on diversity again. They could, for example, have included a gay character back when that still would have been daring. Instead, they just danced around the issue with some weak alien allegories.

They could have gone beyond the ethnic diversity of TOS and created a cast that really represents the true mosaic of humanity, instead of following the pattern of “mostly white with a smattering of other races.”

I’ll tell you this: Spend a few years living in Toronto, and even a Star Trek cast starts to look as white as Dempsters.

As much as I like to defend Enterprise, it failed on this front, too. Its two non-white cast members were largely forgotten in favour of the Trip/Archer/T’pol triad.

The cast of Star Trek: EnterpriseUltimately, Star Trek hasn’t done any “boldly going” since TOS. TNG was a good series, but it was entirely too safe. It never took any chances. DS9 was simply a train wreck bereft of any spirit of exploration. Voyager was just a rehash of TNG that somehow managed to be even more bland and safe. Enterprise actually had some spirit of exploration and took some chances with its shades of gray morality, but even it could have done so much more.

Watching other sci-fi shows really opened my eyes to what’s possible. Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica completely blew Trek out of the water when it comes to high-minded sci-fi. There was a show full of diversity and intriguing moral dilemmas.

Want a show about the wonder and the terror of exploring deep space? Stargate: Universe utterly embarrasses Trek on that front.

Even if all you want is a light-hearted sci-fi adventure, the first two Stargate series thoroughly outclass Trek in that area.

Trekkies themselves are a disillusioning bunch, as well. It has become clear to me over time that the message of IDIC is completely lost on the vast majority of Trek fans. They’re as intolerant as any other random grouping of people.

The USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-DNow, I want to be absolutely clear here: I’m not badmouthing Trekkies. They’re no worse than any other group of fans. But they’re no better, either, and for fans of a franchise that claims to be about inspiring humanity to its full potential, that’s disappointing.

A Trekkie no longer:

The realization that Trek was never what I really wanted it to be opened my eyes in a lot of ways. So many things suddenly make sense.

Most of my favourite parts of the Trek franchise — Enterprise, Nemesis, Insurrection — are hated by the majority of Trek fans, and now I understand why. They were right all along: These were not true examples of what Star Trek is about. That’s why I liked them.

The things I love about Star Trek are the exceptions, not the rule. Mostly, Star Trek is a bland and generic piece of sci-fi. It’s not about diversity, or morality, or exploring the unknown. It only claims to be and stumbles into brilliance on occasion as a result.

JJ Abrams is an extreme case. He’s not even pretending to try for anything higher with his version of Star Trek, and so it’s much worse than anything that’s come before it, but what he’s done is only a natural progression of what Star Trek has always been — or what it’s been since the ’60s, at least.

I’ve often said that the Abramsverse is a bastardization of Trek, but when I think about it, it is a true example of what Star Trek is at its core. And that’s why I won’t be seeing Into Darkness.

Because I’m not a Trek fan. I’m a fan of what it aspired to be, but aspirations and reality are two separate things.

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10 thoughts on “Why the Abramsverse Is True Trek, and Why I’m No Longer a Trekkie

  1. I see your points as well. My dad would watch TOS at night in the 80’s and I’d watch with him. I liked it well enough, but it never truly grabbed me. I watched the 1st 4 or 5 seasons of TNG through high school and college, but then did a sabbatical from electronic entertainment for a couple of years, so I missed the final seasons of TNG, didn’t really ever see DS9. I’ve seen all of Voyager, but it was one of those “1 good ep, 4 bad, 2 good, 7 bad” shows, so it was more inertia (and Jeri Ryan’s catsuit) that kept me watching. I liked the 1st season of Enterprise well enough, but I didn’t watch anything more than that either. I think I was much like you — I liked the idea behind Star Trek far more than the execution of Star Trek. Even though it’s all available on Netflix anymore, I’ve still not ever bothered to go catch up on the seasons of TNG that I missed, or try DS9, or the later seasons of Enterprise.

