Why Into Darkness is the Best Film and How Abrams Saved Star Trek (A Review of All 13 Films)
By James Brummel
Dedicated to Jessie Earl, who helped inspire this, and reminded me that ultimately: matters of “taste” can’t be argued. You like what you like, I like what I like, and it’s all a part of the beautiful mosaic that is IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination). I, for example, always skip the theme for “Star Trek: Enterprise.” And then there are those that love it. And that’s okay. There is room enough for all of us at the convention. I mostly analyze the films from several perspectives; as a fan, as a film critic and for societal impact. All tainted no doubt by bias and my own “tastes” (must find a better word that is less ableist sounding). In some important ways many of us see what we want to see in Star Trek. Just sometimes it seems to come out wrong, as in life.
First a brief introduction and station identification. Since the films began in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the most popular argument has been: which is better? In the last year, it has been popularized on Twitter to list the films from best to worst. The majority will place “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982) at the top. I was also born in the 70’s, and loved TOS (The Original Series, or “Those Old Scientists”), as I loved Tom Baker’s “Doctor Who” and of course, like the other children, a thing called “Star Wars.” I’ve studied Trek and filmmaking, once even considered myself a filmmaker, but my films were never finished (unless youtube counts?). I cannot sight all my sources here, but many of the things I will bring up are easily searched and verifiable. And of course, mistakes do happen–but in my own defence, an inordinate amount of my brain has been dedicated to Star Trek facts (and fiction), so you can trust most of what I’m saying here. If you (dear reader) find any faults, you can always let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org). Always happy to be corrected! And most of this is from perhaps a failing memory…
the motion picture
This film is so different, and such a slow burning trip–which explains the criticism and (in a way) the enormous success of the film (only surpassed by Into Darkness, 2013), as I will attempt to explain. We open with this rollicking symphony from Jerry Goldsmith, and seem to be traveling in space. This is how the first like ten minutes unfold. Totally wild, and really unprecedented. Perfect for rolling joints or preparing doses, that is, getting comfortable. It also prepares the audience for the gut wrenchingly slow pace that this film unfolds.
Director Robert Wise and cinematographer Richard H. Kline gave Trek a scale and depth never seen before. Many of the science fiction film lessons from 2001 (Kubrick) to Star Wars (Lucas) and Close Encounters (Spielberg) were employed to elevate the story to contemporary proportions. But, despite even the efforts of “The Directions Edition,” there are some major weaknesses. Hilariously satirized by Star Trek: Lower Decks, our first view of the refitted Enterprise is painfully plodding. Basically nothing happens for the first 20+ minutes of the movie. And that really sets the tone.
One of the real shames of “the motion picture” (TMP) was that it under utilized TOS actors, and concentrated more on secondary characters Decker and Ilia. The script was based on a proposed episode for “Phase II,” the tv show turned big screen event. And that was based on TOS episode “The Changeling,” where an Earth satellite becomes sentient, named “Nomad.” It’s like watching someone’s dream of Star Trek, and somehow there is this tremendous distance between the viewers and our beloved crew. Further diminished is the ship itself compared to the incomprehensible size of V’ger (the “Voyager” probe). And these sequences drag on, focusing entirely on the special effects made for the movie. All of which might encumber the average film, but not in 1979. This was a time when films like Led Zeppelin’s “The Song Remains The Same,” “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and “Eraserhead” were played for long and popular runs in theatres. Why? Drugs for one thing. Culture? Cult? Is that an answer? All I can think is, “Show us your eyes, Jimmy!”
Another inexplicable moment happens early in TMP when a transporter accident horribly kills two officers beaming aboard. No meaning, or foreshadowing. Just a terrible accident to start our new adventure. Neat!
Jeopardy: High. The Earth, and the ship. Bechdel test: typical failure.
For what I see as faults, this film did do a lot for the franchise. It started an as yet unending series of films and television. The music from TMP was even used as the theme for Star Trek: The Next Generation. Everything from the ship design to a lot of the iconography were used in the films that followed. Even though the bridge set was rebuilt and redesigned every time. The only thing more perplexing than TMP was the novelization by “creator” Gene Roddenberry. Ilia’s hairless, sexual power over men with a “vow of celibacy” is pure (perverted) Roddenberry.
Whereas, “Into Darkness” is a more sophisticated film with multitudes of layers, which we will get into presently. Since the release of “Star Wars” studios like Disney and Paramount have been asking: How do we do that? For Disney (at the time), the answer was “The Black Hole” (1979) and later, “Tron” (1982). For Paramount it was Star Trek. And with TMP, the financial nightmare actually paid off. That’s because it was years in the making, starting as a television show, with all kinds of scripts, sets and actors that were never used. So, although quite successful, it left a very expensive and tenuous feeling at Paramount. JJ Abrams’ reboot finally brought Star Trek to the level of a Star Wars. “Into Darkness” broke the ticket sales record set by TMP in ’79. And strangely for Disney, their ultimate answer was to buy Star Wars and hire Abrams. Meanwhile, Paramount got their new network(s). Which was Paramount’s original plan for Star Trek, that it would lead a new network. Which was partly accomplished by Star Trek: Voyager and UPN, and ultimately achieved with Star Trek: Discovery and CBS All Access.
STAR TREK II
the wrath of khan
Enter: Nicholas Meyer, author of “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.” The most important element that he brought to Star Trek was a sense of realism. The distant characters in Wise’s TMP, were vulnerable and deep in Meyer’s movie (TWOK). Kirk needs glasses. Spock is getting Biblical. It’s all a rich tapestry. And it was an awesome movie, no denying. But, as alluded to earlier, Paramount wanted another Trek film, but they didn’t want to spend a lot of money. So they cut corners, reusing some of TMP shots of the exhaustive Enterprise sequence. Setting a tradition in reusing material from previous movies.
James Horner’s score is classic. The costumes were a vast improvement on TMP, though they were designed by the same guy, Robert Fletcher (Meyer wanted a different look). The choices of film and all the closer shots made the ship a smaller stage. Wise’s Enterprise was vast, while Meyer’s seemed almost claustrophobic, like aboard the submarines he was emulating. The film was inspired by and a follow up to TOS episode “Space Seed.” But also took a lot from “Balance of Terror,” which was itself inspired by films of submarine battles from WWII. A lot of the interplay between Kirk and Khan was a classic example of this old mainstay of Hollywood Land. The only thing missing was a captain leaning on a periscope.
In TWOK we are introduced to “Mister Savik,” a Vulcan who inexplicably is missing the signature eyebrows. Made even more inexplicable when we later see this character in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” And we are supposed to believe that these ‘senior’ officers all don’t mind play acting for what is ultimately, and infamously a “no win scenario” (the Kobayashi Maru). Doesn’t “Captain Spock” have better things to do than ‘play dead?’–at least a clever allusion to the ending. This is the first of a quick succession of references. For his birthday, Spock gives Kirk a copy of “Great Expectations” (a “book”). Then Spock mansplains something about the painting in his quarters to Savik. All great.
In our first look (again) at Khan, we are faced with the first plot hole (of sorts). Khan explicitly says that he “never forgets a face” when he sees Chekov. Chekov (Walter Koenig) had not been cast yet when “Space Seed” was made. Fans have attempted to explain this by imagining that Chekov was on board at the time, we just never saw him (get seen by Khan). So why write this part for Chekov? Uhura, Scotty or Sulu could have worked, they weren’t busy. So there’s that. The next big story problem happens when Khan (the super genius), after taking a Starfleet ship and freeing his people, decides revenge is the next tactical move. Revenge. Eventually one his cohorts even tells him that they should fuck off and forget about Admiral Kirk. At no point does he even question what he is doing. He is supposed to have been a genetically engineered, superior, conqueror of 90’s Earth. Now, sure, 15 years on Ceti Alpha V and losing your “beloved wife” might weaken an average mind, but Khan? Kirk practically gloats over his ineptitude. And why would a Wile E. Coyote (super genius) need brainwashing bugs? They were memorable, but shouldn’t a film “show” his reputed brilliance somehow? Spock notes that he appears to have “two dimensional” thinking. Aren’t things like Rubik’s cube easy for the clever people? We don’t even get to see Khan’s enhanced strength, other than picking up Chekov by a handle on his space suit seemingly designed for that precise purpose.
In many ways, TWOK comes across as a b-movie. All the acting and over-acting from scene one (Kobayashi Maru), to Kirk yelling “Khaaaan!”–even though Kirk’s character knew well they were not indeed “buried alive.” There are so many things that don’t quite make sense anywhere other than fans’ imagination. Why does Mr Scott bring the dead cadet to the bridge? Again I’ve heard some creative fan explanations, but, no. It’s just forced drama, almost ridiculous in it’s randomness. Then there are the blond Chippendale dancers, hired as Khan’s goon squad. Now, where the fuck did they come from? Khan’s people on TOS were about his age (mid 30’s). And as Khan says, they were on the planet for 15 years. So his genetically engineered super friends should be in their 40’s (like Ricardo Montalban), or their children which would be 15 at the oldest. Those dim looking dudes don’t look under 18 or over 30. What’s that about? I have yet to hear even the most forgiving fan to explain this.
Here’s another question: Why was the Genesis project so poorly protected? Why didn’t Starfleet have a ship or two protecting them when there are Klingons, Romulans, &c out there? The ‘creation’ of Genesis was itself a threatening and perceived act of war (see STIII and STIV). Did no admiral consider this? And why, as Doctor Marcus points out, are overpopulation and starvation still problems? Granted we’re not talking about the utopia of the 24th century where there’s a replicator on every other planet. But, come on! You’re telling me they have almost infinite energy sources and the ability to travel faster than light, but they can’t feed people? Is this now a dystopian future? Reminds me of Jessie Earl’s comment about the “rape gangs” alluded to by Lt. Yar in TNG (Roddenberry’s touch no doubt).
Perhaps the biggest question (which is basically the plot to STIII), why leave Spock’s body on the planet? It was a beautiful moment in cinema. But surely, as private as the Vulcans could be, wouldn’t there have been a note on Spock’s file? Something saying that in the event of death, you know?–Return the body. That’s like a big clerical error–or what, Spock forgot to mention it? Illogical. Although this problem was only created in STIII, and not technically STII’s fault. STIII does to its predecessor almost a disservice, like “Last Jedi” did to “Force Awakens.”
Jeopardy: Minimal, the ship. Bechdel test: fail.
Regardless, STII is still arguably the best of the films, and closest to TOS. For those actors, for that director, at that time, it was phenomenal. And I will always want to hear “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes. When Kirk (Shatner) says he feels “young,” we believe it. And we always will.
“Into Darkness” is often referred to as a remake of STII. Technically, it’s a reimagining of TOS episode “Space Seed.” And a not so subtle allegory/statement about 9/11, Osama Bin Laden and the Obama government. Sound crazy? It is! And quite possibly one of the most significant things the franchise has done since saving the whales in ’86.
The “best” Treks for me are those that were closest to what some authors would consider ‘true science fiction.’ Star Trek was Roddenberry’s attempt really at bringing classic sci-fi (Asimov, Bradbury, Ellison, &c) to television. And he had the presence of mind to hire the best people to do it, including Harlan Ellison himself (writer of “City of the Edge of Forever”). And he reached into the culture that already existed and longed for such a (seemingly) lost cause. The fans, even the conventions already existed, something like Star Trek could easily fit in and sell. And in a way, for a long time, Star Trek dominated the convention circuits (thanks mostly to fans and Roddenberry’s ceaseless commodification of scripts, jewellery, props and anything else he could sell).
And there were episodes that were real contenders, and still have relevance and resonance. “City on the Edge of Forever” is lauded as the best of them, presenting our captain with an overwhelming existential crisis: Let the woman he loves die, or let the Nazis win the war! “A Taste of Armageddon” is required watching for any “leader” looking at war as an option. “A Private Little War” not too subtly comments on the futility of the Cold War and the Korea/Vietnam conflicts. Criticism forbidden in plain language by any major American media source at the time. And “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” was a real bang on the head for any reasoning behind racism, clear enough a Trump voter might understand. This is where Star Trek really shined (brighter than any other franchise), when Kirk was a source limitless moral authority (not killing alien monsters [“The Man Trap”], but saving them (“Devil in the Dark”).
