Sunday, 13 November 2011

Cinemaniacal: Some Things That Sorta Kinda Bugs Me


Ever since I was a kid I was a fan of Star Trek.

The whole concept of going out into space, meeting aliens, having adventures, just spoke to me as kid.  If I had a genie pop out of a magic lamp when I was 10 years old, I'd have had a fully equipped and functioning starship.  And that was before Next Generation, and all I had were the reruns of the original series.

However, there was always something about Star Trek that sorta, kinda, bugged me.  Even when I was a kid.


They didn't really have any.

In fact, they actively avoided any economic talk in the original series, and generally avoided it in the Next Generation, with a blanket statement that no one in the Federation "used money," viewed those that did use money with suspicion, if not contempt, and left it at that.

Now I can understand Gene Rodenberry giving short shrift to thoughts of economics and money when creating the show. Talking in any depth about money, how it works or where it comes from is considered gauche in Hollywood circles, and they don't call economics the "dismal science" for nothing.

However, it is a key component in universe building because economics is the study of interactions between people, their society, and between societies.

To just ignore economics and hope that thinking up replicators would make it go away is something that I think hurt the franchise in the long run because it raised some questions that they couldn't answer.

1. How did the Federation trade with other interstellar  powers? Seriously, without any sort of market system that allocates accurate costs and values to goods and services there really is no way for nations to trade beyond the most basic bartering. 

2. How did everyone get paid?  Seriously what is to stop a citizen from going to the replicator and just giving themselves all sorts of junk.  While the replicators are good at transforming and recycling matter, they still need a steady supply of raw materials because you can't just create matter out of nothingness. 

They need farmers and miners to produce those raw materials and they need something to control how much people use and prevent people from wasting them. A free market society uses money to control consumption. If you want to consume more, you must provide some sort of good or service to the wider world so you can earn more money so you can consume more.

Does the Federation government ration what resources people can use?  If so, how does the Federation determine how much of said resources each person can use?  How do they determine how someone gets since there's no real way to determine value? Is it based on your productivity, your rank, or your political connections? If it isn't, then what reason do people have to work hard at the sort of unglamorous jobs that make the comfortable lives of the Starfleet officers, Federation technocrats, and Academics possible?

And that's just the beginning of the questions.

Some people nitpick Star Trek's technobabble, I nitpick their incomplete social models.  I know I'm not the only one who does this.  Joss Whedon's Firefly was pretty much an expose of what life would be like under a Federation style state where you either served the state, served the politically connected elite who ran said state, or you had operate in an underground capacity, actively avoiding the state when you could.


I was channel surfing the other night and came across some cheap-ass sci-fi monster movie about mutant bugs killing people. It was an exposition scene where the guy who knows what's going on explains things to those who don't know what's going on.

The explanation for the killer mutant bugs was that they were created by the US military to use a weapon.

Now this wasn't the first time I saw this, in fact, I can't keep count of how many time I have seen this or a variation of it.  When there's mutant bugs, green irradiated rage monsters, man-eating mythical beasts, undead horrors, and or alien creatures running amok, there's often some guy with fancy rank insignia on his shoulders and scrambled eggs on his hat who either created it, or brought it to our world, or just stumbled onto it, but they want nothing more than to make it the next entry in America's arsenal.

That really sorta, kinda bugs me to no end.

Because it doesn't matter if this "weapon" can't be controlled, and will most likely kill all sorts of innocent civilians without doing any damage to any enemy, they want to have it, and won't let logic or strategic considerations stop them.

I call this character General Contrivance, because that is what they are: a contrived excuse for a plot.

You see everything in storytelling is contrived to one degree or another. Characters have to do certain things, often fantastical, at certain times to move the story along, that's contrived. However, the trick to avoid looking contrived by giving these things a basis in rational thought or some sort of reality, even if it's an alternate reality that operates by its own natural laws.

However, when someone does something that is obviously stupid for reasons that make no logical, or strategic sense the writers are creating an obvious contrivance.

