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    Default The Zapp Branniganizing of James T. Kirk [essay]

    Here's a really fun and in-depth essay by a third waver about how we've all (including past writers and creators involved in the franchise itself) gotten the wrong impression of Star Trek character James Kirk via our own cultural biases and ideas on masculinity. It's long, so I cut and paste a few excerpts. Link to full essay below. Even for non Trek fans, it's a very interesting take on how our own cultural mores and biases may influence how we perceive fiction and project our own fantasies onto fictional characters.

    It’s not five seconds before he’s on ‘Kirk and the green women’. He’s mocking the retrosexist trope, but smiling a little weirdly while doing it. His own insufficiently private enjoyment is peeking out, like a semi-erection on his face. A sort of Mad Men effect: saying, “isn’t it awful” and going for the low-hanging critical fruit while simultaneously rolling around in that aesthetic and idea of masculinity. Camp, but no homo!

    'You’re thinking of Pike,' I say. 'The captain in the unaired pilot. Some of that footage got reused for a later story, which made Pike into a previous captain of the Enterprise. And it never actually happened—it was a hallucination sequence designed by aliens who didn’t know what they were doing in order to tempt Pike. He rejected it.'
    There is no other way to put this: essentially everything about Popular Consciousness Kirk is bullshit. Kirk, as received through mass culture memory and reflected in its productive imaginary (and subsequent franchise output, including the reboot movies), has little or no basis in Shatner’s performance and the television show as aired. Macho, brash Kirk is a mass hallucination.
    but more importantly because I believe people often rewatch the text or even watch it afresh and cannot see what they are watching through the haze of bullshit that is the received idea of what they’re seeing. You “know” Star Trek before you ever see Star Trek: a ‘naive’ encounter with such a culturally cathected text is almost impossible, and even if you manage it you probably also have strong ideas about that period of history, era of SF, style of television, etc to contend with. The text is always already interpolated by forces which would derange a genuine reading, dragging such an effort into an ideological cul de sac which neither the text itself nor the viewer necessarily have any vested interest in. These forces work on the memory, extracting unpaid labour without consent. They interpose themselves between the viewer and the material, and they hardly stop at Star Trek.
    With the exception of Lester, all Kirk’s relationships that we’re aware of seem to have ended amicably. He and the women involved have often kept up communication to some extent, despite the impediments caused by interstellar travel (Wallace, Marcus). The relationships all seem to have been of some duration, and characterised by fairly serious involvement on both parts. They were distinctly emotional affairs, and no one accuses Kirk of having “womanised” during them. They all involved competent people drawn to demanding, intellectually stimulating fields—usually science—and the service of something greater than themselves—almost universally Starfleet.

    Kirk’s storied history of womanising seemingly consists of his having seriously dated a fairly small number of clever women in Uni. We’re even told Kirk had to be manipulated into paying attention to matters of the heart and/or loins during that period (and that Kirk’s into “longhair stuff” like 17th-century philosophy):

    MITCHELL: Well, I'm getting a chance to read some of that longhair stuff you like. Hey man, I remember you back at the academy. A stack of books with legs. The first thing I ever heard from upperclassmen was “watch out for Lieutenant Kirk. In his class, you either think or sink.”

    KIRK: I wasn't that bad, was I?

    MITCHELL: If I hadn't aimed that little blonde lab technician at you--

    KIRK: You what? You planned that?

    MITCHELL: Well, you wanted me to think, didn't you? I outlined her whole campaign for her.

    KIRK: I almost married her!

    MITCHELL: You better be good to me. I'm getting even better ideas here. [indicates book]

    KIRK: You? Spinoza?

    ["Where No Man Has Gone Before"]
    Read the rest here: Strange Horizons - Freshly Remember'd: Kirk Drift By Erin Horakova


    TL;DR - if you actually watched TOS and paid attention, Kirk was essentially the opposite of the popular conception of the womanizing, shoot first manchild with little regard for the lives of his underlings that we have seen in countless parodies. Based on all evidence available in TOS, he was at best a serial monogamist whose strong dedication to his career led to a handful of relationships ending. Yet that impression of brash womanizer is so ingrained in the popular culture that it even informed the way the character was presented in the JJverse reboots (we are essentially presented with the popular impression of the character known to casual fans), and to a lesser extent the way it was presented in the TOS films set in the same continuity as the original series. That impression is so popular that it even leads us to view Kirk's character traits in TOS through a highly distorted lens.

