May
15th 2009
Boldly going forward, ’cause we can’t find reverse?

Posted under: American history, art, Gender, GLBTQ, Intersectionality, race, women's history

40 years later, and it's still loney on this bridge!

40 years later, and it's still lonely on this bridge!

UPDATED BELOW

Actually, some of our favorite feminist bloggers note the troubling absence of change in the makeup of the crew on the Starship Enterprise in the forty years since Star Trek first appeared.  (Historiann was never a “Trekkie,” although she saw a number of the original shows in reruns in the 1970s.  All of the neo-Star Trek shows and movies starting in the late 1970s on are a mystery to her.)  Anyway, people who know a lot more about Star Trek than I–and who have actually seen the new movie–offer their reviews, exerpted below.  (The title of this post pays homage to this silly parody song about the original Star Trek.)

The Bittersweet Girl writes, “unfortunately, feminist sci-fi geeks have less to be excited about.”  Hmmm–I wonder why:

There is a conspicuous lack of female characters and the ones there are fall into one of two classic categories: loving but doomed or inexplicably absent mothers or love interests/sex objects. There has been an attempt made to give Uhura an actual area of expertise, rather than just being a glorified telephone operator, but she still doesn’t do much except be ogled at by one male lead or gaze affectionately at another. And yes, she’s still in the micro-mini skirt — when she’s not in her underwear. Sigh. Given that so much of contemporary sci-fi is dominated by ass-kicking females (Starbuck, Echo, that Terminator chick), you’d think they could have given Uhura some previously unknown fighting skills. But, I hope that now that this origin story is done, the film makers can put a little bit more thought into female characterization in the next film. (Are you listening, J.J. Abrams?)

In a review titled “The Summer of Men, Take II,” Prof. Susurro is disappointed by this movie’s Captain Kirk:

I liked [William] Shatner and I liked Kirk. The Director of this film clearly liked neither, reducing James T. Kirk to an overgrown case of blue b@lls barely elevated by the fact that he ultimately saves the day. Centering Spock was a fascinating twist. However, those of us who get the homosociality of Spock and Kirk, as well as the well-honed dynamics of the entire male crew (leaving Uhura aside for a moment), understand that each of these characters plays a beloved role that is only enhanced by the role they play in the ensemble. None of them has ever been diminished or over shadowed by the other characters in any incarnation of the franchise until now. 

Finally, GayProf takes to task the disturbing absence of women and people of color in this most recent incarnation of Star Trek in a review called “Boldly Going Where We Have Been Before.”  He notes the optimistic, multicultural vision of the original show: 

The biggest problem with the “updated” Trek is that it’s not very updated at all. Because Trek has become such a part of the nation’s cultural landscape, we tend to take for granted the many revolutionary innovations it ushered in when it premiered in 1967. Even in the midst of the Cold War, the Star Trek universe (occasionally) promised an end to capitalism and explicitly rejected the accumulation of wealth as a symbol of one’s social worth. It also presented a future peace for earth and an end to national borders. In the middle of the various civil rights movements in the U.S., the show offered an egalitarian future where racism was solved. The show even pledged an end to sexism – Well, sort of.

In the end, “its utopian ideals were obviously always filtered through the social lens of the era it was filmed. Limitations that could be partially justified in the late sixties no longer seem as dismissible in 2009.”  He then goes on to school us in the history of the original TV show’s development, which in a pilot featured a strong female character in a leadership role:

When Gene Roddenberry first filmed a pilot for the show, he did have a revolutionary idea for 1967: The second in command of the Enterprisewould be a woman (known only as “Number One”). This first version of the show had Captain Christopher Pike commanding the famed ship along with the “logical” Number One as First Officer. That first episode showed Number One making life and death decisions and playing with really big guns. Alas, the network executives didn’t like the notion that an uppity woman would take over command of the ship whenever Captain Pike was in peril (They were even less pleased that Roddenberry was having an affair with Majel Barett, the actor who played “Number One”).