    FWIW, I also loved Insurrection and don’t see why it got panned so badly by most people. I liked a lot of the ideas in Nemesis and I loved the big bad Romulan ship, but overall I found myself kinda bored by the movie.

    I also enjoyed “Star Trek 90210” quite a bit as a simple popcorn flick. I plan to see STID in a couple of weeks, but I don’t feel compelled to see it tonight or this opening weekend either.

  2. This was a very compelling read, and I think I agree with your overarching points. If I want a goofy, doesn’t-take-itself-seriously-but-sometimes-it-does version of “Americans and Canadians in Space,” then I’ve got Stargate: Atlantis. If I want serious and probing scifi, I’ve got Battlestar Galactica. Individual episodes of any Star Trek series might be able to tell a compelling story, but on the whole, I can’t really recommend any series for consistently being able to deliver either of the above points.

    That said, I think you’re being a little unfair with the “only TOS broke ground” argument — or, put more accurately, it’s clear that other Star Trek series wanted to break comparable ground. I know that the creators of DS9 wanted Rejoined to push boundaries by depicting a same-sex relationship (but they’re sexy lesbians, so it was sexy and safe); and they hoped Past Tense would raise uncomfortable questions about the treatment of the homeless. Furthermore, Sisko was black, and Janeway was a woman, so I think there’s something to be said for both VOY and DS9 depicting women and minorities in positions of power. But I immediately grant that hoping your show breaks ground is very different from succeeding in breaking ground; the proof is in the pudding. I’m more in agreement with you than these quibbles might indicate.

    I’m also with you on Enterprise. The last seasons had some really great episodes, but even independent from that, it was the only show to consistently depict exploration for exploration’s sake. And you know what? When you include the deleted scenes between Data and Picard on morality and legacy, Nemesis becomes fantastic.

    • “But I immediately grant that hoping your show breaks ground is very different from succeeding in breaking ground; the proof is in the pudding. I’m more in agreement with you than these quibbles might indicate.”

      That was the point I was trying to make, yes. I’m not going to claim that the Trek spin-offs didn’t try to make a difference, and they do deserve some credit for characters like Sisko and Janeway, but they never really did anything truly shocking or groundbreaking. Nothing they did even came close to what Uhura represented back in the ’60s.

      Their hearts were in the right place, but they lacked the guts and ambition to really achieve anything significant.

      • Yaaayyyyy, internet people having an intelligent and civil conversation!

        Again, I want to reiterate that your argument — that JJ Abram’s Star Trek is Star Trek — is an incredibly insightful point. Well thought out.

  3. I don’t know what Trek fans you know, but most of the Trek fans I know didn’t care for Jar Jar Abram’s Trek Wars. Gene did try to get same-sex couples on TNG, but the money people killed it… just as the networks killed a woman who was second-in-command in his first pilot. Into Darkness will be the first Trek movie I will not see in the theater, although expect to see it eventually when one of my friends who is very interested in special effects buys the DVD. Although TNG was less about social revolution than TOS, it did explore a lot of issues about the relationship between people, machines, and what the science community calls, “the ghost in the machine.” … self-awareness. A real life lawsuit between two computer manufacturers two years ago was settled by showing the ‘unique design’ that Apple claimed to come up with was in several TNG episodes. I watched all five live action TV shows as they aired (I’m old) … and recently caught TAS via video. I’ve seen all the movies, and enjoyed Insurrection a lot, too. I can think of dozens of issues (what to do with an aging population? What limits are there is using knowledge which is obtained immorally? How do the less advanced societies see the Federation when mistakes are made and the Prime Directive isn’t followed?) which were dealt with in later series.