    Hell, Based on evidence from TNG, I could argue that Picard, in his younger years, had been a bigger womanizer than Kirk ever dreamed of being. We run into multiple female guest stars who Picard had once dated casually (one who he even stood up and didn't call for like 20 years), or we hear stories of the type of womanizing risk taker he was in youth, before turning into the more measured and cautious TV dad most people view him as. We even meet a young man who may be his illegitimate child after he ditched the mom (Kirk had a kid, but we're told he stayed out of the boy's life out of respect for the mother's wishes). Enough so that Beverly Crusher had strong reservations when Picard tried to initiate a romance with her.
    Give me clarity
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  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by Officer Ed Powell View Post
    Here's a really fun and in-depth essay by a third waver about how we've all (including past writers and creators involved in the franchise itself) gotten the wrong impression of Star Trek character James Kirk via our own cultural biases and ideas on masculinity. It's long, so I cut and paste a few excerpts. Link to full essay below. Even for non Trek fans, it's a very interesting take on how our own cultural mores and biases may influence how we perceive fiction and project our own fantasies onto fictional characters.






    Read the rest here: Strange Horizons - Freshly Remember'd: Kirk Drift By Erin Horakova


    TL;DR - if you actually watched TOS and paid attention, Kirk was essentially the opposite of the popular conception of the womanizing, shoot first manchild with little regard for the lives of his underlings that we have seen in countless parodies. Based on all evidence available in TOS, he was at best a serial monogamist whose strong dedication to his career led to a handful of relationships ending. That impression is so ingrained in the popular culture that it even informed the way the character was presented in the JJverse reboots (we are essentially presented with the popular impression of the character known to casual fans), and to a lesser extent the way it was presented in the TOS films set in the same continuity as the original series. That impression is so popular that it even leads us to view Kirk's character traits in TOS through a highly distorted lens.

    Hell, Based on evidence from TNG, I could argue that Picard, in his younger years, had been a bigger womanizer than Kirk ever dreamed of being. We run into multiple female guest stars who Picard had once dated casually (one who he even stood up). Enough so that Beverly Crusher had strong reservations when Picard tried to initiate a romance with her.
    i never understood where that came from. Growing up as a trekkie, I always found this phenomenon a bit peculiar. The popular opinion didnt seem to match the facts of the reality. Glad Im not the only one. I suspect its a bit like Chinese whispers. Most people are content to rely on what they heard so and so's friend's cousin, who is a big fan of the series, and they said that James Kirk was such and such and they would know so it must me true. Watch it and see for myself, get to know him? Who has the time darling?
    SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY...
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  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Cat View Post
    i never understood where that came from. Growing up as a trekkie, I always found this phenomenon a bit peculiar. The popular opinion didnt seem to match the facts of the reality. Glad Im not the only one. I suspect its a bit like Chinese whispers. Most people are content to rely on what they heard so and so's friend's cousin, who is a big fan of the series, and they said that James Kirk was such and such and they would know so it must me true. Watch it and see for myself, get to know him? Who has the time darling?
    I watched the films and TNG before I ever watched TOS, so I also had a certain perception of Kirk and was a bit confused after watching TOS. It didn't really line up with the popular idea of the character. Even the TOS movies played into that idea a bit, for instance the bit in part 6 when McCoy ribs Kirk after he kisses the shapeshifting hottie. Or there's that line from the DS9 episode where Sisko mentions Kirk's rep as a ladies' man.

    I honestly think a lot of the image of Kirk as brash womanizer came from some young men who projected their own fantasies onto the character over the years. Hell, I've even encountered the occasional female fan that adores Kirk for the very traits he barely, if at all exhibited in TOS.

