Can you all stop being dicks, please

A woman, pictured here oppressing men by existing.

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed that I went on a little moan about fan culture this week.  The thread can be viewed in its full, erm, magnificence here, but if you fancy a sneak peek, here’s the first one.

A good, solid set-up, I’m sure you’ll agree.

The way fans treat each other has long been a bugbear of mine, but it’s got much much worse in recent years. The influx of new fans – younger fans, people of colour, even (oh God!) the wimmins – has set the alarm bells ringing among some (not all, it must be noted) older fans, who seem to view them as a threat to their particular property. Star Trek fans got in on the action this week by moaning about ‘Discovery’ foregrounding two women of colour, while women-only showings of Wonder Woman at the Alamo Drafthouse in the States riled the cinema’s male patrons.

Before attacking this attitude I’m first going to try to understand it, because there is some part of me that can stand back, scientifically judge it, and try to work out objectively where it comes from. As far as I can tell, it’s the erosion of the element of fantasy that people look for in things like Star Trek and Star Wars. If people watch a film set in a galaxy far, far away, they want to be transported there and the greater push for diversity and inclusion draws them out of it. Suddenly, they’re watching a film that reminds them of the world they live in rather than helping them escape it.

As I say, I get that, but, well, y’know what…

Tough shit.

When I was a kid, I loved Spider-Man. He was shy like me, a wallflower who couldn’t articulate himself and didn’t have the confidence to make friends. I needed Spider-Man because I saw myself in him. As I’ve grown up, I’ve seen myself in many more characters. Some of them – like me – are white and male and straight, others are not. I loved Sophie in Spielberg’s The BFG for her determination. I loved Finn in The Force Awakens for his redemptive goodness. I loved Willow from Buffy for her smarts and power. These are great characters and I often think ‘what would they do’ in my every day life because I relate to them so strongly.

The argument so often goes that good stories don’t depend on the race, gender or sexuality of a character, just the story that’s being told, but this is often put over by straight, white, male fans and it’s missing the point. I find it easier to relate to people who aren’t like me because there are so many characters who are like me. I’ve had my fill. If you’re gay, where’s your shining hero? If you’re black or Hispanic or Asian, where are the characters you can look up to and aspire to be. They’re there, for sure, but they’re hard to find and they really shouldn’t be; they should only be the flick of a remote control button away.

Slowly but surely, we’re getting there, but sadly that slowness is far too slow and it’s because of fans, which is something I simply can’t comprehend. It’s completely against what I think is common decency and – more to the point – against what so many of our heroes stand for: the goodness, humanity, and empathy we claim to love about them. There are kids out there of all creeds and colours, sexualities and genders who are desperately in need of the same hero I found in Spider-Man, or Indiana Jones, or Luke Skywalker when I was a kid. They need them and they deserve them. They’ll not only entertain those kids, but help them in times of despair, giving them the strength to say ‘what would they do’ when they’re being bullied, or coming out, or being told that they’re not good enough because they ‘throw like a girl’.

Why on earth would you want to take away the strength you found in your heroes yesterday from those who need them today? That’s not what Spider-Man would do? That’s some straight up Green Goblin shit.

Even if you ignore that, even if you throw your hands up and dismiss that as ‘social justice warrior crap’, fine, but you’re killing the thing you love. Nothing lasts forever. People get old, they stop having disposable incomes and so the money they plough into their favourite things, the money that allows those favourite things to stay alive, diminishes. It happened with Star Wars in the late 80s and early 90s, when the franchise’s core base had grown into teenagers and moved on from such childish things as lightsabers and The Force. It needed the release of the Special Editions to bring people back into the fold and show new audiences what that glorious galaxy far far away is all about.

It could have happened again after the release of Revenge of the Sith. The films were done, the story of the Skywalkers over. The poor critical reception of those movies had tarnished the series as a whole and there really was the threat  – as hard as it is to believe now – that it could all fade away. Then, along came ‘The Clone Wars’ with a new hero, a female hero. Ahsoka Tano was roundly criticised when she first hit the screen, but now she’s gone on to become a lynchpin of the saga, appearing in ‘Star Wars Rebels’ and a wide range of ancillary media. Why? Simple: new, and often female, fans. Young girls could relate to Ahsoka and – thanks to Ashley Eckstein, who voices her – felt welcomed into the community. Female fans have always been there, of course, but there were more now and they all felt empowered because they were represented.