    I agree that there were few unexpected ‘first contact’ situations in TNG or DS9, but I honestly can’t see what you mean that Voyager didn’t have ‘first contact’ with new worlds. Your idea of what is an idea is very limited. Or perhaps you just didn’t like it that the Voyager crew was mostly run by women. While DS9 was not my favorite series, it featured a cast of mostly non-whites, so to complain that the whole series was all run by whites is just untrue. I’ve read discussions of Dr. Bashir on Islamic websites, with the Muslim Trek fan insisting it’s the most positive portrayal of an Arab in all of Western literature.

    Most of the people who commented here seem to agree with you, but frankly, I don’t see how anyone who has watched the entire over 700 hours of the franchise could do so if they spent 10 minutes thinking about what you said.

  4. I wish I had your ability with words. But I have not, so its good to read it from someone who can write down in a clear and coherent way some of my points of vieuw on star trek. It was realy tempting to go copy past a lot of it….

    I do not agree with all you write, especialy about the fans as I met some awsome people in my time spend in ‘the star trek universe’. I had some great discussions about the difference between the star trek series and other Sci-fi series or movies.
    TOS did change my childhood by showing a positive future with humanity trying to be the best it could be. So me TOS and TAS are childrens series. But I must confess I do not like movies solely based on action. I like entertainment with a great script and thought provoking dialogue that make me see a differend point of vieuw. And star trek does not give that to me anymore, enterprise was to much a refelction of what was happening in the US. I think if there would have been some more it would have changed under the leadership of manny coto but… we will never know.

    I realise I too, am a star trek fan of what Star Trek claims to be, not what it actually is.

  5. I used to be a big Trekkie fan too back in the day 😀 STTOS was groundbreaking for it’s time. It probably pushed the envelope as far it could for 1960s television. It was most likely kept in check by networks/advertisers than anything else – I mean seriously – STTOS had real, award-winning science fiction writers penning more than a few episodes for the series.

    STTNG blah…first couple of seasons seemed to only be superficial, re-done nods TOS but I enjoyed it a lot more later. It was too much a mimic of contemporary culture to pretend it pushed the envelope. If we look at what was going on in the late 1980s well…it’s more disappointing than surprising the series never went “where no one has gone before.”

    Voyager…blah again for the first few seasons but once it got it’s footing (e.g. get rid of the Kazon crap) I enjoyed it – and still do. I loved Kate Mulgrew as Janeway (despite all the criticisms) and to see a woman in a position of power without being a sexual stereotype was beyond refreshing (I’m guessing most men wouldn’t get this ;)) Now that would have been groundbreaking during the STTNG run compared with other popular TV shows at the time.

    DS9 – nah, never watched more than a few episodes it was just too formula and boring.

    Enterprise – loved it when it first came out (even though we just had to bring back sexual stereotypes again) and there was a lot that was intriguing – Vulcans weren’t really our best buddies after all, and the Andorian Commander? Pure gold. It had a ton of potential but just fizzled out. An entire season of bug wars killed it for me.

    I didn’t like any of the movies at all – except First Contact and then I would only give it about a 6/10. They just weren’t good stories.

    I think I’m probably done with Star Trek too as the Abrams vision is more suited to the dumbed-down expectations of the reality TV audience than someone who enjoys well…you know, an interesting story.

    I fully expected to hate Battlestar Gallactica and oh boy was I wrong. That’s what any new Star Trek should be or at least attempt to reach that bar. Anything less is nothing more than a bag of garbage with a Star Trek sticker on it.

  6. Deep Space 9 was the best series by far. It had a consistent plot line and you could easily skip over some of the lame 1 off episodes. The Dominion is the coolest and most original set of antagonists- Borg is straight rip off of Dr. Who’s cybermen (who happen to make their first appearance 1 month after Star Treks very first EPISODE). Star Trek fan boys won’t appreciate the deviation of DS9 b/c it doesn’t take place on a science vessel bumping around planets but there’s a bunch more going on in the series than any other series. However, some of the acting in DS9 is painful… it helps if you just pretend that Cisco is autistic or something.

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