Thus, after a complete rewrite, Roddenberry’s ambitions for women on the show had been significantly altered. Kirk appeared as Captain and women were demoted to “more traditional roles,” such as yeomen or nurses. Instead of taking over command and making decisions for the crew, women on-board the Enterprisetook the Captain’s messages and made him coffee. Majel Barett, no longer First Officer, assumed a role as Nurse Chapel who spent her days mooning over Spock and handing out aspirin.

Significantly, the show also “sexed up” the women’s uniforms. In place of Number One’s sensible turtle neck and slacks in the first pilot, women officers squeezed into ultra-mini skirts, go-go boots, and beehive hairdos. All of that, I am sure, was real practical for working in space.

wwOh, GayProf–I guess they’re about as practical as wearing a bathing suit and boots to help win World War II!  (Maybe you just can’t understand how impractical, uncomfortable clothing is clearly necessary, in order for the patriarchy to constrain most women’s inherent superpowers.  You can’t handle the sensible turtleneck and slacks!)  Anyway–go read and learn from the linked posts above.  Why are our visions of the future always so much more of where we’ve been already?

And, while we’re asking the big questions today:  can someone please explain to me the reasons for the large cross-section of medieval history reenactors (the Society for Creative Anachronism types) and Trekkies?  This is a phenomenon I’ve observed since college, where a group of SCM-ers who would show up to the dining hall with daggers they’d use as their only eating implement were also the big science fiction/Star Trek fans.  Do any of you medievalists have a read on this?

UPDATE, 5/15/09, evening:  My bad!  I didn’t find this review by Erica at the good old days until tonight.  (How’s that for due diligence?  FAIL!)  Erica writes, “the saddest thing is that Captain Pike still ends up paralyzed, although at least he doesn’t end up in a packing box able to communicate only by saying ‘BOOP’ (yes) or ‘BOOP BOOP’ (no). In many ways Star Trek was ahead of its time in 1970; this was not one of them. For a wheelchair ‘operated by brainwaves,’ that thing was extremely pathetic.”  Don’t miss the horrifying photo at her blog of Pike in his packing box that looks like it’s decorated with peppermint candy–you know, to make it look all scientific, computerized, and futuristic!

41 Comments »

41 Responses to “Boldly going forward, ’cause we can’t find reverse?”

  1. Sterling Fluharty on 15 May 2009 at 7:37 am #

    Interesting thoughts. What is the chance that
    95 percent of the critics who review the movie here will say they liked it?

  2. Historiann on 15 May 2009 at 7:53 am #

    Sterling, what are the chances that you’ll actually engage anything that I actually write about? Comments here should be on topic, and yours clearly isn’t. (Besides, if you bothered to click on the reviews above, you’d see that they’re largely positive!)

    Apparently you missed the post a few days about about D00dly d00ds. My advice is that you read it and think. Buh-bye!

  3. SUProf on 15 May 2009 at 8:30 am #

    Perhaps this is an artifact of the nostalgia dimension of the film: old characters, old costumes, old misogyny. After all, you wouldn’t expect a costume drama about seventeeth-century France to replace Louis XIV with the Sun Queen, would you? Star Trek Voyager (1995-2001), by the way had a female captain.

  4. squadratomagico on 15 May 2009 at 8:39 am #

    I may go see the Star Trek movie soon — I’m not a trekkie either, but I’ve heard it’s worth seeing, despite the excellent points made by the posters you link above.

    As for the medieval history reenactment phenomenon: I don’t get it at all. But I will say this: it can make teaching my survey classes really, really hard.

  5. GayProf on 15 May 2009 at 9:19 am #

    SUProf: I totally wanted to talk about gender throughout the Trek universe in my post, but decided a twenty page entry was probably pushing blogging limits. It’s true Voyager (one of my personal favorite incarnations of the show) had a woman captain, but the actor had to repeatedly disavow that she was a “feminist” representation in interviews about the show. Moreover, the producers were so worried that the show would fail with a woman lead that they actually had a male actor in the wings ready to take over as Janeway. When they finally consented to allow it to move forward with Kate Mulgrew, they then obsessed endless with her hair.

