William Shatner, Red Letter Media, and What Everyone Gets Wrong About Fandom

Never meet your heroes.

I’ve mentioned Red Letter Media before. They’re a YouTube channel that discusses film in a serious way, but with lots of jokes – spoonfuls of sugar to make the medicine go down. They’re different from most cinema nerds on YouTube in that they’ve actually undergone the process of making movies themselves – schlocky B-movies, that they themselves do not take seriously. But they’ve done it. They have some understanding of what it involves, so they talk about the nuts and bolts, which for a layman is an education.

Their infamous 70-minute review of The Phantom Menace taught a whole generation why the prequels weren’t working. Yes, they’ve savaged the Disney films as well. They especially made fun of Rogue One, which is the one everyone seems to love. They’re fair-minded and upfront about their perspectives.

They also do a MST3K-ish panel discussion of bad movies, called Best of the Worst, and they’ve had other creatives on as guest stars. Schlock ninja filmmaker Len Kabasinski has been on a couple of times, as has comic artist Freddie Williams, screenwriter Max Landis (before he got cancelled), comedian Patton Oswalt, and Macaulay Culkin, who’s practically a regular at this point.

I mention all of this because they’re a growing brand that is gaining widespread awareness. They hit 1 million YouTube subscribers recently. People have heard of them. Now, two of the three RLM stakeholders (Mike Stoklasa, Jay Bauman, and Rich Evans) are big Star Trek fans (I’m not going to call them Trekkies, for reasons that will become clear later). They talk about Star Trek a lot. They’re critical of the Next Generation movies, but love the show. They have nuanced criticisms of the recent film reboots. They do not like the more recent Star Trek Series, such as Discovery and Picard. But they stood up for one of the least-liked Trek movies, the 1979 Star Trek: The Motion Picture – a movie I’ve been wont to dismiss as “two hours of blue stuff”.

These two trends explain why RLM fans may have gotten it into their heads that William Shatner might become a guest on their show. They never invited him, but it became a meme anyway. This is an important point I’m going to come back to later.

Now I’m going to let Mike and Jay explain what happened next:

If you don’t want to spare the 20 minutes, Shatner got tired of being bugged on Twitter by RLM fans to be on the show. He was polite at first, if a bit shakey on the definition of “podcast” (which is fine, as “podcast” has a shakey definition). Then he started being less polite, then he started casually dismissing the RLM crew, watching tiny snippets of their videos and picking nits. This being Twitter, the volume increased, until the RLM guys had to stop what they were actually doing to announce that this was all a tempest in a teapot and it should all go away. Mike ends with the words “Leave him alone, because I just can’t take Captain Kirk pulling up pictures of me on The Nerd Crew (a satirical show they do) set, and calling me a moron. I just can’t take it.”

That should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t. That video came on Thursday, (July 23rd). Yesterday (July 27th), Shatner unloaded both barrels at the RLM guys with a Medium.com article called “The Toxic Empires of Egoligarchies“. If you’re having a hard time getting past the title, I’ll summarize it for you: Shatner didn’t watch the video, even though he used pieces of it, and brings in GamerGate and a host of screencaps to prove that… RLM sent its fans on Twitter to harass him.

In William Shatner’s mind, this is the only possible explanation. Three guys from Milwaukee have a zombie horde of fans that they can turn on and off like tap water. That’s how fandom works.

The absurdity of claiming, in the face of no evidence, in the face of all contrary evidence, that the RLM guys signaled their fans to harass Shatner staggers the imagination. The entire pretentious diatribe (truly an accomplishment for Medium, a platform that specializes in transmogrifying peoples’ shower thoughts into “essays”) has enough circular reasoning in it to flatten a trailer park.

William Shatner knows better than this. William Shatner has had to deal with his own fans being out of control. So has George Lucas. So has everybody who has a fandom. Fandoms (oh, I how I loathe that word) are not armies, sent out into the world like digital stosstruppen to do their master’s bidding. If they were, then Red Letter Media, which is based on fans being critical of product, couldn’t possibly exist. Fans are human beings, and act along the gradient of human behavior. Some of them will be monsters, and some saints.

I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was small. I’ve never gone to a fan convention. I’ve never bought a lightsaber or any other Star Wars paraphanelia. The only T-Shirts I have were given to me as Father’s Day gifts. I sold my old box of Star Wars toys at a yard sale for $5. More to the point, I think people who do fill their house with junk and go to such conventions are spiritually depleted dorks. Am I still a fan?

Art is a worthy topic of discussion. That’s why I have articles about Star Wars on this blog. But art is meant to be enjoyed, considered, and critiqued, not worshipped. Liking something is not a substitute for an identity. The RLM guys get that, which is why I watch their YouTube channel.

But I would never bother an octogenarian actor on Twitter to be on their show. I don’t understand why anyone would. I think doing that is just brainless schoolyard trolling, of the kind that makes Twitter nothing more than a blood-pressure surge device. Anyone who bugged William Shatner about a YouTube channel he’s never heard of is a waste of a rational soul. There’s no reason for it; you didn’t achieve your goal, and you manufactured the phoniest kind of drama in a world that is filled with real-life, actual drama. You are shrieking gibbons flinging poop and bits of half-chewed berries at the gravestone of our culture.

Now ask me: am I still a fan?

Go ahead, ask me.

