Saturday, June 29, 2013

Non-Star Trek TOS Post of the Day: 28 Days Later

I started a post (at work, again) yesterday about how I wrote an email to the Film Crit HULK in like May right before I graduated from Bard that the tiniest part of me, like 17%, or maybe 7, is embarrassed by, or thinks that I will be embarrassed by in say two, three years, but that I'm also happy to have written. I took a screenshot of the relevant part (aka not the part that I can only describe as "gushy" where I say things like reading him is "like I'm the first human being ever to read a book by an alien" (which, accurate) and "You are like the 10th Doctor if he wrote about films and I just want to say thank you" (which, gushy and also accurate). (I guess I am happy I wrote it.) That isn't the part I took a screenshot of, though. That part is this:

The point of this post was going to be that that's how I feel about blogging right now. I really want to post but I don't know what ~about. At least that's how I felt yesterday afternoon, before I watched 28 Days Later.

Context: Wynn says he's never been scared by a movie. My mission this summer: scare him by a movie. I mean, get him to watch some good horror, and watch some myself in the process, because I haven't seen that much. Alien. Aliens. Alien III. Also, I have this thing right now about wanting to be an expert in something, to have seen all of something, to be able to speak to something, and I guess zombie movies are a good place to start? Wynn was sleeping over at a friend's last night, but my picking zombie movies as the place to start was basically because my dad loves them, so I watched 28 Days Later with him and Loren (who just got home from Javascript camp). My dad saw it mentioned in a review of World War Z recently and I had the sense that it wasn't something to watch with Wynn. Who's 12. It probably wasn't something to watch with Loren, either, who's 14. It probably wasn't a good idea to watch with me AND I'M 22. 

If the mission was like "get scared" I got scared all right. But not the delighted kind of "zombies-swarm-Jerusalem scene in World War Z" scared but scared like feeling sick. And to process that, to get it out of my system, I felt like I had to journal.

What I most wanted to unpack was the difference between the first and second halves of the movie, and the way that the danger shifts from zombies (called "the infected") to the uninfected—the group of British soldiers that Jim, Selena and Hannah fall in with. The first half is silent, slow-paced—Jim wanders through deserted London in his mint-green scrubs, past an overturned double-decker bus and a wall plastered with missing persons flyers; Jim, Selena, Hannah and Frank raid a supermarket and picnic in the ruins of a monastery, watching black and white horses gallop through green fields—punctuated by brief, minimally scary scenes like the mid-tunnel tire change.

(The real reason I'm blogging about this might be that London is deserted and there's no electricity or running water and there's this scene where Frank (that's Frank, in the second picture) takes Jim up the roof of his apartment building, where he's set out dozens of containers to collect the rain, and I saw it and thought "wow that's beautiful" and "I have to blog this") (God)

I guess this is like "screenshots of my favorite shots" now? What I was journaling about wasn't that, though; it was the changing nature of danger at the halfway point, an hour in. Jim, Hannah and Selena are taken in by nine soldiers at blockade 42, and are safer in their mansion than they have been anywhere else—at least from the infected. The danger now becomes the soldiers themselves. Major West has "promised them women" because "women mean a future," and suddenly—but very naturally—the movie darkens. Settles. Whereas before we had danger (the infected), a long-term goal (survive) and a string of short-term ones (get to Jim's parent's house; get to the Christmas lights; get to the blockade; get some food besides sugar), now we have a new danger—rapists—and a goal that feels somehow more urgent than survival: save Selena and Hannah from them. 