    HistoriAnn: You know, if I could get away with teaching in a swimsuit and boots I would do it.

  6. ej on 15 May 2009 at 9:34 am #

    To attempt to answer your query about the Trekkie/SCA overlap, I think (totally speculatively) that a lot of those people come to the Middle Ages through fantasy lit or Dungeons and Dragons, etc. To them outerspace and medieval society are both fantasy worlds, which is precisely why it is so difficult to get some of them to engage in a history class. They aren’t really interested in the reality of the period.

    I don’t re-enact and I’m not interested in Renaissance Fairs, so I dread the day when my local SCA chapter comes knocking at my door to ask that I be their faculty advisor. There’s nothing wrong with those things, they just aren’t interested in engaging the real history of the period, which is precisely what motivates me in my work.

  7. susurro on 15 May 2009 at 10:40 am #

    Nostalgia is powerful but the men’s outfits, cadet uniforms, and even Spock’s mom’s outfit were all updated. I’m not sure the Trekker/Trekkie universe was ready to see Uhura in pants, but a longer skirt and no useless undies scene might have been nice. (They already had a green girl in her undies. And she wasn’t stick figured for once, which was nice.)

    gay prof – I’d say we could take turns analyzing the women in the show, but you’ve already got me beat on that one.

    there is an interesting academic paper about Mulgrew’s “feminism” that breaks it down in terms of the actress’ own choices (she played the first lesbian star of a series on the show Heartbeat, after playing a “strong willed” woman on a soap, followed by Janeway), the import of having a female captain in a fleet populated by men (it also gave us a strong female villain by the way – Agent Ro), the undermining of that by Chakotah, & the consistent record of her disavowing feminism and feminist fans. It was supposed to be published in one of the Female Superhero anthologies that came out about 5-10 years ago. If anyone is interested in following up that discussion. (I saw it at the PCA in 2000?)

  8. Erica on 15 May 2009 at 10:51 am #

    …… well, I liked the movie.

    Frankly, I have had the “no girls” problem with Star Trek since day one. I was overjoyed to see The Cage, the original pilot with a female first officer which was turned down in part because it had a female first officer. I always hated friggin’ Yeomen Rand, who was obviously just the typical hot secretary, except, y’know, a FUTURE secretary. (Bleah.) And strong female characters (Dr. Crusher, Dr. Pulaski, Kira Nerys, Jadzia Dax, Janeway, crazy Klingon sisters) were fairly well-represented in subsequent series, although ultra-sexy Borg chicks rather ruined things for me. And I still dislike the mini-skirt uniforms. Seriously, the future IS NOT GOING TO BE THE 1970′s. (I really, really hope.)

    But I’ve never immersed myself in science fiction in the hopes of avoiding stupid sexist stereotypes and behavior. Frankly, it’s impossible, except for some rare exceptions which pretty much never get the attention they deserve (and sadly I have apparently forgotten names of them as well). So shutting down feminism at the theater door, as I usually do for Trek, I liked the movie. (Mostly because Scottie is the most awesome engineer EVER.)

  9. susurro on 15 May 2009 at 11:28 am #

    apparently she did have pants at some point?

    http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2987625216/tt0796366

  10. Cordelia V on 15 May 2009 at 11:54 am #

    Long-time lurker, first-time commenter, Historiann. I’ve been enjoying your posts for a few months now, and this is a question I can contribute on. I hope.

    It’s not at all surprising that you’d find Trek fans among SCA members and vice-versa; people like that are called “multifannish” in some fan communities, and those two particular communities share some common roots. I’d see both Trek and SCA fans as forming communities that were offshoots of a literary fandom that was well-established before WWII in the U.S.: science fiction fandom. Trek fans were one of several media fan communities that grew out of sf after the mid-1960s, and one of the SCA’s earliest gatherings, a tournament, was held as a side-meeting at the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention (and the SCA’s name was coined by a well-known science fiction writer, Marion Zimmer Bradley).

