Kirk Your Enthusiasm (24)

By: Joe Alterio
August 30, 2012

Twenty-fourth in a series of posts, each one analyzing a single Captain Kirk scene from the Star Trek canon.

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Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | “Arena” | Star Trek: The Original Series | Season 1, Episode 18 | January 1967

Even at first glance, the “Arena” episode of Star Trek is a rather odd one. The lion’s share of the action occurs on an (unnamed) blank slate of a planet; the only players are Kirk and the (unnamed) reptilian captain of the Gorn vessel, battling it out in a gladiatorial match to the death. There is something very meta about this scenario. Even more meta, though, is the fact that — much like the show’s audience, which has gathered around TV sets at home — the bridge crew of the Enterprise gathers around their viewscreen in order to catch the action. Surely, in this McLuhanesque scene, the show’s creators signal that they know exactly how and why Star Trek will gain a cult following, particularly in this age of Hunger Games fever. In telling an ongoing story about Kirk — a rugged individual who flouts not only the too-civilized rules of the Federation but the too-uncivilized rules of the galaxy’s savage denizens — they’re requiring high participation on the part of the audience, who must actively fill in the gaps in the show’s low-res universe. In doing so, they’re encouraging us — like the Enterprise crew — to identify with Kirk. As a result, those of us who have grown up watching Star Trek would all like to think ourselves as Kirk: confident in morality without being aloof, clever in problem-solving without pretension, brave in battle without foolhardiness. On our best days, anyway.

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MORE POSTS by JOE ALTERIO: QUALITY JOE: sketches vs. finished drawings | ROBOTS & MONSTERS series | Q&A with Gary Panter and Charles Burns | CABLEGATE COMIX | KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Black Panther | KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Kirk vs. Gorn | KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Akzidenz-Grotesk | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM: Million Year Picnic | and HILO HERO items on Winsor McCay, Django Reinhardt, Wendy Pini, and many others.

2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins

ALSO ON HILOBROW Peggy Nelson on William Shatner as HiLo Hero | Greg Rowland on Leonard Nimoy as HiLo Hero | Peggy Nelson on William Shatner in Incubus | Matthew Battles on enlarging the Trek fanfic canon | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912

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2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.

2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.

2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker

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What do you think?

  1. The interactive experience of the Vietnam war, beamed into livingrooms simultaneous to Trek with unprecedented realism, resulted in turned-off viewers affecting its outcome, until the programmers realized they needed to come up with something that keeps us just watching and not responding, be it stage-managed wars or remote drone-sitting jobs. Which is why it’s best to have someone on the inside of the screen like Kirk, who knows when enough is enough.

  2. Either that, or the identification stops with the redshirts, watching with the watchers, until the scene and our viewership inevitably ends…

    The cartoonish nature of this Ur-fight, with a single monstrous looking alien, amongst the drab any-set rocks, accompanied by that simplistically insistent fight-music, makes it all fight scenes in low-budget outline. Interesting too, in that the fight turns out to be literally stage-play (with real weapons), as the true “opponent” of both The Enterprise and the Gorn turns out to be the Metrons, forcing performances which they then study for evidence of ethical development. Meta indeed!

    And in case any fans are thinking of staging their own photo-play, something we at HiLobrow highly encourage, here’s a link to the Vazquez Rocks outside Los Angeles: Vazquez Rocks.

  3. Waitamiinit — you’re proposing we play with *real rocks*? How could you be so irresponsible, Peggy :-). Maybe conflicts are rendered numbing by their generic animus (is that why we’re fighting our actual wars in rocky deserts now too?), or maybe this reduces them to the elements we can clearly see as poisonous — in any case it may be comforting to think there’s some higher power out there waiting to see if we can figure out the meaningful way of advancing to the next level.

  4. Haha! I don’t think I’d try to take the spin that far, Adam. ; ) A fake scene to be filmed in real rocks (as stand-ins for styrofoam). For a real reenactment.

  5. Now that’s something I can believe in. But seriously, Peggy, a reality run by you rather than the Metrons *or* the Pentagon is one I’d feel a lot more comfortable going out in…

  6. Yep, Kirk is as big a star in his universe as he is in ours. Great piece, Joe.

    Kaiju Your Enthusiasm, Enterprise Krew.

  7. The Meta Nam, remote viewing aspect never occurred to me! But the forced Combat by Champion made me think of Fergus and Cuchulainn and David and Goliath. Good mythic company for the likes of Kirk.

    The extended use of Kirk’s Captain’s Log as a kind of narrative voice-over struck me a little odd, although it had obvious expository utility in the absence of the usual Kirk-Spock-McCoy banter. As Kirk narrates his own tale, the Gorn Captain remains silent, except for his croupy, slitherings, and it builds until the point where his ability to speak is startling. It may have been season 1, but we were already far enough along to expect that Kirk’s ultimate triumph would be closed by a typical rhetorical flourish, instead of the simple act of mercy. Not so strained as you might expect, though, as the quaint idea of coming to know your enemy through attempted mutual annihilation is also sampled. There ought to be an easier way.

  8. Here in the real future we’ve become a hailing-frequency culture, having our screen call your screen, and while there has to be a better way to fall back from the brink than running up to it, there’s a lot we’d never think to get away with if we had to try it face to face.

  9. I find it neat that it’s also a rumination on the potential pitfalls of a culture too wedded to technology, a concern not obvious or popular in this age of futurism; even then, Kirk shows us a way out of the wilderness. Truly far-thinking!

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