Set Phasers to Consume Media Critically

(Gina Faldetta)– I still haven’t seen the latest Star Trek movie. This isn’t a very interesting fact, unless you’ve ever tried to watch the Star Trek movie from 2009 with me. If you have, it was probably pretty miserable for you, having to deal with all the sobbing, laughing, excited kicking of the legs, fist pumping, quoting along, screaming “this is the best part!” before every scene, and saying “wait for it” before every good line. Not to mention the so-called interesting tidbits I might lob at you, such as “this movie won the Oscar for best makeup” or “look – it’s Tyler Perry” or “this movie doesn’t really pass the Bechdel test, I mean I recognize it’s problematic, but it’s still the best movie ever.”

You may have heard of the Bechdel test before, but if you haven’t, Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian breaks it down really well:

You could argue that Star Trek indeed passes the test because of that scene in which Uhura and Gaila (her green Orion roommate) discuss the transmissions Uhura received that day. They’re not talking about a man, sure, but only at first. Once Uhura’s had enough time to strip to her underwear, attention quickly turns back to Kirk as she discovers him under the bed, where he had been both eavesdropping and watching her undress.

A feminist critique of the 2009 movie isn’t really relevant now, with the release of Into Darkness. But I can’t help but think about this issue – the lack of female presence in the movie – every time I tell someone that it’s my favorite movie ever, that I watched it on my eighteenth birthday, and that I cry every time.

Once you start paying closer attention to the media you consume, you start noticing the implications of social inequalities in everything. You may have experienced this when re-watching your favorite classic Disney movies and balking at the old-school racism. (For example, the “powwow” scene in Peter Pan.) This social-justice lens can affect your enjoyment of everything from movies to music, and can even incite you to tear apart media that you might otherwise enjoy. You may find yourself exclaiming to your dad that “I don’t understand why Jason Derulo assumes that he needs to be this girl’s teacher, show her the ropes – he just assumes he knows more about sex because he’s a man – that is so rude,” while he drives you home from school in tenth grade.

When I was four and learned I was moving to Texas, I pictured a cowboy riding a horse in a desert, because that’s what I had seen on Sesame Street. Movies, television, music, books, and magazines shape the way we think, influencing our values and perceptions of things we’ve never encountered for ourselves. This is why it’s important to examine and critique the media we consume for biases – whether that means sexism, racism, heteronormativity, or whatever else – because if we don’t acknowledge those biases, they may subconsciously become our own.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t like the things we like. If we ruled out every piece of media that was in some way problematic, we couldn’t watch, read, or listen to anything. I do think Star Trek could have done with more female characters – and don’t give me that “but it was a remake of a series from the sixties!” line because hello? Even if they didn’t want to change the original crew of the Enterprise, they could have made Nero a woman. But I still love it and watch it every chance I have. (Well, except when it requires me to get off my butt and go to a theater, which I still plan doing, at some point.) You can even still like Jason DeRulo’s hit song “In My Head,” if you’re so inclined. Simply acknowledging the problematic aspects of what you’re enjoying takes away a lot of the negative effects of bigotry and misrepresentation.

Maybe Into Darkness will blow away all my feminist hang-ups with the introduction of that new character I’ve seen in the trailers, Blond Screaming Woman. My fingers are crossed. And despite the problematic casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as a character of color, I’m still eventually going to boldly go where so many other people have gone before, and see Star Trek Into Darkness. Probably tomorrow.