How Sega and the Dreamcast offer a valuable lesson for streaming platforms

In 2001 I was bitterly disappointed by the failure of the Dreamcast – a console I’d only owned for about a year and had hoped would carry me through to the next generation of home consoles. For a variety of reasons that essentially boil down to mismanagement, worse-than-expected sales, and some pretty tough competition, Sega found itself on the verge of bankruptcy. The company responded not only by ending development on the Dreamcast, but by closing its hardware division altogether.

At the time, Sega seemed to be at the pinnacle of the games industry. For much of the 1990s, the company had been a dominant force in home video game consoles alongside Nintendo, and as the new millennium approached there were few outward signs of that changing. It was a massive shock to see Sega collapse in such spectacular fashion in 2001, not only to me but to millions of players and games industry watchers around the world.

The Sega Dreamcast failed in 2001.

Thinking about what happened from a business perspective, a demise like this was inevitable in the early 2000s. Both Sony and Microsoft were arriving in the home console market with powerful machines offering features like the ability to play DVDs – something that the Dreamcast couldn’t do – but at a fundamental level the market was simply overcrowded. There just wasn’t room for four competing home consoles. At least one was destined for the chopping block – and unfortunately for Sega, it was their machine that wouldn’t survive.

But the rapid demise of the Dreamcast wasn’t the end of Sega – not by a long shot. The company switched its focus from making hardware to simply making games, and over the next few years re-established itself with a new identity as a developer and publisher. In the twenty years since the Dreamcast failed, Sega has published a number of successful titles, snapped up several successful development studios – such as Creative Assembly, Relic Entertainment, and Amplitude Studios – and has even teamed up with old rival Nintendo on a number of occasions!

The end of the Dreamcast was not the end of Sega.

I can’t properly express how profoundly odd it was to first see Super Mario and Sega’s mascot Sonic the Hedgehog together in the same game! The old rivalry from the ’90s would’ve made something like that impossible – yet it became possible because Sega recognised its limitations and changed its way of doing business. The board abandoned a longstanding business model because it was leading the company to ruin, and even though it does feel strange to see fan-favourite Sega characters crop up on the Nintendo Switch or even in PlayStation games, Sega’s willingness to change quite literally saved the company.

From a creative point of view, Sega’s move away from hardware opened up the company to many new possibilities. The company has been able to broaden its horizons, publishing different games on different systems, no longer bound to a single piece of hardware. Strategy games have been published for PC, party games on the Nintendo Wii and Switch, and a whole range of other titles on Xbox, PlayStation, handheld consoles, and even mobile. The company has been involved in the creation of a far broader range of titles than it ever had been before.

Sega’s mascot Sonic now regularly appears alongside old foe Super Mario.

So how does all of this relate to streaming?

We’re very much in the grip of the “streaming wars” right now. Big platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Disney+ are battling for subscribers’ cash, but there’s a whole second tier of streaming platforms fighting amongst themselves for a chance to break into the upper echelons of the market. The likes of HBO Max, Paramount+, Apple TV+, Peacock, BritBox, and even YouTube Premium are all engaged in this scrap.

But the streaming market in 2021 is very much like the video game console market was in 2001: overcrowded. Not all of these second-tier platforms will survive – indeed, it’s possible that none of them will. Many of the companies who own and manage these lower-level streaming platforms are unwilling to share too many details about them, but we can make some reasonable estimates based on what data is available, and it isn’t good news. Some of these streaming platforms have simply never been profitable, and their owners are being propped up by other sources of income, pumping money into a loss-making streaming platform in the hopes that it’ll become profitable at some nebulous future date.

There are a lot of streaming platforms in 2021.

To continue the analogy, the likes of Paramount+ are modern-day Dreamcasts in a market where Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+ are already the Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation. Breaking into the top tier of the streaming market realistically means one of the big three needs to be dethroned, and while that isn’t impossible, it doesn’t seem likely in the short-to-medium term at least.

Why did streaming appeal to viewers in the first place? That question is fundamental to understanding why launching a new platform is so incredibly difficult, and it’s one that too many corporate executives seem not to have considered. They make the incredibly basic mistake of assuming that streaming is a question of convenience; that folks wanted to watch shows on their own schedule rather than at a set time on a set channel. That isn’t what attracted most people to streaming.

Too many corporate leaders fundamentally misunderstand streaming.

Convenience has been available to viewers since the late 1970s. Betamax and VHS allowed folks to record television programmes and watch them later more than forty years ago, as well as to purchase films and even whole seasons of television shows to watch “on demand.” DVD box sets kicked this into a higher gear in the early-mid 2000s. Speaking for myself, I owned a number of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS in the 1990s, and later bought the entire series on DVD. I had more than enough DVDs by the mid-2000s that I’d never need to sign up for any streaming platform ever – I could watch a DVD every day of the year and never run out of different things to watch!

To get back on topic, what attracted people to streaming was the low cost. A cable or satellite subscription is easily four or five times the price of Netflix, so cutting the cord and going digital was a new way for many people to save money in the early 2010s. As more broadcasters and film studios began licensing their content to Netflix, the value of the deal got better and better, and the value of cable or satellite seemed ever worse in comparison.

Streaming isn’t about convenience – that’s been available for decades.
(Pictured: a 1975 Sony Betamax cabinet)

But in 2021, in order to watch even just a handful of the most popular television shows, people are once again being forced to spend cable or satellite-scale money. Just sticking to sci-fi and fantasy, three of the biggest shows in recent years have been The Mandalorian, The Expanse, and The Witcher. To watch all three shows, folks would need to sign up for three different streaming platforms – which would cost a total of £25.97 per month in the UK; approximately $36 in the United States.

The overabundance of streaming platforms is actually eroding the streaming platform model, making it unaffordable for far too many people. We have a great recent example of this: the mess last week which embroiled Star Trek: Discovery. When ViacomCBS cancelled their contract with Netflix, Discovery’s fourth season was to be unavailable outside of North America. Star Trek fans revolted, promising to boycott Paramount+ if and when the streaming platform arrived in their region. The damage done by the Discovery Season 4 debacle pushed many viewers back into the waiting arms of the only real competitor and the biggest danger to all streaming platforms: piracy.

Calls to boycott Paramount+ abounded in the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 mess.

The streaming market does not exist in a vacuum, with platforms jostling for position solely against one another. It exists in a much bigger digital environment, one which includes piracy. It’s incredibly easy to either stream or download any television episode or any film, even with incredibly limited technological know-how, and that has always represented a major threat to the viability of streaming platforms. Though there are ethical concerns, such as the need for artists and creators to get paid for their creations, that isn’t the issue. You can shout at me until you’re blue in the face that people shouldn’t pirate a film or television show – and in the vast majority of cases I’ll agree wholeheartedly. The issue isn’t that people should or shouldn’t engage in piracy – the issue is that people are engaged in piracy, and there really isn’t a practical or viable method of stopping them – at least, no such method has been invented thus far.

As more and more streaming platforms try to make a go of it in an already-overcrowded market, more and more viewers are drifting back to piracy. 2020 was a bit of an outlier in some respects due to lockdowns, but it was also the biggest year on record for film and television piracy. 2021 may well eclipse 2020’s stats and prove to have been bigger still.