Now there are two reasons to call in General Contrivance and his ilk.

1. LAZINESS: Coming up with new reasons for monsters to run amok requires burning calories.  It's better to just slap in something about the military, because the uniforms are cheap to rent, and let it end there.

2. STATMENT!: The writers think they're using their monster movie to make some sort of statement about the military/industrial complex, when in fact they're just rehashing a cliche.

Those are two things that sorta, kinda, bug me.  Leave what sorta, kinda, bugs you* in the comments.


*Warning: This blog and its author does not count as something that sorta, kinda, bugs anyone.


  1. I've never really thought about the economy in the Star Trek universe to this extent. Aside from intelligence and people skills, what stops people from replicating their own starships and declaring war on the federation? Granted, the idea of "warp speed" says enough about what the late, great Roddenberry thought of adhering to the laws of the universe, but it still is a good point.
    As for the contrivance, I have noticed that quite a bit. Military makes a weapon/serum/machine/flying carpet/virus/action figure it goes on a killing spree. I try not to think about it too much. It only leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Suffering leads to being replaced by Hayden Christensen and nobody wants that.

  2. First of all, I have to post a link to this video any time Trek & Economies are brought up (110% relevant, I promise).

    2nd, I think you should totally have roundtable rants sometime (as I've gone off myself about economics and contrivances in fiction before), I'd especially love you see you, Sandy & Ken go off on some topics.

    And what's even funnier is that after reading this you realize that a government weapons failure seems more likely to result in NOT killing anyone (except for maybe the test pilots/subjects/etc) than the opposite.

    Now THAT'S a parody movie which should be done. We keep thinking a government project will be a disaster... only to have everything fail hilariously. Quick! Someone get me an agent!

  3. Ah, two topics I've explored in the past. Regarding the Star Trek thing, I always go back to a particularly smug episode of the first, awful season of Star Trek TNG. The crew found three cryogenically frozen people from the 1980s, or some such. One was a yuppie stockbroker whose first sentence on being revived was to ask after his bank account or something. All the ST characters looked at each other with great smugness. This in a show where they had no material needs because they had 'replicators,' an idea about as scientifically valid as saying 'a fairy godmother.' I always thought they had a lot of balls to give their characters a Harry Potter-level magic device and then pretend they were in a position to criticize people who lived in, you know, reality.

    As for the 'housewife,' the senior crew had a conference where they tried to hash out what that could possibly mean. See, they are SO advanced in the future that they can't imagine a person electing to stay home to raise their kids. Data 'humorously' theorized that a 'housewife' meant she was in construction. Apparently history and Shakespeare expert Picard had missed that idea in human social history. Also apparently none of the countless thousand of cultures the Enterprise encountered ever included one with strictly stratified gender roles in family matters. Only primitive Earth, I guess.

    As for the military bioweapon thing (although I've also seen movies where the military were also funding earthquake or hurricane machines), the most pertinent thing they ignore is that military weapons evolve to become more precise; we're moving away from weapons to mass destruction to increasingly targeted ones. If I may quote myself from my review of the CBS TV movie Locusts, "I find it amusing that these films always posit them developing weapons that would be innately and utterly uncontrollable. "If you release these things, they could devour a continent!" Maddy notes. Exactly, and what entire continent would the military be thinking of wiping out? None of them seem to spring to mind."

  4. Thanks, Nate! I've been carrying this loathing for that episode since it first aired, but haven't seen it since. I wonder if it's as bad as I remember. It certainly annoyed me back in the day. Boy, did that show get better in the 2nd year.

  5. IMO having the military, the government, or a big eeevil corporation be the bad guy is as overused as the "hypocritical sexually deviant Christian" figure.

    It almost ruined the remake of the Blob when I realized that, instead of the blob being a Thing from Outside in Lovecraftian awesomeness, it was just another gummint project gone rong. pfui.

  6. Blast Hardcheese14/11/11 2:20 pm

    Here's one little thing that bugs me: 'action girls' who weigh all of 90 pounds soaking wet, beating the living crap out of trained soldier dudes three times their size.