    Half the time he looks pained when forced into a romantic situation in the show. We all remember the Uhura kiss but people forget the context. They were being forced to do this by Romanesque aliens against their own wishes. Neither look thrilled about it. Even Spock and Chapel (forced into a similar situation in the same episode) appear more into it than Kirk and Uhura do lol. And when he's rapey with Yeoman Rand, it isn't even normal Kirk, it's evil Kirk after being split in a transporter accident. So many examples I could include here...
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  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Officer Ed Powell View Post
    I watched the films and TNG before I ever watched TOS, so I also had a certain perception of Kirk and was a bit confused after watching TOS. It didn't really line up with the popular idea of the character. Even the TOS movies played into that idea a bit, for instance the bit in part 6 when McCoy ribs Kirk after he kisses the shapeshifting hottie. Or there's that line from the DS9 episode where Sisko mentions Kirk's rep as a ladies' man.
    Right, but like I think people can be charismatic and be known as amorous without having to be branniganized about it. Kurzon Dax for instance could be argued to have been the master Roshi of the Trek universe. Which in and of itself was kind of a more free love galaxy than say Star Wars. Ive always enjoyed the sex positivity in Star Trek. People can flirt, and date, and have all different kinds of relationships without everyone moralizing each other to death. there were still those elements of course such as the new fundementalists who tried to destroy rhysa. But there will alwyas be the kind of miserable people whos only source of fun is destroying what others consider fun. And sex has always been high on that chopping block.
    SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY...
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Cat View Post
    Right, but like I think people can be charismatic and be known as amorous without having to be branniganized about it. Kurzon Dax for instance could be argued to have been the master Roshi of the Trek universe. Which in and of itself was kind of a more free love galaxy than say Star Wars. Ive always enjoyed the sex positivity in Star Trek. People can flirt, and date, and have all different kinds of relationships without everyone moralizing each other to death. there were still those elements of course such as the new fundementalists who tried to destroy rhysa. But there will alwyas be the kind of miserable people whos only source of fun is destroying what others consider fun. And sex has always been high on that chopping block.
    To be honest, it's not the womanizing image that bothers me as much as the general idea Kirk was a brash rogue who shot first and asked questions later. While maybe a little quicker to the trigger than Picard, he generally wasn't one to throw caution to the wind (assuming he was of sound mind and not under mind control) and more often than not he still tried to go the diplomatic approach before resorting to force. A key scene is in The Corbomite Maneuver, when Kirk himself has to deal with a subordinate who wants to resort to aggression. Kirk repeatedly rebukes him and only when out of options does he attempt to threaten force against Balok's ship. Similar situation in Balance of Terror, Kirk remains levelheaded when some of the crew appear distrustful of Spock due to his resemblance to the enemy romulans. Then there's that scene in Wrath of Khan where they're approaching USS Reliant and Kirk insists on keeping the shields down and feeling out the situation before taking an aggressive posture. Again, I could list so many examples but those are the ones that jump to mind first.

    You also see a lot of "rogue captains" appearing throughout Kirk's run. I feel they did this partly to contrast those captains' brashness and imperialistic tendencies with Kirk's own more level and cautious approach to dealing with alien cultures.
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    somnium tenebris Powehi's Avatar
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    Maybe Kirk is seen in contrast to Mr. Spock?

    This may not be a popular response to the OP, but my impression is that Kirk was a bit of a womanizer and acting in the moment as a deliberate contrast to Spock. It created dramatic tension to have those two foils acting collaboratively. The serious fan-base is a bit different from Kirk and would like to make him more relatable, and so may be inclined towards reinterpretation?

    I grew up with the OS, watching it from the age of five. As a little girl I felt very drawn towards Mr. Spock because he was always calm and consistent and the adults in my life were already a mess. Kirk never felt safe to me, so I didn't like him much as a little girl because he felt erratic and impulsive. Kirk does make a lot of crazy, dramatic faces during the episodes. It always felt like Mr. Spock was the stabilizing force. I will admit this part of the analysis comes from my mind as a child, but it remained an impression throughout my life, and I've probably watched the series about ten times in my life?

    This part of the essay did give me a little chuckle.
    With the exception of Lester, all Kirk’s relationships that we’re aware of seem to have ended amicably. He and the women involved have often kept up communication to some extent, despite the impediments caused by interstellar travel

    Circus life under the big top world, we all need the clowns to make us smile
    Through space and time always another show, wondering where I am. I'm lost without you. Journey
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    Quote Originally Posted by Powehi View Post
    Maybe Kirk is seen in contrast to Mr. Spock?

    This may not be a popular response to the OP, but my impression is that Kirk was a bit of a womanizer and acting in the moment as a deliberate contrast to Spock. It created dramatic tension to have those two foils acting collaboratively. The serious fan-base is a bit different from Kirk and would like to make him more relatable, and so may be inclined towards reinterpretation?

    I grew up with the OS, watching it from the age of five. As a little girl I felt very drawn towards Mr. Spock because he was always calm and consistent and the adults in my life were already a mess. Kirk never felt safe to me, so I didn't like him much as a little girl because he felt erratic and impulsive. Kirk does make a lot of crazy, dramatic faces during the episodes. It always felt like Mr. Spock was the stabilizing force. I will admit this part of the analysis comes from my mind as a child, but it remained an impression throughout my life, and I've probably watched the series about ten times in my life?

    This part of the essay did give me a little chuckle.
    McCoy was the one I always related to. He always had that seeing through the fish bowl irascible sense of humor that spoke to me on a personal level. And he was preoccupied with his friends.


    - - - Updated - - -

    SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY...
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    somnium tenebris Powehi's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Cat View Post
    McCoy was the one I always related to. He always had that seeing through the fish bowl irascible sense of humor that spoke to me on a personal level. And he was preoccupied with his friends.