    Trek and SCA fans both share a lot with literary fandoms (like Sherlock Holmes fan groups, for example) because they love to immerse themselves in the the arcana of their imagined worlds, parsing them in what would be eye-glazing detail to outsiders. But they also like to reinterpret and rework the original source to suit themselves, and their own needs and values: thus, the slogan of SCA is “the Middle Ages as they ought to have been” (and you can see why this makes medievalists who are engaged with the Middle Ages as they actually WERE less than enthusiastic about SCA).

    Literary fandoms even before WWII reworked and extended the source texts using a variety of media or formats: non-fiction essays, fan fiction (or derivative fiction), fan art, costumes, artifacts, etc. The last two categories frequently gave rise to role playing spinoffs, which can shade into historical re-enactment.

    Anyway, sorry if this goes on in more detail than you wanted. But given that they overlapped in terms of where they originated, and are similar in how they delight in parsing and reworking a source text (although the TV show and the medieval period are quite different source texts!), it doesn’t surprise me that they attract overlapping memberships. Or more commonly, people move from one fan community to the next over decades, as their hobby interests change over time.

  11. Janice on 15 May 2009 at 12:17 pm #

    The new Trek movie really dropped the ball on women. Sure we have Uhura and I liked that they gave her an important skill in xeno-linguistics. Brief “mother” roles didn’t do much with Amanda, Spock’s mother and Winona, Kirk’s mother. Literally — they were just there as mothers, weren’t they?

    There was a verbal shout out to the character of Christine Chapel in one scene (but no on-screen presence). No Number One, as GayProf pointed out. No Janice Rand, either. I would hope that the next movie introduces back at least one of these women and gives her role more punch if not more punches. Trek has always had a troubling relationship with gender, though.

    As for the whole SCAdian/Trekker overlap, well, I’m another example. I was into SF&F literature and media from very young — got into fandom in general when I hit HS/university where I also encountered the SCA. So I was a re-enactor before I even thought of becoming a professional historian. Now I don’t do re-enacting (just doesn’t work with all the other demands on my life) but I’m still as rabidly fannish as way back when.

  12. Erica on 15 May 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    @susurro — You’re right, Uhura had pants in some of the movies. I’d forgotten *oops*

    It is interesting that the miniskirt is kept because “it’s just what the fashion was!” whereas the bell-bottom pants the boys wore, which were also certainly what the fashion was — well, where are those?

  13. John S. on 15 May 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    I feel I must defend the costume for Wonder Woman’s costume design and point out the fact that many male superheroes suffered from equally impractical costumes. The 1940s Atom, for example, wore shortpants that were even shorter than WW’s. (The boot heel wasn’t quite as high, even though he was a 5’4″ superhero–you’d think he would want some extra inches. Nonetheless, they didn’t look very functional.)

    Hawkman, meanwhile, went bare-chested, except for suspenders worn in an X to keep his wings on. (I always wondered why they didn’t fall off). And of course, the Spectre was God’s Hand of Vengeance wearing a cape, green briefs (tighty-greenies?), and booties. Being omnipotent, he didn’t really have to run very much, though. I won’t even get into Robin.

    Why yes, I have spent far too much of my life reading comic books and pondering how they fight in these clothes.

  14. Erica on 15 May 2009 at 12:41 pm #

    should have been “some of the movie.”

  15. Mamie on 15 May 2009 at 1:18 pm #

    In the first seasons of Voyager, poor captain Janeway had to wear her hair up in a c. 1905 knot on top of her head–which I immediately took as a reference to later Katherine Hepburn (African Queen, The Corn is Green, Love Among the Ruins). Fascinating that, in searching for an appropriately “feminine” model of a strong woman, the producers went for Hepburn. (After the series ended, Kate Mulgrew did a one-woman show, channeling Hepburn.) If the original Trek was “Wagon Train to the Stars,” I always thought Voyager’s premise was the Wizard of Oz. Of course, Katherine Hepburn/Mulgrew, unlike Dorothy, had women on her crew–but she did, ultimately, have to conquer the wicked witch of the Borg.