The overcrowded streaming market makes piracy look ever more appealing to many viewers.

Part of the driving force is that people are simply unwilling to sign up to a streaming platform to watch one or two shows. One of the original appeals of a service like Netflix was that there was a huge range of content all in one place – whether you wanted a documentary, an Oscar-winning film, or an obscure television show from the 1980s, Netflix had you covered. Now, more and more companies are pulling their content and trying to build their own platforms around that content – and many viewers either can’t or won’t pay for it.

Some companies are trying to push streaming platforms that aren’t commercially viable and will never be commercially viable. Those companies need to take a look at Sega and the Dreamcast, and instead of trying to chase the Netflix model ten years too late and with far too little original content, follow the Sega model instead. Drop the hardware and focus on the software – or in this case, drop the platform and focus on making shows.

Some streaming platforms will not survive – and their corporate owners would be well-advised to realise that sooner rather than later.

The Star Trek franchise offers an interesting example of how this can work. Star Trek: Discovery was originally available on Netflix outside of the United States. But Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks went to Amazon Prime Video instead – showing how this model of creating a television show and selling it either to the highest bidder or to whichever platform seems like the best fit for the genre can and does work.

Moves like this feel inevitable for several of these second-tier streaming platforms. There’s a hard ceiling on the amount of money folks are willing to spend, so unless streaming platforms can find a way to cut costs and become more competitively priced, the only possible outcome by the end of the “streaming wars” will be the permanent closure of several of these platforms. Companies running these platforms should consider other options, because blindly chasing the streaming model will lead to financial ruin. Sega had the foresight in 2001 to jump out of an overcrowded market and abandon a failing business model. In the two decades since the company has refocused its efforts and found renewed success. This represents a great model for streaming platforms to follow.

All films, television series, and video games mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, developer, broadcaster, publisher, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Another year in review

This isn’t my end of year article summing up some of the highs and lows of 2021. It irks me no end to see people writing those pieces long before Christmas! If you’ve been a regular reader for a while, you might recall that the 30th of November is the website’s anniversary – it has been two years to the day since I published my first article at the end of November 2019. How time flies, eh?

Last year I commemorated the occasion by writing about the website’s first year in operation, and this time I wanted to do something similar. I’ve had two full years of talking about Star Trek and other entertainment subjects now, and it’s always helpful to step back and take a moment to reflect.

It’s been an interesting twelve months!

The biggest change for the website itself came just a few weeks ago. At the beginning of November I changed the name to Trekking with Dennis, ditching the old name and establishing a new identity for the website. This is something I’d been thinking about a lot for several months, and finally being able to pull the trigger and get it done has been incredibly cathartic.

The website’s name changed a few weeks ago.

There have been some immediate repercussions for the name change, though. Traffic to the website took a nose-dive in November, significantly down on where it had been for much of the rest of the year. I’m putting two and two together and assuming that the change in name, branding, and most importantly the website’s URL is responsible for the drop in readership. I’m optimistic that in the longer term, however, that decline will be reversed. Even if not, I don’t write here because it’s my job or because I’m chasing “internet points” and high numbers of clicks! This is my hobby, I do it for fun, and I’d still do it even if readership dropped to absolute zero!

Conversely, twice in the past year I’ve had articles go “viral” – or at least as close to viral as I’m ever likely to get!

The first article was one I’d written in early December, listing Five things to watch at New Year (instead of fireworks). The list is fairly self-explanatory; I put together a handful of New Year-themed films and shows that could’ve made for entertaining New Year’s Eve viewing in lieu of the usual fireworks shows and parties – many of which are usually televised but which were cancelled in 2020. This list was responsible for a massive spike in views which began on the 30th of December, then ran all the way through the 31st and into the early hours of the 1st of January.

This post got a lot of attention around New Year, which was neat to see.

The second article began getting huge numbers of clicks in late May, then in June absolutely rocketed up to become the most-read post I’ve ever written. More people read that one article than read everything I wrote in all of 2020 combined. And I think it’s possible that many of them came away disappointed!

The article in question was titled Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – What’s the best ending? and it was an examination of the three-and-a-half endings to Mass Effect 3, looking at the pros and cons of each. However, I think that the title may have been unintentionally misleading, judging by the search engine traffic! I think folks may have come upon the article while looking for a guide to achieving the “best” outcome to Mass Effect: Legendary Edition – namely the version of the “destroy” ending in which Shepard is implied to have survived. I talk about this in the article, but it isn’t what the focus of the piece was.

This article has become the most-read ever!

I didn’t expect that article to get so many hits when I wrote it. My Mass Effect commentary in general did quite well, though, and I think that’s because I managed to get out several pieces about the series around the time of Legendary Edition’s launch – which is when there was significant interest in the games. Being timely brings rewards, it seems!

This year I’ve made significant improvements to the images used across the website. Some of the images used even as recently as March or April now feel incredibly amateurish and low-quality in comparison. I’ve been doing more with paint.net – a freeware image editor that has become my go-to for any and all image work – and I’ve learned how to do things like add a shadow or outline to text. That has allowed me to make huge improvements to the header images/banners at the top of articles, giving them a more modern, professional look.

The website’s main banner – a core part of the site’s identity – has also been massively improved. Firstly, now that I have significantly more web storage I’ve felt more comfortable using higher-resolution images. Beginning earlier in the year the expanded storage allowed me to use larger, more detailed images for article and page headers, something I feel makes the website as a whole look a lot more modern and professional than it did even at the beginning of the year. The new banner was added earlier this month as part of the aforementioned change of name, but earlier in the year I tried out a variety of different banners with different sci-fi and fantasy-themed backgrounds.

The website’s main banner.

I’ve also added quite a few different “spoiler warning” images – most of which are based on the Star Trek franchise! Again, the quality of these has improved a lot as I’ve become more comfortable with my image editing software, and I think some of the recent spoiler warnings look pretty great! I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to spoilers, so I use spoiler warnings a lot at the beginning of articles and reviews.

Filling time over the past twelve months has led me to research and learn about shows, films, and games I’d never have heard of otherwise. I reviewed titles like Space Jam: A New Legacy, Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and even The Falcon and the Winter Soldier after learning about them in the course of researching topics for the website. Trekking with Dennis has, to a certain extent anyway, broadened my experiences of media this year.

I’ve seen (and reviewed) several different films and television shows over the past twelve months.

I’ve also finally got around to playing a couple of games that had been on my ever-growing list: Control and Red Dead Redemption II. I’ve written up my first impressions of Red Dead Redemption II already, and in the days ahead I’ll hopefully be writing up my final thoughts as I’m close to finishing my playthrough of the game.

Speaking of playthroughs, I didn’t get around to doing another complete “Let’s Play” series of articles. Though I’ve had a number of ideas for games I could choose, I just haven’t committed to one nor kicked off a playthrough in the way I did with Jedi: Fallen Order last year. It’s still an idea that I’d like to revisit in future, so… watch this space, I guess.

I’ve been playing Red Dead Redemption II – but I didn’t write up the whole experience.

During the website’s first year in operation, I’d post articles and columns somewhat haphazardly. Sometimes I’d post daily for a couple of weeks, and at other points I’d take almost an entire week off while writing nothing. Over the last twelve months, however, that has changed. Going back to November 2020 I’ve been posting at least every other day – so there hasn’t been a long gap in between posts in more than a year. Occasionally that schedule has felt challenging, but I’ve been proud of the fact that I haven’t had any significant posting gaps for an entire twelve-month period.