I’m not suggesting Star Wars would have died without Ahsoka and ‘The Clone Wars’, but history could have played out very differently. Without those female fans, without that new audience, would Star Wars and Lucasfilm have been as enticing a proposition to Disney as it was? Would George Lucas have sold to someone else? Would that company have been as careful with the property as Disney has been? Impossible to say, but I doubt we’d be in this spot: witnessing an increasing, and increasingly diverse, following that’s demanding  – and often getting – brilliant films, TV series, books and comics from a company that knows it can’t deliver anything but the best.

From a personal point of view, I look to the diversity and size of the Star Wars franchise with envy. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I’m a big Steven Spielberg fan, and wish there was a thriving community for his films. Sure you get fan followings for Jurassic Park, Jaws and Indiana Jones, but there are few people who love Bridge of Spies, The Terminal and Empire of the Sun as much as they love that aforementioned trio. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but it makes me wistful. I wish there was a community who I could engage with, who would love to discuss why Catch Me If You Can is a semi-sequel to E.T. as much as they love discussing Short Round’s back story, but there isn’t and that kinda sucks. Other fans should be grateful that they’re not ploughing their furrow on their own.

It’s not always easy seeing other people enjoying ‘your thing’. They come in and they shake it up, offering new and sometimes critical opinions that you’d prefer not to hear. It’s important to hear them though, not just from a social and political view, but also a creative one (I’m the least stylish person on the planet but love the interest in fashion that female fans have brought to Star Wars). Doing so won’t nudge anyone out of the way or shift the focus onto something else; quite the opposite, it’ll only make the community and therefore the property richer and stronger. Isn’t that, y’know, a good thing?

So please, older fans, stop. Stop getting angry, stop reacting to new and diverse fans like they’re thieves stealing your favourite things, and please, please, please stop being dicks. Just stop. Star Wars is great, Star Trek is great, Wonder Woman is great, Spider-Man is great. These things we love are fucking great, and it’s why we love them. So let people love them. As many people, and as many different people, as you possibly can. Because they need them. Because it’s what your heroes would do. And if that doesn’t persuade you, because there’s nothing worse than debating why Empire of the Sun is Steven Spielberg’s best film with yourself.

Trust me on that one. I know.

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Destination Star Trek and the Joy of Fandom

High quality picture of Wil Wheaton - in the middle, white shirt
High quality picture of Wil Wheaton – in the middle, white shirt

On Saturday, I had the great pleasure of visiting Destination Star Trek, a convention dedicated to the famous Galaxy Quest rip-off of the same name. I’d debated with myself about going in the months leading up to it, partly because while I love The Original Series, I’ve not a huge amount of knowledge about the likes of Deep Space 9 and Voyager, partly because I find conventions so darned difficult. Regular readers will know I’m a bit shy so wilt in big crowds, but they’ll also know I’m trying to break out of that: so I went…

And had a really good time.

I attended with my brother-in-law, who was autograph hunting and got an awesome art print signed by various cast members along with a picture with Christopher Lloyd (who appears as a Klingon in The Search for Spock). I’m not quite as into autographs, so I just wandered around, taking in the replicas of the Original Series and Next Generation bridges where attendees could have their pictures taken, and the awesome (but sadly rather small) art gallery that was erected. It was lovely to just have a casual stroll and see what was going on.

He's so angry about being confused with a magician
He’s so angry about being confused with a magician

As this was a convention there was, of course, a lot of cosplay and while I’m not a cosplayer myself, I love seeing other peoples’ efforts. There were Klingons, Borgs, Seven of Nine, and even a woman in a dress made entirely of tribbles. I really wanted to ask some of them for a picture, but lacked the courage. I’m still a work in progress in that regard. I’ve got another convention (a general one rather than one specific to a particular franchise) and hope to push myself a bit more because the only real progress I made here was talking to some guy called William Shatner while he signed my brother-in-law’s print for me (I was stepping in while my brother-in-law was in another queue).

He… was…. everythingyou… wouldeverHOPE… HE WOULD BEEEEEEEEE!!!!

Spock and Kirk, just about to drop the freshest cut of 2016
Spock and Kirk, just about to drop the freshest rap album of 2016

My favourite moment came when I was watching people have their picture taken on the Next Generation bridge. There was a huge queue and you could see every single person get gradually more excited as they got closer to being called up. Kids and parents, boyfriends and girlfriends, brothers and sisters, elderly husbands and wives… they all queued up for hours just to get on that set. One young woman who was on there own looked like she was going to explode with joy as her moment came. She sat in the captain’s chair, smiled the biggest smile I’ve ever seen outside of a Disney film, and left again, smile still in place. A moment that lasted seconds, a memory that will last a lifetime. It was one of the loveliest things I’ve seen in a while, and a definite highlight of what everyone agrees is pretty much the worst year in known history.