The movie basically realigns itself; though there's still no endgame in sight, its short-term sense of purpose becomes more and more clear as Selena's shirt is ripped off, as the soldiers hand her and Hannah matching red dresses, as Selena gives Hannah pills that will make her "not care." Not only are the infected no longer dangerous (maybe 20 attack one night and are repelled by trip wires, land mines, and machine guns) but, after the soldiers' intentions are revealed, they become almost secondary. The soldiers have chained one up in a courtyard to "study" it, and Jim actually sets it free; infection becomes his weapon. What he's fighting—rape—is worse than being infected, worse than being killed, and punishment is meted out accordingly. As the soldiers are infected one by one, the worst of them—Corporal Mitchell—drags Selena to the attic at knifepoint to find a "fucking place." Loren and I were screaming "COME ON, KILL HIIIM" when Jim found them, but I literally covered Loren's (already closed) eyes with my hand so he couldn't see Jim first bashing Mitchell's head against the wall, then throwing him to the floor and jamming his thumbs into Mitchell's eye sockets. To the hilt, as it were. The penetrative nature of his death is no accident.

Why is rape the worst thing that can happen to a woman? In a movie about red-eyed, blood-clot-vomiting zombies, that's the true horror? And from a male director's point of view? Why? Are there ways of depicting rape that don't diminish its seriousness and yet don't portray it as the worst thing that could possibly happen? What are the arguments for trying to find such ways?

I think the film emphasizes rape because it isn't about zombies, not really. It's about the darkness in us. We see that when Jim goes looking, in the burger joint, baseball bat in hand, for a zombie to kill and finds an adolescent boy who he pins to the floor with his foot and whose head he bashes in and first lies about it and later says he liked it. We see it in optimistic, even jovial Frank, who instantly becomes bitter when his hopes are (seemingly) dashed at the abandoned blockade. Jim, in his valium-induced dream, sees a swarm of white horses on a green field, calls "Hello" to them, just as he did in the church and in the burger joint—a "Hello" echoed by the white HELL on a green hill that we glimpse in the penultimate scene. Who was he calling for? Does he want to be found?

As I was journaling last night I wrote "Wow it feels good to actually need to write," which is a) the best feeling and b) basically the opposite of how I'd been feeling earlier that afternoon and, as I wrote to the HULK, how I kind of always feel right now. The last time I needed, like needed to write was after Star Trek Into Darkness when I came home with so many thoughts in my head that I didn't know what some of them were, even, but I knew it was going to be pretty unpleasant in my head til I got them down on "paper" so I wrote a 2000-word Tumblr post about like Why Kirk's Death Scene Didn't Make Me Cry (see, this is a Star Trek blog). I can't know which movies/books/etc. will make me feel that way, but I do know that it's never about knowing what I want to say and expounding on that; it's about the feeling that there are thoughts in my head that are making me feel a certain way—frustrated (STID), sick (28 Days)—and that figuring out what the thoughts are will make the feeling go away. Maybe. I'm still pretty upset that Kirk's death scene didn't make me cry.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Slow Day (or, Feast or Famine, Famine Edition)

I'm writing this from work because there's nothing. To. Do. I'm a proofreader at a printing company and they (we?) use this system called MyDC to log in and out, it's like an electronic timesheet, and because June is the slowest month of the year here I keep having to log in to "NO WORK" between jobs and I feel really guilty about it because my dad (co-) owns the company and I want to ~make him proud~ so it's actually not very enjoyable sitting here journaling about season 3 of Game of Thrones which it (he?) has paid me about $6 already today to do. I used to read Lord of the Rings fanfiction on this website called The Barrowdowns from our family computer

(which looked like this)

when I was like 12 and my parents didn't want me to, so whenever they'd walk past or enter the study I'd hastily close window with the like 20-chapter Elladan/Elrohir/OFC WIP I was reading, and it was the click of the mouse every time they entered the room that made them suspect I was reading it. I feel now like I used to then—whenever anybody I work with approaches my desk I have to exit the browser window where I... have the Barrowdowns homepage open so I can take a screenshot of it for my blog... oh my god.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Star Trek TOS Post of the Day: Star Trek Memories

I'm still ~so excited about having a Star Trek blog~~ (which probably won't be a Star Trek blog forever, but I'm only about 1/3 of the way through TOS and I did just order "Star Trek Memories" by William Shatner from Amazon so it probably will be for the foreseeable future).