April saw my most intensive posting schedule to date, as I wrote a post every single day for an entire calendar month for the first time. It wasn’t exactly planned, but once I got about halfway into April and I noticed I hadn’t skipped a day, I made it my mission to complete the month! I can keep up that kind of schedule for a while, but not indefinitely. I need occasional breaks, and being able to write articles in advance and schedule them has meant I have actually been able to take breaks across the year without interrupting my posting streak.

In April I published an article every single day.

In December 2020 I joined Twitter. I did so at first because I was having a hard time keeping track of the various franchises and their social media pages, and as I’ve never had a personal Twitter account I couldn’t follow them that way. In February I made a very tentative first post, and across the year I’d sent out a handful of Tweets to promote newly-published reviews and other articles. But as I said last year, social media isn’t really my major focus.

This should absolutely be the subject of a longer essay sometime, but Twitter in particular is a very difficult platform for me to navigate. I’m sure you’ve noticed, but I have a particularly long-winded writing style! Condensing an argument, article, or even just a fan theory into 280 characters or fewer is difficult for me. I also find that, partly as a consequence of the abbreviated posts, the conversation on Twitter can lack nuance. It’s very hard to articulate a complex thought or position on the platform because such short posts don’t easily allow for shades of grey – you can either be on one side of a debate or the other. For someone who occasionally likes to straddle the fence and acknowledge the merits and demerits of both sides of a discussion, or just to explore different interpretations and points of view, Twitter isn’t the best place for me sometimes!

No, not that kind of Shades of Gray

That being said, I’ve recently stepped up my Twitter use. It’s been an interesting world to step into for the first time, and I’ve found it quite fun and occasionally exciting to be able to engage directly with brands and companies – or at least their social media teams. Toward the end of my time working with a large video games company, social media was just beginning to take off as a marketing tool. I had some involvement with social media campaigns in the late 2000s and early 2010s at companies I worked for or was freelancing for, so it’s been interesting in a way to be on the other side of the screen for the first time!

If you don’t follow me on Twitter I don’t just post links to articles and columns that I write here on the website. I do post other occasional Tweets, mostly about Star Trek and the other subjects I cover. I don’t get political, so don’t expect any of that, but if you want to follow me on Twitter you’re more than welcome to do so.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @TrekkingwDennis is my Twitter handle.

But Twitter wasn’t the only social media platform that I found myself involved with over the past twelve months. Beginning in July I planned to record audio versions of some of the articles here on the website, using YouTube and Spotify to host these audio files. I later expanded my audio offerings to include what might generously be called a “podcast.” However, I wasn’t very happy with the quality of both the audio recordings themselves, as I lack the technical know-how to make decent-sounding audio, and also, to be blunt, my own vocal performance. Upon re-listening to several audio versions of articles I sounded very wooden and stilted; the kind of performances I’d give 1/10 to if I were to rate them.

So after a sum total of four podcast episodes and about ten audio articles I scrapped the project – at least for the time being. It’s a fun idea, and a concept I’d certainly like to revisit one day, but between the audio quality, my own poor performance, and the rebranding of the website making all of the audio clips and YouTube videos out of date, I think it’s for the best that I shelve the project for now.

Audio recording isn’t my strong suit.

That being said, I did enjoy the podcasting format. Having the opportunity to talk about smaller news stories and topics that wouldn’t necessarily make for a good standalone article was fun, and it certainly broadened the range of things I discuss here on the website. Revisiting the podcast concept is something I might consider in 2022.

It was in June this year – Pride Month – that I first discussed my sexuality and gender identity. Those twin posts were among the most difficult I’ve written over the past twelve months, not because they were technically challenging but because of how personal they were. When I created the website two years ago I intended to remain wholly anonymous, with details of my personal life kept to a bare minimum. By this time last year I’d changed my mind and I’d decided I wanted to openly discuss my asexuality and my struggles with my gender identity – but it took months before I’d be able to finish writing those pieces and feel brave enough to publish them.

In June I finally felt able to discuss my sexuality and gender identity for the first time.

I now proudly display the asexual and non-binary pride flags in the upper-right corner of the website. These symbols are present no matter what page or post someone clicks on, even if the piece has nothing at all to do with asexuality or being non-binary.

Writing these pieces, though incredibly difficult at times, was deeply satisfying and cathartic. Only a few people in my offline life knew these things about me, so having a space where I could openly discuss things that I’d struggled with for decades was a truly incredible experience. It gave me the confidence to be more open in my offline life too. I don’t have a lot of friends or surviving close relatives, but I’ve been able to direct a couple of people to the website where they were able to read my words to gain more of an insight into my personal life. I’ve said before that I’m better at writing than I am at speaking – having these pieces to direct folks to is so much easier than having to explain out loud what it means to be asexual or non-binary.

It’s been a difficult process, but I finally feel comfortable referring to myself as non-binary.

I haven’t added as many articles to the Greatest Hits page this year as I did in the previous twelve months. I think that’s partly because I had some article/essay ideas in mind when I started the website and I slowly worked my way through them over the course of that first year. While I’ve had plenty to write about this year, I guess I’ve just written fewer of those long-form essays.

That being said, my essay on Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3 Burn storyline is one of the best things I’ve written all year, and I’m happy to show off that one! I’m also proud of my character study of The Next Generation’s Dr Pulaski, and my examination of Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in The Last Jedi that I wrote back in December. I’m sure I’m forgetting or overlooking a few others as well, but those are three of the essays that come to mind when I think back over the past twelve months.

This is one of the best essays I’ve written in the last twelve months. Give it a read if you haven’t already!

So I think that’s enough self-congratulation for this year! As I look ahead to the next twelve months, I can’t really say that I have any major plans or changes in mind for the website or the kind of pieces I write here. I’d like to do another playthrough series at some point, and I’m certainly open to more creative projects in addition to my reviews, theories, discussion topics, list articles, and the rest. But watch this space, I suppose!

The website is very different now compared to twelve months ago. I like to think that, for the most part, these changes have been improvements – and certainly from a purely visual point of view I think the website has never looked better! As we move into the holiday season and 2022 I’m looking forward to keeping up with my regular posting schedule and writing about the subjects I’m most interested in: Star Trek, gaming, and the wide world of geeky entertainment.

Thank you for your support over the past twelve months.

-Dennis
Tuesday, 30th November 2021

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, studio, developer, distributor, company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

We won! Kind of…

After a difficult week for the entire Star Trek fan community, we finally got some good news. Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is going to be available outside of North America after all.

This isn’t “total victory,” as there are still too many countries and territories where the season won’t be available – particularly in Asia and Africa. The series is not returning to Netflix. But in regions where Paramount+ exists – Australia, Scandinavia, and Latin America – the decision to withhold the new season from fans has been reversed. This was the easy bit – that particular decision was so stupidly arbitrary that it didn’t make sense to begin with.