Why was I so taken by her? Because that’s what fandom is all about. It’s been a pretty rotten few months for fandom. DC fans seem to think they’re in some bizarre war with critics, Ghostbusters fans proved that while they ain’t scared of no ghosts we should all be flippin’ petrified of them, and a subsection of Star Wars devotees still think that Jyn Erso should be banned from life cos she is a wimmin. Yet here, on this little replica of a piece of fiction, this young woman found absolute joy, just as we all should when we engage with the things we love. After all, why on earth would we continue to follow something that makes us as angry as Ghostbusters fans were this year?

This Pokemon adds little to the story beyond cuteness. And isnt that enough!?
This Pokemon adds little to the story beyond cuteness. And isn’t that enough!?

I keep hoping that Disney will bring their D23 Expo to Europe as it’s simply too difficult for me to get to California. I would smile as much as that young lady on the TNG bridge if they did because that (or a Spielberg convention) would be my happy place. Just wandering around the convention floor, never mind taking in all the sure-to-be-awesome events, would be enough because that’s one of the wonderful things about conventions: being around likeminded people who love what you love. It’s what makes me sad about finding it difficult to talk to people, and what makes me sad about how exclusive some fandoms are becoming: why on earth would you want to limit the amount of people who can take part? The more people (the more diverse people – and Trek is a very diverse fandom) the merrier.

So while I wait for Disney to realise there’s life outside of Anaheim, I’ll just continue to use this blog as my own little convention, and talk to the lovely friends I’ve made through it. Because that’s what conventions are about. That’s what being a fan of something is about.

Now, anyone wanna cosplay Frozen?

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Scene and Heard: Star Trek Into Darkness – Michael Giacchino

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In Kids Riding Bicycles’ regular series, Scene and Heard, I take a look at great moments in movie music. This feature isn’t just about the particular scene or the music underscoring it, but how the two come together to form a complete whole. First up, is the moment in Star Trek Into Darkness where Spock catches up to Khan high above the streets of San Francisco to bring justice to the maniacal felon.

It’s a fantastic scene for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a beautifully orchestrated action sequence, with the two leaping across flying vehicles in a fight to the death. Secondly, it’s a tremendous character moment for Spock: a scene that’s been teased since the first film where all control goes out of the window and he confronts his emotion head on.

And finally, there’s Michael Giacchino’s music.

Be under no illusions here, I love Michael Giacchino. Since first hearing his work in the 2009 Trek, and utterly falling in love with the powerful, epic ‘Enterprising Young Men’ theme, I’ve eagerly awaited each and every Giacchino release and snapped it up as soon as it hit shelves. Star Trek Into Darkness was no exception, and I remember hearing a preview of the score on American radio before the film came out.

The preview included the incredible ‘Ode to Harrison’, the theme Giacchino gave to Khan and which (bafflingly) wasn’t released in full until an expanded version of the score came out long after the film. It’s a brilliant piece music, the like of which Giacchino excels at: rich, complex, and focused on driving forward the story and characters. Fittingly for the manic, but somewhat tragic Khan, ‘Ode to Harrison’ is both dark and innocent, a menacing piece laced with the knowledge that the character is as much sinned against as he is sinner.

It plays a critical part in this chase too, but is put to very different use. As I explain in my analysis of the film, Star Trek Into Darkness explores the nature of good and evil, showing that the concepts are universal and can’t be eradicated. As the chase becomes more frenzied and Spock finally catches up with Khan, ‘Ode to Harrison’ comes to dominate the soundtrack, not just showing Khan’s evil (as we’d expect), but also tapping into the latent anger within Spock.

So essentially, ‘Ode to Harrison’ becomes ‘Ode to Spock’ too, with Giacchino’s theme working to finalise what the film has been saying throughout. Good and evil exist within all of us: we must control our darker impulses and seek to bring out only what’s good.

What do you think of this moment and Michael Giacchino’s score for the film? Let me know in the comments.

