~by Ryan B
I want to bounce off of this Alyssa Rosenberg post, not because we have a deep disagreement, but because I think she’s not being totally fair. She’s certainly right that Abrams’ insistence that a gay relationship work with the plot is at odds with the way he portrayed the Spock/Uhura relationship in the first film. And she’s also right that what worked for that relationship in the context of the film is that it is genuine and natural, two characters behaving the way people do in tense situations, and that there’s nothing inherently straight about that. But I’m just not sure how far that takes us.
In defense of Abrams, he clearly wants to use Star Trek, a show that really is about what the future would be like if liberalism won and became the dominant ideology of humanity, to both portray the reality of same-sex love and advance the cause of gay relationships in a larger cultural sense. And he is struggling, in a way I think Rosenberg doesn’t give him credit for, to figure out how to make that work in a movie that has to be simultaneously a blockbuster, a work of art (for some definition of “art” – don’t interrogate this too much, please), and apparently now also a liberal clarion call. That’s hard!
How do you make this work without it being pure tokenism?
The thing you don’t really want your audience to do is walk out of the movie saying, “That was okay, but why was Bones gay?” (This, for what I hope are obvious reasons, is my favorite potentially gay character). I realize there is a kind of double-standard here, in that (as above) there’s no organic reason why the story requires Spock and Uhura to be a couple, but you can’t just wish away the double standard because you don’t like it. Audiences aren’t ripped out of the story when a guy and a girl kiss or do the other things guys and girls sometimes do with each other. If two dudes smooch without any particular reason, especially if it’s the kind of scene centerpiece that Spock and Uhura’s first kiss in the elevator is, it will be no better than Abrams putting a giant neon sign on the bridge behind Kirk’s head.
The counterpoint here is that maybe that’s exactly what Abrams should do. In the context of the story, we have to assume the Federation is pretty pro-gay (unless the liberal agenda gets severely made over sometime in the next couple centuries), so none of the characters would think it’s at all weird for two dudes or ladies to just start kissing. Put that on the screen, front and center, and let our discomfort be the story. That might be a good film, and it might be a film I would like quite a bit, but it would be a very hard thing for a major studio to allow in one of its tent-pole franchises. Maybe that’s the point, and it certainly would be appropriate in some sense for Star Trek to “boldly go” there, but it sure is asking a lot.
Also, I have to say, one of my favorite things about Rosenberg’s post, and it just warms the cockles of my lefty heart, is her sarcasm about Nero’s opposition to interracial dating. How many people even noticed that Spock and Uhura are different colors? I actually didn’t even think about it until she mentioned it (which may say more about me than anything else). That’s exactly the kind of progress we’re working on here, and it’s why getting this right matters.