Here in the UK, as well as elsewhere in Western Europe, the new season will go to Pluto TV – described as a “free streaming television service.” I’ll have to look up Pluto TV and how it works as I’m not familiar with it at all. In the UK, Germany, France, Russia, South Korea and “additional select countries” (whatever that might mean) Season 4 episodes will be available to purchase digitally on “participating platforms.” Could that mean Amazon Video, among others? Watch this space, I guess.

Discovery Season 4 is coming to Pluto TV!

Reversing the Netflix decision was never going to happen, not after contracts had been torn up and significant sums of money had changed hands. But this is a victory for Star Trek fans – and for fans of any franchise, series, film, or video game across the entertainment industry. It demonstrates the power of fans coming together, and how these kinds of pressure campaigns and reactions can and do have an impact even on the biggest corporations.

At the end of the day, ViacomCBS saw the backlash as a problem and a threat to their current and future profits. That’s the power that we – all of us – have as consumers and as fans. Because we all pulled together and expressed our collective anger, outrage, and frustration, the corporation had no choice but to sit up and take notice. Especially when the value of their shares began to fall.

ViacomCBS shares tumbled following the Discovery announcement and the backlash from fans.

A couple of days ago on Twitter, some anonymous nobody told me to stop “crying” about the Discovery decision because it “wouldn’t change anything.” That person was wrong. On an individual level, none of us have the power to stand up to big corporations; that’s true. But en masse, when fans pull together we can do anything. Star Trek’s history is testament to that.

In 1967-68, a letter-writing campaign orchestrated by Star Trek superfan Bjo Trimble literally saved The Original Series from cancellation at the end of Season 2. The fact that the show got a third season at all was all down to Trekkies. And later, in the 1970s, pressure from fans to bring Star Trek back led to The Animated Series and later The Motion Picture – the film which kicked off Star Trek’s renaissance going into the 1980s.

Star Trek returned in 1979 thanks to the overwhelming support of the fan community.

Following the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005, the fact that the franchise remained popular was a key factor in 2009’s reboot film getting the green light – something which ultimately led to Discovery, Picard, and the rest of modern Star Trek. At every stage of the franchise’s history, fan-led campaigns and the response from fans has been absolutely critical to keeping Star Trek going and reinvigorating the franchise. So it has proved again with Discovery Season 4.

This victory is imperfect. There are still too many Trekkies across the world who can’t access the series – and the rollout of Paramount+ is still plagued with the same problems it was yesterday. For fans in regions where Season 4 still won’t be arriving, this victory may not mean much at all. But it does give us hope for the future.

We still need to work hard to ensure Paramount+ and Star Trek are available to everyone.

ViacomCBS appeared to have forgotten about Star Trek’s international fans. But we reminded them that we’re still here, and that we still want to support the franchise and, albeit reluctantly in some cases, the corporation that owns and manages it. North American Trekkies were allies in that fight – as were many of the cast and crew of Discovery itself, applying pressure in public through their statements.

We can’t look at this as the end of the affair. Trekkies in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and other parts of the world still won’t be able to watch Discovery Season 4, and there are too many regions without a planned rollout of Paramount+. We mustn’t forget that, and we have to keep pressure on ViacomCBS to ensure that they deliver for every Trekkie, not just those in the wealthy west.

Here’s hoping everyone can watch Discovery Season 4 soon.

I feel optimistic today. Not only because Discovery Season 4 is coming here in 48 hours’ time, but because ViacomCBS recognised how badly they screwed up. Rather than doubling-down and continuing to ignore the response from fans, the corporation did something to mitigate the problem, no doubt at a significant financial cost. It won’t have been free to disrupt Pluto TV’s schedule with mere hours to spare, after all! I’d been worried about Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds in light of the Discovery Season 4 debacle, but perhaps ViacomCBS has now learned how bad of a decision it was to try to cleave the fanbase in two. Maybe that means those shows are safe – that we will be able to watch Picard Season 2 together in February, no matter where we live.

So it’s time to investigate the mysterious Pluto TV and see how that works! Apparently Discovery Season 4 is being broadcast there at a scheduled time – 9pm local time – so I guess it works like a television channel rather than a streaming service. I don’t mind that, and if it’s possible to purchase the season or individual episodes for on-demand streaming I don’t mind doing that too. Whatever hoops we have to jump through it’ll be worth it to watch Discovery together.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episodes 1-2 will be available to watch on Pluto TV in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland on Friday the 26th of November 2021. The episodes will also stream on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available, and will be available to purchase digitally in the UK and “additional select countries.” The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What will the Discovery decision mean for Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and the rest of Star Trek?

The fallout from the atrocious and unfair Star Trek: Discovery decision rumbles on. The ViacomCBS share price continues to tumble in the wake of their truly awful decision to piss off most of the fans of their biggest franchise, the rollout of Paramount+ continues at a snail’s pace with no specific launch dates even entering the conversation, and unfortunately we’re now seeing some divisions in the fandom itself, with North American Trekkies pitted against those of us in the rest of the world as arguments break out over the series. What a stinking mess.

At time of writing, both Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Discovery are “Paramount+ exclusives” all across the world – meaning the shows are locked behind a paywall that fans can’t actually pay for because the incompetently-managed streaming service hasn’t launched in the vast majority of countries and territories. I feel even worse for Trekkies in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia in some ways, though, because although Paramount+ has already arrived there, Discovery Season 4 still hasn’t been made available. If you needed any more evidence that ViacomCBS is one of the worst-run corporations in the entire entertainment industry, look no further than that arbitrary nonsense.

The logo of the mediocre streaming service at the heart of all these problems.

But Prodigy and Discovery aren’t the only Star Trek shows in production at the moment. In 2022 Trekkies have been promised Star Trek: Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and Lower Decks Season 3 at a minimum. In the wake of the truly selfish and awful Discovery decision, however, I can’t help but feel very nervous about each of those shows. Will Trekkies around the world be able to enjoy any new Star Trek in the months ahead? Or will we see repeat after repeat of the Discovery mess?

Strange New Worlds seems all but certain to be denied any kind of international streaming deal. If you’re hoping to see the series hit Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you might as well forget it – it’ll be a Paramount+ exclusive for sure. What that means in effect is that anywhere in the world without Paramount+ will miss out on Strange New Worlds. That feels like such a sure thing right now that I’d put money on it.

Don’t bet on seeing Captain Pike on your screens next year. At least not through the usual channels…

Currently, Picard Season 2 is scheduled for a February premiere. If the season runs for ten episodes, as Season 1 did in 2020, it’ll conclude sometime in late April or early May, meaning that Strange New Worlds could debut anytime around then – and certainly well before the middle of the year. At present, the UK and parts of Europe are promised Paramount+ in “early 2022” – which could be before the Strange New Worlds premiere, but it could also be long after the show has kicked off in the United States. And unfortunately, many countries and territories in Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world have no planned launch for Paramount+ at all, which means it could be 2023 or later before the service launches there. If it survives that long.

I simply don’t believe the promises ViacomCBS has made of an “early 2022” launch. Paramount+ has been so poorly managed and so incompetently handled by the corporation that a delay to these plans feels inevitable, so I’m not betting on the service launching here before the end of 2022. But even if, by some miracle, ViacomCBS actually manages to launch Paramount+ on time in Europe, that could still mean Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2 won’t be broadcast simultaneously with North America.

Picard could well be pulled from Amazon Prime Video before Season 2.