  16. Erica on 15 May 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    John S. has quite a good point — can anybody name a superhero, male or female, who wears a sensible turtleneck and slacks to fight crime? :)

  17. Historiann on 15 May 2009 at 1:52 pm #

    Hi everybody–sorry to have been checked out of the discussion for most of the day. Good points by Susurro, John S., and Erica on the costumes–what I always wondered is why the men’s pants in the original were not just bell bottoms, but *highwater* bell bottoms. I haven’t seen the new movie, but I’m perfectly fine with those not having been revived!

    Mamie–I vaguely remember that odd “Gibson Girl” that Janeway wore. I didn’t get the allusion to Hepburn, Mulgrew looked and sounded a lot like her, didn’t she? Interesting that she did a one-woman show reenacting her.

    Thanks to Cordelia V and Janice for the insight into the fan-doms. One thing that occurs to me as a possible meeting place of sci-fi and medieval world: Tolkien and all of that Lord of the Rings stuff. Anyway, there sure is a lot of overlap.

  18. Erica on 15 May 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    Strictly speaking Tolkien is fantasy, not sci-fi. However, both fantasy and sci-fi have a basic theme of magic — the difference is whether it’s “technology beyond your comprehension” magic, or, well, magic.

  19. Lilian Nattel on 15 May 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    I’ve always had a problem with the lack of women in the Star Trek franchise–even when I was a kid it bothered me that they all had to wear short skirts. It’s true that voyager had a female captain, but she had to have a mom relationship to the other important female, 7 of 9, played by a blonde with boobs and a tiny waist and skin fitting tights to show them off. Where’s the “dora” of Star Trek? And why only one at that?

  20. Robert on 15 May 2009 at 5:05 pm #

    Having just seen the movie, I agree that these analyses are illuminating and spot on. At the very end, a friend and I remarked that the famous closing words in Spock’s voiceover had been gender-edited from where no “man” has gone before to no “one,” perhaps the least-possible modicum of change, which, weighed against the ridiculous absence of women (earth or otherwise) from the plot as a whole, is pathetic.

    (Hopefully my first comment isn’t too d00d, I can gladly revert back to lurking)

  21. Historiann on 15 May 2009 at 5:24 pm #

    Erica–sorry about my faux pas of confusing fantasy and sci-fi! (It’s all fantasy, writ large, or at least that’s what Cordelia V’s comment seems to suggest, no?) And–I should have known that you were big on Scottie because of the engineering angle!

    Lilian, it really is too bad, isn’t it? But unfortunately, I find the objectification of women’s bodies just gets worse and worse. Only when baggy clothes that maximize women’s silhouettes come back will the tide roll back again–but only for fashion reasons, not because people see the light on feminist representations on women’s bodies.

    And, Robert–you sound like a real man, not a d00dly d00d at all, so you are welcome to play in our sandbox. (Real men only, no d00ds allowed here.)

  22. Erica on 15 May 2009 at 6:26 pm #

    I don’t mind the confusion at all. It IS all fantasy, just set in different fantastic places or times; fantasy is a term to distinguish it from futuristic (and/or outer space) fiction, though. (The term obviously wasn’t chosen to avoid confusion, was it?)

    @Robert — The change of “man” to “one” predates the most recent movie; if I recall correctly, it was changed as early as the Next Generation. Buzz likes to complain that the different term is incorrect, since there are usually sentient aliens (legitimate “ones”, albeit non-human) in the new frontiers the Enterprise travels. However, myself and my high-school friends who were Trek addicts were pleased by the difference, and it was because we were all girls and we wanted to go to those places too.

    I don’t think it made up for the overwhelming male dominance throughout the Trek franchise, but it did help us feel a little more included. Just a little.

  23. Jeremy Young on 15 May 2009 at 8:12 pm #

    Historiann, isn’t it customary to give users who mean well a warning or two before banning them? Off-topic, I know, but there wouldn’t really be a place where this would be ON topic, so there you have it.

