Is Star Trek Better Than Star Wars? Is J. J. Abrams The Saviour?

Yoda shows disrespect to Star Trek

Yoda shows disrespect to Star Trek

In this month’s GQ magazine (May 2013 issue, p. 68 in my print copy) John Ritter has an article about J. J. Abrams, the Lost creator-director whose speciality has becoming reviving old franchises like Mission Impossible and Star Trek. About Star Trek, he opines–with an opiate reference–in relation to J.J. taking on the challenges of building the new Star Wars Disney franchise:

  • “The idea that the same man can mainline both Gene Roddenberry and the Force is mildly alarming. Think of what opposite Star Trek and Star Wars are. We’ve been defined since childhood by which we prefer: rationality vs. mysticism, robust and morally complex characters vs. good-and-evil archetypes. A guy who can reunite the two halves of the Great Sci-Fi Schism shouldn’t be making movies, folks–he should be our envoy to the Middle East.”

This is an incredibly rich paragraph. A veritable treasure trove.

Let me first offer my opinion on whether Star Trek and Star Wars are actually opposites or, more accurately, oppositional poles. Although I know many fans will choose one franchise over another, or that fans often say that they are “Star Trek people” or “Star Wars people” like they say they are cat people or dog people, I also know that there are many people who, like me, have worshiped at the altars dedicated to both Spock and Yoda since they were children (and yes, I am also both a cat person and a dog person—jeez, I wonder if there is a correlation).

But I think the dichotomy that Ritter sets up in this paragraph is incorrect, particularly on the Star Trek side. Star Trek is “rationality” devoid of “mysticism”. Um, not so fast. Have you seen what’s inside Mr. Spock? Like, telepathy and mind control. How many times has a false god been mistaken for the real thing: Apollo, Vaal, Q, Trelane, the Metrons, and on and on?

As numerous authors have written (for three strong examples, see Porter, Jennifer E. and Darcee L. McLaren (1999), ed., Star Trek and Sacred Ground: Explorations of Star Trek, Religion, and American Culture, Albany, NY: SUNY Press; Wagner, Jon and Jan Lundeen (1998), Deep Space and Sacred Time: Star Trek in the American Mythos, Westport, CN: Praeger; Jindra, Michael (1994), “Star Trek fandom as a religious phenomenon,” Sociology of Religion, 55 (Spring), 27-51), Star Trek in all of its vainglorious iterations is chock-full of mysticism and spirituality. Many, many episodes in the original series could, for example, be seen as symbolizing humanity’s ongoing quest for God, or gods, and an overturning or ambivalence towards this seemingly inescapable yearning in modern times. And as Wagner and Lundeen’s book demonstrates, Star Trek has plenty to do with mythology and archetype. As has any great story.

Which franchise do you think Ritter favors? My bet is that he sees himself more as a rational type than a mystic, and prefers “morally complex” characters to “archetypes” (or is that fictional stereotypes?).

But comparing fan debates in the fictional space to long-standing territorial and religious conflicts in the Middle East is particularly revealing. The fact that a writer can devise and a publication can publish such comparisons can only point to some deep resonance of belief, belonging and identity that comes from fan identity, particularly this, one of the core fan identities of our time.

J.J. Abrams is a master director who plays with mysticism and ambivalence to science. Like creator Chris Carter of The X-Files, his works often peer into the (small v and plural) existential voids, they look at the holes and gaps in technoscientific rationality and human society (even its sciencefictional reflection) and find there the ever-unfulfilled need for certainly and belief, and even spirituality and mysticism.

His works vividly portray this ambivalence and fear and hope and desire, which burns at the very heart of our society. And that is exactly why he is such a good choice to continue to tell these precious modern myths which so many of us hold so dear.