As mentioned, Paramount+ has already arrived in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia – and it isn’t exactly brand-new, they’ve had it since March. But despite that, Discovery Season 4 isn’t being shown there at the same time as it’s being shown in North America… so even being very generous to ViacomCBS and assuming that the incompetent morons manage to get Paramount+ to the UK and Europe in “early 2022,” that still doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be able to watch any of the new shows on the damn thing.

As I discussed the other day, ViacomCBS paid Netflix a large sum of money to ensure that Discovery Season 4 wouldn’t be available around the world. If they had done nothing, the show would’ve come to Netflix under existing contracts and licenses – but the corporation chose to intervene, hoping to boost sign-ups to Paramount+ (though the backlash may have actually cost the platform subscribers thanks to a fan-led boycott campaign). What’s to stop ViacomCBS from doing the same thing with Amazon Prime Video, the current home of Lower Decks and Picard?

Will Amazon Prime Video lose its Star Trek shows, just like Netflix?

One of the stupidest and most offensive things about the Discovery decision is that Paramount+ is unavailable across most of the world. If ViacomCBS had pulled Discovery from Netflix because Paramount+ had already launched and they wanted to keep their own shows on their own platform, it would still be frustrating, and the timing would still be awful, but at least there’d be a vague logic to it. But because Paramount+ isn’t even available, the decision has locked the show behind a paywall that no one is able to pay for. Which, as I’ve argued on more than one occasion, means you have the absolute moral justification to pirate the series.

But this kind of decision could well be repeated. I doubt very much that Paramount+ will be available here in the UK by February, in time for Season 2 of Picard. And on current form, there’s nothing to stop ViacomCBS from doing to Amazon Prime Video what they’ve just done to Netflix – pulling the series from broadcast with days to spare. I don’t think it’s safe to assume we’ll be watching Picard Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video… let alone Lower Decks Season 3, which likely won’t be broadcast until later in the year.

Lower Decks Season 3 could also be going exclusively to Paramount+.

Rather than the Discovery mess being a one-time thing, I think as international fans we need to get used to the idea that, at least for the next year or so, watching Star Trek along with our North American friends may not be possible – or at least may not be possible via conventional methods. Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds Season 1 feel the most vulnerable, but realistically we’ll soon see the entire franchise disappear behind Paramount+’s paywall – regardless of whether Paramount+ is actually available.

I’d like to be proven wrong, of course, but I fear that this is the direction of travel for Star Trek as we move into 2022. This will not be a move free of long-term consequences for ViacomCBS. The corporation’s share price continues its fall, many Trekkies have pledged never to subscribe to Paramount+, and one of the biggest single pushes toward piracy since the advent of streaming will lead many fans and viewers to realise just how easy it is to pirate the latest episodes – making it even harder for Paramount+ to tempt them back in future.

A decision intended to push fans toward Paramount+ has actually led to piracy – and threats to boycott the platform.

As self-defeating as these plans may be, don’t expect to see ViacomCBS move away from them. And if you’re especially unlucky, living in a region of the world that ViacomCBS has apparently forgotten even exists, it may be the case that Paramount+ never arrives – or if it does it won’t be till 2023, 2024, or beyond. Star Trek has always told stories of people coming together – of a United Earth free from borders and division. But the ViacomCBS board haven’t even watched their own shows, or if they did the message went far over their shrivelled little profiteering heads.

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but as I see it, the Discovery decision is just the first of many. Strange New Worlds, which has never had an international broadcaster announced, will certainly be a Paramount+ exclusive. Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 could very easily follow the Discovery model and be pulled from Amazon Prime Video. And the rest of the Star Trek franchise? Currently the older shows are on Netflix, but the films aren’t. However, I wouldn’t bet on being able to watch any Star Trek series next year unless you have the DVD or are prepared to sign up for Paramount+.

The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Should we #BoycottParamountPlus?

The Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 catastrophe isn’t going away anytime soon for ViacomCBS. In the days since they dropped a clumsily-worded statement that simultaneously broke the bad news to Trekkies around the world and tried to push sign-ups to Paramount+, the anger in the fandom has not abated. At time of writing, ViacomCBS shares are worth more than $2 less than they were before the announcement – a drop of more than 6%.

That brings us to the #BoycottParamountPlus discussion that has been doing the rounds in some quarters of the Star Trek fan community. In light of the decision by ViacomCBS to pull the show from Netflix internationally, some Trekkies have responded by saying they’re either boycotting Paramount+, cancelling their subscription to the service, or that they will refuse to sign up for it whenever ViacomCBS can be bothered to make it available in their part of the world. Today I wanted to consider the discussion around boycotting Paramount+, boycotts in general, and how fans can and should register their anger, upset, and frustration with a corporation like ViacomCBS.

Some fans are advocating a boycott of Paramount+ in response to the Discovery fiasco.

There are many reasons why folks – even big Trekkies like yours truly – might be wary of signing up for a service like Paramount+. The platform has not been particularly well-received in markets where it has been available, with complaints ranging from technical issues and video quality to a lack of content. At one point, all of the Star Trek films disappeared from Paramount+ with only a few days’ notice due to licensing conflicts with a different streaming platform – despite the fact that ViacomCBS owns the rights to the Star Trek films.

There’s also the cost involved. The “basic” plan, which currently costs $4.99 per month in the USA, comes with advertising. The “premium” plan ditches the commercials, but clocks in at double the price – $9.99 per month in the USA. That makes Paramount+ actually more expensive than Netflix for a comparable service, as Netflix’s cheapest plan in the USA doesn’t run any adverts and costs $8.99 per month.

Paramount+ ain’t cheap.

Paramount+ is not competitively priced, then. It’s more expensive than the big three streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+) and though it does offer some content that the others don’t – such as live sports – its content as a whole is lagging behind. So even being as generous as we can, Paramount+ feels like poor value for what is clearly a second-tier platform.

But all of this talk of costs is rather beside the point. People who can’t afford Paramount+ won’t pick it up, and folks who can perhaps afford one or two streaming subscriptions may have to choose whether to pick up Paramount+ or an alternative. It’s all moot right now here in the UK anyway, because Paramount+ is unavailable, but I wanted to at least acknowledge that the streaming service isn’t particularly competitive with its pricing.

Paramount+ is more expensive than Netflix… and worse.

On an individual level, I can fully understand the response fans have had to ViacomCBS and to Paramount+. The anger and frustration I’ve seen expressed on social media resonates because it’s exactly how I feel, too. The decision the corporation made was horrible, and to cap it off it was announced in the most offensive and callous way possible. No apology has been forthcoming, and ViacomCBS’ marketing and social media teams are apparently burying their heads in the sand, trying to ignore the pushback.

The lack of communication from the corporation is something that I find deeply offensive. Their original message was not contrite or apologetic, and seemed designed to present what they knew would be an upsetting, anger-inducing move as some kind of net positive for international Trekkies. Combined with the marketing doublespeak and the pushing of Captain Burnham’s “Let’s Fly” catchphrase to sign off, the way they chose to communicate this decision was awful.