“Into Darkness” is only the second (and last) film to address a real contemporary issue (first being STIV). A moment of incomprehensible violence hits a Starfleet building on Earth (9/11). Khan, the terrorist responsible was employed by Starfleet, as Osama Bin Laden once worked for the CIA. You know, like how Saddam Hussein worked for the CIA? Sounds like conspiracy corner talk, but actually American history. Look it up. Hussein was even given the key to the city of Detroit. So anyway, General Marcus, like the Obama admin, orders Kirk to kill Khan (American soldiers assassinate Osama). But Kirk, being the virtuous sort, decides to do the right thing. He captures Khan. And instead of killing him, decides to work with him against Marcus (and the Starfleet war machine). And this correlation might have gone unnoticed by the powers that be, if wasn’t for the Obama tradition of watching the new Star Trek film at the White House. So Obama had to watch this thing, while other people watched him, and faced with commentary on his own actions. He must have understood, because Obama, unlike many of his fellow presidents, had some intelligence. Even smart enough not to react or make a big deal about the movie. And it went basically under the radar. The number 72 for Khan’s family/warheads was also not an accident, but let’s move on.
One of the most common complaints is about the apparent whitewashing of Khan Noonien Singh by casting Benedict Cumberbatch. And that is a valid concern. But it also became an unfortunate 20th century stereotype to cast POC as terrorists, one which really has no place in the 23rd. It was, to my mind, a smart (and realistic) move to make the villain a blue eyed white man. And Cumberbatch could be believed as a superior being; displaying his physical superiority swinging that giant gun around, and his genius in using the Enterprise to enact his wrath.
And Uhura actually has things to do that are integral to the plot! As in the first new Star Trek, her communications training helps the story. A far cry from the standard, “Hailing frequencies open, Captain.” The love between Kirk and Spock is as evident as in TWOK. No one can say Pine and Quinto can’t act. And they have been great fodder for further Kirk/Spock fan art, as seen all over Twitter and Instagram. And General Marcus makes a great and true villain, who justifies his actions with patriotism and pragmatism. Whose plot calls back to STVI, where war was not only desirable to the Klingons, but to some at Starfleet as well. Like the best heavies, his motivations made sense (to him).
In the end, Spock’s wrath was really for the Spock who died in STII, as much as for the death of Kirk. And finally, a battle of Titans, Spock vs Khan! How awesome was that? Spock never gets to really fight anyone (except Kirk). Fisticuffs, as Nimoy saw it, were somewhat beneath Spock. But the murder of his friend/captain might make him ’emotionally compromised.’ And we did see in TOS what lengths Spock will go to for his captains, and his occasional breaks from pure logic. Some fans dubbed Quinto the ‘Emo Spock.’ But again, honestly if you counted the amount of times Nimoy’s Spock showed emotion in TOS or the films, that line of criticism weakens.
Simon Pegg does his usual brilliant Glaswegian version of Mr. Scott. And Karl Urban nails his performance (again) as McCoy, which famously brought Nimoy to tears. Screw Oscars, that is the best testament to an acting job I can think of. And to top off the cast, a dead Tribble. First we’ve seen since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 90’s.
STAR TREK III
the search for spock
Few fans will choose this film as their favourite, unlike TMP and especially STII. But because of the artful direction of Leonard Nimoy, there are some really nice shots and call backs to TOS. But is why Savik not Kirstie Alley? And why does she suddenly get the eyebrows? A galaxy is left to wonder. And why was she not on the Enterprise anymore? STIII takes place immediately after the events of STII. Short time for a reassignment. At least the score sounds the same as last time (James Horner). The film also set-up a recurring curse of Star Trek, actors unable to age without stretching a story’s believability. The cast looks different, Uhura’s hair is different, and the bridge is different (this being the third film, and third building of the bridge set). Again, difficult for continuity. But the rapid ageing of Spock on the Genesis planet goes to explaining how old Spock (Nimoy) looks, in contrast to how little the character aged in “The Deadly Years” and Vulcan longevity in general.
The film is a kind of “caper,” an insurrection against Starfleet and various rules previously written. And a sense of fun was re-infused into the franchise. Sulu (George Takei) truly shines, if only for a brief moment subduing that guard. DeForest Kelly is hilarious and has great depthful moments with Spock’s katra. Chekov as usual doesn’t get much to do, but at least he gets to go on the mission. Uhura gets one good scene (“This isn’t reality…”), but for no reason gets sidelined with Sarek on Vulcan. Mark Lenard, at first I wrote “is a friendly face to see again,” but he is deeply disappointed in Kirk for not observing Vulcan custom. Why did he do that again? “I saw no future,” says Kirk.
Christopher Lloyd (Kruge) made a decent Klingon, along with fellow tall sitcom actor John Larroquette as (Maltz). The bridge on the bird-of-prey put the captain’s chair high above all other stations. And we are introduced to our first iteration of a “targ.” The schweinhund is a basic puppet, but left an indelible mark on future Klingon lore.
Killing David (SPOILERS) was dramatic, but felt like a cheat as he was only introduced in the last film. And was a ‘disposable’ as Decker, Ilia and many a navigator before them.
“I choose the danger,” is probably the best line in the movie, delivered perfectly by Kelley.
By the end, we are as sick of “Genesis” as Kirk is of Kruge. It’s not even a “devise” anymore (as in TWOK). It’s a formula supposedly in David’s head or somewhere else in a classified Starfleet record tape. Kruge (the typical Klingon), just wants to fight.
Destroying the Enterprise worked dramatically, but there was never that much “jeopardy.” And another loser in the Bechdel test.
“Into Darkness” wisely kept Uhura around for the entire adventure. Although it was not a big Bechdel winner either. Carol Marcus’ role was decent, depending particularly on how you look at her uniform change. It was, as Abrams admitted, gratuitous. And I can’t defend it cinematically. It fits the straight male fantasies of Heavy Metal magazines. But would I remove it? I am weak, so no. The same way that the man child in me would never edit out Tanya Robert’s topless scene in “The Beastmaster.” I wouldn’t remove that scene in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” with Phoebe Cates either. None of these scenes were necessary, but they helped make the movies cult legends.
The death of Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) worked more dramatically (than killing David). This character, so well presented by Greenwood is beloved. Echoing the loss of Kirk’s father, and pressing the audience that the stakes here are high (jeopardy).
And unlike STIII, we have lots of Spock in “Into Darkness,” two, technically. Nimoy was in both films for about the same amount of time. Another wise decision by Abrams, and why not? So great to see Leonard Nimoy as Spock one more (and final) time.
STAR TREK IV
the voyage home
The soundtrack by Leonard Rosenman gave the film a levity that went with the general attitude. It also gave the film more of a classical flavour, more horns, less strings. Nimoy’s second trek as director made for a popular romp, and like many a TOS episode, would throw away the “rules.” Fortunately we didn’t have a billion Star Trek fans at that time arguing about canon. This film is more like “I, Mudd” or “A Piece of the Action.” Causality be damned! They had to go back in time (a very popular devise in sci-fi/comedies in the 80’s) to save the Earth (jeopardy). Like TMP, no clichéd “heavy” or bad guy’s revenge plot to deal with. And in the best tradition of Star Trek, this film is about something! Skipping any allegory and explicitly saying humpback whales need to be saved (a popular movement at the time). So, it works–which makes an audience feel really good, regardless of what they may have done to the timeline. Kirk and crew’s laissez-faire attitude in the past almost seems purposeful. As Kirk tells Spock as he sells the glasses he got from McCoy in STII. “And they will be again, that’s the beauty of it.” Again and again they disregard what is now, and generally considered a good idea while visiting the past: Don’t make any waves. First thing they do is “park” the bird-of-prey in a public park. Even with the cloak, in any realistic “real world” it would have been discovered by the first person walking their dog. Then they fan out onto the streets of San Fransisco asking directions. Hilarious, yes. Then Kirk decides to make contact with Dr. Gillian Taylor, and tells her EVERYTHING. WHY?! Conveniently, she doesn’t tell anybody, then decides to leave with them. And again, no one noticed, nor did her disappearance have any impact on future events–not that anybody checked. Then, perhaps the biggest (potential) blunder of all, Scotty gives some dude the formula to making transparent aluminum. And he’s all like, “How do we know he didn’t invent the thing?” Which was good enough for McCoy. Humorous leap in logic. “Hello, computer?” Sulu steals a helicopter, and Chekov gets caught on an aircraft carrier, coincidentally called “Enterprise.” Sure, they rescued him, but they left behind his Klingon communicator and phaser (with the US military!). Then McCoy casually gives a woman a pill that grows her a new kidney. All big red flags that could lead to all kinds of shit. Does anybody remember “The City on the Edge of Forever?”
Removing two whales from the pacific ocean was the least impactful thing they did in the past. But who cares? It’s too much fun. Jeopardy? Earth, sure. Bechdel test: Fail. Then, so is “Into Darkness.” Big fail. Inexcusable, really. At least STIV gave Nichelle Nichols more lines and work to do than the three previous films combined. And as much as Dr. Carol Marcus’ presence seemed unnecessary, she actually did a lot for the film and the story. Only she could have disarmed that torpedo. Alice Eve’s (Marcus’) scream and terror could only have come from the admiral’s daughter. Anyone else acting like that wouldn’t make sense. Her presence as Marcus also evokes the feeling audiences had for the original Marcus (played by Bibi Besch in STII) and her son (David). It would have been nice to see the Marcus character continue on board in “Beyond.” But apparently two main female characters are as much as any of the movies can carry? Shade all around.
STAR TREK V
the final frontier
Shatner’s turn as director is often cited as the worst of the films. Personally, I think it’s better than “Insurrection.” One of my favourite things about this film is the opening scene (not the camp fire), with Sybok on horseback. Bordering on the dystopian, the laughing Vulcan in a desert wasteland, the dilapidated “Planet of Galactic Peace” (Nimbus III)–cigarette smoking Federation ambassador and all. And all the ideas were interesting, Spock’s brother and a planet in the centre of the galaxy. I suspect TNG’s “The Nth Degree” was a subtle call back to this movie. One of the biggest mistakes, or perhaps ‘missed opportunities’ was not using Nichelle Nichols’ own voice when Uhura was dancing to distract some alien horsemen (from their horses–not Earth horses). Shatner likes horses.
There are a lot really cool moments in this film, though it suffers from the usual ailments. Jeopardy: Low, the ship? A few ambassadors? And don’t bother with any tests, Bechdel, litmus, drivers, or otherwise. Shatner was disappointed about the budget Paramount gave him, so there were some creative limits. Plenty of money for cat-women with three breasts though, so there’s that. Seeing Spock’s birth was really cool, with Mark Leonard doing a voice over, “So human.” Spock’s loyalties are tested. And it makes for a fascinating affirmation of how his character has developed. Which was one of Nimoy’s creative additions, well reasoned. Then we learn about McCoy’s kind of origin story about losing his father to an incurable condition (continuing the patriarchal theme). Kirk cannot be swayed by Sybok’s power, “I need my pain” being one of the most profound things Kirk has ever said. And big twist. God is the devil. Sybok was never really that bad a guy, just confused–overwhelmed by this “evil” entity trapped in the centre of the galaxy. “What does God need with a starship?” Brilliant really, and yet difficult to take too seriously.
*Editor’s note: This film also answers the long standing question of where are the toilets on a starship (or the brig, specifically).
The Klingons are almost cartoonish, all muscles and no brain in V. Abrams’ Klingons, in contrast, seem like real, formidable adversaries despite the blue eyes and piercings. In hindsight (so 2020), he was a genius for keeping the Klingons so unseen and hidden behind costumes. Fans, as we have learned, are very opinionated when it comes to how Klingons are supposed to look. By only showing one Klingon’s face, Abrams avoids the mass panic when a Klingons look a little different (Star Trek: Discovery).
STAR TREK VI
the undiscovered country
The Return of Nicholas Meyer! What’s the movie about? The end of the Cold War. In Star Trek, that’s between the Klingons and the Federation. Great casting of Christopher Plummer as General “Chang,” and the recasting of David Warner (Tron) as Chancellor Gorkon (last seen as the smoking Federation ambassador in STV). Kirk seems strangely cryptic about his “boy,” David–who he never really knew. And he has never forgiven those “Klingon bastards.” Although he’s done a good job not mentioning it in the last two movies. Blaming all Klingons seems like the kind of bigotry Kirk once expressly forbid on his bridge (“Balance of Terror”). Kind of convenient for Kirk to suddenly hate an entire race. Which is a little different from being threatened by the former Soviet Union. The script itself was so blatant in this that they gave Uhura the line, “Look who’s coming to dinner.” Which she flatly refused to say, giving Keonig an extra, if derogatory line.
In hindsight, it is cool to see future DS9 stars René Auberjonois and Brock Peters (To Kill a Mockingbird). And of course Kurtwood Smith (Robocop, Star Trek: Voyager’s “Year of Hell”) as the president and a cameo from Christian Slater. And Captain Sulu gets his own ship, with another Rand (Grace Lee Witney) appearance (not seen since STIII) and Tim Russ (before his casting in TNG’s “Starship Mine”). Still not a Bechdel test candidate, granted Alison Bechdel’s comic has only been around since 1985 (big year in time travel). Jeopardy is biggish, Kirk and Bones, and perhaps war–assassination attempt, &c.
