The UberProse of Shatner
The prose of Shatner page is dedicated to short stores and other Shatner-related information.
Our Shatner. . .
Who Art in Enterprise.
Hallowed Be Thy Toupee,.
Thy Captainly Will Be Done,
In the Enterprise,
As it Is,
In the Neutral Zone.
Give Us This Day,
Our Daily Overacting,
And Forgive Us Our Record Albums,
As We Forgive Yours.
And Lead Us Into Thy Federation
For Thine Is The Starship,
And The Power,
And The Glory,
Until the End of All Reruns
This is an essay that won 2nd place in Columbia College Chicago's English Department Fall 1996 Essay Contest.
James T. Kirk: A Human Hero
Gregg "Dave" Allinson
"James T. Kirk is an idealist, rather sensitive, with a strong, complex personality. Constantly on trial within himself, he feels accutely the responsibility of his position and is therefore fully capable of letting the worry and frustration lead him into error." (Whitfield/Roddenberry 216)
William Shatner's portrayal of Captain James T. Kirk, the lead character of the TV science fiction series Star Trek, has not aged well. It has become a staple of many a stand-up comedian and impersonator's act. Shatner played Captain Kirk as a passionate man who often openly displayed his emotions, which at times lead to inadvertently humorous moments (such as an out-of-control evil version of Captain Kirk in the episode "The Enemy Within", who shrieked "I'm Captain Kirk! IIIIIII'M CAPTAIN KIRK!"). Despite Shatner's histrionics, or perhaps because of them, Kirk remains a much more human and warm character than his more popular successors on the various Star Trek sequel series.
In the original Star Trek TV series, Kirk was the driving force behind all major events on the series. He often personally lead his crew on missions to strange and oftentimes deadly new worlds. On the other hand, the Captains of subsequent Star Trek series often sat back and let their subordinates handle these duties. While having the most important crewmember on the ship beam down into dangerous situations week after week may seem illogical, it makes perfect sense from a TV standpoint. Star Trek writer David Wise explains:
"Kirk had to be the main guy. That's just good TV...With The Next Generation, Gene (Roddenberry, the creator of both Star Trek and Star Trek The Next Generation really made it an ensemble show, where not even Picard holds the same position Kirk did. I can understand why he might have wanted to do that, but I think it's a tactical blunder. You can surround your main guy with all sorts of characters, but you need some focus." (Florence 58).
The focus Wise speaks of makes Kirk an exciting, dynamic leader. When this aspect of his role is taken away (such as it was in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where Commander Will Decker was leading the ship into dangerous situations), Kirk becomes a facilitator and adviser, cut off from the main action of the story. Despite the dramatic vistas that are opened up by making the Captain character an active leader, Gene Roddenberry refused to repeat this approach to the Captain in Star Trek: The Next Generation because "it simply wasn't very practical, or prudent" (Nemecek 4). This left Jean-Luc Picard (as played by Patrick Stewart) oftentimes appearing cold and distant from his crew, while Kirk was more fun-loving and part of the crew. Melinda Snodgrass, a former script editor and writer on The Next Generation, goes so far as to call Picard "turgid" (Ellison, 273). It is interesting to note that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine initially harkened back to the Kirk character by having Commander Benjamin Sisko lead his crew in most missions. In the fourth season of the series, Lt. Commander Worf from The Next Generation was bought onboard as Sisko's right-hand man and leader of away missions. Within a year after this change in Deep Space Nine's format, the ratings fell 30% (Hotchman, 40). While it is illogical, audiences prefer an active, dynamic Captain.
Another positive notable aspect of the Kirk character is that of change. In the Star Trek films, Kirk is not only promoted to the rank of Admiral, but he meets a son whom he never knew (who is later murdered by the Klingons), faces the death of his best friend and the destruction of his beloved ship, the Enterprise, goes on a rogue mission and becomes a wanted Starfleet criminal, and deals with the very real effects of aging. It is perhaps unfair to compare the original Star Trek films with The Next Generation series of films, as there was a ten year break between the original TV series and the movies that follow, whereas the first Next Generation film was released the same year the TV series ended. It is also perhaps an unfair comparison because, to date, there have been six original series films and only two Next Generation ones. However, by the second original film, The Wrath of Khan, Kirk underwent many permanent changes, such as meeting his son David, returning to the Enterprise as her commander after a long stint as an Admiral at Starfleet Academy, and facing death for the very first time. Picard, on the other hand, has not significantly changed by the second Next Generation film, First Contact. In the movies, Kirk transforms from the square-jawed, happy-go-lucky hero of the TV series to a seasoned three-dimensional character who has coped with tragedy and come through it with a smirk.