  24. Jeremy Young on 15 May 2009 at 8:32 pm #

    A couple of more on-topic comments: first, I agree very much with The Bittersweet Girl’s comments on Uhura. I actually found her depiction very unsettling. The biggest problem is her aspirations — despite her kick-ass specialization and expertise, the only thing she finds fulfilling is the prospect of being Mrs. Spock. Very frustrating.

    Second, GayProf is right in his read on the rejection of the pilot (and on what Roddenberry chose to fight the producers for as well — he forced them to let him keep Spock, but acquiesced in the elimination of Number One). However, I actually think that Number One’s character might have been more problematic than liberating. The character was supposed to be emotionless and extremely logical — basically what Spock ended up being. If you think about all the discourse on the show about “humanizing” Spock (which always bothered me anyway, as Spock was way cooler than the people trying to change him) being directed at a woman, you can see it would have been a pretty serious problem.

  25. Historiann on 15 May 2009 at 8:53 pm #

    Jeremy–I don’t know that it would have been worse. I think the most important thing about GayProf’s post is that Number One didn’t make it out of a pilot! As GayProf notes in his post and in the comments (esp. w/reference to the absence of Latin@s in Star Trek), the problem with having so few non-white, non-males in an ensemble cast is that each non-white, non-male has a heap of pressure on hir to represent hir “race” or her “sex,” rather than to just be an individual character with foibles, quirks, good points, etc.

    Sterling has been warned–his usual M.O. is that he leaves a sneering comment on what I’ve written that doesn’t really engage the point of the post. See here for example, in response to this comment, and here. I’ll add that I’ve never been convinced he “meant well”–his behavior here has been for the most part peevish.

    This is a blog that promotes collegiality and which might serve as a good place to engage in civil discussions about feminism, history, and issues in the academic workplace among people who either are on university faculties or who aspire to join university faculties. People who can’t master the basic rules of discourse here aren’t people I’d want to hire to be my colleagues, and my guess is that most faculty would agree with me. So, people can either choose to play nice and learn something, or they’re gone.

  26. Historiann on 15 May 2009 at 9:08 pm #

    And, I might add, I’ve noticed that a funny thing happens: when I take no prisoners and get rid of a trollish commenter, a whole lot of other people actually want to join the conversation! People who actually want to talk about an issue I’ve raised with others! And there are always lots more of them than of the trolls, so this is a space that will not be taken over by trolls and d00ds who want to behave like turds that just won’t flush.

    (I thought I laid this all out pretty clearly a few weeks back.)

  27. Jeremy Young on 15 May 2009 at 9:25 pm #

    Sterling’s a friend and a co-blogger (I’m tempted to add “former” to that last epithet, as I don’t really consider myself a blogger any more), so I did want to put in a word for him. However, I didn’t realize there was a history behind this interchange, so I’ll stand down. You’re right that you have in fact warned him in past.

    For a look at how an original Star Trek with Number One might have played out, consider the character T’Pol on the latest, execrable installment of the series, Enterprise. However, you may well be right that even T’Pol would have been a step forward compared with the lackluster presentations of Uhura, Yeoman Rand, and Nurse Chapel. At least she would have DONE something!

  28. Historiann on 15 May 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    Yes, Jeremy–we need to see more women in more roles. I’m not familiar at all with any characters beyond the original series, but I take it that T’Pol wasn’t a mommy or a girlfriend type–even bad characters are fine, so long as women play a range of roles and there’s more than just a token one or two. (You know, like in real life, only with more explosions and stuff.)

  29. Lance on 16 May 2009 at 7:50 am #

    So I watched the movie last night – late to the game as usual – and it was indeed like time travel back to the progressive 1960s. Boys protecting their mothers, who weep and swoon. Boys oggling girls in underwear and miniskirts. Boys fighting and bonding with boys. Boys fighting for the memory of wives and mothers. Boys plotting the restoration of “the race.”

    In many ways, it feels like a response to the dominance of la femme-kick ass in recent sci fi (not just those listed above, but also Doomsday, Aeon Flux, the Milla Jovavitch films, Buffy, etc.). And the new Terminator, I should add, like the last, is once again about John Connor, and not his mom. Transformers (I know, from my 5 year old) is all boy robots, though there are some girl robots in this summer’s installation.