And as we covered the other day, the timing of this move almost seems to have been designed to inflict maximum hurt on Trekkies, coming 48 hours before Discovery Season 4 was due to premiere. They did this, it seems, for two reasons: so that a major Star Trek convention in London earlier in November wouldn’t be overshadowed by this news (particularly with several Discovery cast members in attendance), and also, if I put on my cynical hat for a moment, ViacomCBS knew that dropping this news with mere hours to go before the season premiered would prevent fans from having time to organise any kind of pushback.

The #BoycottParamountPlus hashtag and movement emerged from the Discovery debacle, but it’s in no way an organised thing right now. And with Season 4 already underway in the United States, practically all of the big Star Trek fansites and social media channels have begun their coverage of the show. Even if fans were able to organise a protest of some kind in the next few days, from the corporation’s perspective things have gone about as well as possible. They succeeded at pulling the show from Netflix, they’re forcing people to pay for Paramount+ with no alternative options, and the fan reaction has been significant, but disorganised.

Star Trek fans are disorganised right now.

I used to work in marketing, and unfortunately, the way corporations see these kinds of social media campaigns is very dismissive and negative. ViacomCBS will have expected a degree of pushback, but they also knew that by making the announcement at the last possible moment, any pushback would be disorganised during the crucial first few days after the season debuted. They’re also counting on fans having short memories, so that by the time Paramount+ rolls out in 2022 (or later, because let’s be honest they aren’t exactly competent so we can’t rely on their planned schedule) the controversy will have died down and even the most ardent critics will still sign up.

And if history is much of a guide, they’re probably right about the latter point. Look at past examples of fans pushing back against corporate decisions. Over in the Star Wars franchise, for example, The Last Jedi was so utterly detested by some fans that they swore they’d never watch anything from the franchise ever again. A heck of a lot of those folks are currently loving The Mandalorian and are excited for other upcoming projects. Even when dealing with topics more important than entertainment, like political issues, it’s increasingly true that all someone has to do is survive and keep their head down for a few days and wait for the source of controversy and its resultant outrage to blow over. Here in the UK we can point to politicians who were caught breaking coronavirus lockdowns who are still gainfully employed, and that’s just one example.

The response to The Last Jedi was negative for Disney at first, but many fans have since returned to the franchise.

One of the main counter-arguments people have been putting forward in response to suggestions of an organised boycott of Paramount+ is that they want to support the series and the hard work the creative team put into making it. I can understand that point of view too, especially coming from those fans who have a creative background themselves. Many of these folks are also ardently opposed to any form of piracy.

But I do want to ask a question: how else are fans supposed to express themselves? If a corporation misbehaves, as ViacomCBS has to put it mildly, how are fans supposed to respond to show their disgust? We can write all the tweets and articles we like, of course, but that has a very minor impact on the corporation overall. Hitting them in their finances is where we can actually hurt them, and if fans make it clear that the reason Paramount+ is losing subscribers or not signing up new ones is because of the Discovery fiasco, then perhaps they’ll sit up and take notice.

A visual metaphor.

However, there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. I mentioned ViacomCBS’ share price at the beginning of the piece because it’s relevant to this conversation. The short-term impact of the Discovery controversy has knocked the value of shares down by a significant amount, and that could continue in the days and weeks ahead. Whether we boycott Paramount+ or not, the corporation is already being kicked in the wallet for this decision. I hope that brings a smile to your face – it certainly did for me.

What I would have liked to see, had there been more time in the wake of the announcement to organise such a thing, would have been a blackout from all of the big fansites and social media channels: a promise not to cover Discovery Season 4 at all until it became available worldwide. Even shutting down discussion of the show for a single week would have a huge impact and would be symbolic of the fandom coming together.

A total communications blackout would send a powerful message.

In my own small way here on my minor slice of the internet, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I could write reviews of the Season 4 episodes – I’ve already seen the premiere. And I could continue to write up my theories because I’ve got dozens swimming around in my head. If I threaten to boycott Paramount+, ViacomCBS knows I’m just one person and they’ve only lost one potential customer. But by refusing to talk about the show at all, the hype bubble around Discovery is ever so slightly deflated. Fewer people talking about the show has an impact – and if we could expand that and get a proper blackout going, then I think ViacomCBS would realise how badly they’ve screwed this up.

It will never happen though, unfortunately. Many of the big Trekkie websites and social media channels work hand-in-glove with ViacomCBS, getting advance screenings, press kits, and even freebies from the corporation. Very few outlets would be willing to lose their access and their privileges, which is why we’ve seen some messages from these folks sound rather tokenistic, I’m sorry to say. I don’t want to cast doubt on anyone’s sincerity, but it kind of smarts when they’ll express their upset in one tweet and then promote their latest review or show off their exclusive pass to the virtual premiere in the next.

I can’t see a big shutdown like this ever happening.

To get back on topic, I can’t tell you what to do. If you want to boycott Paramount+, cancel your subscription, or tell ViacomCBS you’re never paying for Star Trek again, go for it my friend. It’s as good a way as any of getting “revenge” for the offensive way we as international Trekkies have been treated. But if the thought of boycotting upsets you or you want to support the cast and crew, know that the outrage that has been expressed over the past few days has already had a noticeable financial impact on ViacomCBS.

Speaking for myself, if Paramount+ were available to pre-order here in the UK, I wouldn’t. Not right now. And in my own way I’m registering my protest. Refusing to discuss the series, even if only on my own small slice of the internet, is my way of telling ViacomCBS how I feel about the decision they made and the callous way they went about announcing it. But I don’t think we need to get at each other’s throats about this boycott idea. Some fans are up for boycotting, others aren’t. Both points of view have merits and demerits, but the one thing we need to try to do as a fandom right now is come together. Fighting amongst ourselves over what to do about the situation won’t resolve anything – it’s already happened and it won’t be undone. We have to try to move forward together.

For my part, I won’t be posting any spoilers about Discovery Season 4 here on the website – beyond what I’ve already discussed prior to the season premiere, which was only based on teasers and trailers. So you can consider this website a safe space between now and February. I wish I had better news or a better idea of how to fix things, but the reality is that Discovery is ViacomCBS’ product and as consumers, we’re stuck. All we can do is register our protests in whatever way we can. It’s up to you how you protest this decision.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A Trekkie’s dilemma

It’s been 24 hours since ViacomCBS clumsily dropped the news that Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will be kept away from international audiences. The resultant PR disaster has caused significant harm to the corporation’s reputation, as well as that of its streaming service, Paramount+. Once my anger at the situation had simmered down, I became mired in thought. I had a whole series of articles planned here on the website about Discovery: episode reviews and theory posts twice a week, as well as keeping space open for other occasional discussion pieces about the series over the next three months. Should I put all of that on hold for now, even though Star Trek and writing are two of my biggest loves? Or should I power through despite knowing that, even in my small way on my minor slice of the internet, I’m promoting and drawing attention to a series and a company that I just don’t want to support right now?

I’m not one of the big Star Trek fan sites… obviously. I don’t have a huge audience who’d feel let down if my reviews weren’t around, or conversely who would feel the need to mute me or unsubscribe if I carried on posting about a series they aren’t able to watch. So the decision is mine alone, and I confess I’m struggling with it.

What to do?