Patrick Stewart, outside of his TNG role, is known by many to be a serious Shakespearean actor, appearing in the likes of a famous one-man stage production of A Christmas Carol and a production of The Tempest last year in New York, while Shatner is thought of as a hammy overactor, who was lucky that he could get the likes of the mindless police series TJ Hooker (Hotchman 40). What is sadly often forgotten is that Shatner too is a Shakespearean, and started his career in Ontario by acting in The Merchant of Venice and Henry V (Whitfield/Roddenberry 219). True, Shatner's actions may appear exaggerated and loud in comparison to the reserved approach adopted by Stewart, but this makes for a more naturalistic character. Typical of the two different approaches adopted by the actors and the differences between the characters that they yield can be found in the reactions to the death of Picard's brother and nephew in Star Trek Generations and to the death of Kirk's son in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Stewart's reserved performance in Generations makes him come of as if he's trying to be sad, as if Picard is Patrick Stewart trying to seriously play a man who has suffered a great loss, rather than Picard suffering and letting his emotions out. In sharp contrast, Kirk falls over and shouts "You Klingon bastard, you killed my son!" in Star Trek III after the death of his illegitimate child, David Marcus, at the hands of the Klingon Kruge. While Shatner's acting may be overstated, he at least gives the impression that Kirk is genuinely sad and angry that he has lost his son, whom he had just met again after nearly 20 years of isolation at the insistence of Carol Marcus, David's mother. He is very clearly not Shatner trying to play a sad man, he is a very sad man. Perhaps it can be said that Shatner's performance in this instance is borders on the laughable and that Stewart's was more reserved, but Kirk's loss is more keenly felt by Shatner letting his emotions run wild.
Kirk said in the episode "The Carbomite Manuver" "I've already got a female to worry about, and her name is Enterprise.". Given the amount of sexual liasons he had in Star Trek episodes, but it's really not all that surprising when you look at the series. In Star Trek II, Dr. McCoy says to Admiral Kirk "This is not about age, and you know it! It's about you flying a goddamned computer console when you wanna be out there hopping galaxies!". When Kirk seizes command of the Enterprise from Spock later on in the film during a crisis situation, Spock understands. Spock tells Kirk that being a starship commander is Kirk's "First, best destiny". Despite this devotion to his ship, however, Kirk is a human and he wants to have human companionship, so he tends to be rather flirty and have flings with every woman he sees. But his devotion to the Enterprise prevents any dedication to a single female. Any woman who wanted to spend the rest of her life with Kirk would have to play second fiddle to his ship and his duty. Hence, even "true" loves such as Dr. Carol Marcus and Yeoman Janice Rand tend to leave Kirk when they realise that he is already "married". There is one notable exception to this rule, however. In Harlan Ellison's original script for the episode "City on the Edge of Forever", Kirk and Spock travel through time to capture Beckwith, a drug-dealing Enterprise crewman who has used a time portal on the planet of the Guardians of Forever to escape to 1930s Earth. While searching for Beckwith, Kirk becomes involved with a social worker named Edith Keeler. However, Spock remembers the Guardians' enigmatic clues about her-she is fated to die, and if she survives, she will introduce a philosophy of peace and brotherhood that will delay America's entry into World War II and give the Nazis a chance to develop the atomic bomb and take over the world. But Kirk doesn't care. He loves Edith so much that the entire future is nothing to him when compared to her continued survival. However, Spock kills her by pushing her in front of a passing truck. Kirk is mournful, but understands that Spock was only acting out of pure logical concern for their continued existence (after all, who's to say that Kirk and the half-human Spock would've even been born if a Nazi-controlled timeline sprung up before their births). Spock also tells Kirk: "No woman was ever loved as much. Because no woman was offered the universe for love." (Ellison 223).
