Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Star Trek, Respectable Characters and What Makes a Story Worth Reading

(Author's note: I didn't make this meme. I'd credit the appropriate party if I had any clue who they were.)

Once upon a time I was hanging out with a pretty cool female who suggested that I read Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I mean, the premise sounded okay. There was this girl and she had a thing for this vampire and maybe a werewolf. I like vampires and werewolves. Who doesn't? I mean, I've loved Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles since I found out they existed. Granted, that wasn't until I bought Interview With the Vampire on VHS, but that's because none of my friends told me about it. Werewolves rock too, whether we're talking about Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf or the super evil archetypal werewolves in the Dungeons and Dragons. Hell, even the Worgen in World of Warcraft would be pretty cool if they weren't Alliance scum.

So, I bet her that if she read Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, I would read Twilight. She read, I believe, the first five Potter books. My copy of  Twilight went against the wall at high velocity about one hundred forty pages in. The last I heard about it, my niece was enjoying it. She was about thirteen at the time. And that's about right for that character. Stephanie Meyer got lucky that her books hit when they did. The Harry Potter Generation had just reached the age where they would be reading Young Adult books instead of children's fiction. There was a huge niche and she exploited it. That lead to literally millions of sales. Here's the thing though: Bella is not the type of character that most people would find entertaining.

The reason that Bella fails as a character outside of a narrow niche is because she's not the type of person that most people respect. Seriously. Bella is not a hardworking person doing her best to overcome a problem. She's a whiny little brat who acts like a victim and bases her self worth on what some boy thinks of her. There's just nothing here that would interest most readers, even if Meyer did manage to find a large following among a specific group.

What makes a story worth reading is the relationship between the characters and the audience. Readers like to think of themselves as being admirable people. They identify with things that they see in a character that they believe about themselves. Notice that I'm not talking about race or gender because, except in the case of an extremely bigotted person, they're irrelevant. Seriously. The only thing that keeps a white person from identify with a black person, or a black person from identifying with a white one, is hatred. We're all people and, while culture may make a difference in how things are obtained and expressed, at the end of the day we all want basically the same things.  Let's talk about a few Trek characters and why they work:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is a series that I enjoyed. I always admired Benjamin Sisko, the commander of Deep Space Nine and captain of the Defiant. Sisko is a man who, in many ways, finds himself in situations that he would rather not have to deal with. He never asked to be the Emissary of a religion he doesn't even believe in. His wife was killed in combat and he never wanted that. He loses his station to the enemy at one point. Benjamin Sisko is a man who, at any given moment, could have given it all up, gotten a prescription for Fuckitol and just walked out of Starfleet. He didn't. He did his job. He got through whatever life threw at him. I'm not saying it was easy. The fact of the matter is that it wasn't. He did what he needed to do. Anyone who knows the series knows the episode, “In the Pale Moonlight”. (Granted, some don't like it but it's one of my favorites.) The actions Sisko takes in that episode, including the sabotage of a Romulan ship and all of its crew and passengers by proxy, are not exactly admirable. The fact of the matter is that they work. The Romulans join the war effort. It's not polite. It's not easy. He just does it. I've been there. Sometimes in life you have to do things that make you uncomfortable so that you can do what needs to be done. I respect that. I gained a lot of respect for Sisko because he did it, even if what he did wasn't really morally right. It was also probably illegal, but war is war and law only has limited relevance in a wartime environment.

The list of admirable characters in Deep Space Nine is a long one.
Worf, who lives an honorable life and refuses to abandon his heritage.
Kira, who lives a life of religious devotion and fights for what she believes no matter the cost.
Worf, who lives up to a different code as best he can and manages to employ many and entertain countless others.
Bashir, the medic who is not afraid to wield a phaser when he needs to.
Jake, who grew up surrounded by expectations and did his own thing anyway. That took guts.
Nog, who did the same thing, albeit with different expectations and outcome.
Keiko, the military spouse struggling to help her husband with his career and still progress in hers, all while taking care of the kids.

Pretty much the only one of the main cast that I didn't like was Rom because he was just a goofy dumbass. I'm sure there was some redeeming characteristic there, but I'm not sure what it was. He was used by everybody, fell for everyone and ended up as Grand Nagus. I don't get that dude at all.

Then there is Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. She ends up on the other side of the galaxy, seventy-plus years from home. Then she buckles up her chin strap and gets it done. She ends up in charge of two trashed ships and has to combine their crews to make one that will work. She conducts diplomacy with alien races that no one has ever heard of. She maintains her interest in scientific exploration. She builds relationships with and between the members of her crew. She never gives up and she gets them all home. Catherine Janeway FTW! (Oh, and who didn't want to be successful author/holoprogram writer and all around scamp Tom Paris?)

I was a nerd growing up. I took a lot of shit from a lot of people because I was intelligent and let it show. I heard a lot from parents and other family members about not worrying about it. They all told me about how I shouldn't worry about it. I always heard about how people were jealous. You know who my earliest idol was? Do you know who I wanted to be? Spock. Why? He was smart as hell and in complete control of his emotions. He would've never felt the pain. And my God was that guy smart. I've watched a lot of shows and movies. I've read a ton of books. I have never, ever wanted to be someone so badly in my life.

I could go on but I won't. There are so many more characters: Uhura, McCoy, Sulu. Data, Picard, Riker, Troi, both Crushers (at least if you were a couple years younger than Wesley the first time through.) DS9 I've covered pretty well. Chakotay, Kim, Torres. Archer, Trip. I haven't seen Discovery. My Wi-Fi sucks and I don't want to pay for the streaming service. I'm sure there are some good ones there too.

Those are all characters that fans can identify with. They're all characters with admirable characteristics that make them fun to watch. They're not just people you can identify with, they're people you want to identify with. That's what makes them fun. That's what makes people spend their money.

Some Star Trek related products are available at the links below:

1 comment:

  1. And the fact that people like to read about characters they identify with is exactly why so many women read and enjoy Twilight. A lot of women identify with Bella. They feel uninteresting and not worthy. And most women have felt this at some point in their life. We read things like Twilight and feel like maybe we have a chance to experience happiness too.