Friday, May 24, 2013
In Defense of (the New) Captain James T. Kirk.
In my recent internet wanderings, I came across an article online that piqued my interest and got me thinking. While I'd originally intended to respond to the article on the Facebook group upon which it first appeared, I thought this might be a better venue to put forth my argument (and hey, it's been a while since I posted anything around here). So here, in brief, is my counter-point:
With respect to Mr. Womack, who's clearly done his homework, I respectifully disagree. While I concede that the Jim Kirk of NuTrek isn't the same as the one from the original series, consider the circumstances by which they come to their respective stations.
The Jim Kirk of the primary timeline is one who was raised by loving parents, who bore witness to the massacre on Tarsus IV orchestrated by Governor Kodos. The young man who enrolled in Starfleet Academy far earlier, buckled down and became known as the single dullest student there. The Kirk of the Abrams films is not the young man who was in attendance at the peace conference on Axanar, but he does share the rebellious streak that prompted both men to cheat the Kobayashi Maru scenario out of a stubborn refusal to accept a no-win scenario. The Kirk who would go on to be humbled by the cloud creature on Tycho IV as two hundred of the Farragut's crew died is a man forged by years of experience to become the youngest captain of a Federation starship at the age of thirty.
But by that same token the NuTrek Kirk is a different man in his own right. A man who grew up in the shadow of a father he barely knew, raised by an (apparently) emotionally distant mother and an abusive stepfather. A young man who grew up brilliant but angry at the world, who lacked the focus and direction he so desperately needed until meeting Christopher Pike and being flat-out called on his own bullshit. A Kirk who took the challenges of the Academy and met them and (over the course of years in my mind as there's no way you go from cadet to Captain in three weeks like the first NuTrek seems to imply, I'll grant you that) received the opportunity of a lifetime and became the youngest Captain in starfleet, and moreover captain of the flagship of the Federation. He's arrogant at times and cocky, very much not the Kirk of the primary timeline because -that Kirk had nothing to prove-. NuKirk adopts the veneer of being too cool for school as a defensive shield, to keep people back. Keep moving, keep up the bluff, and don't ever let people see a moment's weakness that can be preyed upon. This Kirk grew up with a chip on his shoulder easily the size of a small moon.
The classic Star Trek had the luxury of a 45-minute format to tell the story it needed to tell, whereas with the Star Trek films of the current day we have two and a half hours at most to build an entirely new universe from scratch. The mandate of the Abrams films is entertainment with a humanist twist, and while we could explore themes of madness, the use of power, and humanity's place in the universe in the classic series, this new universe hasn't even had a chance to launch into the five-year mission proper. They're dealing with the aftermath of having the table completely flipped by Nero in the first film, of a Federation that is struggling to hold onto those high ideals in the face of a new and uncertain universe. Yeah, it's great that in the future humanity has gotten its collective sh!t together and we're going out into space to explore, but there's every chance that the people we're going to meet aren't going to be nearly so enlightened. That they will, in fact, try to kill us and threaten our entire way of life. It's the Roddenberryian (yes that's totally a word its in the becktionary) ideal slams into the reality of a world where we see the almost daily clash of differing cultures. The character of Admiral Marcus from Into Darkness may be an asshat. . .but he's not entirely without a point either.
And yet it's through the actions of men like Kirk (Classic or New) that we learn to take on those challenges, to find the way to win even if it means changing the game completely. The theme of Into Darkness was hubris and its consequence: NuKirk had basically been all but told by SpockClassic and Nero that he's going to be a captain of some renown in the future, and he'd gotten a bit full of himself, confident in his own future legend. The humility he earned over the course of the film sets him up to be a Kirk who's an acceptable mix of both universes, at least from where I sit. A Han Solo in terms of confidence and ability but with a Luke Skywalker head on his shoulders. This Kirk has a lot more to learn than his primary timeline counterpart, but he has the same potential and it shines through over the course of the films.
Just my $0.02.