The first thing I've decided is that I'm NOT going to do with this blog what I do with every blog I start which is to read over everything I've posted approximately seventeen times per hour immediately after posting it and then over and over for the next three days until I'm sick of it and don't want to write anything new ever again. The second is that I'm not going to look at my stats because I don't know what they even are and it looks like all my pageviews at this point are from somewhere called so. (The real reason is that they're something I'm prone to caring but don't want to care about.)

So I bought "Star Trek Memories" from I did this because I'm really obsessed with all the "making of" research which for some reason I feel like I have to do after I ~finish TOS and not before and because of the Netflix member review that said "Yes, the special effects were cheesy as they had no money. But it did cause the writers to get creative, coming up with things that branded the show. The Transporter was dreamed up because they didn't have money to make models showing ships docking and landing on planets. The cloaking device came to be because one of the production crew accidentally stepped on and broke the only model of the Romulon Warbird [sic] on the day of filming" and in so saying confirmed exactly why I want to do all of this research. This is the rest of the review:

There might be a "Spock as Other" post coming up, or there might just be a post of screenshots from "Return of the Archons" coming up, or I might just lose enthusiasm for this blog and never post again.
In fact, so that I can stop evaluating every Star Trek-related thought/experience for its bloggability, and so that I don't lose enthusiasm for this blog and never post again, I'm not going to post again til at least Friday. Zoë out.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Star Trek TOS Post of the Day: How To Write Science Fiction

I just spent like... seven long minutes trying to find this picture on my Tumblr so I could make it my profile picture for this blog but then I saw it and was like is this ~really how I want to represent myself... 

Honestly on second (third?) thought it kind of is...

This is what I always do—I get soo excited about my new Tumblr/blog/whatever and post enthusiastically like three times a day for a week then I never post anything again. And since yesterday's post (which like honestly was supposed to be that Kirk picture and no words whatsoever) I have had like seventy ideas for what to post about next. Shirtless Kirk? Spock as Other? Why Was "Galileo Seven" So Good? Sex bots in "Shore Leave"/"What Are Little Girls Made Of?" A list of all the times Kirk and Spock smile at each other? (Any and all of which may be forthcoming.) I guess this time I'm going to expand on something I was talking to my mom about in the car on the way back from installing Loren at JavaScript camp which is... in what way(s) is Star Trek science fiction?

I want to be a science fiction writer. I don't know ~anything about science/physics/astrophysics—I don't even know what I ~need to know, if anything, to write what I want to. But I know that one way to learn is to read/watch science fiction, and I think TOS is a great model in two ways.

Way One is that... it actually ~is science fiction. Okay. Star Trek Into Darkness could basically have taken place on Earth in like cars—it didn't seem to have any reason to be science fiction other than the dictates of the franchise of which it is a part. It's sort of like why Scotty is on Delta Vega in ST09—because he needs to get on board the Enterprise, because the franchise says that's where he has to be. STID is in space because TOS is in space. TOS, however, is in space—well, because Gene Rodenberry wanted it there, I guess, but its themes are so intrinsic to its setting that I can't imagine it anywhere else. TOS asks questions like what values do we take with us into space? Are we warlike? Peaceful? Inquisitive? How best can we (Earth) represent ourselves to other life forms? What is our attitude towards them? What does it mean to be human? How will encounters with aliens/artificial intelligence/etc. challenge or clarify our answer to the previous question?

One of the reasons I found 1.16 ("Shore Leave") so forgettable was that although it is science fiction—it takes place on an "amusement park planet" where lifelike copies of whatever you're thinking about are instantaneously created for you to fight/have sex with/whatever—the sci fi is in service of a substance-less wish fulfillment fantasy. Tellingly, this episode is all fighting (Sulu is attacked by a samurai, Bones "killed" by a knight on horseback, Kirk shoots the knight with a pistol, Kirk brawls with an old Academy friend) and sex: Yeoman Barrows is sexually assaulted by Don Juan and flirted with (kind of sleazily) by Bones, who reappears after his "death" with two scantily clad Rigelian cabaret girls on his arm, and it's implied that Kirk, after reconnecting with an old flame, spends the next three days having sex with her. The episode... explodes with our baser instincts. (It's no accident that this episode marks the third? appearance of shirtless Kirk—maybe this is the shirtless Kirk post?)

