Tom Paris; or, A Small Defense In Favour Of Nicholas Locarno

Guest post! Guest post! Aaltomies has some PC troubles so you know that’s a perfect moment for me to start yelling about Star Trek. I’m taking a small break from Enterprise this time around, but I still hope you’ll enjoy it in some capacity.

Maybe this topic has been discussed to death, I don’t know. Maybe I just felt like getting this off my chest. There are many things that can be said about Star Trek Voyager and I think it started off very promising. Sadly, they squandered their potential.

Voyager start off with the Maquis crew and we very quickly get introduced to them in their old ship, before being transported away. There we have the plot for the first part of the episode: Where did they go? And that’s where Voyager comes in, they are tasked to find them and bring them back. Added to that is the fact that a Starfleet security officer is still on board (and undercover), so it would be pretty cool if he could be retrieved as well.

The region the ship is lost in is known as the Badlands, an area of space that has been frequently mentioned in Deep Space Nine. An unstable area of space, lots of space tornadoes, not safe to fly in, you get the gist. So how does Starfleet get in there? By using an ex-Maquis pilot – enter Tom Paris played by Robert Duncan McNeill.

Just describing him as a cocky pilot is doing him a disservice. As the son of a distinguished Starfleet admiral he has always felt the pressure of living up to his fathers’ reputation, which wasn’t easy. Growing up the distance between the two grew larger and larger, turning Tom into a bit of a rebel. After finishing Starfleet academy he got involved into a cover-up incident in which three fellow officers died. Despite telling the truth later, he got dishonorably discharged from Starfleet and became a bit of a drifter – just out there looking for trouble. And trouble he found in the form of the Maquis which he joined as a mercenary, but only two weeks after joining on his first mission he got caught and thrown in a penal colony for treason. One cannot really blame the guy for being pretty cynical and sarcastic at this point.

His reputation is also quite well known at this point, with many an officer not wanting anything to do with him. Still, he gets recruited since he’s the best shot Starfleet has to find the missing ship. And that’s when you throw Harry Kim into the mix. A young, naive young man just fresh out of the academy. Even after being told what happened with Paris, he still gave him a chance and actually asked why he did what he did, starting a long-running friendship on the series

Now, Tom could have been one of the most interesting Voyager characters. You have the two allegiances and with mutiny being a real possibility he could join either party (if they would be willing to accept him). …but nothing of the sort happened, short of a small a what-if holodeck episode, so he just assimilated into the Starfleet crew without a hitch. Like everyone did. A major plot point (the cooperation of the two crews) got resolved way, way too early and should’ve been a (multi) season long struggle.

But let’s rewind a bit, how did the character of Tom Paris came to be on the show? For that we have to jump back to The Next Generation with the episode The First Duty (also known as the best Wesley episode). In this episode we see another character played by McNeill called Nicholas Locarno, which can easily be described as a proto-Paris in his student years. He’s in an elite-student group along with the beloved character Wesley Crusher called Nova Squadron.

Being on the verge of graduation, Locarno wanted to go out with a bang by performing a dangerous five man shuttle maneuver. Sadly, one of them made a mistake and paid for that with his life. Locarno convinced the rest of the squadron to lie about the whole ordeal and started the cover-up, but it was found out by captain Jean-Luc Picard, who told Wesley Crusher to either come forward, or he would. With this being Star Trek, of course he did. Over the course of the episode Locarno becomes increasingly more hostile and panicked to truly become the villain of the episode, but in the end he takes full responsibility and becomes the only one that’s expelled from the academy while the other members would be held back one year.

So now we can compare these two characters. Their backgrounds are very alike, it’s the same actor, what happened here? One reason, given by the producer at the time (Jeri Taylor), stated:

We had liked the idea of a character like Tom Paris ever since we had done “First Duty” and had Lecarno [sic.]. We didn’t make Lecarno the con officer, because he was somewhat darker and more damaged. We felt Lecarno couldn’t be redeemed and we wanted to be on a journey of redemption.

And from the actor McNeill himself:

Locarno seemed like a nice guy, but deep down he was a bad guy. Tom Paris is an opposite premise in a way. Deep down he’s a good guy. He’s just made some mistakes.

I disagree with these statements, the redemption. The biggest difference between the two characters is that Locarno had his history shown on the older episodes – you saw his reactions and you knew his motives. With Paris however, the actual details of the incident have always been kept vague. There could have been many other circumstances to Paris’ incident, but it’s never told. Was this just to minimize the risk of a ‘slightly darker’ character like Locarno? In addition to that, why is Locarno irredeemable? They both created an incident, covered it up, and came forward in the end. The only difference being in Locarno’s case is that it was his teammate that did it. But let’s also take a step back here, Locarno was younger than Paris as well. You make stupid mistakes when you’re young. Does that mean he can never be redeemed? Doesn’t that give an even bigger road to redemption?

The writers on the other hand have a very different view on it and they too see no reason why Locarno couldn’t have come back. Both their histories were serious, why could one be redeemed? One possible reason was given (in a slightly joking manner), that the Voyager crew just didn’t want to pay royalties to them and that he also wouldn’t have minded cashing in said hypothetical cheques.

Finally I’d like to finish with a what-if. And don’t worry, I won’t go as far in-depth as those 36-part long Dragon Ball Z videos that cover What if Raditz turned good? or the like. What if Locarno got on that ship instead of Paris? I don’t think it’s outlandish to think that Locarno would’ve ended up with the Maquis as well and he has about the same piloting skills as Paris. With the character being played the same, the friendship with Harry would’ve still started. We would just have a character whose history was a little more defined, instead of a vague story.

Thanks to Memory Alpha for refreshing my memory.

Is that based on real science?

If we go back hundred years and then some in time, we would enter a world we’d recognize but would hardly be able to properly function in. Your own nation would have drastically different culture, ideologies and ways of doing things, and other cultures would be that much more alien as the global cross-pollination would still be curbed by the lack of fast connections. Though we can intellectually say that things were like this or that people thought like that based on books and documentation from that era, otherwise we can barely relate to them. We can’t interact with the past. The same applies to the future as well, but even more so. The present is steel in a forge, constantly being heated to its proper temperature. Human actions are the hammer blows that shape the metal into its proper form, but only after quenching and polishing, we can see what are the results. We might have a plan or intentions, but sometimes those don’t serve us. Other times we’re played like a fiddle by some unseen hand directing us towards something peculiar, like how the recent military coup in Burma, also called Myanmar, took place. Some people see and know what’s going to happen, while the rest have to wait and see until it’s presented to us. By that time, the showcase is over. Future generations will look back to this era the same way we see the past through coloured lenses and read the words of the victor.

If we extend the time span, we’re are being removed from pretty much everything we know. The man of now, be it in the 1800s or present, always considers themselves to be at the cutting edge of science and progress, that this is the best spot. Fifty years from now there will be people thinking the same way and wondering how backwards we were at the change of the millennium. Science probably has taken steps we barely have an inkling about currently, with social and cultural structures have seen a change. Future historians can make educated guesses where all this is going, but that’s all it is. Ask a future historian five years ago if the world would experience a massive scare in form of a global pandemic, and none of them has anything like that. Some of them probably would have guessed that an incoming depression would hit, but that was supposed to be around 2018. They weren’t quite right on the time, or for what reasons.

The concepts we have in our everyday life are magic. We can say we understand how, for example, Wi-Fi works with the signals and how they’re coded and encoded, but only in terms of This things exists. Very few truly understand what’s happening when wireless communication happens, or why. We can easily say that Wireless Fidelity is radio signals, and then expand that radio waves are a form of electromagnetic waves. This means it’s a wave with both electronic and magnetic component to it, meaning the signals are like light rays, except their wavelength is different. This is just going into what a radio signal is, and not even touching how information relies on through it. As a side note, it would be possible to “see” Wi-Fi waves if an organ or a device would have evolved or designed to see at that wavelength.

The Atomic Era and after saw a huge slew of science fiction making wild assumptions about the year 2000, which very few have come to pass. I’m still waiting for my atomic reactor powered flying cars. We have robots doing our jobs, but not in the manner of humaniform robots or androids, but rather as dedicated machines with specific types of arms and hands. General artificial intelligence was assumed to have been assembled already, but turns out making a sentient computer is harder than it seems like. Then again, in strict terms, the AI doesn’t even need to be sentient. It just has to appear to be so. However, we can’t fault science fiction writers for using the science they had in their present. You can’t use or invent what you don’t know is possible or could be done. Star Trek‘s communicators were a natural evolution of radio and wired phones. Nowadays, you can call anyone anywhere on the Earth, and probably on the orbit too, with your phone in your pocket. While teleportation has been deemed impossible, tests have shown otherwise. It’s just a matter of the scale of things and whether or not it would be feasible in the future, but progress has ways to make us surprised. After all, it was thought the world could only have three computers due to their massive size, but now that same phone you can call Frank is millions of times more capable in every aspect than those room-sized computers. Even the best guess based on the information they had then wasn’t exactly on the mark.

It helps if you’re a scientist of sorts when writing science fiction. You’d be in a better position to use that knowledge of how things work to take a few steps forwards. After all, once the reader picks up your book, you are in a silent agreement that this is fiction, and certain parts will be in the realm of impossibility. Even then, too many times the ideas people have supposed to be too fantastical have turned out to be possible. Then, of course, there’s the reverse or the Jurassic Park Effect. Michael Crichton did extensive research for the book, and for a short period in the 1980s, it was based on solid science and knowledge. Even the name of the Velociraptor was largely accurate for a whole year or two, before the species’ status, name and size were updated with further research. We also now know that dinosaurs had feathers of sorts, and have been able to determine some pigments from fossil remains. A few years back, a Texan scientist surmised that T-Rex probably didn’t even roar, but used similar closed-mouth communication we see in alligators and birds. So rather than a lion roar, it most likely had something akin to a deep, ground-shaking subsonic rumble. The whole issue of extracting DNA from amber sadly was also bunked when DNA’s half-life was confirmed, meaning even in the best condition a dinosaur’s DNA would have broken up in 6,8 million years. We’re a few millions of years too late to the party. Science fact of yesterday is science fiction of today.

Nevertheless, we can only base our ideas and guesses what is out there. Very few of us is making any progress on the scientific front, and even those who keep tabs on the latest news and research papers probably can’t even guess what’s the next technological revolution. Science fiction writers overall can’t really use what isn’t there. I keep using the Lensman series and some of the earlier Asimov’s works as examples where there are no computers. The way computers were in the 1950s and earlier don’t even begin to count in ways modern people understand what a computer is. Nevertheless, writers like Asimov and Clarke understood science to make use of it in an entertaining manner as well as discuss themes and concepts through their work. Larry Niven’s Ringworld novels are an example of an author going back to the work and making a sequel just to discuss how such a superstructure as Niven’s Ring could be possible. It points out how it can be made possible, but as it usually is with SF, not whether or not it is possible with our current understanding of materials and certain physics.

