TransCanada’s Energy Beast
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.
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…
Printemps erable (1-9)
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.
SIMON the KILLER TEDDY-BEAR
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.