Andrea may have been a sex bot, but she was also a way to grapple with questions like what makes us human? (Wait is this the sex bots in "Shore Leave" post?) "Shore Leave" is a goofy romp whose plot is basically "What's happening to us?" for 47 minutes and then "Let me explain" for like three. The episode doesn't engage with the ethics of being about to instantaneously bring to life anything/anyone you can imagine. The only "morality" evinced is when Yeoman Barrows slaps McCoy on the wrist for his cabaret girls, but that reads more to me as stereotypical ~~jealous woman~ than as anything like wait you can create ~sex bots by thinking about them are there any issues with this what are the issues with this? (Like how would you feel if someone made a carbon copy of ~you and spent three days fucking it?) "Shore Leave" is sci fi in service of unexamined wish fulfillment; it represents the opposite of what TOS is—urgent, important, and aware of both the potential and responsibilities of its genre.

So if Way One is it embodies the best things about its genre, Way Two is that it knows—or figures out during the first season—that being science fiction doesn't mean that it always needs, you know. Accurate science. Exhibit A: 1.6 ("The Enemy Within"). Sulu and co. are stranded on a freezing planet, using their hand phasers to ignite rocks for warmth, and an evil doppelganger of Kirk is roaming the ship trying to rape people. (With me so far?) Both of these problems are caused by the malfunctioning transporter, and are basically solved by Spock striding into the engineering room and going "bypass circuits impulse engines lithium crystals controlled implosion problem solved still with me DIDN'T THINK SO"* By Exhibit B (1.17, "The Galileo Seven"), they've figured out that they don't even need to be that specific (or vague, take your pick). After Spock, Scotty and co. crash land their shuttle, losing most of their fuel, Scotty figures out that he can "adapt" the phasers and "use their energy" as a substitute fuel supply. They show is so clear about the stakes this time, though—phasers are both their only hope of leaving the planet and their only means of defense against its giant inhabitants—that he doesn't need to be more specific than that? His lack of specificity, actually, creates clarity. Both "The Enemy Within" and "The Galileo Seven" have sci fi solutions to sci fi problems, and I still want to write a post sometime about why one works and the other doesn't, but for now what I'm trying to say is that neither succeeds or fails because of its scientific accuracy.

The lessons are, then, I guess: 1) your science fiction stories should always ~have to be science fiction but 2) they don't always have to make (scientific) sense. 

*what he actually says is "We've attached some bypass and leader circuits to compensate for the difference, tied directly into the impulse engines. There shouldn't be more than a five-point difference in the velocity balance" which honestly isn't much better. But honestly is also the best. Loren says Leonard Nimoy ad-libbed a lot of the "Treknobabble" (which, um, worst word ever), which I love and will make sure to confirm once I start my like ~Star Trek research~ which at this point is looking like reading "I Am Spock"/"I Am Not Spock" fifteen times and maybe watching that documentary where William Shatner interviews everyone who's ever played a starship captain

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Star Trek TOS Post of the Day: 1.7 "What Are Little Girls Made Of?"

This post was just supposed to be that picture and nothing else because like what do you ~say about that, when I first saw the episode I tweeted that picture and the words "I CNA'T EVEN" with "can't" like deliberately misspelled to convey just how un-conveyable was my state but that tweet (Tweet?) never quite satisfied me, so I was just going to post this picture without comment, but now I want to keep talking about the episode so.

