Am I still a Trekkie?

As a life long Star Trek fan, it is with a heavy heart that I say that I’m beginning to think it’s losing it’s way. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, Star Trek was something special to me: a vision of a future in which humanity, at peace with itself, had united and set off to explore space. Every week, characters I loved were shown having wonderful adventures on awesome star ships. The TV program captivated me, and the films even more. It was sometimes all I could think about: there was something about this franchise which fascinated me unlike any other.

Yet now, that fascination, that excitement, is waning. Don’t get me wrong: I still love series like The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Captain Picard is one of my favourite characters in all of fiction; and I still love the Dominion War story arc from DS9. It’s just that Star Trek doesn’t seem to be what it once was. Read this, for instance. Five new Star Trek series are now in the works: three live action, two animated. Since the 2009 film, Star Trek has become a tangled mess of interwoven storylines and alternate universes; it has lost the artistic coherence it once had as well as the intellectual weight which was the foundation of so much of it’s appeal. It is just being churned out, series after series, merely to attract viewers hungry to see a return of the program they remember, with very little respect for what Star Trek once was. It is now serialised nonsense which doesn’t understand the boundaries between television and film, much less the combination of intellectually-grounded science fiction, compelling storylines and relatable, captivating characters that made Star Trek great in the first place.

I regret to say that a program I once loved has now lost my interest, and as long as it’s producers continue to churn out this lightweight, commercial dross, I can’t see it coming back.

A Year

I just want to note that today marks a year since Lyn passed away. I still miss her greatly. She was the most incredible person I’ll ever meet, with whom I had built up so many amazing memories. I still think about Lyn every day, trying to imagine what she would have said about certain things. After all, she had a huge effect on my life; I have Lyn to thank for my life here in London. I wish I could still go over to that old bungalow in Charlton for a coffee and a chat.

Star Trek and Disability

At fifty minutes, it might be a bit longer than most pieces of Youtube fan analysis, but I think Steve Shives needs to be congratulated for this video looking at the portrayal of disability – both physical and mental – in Star Trek. As Shives points out, when you look into it, there have been numerous representations of disability over the franchise’s fifty year history, and broadly speaking it has got it right. He goes through several episodes, ranging across the various incarnations of Star Trek, where disability plays a role: perhaps the most obvious is Geordi and his visor, foregrounded in several episodes of TNG and shown to be both an advantage and disadvantage. As Shives astutely (for a nondisabled person) points out, Geordi’s blindness was part of his character; it helped make him who he was. It is to Star Trek’s enormous credit that it presented a visually impaired man in this way. On the other hand, Trek hasn’t always got it right, sometimes depicting disability as negative, life-limiting, and something to be avoided at all costs.

Broadly speaking, this is a great video, well worth a watch: I’d have been a fool not to flag it up here. I must say, though, that in a way Shives only scratches the surface: he’s an able-bodied, white man, so while he seems to have a reasonable knowledge of things like the Social Model, it occurs to me he has no personal connection with what he’s discussing. To him, this is more or less an academic exercise. To guys like me it was great to see Star Trek presenting us with a vision of the future where everyone worked together to advance humanity, with disabled people playing an active role in that future. The only problem was it didn’t go far enough: as Shives points out, portrayals of disability in Star Trek are usually peripheral or fleeting; none of it’s incarnations has a central, major character whose impairment effects them significantly. There are no characters with cerebral palsy, for example, or characters with alternative ways of communicating. As hard as it tried, it couldn’t shake itself loose of the mindset that disability is always something to be minimised or escaped. Either that or it was something to be mocked or laughed at, as was the case with Reg Berkley, whose odd character traits could be read as a form of autism.

While Shives points this out, the fact remains he has no firsthand experience of what he is discussing, and as such ultimately belongs in the same group of people as the ones who created the programs he is trying to analyse: Trying to make sure a socially marginalised group is represented fairly, but not always getting it right. Inevitably in videos like this, there is an element of people trying to speak for us, ultimately reinforcing the normative ideas Shives is attempting to discuss. With that said, it is great to see people like Shives showing a willingness to engage with issues I had assumed were confined to the disabled community. Programs like Star Trek are ultimately all about the human condition, and the potential we have as a species if we work together while embracing our differences.

Was an apology really necessary here?

I suppose the notion of authenticity becomes a little complicated when it comes to animation. On the disability arts scene, there has long been the idea that only actors with disabilities should play characters with disabilities, otherwise it becomes the equivalent of blacking up. The only way you can get an authentic portrayal of a character with a disability is to cast an actor with that disability in the role. The same logic applies to members of any other minority. Yet I just came across this news that “Hank Azaria has apologised for voicing the Indian character Apu on The Simpsons.” Azaria has voiced Apu since 1990, but came under increasing criticism for reinforcing ethnic stereotypes. While I agree that it is only logical that an Indian actor should play an Indian character, was that apology really necessary? Nobody saw the colour of Azaria’s skin; he was just putting on a voice, as he did for all his other Simpsons roles. Isn’t making him apologise going a tad over the top? After all, The Simpsons is a cornerstone of popular culture, Apu included, and surely nothing to feel guilty about. Further, if the character reinforced ethnic stereotypes, then surely it is the writers and directors who created the character who should apologise, rather than the actor voicing him. I’m not saying Apu shouldn’t have been recast, but given the transgression wasn’t that overt, did the guy who played him for so long really need to apologise? It’s not like he was painting his skin black, or pretending to need to use a wheelchair.