I Don’t Feel At Home in Pop Culture Anymore

Probably that’s not news. I haven’t felt at home in some time, really. Maybe that’s just getting old, but even when I was young I’ve found the pseudo-devotion off-putting. One thing I’ve said for years is that the reason I never became a Trekkie wasn’t because I didn’t like Star Trek, but because I didn’t want to have conversations with nerds about it.

Nerds are the absolute worst. I never felt comfortable as one. I refused to dig deep into comic books, D&D, or anything else, because having to devote that much mental energy about being right about something that doesn’t matter felt strange to me.

But Andrew, you say, there’s like fifteen essays scatterered around this blog about Star Wars. You’re absolutely a Warsie.

No, I’m absolutely not. I tried to be. I found it distasteful. I loved Star Wars when I was a kid, wanted to transfer that love to new movies, and couldn’t. The idea of raging at someone on Twitter about it seems like dumb games for dumb prizes. Star Wars is over. Even Disney has said so. It will exist as a niche market for streaming content on the Disney+ app, until the cost overlays get to be too much, and then it’s over, it’s done.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some comic books. If you want to have a chat about Watchmen, or From Hell, or Superman: Red Son, or a handful of others, I’m your guy. I’ve got no animus against the MCU. If those fans are happy, great. Keep doing more of that, or whatever.

But this I do not get:

Again, nothing against Stan Lee. I always reckoned him a cool dude, and have since he showed up in Mallrats for no particular reason. And it’s fine to admire him as an artist and creator. But crafting icons on his feast day is bizzarre, creepy, and kind of blasphemous. Yet this is what so-called “nerd culture” seems to bring out of people: the glorification of the mundane.

And quite frankly, I find this boring, and much of the conversation about his creation: stupid games for stupid prizes. That’s why I’ll ignore everyone who tries to get me to care about Mandalorians. It’s not that I’m prejudging it as being poor quality: I don’t even care if it’s good.

I want something else. I want to make something else.

That’s why this exists.

Things That Are Going to Suck

Picard is going to suck.

It’s a bastardization of the character, reduced to catchphrases and some Borg plot.

The question is, why? Why is it being made?

Because member-berries?

Because the carnival of 80’s nostalgia that’s been gripping us since the late 90’s just Will Not Die?

Because J.J. Abrams ruined Star Trek and no one knows how to make it anymore?

Because we’re all getting dumber?

Because we’re isolated and cut off from each other by the false connectivity of the Web, and we long for entertainments that remind us of a time when that wasn’t so?

Because we haven’t figured out how to make culture in the age that Gibson prophesied?

Because I’m getting old and grumpy?

Star Trek Beyond Trailer Causes Trekkie Rage

J.J. Abrams Executive produced this one, and, as the trailer indicates, it was directed by the guy who did Fast & Furious 8.  So, there’s that.

In the comments, they are NOT taking it well. And I definitely see why they wouldn’t. Star Trek was not supposed to be an action-movie franchise. It was supposed to be a serious rumination on humanity’s future in space.

But it hasn’t ever really been that. At least, not on the big screen.

Let’s look at the Star Trek movies, shall we?

Star Trek: the Motion Picture (I) – Decent but unexciting trip through the dark heart of the future as-imagined in the 1970’s. It’s like a long “Space 1999” episode with a poignant ending.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan – Star Trek as Moby Dick, with Kirk as the Whale and Spock as Vulcan Jesus. Lots of violence and brainworms.

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock – In which we resurrect Vulcan Jesus, and we blow up the Enterprise. Also, Kirk gets a good reason to hate Klingons, which will be important later. Much later.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – Many Trekkies actually like this one a lot, because it bears the closest resemblance to a Trek TV episode, right down to the lame time-travel plot. It’s also suitably weird, and seems to involve whales saving Planet earth. Whatever.

Star Trek V: The Final Frontier – Spock has a brother who’s a creepy mesmerist/cult leader looking for the location of God in space. Hilarity ensues.

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country – My personal favorite, and more of a political intrigue/murder mystery than anything else. I suppose it fits the ideal, though.

Star Trek: Generations (VII) – Indescribably ridiculous first foray to the Next Gen series. Not even Malcolm McDowell can rescue it.

Star Trek: First Contact (VIII) – Straight-up militarist action Borgwar movie. Even has a tiresome time-travel plot and a Moby Dick reference. I remember Trekkies complaining about this one for the same reason they dislike this new trailer, even though it was miles better than the previous film.

Star Trek: Insurrection (IX) – A long TV episode, and in fact, a rip-off off an actual Next-Gen episode, except this time every character does the opposite of what they would normally do. And then Picard does some swashbuckling.  Watch this Mr. Plinkett takedown for further elucidation.

Star Trek: Nemesis (X) – In which the Next Generation goes full Goth in order to slip several plot devices from Wrath of Khan past us in the hopes that we won’t notice.

We tally this data together, and how many of these fit the Rodenberry mold of what Star Trek was to be about? And how many of those are worth watching?

Maybe Star Trek should leave the movies to Star Wars. Just a thought.

 

Leonard Nimoy is Sick. Prepare for Nerd Agony.

Lung disease, poor fellow.

“I quit smoking 30 yrs ago. Not soon enough. I have COPD. Grandpa says, quit now!! LLAP,” the living legend tweeted, adding his signature abbreviation for the half-Vulcan’s “live long and prosper” motto.

Now, COPD is bad, but it’s not lung cancer. My grandfather’s had emphysema, a form of COPD, for years. He’s 83. So it’s not quite time to go nuts re-enacting the funeral scene from Wrath of Khan.

It’s a drag, though. Smoking really does mess you up.