    Look, I love these movies. I do. But to love something uncritically is to be foolish.

  30. Lance on 16 May 2009 at 7:57 am #

    Oh, and interestingly, it is far more common to find villains wearing suits and even turtlenecks than heroes. For boys alone: Lex Luthor, the Joker, Two-Face, and that’s just a hasty list. Heroes need uniforms, since they function as agents of the state.

    She-Hulk, who does wear a bathing suit often, is also an internationally recognized lawyer. In court, of course, she wears a suit.

  31. Historiann on 16 May 2009 at 8:03 am #

    Hi Lance–good point about suits on villains. (Even Dr. Evil wore a grey suit with a Nehru collar as I recall, as did Number Two.) I suppose it’s because comix are positioned against corporate mainstream America that the guy in the suit is probably evil?

    I’ve never really bought “la femme-kick ass”–all of those movies and TV shows (except Buffy, natch) seemed much more to pander to heterosexual male fantasies of seeing scantily clad women’s bodies.

  32. Erica on 16 May 2009 at 8:05 am #

    @Jeremy — “despite her kick-ass specialization and expertise, the only thing she finds fulfilling is the prospect of being Mrs. Spock” — That’s a narrow interpretation. She repeatedly stands up for herself professionally, first to get posted to the best ship in the fleet, then to point out she’s fluent in the relevant languages and so should replace the crewmember on duty. If the “only” fulfilling thing was chasing Spock, then she would have been concentrating on that to the exclusion of other duties. She’s allowed to have both a professional career and a personal life, y’know.

    @Lance — “Look, I love these movies. I do. But to love something uncritically is to be foolish.” AMEN! :D

  33. Erica on 16 May 2009 at 8:19 am #

    Addendum to previous comment about Uhura — I would have been more pleased if they’d foregone a romance subplot for her at all. Her character didn’t need it, and it was done to highlight the Spock-Kirk interplay, making her more of a plot device than a unique person. So that particular part fell somewhere in the middle range of “good representation” in my opinion.

  34. Historiann on 16 May 2009 at 8:53 am #

    Erica–Uhura in this new movie seems to prove once again the terrible pressure put on a lone woman/POC character. Why can’t we have some women with romantic subplots, and some without? It’s all good, right? So long as there are enough women characters to show them as individuals, not as representatives of All Women or All People of Color.

  35. susurro on 16 May 2009 at 10:45 am #

    @Erica – I too forgot the pants, that is how insignificant those moments were. And I swear in the scene that pic is from she is in a skirt, but I could be mistaken.

    Also, I think people are forgetting that the only scene in which new-Uhura’s linguistic talents are taken seriously, she replaces an incompetent Latino Communications Director who outranks her. He is the only Latino on the bridge and the only Latino not in a crowd shot in the Federation. Thus Uhura is the ultimate stand-in for race and gender b/c apparently you can have as many ethnic and alien bodies in one place at one time in Star Fleet but not more than one poc at a time.

    @ Lance – actually the last few years of transformers, when they returned to their home planet, featured women transformers (most of whom were pink and extremely slender). I think there was some hope that they could do a spin off telling what the women had been up to b/c they were introduced at a time when shows like JEM and even Strawberry Shortcake were taking over the market. The Director of the first live action installment got massively criticized for failing to include the female transformers and his response was “I just couldn’t imagine how to fit them in.” (He actually said something very similar to this, tho I can’t say the quote is exact.)

    @Jeremy Young – The reduction of Uhura to plot device is one of my major complaints as well. And as I note in my review, I think it is not only to highlight the conflict between Kirk and Spock (ie women as property) but also to support an underlining thesis about heroism as hyper-masculinity and heterosexuality. It is the same tactic they took in the alternate universe on the original series where Spock was Captain but also evil.

