Some legitimate history about one of the greatest linguistic accomplishments of all time.
Star Trek, of course–what kind of question is that? Actually, if I’m going to write an essay, I should have more to say….
Star Trek, in its original incarnation (which I will henceforth refer to by the standard fan abbreviation TOS for “The Original Series”) began its prime-time network run on NBC in 1966, at which time I was three years old. Its last season ended in 1969, at which time I was six, and about to begin the first grade. I know Mom and Dad watched it, so I no doubt did, as well. I’ve seen every episode multiple times since, and given that, it’s hard to sort out any genuine memories of the series’s original airing.
It doesn’t really matter, though. Throughout my childhood and young adulthood, TOS was more or less constantly in syndication somewhere on one channel or another. Every time it was available on any of the channels we got, I always watched it. For reasons that are obscure, certain episodes (e.g. “The City on the Edge of Forever” and “A Piece of the Action”) were in very heavy rotation, whereas others (such as “Errand of Mercy” and the insanely elusive “The Mark of Gideon”) were rarely if ever aired. I made it my goal to watch every one of the original seventy-nine episodes at least once. I set this goal at the age of around twelve or thirteen, and it took into my mid-twenties to complete it, but complete it I did. In the meantime, my involvement with Star Trek was expanding far beyond watching reruns.
This is a follow-up of sorts to my recent post on aliens, robots, and perpetual motion. There, I rather harshly criticized the tendency of many science fiction (henceforth SF) writers to portray robots, androids, and sometimes aliens as being capable of functioning with no energy inputs of any kind. It gets a bit irritating for those of us who are scientifically inclined, and it would be nice, once in a while, to see someone actually address the issue—having a robot being charged, for example.
Despite this, I have still enjoyed many books, movies, and TV series with such perpetual-motion robots. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation throughout its run, despite the fact that Data never once was shown being charged. I also have read all the robot stories of the granddaddy of robot stories, Isaac Asimov. Even he, to the best of my knowledge, never explained how robots are powered (I am open to correction on this if anyone has any references). Certainly, Asimov knew better. The thing is that, as he himself pointed out, the appeal of robots in fiction is not mainly about how they work, but our fascination with human-like beings we ourselves have created. It is the mixed fascination and fear, expressed as far back as Frankenstein—fascination that we ourselves become like God; fear that our creations will rise up against us. The very play that gave us the word “robot”, R.U.R. (an abbreviation for “Rossum’s Universal Robots”), by Karel Čapek, expresses this fear explicitly—the robots rise up and overthrow mankind.
The point is that sometimes SF gives us potent themes that are more important than details that get the science exactly right. This leads to the topic I want to talk about here: What should one expect from good SF in terms of scientific accuracy? That is a long-debated topic, and I make no claims to come to a definitive conclusion here; but I do want to look at some of the things that work for me, personally, at least.
Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you–Simon and Garfunkel, “Mrs. Robinson”
Sometimes I feel that way about Carl Sagan. Carl Sagan, for those of my readers who may be too young to know of him, was probably the greatest and most familiar science popularizer of the last century. He was especially visible throughout the 1970’s, which was a partial inspiration of this series, of which this is the long-delayed first post. Sagan was more than just a 70’s icon, though. I think he is a symbol of a bygone–and in some ways, better–time.
Carl Sagan had an M.S. in physics and a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics. At various times, he worked closely with NASA (he conceived the idea for the plaque placed on the space probes Pioneer10 and Pioneer 11) , had Top Secret clearance at the U.S. Air Force and Secret clearance with NASA, was a consultant to the RAND Corporation, published research on the atmosphere of Venus, and researched the possibility of extraterrestrial life. For nearly the last thirty years of his life, he was associated with Cornell University. Beyond his professional and scientific accomplishments, substantial as they were, Sagan was best known for his extraordinary effectiveness in bringing science to the masses through all the available media of the day: print (magazines, newspapers, and books), film, and TV. Had he survived to today (he died, tragically, of complications related to myelodysplasia at the age of sixty-two in 1996), I don’t doubt he would have had a substantial social media presence.
Awhile back, I wrote a series on Mystery Science Theater 3000. My main focus was on what I saw as the archetypes of the Trickster and the Holy Fool that one could discern in the series. However, I also talked a little bit about how I came to be a fan of the show, and my thoughts on the two hosts, Joel Hodgson and Mike Nelson. The previous seasons have been around long enough that I assume everyone has seen them by now, and I won’t be discussing them, anyway.
As MST3K fans are doubtless aware, in April of 2017, the show, after many years off the air, returned with much fanfare and popular acclaim, as well as with new cast. I watched the new season–the 11th–and enjoyed it. It occurred to me that having written previously on MST3K, I should post something about its newest iteration. However, alas, at that time, I had lapsed from regular blogging. Of late, I have got back to at least periodic writing here at the Chequer-Board. I decided, therefore, that it was high time that I should return to MST3K and to write about my thoughts on the revived show.
Spoiler Alert: There will be mild spoilers for Season 11 below.
Awhile back I wrote four posts on the series Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ve recently decided to writer another post, and more may follow in the future. Therefore, I’ve decided to make an index page to get them all together in one place. Enjoy!
Last time we looked at the changes in technology related to television in the 90’s and early 2000’s. The sum total of these changes gave us much more control over what we watched. This in turn had effects on the content itself. How did this happen, exactly? Read on.
The first increases in control were cable TV (more different channels serving more niche interests) and home video (VHS). With the first, the content was still provider-driven–you had more channels, but each one decided what it was going to air. The second gave more control–you could watch a video anywhere, anytime–but the content was even more limited. This followed from the mechanism itself.
A VHS tape is relatively large and clunky. It can record up to six hours of material, but at the speed that gives optimal picture quality and resolution, it can store only two hours. This is the perfect length for most movies, but it is not good for TV series. A VHS tape could hold two hour-long episodes (typical for dramas) or four half-hour episodes (as with sitcoms) at optimal resolution. This means that a typical 22 episode season would require eleven tapes for an hour-long drama, or six for a half-hour sitcom. A single season, therefore, would fill up nearly one entire row of a media center stand. For long-running series, one’s available space would fill up rapidly. Sufficiently avid videophiles could tape episodes themselves, but for most of us it’s not worth the effort.
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted in my “Decline and Fall of Television” series. In the fourth installment, I had proposed to look individually at the various “junk genres”, as I called them, but ended up posting specifically only on reality television. Upon rereading the posts and thinking about where I want to go with the series, I think I no longer want to examine the junk genres individually. What I wrote regarding bandwidth, junk genres, and reality TV applies, mutatis mutandis, to the other genres. It’s too depressing and boring to have to think about such things as infomercials, anyway, let alone to write about them. I do have three final reflections with which to complete the DAFOTV series, though. In this one I want to look at the technological changes that laid the groundwork for these changes.
In the third installment of this series, I discussed the radical difference in the programming schedule of a typical broadcast day in the 70’s of my youth as opposed to now. In that vein, I want to look more broadly at the differences in the content thus delivered, and in how we watched it. Some content hasn’t changed that much, of course–sports are sports, news is news, and so on. Now there are networks completely dedicated to sports, news, and so on, but the delivery isn’t that much different: baseball in the summer, football in the fall and winter, and so on. The changes I’m interested in are in television drama and comedy series and general entertainment.