I’m sure you’re tired of me kicking this dead horse. However, the more I hear some unnamed contemporary SF writers aiming to write what follows “real science” while arguing that you shouldn’t elaborate, or even discuss, what isn’t possible seems cheating. Certainly, Star Trek Voyager made technobabble a sin in the eyes of hardcore SF fans. However, this is where that whole aforementioned point of having some kind of degree of science, or a deeper understanding of how things work steps in. Bad technobabble throws words in that sound scientific without any meaning. Good technobabble on the other hand does manage to make use of current concepts and take it a step further by asking the question What if… Then again, the highly technical speech itself sounds like technobabble, so the layman and general audience mostly put it as the tone of the work. It’s background noise, something that’s akin to the background music that’s making the beats. In the end, it doesn’t matter if the science or the depiction of vessels or beams is realistic and accurate as long as it serves the story. There’s no drama if we can’t see the lasers shot, or if a crew member is thrown back when using a phaser. While some viewers will complain that Star Trek and similar works are unrealistic how they depict their science and mechanics, the layman often retorts that how that’s a given; it’s television, none of it is real.

It is disingenuous to call any work of SF, like Star Trek, a work of fantasy based on its elements not being possible, at least in terms of the current understanding of how things work. The whole What If… plays an important role in one of Asimov’s best works, Gold. Asimov was dared to write a story with plutonium-186 isotope as the theme, which doesn’t and can’t exist. Yet Asimov took the base and built a story set in another universe with a different set of laws of physics that allowed such thing to exist. Discussing such topics and themes is a hallmark of science fiction as a genre.

All this wondering makes me want a hard science fact story that uses 1600s science as its basis.

There are no black bars

There is a misunderstanding with screen aspect ratios that states that using an image of different aspect ratio from your screen will leave black bars. This is of course completely incorrect but is so widely used that nobody questions it. Everybody just assumed people know what’s been said, which turns into the whole It’s common knowledge thing. This’ll be the last aspect ratio rant for the blog.

The above image shows a white 4:3 image in a wide-screen area format. Those aren’t black bars; that is the area where there is no image information. Open some random image in your computer that isn’t taken in your screen’s aspect ratio. You wouldn’t expect it to fill the screen, as it’s clearly not meant for that size. Yet some of you willingly crop or stretch video footage to fill that area. I’m sure your image viewer has some options to stretch stuff. If not, put it as your desktop wallpaper and choose that stretching option. Suddenly, it looks much less appealing.

This applies to any picture that is out there, video or not. For whatever reason, people fear the void of having nothing on their screen as if its wasted, as if they weren’t getting their money’s worth. This is absurd, though possibly understandable. Nevertheless, the image size and dimensions you view are chosen specifically for the reasons that portray the image the best or were industry standards. If you put something like Jurassic Park on, you should notice that it has more vertical height than your standard modern TV-show, or most movies in widescreen format, because Spielberg chose that aspect ratio because it allowed to show more of the dinosaurs’ height. Compared to Jurassic World movies, which lack this extra height, you get much wider shot and lose that effect of massive size. You have too much room on the sides.

Whatever made filling this empty space with bloomed version of the video at this empty space is a neat response to fill that void, but that’s again needless and useless. I’d like to say Surely people understand that there are videos of different aspect ratios that don’t fill your screen? but that would be stepping in the whole trap of assuming it was common knowledge. It probably is, people just don’t think it though. Another thing people are doing is adding black areas to the top and bottom of the screen to simulate the film experience. This is just from ignorance as people who keep doing this don’t understand that films filmed in 21:9 aspect ratio has more width than height, which is why you have no information to fill all of your modern 16:9 aspect ratio screen.

Seems like Counter Strike players are somewhat split between widescreen and fullscreen formats. Some people talk about how glorious it is to have the game in full, widescreen format while some argue that having 4:3 “black bars” is better because of the focus it offers. Other games seem to have their own aspect ratio they run in, as Youtube’s also full of guides on how to stretch Valorant‘s footage, which again destroys the footage itself. Maybe it’s the new generation problem that older technology has with video footage. As I mentioned in my previous aspect ratio rant, companies used to cut and pan footage to fit 4:3 aspect ratio televisions, yet we have the same problem nowadays in slight reverse. People are stretching the image for 16:9 format and it looks even worse. I’d rather live with Pan and Scan over stretched image just because everything would still maintain their proper proportions.

With Counter Strike people are mislabelling the whole stretching thing. While looking for reasons why people stretch their picture, many consider changing the aspect ratio itself as stretching. The thing with some games is that they can function just fine under different aspect ratios without the need for mangling the image. Look a the following.

 

This image hasn’t been stretched or shrunk. This is two different aspect ratio images superimposed on top of each other, with the red coloured image being in 4:3. No assets are being stretched, the only thing that changes slightly is the field of view. However, the terminology often used between these two, removing black bars, stretching etc are just outright bonkers. The discussion should be about aspect ratio in cases like this and nothing else. It feels, and is stupid to point out that it’s no stretching if there is no stretching. If you’re interested why some Counter Strike players discuss the benefits of having 4:3 aspect ratio in the game, here’s a link to the Medium article where the pic was nabbed from.

Let’s take a step back a bit from that and take a very simple and rather small, random image from my folders and see how it scales.

This’ll do fine

It’s a very normal picture with a random aspect ratio and size. When you put in full screen, as in it would full whatever it can on the screen without stretching, it’d look like this.

As a lot of old digital footage is in crappy resolution with terrible compression, expanding the image well beyond its intended size will result in edges showcasing their low resolution and artifacting. It’ll be even worse if you want it to fill the screen so that it’s filled with the image’s information, even if doesn’t have anything to offer in that regard.

The stretching is visible, with the face becoming even pudgier and the hat suddenly gaining few kilos more. Now, what if someone were to do this in ultra-widescreen? You may think this sounds stupid, but it happens all the time. People love to stretch things for whatever reason.

If you’re ok with the third image, then you should have no problems with the fourth one either. The extreme might be wider, but the effect is still the same. You have now filled your screen with information and thus ended up distorting the image. To hammer this useless point in even further, I’ve superimposed the second and third images together, putting the proper aspect ratio’d picture to the left so the lines have the same starting point.

This hurts my eyes. Thanks astigmatism

Stretching is something that should not be tolerated and the above shows why. When put on top of each other like this, you can clearly see how much stretching displaces and distorts the depicted information.

I did mention I was looking around why people stretch their footage even when knowing it’ll make the picture look bad. The main reason seems to be the good ol’ feeling cheated if they don’t get everything filled from edge to edge in their screens. Televisions and monitors cost a pretty penny and not having that whole area used all the time seem to make people feel like they were cheated, that they could’ve gone with a smaller screen if they have to leave some areas unused due to the footage being in a different resolution or aspect ratio. It’s not rare for people to say It looks fine when justifying why they stretch or crop their picture, which can’t be helped. Just as often you hear the same people saying something about the image not exactly looking like it should. Sports especially tend to look weird in a wrong aspect ratio, because all the players and equipment are stretched sideways.

The second reason is buying into something they don’t have knowledge of. Often a screen is bought, set up, never calibrated or properly tested. If a station is sending the image in a different aspect ratio and the screen is set to automatically stretch, the end result will be a mangled image. Effectively, ignorance.

The third reason is by choice, whatever it might be. While there are intended ways to view something in its proper aspect ratio, we have to accept that people have the freedom to watch whatever they want in whatever size and shape they wish. I assume we’ll have to revisit everything how we approach image sizes and aspect ratios in the future as the image viewing technology takes its next major paradigm shift, or if another aspect ratio other than this widescreen format is implemented as a standard. Whoever writes about these things then will have one helluva time trying to explain to people how few hundred years ago the image was in two dimensions and didn’t contain holographic third dimension to fit their tru-3DVR glasses.

Why are there no black bars though? Because that’s just areas that are off, just like how your screen isn’t “black” when you switch it off. Thes sayings just kept going and had to be dumbed down, which lead misconceptions and further problems down the line. I guess this would count as an example of how we should punch up and educate people rather than punch everything else down. Lift people, so to say, rather than take things down across to the board.

 

 

 

 

Japan is a brand; Outside regulation would diminish the value of products of Japanese culture

One of Japan’s most important export product is its culture. For numerous years, their ministry has taken serious notice of their cultural goods making large-scale sales abroad. Cartoons, comics, novels, electronic games and even pornography has seen a constant rise in popularity since the Second World War. Even before that, there were people who were fascinated by this culture that is that much different than the Western hemisphere can offer.

Mitsurugi and his replacement for regions with censorship regarding Japanese imagery

However, this is a rather new event. Japanese culture was not exported by the government itself, but rather by foreigners who entered the country and brought it with them as they returned to their home counties. Whether or not it was because of the infamy of the Japanese actions during the war, or because the culture in itself was not seen as a profitable good to be imported. To this day, import of Japanese culture is seen as a taboo in some parts of the Asian world. For example, South Korea discourages and often outright censors depiction of Japanese culture in their media, which has lead companies to provide modified versions of their games for Korean markets. For example, the samurai Mitsurugi was replaced with Arthur, a European character that just happens to don Japanese armour and sword. Other fields of censorship South Korea frequently employs is regarding Shinto symbols, which get scrubbed from both television programmes and comics. Thailand has a long history with self-censorship, which has extended in policies against media displaying .e.g. Buddhist imagery. Sri Lanka also issues with certain religious concepts being showcased on air.

South Korea nevertheless has imported numerous Japanese products via copyright infringement and piracy among the official releases and has presented numerous Japanese-original products as their own. One of the more famous examples of this might be the design of Robot Taekwon V, which is a modified Mazinger-type design. The later designs in the series incorporate elements from Mobile Suit Gundam and especially from Combat Mecha Xabungle. Numerous bargain bin cartoons, like Space Thunderkids, exhibit numerous types of plagiarism Koreans practised at the time, ranging from music to character designs.

Original Taekwon V and Great Mazinger. Taekwon’s creator, Kim Cheong-gi, has been very open of his plagiarism as he wanted to create Korean-original robot in wake of Mazinger’s popularity

Koreans taking after a Japanese product should not be a surprise though. Japan improved its relation with their fellow Asian countries during the 1970s and 1980s, which in turn allowed their industry to grow even more by exporting their products. It was during this period when Japanese technology gained its fame, with cars making their way across the world and names like Sony were associated with high-quality products par none. A little company called Nintendo also effectively saved the American video game industry while struggling to compete against Sega in European markets.

An iconic pairing on both sides of the sea

Even earlier than that, the world had already begun to see the sort of creativity Japanese media was enjoying. It is thanks to Gigantor and Jonny Sokko and His Flying Robot (Tetsujin #28 and Giant Robot, respectively) that America associated Japan with giant robots, which was only enforced by the upcoming slow but sure burn of animation. Speedracer and other Japanimation paved the way of current trends for Western acceptance of anime. While current mainstream might discourage anyone from visiting these localized products, where characters, stories and sometimes even music were replaced via Americanization, they nevertheless helped these shows to gain a larger audience. They may not have been accurate, or even faithful to the original Japanese product, but that was not how you made business at the time. There was no market for original-language products in the same manner, in many ways, there still are not as many countries across the world still heavily localize and dub for the local market’s consumption.

Whether or not something is localized, unless completely redone from the ground up, you cannot divorce localized material from its original counterpart. The language may change, the story might change or maybe even the whole point of the product might change, yet the core idea will still stay and shine through. All the discussed examples, whether localized or plagiarized, are inherently Japanese on idea level and in concept.

