The practice of fansubbing is undoubtedly a defining factor in the progression of new media practices and the transnational flow of media. I would also argue that, due to the affinity fans feel toward the particular piece of media and its site of production (and previous scholarship has addressed the ways in which fans engage with media produced “elsewhere” both for its novelty and for a greater perceived connection to the nation of origin/its culture), fansubs can be even more “authentic” than those produced by the industry. I am particularly interested in the ways in which fansubbers attend to more culturally-specific language and/or references - one more well-known example might be the official English dub for Pokemon, in which “onigiri/rice balls” were re-framed as “doughnuts” in an attempt to mask cultural odor. Are fans more likely to act as literal translators to localize content, or do they work more as teachers, retaining linguistic/cultural elements to the extent that the dialogue is still understood, but the meanings are not altered? (for example, I am reminded of watching fansubbed Korean dramas where the kinship terms were maintained in the subtitles, yet “official” translations often did not follow suit).
My younger self owes a lot to fansubbers and I appreciate this “rhetorical dance” they do. I am interested in observing the ways in which this producer/consumer identity changes over time and impacts our online (and offline) communities.
great response, thanks! i think you’re right that non-mammals/invertebrates are really what people are thinking about, and that is a pretty neat explanation.
Thanks for your response! That’s a great question. However, I actually don’t think there’s been a marked shift from cetaceans to cephalopods in humanist thought. Consideration of marine life in philosophy and critical theory has been pretty unusual until recently. Rather, the shift seems to have been from mammals to non-mammals—or perhaps more broadly from vertebrates to invertebrates. Without getting into specific arguments, this may have to do a general intellectual acceptance of the complexity of mammalian life and a consequent interest in our affinities and differences with the radically other, whether slime molds (Steven Shaviro) or cephalopods (Flusser, Haraway, Godfrey-Smith)—a project that has, I think, great ethical import as people grapple with climate change and the prospect of mass extinction.
Hi Jon, thanks for the post! I always enjoyed Spock’s line here about “only human arrogance would assume the message must be meant for man.” Recently I’ve been reading Other Minds, by Peter Godfrey-Smith, which talks about the fuzzy areas between consciousness/non-consciousness (something also explored in the recent show Westworld). There seems to be a tentacle turn of sorts in theory, from Flusser’s Vampyroteuthis infernalis, to Harraway’s Staying With the Trouble. When it comes to nonhuman intelligence, people seem to be talking about cephalopods, rather than cetacea. Have you noticed this shift and if so what do you attribute it to?
Hi John, Thanks for the reply! It’s interesting to compare the attitudes about technology that the federation and the Borg both represent. The instrumentalist view of the federation seems argues that technology is controlled by people. The Borg are a good example of what people usually talk as technological determinism - as discussed by philosophers like Langdon Winner and in a good deal of neo-luddite literature. The key features of this view is also a sort of dialectic belief in the progress of history towards an ending, or “perfected” technologies which are improving upon one another, and their social autonomy. Related is Winner’s view that there is a sort of “technological imperative” - or that in order to have a car, you need an engine, roads, infastructure, the petroleum industry - and that things are dependent on and precipitate each other.
The problem is that both views (instrumentalism and determinism) rely on a belief that these things are neutral - a wheat thresher has no inherent values in it any more than a gun or a nuclear bomb. Andrew Feenberg makes the case that value-laden perspectives involve critical theory (where technology is still controlled by humans, and that we have a choice in deciding alternatives to different ways of being), or “substantivism” (where means and ends are linked in autonomous systems.
I think that Star Trek teats all technology in the instrumentalist way, even though the Borg are a spectre of determinism. Think of Seven of Nine and all the countless uses for nano-probes that Voyager comes up with. While the borg want to assimilate and add technological distinctivness to its own its always the hive mind (or the Queen) motivating this, not explicitly some sociotechnical system (Q even calls the Borg “the ultimate user”). Now we could argue that group consciousness is a unique example of things having minds or a hybrid kind of mind (the very point a cyborg), but the case I made here was that humans are just as much cyborgs. I am wearing glasses to see this, I am using a keyboard and a computer to communicate. Some people wear pacemakers and fitbits, and I’d assume most of us wear clothes. Does this make us cyborgs? If we expand our definition of technology to include all tools, sure. Does it change our minds and our consciousness? This is the problem I have - I think we can make the case for a sort of dynamic between people and “things” or technology (particularly if we think of language as a tool). But the point is that in Star Trek, it’s “the human spirit” or “inalienable human rights” as Checkov puts it, which are motivating people to do things.
Non-humans are only respected in Star Trek when can communicate a case for their right to exist. The cybernetic components of the borg are just body parts, and they seem pretty stupid when not hooked up to a pitiful organic. The Borg may be cyborgs, but their minds are entirely human/oid, and not machine. Maybe this is why Data and Lore were so fascinating to them.