And I have to say, especially in hindsight of how accomplished Abram’s Uhura is, the scene were Nichelle Nichols has no idea how to respond to a request in Klingon is embarrassing. The only language other than English we’ve heard TOS Uhura speak was Swahili (“The Man Trap”). And Plummer’s Chang seems to have no specific reason (other than being Klingon) for wanting war. His motivations only seem further abstracted by the continual Shakespeare quotes. “Cry havoc!” Great, if you are aware of Plummer and Shatner’s history at Stratford (Ontario). And it was nice seeing Michael Dorn get some more work, and Mrs Stardust (Iman) with Trek veteran William Morgan Sheppard on Rura Penthe. DeForrest is great, as per usual. And the path to “the next generation” where “no one” has gone before is set.
By comparison, “Into Darkness” is a way bigger movie. And crucial casting, like STVI, was infinitely effective. It was clever to cast Noel Clarke–knowing that the base would be familiar with the Doctor Who actor, and it instantly reinforces the emotional investment in his character. Other minor characters were conspicuous and allowed to shine, making it clear there were no big worries about competing or distracting from the “stars.” Like Aisha Hinds as navigator Darwin! Her presence is very felt, adding real gravity somehow, I’m not sure I can explain it. Then you have “Science Officer 0718.” Like, wtf was his story? More fodder for the IDW publishers. I believe I saw a Doohan in the transporter room. Peter Weller (Robocop, Star Trek: Enterprise) was awesome, and the details (easter eggs) of all the ships in General Marcus’ office, including the Enterprise NX-01 and the USS Vengeance! So good.
One of the most interesting moments of “Into Darkness” was Chris Pine/Kirk’s death scene. No one can say the kid can’t act. It’s in his blood. And Quinto’s reaction was both moving and hilarious in the weirdest call back to STII. “Khaaaan!” And we totally buy it. Yes, Spock is behaving emotionally, but this Spock lost his mother and planet. Now you just killed his best friend. This is the rage the we feel at seeing Kirk die (again). And it is consistent with TOS Spock, after thinking Kirk had died (“Amok Time”).
A retired Kirk is bombarded by space paparazzi as he attempts to pass the proverbial torch to Cameron from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Directed by some dude named David Carson. He was actually the director of several TNG and DS9 episodes, starting in Britain directing episodes of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” and “The Return of Sherlock Holmes.” Fitting, with the franchises’ continued Holmes connection. So, he “knew” Star Trek, and did a good job. I think the weaknesses were mostly in the script. Right out the gate, for no plot/story reason, Picard’s nephew dies in a fire. It adds to his anxiety about not having a family “of his own,” but we already knew this. Seemed like an unnecessary sacrifice. Malcolm McDowell is his reliably epic villain self. And like all great villains, again, his actions make sense. The return of the Duras sisters was a welcome addition to the pallet. But some of the details are confusing for the old TNG fan. Like, why then did Scott expect to see Kirk in TNG episode “Relics,” if he was there in the 23rd century when Kirk disappeared? And why does Data’s emotion chip look different? The stakes were low, the ship and some random planet we never see. But the Duras sisters thankfully tip the scales of the Bechdel test, and we have our first successful pass of the impossible/unwinnable examinattion! Hurrah! Another Star Trek milestone. And more remarkably, few fans complain about hearing Data say “shit.”
Shatner is, and always has been a great actor. And he gives good death scene. But the scale seems wrong somehow. Kirk dying in a relatively minor fights seems too small. Why is the Enterprise always the only Federation ship available?–even in the 24th century. The destruction of the Enterprise D itself evens seems diminished because we are now accustomed to another ship with another letter always being around the replicated corner. Neither Crusher (Gates McFadden) or Troi (Marina Sirtis) do anything memorable. And perhaps what is most repellant about this film is that Geordi’s blindness becomes a liability, as the sisters access his VISOR (visual instrument and sensory organ replacement) to find the Enterprise’s shield frequency. A far cry, I tell you, from TNG episode “The Enemy”–where Geordi’s VISOR was used to help him and a Romulan officer navigate a dangerous planet.
In contrast, “Into Darkness” had heavy jeopardy: war (STVI), the ship (always), the captain, &c. While no Bechdel test winner, at least the female characters do stuff. McFadden and Sirtis would be jealous–if they weren’t such wonderful people. Perhaps most interesting was Marcus’ name drop of “Christine Chapel.” This scene is the closest we ever get to calling out Kirk’s “womanizing” which rears its head in both Prime and Kelvin universes. Another nod to the past, this time STIII, was the famed “trans warp” system–menacingly executed by the Vengeance. One of the most common “criticisms” of Abram’s Star Trek was his use of lens flares (parodied by Lower Decks). And yet no one seems to mind them anywhere else, like Star Trek: Discovery. Fans also belittle Abrams for not being a “fan” himself before production started. But why would that matter? Brent Spiner wasn’t a fan either and he is beloved. Abrams elevated the franchise to where it always wanted to be, a huge blockbuster on the same level as Star Wars. Which, considering all the previous films seemed extremely unlikely. But Abrams did it, partly because he understood the Lucas/Spielberg school and science fiction in the small and big screen. This was ultimately Abrams’ resume for directing Disney’s new Star Wars, and subsequently reboot anther mega franchise, with similar fan response. Perhaps Abrams will always be under appreciated in this universe, whichever this one is (I suspect it’s the Mirror universe).
Not to be confused by the TNG episode of the same name. This time putting in command the Enterprise’s second officer (again), Jonathan Frakes (Riker) does a great job. Because this was without a doubt the best of the TNG films. It hits all the notes you want to hear. The jeopardy is enormous. Not just Earth and/or the ship, but Earth assimilated in the past. Not only all those souls, assimilated or killed, but also all those adventures and discoveries not made because history was changed. Ships like Enterprise might never have existed in the Borg universe (imagine that spin off). The return of an old foe worked so well–especially as they were embodied by the Queen (Alice Krige). Krige actually made assimilation tempting (if it came from her, as Data suggested).
If anything, we feel for Picard, having all that trauma to deal with. The Borg are more menacing than ever, re-designed from the goth outfits of the 80’s to something more like Frankenstein’s monster. It became personal with Borg Queen, but at least she wasn’t out for revenge. The Borg was just doing what Borg do, assimilate. In a way it is the ultimate example of a “culture war.”
Time travel has always worked well for Star Trek stories. But unlike Kirk’s crew aboard the bird-of-prey, Picard urges his people to “stay out of history’s way.” Wise. And no communicators or phasers left behind! Bonus. Although–not the fault of the film–in Star Trek: Enterprise some Borg bodies and parts were forgotten. Finally TNG fans had a rival for STII, and more films were guaranteed.
The “first contact” scene between Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) and the Vulcans was perfect. And a technical success for the old Bechdel test, Crusher talks to Lily (Alfre Woodard) briefly. And the contractually obliged Data plot made sense, was even intriguing, dancing with the Borg Queen. Data had fucking skin!
The most disappointing part of “Into Darkness” was the end, when Chris Pine does his version of the “Space… the final frontier” bit. It lacks all the gravity and authority of Shatner and Sir Patrick. And perhaps that was Abram’s mistake. Maybe he didn’t know how it was supposed to sound–or appreciated it. Nimoy did a great version in STIII. Even Bacula did it well enough on the embarrassing finale of ENT. Regardless, “Into Darkness” remains the superior movie, with the box office receipts to show it. Not that success or popularity is indicative of excellence. But it did break TMP record, surpassing Wise’s slow burn.
Incessant details like the “Kelvin Memorial Archive” in London, and the Starfleet rings on everybody’s hand make the Abramsverse alive and vital. No one can say he didn’t care, or pay attention to what he was doing. Greenwood gives us a good death scene, as does Peter Weller. So much death is standard, yet they save Khan. KHAN LIVES! (again!) And I can’t help but think that if Abrams himself made the third Star Trek film, he would have brought back Cumberbatch’s Khan like a Loki to Kirk’s Thor.
Frakes is again at the helm (or joystick) of the enterprise, going in a smaller story direction (ie: low jeopardy), with aliens audiences had little investment in. Data going ‘rogue’ was briefly interesting, but quickly overcome by a regurgitated Pinocchio plot. Which is ironic (or fitting?) since Riker calls Data “Pinocchio” in the second part of the first episode of TNG (“Encounter at Farpoint,” 1987). Out goes the adult Data being seduced by the Borg Queen, and in comes child-Data, literally rolling around on the ground with a kid. No wonder he couldn’t handle a girlfriend.
And again we are met with a big bad guy, basically out for revenge against the Ba’ku. The metaphor is also familiar territory for the TNG crew. The forced relocation of people is a good theme, if handled better. But the Ba’ku seem like very white humans in a space hippy commune. It doesn’t really compare to our own history of colonization. We should have cared more, as much as Picard did. But we (I) didn’t. Not even the sight of Frakes’ freshly shaven face could save this picture. And who cares about Riker getting back together with Troi. Neither are we appropriately moved by seeing Geordi’s new eyes (and vision). Like, seen it. Been there. Again it was something from TNG season one (“Hide and Q”), and he was over it! That was Geordi’s strength, he was born blind! Why is it always such an “issue” to be exploited by screenwriters? Tasteless, and tone deaf–if you will pardon the ableist words. And that is essentially what this was, ableism. And such a stark contrast to Disco’s more mature approach to ability issues.
F. Murray Abraham is very good at being a villain. The whole Son’A empire seemed far more interesting than the hippies (Did you ever just look at flower?). Having a race that conquered other races and integrated them into their “society” was a really fascinating theme, furthering the colonial commentary. All very SJW–before “fans” were weary of such things. But it is easily ruined by lines like “lock and load.” Everyone should have looked strangely at Data when he said that. Is he malfunctioning again?
In a lot of ways it has the feeling of being the second TNG film, not the third. But such are the sacred tapes. Frakes was definitely steering toward something that was ‘more like the show.’ Which was often a hang up. But it felt like it should have been ‘just an episode.’ The story was too small, too simple. And audiences seemed to agree at the box office, ending the new-movie-every-two-years streak (1992, 1994, 1996, 1998), and the never named “Frakesverse.” Star Trek: Nemesis would not be released for another five years (ironically).
“Into Darkness” cemented the “Kelvinverse” or “Abramsverse,” all but guaranteeing, by virtue of its financial success, more movies. Star Trek Beyond was released three years later (2016). Almost immediately we are treated to more Beastie Boys (thankfully not “Sabotage” again). In a way, we are more invested in Uhura and Spock’s relationship, than Riker and Trois’. Partly because it’s a further development from the previous film. And because Riker and Troi’s thing has been played out so many times, we’re tired of it. And Spock/Uhura is hot! It’s new but old somehow–more of a major character development than, again, a theme that was done in season one (TNG).
There was terrific tension between Pegg’s Scott and Pine’s Kirk. It was almost uncomfortable to watch, which I suppose was partly the point. And reintroduced the real high point of/and Star Trek at its strongest. At least according David Gerrold, who basically re-wrote the playbook for Roddenberry (“The World of Star Trek”). Kirk has an impossible choice to make. The choice would often be something like, the ship or the planet? Or, the ship or Spock? And more than not, Kirk would look for a third alternative. He never liked a no win scenario.
Stuart Baird may have been a bad decision as director. He is famous mostly as an editor, and only directed two action movies before doing Nemesis. Often I attribute the flaws in TNG films to contractual obligations for the stars (Sir Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner). Their faces (as in the posters) and story lines had to always occupy a majority of the movies. Which directly impacted and undermined the idea that it was an actor’s collective, and not just the Brent and Patrick show. But thus were the legalities and limits of the stories they could tell.
Ron Perlman is his usual looming, manspreading self, taking a lot of space for so few lines. And a young Tom Hardy gives us a taste of what he could do. Looking not too unlike Sir Patrick, at least passing the squint test. But no Bechel test passing either. Jeopardy is war, Earth, the ship, Picard and Data. So that was relatively high.
There is a longish list of canon issues/violations, and more unfortunate things we’ve seen before in TNG. Most troubling is the ‘mind rape’ scene for Sirtis (Troi). Like this wasn’t already something we’ve (very unfortunately) already seen happen to Troi’s character. Driving a four wheeled vehicle (car) was weird to see Picard do (in the 24th century), especially as driving was novel to Kirk (in the 23rd century, “A Piece of the Action”). So, did cars come back? And why drive when you can fly a shuttle craft? The sunglasses that seemed to come with the car look very 20th century as well. And another android? Even the name, “B4” doesn’t make any sense next to “Lore” and “Data.” And he is just too convenient to the plot. Although not too, too convenient for Ridley Scott not to use the android-switcharoo plot himself in “Alien: Covenant” (2017).
