My previous reservations regarding Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Andy Weir’s The Martian are quickly beginning to evaporate. The most recent trailer looks incredible. If this is any indication, the film will be visually stunning and hue remarkably close to Weir’s book. In which case it ought to be a thrilling, emotional piece of cinema, and a strong contender for one of the best science fiction films of the past twenty or so years.
I encountered Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas at around the same time most people do – in the turbulent and confused years of self-discovery more or less directly after exiting the nest. It is, I think, a widely misunderstood book. Taken purely as a celebration of unhinged debauchery, readers sometimes miss the strong undercurrents of anger and despair that underscore the rampant barbarism of the central characters. The book is a funeral dirge, cataloging the gradual descent of the rosier ideals of 1960s into the gaping and icy maw of practical self-interest. As Thompson saw it, only the bones of mindless self-indulgence were spit out as a patrimony of future generations.
Upon reading Fear and Loathing, I was immediately struck by Thompson’s prose and have been a fan ever since. Over time, I’ve come to see Thompson as something of a tragic figure, a man swallowed by his own compulsion toward self-destruction. Even so, he was a remarkable prose stylist, and I think it a shame that he gave so much of his energy over to other pursuits. As a social and political commentator, he had the stomach to look deeply into the darker side of things and was, in that regard, capable of deploying incomparably well-honed insights. Even as he descended into drug and alcohol induced dissipation, his rare wit and wisdom would sometimes surface, as it did in the hours after the September 11th Terror Attacks.
Anyway, the somewhat belabored point I’m driving at is an introduction to a video from PBS’ Blank on Blank series, featuring an animated accompaniment to a 1967 interview with Hunter S. Thompson concerning his experience with the Hell’s Angels. The Thompson in this interview is refreshingly cogent and introspective, delivering thoughtful commentary on the sociology and psychology of the chronically disenfranchised. Thompson recognized that violent misanthropes and criminals aren’t necessarily pathological individuals, but regular people who have lost all hope for success in the civilized world and have little choice but to eke out a living on the margins of society.
Without further ado, here it is:
According to a recent New York Times interview, Ted Cruz thinks Captain James T. Kirk would have been a Republican. He’s wrong – and here’s why. (Naturally, we’ll file this is one of the more important topics I’ve written about.)
I’ll skip the pedantry of pointing out that Republicans and Democrats no longer exist in the future depicted in Star Trek. Instead, let’s get right to the heart of the matter – James T. Kirk is the captain of a starship on a mission of exploration for a socialist government, and Star Trek itself is a rosy-eyed depiction of a socialist utopia, crafted by and populated with humanists. The very essence of Star Trek should be anathema to the modern Republican.
For the woefully uninitiated, here’s bit of a primer. Star Trek takes place in the 23rd – 24th centuries, following the adventures of men, women, various aliens, and even a few androids, operating on behalf of Starfleet, the exploratory/defensive wing of a massive, centralized bureaucracy called the United Federation of Planets. Member planets in the UFP are in many ways autonomous, but are nonetheless bound by the dictates of the central authority of the Federation. Society is classless, and the economy operates without the exchange of money.
Star Trek depicts a world in which values closely aligned with progressive humanism have triumphed. The Vulcan philosophy of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” is celebrated, and collectivist phrases like “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” carry the weight of moral compunction. The motivating force behind the mission(s) of the starship(s) Enterprise is a search for knowledge simply for sake of knowledge – and at great personal risk and material cost.
Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, put the spirit of diversity that drives Star Trek quite forcefully:
Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms… If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.
One can be forgiven for thinking these are values individuals inclined toward conservatism – at least as expressed by the modern GOP – don’t really appreciate. People who think members of the LGBT community do not deserve to share the same rights as everyone else are miles away from delighting in “those small differences”. They are expressing the sort of regressive attitude that will forever keep the most plausible, most reachable aspects of the future depicted in Star Trek forever grounded in the world of science-fiction.
Likewise, Republican rhetoric is often firmly rooted in a celebration of individual self-interest and anti-establishment sentiments that are contrary to the submission of individual needs to the collective good. Nor can it be said that people who cut funding to organizations like NASA and the National Science Foundation come off as particularly big fans of the quest for knowledge.
Hell, even free market capitalism, approached with near religious reverence by the modern GOP, is portrayed as an artifact of humanity’s childish past in the universe of Star Trek. Its primary practitioners are the Ferengi, hideous aliens who are variously treated as predatory, lascivious villains and greedy, bumbling clowns. The Koch brothers, Donald Trumps, Mitt Romneys and Herman Cains of the Star Trek universe are greeted with scorn and distrust. Their motivations are viewed as sordid and puerile. But for the modern Republican, capitalism and the quest for profit is the glue holding the moral architecture of the universe together.
So why does Ted Cruz think James T. Kirk, the equivalent of a NASA mission commander working for the government of the Netherlands, is a Republican? To begin with, there seems to be a natural human tendency to paint our heroes and role-models in the subjective palette of our individual values. Cruz is projecting his ideals on the charming space-rogue that is Captain Kirk. According to Cruz, Kirk is “working class” and “a passionate fighter for justice”. What exactly “working class” means in a classless society is, and shall remain, mysterious. But Cruz is dead-on when he describes Kirk as a passionate fighter for justice. He’s just wrong in thinking that characteristic makes him a Republican. There are passionate crusaders for justice on both sides of the aisle – they just have a few differences of opinion concerning what qualifies as “justice”. I have a strong suspicion that Kirk might be a little more sympathetic to the liberal/progressive perspective on justice than the conservative one.
In the interview Cruz says that “readers of science fiction are interested and attracted to the future. And politics is a battle for framing that future.” The future depicted in Star Trek is one in which the pillars of modern Republican ideology – Christian theology, free market capitalism, nationalism, traditionalism – have been cast aside in favor of the ideals espoused by progressive humanists. Christianity is properly viewed as a collection of myths – a comfort blanket for humanity’s infancy. Economic and monetary interests have been entirely subordinated to the will of the state and the society it serves. Multiculturalism is the rule of the day and the shackles of tradition have been broken away and replaced by context-sensitive humanistic ethics.
Let me reiterate: there’s no reason the conservatively inclined shouldn’t like Star Trek. The world depicted in Mad Max is a morose and violent hellscape. But those movies – the latest entry in particular – are great entertainment. I just wouldn’t want to live in that world. Based purely on observations of their behavior and stated political beliefs, I suspect something along those lines captures a person like Ted Cruz’s appreciation of Star Trek. It’s fine from a distance, but he sure as hell wouldn’t want to live there. In fact, his political record is that of a man who works diligently to prevent it from ever happening.