    Yes, Hollywood, we're glad you've finally figured out women can be action heros. Now can you make it somewhat realistic? Lucy Lawless, Zoe Bell, they look like they could legitimately kick my butt. Summer Glau and Mila Jovovich are cuter than a pail full of kittens, but not credible in the foot-to-rear department.

  7. D, my full cliche rant would have been too long. So I blogged about it.

    (and linked to you, of course)

  8. Star Trek economies, have bugged me. They kind of corrected that with the DS-9 show.

    The lefty bullshit also bothers me. 'Monsters' was a great opportunity for Lovecraftian horrors unleashed on the world. But no.

    Instead they made it a diatribe against the American illegal immigration situation. Stuuuupppiiiidddd!

    As to 'Buck Hardnipples' or whatever, quit bogarting my pet peeve. I'm the one that hates the women warrior stereotype. :>)

    BTW a very well done look at a real woman warrior type was 'Enemy at the Gates' about the siege of Stalingrad. Women can fight, they just shouldn't go (willingly) hand-to-hand with men. All things being equal, they'll get their asses handed to them.

  9. Blast Hardcheese15/11/11 12:57 pm

    I also go by Thick McRunFast, RG. :) And it look like Nate W. bogarted us both.

    Here's another one: the 'it's only a flesh wound' cliche where someone gets shot in the shoulder, yet can still run about, dangle off cliffs, and wrassle a bear. Guess what, sunshine? You're not using that arm for squat, even if 'it just went through the muscle'.

  10. The shoulder wound would cripple anyone except John Wayne, who regenerated like Wolverine on steroids.


    As bogarting pet peeves, I think a lot of people are annoyed by waifs who look like they would be knocked flat by the recoil of firing a pellet gun smacking down everyone in sight. So no one is poaching another one's peeve.

  11. Woman have proven highly successful in combat - but it is invariably in roles such as fighter pilots or snipers, where they are not in direct physical teamwork with men.

    The dynamics of small-unit combat is such that it's quite clear no matter what Hollywood says, a woman would decrease cohesion. And I'm not trying to take anything away from them - there is a lot of evidence that they in fact would make BETTER pilots than men.

    I know a woman cop who works out all the time. She knows cop-level taekwondo and martial arts, and pumps iron etc. etc. Yet when she gets in a tussel with some 140 lb drunk weakling, he tosses her all over the place. She is quite irate about the unfairness of it, which she attributes to male upper-body strength.

    It is well-documented that female law enforcement agents are likelier to shoot, tase, and mace suspects - which of course makes sense, since they are physically less able to subdue them. I wish our society was able to recognize simple realities like this.

  12. Hey, stop by and leave a comment, I'll give you credit. ;)

  13. Sandy,

    In my years as a police officer, I never met a woman who was as good at the physical stuff as a man. From evoc driving, to shooting, to running, to hand to hand. Nothing. Now don't get me wrong. Women can be and are excellent shots. My mother was a competition shooter and won every competition she entered even against her older brothers one of whom was on his college shooting team (my how times have changed, colleges having shooting teams).

    There is a place for women in law enforcement if they meet the minimum physical standards for men without lowering those standards. If they can't they can ride a desk. There was a reason that many states had a minimum height requirement for State Troopers. Those men worked alone for the most part in far flung places contacting all segments of society. When you're six inches taller than average it is a great intimidation factor.

    One time we responded to an all agencies aid call and arrived at a huge party that had already threatened death and dismemberment and rape to any officers who tried to spoil their fun. I got there and was tasked with a giant. Easily five inches taller than my six four he thought he was a tough guy because he was tall. If I were a woman I wouldn't have wanted to take him down. This was before pepper spray but after mace and well before good tasers. It would have been shoot the guy, get my ass kicked or run away. Not good options.

    Size and strength do matter all things being equal.

  14. Now here's an article... well I'll let you guys read it.