Recently, in an attempt to escape the real world, I started watching Star Trek: The Original Series again.
It’s the perfect form of escape, set not just in the far off future, but in distant, distant lands under the aegis of exploring for a utopian government. How much further from today’s reality could you possibly get?
A little further, it turns out.
I used to watch the show religiously on broadcast television when I was a kid, oddly enough for a similar reason I’m watching it now: to escape the terror of real life and the homework it entailed.
I still have homework, but as a husband and father, it is of a profoundly different nature than that assigned by my grade school teachers.
Oh, 20/20 hindsight, how I wish my life now could be as simple as it actually was back then, my contemporary prepubescent protestations to the contrary.
But I digress. As an adult, I found myself returning to the show every now and then, dialing up an old favorite and re-watching it just for nostalgia.
Tiny, single episode bites. Get the nostalgia hit but fail to see any overarching patterns.
But this is the first time I watched a sustained number of episodes in a small amount of time – about ten episodes in the last week.
And I discovered that Captain Kirk is a terrible captain.
I’m not talking about all the bad decisions he made that led to unnecessary loss of life, or even the sheer amount of loss of life that occurred under his command.
Those are real issues, but his incompetency is more basic than that.
Captain Kirk completely loses his head around women.
Episode after episode, he pursues one ill-advised romance after the next.
I mean, in one episode he even gets into a fight with another man over a sentient sex doll!
(Don’t believe me? Give Requiem for Methuselah another spin if you think you can handle the fully woke squick factor.)
And more often than not, he isn’t using his wily ways to save the ship. Requiem for Methuselah is a prime example of a recurring pattern of (bad) behavior: he meets a woman he finds attractive, becomes genuinely smitten (to the point that sometimes Spock has to use the Vulcan mind meld to erase the failed relationship from Kirk’s mind at the end of the episode), and chaos, heartbreak, and often a crew death or two ensues.
This man is not just in command of not just an incredibly powerful military ship (yeah, yeah, I know, “ship of exploration” – how many ships and alien crews has he destroyed, how many planet surfaces has he severely damaged?). He is also responsible for the lives of his crew and, as a representative of the Federation, maintaining peace throughout the galaxy. But hey, that green-skinned, scantily clad lady over there is really hot, so the heck with duty.
That’s a commendable trait in a captain, right? A pretty face turning your head and causing everything else to go out the window is a vital skill in the enlightened future, yes?
Even worse, he flirts with his own crew members! You know, the women under his command? How is that not, well, to be perfectly blunt, rape-y?
(Not talking about Rand – watch the end of Mirror, Mirror and Kirk’s interaction with Lt. Marlena Moreau if you want to see just how creepy and unprofessional the “great” Captain Kirk is.)
Oh sure, I suppose you could argue that all the men on the Enterprise (and Starfleet in general?) have this problem, as McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, and even Mr. Spock have their own unwise romantic escapades.
Or perhaps you’d claim that he’s a product of his time because the men on the show are constantly referring to women (including fellow officers!) as “girls”. Certainly don’t see any of them (male or female) routinely calling the men “boys”!
But isn’t the Captain supposed to be above that? *cough* *cough* Picard thank you very much *cough* *cough*
It makes you wonder why any woman would want to join Star Fleet to begin with.
Yes, I know, ST:TOS was ground-breaking at the time, had a diverse cast, a positive message about Humanity, blah blah blah. It’s true, I won’t argue it. But I’m not here to nitpick about that.
I’m just pointing out that Captain Kirk was a dude bro who always assumed that if the woman was beautiful, he automatically loved her, needed her, and was allowed to aggressively pursue her. To the point that he did, at best, inappropriate things, and at worst, endangered the ship, his crew, even the galaxy.
WTF, Jim? WTF?
Captain Kirk couldn’t keep it in his pants, and as an adult only now seeing this for what it is, the eight-year old fanboy (yes, I said “boy” – go ahead and call me on it) in me is having a hard time reconciling my childhood hero-worship with the reality I now see in these old episodes.
Remember that every time someone whines about how horrible things are today and can’t we just go back (forward?) to the “good ol’ days”.
Because the past’s vision of a future utopia reveals a lot about said good ol’ days. And sadly it’s often this:
They’ve fallen a little short.