Jerry Goldsmith returns to give us a very modern, very futuristic sound design. A huge step from TMP. And the costumes and ship designs were great. Most interesting were the Remans, but they were mostly represented by a human (clone of Picard, Tom Hardy). So we didn’t learn a lot about them, or see things from their perspective.
It’s been a long road, or at least it seemed like it, between the end of ENT (2005) and Abram’s “reboot” of Star Trek in ’09. Star Trek was saved! Star Trek could be–and was forever! The music gets in your guts from the start, giving the film the epic sense of grandness that should be in every movie. It also helps when Paramount isn’t constantly trying to save money (TWOK, Undiscovered Country, Voyager, &c).
The casting was exceptional. Zachary Quinto is awesome as Spock. Karl Urban is great as McCoy. And Pine is very good as a ‘young Kirk.” Bruce Greenwood was also an excellent choice for Pike. Zoe Saldana shines. John Cho, Anton Yelchin and Ben Cross as Sarek was great. I didn’t even mind Wynona as Amanda. Chris Hemsworth basically built a career out of his portrayal of Kirk’s father. Imagine: “Tyler Perry’s Star Trek.” And o what sweet thing to see Leonard Nimoy as Spock once again (last seen in TNG’s “Unification”). That gave the film real authority, bringing the “Prime Universe” with him.
The script demonstrated an equal attention to suspense and character based humour. Yes, there was another big bad bent on epic revenge (Eric Bana as Nero), but even he had humour–like that nonchalant hello to Kirk on first meeting. This film would easily be my number one if it weren’t for the sequel.
It was criticized as a remake of TWOK, but it takes ideas and themes from all over the television and film franchise. This was basically Harve Bennett’s idea for STVI, “Starfleet Academy” was a general fallback plan. Bennett was looking to recast TOS crew, originating from how difficult it was to get actors like Nimoy aboard for each new movie. Which became a sweet, sweet fruit for Abrams to pick, and exploit!
Jeopardy: Massive. Future history has been changed. Or alternatively, another universe has been created/entered. And it’s not the Mirror universe. Vulcan has been destroyed, and Earth looks next. And Bechdel testing positive, sort of. Uhura talks to her roommate, at least.
JJ Abrams does it again (as detailed above) with writers Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Even Michael Giacchino is back making epic music befitting a trek through the stars. A “bold statement” to the powers that be, or were. What else can I say about this movie? It’s all in the details, like casting Gary-7, an uncredited part as “The Nibiran Elder” and Akiva Goldsman (Disco, Picard, &c) as a “Starfleet Admiral” (imbd.com). Benedict as Khan was quite entertaining and ultimately believable. And we have no idea what will happen, because the rules, as in the last film are re-written.
Although we still have to wonder, where are all the women at?
And finally, the film answers the question from the beginning: Is there a time to disobey orders? Fucking yes there is!
Fast and Furious franchise action director Justin Lin was perhaps a good choice for action, but not so much for a real attempt at science fiction. Before writing this I watched Jessie Earl’s review, in case I missed anything. And a continual and resounding “No” was the answer. I hate to contradict her, but since we are sisters in Trek, and as Picard said, “The first duty of every Starfleet office is to the truth.” This is mine, for whatever it may be worth (no charge).
Great action, no doubt, but little depth or meaning. What is it about? Where is the science fiction allegory here? I can’t identify any symbolism, other than literal. Another motorcycle scene? And our beloved Idris Elba seems to be poorly used. His character looks different in every scene, which is confusing. By the time you recognize him, the movie is almost over. And yet another bad guy hellbent on vengeance. And you don’t really buy it coming from Elba. The stakes are so low this would have been an okay episode. And not even Pegg co-writing could make it pass a Bechdel. Strong female characters are great, but they shouldn’t be anomalies that never talk to each other. That’s like some basic shit.
Where I disagree most with Earl’s review are two things. One is that I shudder (triggered?) when I hear anyone say “Gene’s vision.” He would love to take credit for everything great in Star Trek, and he did do well. But his “vision”–the term itself is ableist, was diminished by alcoholism, sexual misconduct and basic, Ferengi greed. To make it short, he was a nightmare to work with. The details can be read in Herb Solow and Robert H. Justman’s “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story.” Roddenberry was like the Weinstein of the office. Grace Lee Whitney and Teri Garr could tell you about his “vision.”
The other thing that bothered me about “Beyond” was the Sulu family tag at the end. It seemed like a useless copout to me. Useless, because it wasn’t part of the story. It would have been great to see Sulu’s relationship develop or even threatened as part of the story. Instead an almost faceless man and what we assume is their daughter (Generations?) could have been anyone. The man could have been Sulu’s brother, or his cousin with is kid. Nothing was explicit, only implied. To me, this is playing it safe, so as not to offend anyone. We can see it as an example (first) of human homosexuality. Or, if you were say, my grand mother, would think Sulu just had a close friendship or relation. Not a big moment of representation to be celebrated. Especially to the community that has been begging for representation. Contemporary soap operas are more progressively realistic. And this is the shit Star Trek is supposed to be really good at!
But this is where taste and interpretation are subjective. Some of the queer community have always seen themselves there, in the future, though never explicitly. This is where Kirk/Spock came from! As Christians and communists see what the want to see in the 23rd century, as do Libertarians, Leftists, veterans and conservatives. The fanbase is broad, enviably so from a corporate/sales point of view. And yet, only in Disco, Star Trek: Picard and Lower Decks do we truly see the diversity of the fans in the franchise. Star Trek is on the frontier again. But “Beyond” didn’t do it for me. I mean, if Spock and Uhura can’t make it work, what hope is there for the rest of us? Kirk is tired of being a captain. And Spock wants to quit the band. What else could go wrong? Except that there isn’t a lot jeopardy (as Earl mentions). Space stations blow up all the time, don’t they? So what if it has that guy from “Heroes” in it?
I liked hearing Public Enemy, but the double tap on Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” was a bit of a groaner. Like, we heard that song way too many times in the 90’s. Hearing it once in the first new Star Trek was one thing. But you ever hear “Stairway to Heaven” one too many times? Songs have power. And if they are over used, or over played, they can lose that power. Still better than “Magic Carpet Ride” or “Blue Skies.”
Witnessing the destruction of the Enterprise (again, and again) had little emotional effect. Despite Lin’s attempt at sentimentality about the ship, this wasn’t STIII. It wasn’t even Generations.
Anyway, these are most of my notes on the Star Trek film franchise. Stay tuned for my review of all the Planet of the Apes movies–no, don’t ever expect that to happen, not in this universe.
In some cases, I can see things from several, seemingly contradictory points of view. I empathize with those that feel the red poppy of Remembrance Day doesn’t mean what it once did, or originally meant to “mean.” As an artist, I’ve become accustomed to arguements about symbolism and interpretation. As an activist, even more so. Like the Christian cross, some will see a symbol of love and sacrifice, while others, legitimately, will see as a sign of oppression. Like the Nazi swastika, a relatively innocuous mandala became an international symbol of hate. The red poppy in this century has been reinterpreted as a pro-war ornament, akin to the “Support Our Troops” magnets. And it’s easy to understand why, or how this happened. Imperialist war mongers such as British PM Blair or Canadian PM Harper both wore the red poppy while advocating continued violence in Afghanistan and the “Middle East.” It would have been difficult to imagine that happening when I was a kid in the 1980s. War was considered horrific and ultimately unnecessary, only to be used, perhaps, as a “last resort.” It was not something to threaten when you didn’t like what was going on in another country or state. It was not something a Conservative or Liberal, Republican or Democrat would advocate. Yet today, at least in the last 20 years, being pro-war is common. And military involvement is considered a fact of life for many “democratic” governments. In the last American federal election, an anti-war (peace) candidate was considered unelectable. Hillary Clinton championed regime change in Russia!
So it’s no wonder that some see the red poppy as ruined in a sense. It’s a perspective that is neither correct or incorrect. Perception is what we observe, and there is no arguing with that. There is no right answer. To me, all those old assemblies in school for Remembrance Day stuck. There was a true reverent feeling unsullied by pro-war propaganda. War was considered a thing of the past that we owed those that had served to never engage in again. Never Again was thought of literally, and we truly believed that war meant the end. In part it was because it was during the last days of the Cold War. In Canada, the most recent war was with Korea in the 1950s. Ancient history.
One of the things we have to consider about in art, as in law, is what was the artist’s (or law’s) intent? Because that matters–no matter what modern culture or interpretations turn things into. I think the original intent of wearing the red poppy was honourable. As such, it seems to me to be a way of honouring my grandfather and great-grandfather (who fought in the Second and First World Wars [respectively]). There is very little that anyone (or state) could do with the red poppy that will change how I feel about it. I was at one time so pro-poppy that I wore one constantly, right next to my carré rouge and and a Starfleet pin my sister gave me. As I would explain, it was the trinity. The red poppy represented the past; the square, the present; and Star Trek was the future. Then one evening I was approached by an older military man. He had noticed my poppy. First, he said if I had a special reason, or association with the poppy that was one thing. But to him, he said, there was specific time for the red poppy. And that was two weeks before and after (if memory serves) November 11. Any other time was triggering to this man. In fact, he began to cry as he attempted to explain. The placement of the poppy was also significant. It was not for your hat. It was for your left lapel. And again, he reiterated that if I had a special relationship with the poppy, that was one thing. But using it in a non-traditional manner was obviously painful for this man. And I almost immediately removed my red poppy until the following November. He was also not fan of the white poppy. In general, I don’t want to do any harm to anyone, even offend. There’s no point, especially among allies. And we are allies. Respecting this man was also a way of respecting my grand fathers.
I would go further, and suggest that using a pin with the Canadian flag, or anything else on top of the poppy is appropriative. It bothered me when I saw red squares with a peace sign or an anarchy symbol on top, as if it required qualification. As if to say, we only support the student movement if it’s peaceful, or anarchist based. I would also consider that one of the main purposes of the poppy today is financial support of the Legions. Because those Legions are important places. Perhaps not to you, but then it’s not for you.
It also seems like folks of my background and privilege are the ones that feel the most comfortable abandoning the traditions of their parents or grand parents. It has not gone unnoticed that those wearing white poppies, or antagonistic against the red are about my age and complexion. And, that many members of various Indigenous communities continue the red poppy tradition. Red poppies in bead form are not uncommon. Settlers have a lot to learn, or unlearn and understand about Indigenous culture, and how to honour our ancestors is one of them. It’s also been observed in other marginalized communities, not only of respect, but of pride of service. Pride in a contribution, representation, and recognition of that due pride. I see all religious groups wearing, and commonly respecting the red poppy. I even saw Doctor Who wearing one once. As blatantly nationalistic as the modern Doctor Who series could be, they were never a war monger. And if you see me wearing one, I’m not advocating any military actions either. Neither are, I imagine, most wearers. And, even if some people did, or do, it’s no reason to go to war! I think we can tolerate our differences on this one.
And yes, things change. Meaning changes. I would not suggest anyone wear a swastika, even if they think of it as just a mandala. But a red poppy is not a swastika. There is also something to be said for honouring the dead. The living don’t do it very often. And who will honour us? And will it be fashionable at the time? Another question to consider, for those who believe the meaning truly has changed: Could it change again? Is this perhaps a phase? And when it’s over, will we know? How do we use a tarnished symbol well? Then, not everybody has to wear one. Fortunately, it isn’t mandatory, like a draft. Our relationships with objects like the red poppy are complicated. Can we take what we want? Is every meaning meaningful? Do all babies come with bath water included? Does your interpretation disqualify mine? Obviously, I don’t have all the answers. Mostly questions, always questions. And I’m definitely not a qualified judge of whether people should wear a plastic flower in November. But I get it. I’ve judged people for not wearing a red square, for not showing up at a protest. There are all kinds of reasons to judge. The nice thing is that judgements, like thoughts, like interpretations can change. And it happens again and again.
I am reminded continually of how important is is for men to talk about and take responsibility for violence against women (all women, all men). At an event recently with Lucy DeCoutere (TPB) and Jessica Ruano (The Ghomeshi Effect), I was one of about three men among thirty-plus women in attendance. Hence this, the sequel to “Where Do Racists Come From?”–not because any hierarchy of relevance, but an obsessive compulsive alphabetical orderliness (P comes after C).
Let’s get the nature out of the way. We may be born with violent instincts. Some might argue that aggression is as innate as the urge to eat or excrete. But those impulses can be controlled. Aggressive public behaviour is a lot like not being toilet trained. With the exception of those few cases where behaviour is medically uncontrollable (such as Tourettes, PTSD, &c). The wrong conclusion is that if it comes from nature, there is nothing we can do about it. I hear the same argument used in favour of capitalism. But by definition, socialism is humanitarian. The capitalist is a sociopath, with no bounds in law, religion, philosophy or science. It’s also very basic to love and feel empathy.