I feel absolutely morally justified in pirating Discovery. ViacomCBS has willingly chosen to remove the series from distribution here in the UK and around the world. They actively spent money to buy out Netflix’s share in the series so that Netflix wouldn’t be able to broadcast Discovery internationally. Just to reiterate that last point, because I think it’s an important one that’s gotten lost in the heated discussion: if ViacomCBS had done nothing, Discovery would have been broadcast internationally. This isn’t a case of failing to agree licenses in time or broadcast rights expiring, they actively and willingly chose to remove the series from broadcast, and they paid money out of their own pocket in order to ensure it wouldn’t be available to international fans.

Not only that, but in some countries where Paramount+ is available – such as Australia, for example – Discovery Season 4 is still not going to be available to stream. You read that right: Australian Trekkies who’ve already subscribed to Paramount+ and paid for it still won’t be able to watch Discovery Season 4, as will any other Trekkies outside of North America whether they have Paramount+ in their country or not. Why? Because ViacomCBS loves arbitrary bullshit, it seems.

“That is one big pile of shit.”

So I feel all of us outside of North America have the moral high ground and the absolute right to pirate Discovery – and the rest of Star Trek too. When a corporation voluntarily chooses not to share their creation, piracy becomes the only way to access that content. When a film, game, or television series is available to purchase, stream, or rent, I think the vast majority of folks would agree that the moral thing to do is pay to enjoy it. But when that option is taken away, there is only one remaining option – and from a moral, ethical, and philosophical point of view I see no reason at all why international Trekkies shouldn’t pirate Discovery Season 4.

This is not the choice that I would have made. I’m a Netflix subscriber and an Amazon Prime subscriber. I first signed up for Netflix in 2017 specifically because Discovery was about to be available there; Netflix earned my subscription because of Star Trek. Over the past four-plus years I’ve paid my dues on both platforms where Star Trek is available, and if CBS All Access and/or Paramount+ had been made available here in the UK I’d have signed up for them in a heartbeat.

Trekkies were offering ViacomCBS our money… but they didn’t want it.

I’m a Star Trek fan. I want Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed. I want as many people as possible, from casual viewers and total newbies to hardcore fans like myself to be able to watch Star Trek – and to pay to watch it. That’s the only way Star Trek will succeed in the medium-to-long term, and that’s the only way that the franchise’s future will be secure.

But this transactional approach is not a one-way street. It isn’t good enough for ViacomCBS to insist that fans pay to sign up to their mediocre second-tier streaming platform – and then make sure the vast majority of fans can’t because it isn’t available. It isn’t good enough to roll out Paramount+ to countries like Australia and then tell fans they still can’t watch a show that others can.

ViacomCBS has created a paywall that no one can pay for because the corporation is run by incompetent morons.

In 2021, this kind of gatekeeping is simply not acceptable. Segregating the Star Trek fanbase by geography, deeming some “worthy” of being able to watch the latest shows and others not, is not only unacceptable, it’s the complete antithesis of everything Star Trek as a franchise has always stood for. What happened to infinite diversity in infinite combinations? What happened to the dream of a better, more egalitarian world? What happened to United Earth – a place where national borders have no meaning? The answer is that it was all nonsense in the eyes of Star Trek’s corporate overlords, mere words that they don’t believe in yet were happy to sell to anyone stupid enough to pay. Star Trek is a corporate product – that’s the only way ViacomCBS sees it, bankrupt of any real-world meaning or creativity.

All that the corporation cares about is profit – yet they’re so blind, thinking purely about the short-term, that they can’t see how this pathetic, awful approach is going to cost them a hell of a lot more money than it will ever bring in.

Let’s be blunt. Paramount+ will never be Netflix. It will never be Disney+ or Amazon Prime Video either. The platform arrived on the scene ten years too late, plagued by technical issues, running some of its biggest shows in DVD quality, lacking new original content, seriously mismanaged, and with an international rollout that would make a snail riding a sloth look like Usain Bolt. Paramount+ might survive the streaming wars, but even if it does it will forever be a second-tier platform, the kind that people subscribe to for a few months out of the year to watch a show or two and then cancel.

Paramount+ will only ever be a mediocre second-tier streaming service.

From the moment CBS All Access was conceived in the mind of some ageing corporate moron it was fighting an uphill battle. Netflix was already dominant in the streaming realm, and it seems to me that some halfwit with little to no understanding of streaming or the internet looked at the money that Netflix was making, then looked at CBS’ modest library of television shows and said “make me my own Netflix.” The fact that CBS All Access had to be rebranded less than three years after it launched was already a bad sign.

Now called Paramount+ and supposedly bolstered a little by the re-merging of Viacom and CBS, the service continues to flop around like a dying fish. Paramount+ must be run by the most incompetent team of morons any corporation has ever assembled when you consider its track record. Lower Decks Season 1 didn’t get an international broadcast. Prodigy Season 1 didn’t either. All of the Star Trek films disappeared for several months because of licensing conflicts with another streaming platform. Prodigy’s broadcast schedule makes no sense. And now Discovery Season 4 is being pulled from Netflix – and ViacomCBS is willingly spending money in order to pull it from Netflix – months or perhaps even years before Paramount+ will be available internationally.

I guess it’s some kind of visual metaphor…

It’s so disappointing to see ViacomCBS mishandle and mangle their biggest franchise. How can Star Trek have a shot at success with this team of corporate fuckwits running it into the ground at every opportunity? If Paramount+ fails in the years ahead, and drags Star Trek down with it, it won’t be the fault of the writers, producers, and actors across the various shows. It’ll be entirely the fault of a corporate board who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and who don’t understand the most basic realities of running an entertainment company in 2021.

We live in a connected, globalised world. ViacomCBS (and their corporate predecessors) pushed hard to create this world because it means more profit. More Star Trek fans equals more revenue equals more profit. But the global, interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS has created means that the internet – our primary communication tool – is going to be awash with spoilers. Even the most ardent Trek-avoider would be hard-pushed to steer clear of everything Star Trek-related online, especially if they have friends within the fandom.

We live in a connected world.

YouTube channels, websites, and social media will be drowning in spoilers, making the dilemma that much more tricky for the Trekkie with a moral compass. If they decide to be patient and wait it out, despite ViacomCBS not actually providing anything close to a specific timeframe – “2022” could mean January or it could mean December, and I don’t believe for a moment that the hapless fuckwits will be able to deliver the rollout on time anyway – chances are sooner or later they’ll stumble upon a spoiler, or be served up spoilers on a plate by an algorithm. Some websites and social media outlets have pledged to tag any spoiler material, but even then it’s still highly likely that things will slip through the cracks.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve been continuously trying to think of ways to try to mitigate the situation, given that the Netflix decision is clearly final. One compromise could have been to simply delay Discovery Season 4 for everyone – including North American viewers. Waiting until next year would mean we could all watch the series together. But that won’t work.

The decision to pull Discovery from Netflix appears to be final.

The painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ is going country by country and region by region, with many parts of the world having received no information about if or when the platform will be available. In the UK at least we know that there’s a target: 2022. Many countries, such as Japan, don’t even have that. So this idea – while well-intentioned – would either delay the series indefinitely, and certainly well beyond the end of next year, or still end up shutting out a huge number of fans and viewers.