All these shows were imported by individual entities and corporations, so they were mostly to make money. Some products, like the original Godzilla, did see a subtitles release before its localized version, which is an example of a foreign product made to fit the home market in a proper way. Without that, we would not have Godzilla in the global pop-culture landscape. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when Japan’s Takeshita government took the first true initiative to market Japanese culture abroad via exporting Japanese television programmes to other Asian countries. The Japan Media Communication Center, JAMCO for short, was established in 1991 by joint efforts of Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Post and Telecommunication. This led to the translation of Japanese television programmes into English as well as developing shows specifically for export markets. Most of these shows were aired in other Asian countries, but many of them also found their way into the Western world. It’s easy to see a show like Iron Chef being promoted for foreign markets thanks to its local popularity, and it could be easily trimmed down from its hour-long episodes into shorter episodes.

Chairman Kaga and his Iron Chefs

All these efforts were furthered in 2001, when Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s (METI) Media and Contents Industry Division established a think-tank examine what challenges and prospects there were in promoting Japanese culture, especially its media contents, to overseas market. In fact, even before that METI had recognized the growing trend of Japanese culture-products to have a rising trend in export, and estimated that multimedia industries, that of electronic entertainment, music, films, software, broadcasting and such would generate over 55 trillion yen, a boost that post-Bubblegum Bubble Japan could’ve used. It would be an understatement that the Japanese government was becoming well aware of the potential of their cultural export.

The combination of Japanese products’ quality and the further steps of having Japanese media presented as Japanese has created its own brand image. Made in Japan is still seen as a certain brand of quality, but nowadays just Japan delivers a certain kind of image of the cultural landscape and the type of products it offers. The constant export of Japanese media goods has furthered the expansion of their culture, with electronic entertainment and multimedia products being in the lead. This might be due to Japan having a much longer history in multimedia productions, something that did not hit the Western world until the 1980s.

Outside electronic games, Japanese comics and cartoons have experienced almost a thirty years rise in popularity in the Western markets, with the late 1990s early 2000s experiencing a breakthrough boom when a new generation found anime. The blooming Internet culture at the exchange of the millennium continued the older VHS fan subtitle culture in digital form, and freely shared shows with added subtitles spread Japanese popular culture even wider. In many ways, the current state of affairs, where almost every new animated programme gains official subtitled release of some sort, is a direct result of this fansub culture and the piracy it promoted. It was, in effect, years of the best kind of promotion and advertisement, which lead these people taking steps to be involved in the industry and make sure that the market would get what it yearned.

I agree, Hank did whine too much. There’s a small story behind all this

Without a doubt, METI’s think-tank is partially responsible for the rise of Japanese media in the Western hemisphere during the previous two decades. When you combine both the existing yet largely untapped market’s yearn with government-driven agenda to promote these products, it is easier to understand how Japanese media products became for more common that what they already were. Japanese cartoons and comics went from an underground culture to mainstream, with anime and manga became terms much more recognized. They became a brand of their own, which effectively state A product of Japan.

Cannon’s American Ninja was just one of the many movies tapping the ninja craze

While this post is focusing on media, it should be noted that Japanese cultural exports also include martial arts. The martial arts and ninja boom of the 1970s and 80s were largely thanks to Japanese influences and Hong Kong cinema. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the properties that is, in effect, a result of Japanese cultural exports and their prevalence in the United States (even though that’s still media). It should be emphasized, that almost every city has at least one form of martial arts school that ties itself to Japan. Be it karate, judo or other forms of budo, the Japanese martial arts have a high status and is one of the more important cultural exports Japan has ever had, but they themselves don’t make much revenue. Nevertheless, Judo was considered significant martial art to the point of being accepted as an Olympic sport at the 1964 games.

Furthermore, Japanese innovation such as Just-in-Time manufacturing Toyota pioneered alongside lean manufacturing have left a worldwide impact. Companies like Motorola and John Deere have employed these in their manufacturing decisions. I would amiss if I would not mention the 5S method, which lays out how to organize workspace for efficiency, which also affects standardization.

If I am to believe the Japanese people that I have conversed with throughout the years, as well as the occasional cultural report I have read, the Japanese enjoy how foreigners take interest in their culture and its products. It is something they take pride in. Works like Super Dimensional Fortress Macross effectively celebrate the culture by weaponising it against the alien species Zentraedi, as they lack their own. To be specific, Macross weaponises the early 1980’s idol culture and makes songs an effective counterattack to disharmonize enemy actions and show that war is not the only option in life. Macross has continued to use songs, idols and robots as a means to celebrate each decade in its own ways, which shows how long-lasting the property is and how much faith Japan has in its culture.

Incidentally, Macross II would aim to undermine the superiority of the idol culture, as its staff considered the idol culture outdated and that it’d become obsolete by the end of the decade. They bet on the wrong racehorse

If you look further into their media products, you will see a pattern forming, where their own country and its people are in focus almost exclusively. Even in works that take place outside Japanese borders (or in fictional worlds) they have heavily implemented their own cultural landscape. Final Fantasy VII may be one of the most globally celebrated roleplaying games, but everything from its design language, storytelling, character designs, music and play is stereotypically Japanese. You have thin heroes with comically large weapons, a mix of science fiction and fantasy in a manner where there is no distinction between the two, cheap drama that is executed in a most exquisite manner and numerous other elements that can be described as Japanisms.

Yasuda Kosuke’s Sakurako Himegasaki is still pitiably cute today (姫ヶ崎櫻子は今日も不憫可愛い) is an example of Japanism about childhood friend taken to the meta-level, as the comic plays tropes straight all the while turning the expected end-results, e.g. the main lead is in love in another character and the friend loses, on their head in a comedic fashion

Japanisms are what could be described as storytelling stereotypes or tropes that exist and are specifically used in Japanese media. It also includes cultural concepts and behaviour that is very much their own thing. To use an example from modern stories, in romance stories the childhood friend of the main character often is in a losing position, thus creating a unique character trope. Japanisms can be silly in their own right, and can often detract the story they are in, they are largely embraced as expected, almost essential, parts of certain genres. These Japanisms also constantly evolve when it comes to the media, with the whole other-world genre taking more and more cues after Japanese roleplaying games instead of general fantasy to the point of actual play mechanics and RPG status screens becoming one of the tropes. The whole genre has become so common, that even foreign publishers have adopted the Japanese name for its, isekai, to further illustrate the contents to customers in-the-know.

These Japanisms are one of the reasons why their cultural exports are of interest and make sales. Be it transforming robot toys or whatnot, certain concepts simply take form in a different culture in a completely different manner. Just as you find stereotypically American ideas in their caped hero comics or novels, French stereotypes in their cartoons and British mangy grossness in their media, Japan has the things you can only find in their products and that interests people. The Britons were the only people who could have come up with 2000 AD’s Judge Dredd due to their culture much like how Superman was the ultimate realization of an immigrant to the Americas in the early 20th century.

La parisienne japonaise by Belgian painter Alfred Stevens is an example of French Japonisme, the effect of Japanese aesthetics, design and art influencing western Europe in the 19th century after Japan was forced to reopen their trade in 1858

With the global information exchange constantly growing and ideas exchanging hands, consumers have become more and more aware of exclusive goods. Importing cultural goods, like pots, books and such, has always been a thing, yet towards the new millennium, this has become more and more a mundane thing. While we might have bought a car that was made locally on in the neighbouring country, we have found ourselves in a word where we can get anything from anywhere, if we just want to go through the trouble. Appreciating cultural differences has become more common at the same time, though the United States has stereotypically been the top dog of having others appreciate their cultural differences rather than the other way around. The current global trend of having one, overwhelming global culture to overrun all others is a direct legacy of American export of culture.

As the Japanese government has a history of investing themselves in the exportation of their cultural goods, they have also been concerned about its nature. In June of 2020, Ken Akamatsu of Love Hina fame explained in his Twitter account that he was invited to the House of Councilors questioning sessions, where the government asked What measures are needed for Japanese manga to survive in the world? Akamatsu’s reply was that freedom of expression must come first, as he sees this as Japan’s strength over overseas competition. His fear is to see foreign platforms, which already have larger global influence and market shares, dictating rules and regulations on Japanese originated comics. According to him, the members of the parliament agreed with his sentimentality.

The above in Akamatsu’s own Tweet stating the above and a link

His view is opposed by D.J. Kirkland from Viz Media, who has been vocal for changing and producing manga for Western markets. According to Kirkland, there is going to be a conversation between stakeholders in Japan and Western publishers when it comes to creating content that appeals more to the Western audience. His view that anime is a business is a correct one, yet his intentions largely leave the original creators and their intents out of the equation. Kirkland also ignores that anime and manga have been specifically made for the Japanese market alone and its success as an export product leans heavily on this. Kirkland’s word at its face value, he also considers that US and Western market to be one and the same when this isn’t the case. France, for example, doesn’t exactly rely on English language releases of Japanese works nearly to the same extent as some other countries. English language releases from the US certainly make themselves around the world and do skew the numbers, but the point still stands.

Akamatsu’s worry regarding governmental or industrial over-regulation is relevant. He was the key person in stopping Japanese corporations taking actions against the Japanese homemade comic scene, the doujinshi scene, which sees people making their own created comics they do not own and publishing them at events. This is infringing copyright, something all the companies would have all the power to stop, but due to the nature of doujinshi being a major part of the Japanese popular culture, they are allowed to continue with this half-decade long tradition without much trouble. In fact, majority of the Japanese comic creators have some roots in the doujinshi scene, such as ever-popular CLAMP, and it is not uncommon to find a popular creator having drawn adult material before moving to mainstream comics.

Sony has also showcased how its internal censorship has affected the PlayStation as a platform, as a brand and its library. With numerous games being rejected from the platform, forcing the removal of content and content having to change to meet their Californian HQ’s standards, we have already seen a shift in how Japanese creators’ content has been dictated by an outside force. As Sony has concentrated to cater to Western, or rather, American taste, they’ve lost sales and position in Japan to Nintendo. Furthermore, Switch sales have increased as their more lax policies still allow creators and developers to continue in their usual fashion. This has increased overseas importation of Switch games, as numerous titles get Asian-English releases nowadays. I’ve covered Sony’s censorship before in this blog. You can find the posts on the topic here, here and here. I probably missed one or two.

Original comic design on the left, tweaked design on the right

Some Japanese corporations like Square-Enix have taken precautions to quell possible conflicts by changing pre-existing designs. Final Fantasy VII Remake Tifa’s design got criticized for unnecessary changes, while others still criticized the design for unrealistic body proportions. Character Maam from a 1991 Dragon Quest comic, Dai’s Great Adventure, also saw a redesign from her original Martial Artist class design when revealing mobile iteration of Dai’s Great Adventure.

Censorship on Japanese products isn’t anything new in itself. Ever since Japanese comics and cartoons have arrived to the Western front, be it the US, South America, or parts of Europe, they have seen some degree of censorship. Sometimes its removal of religious imagery as in older Nintendo games, sometimes its removal of blood from comics and cartoons, covering up bare skin or making sure characters say they saw a parachute after blowing up an enemy robot. Viz themselves have a long history in censoring comics they localise, removing whatever they find objectionable at a given time, sometimes making panels look weird even out of their proper context.

Viz’s run for Pokémon Adventures may be infamous for all the female figures they redrew, but scenes like this also got toned down and ended up looking silly

The main difference is that all these have been external changes. Whatever Viz Media has done to censor the versions they publish is their and their customers’ business. The original creator was not limited by anything else but what he had discussed with his editor and staff. What Kirkland, and some of the Japanese government may be proposing, is to control the output of the creators at the source, practising self-censorship and limiting what they can and cannot to create. It would be imposing outsiders’ values and views in order to make Japanese cultural products more palatable for them.