Where the nurture part comes in begins at cognitive awareness. It is very possible to over shelter a child. Which is another primal instinct, to want to protect our children. But too sterile an environment can lead to a lack of immunity and anti-bodies, leading to disease, infection and viral out-brake. The same is true of the mind/spirit. THE BIGGEST MISTAKE A PARENT CAN MAKE IS NOT TALKING TO THEIR CHILDREN ABOUT CONSENT. Rapists, unlike racists, don’t wave any flags or badges. They can even come across as nice guys (Bill Cosby, Michael Jackson, Nick Carter, &c). And here I will mention Ghomeshi. He fooled a lot of people into believing and supporting him. He had an entire national network working for him. And he used that position to cultivate an image, and ingratiate himself with all our beloved personalities. Even Amanda Palmer spoke out in his defence. Like Lena Dunham defended her former associate on “Girls.” Here is another place men feel invulnerable to attack or criticism: when they have strong female allies. Or as one dude once put it, ‘How can I be sexist when I have a girlfriend?!’–like the often referenced friend of colour who instantly exonerates all possible racist thoughts. Bosses often tout their openmindedness by pointing out they exploit the labour of all genders/sexes/races–NO HATE HERE!
A common trait among boys is stalker-type behaviour, which usually manifests itself in following somebody. I did this once or twice when I was about twelve. It may have been harmless–but it could have made someone feel legitimately unsafe. A common conservative mantra has been “fuck your feelings.” As if, 1) they don’t matter, and 2) is not itself an emotional response.
When I was fourteen, I had a girlfriend. In the beginning I was petrified of touching her. In the end I was the typical handsy dude. Constantly pressuring her about sex, which neither of us had ever had. I can’t remember exactly, but that was probably why we broke up. Basically because I was a baby. And she was really cool. She did Tai Chi and introduced me to the Sugar Cubes and Pachelbel’s Canon in D. I wouldn’t have another girlfriend for four years. But my stalkerish behaviour continued. One year I rode the bus back and forth from Sunnyside to Rideau. Thinking, hoping I might run into her somewhere. Whoever she was. Who she was changed. The next year I would go biking in the neighbourhood I thought she lived in. Just wishfully biking about. Fortunately for her–I had no actual idea, and was never ever near her house. I wasted a lot of time and opportunities in high school pining for one or awkwardly rejecting another. Absolutely backward. And by this point, I had my own experiences with sexual harassment from men.
Objectifying women starts early. Thankfully, I had two things going for me in high school. 1) Life studies. Enrolling in Canterbury’s fine arts program meant looking at naked people (in grade nine). And all of us seemed to adapt quickly. One day we were drawing a man in a thong, and the next a naked woman was there. And I think we behaved ourselves. I don’t remember anyone saying anything inappropriate, or doing anything weird. We all just grew up one day in September, 1990. And the other, 2) being a co-op at CKCU, (1992). Here I learned how to have adult conversations with all kinds, including women. The age difference meant I didn’t generally see them as potential partners. This is also when I started drinking, and smoking pot. And in a way, became more distanced from goings on at Canterbury.
Then, in my early twenties I was, what I called, a “scoundrel.” I lived my boyhood fantasies of promiscuity. And in the process I hurt people. With role models like James Bond and James T. Kirk, how could I go wrong? Only the weak will be hurt. Then one woman I had an affair with (she had a boyfriend at the time) died. They said it was suicide. My treatment of her may not have been a factor. But I’m sure it did not help. I never supported or cared for her. I used her like a Bukowski character might (another role model). And at that same time I began another “affair” with a woman I had fallen deeply in love with, but I was unprepared, and still too much of a child to be a good partner.
I should also point out that there were other factors to consider, at least in my behaviour. Alcohol and mental illness. I was depressed, even for a someone with a bipolar condition. And the booze didn’t help (more, like Bukowski).
I wouldn’t blame religion more than the people who falsely interpret it. One such character from the US, was recently interviewed saying, since “murder” is worse than “rape,” rapists have more rights than women who have had an abortion… What also doesn’t help are Catholic schools. Every year they attempt to radicalize children with bus trips to Parliament Hill to protest women’s autonomy. Paid for by us, if you live in Ontario.
Ultimately, the answer to the question, like “Where Do Racists Come From?” is: us. They are not some outside force breaking into society. Racists and rapists created this system, from George Washington to John A. Macdonald. Yet, we are continually surprised when it works in their favour. Our governments often have a consent problem. They are elected, and feel entitled to do what they want with the air, land and water. They act without honour or respect for the people the land was taken from, or, for the majority of people that did not vote for them.
One of the root causes of rape culture is that men often have more sympathy with the rapist than “alleged” victims. Why? Partly because men often have a history of inappropriate behaviour themselves. Some men, take men’s side, as if they were all on the same team–of boys against girls. It’s also because many men don’t have close enough relationships to know that they know survivors. It might be more difficult, for example, to laugh at a rape joke when a survivor is in the room–but you might have to know that. And most people aren’t going to share that kind of information with everybody–NOR SHOULD THEY HAVE TO. Again, AWARENESS. If you are truly aware, you know that you don’t need to know everything. In fact, it’s that awareness that you don’t know everything, and that you never need to, you need to make the best decisions. Nor should we require every example of humanity to be present for us to act respectfully.
I have found that one of the keys to empathy is imagination. It’s a lack of imagination (and critical thinking, fear, &c) that leads to hate. It’s easier to hurt people where there is distance, both physically and metaphorically (in war, lynchings, sexual assault, &c). Another historical recurrence is the dehumanizing of the subjected. It is never enough to colonize and enslave. An hysterical level of hatred needs to be constantly maintained. Any granting of rights or freedoms will be seen as a betrayal, a concession. The ruling classes will become jealous–as if it meant less rights for them, or “special rights” for a few. The same people confuse Feminism with matriarchy, and BLM with terrorism. But people see what they want to see, or what they’ve been trained to see. Often, casting themselves as the victim.
If you’re a man, and you’re reading this, you might ask yourself, “Am I a problem?” And the usual reaction is, “No, of course not.” Most men will fail this test. Can a woman walk by without you staring at her? And do you? Could a woman go topless without you gawking at her? Because this is the kind of daily harassment women have come to expect. Today (2019). “Catcalls” being the auditory version. Even our eyes can be weaponized. Some men (through no fault of their own) have faces that are intense, eyes that pierce. And that’s all we need to know. I try to smile. I lift my eyebrows from their natural scowl to a more neutral position. A man’s body can itself be intimidating–and most men fail to appreciate that. It’s actually extremely easy to be better than “most men.” Just being aware of yourself is a huge, huge hurtle. But we have to try. I try, and often fail. But the meaning is all about intent, not necessarily about how it all comes out. Like, I’m not entirely sure I’m expressing myself clearly enough here. Perhaps some of my words have been misused or loaded in ableist terminology. This happens. We have to forgive ourselves and others for our oversights. It’s a bumpy road, especially if you’ve had blinders on all your life. And accept the checks to your privilege, language and behaviour. When someone checks you, search yourself deeply. Don’t just jump to a defensive position. Learn to love being corrected. You will ultimately be wiser for it.
What I’m working on now is fear, and ego. Sometimes it can be frightening to do the right thing. And often our egos get in the way. We often won’t allow ourselves to do the right thing because we were hurt. But we can change all that. We can become more afraid of not doing the right thing. Guilt can be a powerful weapon against tyranny. And it can become habit, like all those “bad” things.
One night, some years ago, I was stuck in Montreal. I missed the last bus to Ottawa, and had to wait at the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts until six AM for the next one. At about three or four, the place was hopping. Full of people coming from neighbourhood nightclubs. I was sitting at a booth, with a coffee. And at the booth next to me, a young man was yelling at a woman. He was very angry, and verbally abusive. And everybody, including myself, were trying not to notice. Then he got physical (TW). He put a lit cigarette on the table, grabbed her by the back of the head, and tried to push her face down on it. At this point, I stood up, and said, “Hey!”
And he said, “What’s it to you?! You like her or something?” I was more interested in de-escalating, rather than getting into a fight myself. And I recognized his attempt at making it personal.
So I said, “No. I’m just trying to have my coffee. And you are bothering me.” And I guess this tactic worked. Either he understood my reasoning, or I didn’t antagonize him anymore. Either way, he apologized–to me. And he and his partner slowly collected their things and left. Afterward, a few people sitting nearby thanked me. And I felt awful. That poor woman. And I thought about all the women who were at home, where no one would intervene. I might have given her a break, for a moment. But they were leaving together. And I couldn’t think of anything else I could do. This was before the age of cellphone cameras and social network shaming. There were definitely better ways to have handled it. But we often aren’t able to think clearly at times like these. I did the least I could. And sometimes, if you’re lucky, that is enough.
My first word, when I was a baby, was “No.” And I’ve been quite comfortable to deny consent since. But what was perhaps “natural” for me, doesn’t come so easily for others. Thus, we must always encourage dissent from our children. To question authority. To question orders. Continually question. And never settle for a poor explanation. Teach your children, not to “behave,” but to rebel. And like me, they may have the instinct. But without direction, that rebellious spirit can turn into manarchism, toxic masculinity disguised as fair, progressive, even “logical.” As it did with me. But I changed my mind (with a little help).
With regret and thanks, to all the women that have suffered, and that have had enough–and told us all, many times. Some of us are beginning to listen. Temba, his arms wide.
Jack Frost (James Brumal)
PS: If you’re a parent and you’ve read all this, you may be saying to yourself, “That’s great, James. But my boys would never ever do anything like that.” YOU OWE THEM THIS TALK, wether you think it’s relevant or not. Believe me, I was a sweetheart too. But I didn’t get it.
PPS: If you’re a parent and you’ve read all this, and think, “This doesn’t apply to us, we have girls.” You would be mistaken. For one thing, talking about consent means explaining that your girls never have to give Uncle a kiss, or sit on Grandpa’s lap if they don’t feel comfortable. Girls (like anybody) also need to know how to respect other people’s space. And girls can be boys. Boys can be girls, and all combinations between and surrounding. EVERYONE needs to learn these lessons. Even if you’re just now figuring it out at forty-three. Or you want to give your kids a head start.
Rape Culture: when the judicial system finds in favour of the rapist, seen on video and labeled (by the rapist), “When your first time having sex was rape.” Brock Turner’s judgement was not an aberration. It was a part of a trend, that spans across the male dominated world.
