Storytelling is one of the oldest artforms to ever exist. It likely predates civilization as we know for several millenia, if not more. The oldest cave paintings are 64,000 years old, so telling stories to one another has to be at LEAST as old. Imagine cavemen sitting in their caves gambling with rocks and telling their Juicy Stakes stories to each other.
It’s a vital part of our culture, whether we’re talking about true history, heroes and legends, or myths and gods. The archetypes found in stories can reveal something fundamental in the essence of what it means to be human, and the popularity of one topic or another can reveal the burgeoning issues and thoughts of the culture at large.
So when somebody steps in and alters a known story, it’s canon, what does that mean for the rest of us?
The Ancient Storytellers… were just the same as us
Despite how I’ll probably begin ranting about some modern IPs soon enough, altering stories to reflect the ideologies and philosophies of newer authors has happened since ancient times.
The Illiad, a story of the Trojan War, has a conversation between Zeus and Aphrodite (who was a War Goddess in Sparta) where he tells her that women don’t belong on the battlefield- which implies that the question might have been up for debate at the time.
This is an example of an author inserting his opinion into a story to make a point. Of course, the actual story of the Trojan war didn’t have this happen- in fact, whether or not the Trojan war even happened at all is up for debate. The point is that the story was altered over time by a later author with his biases and opinions mixed into the newer version of the story.
This kind of retelling is common across mythologies, as they were highly region-dependent, and often took from other local tales and stories as inspiration. Cultural clashes played a large part too in how mythologies evolved, such as when Christian monks transcribed Norse stories but with certain changes to make them more palatable to the Church- and now the real stories are all but lost to time. (I can’t find the source I learned this from though, so take this with a grain of salt).
Once we reach the modern era, we see that the situation hasn’t changed so much as it has been amplified… by Hollywood’s multi-million dollar budgets. It’s been known for a long time that pop culture can change the actual culture, and Hollywood has been doing exactly that for nearly a century now.
In the 30s and 40s, patriotic anti-German/Japanese films were made. During the 60s and 70s, sci-fi like Star Wars was produced as man landed on the moon for the first time. During the 80s and 90s, blaxploitation films were popularized as Black Americans threw off the shackles of Jim Crow and segregation.
During the early 2000s, movies about kick-ass American soldiers going out to kill terrorists and save the day blew up. Pop culture is a reflection of society’s virtues and values… and vice versa.
All Hail Our Disney Overlord
The problem now is that there is a massive cultural difference between those in Hollywood making the media, and those who consume it. Ideas and virtues that used to be accepted as nonstarters have been thrown out in favor of non-meritocratic epidermal favoritism.
Compounding this issue is Hollywood’s insistence on squeezing every intellectual property for every penny they are worth. If a franchise has a following, Hollywood WILL make a sequel out of it.
So where does that leave us? Well… Star Wars and NuTrek, I suppose.
The reason I even sat down as began writing this article is because of a video I watched discussing a rumor that Alex Kurtzman, the current head of all the new Star Trek stuff, is threatening to intentionally sabotage Picard season 3 if the studio doesn’t give in to his demands (it was unclear as to what those actually were). However, I, along with everyone else who watched the video, thought, “…that would be worse than what Kurtzman is currently doing to Star Trek how exactly?”
Because STD and Strange New Worlds and the Section 31 show that’s in the works are not Star Trek.
Now, how can I say that? I neither own the rights to Star Trek, have never worked for CBS or Paramount, and have never even written Star Trek fan fiction. What gives me any kind of authority to say what is or isn’t Star Trek?
Art is a medium that must take into account its audience. There is a soul to artwork that highly depends on the maker creating a piece of work and the audience it’s intended for. Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek was built on a vision of optimism- one where Humanity ascended from its base instincts and became better.
This is extremely evidenced in TNG’s first season, where they point constantly point out details like how they no longer kill animals for food, have currency, smoke cigars, or even use foul language anymore.
Later Star Trek properties, like Deep Space Nine, took those kinds of people and put them in situations that fundamentally challenged those ideals- but it never strayed from that vision. Humanity was better, but not as good as they led themselves to believe sometimes.
Compare that with STD, where characters constantly swear, murder people arbitrarily, berate one another, and argue that first strike policies and mutiny are acceptable solutions to disagreements. Combine that with an utter lack of respect in both aesthetics and canonical history of the franchise (out of place technology, retconning character histories, etc) and is any wonder why I, and many fans, don’t consider any of it canon?
This is a modern version of Death of the Author- where instead of just ignoring authorial intent, we just ignore everything the new authors put out.
Of course, I have no actual authority on the matter. Any fan can pick whatever medium to like, as they please. Some even like Strange New Worlds and the Lower Decks cartoon.
However, this speaks to me of a phenomenon I’m seeing across the movie industry as a whole, like with The Mandalorian, where mediocre products are being hailed / praised by the fans because they are merely okay instead of complete garbage.
Even then, the situation is rocky, with The Book of Boba Fett completely undermining two seasons worth of The Mandalorians plot in two episodes.
So… where does that leave us? Well, it’s my hope that enough fans eventually see the light and stock forking their money over to companies that hire men like Alex Kurtzman that seem to actively despise everything about the franchises they are in charge of.
Hollywood is a cesspool and has been for a long time (coughWeinstiencough) and I sincerely hope it crashes and burns at this point. Disney+ too, while we’re at it.
And while I’m dreaming, I’d like a pet dragon.