What Sony is imposing on their worldwide developers, and what Ken Akamatsu is fearing, is cultural colonialism.

Homogenizing Japanese products according to outside rules would mean losing all the edge they have held over the competition. Cultural colonialism ultimately destroys the uniqueness of culture and replaces it whatever it currently acceptable by the people who enforced it in the first place. The American censorship is flippant at best, and as they show themselves as the face of the Western world, they would be in the lead of spreading their view of correct and proper culture. The US might not act as the world police as much as it used to in terms of military power, but that’s because war has changed. Now, the war is about information, controlling it and impacting how people behave. By trying to make everyone think and act the same, it becomes easier to exert power over people, even if they’re in a whole different country. Controlling what can be produced, or in what tone, is one step in controlling the way the culture begins to think despite what reality is.

The Japanese culture is a result of their long isolation until they were forced to open trade connections. While many Western nations have their identity moulded through constant interaction with neighbouring countries, Japan has always had the luxury in many ways unique from most of the world. This does bring its own baggage, which has resulted in less than favourable view of Japan around Asia. Outside a few tribe cultures that have had no contact with the rest of the world, the Japanese culture is in many ways closest to an alien culture a Westerner can easily access. Throughout the years this has caused certain fetishization of the culture, which has created the occasional Exotic Orient boom, in which various items and people have been exhibited to the public at large like some circus freaks. Racism has played some part in this, as numerous times these booms haven’t really cared whether or not depictions have been correct, and Asians were seen largely interchangeable with each other. This lead to things like kung fu being a Japanese martial art or Korean language cited as Chinese. These have become less common place nowadays, but the idea of Exotic Orient still raises its head sometimes, but in a more positive light nowadays thanks to the efforts of Asian nations themselves making themselves known brands.

The Japanese government’s worry over Japanese comics losing place in the overseas market is baseless. Currently, Shonen Jump comics are outselling Marvel and DC in the US. Various European countries have a steady flow of Japanese titles on their publishing lists. France especially has an impressive library of Japanese comics, perhaps the most in the European sphere that does not speak English as their first language.

Jump comics last circulation numbers. These are figures to salivate after

The government would have to worry if the industry itself or the government would begin to regulate the creative industries for Western markets. For the last thirty years, the Japanese government has done a lot to promote Japanese culture and its products, thus have seen a steady rise in overseas exports in every media field. While some programming has been specifically made to fit overseas market tastes, only a few individuals have taken straight actions to produce overseas market-specific products, like Mazinger. However, more and more mixed media projects concern themselves with the overseas market, resulting in shows that end up on Netflix and built to fit the global streaming service. In itself, there is nothing negative in trying to make products appeal to more than one market. That is just business. However, that approach does not take anime and manga’s primary target consumers to be the Japanese. The true uniqueness of what manga and anime as brands would offer would be removed, and the brand of Japan would be exchangeable with whatever other countries. In other words, under cultural colonialism, that uniqueness would vanish.

First Comics published Go Nagai’s Mazinger specifically for the US market in 1998. A single issue A Treville Book would retain the same moniker, but the book was rebranded as Mazinger U.S.A. Version for the Japanese markets in 1999.

Nevertheless, if the Japanese media would be regulated to suit foreign markets, they would undermine all the efforts the government has seen thus far as it would lead to current market objecting. It would be the opposite what the market has loudly wanted for decades now; uncensored, uninhibited works that are presented in the same forms as they originally were in Japan. Of course, by installing regulations at the source, the customers wants and wishes could be underhandedly circumvented. Outsider regulation at the source could, of course, cut costs when the localizing company publishes it, as there might not find any need to edit the content as it was already made for their liking. While the occasional overseas market-specific piece isn’t all that rare, they are also transparently pandering and lower in quality. Numerous properties have been turned into international brands later in their life, which has given away their visible deterioration of quality and loss of that original spark.

If it was just a few companies pushing for this level of censorship, they could be stepped around by using other companies or forming new ones. However, if these regulations would come from the government, it would damage the Japanese media industries deeply and heavily. A market suicide of this scale would be unpresented. Not only the government think-tanks would have to device new ways to market now-censored products that supposedly should sell better to the Westerners, but the companies that enjoyed large customer bases would have to spend insurmountable amount of money for marketing in order to keep now-damaged market while trying to expand it with these new pieces.

Furthermore, the generation that initiated the new millennium anime boom in the West will be replaced with a new one in the upcoming decade or two, and chances are Japanese media will see less consumption naturally at a global scale. This is due to the new generation always wanting to replace what their parents thing. This is the natural relation between parents and children. The best way Japanese government and the industries can combat this is to have their new generation of creators to take reins after the old masters, something that seems to be natural for the Japanese culture.

The question that lies under all this is What has made Japanese cultural products so appealing? The answer can be shortly be given as They’re Japanese. A product of another culture always offers a whole new alternative that can’t be found anywhere else. Perhaps it is the aesthetics that hit the right spot with some, perhaps it is the story beats. Maybe it’s all those Japanisms that inhabit each and every work to the brim. It still has to be admitted that Japan might need to cater to the overseas market in any case in the future. This is due to their constantly ageing population, which drops the buying power the nation overall has. The inverted age-pyramid keeps growing as the childbirth rates keep falling. This will ultimately require a shift in the Japanese culture when it comes to foreign markets and to foreigners themselves, but what kind of shift it’ll be we’ll have to wait and see. In a connected world as ours, it might be hard to imagine Japan closing itself once again, but that isn’t completely out of the question if physical connections are lost and we become connected only digitally. Nevertheless, at some point, there will be a need for people who would rather make comics and cartoons to work in other fields due to social changes, but that too will result in cultural works that reflect their times.

Japanese media, and their culture, is unique. The Japanese people know this and they celebrate it, more so than some other countries out there. They don’t hate themselves. They’re not afraid of showing it either, and they wish to share it with the world, if possible, with certain limitations. Their nation and the identity it has is strong and cohesive with a large number of regional differences to give vivid accents to any work. To break Japan’s export of culture with cultural colonialism would be heavily damaging, if not outright erasing the identity cultural products voice. Cultural exchange should not be this sort of one-sided corporate exchange, but where both sides agree and celebrate each other’s differences while agreeing to disagree with the incompatible ones. These are individuals and private companies who have a set target audience, and they should not be forced to cater other audiences or their whims if they choose not to.

Star Trek Enterprise – What it should have been (Part 4)

Guest Post Time! Your editor A9 is back to rant more about Star Trek Enterprise. If you haven’t read earlier parts, it’s not a requirement, but you could read part one, two and three on this blog. This time with a small change in format – no more long and winded episode summaries as they are not relevant. There’s gonna be more focus on what it did for the series as a whole. Now buckle up.

Malcolm Reed

As the armory officer on Enterprise, he was a military man through and through and the guy you called when you wanted to blow some shit up. At the same time, he was a very reserved man in his private life and quite shy at times. When you have a character like that, it’s clear that you’re really have to go and think about how to get a character like this out of his shell. While the writers did come up with one or two episodes, that was also kind of the end of it. Reed was never really expanded upon, proven by the fact that he only really has one friend on his ship, namely Charles Tucker. Ironically this friendship began with a rivalry which is a nice start for a friendship.

The first character highlight episode of his deals with a very simple question: what is Reed’s favourite food? In the process of getting an answer to that question, it’s only underlined how distant Malcolm is from the rest of the ship, but also his family. The way the answer is revealed is by an extensive background check, and finally a medial background check. In other words a big breach of privacy, just to underline the fact that he’s a very private man. While the answer is revealed (pineapple), does this actually progress his character at all? He doesn’t get featured in his own B-plot, as he’s busy with arming Enterprise in the A-plot. It does get him just a little bit closer to the rest of the crew, but that’s it outside of confirming what the audience already knew: that he’s a private, military guy.

The very definition of a soldier.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s where you go from there and we don’t get much more until later in the first season, in one of my favourite episodes called Shuttlepod One. It’s a bottle episode, which means that it’s an episode without any real budget for new sets or guest characters. Make do with what you have, and try not to make it too boring. The episode revolves around Reed and Tucker being stranded in a shuttlepod, thinking Enterprise has been destroyed. In the face of death (since they will never make it back to Earth in that shuttlepod), Reed starts writing letters to his friends and family, even all of his exes back home (much to the annoyance of Tucker). What this episode brought to the table for me, was that much of Reed was just hidden, and not that it was lacking. He does care about friends and family, and even admitted he started to feel at home on Enterprise (which was what he more or less tried to avoid by staying professional as much as he could). At the end of the episode, they shares a nice bottle of bourbon and are laughing in the face of death before finally getting rescued by Enterprise. It also changes the dynamic between Reed and Tucker from rivals to friends – for better or worse. Reed would continue to star on the show and would have small moments of more fleshed out backstory such as his new rivalry with the captain of the MACOs (Military Assault Command Operations, part of the United Earth Military) and finally his involvement with the beginnings of the secretive Section 31.

This was the first time since Deep Space Nine that S31 was mentioned, and unlike the newer series that can’t stop namedropping it every other episode, it was very much a hidden part of the United Earth that was already getting involved in interplanetary affairs.

One thing I was hesitant to write about, but will add in the end, is regarding his sexuality. While on-screen, Reed has always been written as a heterosexual character (with how he likes T’pol’s bum, his many female exes or how he gets affected by Orion slave girls), the actor Dominic Keating has mentioned once jokingly, once more serious (page 5) that he has always played him as gay. In the script bio for Reed, it was stated that Reed was ‘shy around women’, and this is certainly one way to interpret that. Let me be very clear, I have no issues whatsoever about what someones or a characters sexuality is, just do it normally. Subtly. If someone’s gay, will that person always scream it off the rooftops? Does the series need fifteen episodes revolving about gayness? No. If we take those earlier examples away (or just consider him bi), does that change anything about him? No. In my opinion, if Reed was actually gay on the show, it would’ve been the absolute best portrayal of a gay man in Star Trek who was just doing his job. This isn’t just a critique about current Star Trek alone, it’s also Hollywood as a whole who frequently go so over the top with the the portrayal of gay characters that it gets annoying. They are shouting off rooftops that a character is gay. Nevertheless, if it ain’t on screen, it ain’t canon.

Deadalus

As promised, this time we’re going into the three ‘loose’ episodes of the season that aren’t part of a larger arc. The first one is Deadalus, which revolves around Emory Erickson, the inventor of the transporter, that wants to borrow Enterprise for an experiment: sub-quantum teleportation. An improvement to the regular transporter, which would’ve been able to beam an object or person from planet-to-planet with an unlimited range. But the real reason Emory wanted to this experiment is to save his son who was lost during the initial tests of this technology many years ago.

This episode isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s not a great one either. It can be quite slow or even dull at times, and the episode comes across as a semi-horror / mystery story. It does give more story about how the molecular transporter was invented, but it doesn’t really add anything in the grand scheme of things, except for inspiring the transwarp beaming technology in Star Trek ‘09.

In the end, it’s necessary for the show to limit the transporter. After all, why travel somewhere in a ship if you could get there immediately by beaming there? Whilst there has been a lot of different kinds of transporters in Trek, the rules always seem to change as the plot demands. Take the Dominion for example, who can transport people over three light years away.

