July 11, 2005
A column tackling gay issues, gay themes, and just general gayness in televisionOut-Takes
The Life of T'Pol the Hermit
Repeat After Me: Vulcans Are Not Sex Toys
Heinlein fans in the audience are going to crush me for admitting this, but here goes: I've never finished The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I was reminded of this while unpacking the other day, when I opened a long-forgotten backpack, pulled out my borrowed copy, and saw the bookmark (a scrap torn from notebook paper) steadfastly holding my place about ten pages from the end. I got to there, and I put the book down for one reason or another, and I apparently never felt the need to pick it up again.
Alison's terrific column from about a month ago (These Are the Voyages... That No One Watched) made a lot of things very clear to me — not the least of which being why I treated Enterprise a lot like Heinlein's Moon, working my way diligently through the first three seasons, only to stop right before the third season finale, walk away, and never pick it up again. It wasn't out of frustration, or disgust, or any sense of deliberate protest against the medium. I had just completely ceased caring.
|See, you don't watch Star Trek for the directing (which is often quite good) or the writing (which is habitually quite bad). You don't watch it for the plots with holes you could drive starships through. You don't watch for the local alien color, or the nifty computer-generated battles, or the casual references to That Thing That Once Tried To Eat Kirk.|
No, you watch for the characters. Star Trek, often despite its best intentions, has managed in its latter incarnations to create soap operas in space, where you tune in every week to see how Kira's pregnancy is progressing, if Seven of Nine is making the transition to human effectively, what melodious intonations Picard is going to use this time when he orders his "tea, Earl Grey, hot." At its best, thrilling phaser battles and harrowing encounters with strange alien races are just candy to augment the fascinating personal interactions — and at its worst, they're attempts to cover the lack thereof.
Which brings me to my point about Enterprise, and what this rant about its sin of boring me is doing in a column on LBGT issues.
I want my deep and abiding love for Scott Bakula to go on the record first, so I can go on to say that I think the creators of Enterprise made a terrible mistake in casting him as the captain. Not because of anything he did, mind you, but because they let the "OMG WE GOT SCOTT BAKULA!!!1one" sensation go to their heads. In fact, as I saw it, there were three distinct stages in Enterprise's development, each leading directly to the other: the first, "OMG WE GOT SCOTT BAKULA!!!1one"; the second, "Oh, hey, and some other guys too"; and the third, "TEH VULCAN HAS BOOBIES!" And so the show progressed pretty quickly from being all about Captain All-American, to being about putting some of the other characters into wacky situations, to being about how much of Jolene Blalock's ribcage you could see through the skintight outfits that were apparently standard Vulcan Episode back in the day.1
Now, I like an excuse for breasts as much as the next red-blooded perv, and can definitely allow for a crewmember or two's getting the hots for the alien girl.2 But if Star Trek has ever been guilty of getting nervous and "straightening" up its characters, it's culpable for what it did with the Incredible Unbelievable Love Triangle of Trip, T'Pol, and Archer.
Because, well, they kinda were. Bakula's played a gay character before, and Trinneer's exceedingly limited repertoire includes a made-for-TV movie of a play by the queer-friendly A.R. Gurney, so both seem to know something about queering characters. From their interactions, it wouldn't be hard to imagine that the captain and his best friend/chief engineer had once been lovers (or once very nearly been lovers), and I could almost be convinced that Bakula and Trinneer were playing it up. Almost.
But someone had to put a stop to any suggestion of homoeroticism between our two strapping heroes, and that someone was... the Vulcan. That's right, the person on the ship least likely to express sexual interest in someone more than once every seven years got tapped to dispel any perceived same-sex tension. To do this, however, they had to somehow work into her character a kind of sexuality with no precedent in either established Vulcan lore or her previously celibate lifestyle — really, you can only blame the Bizarro Waves from the Expanse for so much out-of-character behavior. The rest was all her falling victim to Trek's frequent inability to present an attractive female character without making her a sex object.
|When "normal" behavior is to look for sexually appealing persons with the opposite plumbing, partner with one of them, and make babies, any transgression is queer — including the transgression of refusing to participate in the system entirely.|
Here was a female character who should never have been involved in human sexual dynamics at all, acting instead like any other sexually available woman, something that evoked from me that same sort of horror I feel whenever I read one of those Kirk/Spock fanfics where Spock tenderly confesses his love to his captain. Not that I read those sorts of things. But if I did. Moving on.
I was initially pleased by the news that Enterprise's crew would involve a female Vulcan, because I thought that finally we might get a female character who was allowed to be an interesting, competent character without having to pull double duty as a sex kitten. I now feel catastrophically stupid for allowing myself to get those hopes up. And I feel sad that Enterprise took a great cast and a neat premise and a pretty decent budget, and managed to throw it all away by being stupid. If the next time you guys do something like this, you want to pander entirely to your adolescent fanboy base, that's fine — but don't come crying to me when the rest of your alienated viewers wander away to greener space pastures.
So, no, the downfall of Enterprise — and, in a sense, the Trek franchise — was not precipitated entirely by its rote, forced heteronormativity. But my getting too damn bored to remember to watch anymore sure was.
1That is to say, in the futur... or, er, back before... ah, I hate temporal mechanics.
2[Insert rant about Orientalism here: blah blah, Edward Said, blah blah, objectification and feminization, blah blah, the end.]
3If you really care about this concept — and you should, 'cause it's interesting — check out Dr. Virginia Burrus' slightly pricey but eminently readable The Sex Lives of Saints: An Erotics of Ancient Hagiography (Divinations).
Next time, on Out-Takes: The subtlety of space lesbians; or, Alas, Babylon.
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