However, apart from this one notable instance, Kirk's devotion to the Enterprise is total and absoulte. Since he met Edith during Star Trek's first season and early on during Kirk's command of the Enterprise, one might be able to speculate that her death drove him to total devotion to the Enterprise. After all, a starship can't die on you or break your heart. But that's just what the Enterprise does in Star Trek III, when Kirk is forced to either destroy the Enterprise or surrender it to Klingon attackers. Rather than seeing his love stolen, he destroys it. His sense of loss is profound. Moments before the crew of the Enterprise beam away to safety, Scotty tells Kirk that they only have moments left before the ship is destroyed. Kirk solemnly paces the bridge and says (in a scene ultimately cut from the film) "I know, I just wanted one last look". Like the loss of Edith, his other "true" love, Kirk must make a hard choice between love and the greater good. However, unlike the death of Edith, it is Kirk who makes the choice in favour of the greater good over love. "My god Bones, what have I done?" he asks Dr. McCoy as the Enterprise crew watches the burning husk of what was once the Enterprise burn up in the atmosphere of the Genesis planet. "What you had to do. What you've always done. You've turned death into a fighting chance for life", McCoy says reassuringly. Contrast this with Picard, who is practically asexual (possibly virginal) and was absent from the bridge of his Enterprise when it was destroyed. Kirk's passions may, at times, overwhelm him, but certainly having too much passion is more realistic and easier to relate to than no passions at all.
The current Star Trek production team seems rather condescending towards the original series, feeling that it's old, worthless, and campy. Strangely enough though, they always seem to fall back on Kirk and the original Star Trek when they need a crutch. Consider the first Next Generation movie, Generations. The same people who were making Deep Space Nine and Voyager and had made The Next Generation for TV were writing, producing, and directing the film and were unsure of both their skills at filmmaking on the big screen and the ability of the Next Generation crew to sell box office tickets. Therefore, they contacted William Shatner, James "Scotty" Doohan, and Walter "Chekov" Koenig to reprise their roles and draw original Star Trek fans in and make the film a "must-see event": The first meeting between the two Enterprise Captains. Also, while the latest Next Generation movie, First Contact, is totally free of any original series influences or characters, the writers of the film mimic Khan's obsessive hunt of Admiral Kirk in Star Trek II, turning it into Picard's obsessive hunt of the Borg. Both characters even go so far as to quote Moby Dick, the whale being a clear metaphor for their respective obsessions.
As mentioned earlier, televised Star Trek has been suffering in popularity and in ratings of late. Average viewership on Voyager, the newest Star Trek series, has slipped from 11.1 million viewers to 7.5 million in course of a single season, and Deep Space Nine lost nearly %30 of it's audience from last year (Hotchman 40). Once again, the same people who made the Next Generation movies that took their cues from the original series. The Voyager episode "Flashback" was set during the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and deals with Sulu's efforts to rescue Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy from a Klingon prison. For some reason, Voyager crewmember Tuvok's remembrances of this time comes back and causes him great pain. So Captain Janeway undergoes the Vulcan Mind Meld with Tuvok to enter his mind and investigate the troubling memory, providing an excuse for the modern-day characters to go back and cavort with Yeoman Rand and Sulu. Deep Space Nine savagely re-edited the original Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" and inserted Deep Space Nine characters into it. These crude attempts to return to the more lighthearted, energetic days of Trek were reviled by both admirers and detractors of original Star Trek, as those who hated the original series simply didn't feel it necessary to return to it, those who enjoy original Trek were shocked to see old episodes mutilated and the condescending attitude the writers and production staff took towards the original crewmembers. Nonetheless, the fact that the men and women behind modern-day Trek feel it necessary to return to the days of Kirk suggests that there is something powerful in the original series that cannot be forgotten. The suffering ratings may also be a symptom of the preference the general public has for Kirk. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a huge hit when it premiered, mostly because it was new televised Star Trek and took the saga 100 years into the future. Though it was much slower-paced than original Trek, at least it bought something new to the Star Trek universe. Now, all of the series might as well be cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers clones of each other. O'Brien and Bashir are dart-playin' buddies on DS9, and Paris and Kim are pool-playin' buddies on Voyager. Janeway loves her holonovels on Voyager, just like Picard loved his holo-pulp novels on TNG. Neelix and Tuvok from Voyager are bad clones of Odo and Quark from DS9, who in turn are bad clones of Spock and McCoy. I think that a great deal of the viewership is tiring of this approach and choose instead to fondly remember the original series, which is set in a different timeframe than all the clone series. Also, while the slower-paced TNG was a big hit throughout it's run, it was also the only major science-fiction/fantasy drama series on at the time. Fans looking for televised science-fiction literally had two choices: TNG or original series re-runs. And of course, by 1987 (when TNG started), everyone had seen the original many times over. Today, the rules are a little different. One can tell simply by watching current Trek that the production team clearly favours the emotionless, sterile approach of TNG. However, action-packed fantasy series Xena and Hercules routinely pummel DS9 and Voyager in the ratings (Hotchman 40). Therefore, the producers are trying to awkwardly pull off the same mixture of intelligent stories mixed with action that the original Trek did so effortlessly. However, they end up looking more like a pallid impersonator of the original rather than a worthy successor.