Frankly, the show should have done away with the teleporter as a whole, or severely limit what it can do. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if it only was featured for non-organic stuff? That way the use of shuttles could be explained more and it would reinforce the ‘low-tech’ angle they were going with.

Observer effect

Time for a bit of a love letter to The Original Series, here come the Organians! Famous for their future Treaty of Organia between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, here they are in a different light. After they found a deadly silicon-based virus on a planet, they kept their eyes on it to see how other lifeforms would react to it. When finally humanity visits with the NX-01, they take over the bodies of Reed and Mayweather and start observing the crew while still maintaining the personalities of the crewmembers. As Hoshi and Tucker get infected and quarantined, they inhabit different people to ask more and more questions. Tragically, Hoshi and Tucker die to the virus, but the Organians inhabit them again regardless, arousing a ton of suspicion because they were, well, dead. They eventually reveal that they were monitoring different species here to see if they would begin an official first contact. In this case, one of them broke a 10000 year old protocol by telling them this, since their refusal to kill or eject their infected crewmembers really shows compassion. They heal all the infected crewmen, erase their memory of this incident, and leave.

Watching any modern Star Trek..

Another ENT prequel to a classic TOS episode. The viewpoint of this episode is mainly the Organians, the observers, as they question what the crew does at certain stages of the illness. As they have been here for over ten thousand years, they have seen it all happen to other species. What would the humans do differently?

The answer that the episode gives, compassion, is not the strongest in my book – but the road leading up to it is. The Alpha quadrant species in Star Trek are historically often a little one-dimensional: Klingons kill people, Vulcans think about shit, Andorians get angry at you, etcetera. That weakens the humans’ solution (as it were) since it’s just.. telling the other to keep it up. With how Andorians are portrayed in Enterprise with their loyalty to one another, one could say the Andorians could’ve solved this in a similar manner. Humans are still the jack of all trades, and from our perspective nothing really straight up defines them. Combine that with Archer giving a speech, and you’re left with not much. Frankly, this episode almost screams for Jean-Luc Picard to give a speech.

The Organians frequently change host bodies and keep conversations going regardless, and it’s a fun way of displaying their powers and really holds your interest, unlike the previous episode. Even without the knowledge of who the Oganians are (which was my case when I first saw this episode many years ago), it still works. The world of Star Trek is filled with many, many strange creatures after all. Talking about strange creatures..

Bound

Time for more Orions! A well spoken male Orion offers the Federation a joint mining agreement. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, he’s just giving Archer some Orion slave girls, that’s fine, right? Oh, whoops, they start causing trouble! They are using pheromones to ‘brainwash’ all the males on the ship to do their bidding! They are about to be sold to the Orion Syndicate when Trip, Phlox and T’pol save the day by stunning the slave girls and disabling the Orion ship.

Bound is the most TOS-like episode in of all of Enterprise. I’m pretty sure I’ve used the term ‘love letter’ a couple of times already, but this episode is the quintessential love letter to Star Trek in so much that you could see this episode working as a TOS one. Sure, the Orion slave girls are one thing, but the sets and costumes also really bring back those feelings. Last but not least, the ending scene features a group ensemble that is a clear nod to ending of many TOS episodes where the whole cast is on the bridge, reflecting on what happened in that episode.

I have mixed feelings about the episode itself however. While it features my favourite portrayal of a Orion male, Harrad-Sar, I felt a bit wanting about how the Orion females are so attractive. While before this episode, it was just that they were incredibly attractive and almost exotic, this episode changes that to a biological reason why (most) men cannot resist them. It also makes you wonder if you would be fine if you held your nose shut when being near one.

The twist in the end is a really interesting take on the Orion slave girl trope. After all, if the Orion females are always secreting these pheromones, wouldn’t the men be affected too? And exactly, that is the case. One cannot help but wonder what the plan as a whole is with the slave trade then: sell all the women, brainwash them, take their assets?

In the end, this episode revolves around the slave girls seducing the male crewmates. There’s not much that happens otherwise, and the female crewmen are just sitting idly by and are observing. It takes too long for the other characters to do something about the situation, in order for their ploy to work. Again, this is television, it’s fiction, it’s fine. But if I could magically add something to this episode, it would be more meat to the middle. But all in all, it already almost feels like a nostalgic episode.

And there you have it, part four is done. I hope the lack of synopsis’ made it more fun to read this time, but at the very least it was more fun to write for me. Next time we’ll visit the best arc of the season, the Babel arc.

Star Trek Enterprise – What it should have been (Part 3)

You guessed it, guest post time. We talking more Star Trek, until I run out of things to say, so see ya at part 12. As the title says, this is part 3, so feel free to read up on part one and two. Or just click my username, I don’t know man. Every time I’m forced asked to write one of these it turns into a big mess of words that hold some meaning for me, I just hope it’s mildly entertaining or informative enough for people to read. One of these days I’ll actually tell you what I think it should’ve been.

T’pol and Vulcan depiction

Sex sells, that’s no secret. So why don’t we just cast a model for an acting role where she barely has to do any emoting? Maybe I’m too harsh with that sentence. Look, I like a sexy Vulcan in spandex as much as the next guy (though I prefer T’Pau myself), but she’s really a repeat of Tuvok which was a repeat of Spock. Vulcan science officers are a staple, but it took a long time for her character to bring anything new to the table apart from early ENT Vulcan snobbishness and not liking the smell of humans.

Commander T’Pol

The weird portrayal of the Vulcans before season 4 hurt her, and every other Vulcan character in the series. Sure, you can use that as a steppingstone to create character growth, but that was not what was intended, they were created as assholes. In this regard, Soval got the better deal, but we’ll talk about him another time.

Let’s start with mind melds first, another core staple of Star Trek, especially The Original Series. It’s one of those things people who aren’t that much into Star Trek have heard of, along with the Vulcan salute and the Vulcan nerve pinch. It’s classic, and iconic.

So let’s fuck that up (which they’ll do again in Star Trek Discovery) and add an element of rape and HIV into the mix. She was mind melded with against her will, and because of that she got the condition Pa’nar Syndrome (a neural disease that resulted in the degradation of the synaptic pathways). Am I saying it’s wrong to raise awareness for these things in media? No, not at all. But attaching it to a beloved concept just feels tacked on, without any respect for the source material. The Pa’nar Syndrome was even introduced a whole season after the mind meld happened, giving me the impression that the writers were looking for something to attach an HIV storyline onto (as part of a Viacom’s HIV awareness campaign).

But enough of that. What about her character? Vulcans are notoriously to get likable if you play them straight. An actor has to emote, after all (another lesson they forgot in Star Trek Discovery, with the main character) to come across as believable. One can obviously play with this concept a lot – as there can be moments when a Vulcan does emote. Spock is the most obvious example, even if he was half Vulcan and that was what made him so interesting in the first place: the battle between his human side and his Vulcan side. Then you have Sarek, his dad, which actor ages along with the shows he’s in. In The Next Generation, he’s an old man with an illness that hampers his emotional control. He cannot accept that, one could almost say his pride prevents him from doing that. Then we move to Tuvok. He’s Vulcan. And.. yeah. He’s one of the most boring characters on Voyager (not that that’s a feat). There’s just not much going for him.

So with that lesson learned, how was T’Pol different? OK, sexy, check. She comes from the technologically superior Vulcans (in this era), and comes along as an observer of sorts while also filling the Science Officer role. She’s very skeptical. She doesn’t really like humans. She wants to do her job and meditate. Her being Vulcan helped her on numerous occasions because of her different physiology, but nothing really happened to her until episode 17 of the first season: Fusion. This is the episode where a mind meld is forced upon her by a group of Vulcans who, instead of suppressing emotions embrace them. I’ve liked this concept as a whole: it expands the Vulcan culture with this ‘weird’ band of misfits.

As much as I dislike the idea of the whole Pa’nar Syndrome in season 2, it does give T’Pol some development. It isn’t easy to live with serious illnesses and a stigma that surrounds it (as is/was with HIV). But this episode was just too on the nose with it, it could’ve used some subtlety, and it felt out of place for Vulcans to shun an illness. Why would you ban researching an illness? Of course, this is traced back to the changes brought to the Vulcans as a whole, and the governing body of the High Command. First only in charge of space exploration, but transforming into a government over time.

During all this stuff, the writers are really trying to push the T’Pol and Trip shipping. By making her massage Trip to help him sleep, or something. But it’s just to show a scantily clad T’Pol touch a scantily clad Trip. It’s just to make people think about sex. IT’S SEX! BUT NOT SEX!

In the Expanse (Season 3), it was found that a substance called trellium-D could shield the Enterprise against dangers unique to the Expanse. Unfortunately, this was also a neurotoxin for Vulcans. It’s never made clear how it’s a toxin, as you’d normally scan something like this before using it. Or why there’s a toxin in a rock. Would’ve made more sense as radiation. Anyway, the constant exposure to trellium-D lowers her emotional barriers, causing her to have outbursts of (negative) emotions. The more it happens, the more she wants to explore these emotions, as it’s functioning as a release for her. To do this, she injects herself with processed liquid trellium-D. Drug awareness anyone? On it’s own, I like the ideas and the setting, but again feels too on the nose. She eventually has to go through withdrawal and recovers, but she’ll always have a lower emotional barrier. She can finally use some emotions for the writers to make use of. Only took 3 seasons.

And now, we finally arrive at season four. She goes back to Vulcan with Trip, only to be guilt-tripped into an (arranged) marriage with Koss. Due to her actions while on board the Enterprise, her mother got fired from the Vulcan Science Academy, but with Koss’ family’s help and influence she can get it back. Should they get married, of course. Meanwhile she’s still kind of involved with Trip, so this is all a bit awkward.

You’re sorry? You brought me sixteen light years just to watch you get married to someone you barely know.

For me, T’Pol never became much more than eyecandy. She provided technobabble and had some good moments with Trip (especially season four), but we got too little too late.

Syrranite arc

Enterprise has no shortage in reoccurring guest stars. As far as I’m concerned, the three most important ones are Maxwell Forrest (Starfleet vice admiral, Archers’ superior officer), Shran (Andorian captain and ally of Archer) and finally Ambassador Soval (Vulcan ambassador to the United Earth). This arc sadly ends the life of one, and lifts the others up to new heights. This arc is where the Vulcans finally get ‘fixed’. This is the arc where the new showrunner, Manny Coto, takes over the reigns and does fucking amazing work with what he’s handed. Kudos to you, Manny.

The first thing this episode does is to take another look at Vulcan – United Earth relations. We’re on Vulcan for once, with Maxwell Forrest visiting the United Earth embassy along with Ambassador Soval. First, it’s addressed why the Vulcans act the way they do against humans.

“We don’t know what to do about Humans. Of all the species we’ve made contact with, yours is the only one we can’t define. You have the arrogance of Andorians, the stubborn pride of Tellarites. One moment you’re as driven by your emotions as Klingons, and the next you confound us by suddenly embracing logic!”

“I’m sure those qualities are found in every species.”

“Not in such confusing abundance.”

“Ambassador … are Vulcans afraid of Humans?”

“Why?”
“Because there is one species you remind us of.”
“Vulcans.”

