Observation for Now

Ours is the only country deliberately founded upon a good
idea.


--John Gunther



Monday, July 21, 2014

Media Virus -- Silly Book, Intriguing Idea




I’ve been reading a book called Media Virus! Hidden Agendas in Popular Culture, by Douglas Rushkoff.  Along with the silly leftwing pseudo-intellectual arguments, Rushkoff’s main argument can be looked at from a TREK angle.


Some silly things I’ve noticed so far: On pages 39-40, Rushkoff states, “Many environmentalists refuse to distinguish between dirty technologies (burning coal, driving cars, making paper) and “clean” technologies (television, computers) ….”

What a stupid statement!  Where does he think the ENERGY to run these things comes from?  Power plants!  Where does he think these “clean” techno-gadgets go when broken or outdated?  The dump!  These facts don’t  make TVs or computers any “cleaner” than cars, do they?


A second silly section begins on page 58, as Rushkoff lavishes praise on the “innovative” Esalen Institute, a trailblazer in the encounter-your-feelings modern world. He’s in awe of its supposedly revolutionary format:  “These were seminars conducted for a participatory audience.  For the first time the students were as involved in the discussions as the ‘teachers’ ” (p 59).


What a novel idea, the idea that a teacher and  his students can learn from each other!  What do you think we should call these roundtable-type seminars, this “never-before-tried” method of mutual inquiry between students and lecturer? 


How about THE SOCRATIC METHOD?  Which is, I don’t know, THOUSANDS OF YEARS OLD????

[breath]

Still, the central conceit of Rushkoff’s book is that, like a virus, a possibly revolutionary idea or concept may hide inside a popular meme that becomes prevalent without the “hidden intent” being a conscious part of the meme’s perception..

“Once attached, the virus injects its more hidden agenda into the datastream in the form of ideological code  ….  Media viruses spread rapidly if they provoke our interest …” (p 10).




This reminded me of the widely held belief that Gene Roddenberry was deliberately, intentionally preaching equality and optimism for the future, under cover of a nifty space show with flashy costumes.


I think that this “bold vision of the future” is as much a product of our own reading into history as it is a fact of STAR TREK history.


I think that GR was trying to find a hook to tell stories that would give him a job and make money.  If he could use those stories and the show’s format to tweak “authority,” then so be it!  GR had a near-fatal flaw which is also present in my make-up – I hope I’ve learned to resist it after all these years –, a nearly compulsory urg to try and “get away” with something under the nose of people who outranked him.  As a kid, I snitched on my big brother.  In college, I did some silly things that caused me to switch jobs.





As documented extensively in Marc Cushman’s TOS, which exhaustively reproduces memos and letters and interviews detailing the history of the series, Roddenberry appeared to have an inherent naughty-boy side.  It was this behavior, NOT low ratings, which was a huge factor in the failure of STAR TREK at NBC.  The execs knew that they had a hit on their hands; but the hit was helmed by a guy who kept trying to sneak things into the show that he knew weren’t allowed, from religious matters to sex and race relations.  Sure, these are topics worthy of confrontation and discussion, but not on the dime of a network and studio that was trying to make a buck!  In fact, STAR TREK basically bankrupted Desilu.  Roddenberry’s trend-bucking didn’t help matters.



And all of these high-sounding progressive ideas probably seemed a lot more trouble-making and less sincere, coming from a guy who couldn’t keep his hands or libido off the actresses and (female) staff on the TV shows he worked on.

Roddenberry, like all of us, was a man with high dreams and will always be honored as the man behind STAR TREK.  But the blossoming of STAR TREK into a cultural phenomenon and the culture-bearer for visionary dreams is a happy accident.  It’s not only the result of Roddenberry’s genius, but also the bearer and recipient of the optimistic dreams of its audience.
 




STAR TREK envisioned many of sci-fi’s optimistic visions of the future.  But it was the baby-boomer fans who brought the bright side of those dreams into reality, by our intentions to “live up” to what we saw as a  model for times to come.

Was the equal-sex, equal-race setting in STAR TREK the “virus” inside the sugar-coating of a kiddie TV show?  Was it INTENDED that way by Roddenberry?  You can argue both sides.  But you can’t argue the with the facts that demonstrate that GR was sometimes his own worst enemy when it came to his relationship with the people who paid him.  His own behavior sometimes made STAR TREK’s future society seem as hollow as the protestations of innocence coming from James Baker’s mouth.

As Keith Green once sang, “If you’ve been burned, here’s what I’ve learned: The Lord’s not the one to blame.”  In the same way, I’m not saying thet GR was a terrible guy because his private life sometimes didn;t live up to the ideals he instilled in us.  But, like some disappointing people who fail miserably at living out the religious beliefs that they claim to hold dear, Roddenberry’s behavior was often counter-productive when it came to living out “the STAR TREK ideal” in his own life.

I think that fanboys and fangirls are as much responsible for STAR TREK’s success as its creator!  In viewing STAR TREK in the light of Rushkoff’s “media virus” scenario, I believe that the blossoming of the TREK “vision” of Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (stolen from the bloddy French Revolution –  "Freedom, equality, brotherhood") is a happy result of the young’uns of the world taking these ideas and running with them!  But these concepts weren’t intentionally revolutionary in the sense that GR was trying to remake society.



As Kirk says to Spock in STAR TREK VI, “everybody’s human.”  And we can all share in any credit for making some of the best parts of STAR TREK come true.

 

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