The major strength of Kirk is that he can fail and lose. He has flaws, like his unfailing devotion to his ship at the expense of true relationships. The other Captains of Star Trek rarely, if ever, seem to face moral dilemmas. Jean-Luc Picard presides over a group of efficient, loyal officers who all constantly and unceasingly get along with each other, and no inner turmoil or conflict drives him. Benjamin Sisko faced some inner turmoil early in the run of Deep Space Nine, as he was forced to work with an argumentative Bajoran First Officer and raise a child on his own, but with time, this inner conflict has mellowed. Sisko and his First Officer Kira are now the best of friends, and Kira even told him a cute little children's story in the episode "Starship Down". His child is now grown, and the pain he felt at losing his wife has been tremendously dulled by his new steady girlfriend. Most puzzlingly of all, Kathryn Janeway presides over a group of criminals and terrorists who were forced by extraordinary circumstances into working with Starfleet officers, but everyone seems perfectly fine and at ease with each other (despite the fact that the Voyager starship is lost 70 years away from Earth and the maximum operational span of a much larger ship like the Enterprise-D is 30 years). The other starship Captains are totally at peace with themselves and their crew, and that renders them a bit dull and unrealistic. Everyone has had and will no doubt continue to have many crisises of faith, moments of doubt, and struggles throughout their lives. While Picard, Sisko, and Janeway have found some magical key to inner peace, Kirk remains a flawed human being who must face tough moral dilemmas. In overcoming these dilemmas, Kirk has become the most realistic and empathic Star Trek Captain.
Star Trek Generations. Dir. David Carson. With William Shatner and Patrick Stewart. Paramount Pictures, 1994.
Ellison, Harlan. City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay that Became the Classic Star Trek Episode. Clarkston, GA: White Wolf Publishing, 1996
Florence, Bill. "Scribe of the Serpent God." Starlog Presents 1993: 58
Star Trek: First Contact. Dir. Jonathan Frakes. With Patrick Stewart and Alice Krige. Paramount Pictures, 1996.
Hotchman, David. "Lost in Space?" Entertainment Weekly 22 Nov. 1996: 40
Nemecek, Larry. The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion. New York: Pocket Books, 1995.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Dir. Nicholas Meyer. With William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Paramount Pictures, 1982.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Dir. Leonard Nimoy. With William Shatner and Christopher Lloyd. Paramount Pictures 1984.
Whitfield, Stephan and Roddenberry, Gene. The Making of Star Trek. New York: Del Ray Books, 1968.
THE ART AND ARTISTRY OF WILLIAM SHATNER: A QUEST FOR ANSWERS, AN ALLEGORY FOR HUMANITY
An essay by Rob O'Reilly
In reviewing the oeuvre of William Shatner, one is struck by the ideas that run through his work and give it a thematic unity. It seems that the essence, the je ne sais qua, the Jamiroquai, if you will, of Shatner's art is a search, a search for answers and meaning in a confusing, complicated world. It is a search for spiritual guidance, a search for truth without the hard edges of judgement, a search for what it means to be human. Shatner's search, moreover is our search; in Shatner, we see ourselves. Shatner is the Everyday Man, the Common Man leading the life of quiet desparation, the Missionary Man exploring the urban jungle of the post-industrial age. Shatner is us and we are Shatner, and each dialectically shapes and interacts with the other in a pattern of action and reaction.