Moreover, it’s also set up how much the Vulcan High Command operates on a need-to-know basis and how long Forrest and Soval have been working together, clarifying the working relationship, but also their friendship. After this scene, of what I believe is the best scene in the whole arc, the embassy gets bombed and Soval is pushed out of the way by Forrest at the cost of his own life.

The Enterprise is called to Vulcan to investigate along with the Vulcans since the embassy is technically United Earth soil. The head of state, Administrator V’Las and his entourage boards and explain they have two suspects: the Andorians, or the Syrranites– a fringe group opposed to the current government but not violent. The Andorians are dismissed right away (for good reason, as they are on good relations), so the search for the Syrranites begins with Archer and T’Pol looking for them in The Forge: a hellish desert landscape.

Before this, Soval also has a scene with Archer, where Soval talks about Forrest’s hopes for more cooperation between Earth and Vulcan but also to warn him to not trust everything that the High Command tells them. In the desert they meet Arev, which takes them along on a pilgrimage of the path of Surak. On their journey, they encounter a fierce desert storm filled with lightning, a sandfire. They have to take shelter, but Arev gets mortally wounded by a lighting strike, but before he dies, he performs a mind meld with Archer. Although Archer and T’Pol lost their guide, Archer keeps on going, somehow knowing where to go. They make it to the sanctuary of the Syrrantites and promptly get captured.

Meanwhile, on the ship, the crew analyze some Vulcan DNA they found on one of the bombs that didn’t detonate. While the DNA does belong to a Syrranite, T’Pau, it’s revealed it has been tempered with. They also have one survivor from the explosion, the guard at the entrance. He’s in a coma so they can’t question him, but a mind meld might be able to reach him. Soval reveals that he is a Syrranite, and performs his first meld and sees that the one that planted the bomb is someone from T’Las’ entourage – Stel, the Vulcan chief investigator.

Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Archer carries the Katra of Surak, his spirit or essence. It cannot be removed and so is stuck in Archer, who starts having visions and conversations with him. He insists that Archer has to find the Kir’Shara, his original teachings so that the Vulcan people can find a new path of enlightenment. So, of course Archer goes and finds it, ready to bring it to the capital. But oh no! They are discovered by Administrator V’Las and he just decides to carpet bomb the whole area to be fucking done with these mind melding deviants. Other ministers think this is kind of crazy, but hey, he’s the boss.

T’Pol’s mother (T’Les) is also revealed to be a Syrranite, and she tries to reconnect with T’Pol. She’s rejected, as she just sees this group as a cult. After the area gets bombed, she dies while T’Pol holds her in her arms. In the long term, this means the grounds for her marriage with Koss are void.

Archer, T’Pol and T’Las now need to bring the Kir’Shara to the capital to bring in this new path of enlightenment, but they are constantly under attack by Vulcan commandos. Will they ever reach their destination?!

Quite frankly, I can’t bring myself to keep writing episode synopsis. It was a bad idea in the first place. I hope you kinda get the picture. Sorry.

They do make it to the Vulcan HQ, revealing the true teachings of Surak which had been lost for ages, and revealing that V’Las was not acting very rationally. Especially as he was also orchestrating an attack against the Andorians while the whole Kir’Shara thing was going on. A battle between their fleets was actually ongoing – with Enterprise in the middle. Trip was trying to prevent a war, by ‘betraying’ the alliance with Vulcan to warn the Andorians. The episode ends with V’Las reporting on his failure to someone.. and that was.. a Romulan!

It’s no secret that the portrayal of the Vulcans was vastly different in Enterprise in comparison to the later series and this arc tried to explain why. Although they can never make a scene where a Romulan and a Human see each other (due to canon) – showing the Romulans interfering in Vulcan affairs is fair game, and a good idea too. It gives the hardcore fan a little more background as to what the Romulans were doing before their debut episode Balance of Terror that doesn’t hurt canon by bringing back a classic villain faction (unlike what happened to the pretty bad Ferengi episode). This also was the setup for my favourite arc of the series, the Babel Crisis.

The previous arc with the Augments was more of a love letter to, well, The Original Series. This arc was to fix one of the many faults this series had and bring it more in line with TOS, and I applaud that. Sadly, as good as it is, if the Vulcans hadn’t be fucked in early Enterprise, this episode would’ve been pointless. It’s a great solution to a stupid portrayal.

It also shows us the Romulans for the first time in Enterprise since Minefield, in which only the ships were shown along with some audio-only communication. This time, however, the Romulans have a purpose in the story. We only get a glimpse of the single Romulan and not a silly firefight with Archer or something. Moreover, we also get an idea about what four factions are doing in this arc:

  • The Romulans want to interfere in Vulcan affairs to unify their species once again (under their rule)
  • The Vulcans were being controlled by a Romulan puppet that wanted to wipe out dissidents and wanted another war with the Andorians to weaken both powers
  • The Andorians were preparing for another war with Vulcan, because they were expecting another attack
  • The Humans are trying to prevent war, in all forms. Be it a civil war or space war, they’re trying to prevent everyone from blowing up.

This was your Alpha Quadrant News Bulletin, thank you for reading. Next time, we’re looking at the only three loose episodes in this season, and I’ll pick a random character to feature. Maybe Reed. I’ve always liked him.

Price hikes, brands fighting and other musings about streaming

Back when I was a pupil at a blacksmith’s the one thing I learned the most is that the cheapest thing you produce often makes the best profit. In our case, it was a necklace, a hammered iron cross on a leather strap. In reality, the piece was laser cut from a generic steel sheet that we just heated up and gave some texture. Cost about twenty cents to produce, sold for about twenty to thirty euro. We sold those enough to warrant a new batch on a weekly basis. People might be unwilling to pay fifteen euros for a handmade handle for a door or a forty for a bottle stand you can attach to a wall, but jewelry always sells higher. Jewelry always sells, it’s something people get and understand. Its value is hammered into the people’s minds from a very young age, pun not intended. While this isn’t the razor-razor blade sales model, where you sell something big and expensive at a loss in order to sell something smaller multiple times, like a razor and its edges, selling people stuff they perceive is valuable at a proper price is far more lucrative. Drop that price a little lower, and you can slowly but surely rack that up once you’ve established how the customers see that price and understand the value you intend for it.

Streaming has become largely the new television. While we still talk about “series,” the word has again transformed to mean something else with streaming. It’s barely serialized anymore in its traditional sense, but I guess we can apply it just fine as these twelve-hour long movies are still chopped into twelve episodes. Television might not go anywhere in the foreseeable future, but consumers will find their chosen entertainment from streaming. Perhaps television will be relegated more towards serious matters like news and such, but before I see that happening, I hope I’m buried six feet under. With people being forced to stay inside and their other liberties being culled in order to battle the Shanghai Shivers, all these streaming platforms have been making a bank. They’ve got a whole year under their belt to get new customers in and assure that what they offer is essential and important. In some eyes, theirs is an essential service.

Just like how we could hike up the price of that piece of steel by giving it a perceived value as a piece of jewelry, streaming services want their service to be seen as the most valued. The only true way they can compete is with IPs, with Netflix amassing everything under the sun that Disney hasn’t, turning it into a cartoon and calling it anime. Netflix Originals, which often have nothing original in them, is their best bet alongside numerous other IPs they are able to showcase thanks to overseas licensing deals. Disney+ has that whole Disney library under its belt, and they’re desperately trying to make Star Wars work. Warner-Brothers movies are going to appear on HBO Max, because the theatres are still closed and they have to make money in some way. Amazon is coming out with that The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time series sometime in the future. Apple TV or whatever their own service was called were was to have The Foundation series, but that looked like a trainwreck from the start and anything but The Foundation. It looked like a generic SF war series. With modern television series, and by extension all the streaming series, looking just as good as the movies in the cinemas, something has to buckle. That something of course is the customers’ wallets.

Disney announced recently that Disney+’s subscription will hike up in price next March, as they are restructuring themselves to market their products directly to the customers through their streaming service. They’re not the only ones either. Hulu and Netflix joined the club and most likely everyone else will follow suit, assuming move high-budget movies and shows will be produced to battle for the consumer’s wallet. Weirdly enough, one service finds itself with too many subscribers, that might end up causing further price hikes thanks to needing more hardware infrastructure behind the scenes to make all things work as intended. In any case, it will be easier for these services to raise the price every now and then once the perception and their place in entertainment consumption have found its true footing, which probably means traditional television dies slowly out and movie theatres become something else. Maybe they become places for prestige showings, where you can finally eat a pizza or a burger in, or maybe they’ll manage to eke out a niche to live in.

This is a format war like we never had before. Prior to streaming wars, even if one format won over others, none of these big companies ended up pocketing most of the money from the consumers directly to their pocket. The information age has now allowed for companies finally to sidestep formats and the limitations they pose for them, i.e. they finally have full control of the media the consumer consumes but can not own at any point, and thus maximize the money they pocket. In that, this isn’t a format war but something new. While some moan how there are more than few streaming services out there, they’re ignoring the sheer danger of streaming monopoly would have. Some argue that Disney and Netflix share the media streaming monopoly and should be broken up. General consumers are quick to trade security and variety for comfort and ease of use. If one or just two services survive, all the eggs are in one basket and the consumer rights are very easily trampled on. However, because streaming is direct-to-customers with nothing in between, like it was with previous formats, there’s nothing holding them back from exercising the utmost bullshit corporate tactics they are able to employ.

Perhaps streaming services should get a similar frontend similar to television, where all services are gathered under one streaming device or program through which the customer can decide what to watch. Perhaps some of these streaming services would be free and be run on advertisements, maybe a few of them are government-run for news and other information bites. The consumer might be able to then pay for special services that they specifically want to watch without losing that comfort of having everything under one roof. You could either label these streaming services with a number or a letter for easier access too, though just listing them in alphabetical order probably would do just fine. Now, why does this idea sound familiar? I wonder…

Star Trek Enterprise – What it should have been (Part 2)

That time of the month is here again, time for a guest post. I’m just here to rant about Star Trek Enterprise yet again, and it looks like I will be for a while if I keep going at this pace. Here’s a link to part 1, should you need a refresher or want to check it out. Enjoy the ride.

Character Spotlight: Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III

Tucker is a damn good chief engineer, plain and simple. You got something broken, he’ll fix it with a can-do attitude. Never having visited an alien world, he is somewhat naive when it comes down to shared values between species. He hails from Florida and is top 5 most American characters in all of Star Trek, foiled only by former U.S. President Lincoln and the like.

When Enterprise finally started its mission to explore space after a rocky start with the Klingons, Tucker had to change his expectations for space quite a bit when they encountered a friendly, more advanced species called the Xyrillians. Being almost freaked out by the extremely alien ship (as opposed to something like Vulcans), he then decided to stick his hands into a bowl with marbles along with a Xyrillian, after which he got pregnant. Although this last element kinda ruins the episode for me (especially since they play it for laughs, it’s just throwing me off), the portrayal on the ship itself helps with his character a lot, since he really is hands deep in alien tech now – and it creeps him out.

As the seasons go on, he keeps proving his worth and expertise and even gets command experience during a conflict with the Vulcans and Andorians. Point being: you can count on Tucker.

His character undergoes a massive shift in the third season, as the Xindi weapon hit the U.S., but Florida in particular. Not too long after he hears that he lost his sister Elizabethin that attack. While she wasn’t seen or mentioned in any episodes before this, it changes Tucker to the hard-working smiling engineer to a bitter man with a lot of grief and anger who just wanted revenge. While not every first contact may be peaceful, outright hate towards another species from the humans hadn’t been portrayed like this before (you could make a point for the Borg, but they are hated by everyone or the Cardassians, but relations had been smoothed somewhat since that war concluded).