Pub? Not Just Yet

So far today, the hardest thing for me to do has been to go past so many freshly opened pubs and resist going in. I now try to keep my drinking to a minimum, and Monday drinking is strictly off limits; but the sight of pubs finally being open, with people sat outside at last having something resembling a social life, proved very enticing indeed. It isn’t the beer per se (I can, after all, have a drink at home if I really wanted) as much as the way in which pubs function as community hubs. People gather in them, often after long days at work, and let their proverbial hair down. They are places where you can find people from all walks of life, with all kinds of background; they are places where you can make new friends. People are sometimes surprised to find a person like me in a pub, so they come up to me and introduce their selves. Occasionally we have remained in contact over Facebook. Alternatively I sometimes just sit and observe people, gathering ideas for stories and blog entries.

Best of all, they are places to meet up with your mates, which is what I’ve missed the most. Two years or so ago, I remember meeting my old uni mates Chris and Steve at the Royal Standard in Blackheath, and chatting like the three of us were still up in Alsager. I suggested the Standard because it was an easily findable pub we could all get to. Pubs are landmarks as well as gathering points. They are places where you can meet up and have a bit of fun. After the last year, I’m really, really looking forward to being able to do that again: as soon as I can, I plan to invite Steve, Chris, Charlotte and whoever else I can to my new place in Eltham to show them around and have a drink. It now feels far too long since I last saw any of those guys.

That is the point of pubs. Going in to one today as I passed them, just because I could, would have been pointless. I would have had a beer or two, and the rest of the day would have been useless. It was best to wait for an occasion which could be relished, shared and possibly blogged about the next day.

Great Timing, Phillip!

Just so everyone knows, I have no intention to blog about the death of you-know-who. I never met the man and don’t have much of an opinion on him, so what could I possibly contribute to the discourse? Besides, Old Phil’s passing seems to be the only thing all the mainstream news outlets are talking about at the moment, and probably will be for a while. That is concerning given the current violence in Northern Ireland, as well as the fact that CaMoron has been caught trying to get favours from his old Tory chums. As others are already pointing out, Prince Phillip’s death has come at quite a convenient time for the Tories – not that anyones accusing them of anything, mind.

Me and Street Preachers

I officially hate street preachers. I encountered some the other day in Greenwich, and again today in woolwich. They really, really get on my nerves. That they think they have a right to stand in public spaces and try to indoctrinate people, forcing their religion into passers by, really pisses me off. It seems so arrogant. They refuse to listen to any argument, or anyone asking them to stop. What gives them the right to interrupt everyone else’s day by shouting baseless rubbish which not everyone agrees with through portable speakers in public spaces? Well, if they have the right to do that then I have a right to go up to them, tell them to stop spouting bullshit and attempt to turn their speaker off.

Shouldering the brunt of Tory Heartlessness

I wouldn’t be much of a disability-related blogger if I didn’t flag up this extremely worrying Guardian article. Disabled people across the country are facing huge increases in care costs. “Adults with a disability or mental illness are receiving extra care bills running into thousands of pounds that they say could force them to cut back on food and heating and threaten their social independence.

Amid a care funding crisis, some English councils are quietly increasing charges to people with learning disabilities and mental illness, in effect clawing back welfare payments and leaving some working-age adults with little more than £3 a day to spend.” In other words, “we” are shouldering the brunt of the Tories’ tax cuts for their rich friends, as well as the obvious drop in business due to Brexit. Presumably, the bastards in government opted to place the burden on disabled people because we are least able to fight back or complain, or so they assume. Tell me, how is that fair, and why do we have to put up with such sheer heartlessness from the utter disgraces to human civilisation currently governing the country?

Watching things get built

I have always liked to watch people doing things. When I was small, I could spend hours watching my dad garden or my mum cook. Watching people build things held a special attraction for me, although I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was the spectacle of someone doing something I physically couldn’t. A couple of weeks ago, I noticed something being done on a small area of greenery not far from my house: they seemed to be gearing up to build something there, but it wasn’t clear what. The space isn’t very large, so they can’t be constructing anything major; but every time I go past there I look to see what they could be making. I can’t seem to stop myself. Today, though, I took the time to go and have a proper look. There were four or five men at work there. The odd thing was, they didn’t seem to be doing that much: they had concreted a line of several tall iron posts into the ground, and the men, all with Liverpudlian accents, were checking to see whether they were upright. What that will eventually become is anybody’s guess, but in the mean time at least I have something to go and watch.