Is Netnography Just a Synonym for Online Ethnography?

netnography_artAt the risk of turning this blog into an advice column, I want to share an interested letter I just received. This sort of correspondence is actually fairly common, and I think the question and answer may be of wider general interest to the readers of this blog.
“Dear R. Kozinets,

My name is Maria Luisa Malerba and I am a PhD student at the Open University of Catalonia (Barcelona, Spain). I am writing because I am currently writing my PhD thesis after the field work and I have a problem of terminology. Despite having read your book, which I found extremely helpful for my investigation, I am still confused about the correct meaning and the exact difference (if any) existing among the following neologisms:

  • netnography
  • virtual ethnography
  • online ethnography
  • digital ethnography
In my investigation I conduct an analysis of informal second language learners on online communites” designed for language learning, such as Livemocha and Busuu. Being this study about learners’ behaviours, the online aspect plays a fundamental role and this research has a primarily netnographic focus. I conducted participant observation, I submitted an online survey, I interviewed learners online and I analyzed the online interaction occurred through the chat that learners submitted to me.My question is: is there a clear distinction among the aforementioned expressions? If I use the term “netnography”, how do I justify that I do not adopt the other expressions, which to me sound like synonyms?Thank you in advance. Looking forward for your answer.

Maria-Luisa Malerba”

In my answer, I tried to be brief but to the point.

“Dear Maria-Luisa:

Thank you for your question. A lot of people ask this, so I will write more about it.

Online ethnography and digital ethnography are generic terms for doing any sort of ethnographic work using some sort of online or digital method. When you use those terms, it is unclear what you have done in terms of what procedures you used, what the methodology is, such as what ethical guidelines you used for example. The literature base you will cite is also a bit amorphous.

Virtual ethnography is the term coined by Christine Hine, and it refers to a method that sees online work as only partial and incomplete. I would expect that if you called your online ethnography a virtual ethnography, then you would adhere fairly closely to the research attitudes and practices, in fact the methodology of combined research philosophy and actions, of Professor Hine as she demonstrated them in her book.

Netnography refers to a specific set of online ethnographic procedures characterized by a particular methodology, including an epistemological background, analytic frameworks, and a consistent and evolving set of guidelines for entree, observation, data analysis, ethics, and so on.

Does that help?

And at what point is something not a neologism? Ethnography, as I write in the book, was a neologism at one time. Netnography is now 18 years old, old enough to vote, drink, marry, and drive in many nations. Hey, netnography, pass me a beer.

Regards,
Rob.”


To my mind, you can say you are a healer, or you can say you are a cardiologist, or an acupuncturist, or a chiropractor, or an energetic healer. When you link yourself with a particular practice, you do more than simply adopt a neologism. You link yourself to a rigorous set of practices and a set of related literatures. Certainly, there is room for innovation. But clarity is very important in the social sciences. And clarity is something that has not been particular well-served by the rapidity of change and silos present in the social media research field.
Is that clearer?

Let It Never Be

As I posted in my last post, at the July 2012 CCT conference in Oxford I presented a few of my poems, which are now collected and published in a volume called “Clarence Clobbers Tenderly.”

One of the poetry readings was captured on mobile phone video by my friend and colleague Ingeborg Kleppe, who generously shared it with me. I recently posted it to Youtube and link to it here.

Because the background sounds are a bit loud, and the recording begins partway into the reading, it is difficult to make out some of the poem. Following is the written version of poem, which is called:

Let It Never Be

And it is said

by those

who find philosophy

in the smashing

of strange

quarks, hadrons, and baryons

with even stranger consciousness

that the mind is

the world’s author

that awareness surgically bifurcates

and every decision we make

cuts a fork into reality

splitting spacetime

like a ribbon.

 

And so with each choice

we make

we break

apart

and leave

behind living

shards shadow

beings who did not

so choose.

 

And through our life

times of choosing

these twin beings

grow to crowds

to villages and cities

whole worlds perhaps

of yous and mes

built of decisions

created of collisions and in

some automatic

and undecided way

they still exist

continuing

following roads

we long abandoned.

 

Let them have them.

 

Let us never feel that urge

to gaze out

across this sea of broken paths and pasts

to peer into the eyes

of all the relinquished yous and mes.

 

And let us never wander to that shore

and never feel compelled to call out

a reminder across this vast ocean

of forsaken lives

whose remainder in sum is life

our life still living not lived yet

and never ever have to say

let it go

let it go

let it go.

 

And let it never be said

that together we did not

create universes.