Tag Archives: Star Trek

What’s Streaming July 2016

As we expand, it’s time for a few changes. I’ll no longer just be highlighting the goodies coming to Netflix for the month, but will also cover what’s coming to Amazon Instant Video and HBO Go/Now. As they all compete we’re beginning to see a lot of interesting changes, including entire franchises throwing their weight behind one streaming service (like what will happen with Marvel and Disney later this year on Netflix).

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Star Trek Computers Aren’t All That Retro

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Spock at his computer station.

Last month we talked about Star Trek: The Original Series miniskirts, how they came to be and what they signified. While researching the paper that eventually turned into that post, I found out some interesting things about technology too. Most sci-fi isn’t actually futurist, meaning it doesn’t actually attempt to predict the future in an accurate way. Most sci-fi is designed to make a social statement by taking a situation to an extreme, or to explore possibilities by asking scientific what-if questions, or both. It’s not meant to be a “history of the future.”

Star Trek did those social things, and fantastically well. It’s famous for them. However, it also turns out that Gene Roddenberry, creator and showrunner of Star Trek, was an enthusiastic futurist who wrote papers on the future of technology and was invited to lecture at NASA as well as several universities and colleges. While Star Trek was first and foremost a fantasy of space travel, Roddenberry was interested in presenting concepts he actually found workable and likely to exist in the future. One of his most important ideas was the Enterprise’s central computer, described in this pre-production memo:

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Star Trek Miniskirts: Feminist or Nah?

Aesthetics carry messages about values. Star Trek, while frequently written about in historical, literary, and technological terms, was also a visual experience with a distinctive aesthetic, and there’s a lot there to talk about! I just wrote a term paper on the topic, and it’s my pleasure to bring you some highlights related to Star Trek’s costumes —  specifically, the infamous miniskirts.

A variety of Star Trek uniforms

StarTrek.com

William “Bill” Ware Theiss, a gay costume designer at the beginning of his career, developed the costumes for the full run of the show. The iconic uniforms were the third version developed over the course of several pilots, and their final form was a combination of practicality and aesthetics. The two earlier styles made use of velour tunics, chosen for their futuristic sheen under stage lights. Velour shrinks with every wash, though, and since television costumes are laundered every day, the tunics had to be continually refitted for the actors.

The uniform colors, along with brightly-colored sets and lighting, were chosen in part simply because color televisions were becoming common in the United States in the mid-1960s when Star Trek first aired. The parent network, RCA, even advertised their color TVs by telling customers how good Star Trek looked on them — The bright red color in particular was added to blue and gold versions because it was “RCA color TV-friendly.” The final effect is sleek and colorblocked, a “futuristic” impression largely stemming from minimalistic styling. The bright colors and figure-hugging cuts also project a confidently eyecatching demeanor.

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Uhura Wears Red

Nyota Uhura, Nichelle NicholsIt occurred to me recently that Lieutenant Uhura, the Enterprise’s communications officer, portrayed by the formidable Nichelle Nichols, wears a red uniform. This may not be immediately surprising. Lots of people wear red uniforms in the Original Series. All the nameless “redshirt” security guards, yes, but also the entire engineering department, which naturally raises the question: Which is Uhura? Not security, clearly, which leaves engineering.

This realization struck me because fans seem to have conflated “communications” with linguistics at some point after the original series, largely due to the 1985 novel Uhura’s Song by Janet Kagan. In actual episodes, though, she’s not presented as a linguist but an expert in the sophisticated technology required for the Enterprise’s communications, including long-range with Starfleet, intraship coordination, and interfacing with alien ships’ technologies. She doesn’t pull out a dictionary, she crawls under her station to reconnect wires. She’s in the engineering department, not the humanities.

A few examples: In “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, she pops under her station to “rig up a subspace bypass circuit,” identified as “very delicate work.” Spock comments that no one else is more qualified to do it and leaves her alone. Spock. Spock doesn’t think he himself could do a better job on that circuit. (Nichelle Nichols has also commented that she saw Uhura’s relationship with Spock as one of a student and mentor). Another one, easy to miss, is tossed in at the beginning of “The Gamesters of Triskelion.” The initial goal, before they were waylaid by the gamesters, was a maintenance check on an automated communications outpost, so Uhura is tapped for the landing party.

Uhura and Spock in Who Mourns for Adonais

Uhura is shown speaking Swahili on multiple occasions, it seems to be her first language, and that may be part of the reason her character is nudged that way later. However, it’s generally presented as character backstory and part of an effort to show people of all nationalities on the Enterprise, not connected to her professional qualifications. Think about it: With a universal translator, why would they need a linguist on the bridge? On the ship as a backup, certainly, but not on the bridge.

This matters, not because linguists are dumb — it’s just as valid as any other profession and super interesting! — but because Uhura is not a linguist, yet is continually pushed in that direction, a more “feminine” direction. It matters because we still have so few representations of women in STEM fields, let alone women of color, and one representation makes all the difference. Before 1985, Uhura was a symbol drawing women into NASA and the STEM fields at large, and she deserves a little recognition!

A is for April Fool’s

Yeah… we’re not doing the A to Z Challenge this year. You may have noticed that from the complete lack of mentioning it before now… like the no theme reveal and no logo and such. It’s a great blogging activity, and we’ve done it twice before. You can read those posts here.
So what do we have coming up? Well, as you may have noticed, we do have a permanent addition to the blog – my sister Julia, check out her posts here. We still have Hannah going strong with a Star Trek post each month, expect one tomorrow!

We’re also still moving forward with our schemes to be self-hosted. We’re still a few months out on that, but know that it’s in the works. All of our current contributors are welcome and encouraged to keep on with us there, and we hope to be able to give you a whole lot more geeks than you’re getting here now!

With that, we’re also considering other sorts of online spaces and media we could include, besides just blog posts and social media. I think we have our ideas down, but let us know if there’s anything you’d like to see!

And later this month is International TableTop Day. We’ll be doing our 12 days of TableTop Day celebration again, I’m just not sure where… we shared them on Twitter and Facebook first year, Tumblr the second, and Instagram last year… I wonder whether a new platform is called for or what?…

Anyway, stay safe out there on the Internet today, friends. Don’t feed the trolls.

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