It’s one thing to have too many choices, something we arguably have in today’s world. It’s another thing to have choices violently cut down.
Imagine if Baskin Robbins decided their Thirty-One-Derful world needed to be Thirteen. Or Three.
In my previous post on this subject, I noted that I was okay with the different –in some cases radically different– flavors of Star Trek. My issue was that a whole set of flavors, ones that I traditionally associated with Star Trek, appeared to be out of stock, at least on the Big Screen.
Let me extend this ice cream example futher. Growing up, I loved going to our local Carvel’s ice cream shop (yes, I know many of you only know them as the brand of ice cream whales in your local supermarket freezer, but there used to be stores). Besides standard chocolate, vanilla, and Rocky Road offerings, they had pumpkin, banana, and black cherry ice cream. They were wonderful flavors. Any kid likes ice cream. Certainly I like chocolate and Rocky Road, but those other flavors were ones I didn’t find anywhere else (those guys Ben and Jerry weren’t on the scene yet).
The Star Trek reboot movies are going full Rocky Road. There’s no chance of pumpkin or banana. The studio’s thought process appears to be that since they’re offering ice cream and their Rocky Road has extra nuts, there’s no problem. We fans point out, “How about something like Chunky Monkey? We get the nuts and the chocolate bits, but we still get that wonderful banana!”
The studio responds, “Look. We’re giving you ice cream. What are you complaining about?”
But while we’re resigning ourselves to what we hope is the best possible Rocky Road from the big ice cream conglomerate, we realize there’s a chance to taste something like that the banana or pumpkin we’ve had before.
I’m speaking in this case, of Star Trek fan productions. Yeah, their ice cream isn’t always consistent, but they clearly love ice cream, especially some of the classic flavors
Take a look at Star Trek Continues, a fan series that aims to continue the original Star Trek’s “five-year mission.” It’s not just the sets: they’re getting the costumes, props, and lighting like the original. I’m not so agog of the old production values to feel this is necessary, the care taken comes through: they love this flavor of Star Trek. And that love and care not coincidentally mean the episodes are better than some other fan productions.
You can also take a look at Axanar Productions’ “Prelude to Axanar,” a 20-minute short that uses a lot of the production design of the original series (actually, more so the original pilot production design you see in The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before) but puts it in modern packaging with some truly cool special effects.
With fan productions like these, it makes the corporate Rocky Road obsession more palatable.
Except that, as of December, CBS/Paramount has decided nobody gets pumpkin spice Star Trek. They’re suing Axanar Productions for copyright infringement.
Okay, a lawsuit doesn’t automatically mean the worst-case scenario, but when you look at the full filing, you see that CBS/Paramount is casting a very wide net. Within that net could be all the fan productions. In other words, all the really cool fan productions, made with love and craft, could go away.
From a purely fan perspective, this feels like the corporate businessman storming out of their store and smashing a kid’s lemonade stand because it might detract from their business and we own the rights to lemonade, damn it!
(Yeah, I switched from ice cream to lemonade. Stay with me.)
I know it’s more complicated than that — and CBS/Paramount absolutely has a right to protect their intellectual property (IP). But they’ve previously allowed fan productions to exist — and I would say their IP and brand has benefited from these homages. Couldn’t they have had their legal department contact Axanar Productions? They’re a multinational corporation for crying out loud. Do they not understand the threat of the big stick can often get them what they want more easily than going forth and smashing with a big stick?
Because make no mistake: fans have noticed. And I haven’t read anything that says CBS/Paramount has no rights, but I’ve read a good deal of “Hey, they’re really going crazy with that stick.”
This is not the press you want, but I’m not sure that CBS/Paramount cares. I mean, one could argue as Cracked does, that they don’t like Star Trek to be Star Trek.
Back to the ice cream, I don’t think they fully appreciate what IP they have on their hands. io9 did a great article recently about ways Star Trek has done film and TV sci-fi right in a way we just haven’t seen elsewhere. Yes, you can get ice cream elsewhere. Yes, you can just take the brand “Star Trek” and stick it on any old ice cream, but Star Trek is more than just a brand name.
And with the lawsuit, it seems like CBS/Paramount is saying, “Nah, we get to say what it is. Also, legally: nyah nyah.”
I keep on talking about this. If it isn’t clear yet that I am a tremendous Star Trek fan whose ardor for the various series would elicit measurable readings on either a Geek or Nerd scale, well, here I am to spell it out. Herefafter, I will call these posts about Star Trek’s future and fandom “Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.” You’re welcome, pop culture mavens.