Chinese philosophers had a great way to avoid semantic arguments. Often at the beginning of a book, they would define the words they were using. So Lao Tzu or Tung Chung-Shu would write, “Does not the term “nature” mean what is inborn (sheng)?” So, in this vein, I shall spell out a few things. When I suggest that some forms of “censorship” are necessary, I am talking about the following: self-restraint, manners, filters; protecting private information, removing photos or video of ‘revenge sex-tapes’ and child abuse. I am NOT talking about government mandated language or book burnings. If that is all you can imagine resulting from some limit to your language, its officially no longer my fault. If your imagination is so limited, you may not survive this little “note” without being horribly offended. Another phrase that gets thrown around a lot is “free speech.” An early institutional guarantee of this can be found in the American Declaration of Independence, and the famous 1st Amendment. Now, was it created to allow racists to say whatever they wanted? No. Slave owners committing genocide don’t often have a grasp of “racism.” Hopefully, I don’t have to define racism here. The amendment was written after years of having to watch their revolutionary tongues, because it was “treason” they were talking about. And they could have faced all kinds of consequences for criticizing the Crown. So, at equal importance as freedom of religion, of the press, and to peaceably assemble, was “freedom of speech” and “petition for a governmental redress of grievances.” Although never guaranteeing freedom from libel. Another phrase, although I’m not using it much here, is “Safe spaces.” Which are also bitterly complained about by predominantly old white men (John Cleese, Jerry Seinfeld, Ricky Gervais, Bill Mahar, Stephen Fry, Donald Trump, &c) in the same breath as “PC culture.” “Politically Correct” was itself a phrase created by conservatives protecting their racist rights about 25 years ago. Liberals joined in, and its been a misused and abused fear tactic on either side ever since. Hence, any debate is often met with hysterical offence–the very thing they say they abhor–sensitivity. They ignore the purpose of safe spaces, and quantum leap to 1984. The purpose being to create places of some comfort and mutual respect in communities, schools and work places. So people are on their best behaviour, not shamed necessarily for their misuse of words or offensive language by some higher authority (although it can definitely happen). But really, why would a defender of free speech be afraid of being shamed? Isn’t that a little over sensitive? But I digress–or progress…
The “slippery slope” defence. The suggestion that once we do away with hateful expressions, such as “red skin” or “kike,” all kinds of words like “gypsy” and “tranny” will be lost for all time. The limits this would place on artistry is unfathomable. The internet and media will be controlled by one big “safe space” and white men will be made to feel uncomfortable. And socialism’s nasty red side will burst into full blown Communism! And yet, conservatives are okay with the state telling people which bathroom they can use. But, you know, it starts and ends in in the bathroom, so…
I have to also point out that I was once one of you–defending the almighty artist’s right to say whatever. Because I am an artist. But I grew up. And I forgive anyone that doesn’t get it, because Voltaire would have a hard time understanding what I’m trying to say. I wouldn’t want to be debating any of the old masters on this subject. Alan Moore and Robert Crumb would disagree with me, and I, with them, on this. But, most people actually believe in some form of “censorship,” even if they can’t fathom it (or define it as such). Anyone thats been in a real relationship knows there a certain words, certain subjects best left unmentioned. Unless somebody really wanted to hurt the other person. Parents often ‘protect’ their children from seeing or hearing certain things–Is that censorship? Are children being mistreated by not being allowed to watch a scary movie? Nope. That would be ridiculous. Johnny is going to have bad dreams! The reverse is also true. Do you allow your parents to be berated by verbal abuse–on principal? And how about gramps? Think your elders should “toughen up?” Who else is entitled to verbal abuse? Can you imagine of a more clichéd situation, than that of man not appreciating his female partner’s pain? How many men have you noticed, never “getting it?” Men will even ridicule their partner’s discomfort. I know, I’ve done it. And its an awful thing. Good partners will support each other. And they tread carefully. So we actually censor ourselves around family and loved ones all the time. Yet we tell strangers that they are being “too sensitive” if they are offended by a random remark. Its like the abnoxious tourist syndrome, that seems to affect mostly white men (coincidentally, of course). We know we’ll never likely see these people again (as in, not face consequences), so we act like jerks. Which is also what is going on on-line, another white/male dominated problem. Where there is often zero accountability. Facebook’s removal of photographs with women’s nipples showing compared to their ‘hands off’ approach to holocaust denial pages and “shoot an Indian day” is very revealing (pun intended). https://globalnews.ca/news/4363391/posts-on-facebook-proposing-shoot-an-indian-day-prompt-arrest-of-flin-flon-woman-saskatchewan-woman/?utm_source=GlobalWinnipeg&utm_medium=Facebook But, you know, PC culture has gone too far. I don’t want to debate the old masters–but it is the student’s duty to surpass them, to look beyond what they saw. People who grew up in the 1950s appreciate a certain amount of irreverence, in part because of how square and restrictive Western society was at that time (family, church, school, government, &c.). But that is a rebel’s reaction to control, which is fine. But today, irreverence is a staple. And a lot of classical control mechanisms have been made obsolete by the internet. If the Rolling Stones can’t keep that incriminating film of theirs from popping up on YouTube, how likely is it your government can ultimately restrict any information? Think Manning, Snowden, Assange, Anonymous, Russian hackers, Chinese hackers… But yeah, I get it. There’s nothing nobler than defending the right to say whatever. Fuck people’s feelings. They’re just feelings, after all. Isn’t that the attitude of a sociopath?
I remember 1993, and falling right into the trap of hating the hateful thing known as “Political Correctness.” There seemed no other option but to hate. That was 25 years ago. And I am a very different person today. I was dumb, and over confident enough to tell a black man that racism was “funny.” For real, I did that. And no one told me how stupid that was, other than him. But I didn’t take him or his experiences seriously. And I continued to have that refined sense of artistic integrity–where no words were forbidden! Much to the embarrassment, I’m sure, to some people in my life. I used the n-word, in the height of arrogant “irony” with the most intellectual of excuses. The more creative you are, the more imaginative your explanations can be for your behaviour. I could write books about my divine right to say whatever. Fast forward to 2018, I’m a 42 year old white man, and I’m taking responsibility. How novel! I was wrong, so terribly wrong thinking I was somehow above the meaning, implication and context in using that word. But I learned. I adapted. Because I started working with groups like Occupied Ottawa–and them/they don’t tolerate that shit. I learned that my words have power and privilege attached. And we haven’t moved beyond racism being an issue, like in Star Trek. Race is still a big, big issue. And just because you are literally too privileged or tone deaf to hear it, your words have an effect. As to the 23rd century, we aren’t there yet.
The “who’s going to decide, you?” defence. Because thats what I’m somehow suggesting, that I should be Big Brother–or somehow want to be. I’m interested in creating consensus. Like, if a consensus of scientists said something like climate change was created by humans, you would take them seriously, right? Well, if there is a relative consensus in your community (family, office, wherever) about what words shouldn’t be used, then that’s the decision. If the choice is from one person, or one little group it won’t work. It has to be commonly accepted. Because that’s another thing this is really about, and that’s consent.
You want to know where racists come from? Unconditionally loving parents. The tolerance of racism. They come out from under bridges and show off their swastikas because they know you won’t fight them. They count on our high tolerance levels. My grandfather killed Nazis, while kids today want to let them “have a voice.” You know who else gave Nazis a voice? Germans, and look how that turned out. And yet, the great defenders of FS will compare censorship to fascism. And yes, there were books burned. Anything they considered ‘deviant art’ was taken away. But again, context is essential. THEY WERE NAZIS!They didn’t like most things. The people we are supposed to be afraid of here are teachers, feminists, socialists, BLM activists, Gay-straight alliances and Jews! Basically, the opposite of Nazis. What I’m talking about are community standards. As in, try not to be an asshole. That’s it. Self restraint. Nobody is calling for the formation of the PC police. Nobody is suggesting the government should control everything we say. What we are asking for, is that on occasion, people restrain themselves. And if they can’t control the racism inside them, I think a little lecture might be in order. Or in extreme cases, a punch in the face. And you know what? Its not easy. Controlling yourself. It requires a lot of responsibility. I usually have to work on it a little everyday. If I leave the house, that means that I will be surrounded by different kinds of people. There might be children walking by, or elderly people with sensitive dispositions. And I remind myself that my actions have consequences. We effect one another with just our proximity, on so many levels. But, not everybody is going to get it.
Maybe tell Johnny he shouldn’t use certain words? Parents often feel entitled to manage every aspect of their children. From what they eat, to where they can go. Why not tell them there’s some bad words out there? And this is really important, there’s a reason we don’t use them. Tell them that them their words can hurt people–and you know what, children will understand. If you have to keep peanut butter out of school lunches, you can try keeping the racist words down to a minimum.
GMCFOSHO advises, “White people you can sing it too, just change the N to a W. I miss my wigga, I miss my wigga…”
The basic moral of this story is that you have to take people seriously when they say something hurts. Just because its not hurting you, doesn’t mean its not doing damage. Is the rape survivor being “too sensitive” when she can’t appreciate a rape joke? I told one once. And I deeply regret it–every part (More on this in the sequel to this piece, “Where Do Rapists Come From?”). Its impossible today to talk about being “too sensitive” without thinking of Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette.”
She has helped define a movement with no satisfactory name or description. If you haven’t seen Nanette, do. Consider it homework. Today, people are calling it the “#MeToo era.” But it started well before Weinstein and company’s infamous evil. It’s a changing attitude (not a new one), and a progressive one–one that doesn’t tolerate intolerance. We kick the Nazis out of the circle without entertaining any of their notions. Hashtag #FuckNazis.
And then, at last, they will call you Nazi. Because you won’t suffer their presence. Literally because you are against Nazis, they will call you a Nazi. How hilarious is that? And the ones that howl against rules, they reveal themselves as the truly “sensitive” ones. They are the epitome of the “snowflakes” they abhor. Because they are “just words” aren’t they? White folks get all revolutionary when you tell them they can’t say something. Now try living in a world where people feel entitled to say whatever they want, whenever they want, just like the internet. Wouldn’t that be great? And just like the internet, the comments would never stop. To some of us, that would be a living hell. The fear of reprisal after saying something hateful is the thin line holding society together!
And how many new words are created in the English language every year? And someone is worried that we will somehow miss a racist term like “jigger?” How many people know about the word now? Is there a racism historian saving this valuable information for future generations? One person told me to “move to China” if I liked censorship so much. Overlooking the obvious racist undertones; the dead horse of “if you don’t like it, leave” is a vast over simplification and really undermines any pretence of a democratic society. “Don’t like it, leave” might make a great motto, but not exactly the best attitude–especially when said by European settlers. Our ancestors didn’t like it, and stayed. Assuming it was theirs and God’s to do with as they pleased. Which has often been part of the problem, that really we’re doing it for everyone’s “good”–being insensitive. Now we have temper tantrums because we have to be treated like children–because we are children. And children need structure. And whats also a choice, is to grow up, or remain forever in a man cave.
I don’t know if I’ve proven my point here, or merely ranted about it. But I felt it necessary to write. Nothing forces one to define themselves more than being misunderstood. So, I try to explain. Tell me what you think–because it is a dialogue, a philosophical discussion. And as I said, its still developing. I’m still learning and developing. My language still needs work. I still use ableist words. This isn’t coming from on high, or a place of superiority. I am down here in the trenches with you. I make mistakes all the time, and I try to forgive myself. But here’s the great thing: you don’t need to make my mistakes. You can make your own mistakes! Use your fear and guilt for good! #WhiteGuilt can be a powerful tool. Just don’t let it turn into #WhiteFragility. As in, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t use the n-word.
Where everyone is welcome. Where we try to treat each other with dignity, respecting physical and emotional boundaries (consent). Where we attempt to free ourselves from all forms of oppression (actions, behaviours, and words).
We say safer because a safe environment is what we work towards, but cannot guarantee. We recognize our communities are still greatly effected by a continuance of the colonial and capitalistic attitudes of hierarchy, power and privilege.*
Oppression includes violence and discrimination based on ability, appearance, age, class, ethnicity, gender identification,** language, religion, &c.
** Gender Identity: “One’s innermost concept of self as male or female or both or neither—how individuals perceive themselves and what they call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different than the sex assigned at birth. Individuals are conscious of this between the ages 18 months and 3 years. Most people develop a gender identity that matches their biological sex. For some, however, their gender identity is different from their biological or assigned sex. Some of these individuals choose to socially, hormonally and/or surgically change their sex to more fully match their gender identity.”
“Gender identity is the inward sense of being male, female, both, neither, or any other gender(s). This identity is not visible. Gender expression is an outward means of expressing a person’s gender and can include mannerisms, clothing, hair, and other modes of expression. While gender expression is often visible, it is not necessarily an indicator of a person’s identity. The only way to know a person’s gender is if they tell you.
“A common misconception is that sexual orientation and gender identity are the same. In short, gender identity is an inward sense of gender and sexual orientation denotes the gender or genders a person is sexually attracted to. Just like cisgender people, trans* people can be queer or straight.”
Nothing invigorates or creates a movement like a threat. Pride was started because of police violence at Stonewall in 1969. The Slutwalk was started because a Toronto police constable suggested publicly that women could avoid sexual assault by dressing differently. Occupy Wall Street wasn’t started because of the 2008 market crash. It was because the major banks were greatly supported financially by their affiliated governments; while the poorest, most at risk people were ignored. Years later, none of the criminals that caused the crash were ever charged or adequately investigated. And to make matters worse, governments of the world used the recession as an excuse to enact austerity legislation. OWS was an attempt, in one regard, to take back some of what was taken. It was thought that the West should have its own Arab Spring. The student movement in Quebec was started when the then Liberal government proposed raising tuition. In the United States, TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline became such an issue last year that Obama postponed any decisions until after the election. There has been a huge resistance, in particular because of its transportation of Tar Sands dilbit (diluted bitumen). In Canada, the story is similar. TransCanada, amongst others corporations, have been carving the country up with pipelines and pipeline proposals. The latest local concern is TransCanada’s Energy East, surpassing Enbridge’s Line 9 in relative scope and immediacy.
The list of reasons against this pipeline is about as long as the list of organizations standing up against it. The Council of Canadians, Ecology Ottawa, Occupied Ottawa, Solidarity Against Austerity, Dec-Line 9 Ottawa, Coalition of Concerned Citizens and Sustainable North Grenville are a few of the closest ones. #tarfree613 has been a commonly seen hashtag. The latest, and perhaps most impressive direct action has been the SaveCanada routine. When we were driving to North Bay on August 27th, 2013, as part of our (OO, SAA & DL9 coalition) “TransCanada RESISTANCE Tour,” we had no idea what we would be witness to. Outside the West Ferris Community Centre, there were several tables occupied by local people wearing shirts that read: “Concerned Citizen.” And inside, as well as out, there were the blue shirts, looking almost identical to those of the TransCanada reps, that read: “SaveCanada.” Which really took awhile to even notice. It was surreal. One of the articles about the action describes them “schooling” TransCanada, but they really schooled us. We were going up there thinking we might have some solidarity to share, and we did, but we received way more than we could have given. The people wearing SaveCanada shirts mingled with the other TransCanada blue shirts, and offered another perspective–one that TransCanada would not have given. Their main concern was their beloved Trout Lake, the town’s drinking water, which the pipeline would immediately threaten. But of course there were also broader concerns.