Thank you for your post! I like the way you point out how “Star Trek often rests on technological instrumentalism as a prerequisite for a future utopia,” a viewpoint that often reinscribes human dominance over the non-human as a condition for social and cultural progress. I am wondering though how you would fit the franchise’s treatment of the Borg into your criticism? The Borg seem to be the most often returned-to case of an ecology that traverses the human(oid) and the nonhuman, but unlike the utopian aspirations of Starfleet, the Borg Collective typically plays the role of Starfleet’s dystopian opposite, embodying a mode of existence that is horrifically devoid of free choice. The way the Borg are treated by Star Trek, in general but with a few exceptions, seems to suggest that the confrontation between predictive analytics and the human might be staged in terms of a conflict between freedom and coercion, rather than between uneasy partners or allies. Do you see Star Trek as providing a viable framework for thinking our own technologically mediated present and future, or is it limited by its instrumentalist view of technology?
Yes, it’s a good point about repurposing being the beginning, rather than the end of a process. With respect to the availability of affects, I was thinking along the lines of what it means for senders and receivers—what it means to be able to express an affect or be on the receiving end of one that is sort of irreducibly inflected by Star Trek, because of the incongruity between the memes and the original shows. It almost resembles branded content, but I find it interesting that it emerged spontaneously, and as you point out, kairotically, just in time to address a set of specific historical and cultural circumstances. I suppose it would depend on one’s familiarity with Star Trek, but it seems as though the use of Star Trek characters and situations as a part of the formal means for expressing an affect or message would allow someone to use Star Trek as a kind of shorthand, expressing a complex idea around the end of 2016 (i.e. ‘things weren’t supposed to turn out this way, and this isn’t the bright and rosy future we were hoping for or expecting’), making Star Trek into a sort of efficient, shared reference point for thinking about the future.
There are indeed a few references to certain things the replicator will not produce without appropriate authorization—weapons, Starfleet uniforms—and well as a few things it *can’t* replicate (latinum). One would certainly imagine that patterns would have taken on at least some of the same value that used to be ascribed to things, but because the primary lens through which we encounter this universe is through Starfleet and the ship’s computer, and because Starfleet doesn’t use “money” (“People are no longer obsessed with the accumulation of ‘things.’ We have eliminated hunger, want, the need for possessions.”), we don’t always get the clearest sense of this value. While a trade in holodeck programs is discussed with some frequency (Quark gets new programs regularly, and several characters in TNG and DS9 talk about receiving programs), a trade in replicator patterns is not. One would imagine that some analogue to Shapeways (even if it is a socialist one) must exist in various contexts both in and outside the Federation.
The other example outside of Spot’s supplements that I can think of is the herbal tea blend that Nella Daren programs (and which Picard quickly adopts) in Lessons.
The transporter offers a fascinating point of comparison in terms of the logistical technology of the show. Certainly for a rich planet like Earth the transporter must have completely reconfigured the pattern of everyday life, but because of the traditional confines of the Starship setting we rarely get to see this. Even then, no one seems to worry about it, and it seems like it would be very dangerous to question it. The risk of the transporter, even as they are more dramatic and dangerous (the mirror universe comes to mind) seems to be taken as a necessary evil (although when the replicator runs amok in Babel, it is still back to business as usual at the end of the episode). While Encounter at Farpoint describes McCoy, charitably, as a “remarkable” man in the context of his aversion to being transported—the audience knows the truth. He’s an inconvenience; a kook. The show even goes so far as to send Barclay to get counseling from Troi. Worrying about transportation is a phobia. Worrying about replication is a philosophy. The replicator is more mundane, and less worthy of worry. But this is what makes it more acceptable to worry about. Perhaps this reflects why it is easy for us to be nostalgic about waning patterns of production, but hard to come to grips with what it would mean to upend the society that is making them disappear.
These are great questions and help to illustrate the importance of logistics and transportation in imperial/colonialist systems (something I’d read a little about in post-colonialist history but hadn’t thought about at all with regards to Star Trek).
your point about how “personal possessions are reduced to the potentiality of patterns” reminds me about Donna Haraway’s “condition of virtuality” - this cultural concept that all things are underpinned by informational patterns. If things are no longer a primary source of value or trade, it would be the patterns or recipes that make objects replicable. We’ve seen where the replicator doesn’t know how to make things, or where characters have created their own recipe (notably Data’s feline supplements), but there’s also a question of access. Who has the right to duplicate what? In Field of Fire (DS9) we’re told that only starfleet officers can replicate certain weapons. If Starfleet is a sort of post-scarcity space communism system, is it really “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”?