Take, for instance, the original Star Trek series. Here, Shatner's search is the focus, the crux, the Schellingesque focal point of the show, as Shatner's Godlike voice informs us that he and his crew are on a search for new lifes and civilizations. The true significance of this search, however, is not immediately apparent; it is not just a search for new life forms, for it is also a search for a definition of humanity. Identity, you see, is a relational concept. How we see ourselves is not merely a function of our own personal characteristics; it is not merely a function of what we are. It is also a function of what we are not, for we define ourselves in part by how we differ from others. Absent a social context, there is no identity. Absent an ~black, there is no black; absent matter, there is no anti-matter; absent Laverne, there is no Shirley; absent Starsky, there is no Hutch, etc. etc. etc. And so it goes. QED: identity is relational. It thus follows that is we as humans are to discover what it means to be human, we must come into contact with non-humans. And this is precisely what Shatner endeavors to do in Star Trek; by seeking out new life forms and civilizations, he shows us what we are by showing what we are not. Shatner's search is a search for humanity, a search for a defintion of what it means to be human, an effort to determine what makes us what we are, an attempt to show what separates us from the primordial oooze. The deriviative helps define the integral; the Rogowski helps define the North; the Gorn helps define the human. Shatner's search is humanity's search. Shatner is humanity. Shatner is me, and you, and even a dog named Boo.
Shatner's search in "T.J. Hooker" is less abstract, more immediate, less tangential, more concrete, less perpiphery, more core. T.J. Hooker is Everyman. He lives in a world characterized by uncertainty, by confusion, by constant change, by a state of flux. This world is adrift and lacking a moral compass. It is Hooker's search to find a moral path in this world where standards are constantly changing and the distance between right and wrong seems to be breaking down. By ranting on about "punks" and "slime" and "scum," Hooker shows Everyman's frustration with social decay. By riding on the hood of a car, Hooker shows Everyman's desparation, his willingness to take extreme measures in order to defend the values he holds dear when they are under assault. Hooker symbolizes the decent folk everywhere who stand up for what they believe in and try to maintain their integrity in a zero-sum environment in which there is a constant temptation to defect. We empathize with Hooker because we have felt the confusion and frustration that he feels. The genius of Shatner thus fully shines, for he is able to create depth and meaning and story and symbol in what is ostensibly a very bad TV show.
Nowhere is the goal of Shatner's search more clearly laid out than in "The Transformed Man," a spoken-word number from the album of the same name. Here, Shanter rejects the bourgeois materialism of contemporary society and suburban life; he casts off the life which others have made for him and attempts to find his own path and create his own life, a life infused with spiritual meaning. Shatner's questions cannot be answered by a two-car garage, so he needs a new schema to make sense out of his world. He thus turns to God. The parallel to religious fundamentalism is striking and prescient, considering the album was released in 1968. Much as Shatner finds materalism wanting, Jewish and Islamic and Christian fundamentalists found secularism and/or socialism unable to answer their questions and address their concerns; much as Shatner turns to God, fundamentalists have done likewise. When Shatner touches the face of God, he is living an experience that millions all over the world aspire to experience. Shatner inspires us by showing that our search is not futile, that there are answers. Shatner turns to God to make sense out of existence; we turn to God to make sense out of existence. Shatner is we, and we are Shatner.
At the same time, however, our search will not be easy, as Shatner illustrates in the Star Trek movies. Our search will be a painful one, as we confront mortality and death. This pain, moreover, runs deep. It cannot be taken away, however, for it is part of who we are; it defines us and reminds us of the prices we have paid and the roads we have travelled and the lessons we have learned. Our pain cannot be taken away, because we NEED our pain. This is perhaps the most important lesson that Shatner tells us, for he reminds us that we are a product of our past decisions, and that the consequences of those decisions cannot be brushed away.
The narrative of Shatner is that of a quest, a journey, a search, an endeavor for answers. It is our quest, our journey, our search, our expedition. Shatner is all of us, and we relate to and empathize with him.
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