And what problems could anyone have with such pipeline? I’ll go over a few of the more obvious before analyzing TransCanada’s sales pitch at these “open houses.” 1) ALL LIFE ON EARTH. It sounds a little over dramatic, but not if you are actually paying attention to what a majority of the unmuzzled scientists have said. Global temperatures have increased in the last thirty years. The more extreme examples of climate change have been seen in New Orleans, New York, Calgary, Toronto and recently Colorado. If CO2 emissions are not significantly reduced in the next decade, there may be nothing further we can do. And those whose enterprise are based on this are a) ignorant b) know the risks, but accepts them (as in, make as much money before the end), or c) both. 2) OIL PIPES SPILL. This is an inevitability. TransCanada themselves (at the “open houses”) say that pipelines are “99.99%” safe. That’s one in ten thousand. People buy lottery tickets with higher odds. And which First Nation’s territory, provincial park, lake, river or farmer’s field will it be? Its a long pipeline that crosses most of Canada. And the proposal includes using an existing 50+ year old gas pipeline–and pumping dilbit through, exactly like Line 6 in Kalamazoo (Enbridge). 3) ALTERNATIVES. Tar sands oil or fossil fuels in general are NOT necessary, not for “jobs,” “demands,” “energy security” or any economy. Solar power has also made some significantly accessible strides.
What with the billions of dollars at TransCanada’s disposal, one would think they would have some sophisticated mechanisms in place for their side. And they do–all that their money can buy. Yet there is this cheap arrogance, that only giants going through the mandatory motions are capable of. With the “Energy East” merchandise, like pens, carabiner key chains and tote bags, and the vegetable, fruit and dessert plater at their “open houses.” I use quotation marks because they aren’t that open–more like a trade show. There is the distinct impression that there is a script, and little pertinent information provided. They also take great pride in employing and “educating” members from First Nations communities. It was disturbing to see the only one from Nipissing First Nation at the North Bay event was employed by TransCanada. They have hired Phil Fountaine’s company Ishkonigan to represent TransCanada’s interests in neighbouring reservations and traditional territories. They are also present at the open houses, making it seem that there is consensual colaboration with the First Nations. TransCanada’s pamphlet entitled “Aboriginal Relations,” highlight the facts they have “Aboriginal human resources strategy,” “opportunities for Aboriginal businesses” and “has been a long-time contributor to many educational initiatives.” All of which sounds really, really bad. What could TransCanada be teaching “Aboriginal communities?”
Just going by the propaganda they provide, Canada (that is, the air, the land the waters and living things within these borders–not the government) is in serious trouble, and might be worth ‘saving.’ In one brochure titled “Pipeline Reclamation,” they refer to themselves as being “Committed Stewards of the Land.” Wow. You know who I think the stewards of the land are? It sure as hell isn’t TransCanada. Another pamphlet from the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association says that “94% of the energy used for transportation in Canada comes from petroleum products.” That’s nothing to be bragging about, that’s a sin. With all the alternatives, why would a monopoly on fuel for transportation in Canada be a good thing? Obviously its great for the oil companies and their collaborative pipeline, rail and shipping corporations. It means they have no competition, and can therefor set whatever prices they wish. There should be a law against it.
On September 4th we were in Martintown, ON. There wasn’t a great deal of resistance there, other than one or two outspoken landowners. And this sign, which I had to point out to Kurtis, because I knew he would appreciate it.
When we asked at the local “Trading Post” nobody knew anything about the proposed pipeline or open house at the Community Centre. There was actually a more attended horticulture meeting afterwards. People were bringing big green plants in, as we left. Deep River on September 11th was fun. There was five of us instead of just Kurtis and myself–which was cool. Numbers always help. Both Kurtis and I wore the SaveCanada shirts, and were greatly supported by our friends from Ottawa. As they used their numbers to divide, we used our numbers to unite and create the kind of group (or community) dynamics that they didn’t want. At one point, with one plain-clothes-comrade behind me; our ‘dialogue’ had to be broken up by one of the handlers. There are all kinds of roles being played out by the TransCanada theatre company. Its difficult to discern whether they are indeed “pipeline experts” or ill-informed actors, only given certain lines of information without possibly conceiving of the bigger picture. When I brought up things like climate change–which their information acknowledges, it was like asking if they believed in god. Its like this philosophical question, where all answers are equally true. Kurtis had me pose next to one of their pipeline samples for scale.
One of the “experts” I spoke to referred to TransCanada hiring “environmentalists” to check out sensitive areas like lakes and rivers for Energy East. The company he was talking about is called Stantec. They aren’t environmentalists. They are another corporation that does work for oil and gas companies. I’m an environmentalist. David Suzuki is an environmentalist. Stantec are not, nor would any reputable environmentalist, or eco-friendly organization make money from TransCanada. Which reminds me of what scientists call the precautionary principal. It also has demands, and they are two (2). Is there a need, and is it safe? As for needs, there is none. I’m not aware of any great “oil shortage” in the world, or Canada even. The last time I heard about something like that was in the 70’s. And as stated earlier, there are alternatives. IS IT SAFE? HELL NO! Mostly safe isn’t safe. Not even 99.99% safe. We’re talking about transporting dilbit, a relatively new thing, with one of the highest margins for error. The weather isn’t even what it was two years ago. Hurricanes and massive flooding are now common. How could a 50+ year old gas pipeline pumping hazardous materials be safe? Perhaps in a laboratory. But our planet isn’t worth experimenting on.
And I can’t help but think there must be a script for these actors. Because when confronted with irrefutable arguments, such as climate change and pollution–by me–in two different occasions, the answer was this: “Did you drive here?” The intellectual equivalent of whoever smelt it dealt it. As if, being a customer or consumer meant that you had no right to complain. That we are all equally guilty of destroying the world as TransCanada. This logic would be some news to all the movie, book, restaurant reviewers, and assortment of other consumer review-type workers out there. Yes, we paid, and are paying; but the service is terrible.
Speaking of which, one their reps said he didn’t know how to use his phone. This is the same guy that called Stantec environmentalists, asked if I drove here, and had to be escorted away. Outside the library where the open house was held, Kurtis thought this guy was taking his picture with his phone and asked him to delete it. He said that he didn’t, and if he had he couldn’t delete it or even scroll through his photos because he didn’t know how it worked. TransCanada seems in capable hands. Stewards, indeed.
And September 12th in Pembroke was good too. Again, donning our blue shirts we carried on. This time with a few local students from the newly minted Algonquin College. I’ve learned to enjoy our talks with TransCanada. I’ve subsequently gotten to know a few of the regular reps well enough. And enjoy the challenge. The open houses are a really interesting opportunity for people to”engage” with what many of us consider the “enemy.” But it is entirely civil, and catered. Its not that often that they leave their Calgary offices, and the “Operations Control Centre.” Which overseas the entirety of the pipeline, remotely. They are quiet proud of taking out the “human equation” with computers. “If an irregular condition is detected (e.g. a drop in pressure), the Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition System (SCADA) will alert operators in the OCC to immediately shut down pump stations along the pipeline segment.” Yes, that would be nice. Let’s hope nothing happens to those computers, or their operators in Calgary, otherwise the rest of the country might be a little vulnerable. Are they in some highly fortified disaster proof super structure?
Then there is the true evil. The evil I dread to speak of, but feel the need because nobody seems to. There are those that have given up hope. There are those that look upon this earth as a going out of business sale, and that everything must go. They believe we are all doomed and dead shortly anyway, so why not make as much money and have as hedonistic a lifestyle as possible before the end? But I can’t give up like that. I can’t even conceive of it. I bet on survival, every time. Its only money.
Next up is Kemptville (October 2nd), Horton (October 3rd) and our tour ends in Stittsville (October 10th). And by no means will the resistance end there, it is really just beginning. As TransCanada continues its push, we will continue to push back. It is, after all, self defense. And yes, we may all die anyway, everything ends, and there are some things we cannot stop; but how do you want to go out? What will you tell future generations when they ask why you didn’t do everything you could to prevent global warming? Will you tell them about how important jobs and the economy were? People have made sacrifices before so that we could be where we are today. They conquered kings, dictators and bosses. They won rights and ended wars. Yet we cannot curb our consumption? Are we nothing but Pavlovian dogs–victims of our own conditioning? In a non-monetary sense, we cannot afford to be. “$ave¢anada.”
STORY UPDATE: Officially, Energy East is dead. It was not approved by the current government, and is no longer a concern. Resistance is never futile.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
By James Brummel
August 8, 2013
In solidarity with Ottawa PRIDE in August 2013, I felt it necessary to talk about Star Trek. Being something of a small expert on the subject, an amateur Mr. Atoz. It has often fallen on me to educate about my favourite television program, phenomenon and subsequent franchise. And so we boldly go to that hopeful place at the final frontier… but first, some history.
Although pitched as an action/adventure “Wagon Train to the stars” by Gene Roddenberry, the program he created also depicted an almost Utopian 23rd century. War and poverty on Earth were things of the past. Women had equal roles. All races and religions were respected, as science and exploration led the way. Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) once considered leaving the show, and a fan, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King convinced her not to. It seemed important. Even to one of the greatest civil rights leaders of the 2oth century. Yet there was a large segment of the population that was never acknowledged. As progressive as Star Trek (1966) was, it never really touched on any non-heterosexual orientation. Now some will argue this point, and their opinions are very valid. That’s part of the beauty of Star Trek, a diverse universe, with equally diverse interpretations. All kinds of people love Star Trek for all different reasons. One woman I’ve spoken to, for example, firmly believes that Star Trek was about the love affair between Kirk and Spock. And no doubt, do these two characters love each other. And there is a plethora of fan fiction based on the Kirk/Spock relationship. But this was the mid-60’s, and as it was forbidden to criticize the Korean War on television, it was also impossible to have stories with any explicitly homosexual characters. George Takei, the actor that played Sulu was not open about his sexuality until 2005. He has since become one of the strongest voices for queer communities, and has recently been leading the American opposition to Russia’s criminalization and oppressive treatment of its non-hetero citizenry.
Even in Roddenberry’s second baby, Star Trek: the Next Generation (1987,) when “all men were brothers;” there was no queer content. They only flirted with the subject in two episodes, but never actually showed any human gay characters. In the first (“The Host,” 1991), Crusher (swf) falls for an alien (stm) with a symbiotic, sentient parasite inside him. The alien is mortally wounded, and in order to save the symbiote from the dying host, it is removed and placed inside another humanoid body, this time a female body. Despite her love of the previous incarnation, Crusher is unable to continue their relationship–mainly, it seems, because of the gender change. In the second (“The Outcast,” 1992), Riker (swm) becomes enamoured with an alien whose species are mostly androgynous. She identifies as female, a gender, considered by her planet’s government as an illness, to be “cured” and treated. Number One attempts to abduct her, despite Starfleet regulations.
In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1992), the symbiote stories continued with the alien science officer Dax, her previous hosts and their subsequent partners. And Quark, the Ferengi bartender, had his body surgically altered to female (“Profit and Lace,” 1998) , furthering women’s rights on his home world. No big deal. And still no humans involved. Sex changes and women kissing each other are things aliens do, did, or will do, not humans, not people as we know them.
Less said about Star Trek: Voyager (1995) or Star Trek: Enterprise (2001) the better.
Now we have the Age of Abrams, with Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). And we have another gay actor, this time totally out and playing the role of Spock (Zachary Quito). And oh yes, remember that fan fiction I mentioned earlier? By now its morphed into online fan-funded and produced episodes (Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II, Star Trek Continues). A hallmark of these features is their use of original Star Trek actors. Sulu (played by Takei) and Chekov (Walter Keonig) finally get their own story lines! Some of these actors most of us haven’t seen since the 1960’s. And something else. Something that surprised the hell out of me, when it really shouldn’t, because Trek fans are taught to expect the unexpected. But as I watched one of the more recent episodes online, it struck me, I was watching the first gay episode of Star Trek! It had taken almost 50 years, but there it was. And no revenge fueled-shaky camera-cult reboot could compare. This traditional, faithful recreation had a gay story, gay characters, and the best part was: it wasn’t about them being gay! Like BBC’s modern Doctor Who (2005) and Torchwood (2006) series, the subject was treated exactly as it should be; a non-issue, normal, natural part of the human equation. I won’t spoil it anymore, because you should watch it for yourself.