    - - - Updated - - -

    McCoy felt like he was supposed to represent empathy and humanity, and so he also created a foil with Mr. Spock. If you want to put it in Jungian terms, which is not impossible that the writers had something of that in mind, then Mr. Spock vs. Kirk is logic vs. intuition, and Mr. Spock vs. McCoy is logic vs. empathy. I think the character interaction is a kind of exploration of the role of pure logic and reason against subjective human factors and how to negotiate that in our scientific age.

    I also realize my analysis of Kirk isn't "objective" and doesn't need to have meaning for anyone else. I think my main point is that whatever the cultural context for interpreting Kirk, there was something about his presentation that felt, not sure the right word, but at an instinctual level he felt uncertain or unstable to me as a child. Maybe it had to do with his body language and facial expressions, but I think there is a reason people came to the conclusions they did. There might be inconsistencies between plot, writing, and expressions. IDK

    Circus life under the big top world, we all need the clowns to make us smile
    Through space and time always another show, wondering where I am. I'm lost without you. Journey
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Powehi View Post
    McCoy felt like he was supposed to represent empathy and humanity, and so he also created a foil with Mr. Spock. If you want to put it in Jungian terms, which is not impossible that the writers had something of that in mind, then Mr. Spock vs. Kirk is logic vs. intuition, and Mr. Spock vs. McCoy is logic vs. empathy. I think the character interaction is a kind of exploration of the role of pure logic and reason against subjective human factors and how to negotiate that in our scientific age.

    I also realize my analysis of Kirk isn't "objective" and doesn't need to have meaning for anyone else. I think my main point is that whatever the cultural context for interpreting Kirk, there was something about his presentation that felt, not sure the right word, but at an instinctual level he felt uncertain or unstable to me as a child. Maybe it had to do with his body language and facial expressions, but I think there is a reason people came to the conclusions they did. There might be inconsistencies between plot, writing, and expressions. IDK
    I don't think your perspective of Kirk is wrong, it at least comes from someone who based it on watching the series rather than their idea of what the character or series was. There's really no way to come to a purely objective perspective of something like this, what I take issue with more is the people who didn't really watch it (or did watch it but bought into the popular idea of Kirk) coming to mostly baseless conclusions about the character's defining traits.

    Personally I don't think it's necessarily a bad or wrong perspective that you shared. Kirk can come across as a bit insecure or unbalanced, though I do think that was likely intentional on the creator's and writers' parts. I don't know if they had Jung's writings in mind when creating the series, but the triumvirate of Kirk Spock McCoy was always central. Kirk represented the balance between what you already pointed out in different words--Spock's pure logic and McCoy's passion and empathy. Whenever the trio is split apart/incomplete, we see Kirk struggling to maintain that balance.

    In my estimation, Trek, while primarily being about showing a better world and examining contemporary ideas and struggles through a sci-fi adventure series' lens, was not about a chauvinist captain swashbuckling and banging green babes, but rather about a family. Kirk, as the de facto head of said family, always seems to struggle or lose his way when the family is split apart. For instance, there's something "off" about Kirk in the first half or so of The Motion Picture. As he comes aboard the Enterprise, he has found his old home, but the family isn't quite complete yet. He is lost and his insecurity really shows, despite trying to cover it up and act like he's large and in charge. When he meets the old crew, and then Bones beams aboard, he eases a bit and looks slightly more confident and comfortable in his old role, but there's still something a tad amiss about his mood. Once Spock boards the ship and the triumvirate is restored, you really see Kirk relax and regain the confidence and sense of belonging. Similarly, Kirk is not really himself in part 3, as Spock is dead and McCoy's sanity is hanging on a precipice.

    For all the talk I've seen of Trek promoting individuality, there's something to be said for it promoting a diverse array of minds and personalities coming together to form a sort of family. All of the individual characters struggle when set apart from that union. Your perspective, in my opinion, doesn't really contradict what the author of that essay was trying to convey. I'd argue it reinforces it.

    EDIT: an addendum, not really in direct response to your post but I didn't want to clutter the thread with a million separate posts of my own. BTW I love Futurama and the Brannigan character and I suppose an argument could be made that the Brannigan character is itself a product of a valid perspective (IDIC of ideas and perspectives, after all), but I think where I take issue is that this character and similar ideas surrounding the show don't seem to come from a first source viewing of the character but rather from all of the ideas built around Kirk and TOS in the years since it was cancelled--puzzling considering Groening and a lot of the writers on that show and Simpsons are obviously huge trekkies, but I guess sometimes the low hanging fruit is just too tasty to resist. I get it, parody often exaggerates subtle traits and tics, it's just that in these cases I feel they tend to parody and exaggerate the ideas or impressions themselves rather than the source material. In that regard, I thought Galaxy Quest did a much better job of parodying the source material than Futurama, which really seemed to be parodying Shatner more than Kirk.
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