On their way to the Xindi, Tucker is so emotionally wound up that he cannot sleep anymore – so he’s forced into ‘Vulcan neuro-pressure’ with T’Pol by Doctor Phlox. These scenes usually felt quite hollow to me, a blatant attempt to put more sex appeal in Star Trek, but I suppose it is a way to get those two closer together with some glimpses of romance.

So when we finally enter season four, we still have this extremely handy engineer, but way more seasoned. He decides to travel to Vulcan together with T’Pol, only for him to get cucked and suddenly attends her wedding with Koss. What a bummer! Then more stuff happens and he blows up in the finale. What a bummer!

Augment Arc

This season is the season of three-parters. We kick things off with (more) remnants of the Eugenics Wars as a small group of rag-tag adolescents take over a Klingon Bird of Prey. Now, where did those Augments come from? Let’s ask the guy that stole a couple about 20 years back, Arik Soong. Oh, and also the Klingons are threatening with war if the Augments aren’t found. Soong promises to bring the Enterprise crew to the Augments but instead leads them in a wild goose chase in which multiple members of the crew get captured by Orion slavers.

The Augments: One big happy family

After failing to escape and with the rescue of the sold-off crew members, he sits in the brig again, moping. Thankfully his Augment children tracked down Enterprise and bust him out and they are preparing to save the rest of the Augment embryos, or as he calls them, his children.

He arrives at Cold Station 12, where all of the Augment embryos are kept, and threatens to kill the scientists there if they don’t hand them over. We are introduced to Phlox’ long time friend Jeremy Lucas from the Interspecies Medical Exchange. Enterprise arrives, but cannot do much since the Augments are sitting on a bazillion deadly pathogens and are keen on using them. After killing one doctor, Phlox is exposed to a pathogen and Lucas gives in and gives them access to the embryos to save his friend. Soong and the Augments escape again, but not just with the embryos, but with a melange of deadly pathogens as well.

Dr. Lucas admires a beautiful piece of weaponry held by Dr. Soong

Soong wants to hide and stay away from Enterprise, but one of the Augments, Malik, is more interested in finding the mysterious ship of Augments, the Botany Bay, but he gets overruled.

On their way to their hiding spot, the Briar Patch (the same one as in Star Trek: Insurrection) Soong starts editing the embryos again, to remove aggression and violent behaviour in the Augments. Malik is furious and comes up with another plan: loading up all the pathogens they collected, load them all up in a torpedo and fire at Klingon colonies! As the Klingons already know humans (Augments) stole one of their ships, they would declare war for sure. Soong is taken aback because that’s pretty much mass murder. Shortly after he’s locked in his quarters as he’s more trouble than he’s worth for Malik.

Soong escapes with the help of another Augment and rides an escape pod to safety – Enterprise, which is still following the Augment ship. As he’s being thrown in the brig yet again, he tells Archer about the plans of mass murder. In a truly dramatic finish, the Enterprise manages to arrive at the colony just in time to shoot the torpedo, and saving the Klingon colony. Malik refuses to surrender, and his ship explodes not much later, killing all the remaining Augments.

..or so you’d think, because when Soong is escorted to the brig (again), he drops from the ceiling of the corridor, and tries to kill him, having beamed aboard at the last second. In the end, Archer is forced to kill him.

The episode ends with Soong having lost confidence in genetics and the Augments, and decides to start work on an android of some type, which might be able to be created in a few generations..

Was it worth it? No, not like this.

This arc gives the audience a lot more information regarding Augments and some of the Eugenics Wars, such as being manipulated in the embryo stage, and not when a baby is born. We still see the ruthlessness of Augments, even in a younger state and the superiority complex regarding ‘lesser’ beings. Soong argues in the beginning that the source of Augment problems wasn’t the lack of high-grade technology, but the inability of humanity to put them to good use. Throughout the episode, he is steadfast in that he wants nobody to be killed, and that he just wants to live with his ‘children’ in peace. After the Augments defied his wishes, he became disillusioned and tried to fix the remaining embryos and thus admitting their flaws. After the close mass murder and the destruction of all the embryos he stopped work on it altogether.

Strangely enough, my personal favourite part about this episode was Jeremy Lucas, whom we’ve only heard about in letters from Phlox or in conversation. Phlox is often underwritten and underutilized, so the fact we actually see this friend from which he has learned so much about Earth (and vice versa) is a nice development for Phlox. It’s a shame it’s just this once, and he gets brutally tortured, but I’ll take it.

The Augments in this story are very young, and all fathered by Soong on a remote planet. Having taught them everything it’s no wonder he’s seen as their father, but he got arrested at some point and couldn’t return anymore. So the first time we see the Augments taking over the Klingon ship, they’re all wearing torn, stretched rags, remnants from their childhood clothing. With Enterprise’s focus on sex appeal, they couldn’t just leave that be and had to introduce a faux-romance plot within the Augment group as well, which did serve as to give them more character, but it felt a little shallow and just an excuse to show a lady in nothing but panties and a tank top.

Using Brent Spiner as Arik Song, and the android reference at the end was a nice nod, but in the end, this arc feels like a mildly enjoyable but unnecessary adventure. This arc was already in production before the Soong angle, as it previously featured Colonel Green, the infamous dictator after WW3. But because Spiner had expressed interest to appear again on Star Trek, this arc was rewritten to feature this Soong ancestor. It’s not surprising then that Spiner got a lot of screentime, and in my opinion, too much screentime. Sure, we get some nice moments, a small moral debate with Archer about his dad’s illness that could’ve (or might’ve) been cured with eugenics, but most of the main cast isn’t very personally involved in this event, as opposed to the upcoming arcs that have higher involvement for the cast.

In the next post, we take a look at the Syrranites arc, along with a look at T’Pol. Maybe more, I don’t know. It’s just more and more clear that I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew.

Pizza Pizza

As long as I can remember, Domino’s Pizza has been the butt of jokes to the point even my Vietnamese associates know a few. They had a massive problem with PR and their pizza for numerous years and found themselves in a downward spiral in the mid-2000s, striking the all-time low in 2008 when their stock price was just three dollars. Nowadays they go for around 380 bucks. It wasn’t the easiest route.

Despite Domino’s hitting their lowest point, they experienced a massive PR crisis following Michael Setzer’s and Kristy Hammond’s Youtube video showcasing how much they loved to ruin the food they were preparing. They pleaded guilty a year later. This video effectively confirmed how Domino’s food was prepared in the minds of the consumers, further enforcing the jokes that were made and pushed customers away. It didn’t help that the video ended up being one of the top search results if you searched for Domino’s at the time. Even disregarding this incident, Domino’s was seen as some sort of crime against food and ingredients, or as Adweek’s short story put it on their focus testing, it’s startling to hear the degree to which consumers regard Domino’s as the embodiment of culinary evil. During this and numerous other focus tests Domino’s pizzas were called all sorts of names and claims of them using fake cheese and the like in their products were common, hence the jokes of the time. Some of them have survived long enough to be part of pizza-eating culture.

Domino’s decided that they need to turn their ship around and hard. Ever since their record-low stock price and the whole PR disaster with Setzer and Hammond, Domino’s began to comb through their complaints and reviews for the most common negative mentions and comparisons, as mentioned in their four and a half minute documentary what they were doing. This video, while being a corporate produced piece, is one of the things Domino’s did to have that boat turned. They went back to the recipes and worked on them and revised what they were doing wrong. Supposedly more training was given to the workers to prevent the mishaps the aforementioned video caused. Domino’s, in all effect, owned that they were rather shit company with workers who didn’t care if your pizza was terrible or not. The linked video shows how proud Domino’s was after they went and created new pizzas, which were more or less made from scrap. Everything from the dough to toppings was tested multiple times over and changed wherever needed. Whether or not this is all true will probably be always an open question, yet even from this video it is evident how much money Domino’s spent to revise their image by revising their image through their product. They even went as far as providing their focus group members with these new pizzas to test and get their opinions. They made these into ads, no less.

Domino’s Pizza owning up and takings steps to deliver to the customer the kind of pizza they wanted while making a public, transparent stunt out of it all has made them the most valued pizza restaurant chain. While some still retain the image of Domino’s being the worst kind of pizza you can have, that’s rather outdated view by about a decade. That, and they probably never had Greek pizza. Domino’s stocks have been in constant rise, and they’ve been trying to renew customer interest in various manners after their renewal, like collaborating with Hatsune Miku in Japan. part of their whole shtick of being transparent to at least some extent, they’ve allowed Food Insider to make a short video how their pizza is made and delivered, though personally, I have to say I’m not exactly excited by the idea of the dough being made elsewhere from the spot. Delivery food is making some nice bucks at the moment, so Domino’s made some nice bucks earlier this year as people didn’t want to leave their homes.

What’s your point? I hear Wes asking me there. My point is that Domino’s pizza listened to their customers, changed their product and working methods to better fit the demand. Not only they were willing to take in feedback and were honest about it to themselves, but were willing to make rather transparent transition from what they were to what they wanted to be. Customers love that, and that made them a billion-dollar company.

This same set of ideas can be applied to any industry on their basis. While the creative industries want to sell the image of one creator or a team of creative individuals delivering an earth-shattering piece that can only be experienced in so many fashions, the reality is that any product needs to be carefully planned out and balanced between the original intent and the customers’ wants. That is far harder than you would expect, as some corporate cultures do everything by data alone, which can lead to discarding feedback in total and the only thing that says anything is sales data. This can be combined with long-term career businessmen, who are hard stuck on their own methods of working, as it has produced large revenues up to that point already, making the total renewal of their productions hard if not impossible. In the foodstuff world, this is easier to do than e.g. in automobile production or the like, where you can only begin to start this process with the next series of cars rather what you already have in production. With games, music and film this could be implemented in an easier manner, but it requires humility among these egos, and that’s something the self-clashing creative industries do not see too often. Imagine if, for example, EA would make a public announcement that they’ve listened to all the feedback they’ve gotten through the years and have begun to consider how they produce, develop and publish games, as well as how they tackle advertising in their games or in which manners lootbox mechanics function. It’d take years for them to root out these methods and manners they’ve cultivated throughout the years and end up putting efforts into making games that wouldn’t nearly kill their workforce or would contain whatever is currently the most underhanded way of making that extra money. Something like this happening in the creative industries is as likely to happen as a pig flying through your window. It happens on occasions, but extremely rarely.

Few posts ago I wrote how I’m tired of the PR game. Domino’s Pizza turned their PR disaster into a chance of renewing their image through transparency. Because transparency to that effect would necessitate losing face first in order to gain higher PR wins in the long run, you won’t see this happening with franchises like Star Wars or any of the botched film franchises. You will never see one of the head honchos stepping up, admitting the money they spent on a movie bombing like no other was a mistake and that they will look into renewing and satisfying the customer. That would go against how things are presented to the audience, the whole Hollywood/ creative myth, how glamorous it is to be a successful creator. Yet even sure-shot franchises like Star Wars, Alien and The Terminator have slumped, the latter two effectively becoming more or less dead thanks to the latest movies. Hell, even the Predator franchise is back in the casket after The Predator managed to fuck up the series. As much as it often goes against the corporate grain, transparency and honesty are two things the customer values. If a corporation manages to be open about their faults and missteps about themselves and is visibly improving themselves, that creates almost natural emotional connections to both your current customers and your possible customers.