Now if they asked me, and I often wish that they would, the best thing the next Star Trek film could do is have some human LGBT&c-type characters. Take a page from its rebellious beginnings. Make history. It doesn’t have to be Kirk/Spock–although that would be awesome. It could be Chekov/Sulu, or McCoy/Scott, or Ensign Ricky and Red Shirt #7; I don’t care–but make it so! Otherwise, my beloved Star Trek, you remain as vanilla as Star Wars in the 21st century.
Its akin to watching earlier science fiction, where the future of the human race was often represented by a small assembly of white actors. And nobody in production seemed to consider the weirdness and sinister implications. A viewer could well wonder, “Where are all the other people?” And, “What the hell happened?” Who cares about aliens and starships if it seems like everybody didn’t make it. As it should be equally disturbing not to see at least some gay relationships on Star Trek in 2013. Has Earth become the opposite of Riker’s androgynous planet? Perhaps this too is a part of Abrams’ darker, dystopian future.
June 8, 2013 — Parliament Hill — Unceded Algonquin Territory
I am not an expert on Turkish law or society. I’ve probably learned more about Turkey in the last two weeks than I have ever done. What I have recognized — and what I think most people can recognize is injustice. We can all recognize brutality. And we can all recognize a complacent government.
We’ve seen it here in Canada; at the G20 in Toronto, on the streets of Montreal, and on the sacred land and waters of our First Nation, Metis and Inuit. There is an unsettling sense of familiarity when we see protestors being assaulted by those who are ‘sworn to protect.’
As the occupiers of Gezi Park have stated, its not about a park. Its about democracy. Its about fundamental freedoms. And its about consent. Without the consent of the people, no ‘democracy’ is legitimate. Rebellion, resistance and revolution should be expected, not condemned. The more our institutions try to take from us, the more we are driven — the more we must be driven to fight back and defend ourselves.*
*At this point, I meant to say something about solidarity, from the occupied in Ottawa. I would have also written (and said) more, but I chose my words carefully, and I only had one evening to work on it. A local organizer asked for a speaker from Occupied Ottawa, and my friend Obert and I were happy to help. His speech was much better than mine. It was one of the most festive and inclusive actions I’ve participated in on the hill. And I greatly appreciated being in on the jokes, themes — and most probably memes. When the Prime Minister of Turkey called the protestors çapulcu — a word meaning looters or vandals — the people decided to claim the word, and use it proudly. And then there are the penguins…
It has been painfully obvious that many, if not most people are still unaware of what is actually going on in Montreal. Even as Occupy groups, student groups, anti-austerity groups, teachers and unions all over the world have been holding solidarity casseroles and looking at Montreal (and Iceland)* as a leader (of leaderless movements). I am not a student, and I am not living in Quebec. Although I have been involved with protests and activism since high school, in Ottawa (Canada)–so you would think I might have some insight into this. In fact, its taken me months to come to the understanding I have now. Which is not to say it won’t change or deepen. Again, I am an outsider, looking at Montreal without actually being there. When I get over there next weekend (hopefully), I will likely have a very different perspective. What I have found so far is as follows…
1) First, the student strike was in response to the proposed 75% raise in tuition fees in the province of Quebec. Even, as the Charest government has repeatedly reminded us, it is over the course of 5 years; is this raise reasonable? Here, as in other parts of the world, austerity is the government’s response to recession and increased expenses. Is it reasonable to make the next generation of Quebec students pay for the failings of their parent’s financial institutions and over-spending? Is it not possible that those institutions should pay, or that a lot of funds are actually wasted? Is it reasonable to expect students to knowingly go into debt when the education they pay for does not guarantee them a job? The most popular argument from outside on this subject has been, “We have to pay more in our province/state/country, why shouldn’t they?” Or, as one young man yelled at me, who recognized my red square, “That’s not the way the world works, you fucking moron!” Both these statements betray a resentment of people with a better quality of life, or supporters thereof; in this case, Quebec. Quebec has always been distinctively different, they have fought for that, as soldiers, activists, artists and voters; and they have won. Canadian history is replete with examples. It should not be a surprise, insult or example of privilege that people in Quebec feel differently about their education. It seems like what angers most people is this perpetual threat of increased taxes. If you don’t live in Quebec, 99% of your taxes aren’t paying for Quebec education, health, or all that tear gas and pepper spray. So, you really don’t have to complain about it. Unless, an infinitesimal amount of tax for education (&c.) in Canadian provinces are offensive. I could easily list hundreds, if not thousands of frivolous things the Canadian government will be taxing you for. Your money is being spent on reality television programs and celebrating the War of 1812. While again, its education that is no longer affordable.
2) The second most popular complaint (or misunderstanding) about the strike is not allowing non-striking students to attend classes and blocking traffic. This one comes as more of a surprise to activists and labour organizations, because they are two of the oldest tactics strikers and protesters have used. Blocking the entrance of scabs has been been practiced by most unions for decades. It is a non-violent approach to put pressure on the employer, to either negotiate or make some reasonable compromise. And as to stopping traffic; so has the Santa Clause parade, Saint Patrick’s Day parade, PRIDE, construction and many other things. Tax payer money is used to help coordinate all these (police, fire department, city workers, &c). So why get upset about students fighting for affordable education?
3) The key word being affordable. The 75% increase would not have bothered so many students–if they could afford it. Effectively it means fewer people will receive an education in Quebec, and at a higher price. Some people believe that a university or college education should be free (as in Mexico, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Finland, Germany, &c). While others believe it should at least be affordable (as in Austria, Norway, &c). What both parties agree on is that going into unmanageable debt for education is unacceptable. And why, in a province as rich as Quebec, can they not expect what Mexican citizens two borders down take for granted? Because, this is not actually how the world works, its how we make it work.
4) Violence and the destruction of property. This is what you hear about from police, photographed and publicized by major media. In the hours I’ve watched the livestreams from CUTV of the protests in Montreal, I have never seen anything violent or destructive from the people on the street. Although I have seen a great deal of violence from the police. Which isn’t to say violence or vandalism doesn’t happen, it does, but by a tiny minority. The vast majority of participants in the manif nocturne have been peaceful, and formally law abiding citizens.
5) Formally, because of Loi 78. The nightly marches in Montreal moved organically, with routes decided block-by-block. This added a spontaneity and maneuverability around police intervention. Loi 78 directly prohibits that, by making marches of more than 50 participants illegal without a route given to police eight hours in advance. University, college campus and property are also off-limits according to what is commonly described as a draconian law. The new law also bans the wearing of masks at protests. Police and government officials would have us believe that the masks are to hide our identities because of criminal activity. But my own experience with activists would suggest otherwise. Many wear masks to shield them from pepper spray. Others wear them because of fear. Fear of loosing their job, fear of being targeted, identified and investigated by police or their government, fear of having their families or loved ones threatened. The fear is rampant, fear and apparent apathy. But Loi 78 had the opposite effect for which it was presumably intended. Instead of ending the student strike, it dramatically increased public support. People of all ages and backgrounds started banging on saucepans or casseroles. It has also been pointed out that the law is in in fact unlawful, as it contradicts several sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
6) Another important thing to consider is how responsible, or irresponsible law enforcement has been. Historically, the police in Canada have been instrumental in causing protest, violence and riot; from the On to Ottawa Trek to Montreal. Students, occupiers, the G20 and Montebello have clearly shown what the poor, under-privileged, people of colour, LGBT communities, indigenous people, mentally ill, panhandlers, sex workers, addicts and street people have always known: our police can be brutal. But now its your white, privileged, straight, male relative/friend being beaten and pepper sprayed. And yet, many will still look at those photographs and videos and assume that that Canadian citizen deserved a billy club to the legs. That is a problem. Police brutality at a bath house in Toronto resulted in the first PRIDE parade in that city. An insult from one police officer resulted in the Slut Walk. The riots in England of 2011 were caused by police violence. One might suspect the police of giving themselves more work. The exploits of OPS officers have appeared regularly in both local newspapers (in Ottawa) for decades. In the last two years the number of lawsuits and complaints have risen dramatically; from racial profiling and Stacy Bonds, to Confederation Park and Obert Madondo. And this year Ottawa Police Chief Verne White was given a seat on the Senate.
7) It has been categorized as the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. That is something to be proud of, as the cause is just. And its getting bigger, as more neighbourhoods and cities across Canada are having solidarity rallies. Never before have Canadians protested in such numbers. The Occupy movement has always been criticized for not having a clear enough message or demand. Well, here it is. A clear, and popular demand for affordable education. And now, its not only education, but the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom to protest that are on the table because of the Charest government.
8) If you love your freedom, thank an activist. There are those that say protesting (marching, or “camping in a park”) will never accomplished anything. Canadian history contradicts that assessment. If it were not for five women who protested, women in Canada would not have a vote or be eligible for election. No soldiers fought or died for these rights–it was the result of protesting. The civil rights movement in America of the 1960’s ended segregation (Brown v. Board of Education), banned discrimination in hiring and public accommodation practices (Civil Rights Act of 1964), reinforced voting rights (Voting Rights Act of 1965), and banned discrimination in renting of buying property (Civil Rights Act of 1968). The Columbia University protests of 1968 worked in ending the university’s affiliation with the IDA and building of a controversial gymnasium. Protesting also greatly contributed to ending America’s involvement in Vietnam. The standard response to such historical scans is that: things work differently now. And that is true. One man (Mohamed Bouazizi) in Tunisia setting himself on fire directly resulted in the Arab Spring. Which was also indirectly started by police harrassment of Bouazizi. The entire government was overthrown. In Egypt, one woman’s video request on-line for men with honour to come and protect her from police, resulted in Tahrir Square. That government was also overthrown. One man in Canada also used social media, suggesting people occupy Wall Street–as financial institutions occupied public money. That resulted in similar protests around the world, and the discourse changed forever. The public and media no longer only asked what their leaders were thinking, but now what these average people were thinking–most of whom had never protested before in their life. An honest dialogue was started. And a movement of solidarity was created, unseen in the Western world since the 1930’s (according to Noam Chomsky). Which has made the 1960’s look like a smaller prelude to what’s happening today. But again, its the students that are leading this fight. And I support our fighters for freedom. That’s why I wear a poppy. And why I wear a red square.
9) I also wear a poppy to honour those freedoms that were fought for by my grandfather, and his father. Several of which are being severely limited in Quebec, and in other parts of Canada. That’s why its important to support the resistance. Because sometimes, as in other fascist regimes, the dictator is not the result of a military coup, but of a minority of votes. And one way or the other it is our duty to resist. Fear, apathy and ignorance are things we can no longer afford. Whereas we can always afford education. Its simply a matter of making it a priority, instead of a luxury item. Education is not a privilege. It is a right.
David Scagnetti’s “Simon the Killer Teddy-Bear” is an instant Canadian classic. Imagine Wolverine as a suicidal stuffed bear… Scagnetti entrenches his characters and stories in the tradition of the great masters, like Will Eisner and Frank Miller, with a distinctively Northern touch (and humour). Each panel on every page is super clean and sharply shows a careful narrative. Simon is described as “a highly skilled special ops soldier who’s soul is trapped in a teddy-bear along with a portal that gives him special powers.” One of which, seems to be immortality, and the other is having an infinite amount of weapons furnished out of a zipper in his back.
Then there’s Smith and Jones (two aliens), a robot that is trying to find the portal, Shexy Brass and her father (Mr. Brass–the boss), Dr. V, Professor Tony Twistedowski and the world’s first “real” superhero–The Ultra. A moon that is not a moon, and a bear that is not a bear. The humour is shadowed by Scagnetti’s reality based themes, like Simon’s desire to die and his murdering of child sex offenders. Dark and light themes mirror the black and white balance. There seems to be little room for grey–everything is defined.
Most people will probably read this comic on a computer screen. But the paper can almost be seen under the ink, under the pencils. In part, its because Scagnetti’s lines are so tactile. Its also the result of a certain looseness in the strokes.
The love of the art and of various genres is explicit; from Smurfy cuteness and simplicity, to science fiction, gritty criminal drama, superheroes to beer-soaked cigars. Its ambitious, to say the least. Having disparate stories lines can be difficult enough, but disparate genres?! Its a total mash-up, worthy of Girl Talk. But unlike Girl Talk, Scagnetti is making it all from scratch. Its all from the same pen, the same hand. So there is a continuity, and also an understanding that above it all there is a story.
“Whatever that light phenomena was, burned away my body and left my soul in this…this teddy-bear! Your test revealed that I’m not aging and through some of my own…experiments…I figure it’s a possibility that I am indestructible and might not ever die! Nobody should live that long, Doc!” Perhaps not. Regardless, Simon is destined to live on for a long, long time.