    ***

    While we are talking “uniforms,” I do think it is important to note that many updated movies have actually made the women’s outfits worse, neither reflecting the fashion of the time nor the original. Watchmen for instance actually shrunk and tightened the outfits on the women while bulking up the outfits on the men. (The exception was Dr. Manhattan and his periodic full frontal.) And while there are some men who are scantily clad, there are also men in full coverage – some to the point that only their chin is uncovered – and the full coverage/enhanced muscle suits are becoming standard in film adaptations. So it isn’t that we cannot find men in far less clothing but the fact that we have to struggle to find women with any clothes at all. The exception – X-Men, they have standardized uniform and w/the exception of Storm (who is also clothed head to toe) they mostly all wear it.

  36. susurro on 16 May 2009 at 10:49 am #

    oops – Uhura and Sulu are on the Bridge, so that should read that you cannot have more than one woc @ a time.

    Also, while the film encourages us to overlook Uhura’s special skills, let’s not forget that she is the one who actually saves the day. Remember, she finds and translates the message that alerts Kirk to the Romulan plot & it is her word, not Kirk’s, that gets both Pike and Spock to believe him.

    (now I’ll shut up b/c my comment is longer than the post … sorry!!!)

  37. Chris on 16 May 2009 at 10:53 am #

    I agree, the movie takes a conservative turn. Another conservative turn is the way in which the movie breaks down the mythological bromance between Kirk and Spock by hitching Spock to Uhura. A Star Trek Universe in which Spock’s soulmate is not Kirk? Blasphemy. Around the web people are talking about bromance between Kirk and Spock in the new movie, but I guess they never saw the first Star Trek movie (hand holding scene) or Star Trek II, with that death scene and memorial scene, which are like the ultimate male weepies!

  38. Erica on 16 May 2009 at 11:05 am #

    Thought of another mildly relevant example — there’s a scene with Chekov running down from the bridge, “I can do that I can do that I can do that!” and he takes over transporter control from an unnamed female crew member to rescue Kirk and Sulu in the nick of time. (Personally, I always felt it was pitifully bad design to create a piece of technology that can only be adequately operated by some sort of mega-genius and/or luck.) Looking for female characters on the ship in addition to Uhura is, sadly, a pretty disappointing search.

  39. John S. on 16 May 2009 at 12:09 pm #

    The show “Enterprise” took a similar tack as the movie, putting the expert linguist Hoshi Sato on the bridge instead of a TOS-style Uhura. They ended up falling back into the same patterns, however. She was one of two women featured regularly in the cast, along with T’Pol. Instead of hailing vessels or picking up distress signals (as 60s Uhura did), Hoshi hailed vessels and picked up distress signals *in alien foreign languages*.

    The practice became such a cliche that the very snarky online reviewers at Television Without Pity turned “Hoshi” into a a verb. (As in, the communications officer on the show _Battlestar Galactica_ “Hoshis” the other ships in the fleet to give them coordinates when they are getting ready to make a light-speed jump.) In response, the producers at _BSG_ introduced a new communications officer on the bridge of the Galactica and named him Hoshi.

    I guess the point of this pedantic, geeky post is that I feel like I’ve seen people try to do what J.J. Abrahms did for Uhura before, and it ended up seeming so similar to the original iteration. Maybe it’s more noticeable over the course of a series than a two-hour movie, I don’t know.

  40. Erica on 16 May 2009 at 1:08 pm #

    [Historiann -- if you post about Star Trek, I will apparently hang around your comment thread all day long.]

    It’s true, Uhura was, and likely still will be, the glorified telephone operator; a refreshing new look would be having a guy do that job. (Worf did, but he also was chief security officer, fired phasers, and did Klingon stuff.)

    I still prefer both Uhura and Hoshi to Deanna Troi, though, who was kinda the same character except she picked up on thoughts and feelings instead of actual communications. (Very “feminine”.)

  41. Historiann on 16 May 2009 at 1:12 pm #

    Erica & all–I’m just so pleased that you, John S., Susurro and others have found each other! Since I’m not really a Star Trekkie, I can’t participate, but it’s interesting to read all of your musings.

    Enjoy!