The one place where transparency should be the most important bit is in crowdfunding like Kickstarter. If you’ve run a Kickstarter and have managed to each your funding goal, every single thing you do with the money or with the project should be logged in without censorship shared with the backers. All the good you do is doubly more worthwhile when you admit fucking something up and explaining the methods of either supplementing or fixing what’s gone wrong. With crowdfunded products you have to remember that these aren’t your customers; these are the people who funded your project. Being transparent with them is the least you can do. The PR game wants to mangle and twist every screw-up into something positive in false manners, and more often than not the customer can see through that. It’s up to each individual customer how much leeway they might allow the PR game, and most often you can see it in the form of taking their business elsewhere. Of course, if you proceed to attack the customer when you want them to buy something from you, well, not everyone is masochistic.

Perhaps Marvel and DC should take after Domino’s Pizza. Japanese comics have been outselling American Superhero comics for some time now. In the face of this fiercer competition from beyond the ocean, it would be a good moment for American comic companies and creators to stop for a moment if they’re doing something wrong.

Hardy Science Fiction

For the last decade or so I have seen a change how some consumers view science fiction and fundamentally misunderstanding it. The core argument is that something isn’t science fiction after all, despite being labelled so for numerous years, if not decades prior, because it’s not realistic, or the science that it supposes simply couldn’t happen. Sidelining Clarke’s law about Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, for now, this is a patently false view on science fiction. It does, however, fit hard science fiction, a sub-genre of science fiction that is all about diamond-hard fiction without breaking the current understanding of science. By their very nature, their view on science will be obsoleted in a few years as science advances, they’ll turn what some people call soft science fiction.

Haldeman’s Forever War is a personal choice of work if I need to recommend a book with power armours and time dilation

The audience knows that the science presented in a science fiction work is largely fictitious. It’s part of the silent agreement with the author, where the viewer has been presented more or less a world where some elements are more believable than others regarding science. Some stories, like The Andromeda strain, stick extremely close to the guns and doesn’t veer away from possible reality. The suspension of disbelief happens with the whole point about a virus coming from outer space and being able to evolve like it does in the book, the rest what science fiction is at its core; it asks the question What if… SF handles concepts more than straight fantasy does, though SF in itself is a branching genre from fantasy. While fantasy is about grand themes and builds upon those themes, SF explores concepts. For example, in Asimov’s short story Jokester a question was passed to Multivac, a Superintelligent computer, where do jokes come from as they seem to be something that everyone tells, but nobody truly invents. To spoil over this sixty-year-old short story, the end result Multivac ends up coming with is that all jokes humanity tells are by some other extraterrestrial power that is implementing jokes into humanity as a control device. It also came to the conclusion that when the first human figures this out, jokes and humour would cease to be implemented as the testing has now been sullied and a new factor would replace it. Multivac in itself isn’t the science fiction element in this short story, nor are the god-like extraterrestrials, but the concept of humanity being used as lab rats. Asimov took a look at the concept and wrote a small story around it with a humorous, even if dark, angle. Similarly, Haldeman’s sequel novel Forever Free to his masterpiece Forever War was ultimately about the same concept with completely different kind of approach and realisation.

Asimov’s Foundation follows this the same kind of path. To describe the works shortly, it is about how to shorten the Galactic Dark Age that follows after mankind’s Galactic Empire falls. How the Galactic Empire, or how it has formed, how people interact across the planets and so isn’t the science fiction part, neither is the fall itself. The fall, in actuality, is merely background material and is based on the fall of the Roman Empire. That parts historic, not SF. The part that makes the Foundation series pinnacle of science fiction literature, something that makes it practically unadaptable, is psychohistory; a fictional field of science that combines statistics and psychology. Through psychohistory, one can make accurate predictions on how large groups of people will act based on those people and surrounding events, as long as they remain unaware of the analysation. The modern field of Big Data largely follows the same ideas, but in practice, the two are very different entities. Psychohistory is the fictional science element that in itself is a concept worth exploring. It opened more doors for Asimov to explore from how one group of people could control others through representing technology as a kind of religion to how it all can be taken down by one element that isn’t in the calculations. Asimov is famous for setting rules and regulations to his works with Laws of Robotics being his most famous. What most people don’t realise is that Asimov extensively explores these concepts and their failings to the point that his works alone are the best arguments why the Laws of Robotics are flawed. Similarly in the Foundation series, he explored how one inhuman element, a mutant, can throw a monkey wrench to otherwise perfectly working system. He then proceeded to explore how such things could be prevented or perhaps even corrected. Space travel and all that is merely flavour and the background to which the main dish is served.

While many news has stated teleportation to be science fact, its practical uses are still extremely limited, if not completely impractical

Similarly, Star Trek is often seen as a science fiction show because there are people in space going swish in a space ship. A hard science fiction writer wouldn’t be placing any space vessels outside our own solar system, as the science we have now doesn’t give any realistic methods to achieve even proper portions of the speed of light. We’d run out of time if we’d begin to travel interstellar space, the distances are just too large to get across. Star Trek could be said to be the archetypical positive work of science fiction, asking what if humanity had socially evolved to be a benevolent entity. Much like Asimov, many episodes question the Federation of Planets’ standards and ways of living to creator Roddenberry’s chagrin. Star Trek as the wagon show set in space itself could be regarded as science fiction, though much like with other popular SF works of the time, it gathers science facts of the time and makes assumptions in order to build that veneer again. The science in itself may be spotty, yet the function of science was aimed to be valid. The writing team employed some NASA members to ask what was possible and what wasn’t, but as with anything, the story comes first. Captain Kirk fighting a giant green lizard may seem hacky and laughable, yet at the core, the episode is about two completely alien cultures being forced to face each other to the end. The episode takes the initial What if… about humanity being able to become a force of good and reach the stars, challenging it in face of death and destruction, then given the possibility to destroy this malevolent force. Little things in Star Trek have become reality in a way or another, like the whole thing about portable phones and communicators. In the same manner, Orwell’s 1984 is effectively the opposite of Star Trek‘s positive view and explores the possibility of the world becoming a totalitarian hellhole akin to the Soviet Union. The telescreen technology is a possibility, but that is simply a tool to be able to tell the story through, much like how thought policing is.

While Mobile Suits may be unrealistic, FLAG’s HAVWCs are probably the mos realistic depiction mechas to date with their own specific applications on the field

Mecha, giant robots, is often taken as a method to tell an SF story. However, just like Star Trek, mecha is the framing device for the main dish. It’s the flavour something is painted in. One of the best examples can be found in Mobile Suit Gundam, in which most people would coin mechas and space set to be the whole SF thing. However, the main SF element in Gundam is exploring the next step in human evolution; the Newtypes, humans with an extra sense of space and time that they are able to share among each other. The space setting is necessary, as the show asks What if humanity would need to evolve in space, and how it would proceed. Then it explores what political and social implications it would yield to mankind in the guise of a war story. You could change the mechas Gundam to something else, powered armour or space tanks, and it’d work just as well. However, remove Newtypes and the core structure that holds both the setting and show’s concept together falls apart wholesale. Much like how Asimov explored the faults of his concepts, Gundam has seen numerous entries questioning the validity of humanity being able to share their thoughts across space and time. Yes, everybody knows mechas like Mobile Suits are impossible, impractical at best. That doesn’t take away the fun and interest in building on the idea and enjoying the flavour, basking in the intricate designs and history built on the already set up fiction.

As mentioned earlier, science fiction will always grow old. If SF work emphasize is mainly in the science or how it works based on then-current understanding, it’ll always be out of date. Giving a fictitious explanation based on the scientific method will always age better. Simply leaving something important unanswered often leads to weak world-building. Jurassic Park is an example of a work with extremely detailed and well-maintained world-building and explanations for its science. It is also an example of a work that, despite being heavily rooted in science that was possible, it is now an example of a work where we know about dinosaurs and cloning so much that the book is out of date. Nevertheless, this doesn’t take anything away from the story itself, or from the question What if humans were able to bring dinosaurs back. It brings more than just that on the table and explores more than one concept, like certain applications of the Chaos Theory. SF Debris did an excellent series on Jurassic Park this summer, which I wholeheartedly recommend watching.

The Lens itself could be considered a true and tested SF trope in itself, it being a sort of shared supercomputer

Even older works of science fiction seem rather weird to our modern eyes. For example, the classic Lensman series of books by Doc Smith has no computers in them despite an extremely advanced form of space travel that can cross galaxies and even dimensions. Everything is done by a slide rule, which is an analogue calculator. Or if you want to use the term used for people who used to compute numbers, an analogue computer. Some of Asimov’s earlier works lack computers as we understand them as well. Some of Asimov’s works began to include the aforementioned Multivac supercomputer but described some of them taking the size of whole planets. This was as according to science as understood at a specific time when it was assumed that only a few computers would be built due to their sheer size. Nowadays we have computers in our pockets every day that would have been considered impossible half a century ago. If science doesn’t have answers at the time to a problem a writer has, fiction has to take its place. The writer has to come up with a fictional explanation to the issue that hasn’t been solved or doesn’t have an answer. We can imagine many things based on popular culture and relevant science, but if neither presents any relevant information, we can’t imagine such things existing. There are things we can’t imagine existing because they haven’t been invented yet, nor has the science they’re based on. To use Lensman as an example again, it plays with the concept of negative matter. Not anti-matter, but negative matter, which would react the opposite it as it was interacted with. For example, if you pushed it, it would move back towards you. Anti-matter would be detected only later and its properties were found to be wildly different, but Doc Smith had some foresight into a concept of opposing matter. Lack of any kind of knowledge on the papers, however, forced him to use his artistic license. Even things like warp drive have been suggested to be a possibility, namely with the Alcubierre drive, but even in this, some elements are missing. The drive would necessitate negative energy and anti-gravity, neither of which Einstein’s theory of relativity considers impossible. In practice, it may be, but there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence to either direction.

Science fiction expects the science found in the work to be fictitious. Unless it is hard science fiction, the science itself does not have to be real, merely consistent with itself and the established scientific method. However, it is always taking back seat the moment the story needs it to. Star Trek, despite its science mostly bullshit, is largely consistent with itself. Nevertheless, what the scientific concept ultimately truly is often isn’t all that clear. Spaceships, lasers and all that we consider as old tropes in the genre used to be new and cutting-edge ideas. A raygun was a valid concept in the form fiction often describes it, before further exploration in the technology ultimately deemed it more or less impossible due to materials and physics involved. Material science, science overall, evolves at its own pace, always improved by necessity in burst-like motions. Many times we don’t even consider small things in our lives to be the end result of massive leaps and bounds in technology and science. The fact that we have a small diode, smaller than the size of your fingernail, now being able to be brighter than the sun and lit up a whole room. I’m looking at an old lightbulb on my desk I found today in my mother’s storage and wondering how this more than twenty-year-old bulb can last less time than my LED bulb, how it eats more energy and yet gives less light. The concept of itty bitty lights in a torch from fifty years ago is now a reality. The way science fiction, in general, represents its impossible science doesn’t matter, but what it does with its concepts and how it tells its stories, is.