Star Trek: Into (and out of) Darkness

THIS IS AN ARCHIVAL POST THAT WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN NOVEMBER 2013

Since 9/11, Hollywood blockbusters have been obsessed with the power of symbolism. Comic book movies in particular have traded on the potency of symbols as a means to emphasise their story’s emotional and thematic points. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is the most obvious example, with Bruce Wayne turning his childhood fear (bats) into a symbol designed to intimidate Gotham’s criminal underworld. In 2011, Captain America used the red, white and blue to question the nature and role of American heroism in the modern world, while a year laterAmazing Spider-Man had Spidey pass his iconic mask to an imperiled child because “it’ll make you feel strong.” Most recently, 2013 has seen Man of Steel offer a rational explanation for Superman’s famous shield, which now doesn’t represent an ‘S’, but hope. It’s an appropriate evolution. One DC hero began the trend by using symbols to strike fear into villains, another continued it by using symbols to inspire hope in victims.

It’s not only comic book films that make such striking use of symbols, of course. 2013 also saw the release of Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams’ much-criticised sequel to his 2009 reboot of Gene Roddenberry’s famous franchise. The film has attracted such vehement opinions from fans in part because of how much it relies on previous Trek outing, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Into Darkness reconstructs entire sequences and character beats from Nicholas Meyer’s classic, and of course brings into the fold Khan Noonian Singh, the original Trek films’ most beloved villain. Some see this as a lack of creativity, even an insult to Wrath of Khan and its creators, but I see it as one part of the film’s point about symbolism. Khan, the embodiment of anger and vengeance for Meyer, is for Abrams only a secondary villain, behind Peter Weller’s scheming Admiral Marcus. The film therefore asks us to re-evaluate our preconceptions. Who is the real bad guy? And what factors contribute to the choice we make?

Star Trek Into Darkness is not merely an exploration of evil though – that would take it too close to the territory of The Dark Knight, which presented perhaps the Noughties’ most defining portrayal of evil in the shape of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Instead, Abrams looks at how evil can be beaten and good triumph. Is this a physical process – does good succeed by physically attacking evil? Or is it a moral process – does good succeed by staying true to its values and inspiring more virtue than evil can inspire bad? Abrams ultimately suggests that the second option is the way forward, and does this through two means. Firstly, through the film’s narrative, which finds a revenge-hungry Kirk attempt to take out Khan for killing Admiral Pike. Secondly, through its use of the Starship Enterprise as a symbol of hope and exploration. Abrams first framed the Enterprise in such a way early in the first film, when he establishes that Kirk and the ship are destined to be together with a long, reverential shot of the future captain and his under-construction vessel. Here he peppers these scenes throughout as Kirk’s dilemma are played out on the canvas of the iconic ship. These scenes are explored below.

NIBIRU

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The film opens on a primitive planet called Nibiru. The Enterprise is visiting the world to activate a cold fusion device that will stop a volcano from exploding and destroying all in its path. In an effort to preserve the Prime Directive, the ship is hidden in the planet’s ocean, but when Spock gets trapped, Kirk has to act, ordering the Enterprise out of the ocean, towards the volcano and in full sight of the planet’s inhabitants. The Prime Directive has been thoroughly violated now, and Abrams shows just how much the incident will affect Nibiru’s inhabitants and their future in the sequence’s final shot, which sees the natives gather together in a huddle. The chief is drawing an image of the Enterprise in the sand, and when done, the group begin to worship it. Michael Giacchino’s heroic Enterprising Young Men theme begins, Abrams places his camera directly over the drawing in a God’s Eye view, and slowly the picture fades to the real Enterprise flying through space. The Enterprise’s symbolic value has been established, but will it fall to or transcend the test that Khan will subject it to.

DOCKING

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The next time we see the Enterprise in any great detail is when the ship is docked ready for Kirk and co. to board it. The scene recalls a similar moment in the first film when Kirk and Bones are taken to the vessel for the first time. In that scene, Abrams shoots the boarding from a low angle, giving the  moment a sense of significance and nobility, something emphasised by a rousing rendition of Giacchino’s Enterprising Young Men. Here, however, such values are absent. Abrams again shoots the ship from a low angle, but there’s a feeling of distance and dread, with Giacchino’s music playing like a march, giving the scene a gloomy militaristic feel. As Kirk heads off with the intention of breaking Starfleet and moral code and killing Khan, Abrams and Giacchino remind us of how utterly wrong this situation is by subtly undermining our expectations for the scene.