This was the first TOS episode that I actually liked. I didn't like it as much as "The Galileo Seven," which was the first TOS episode that I actually ~loved, but I liked it all right. I have a Tumblr where I take notes while I'm watching this show (it takes me like 80 minutes to watch every 50-minute episode) and when I went back to my notes for this ep to see what I liked about it I was pretty sure it was gonna be just "holy shit Andrea is hot" (this + "Shore Leave" = sex bot post coming up) and was (pleasantly?) surprised to find no mention of Andrea whatsoever—wait no there actually is one, here:

So besides Andrea being hot as hell

I want to talk about two things really quick and ahh I only have like 33 minutes because it's 1:27 and we're leaving at 2:00 to take my brother to Javascript summer camp. First thing: "Mind your own business, Mr. Spock. I'm sick of your half-breed interference, do you hear me?" aka the message that Kirk sends Spock via his android. It took me kind of a while to figure out that he somehow got the android to insult Spock so that Spock would realize the android wasn't him—and how? By like “holding” a certain attitude while the android was being created, thinking “Spock is a half-breed and I hate him” as its cortical circuits were fusing? And what was their convo at the end? Spock says he was dismayed by Kirk’s use of the term "half-breed," calling it an "unsophisticated expression" (and honestly it made me as uncomfortable as a racial slur would which I guess is what it is) and Kirk’s just like "I don’t remember that, Mr. Spock. The next time I find myself in a similar situation..." What does that mean even? Does he actually not remember saying what he did? Does Spock not know it was the android version speaking? Was Kirk saying sorry next time I’ll use a less offensive code word but isn’t the ~point that it’s uncharacteristically offensive; that’s why it works as code?

I was also interested in how this episode is interested in what makes us human. If an android isn't human, why isn't it? And that's what TOS is ~about—figuring out what "humanity" means, and in this episode being human = being unique in the purest sense, being unduplicatable. Dr. Korby says that "The android will be so perfect, it could even replace the captain. The same memories, the same attitudes, the same abilities," but sure enough, although he insists "I am the same! A direct transfer. All of me. Human, rational, and without a flaw," his attempts to prove that he is "not a computer" ("Test me. Ask me to solve any—Eqau—Transmit—") do the opposite.

What makes these androids inhuman? As Dr. Korby himself puts it, the inability to love—and also a certain Spock-like rationality: moments prior to her killing him, android Kirk refuses to kiss Andrea because "It is illogical." I'm tempted to make like a list of "Characteristics of Humans and Androids According to Star Trek" based on this episode, to be more specific about how this episode defines them both—and honestly I probably will sit down with a notebook and do that at some point, ~these are the kinds of notes I really need to be taking if I'm going to make them into blog posts later, not like "omg wait the android starts ~talking to spock when its cortex circuits are activated (aka when they turn on itz brAiN haha)... AHHHH IT'S ALL TRUE)" which is an actual note I took (by which I think I meant that I was desperately looking for signs of the ~birth of the backslash from which slash fanfiction takes its name or like something and thought I had found one)—but it seems that the androids' inhumanity isn't simply the presence or absence of certain qualities but something that pervades their entire beings. As Christine says to Roger, when he insists "It's me": "Everything you've done proves it isn't you." The androids' inhumanity is greater than the sum of everything they do wrong—they may be violent, too rational, and incapable of love, but add those qualities up and you don't necessarily get "not human." What makes the androids inhuman really lies in the idea—an idea that the show will return to in, for example, "The Return of the Archons" with Landru—that a human being cannot be duplicated, that ~something, however un- or vaguely defined, will be lost in the transfer. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure that idea would hold true even if we didn't have physical evidence of Dr. Korby's android-ness in the tangle of machinery just beneath the flap of skin that Kirk shreds off by shutting his hand in a door. Even if Korby ~didn't kidnap Kirk, even if Andrea did feel something when Kirk... sexually assaulted her? They still wouldn't be human based on that idea alone: the idea that we are truly unique, and that there is something in each human being that cannot be duplicated and that dies with us.