ENTERPRISE VS. VENGEANCE

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In what is probably the film’s key sequence, Abrams makes a powerful narrative and visual statement that sums up the film’s themes and its use of symbolism. By this point, the Enterprise has intercepted Khan and attracted the attentions of Admiral Marcus (who wants Khan dead) and his ship the USS Vengeance. The names, of course, sum it up – Enterprise representing the future, peace and exploration, Vengeance representing all things past and violent. This, in tangible form, is the film’s central tension, and Abrams ensures that is conveyed to the audience in a number of shots that establish the hulking size of the Vengeance and the relative smallness of the Enterprise. Most notably, he presents us with a wide shot that shows the two ships facing off against a beautiful celestial background. They’re like Old West gunslingers vying for control of their beautiful environment – a comparison that’s wholly appropriate. Just as Westerns focus on the nature of law and justice, order and chaos, so too does Star Trek Into Darkness.

THE FALL AND RISE OF THE ENTERPRISE

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Khan commandeers the Vengeance and kills Marcus during the ensuing battle, and once in the captain’s chair, he turns the ship’s arsenal on the Enterprise. All but annihilated, the ship’s heart, the Warp Core, breaks down, sending her and her crew into freefall towards Earth. Again, Abrams lets his expressive camerawork speak for itself. As evil threatens to destroy good once and for all, Abrams uses skewed Dutch angles plunges the screen into darkness, with the characters illuminated only by red warning lights. Kirk ventures to the Warp Core to get it back online, and when he finally gets to his destination, Giacchino’s music turns into an elegy as the Captain gives up his life to save his crew. The Warp Core back, music and visuals suddenly shift. The calming blue and white of planet Earth take over from the unsettling red and blacks of space, and the Enterprise sinks beneath of bank of cloud before rising heroically from the bottom of the screen. Giacchino’s music soars and Abrams shoots reverentially from a low angle to emphasise the change further. The Enterprise is back and moral order has been restored.

BATTLE OF SAN FRANCISCO

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Abrams has one final twist though. As the Enterprise restores balance, the Vengeance sinks beneath it, plunging down to San Francisco at an incredible rate. From out of the purity of a blue sky, this ‘Dark Enterprise’ emerges as initially a dot on the skyscape before coming to consume the screen. It finally crashes into the city below, destroying buildings and killing thousands, in a harrowing sequence that is all-too-familiar for an audience weaned on news images of terrorist atrocities. Consumed by anger after Kirk’s death, Spock beams down to San Francisco to pursue and ultimately kill Khan. The film has reversed on itself – while before Kirk was looking for revenge, now it’s the calm, logical Spock – and its moral code threatens to do the same; if even Spock is ready to kill, what hope does Starfleet have? But Spock doesn’t realise that Khan’s survival (and his genetically-altered blood cells) is the only way Kirk can be brought back. Mercy is therefore the only option as the film makes a powerful point about the good that can come from rejecting further bloodletting and embracing moral right.

A NEW FIVE-YEAR MISSION

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Abrams concludes this story and neatly sets up the next in a final scene which finds Kirk and crew at a “re-christening” ceremony for the Enterprise. He reasserts his and Starfleet’s dedication to exploration, to good, and insists that we must “remember who we once were and who we must be again.” The speech then cuts to the Enterprise, with Abrams providing the audience with long, loving shots of the ship’s interior and exterior. Kirk delivers the franchise’s famous ‘To Boldly Go’ speech, and boldly go the Enterprise does as it shoots off into space to discover new worlds. Echoing the shot that ushered in the title card (and therefore the Enterprise-as-totem image we saw on Nibiru just before it), Abrams’s camera slowly moves into the trail of vapour left in the ship’s wake. The camera zooms forward into the credits themselves, the specks of vapour resembling stars whizzing past a spaceship. The film and its message is complete, it’s somewhat strange title now fully revealed. By rejecting the figurative darkness of the soul, the Enterprise is now free to journey into the literal darkness of space and bring some light to it.

CONCLUSION
It’s a shame that Star Trek Into Darkness has attracted so much scorn. It’s not a perfect film, but it is an intelligent, mature and unique one. Blockbusters during the last decade have become bogged down in misery, suggesting that the world is a deeply dark and depressing place and that those in power will not only do nothing about it, but are actively contributing to it. Into Darkness trades on that to an extent, but also realises that there’s a certain nihilism to it that Abrams sensibly rejects. In its place, he offers hope that we, like the crew, can transcend the darkness and find something more inspiring. We just need to find our own Enterprise.