So that brings us to the Trekkie’s dilemma. The way I see it, if you’re outside of North America (which 95% of the planet’s population are, lest we forget), you have three options: wait patiently for ViacomCBS to decide that you’re allowed to watch Discovery, use a VPN to trick Paramount+ into thinking you’re in North America, or pirate the series.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

The first option is what the corporate morons assume everyone will do. That isn’t true, of course, and the PR clusterfuck of the last 24 hours will seem like nothing when Discovery rockets to the top of the most-pirated shows list next week. I think we can expect to see some significant share price falls for ViacomCBS over the coming days and weeks – I certainly wouldn’t be investing in ViacomCBS stock if I were you.

The second option is the worst of the bunch. Not only are you having to jump through hoops to watch Discovery, but you’re paying ViacomCBS for the privilege. They’ve slapped you in the face, and in response you’ve pulled your wallet out and slipped them some cash while saying “do it harder next time, daddy.”

The third option is the one I daresay many Trekkies will avail themselves of. With a tiny amount of effort it’s possible to find any film or television show online, either to stream or to download, and in 2021 if ViacomCBS doesn’t know that then they’re even more out of their depth than I thought.

ViacomCBS is pushing people to take the third option: piracy.

ViacomCBS has encouraged all of us to sail the high seas.

I’m going to watch Discovery Season 4. Interpret that however you’d like. But I’m not going to cover the series extensively here on the website. Rather than individual episode reviews, what I’ll probably do is write up a full season review at the end as a single article. And Fridays, when my Discovery Season 4 reviews would’ve been published, can instead be dedicated to write-ups of older episodes of Star Trek – something I’ve been meaning to do more of here on the website for a while. I’ll pick thirteen Star Trek episodes from the franchise’s extensive back catalogue and write about those instead.

I don’t want to give ViacomCBS or Star Trek: Discovery any more attention at the moment. The corporation has chosen, for utterly inexplicable reasons, not to share the series with its most ardent supporters, so I refuse to do anything to support the show right now. I feel sorry for the actors, directors, and the rest of the creative team, because their incredible hard work under difficult circumstances during the pandemic is now soiled by this truly disgusting corporate mess. But I can’t in good conscience publish weekly reviews, theories, and other discussion pieces drawing attention to the series when I so fundamentally disagree with the way ViacomCBS has conducted itself.

I’m going to go back and re-watch some earlier Star Trek episodes and write about those instead.

I opened my wallet and offered ViacomCBS my hard-earned cash. I’ve paid for two streaming platforms in order to watch Star Trek. I’ve bought the merchandise. I provide the Star Trek franchise and Paramount+ free publicity here on the website simply by discussing the various shows. My website has an American audience, so I know for a fact many of the folks who read my reviews and theories are engaged with Paramount+. But this relationship has turned toxic, and even though I was offering ViacomCBS my cash, my time, my effort, my passion, and my attention, they chose to throw it back in my face. They told me to go fuck myself, so I’m returning the favour.

What should you do? I can’t answer that. Your conscience has to be your guide. Are you confident in your ability to avoid spoilers for the next few months? If you live in a region without a Paramount+ release window, are you okay with the idea of waiting perhaps two years or more to watch the show? I can’t officially condone or encourage piracy – it’s almost certainly breaking the rules wherever in the world you happen to be. But from a philosophical point of view, if you’re a Trekkie outside of North America I think you’re absolutely morally justified in pirating the heck out of Discovery – as well as every other Star Trek show and ViacomCBS production.

I would usually put a disclaimer here saying that the Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery won’t be available internationally.

The message above was posted on social media earlier this evening. What follows is my immediate response – a somewhat unstructured, angry response. For a more structured argument about ViacomCBS’ mishandling of the Star Trek brand internationally, check out this article.

I cannot believe what I just read. Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is not going to be made available on Netflix outside of the United States, and will only be available for international viewers sometime next year when Paramount+ arrives. I’m still digesting this truly awful news.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a go at ViacomCBS – the corporation which owns and mismanages the Star Trek brand – for refusing to make Star Trek: Prodigy available internationally, despite that show being a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon… a ViacomCBS-owned channel that’s available in more than 70 countries around the world.

This Discovery news comes after Prodigy has been denied to international fans. Lower Decks Season 1 was also denied a simultaneous broadcast internationally, arriving almost six months later. So I can’t be alone in asking what the fuck ViacomCBS thinks it’s playing at. Are they trying to encourage piracy? Do they just not care about Star Trek? Perhaps they want to do as much harm as possible to their own brand, and that of their mediocre second-tier streaming platform at the heart of these problems: Paramount+.

ViacomCBS is desperately but incompetently pushing Paramount+.

To make this announcement less than 48 hours before Discovery’s fourth season was due to premiere is beyond insulting. It’s the latest and most egregious “fuck you” in a long line going back a couple of years at least from a corporation that doesn’t give a damn about Star Trek’s sizeable international fanbase.

Not only is Season 4 not going to be available on Netflix, but Seasons 1-3 have been pulled – or will shortly be pulled – from the streaming service as well, gated off behind a paywall that doesn’t exist because Paramount+ isn’t available here in the UK (and elsewhere) yet. It is at least possible to get the first three seasons of the show on blu-ray, so fans who want to watch or re-watch earlier seasons will be able to do so that way. But Season 4 isn’t available… or at least it isn’t available via conventional methods.

Perhaps this is some kind of visual metaphor?

When corporations choose to become gatekeepers and refuse to share the content that they’ve produced with fans who are literally holding their wallets open screaming “take my money!” then piracy, by default, becomes the only option to access that content. Discovery actually will be available internationally, because this is the 21st Century and most folks have internet access. With a tiny amount of effort it’s going to be possible to pirate every episode of the show, allowing fans to enjoy Discovery while ensuring that ViacomCBS doesn’t see a single measly cent by way of profit. That isn’t the decision fans made, it’s the choice ViacomCBS made.

Star Trek became an international franchise at the behest of ViacomCBS and its corporate predecessors. They advocated this kind of corporate globalism because – like the greedy little Ferengi they are – they saw profit beyond America’s borders. There are Trekkies from Tierra del Fuego to St. Petersburg because globalism proved so attractive for ViacomCBS, but the corporation has once again proved beyond any doubt that it doesn’t give even the tiniest of fucks about anyone outside of North America.

Leaked photograph from the ViacomCBS boardroom.

So as I said a couple of weeks ago about Prodigy: it’s totally morally justifiable to pirate it. Go right ahead and pirate Prodigy, and pirate Discovery too. ViacomCBS has told us to keep our money and fuck off, so let’s make sure they don’t ever see another penny of it. What’s the point in continuing to support a corporation that leaves its international fans out in the cold because it can’t manage the incredibly basic task of broadcasting a television show?

Broadcasting and streaming is ViacomCBS’ entire business model – yet time and time again they fuck it up. Paramount+ is a mediocre platform at best that will never be the Netflix and Disney+ competitor that its corporate masters wish it to be. It arrived on the scene a decade too late, with too little original content, and its rollout even within the United States has been horribly mismanaged by a corporation that appears to be run by absolute morons. Paramount+ recently lost the rights to all of the Star Trek films for several months – despite ViacomCBS owning the rights to those films. And as we’re learning the hard way once again today, its international rollout has been pathetically slow.

Only for fans in North America.

It’s such a shame for all of the actors, directors, and behind-the-camera crew who clearly have put a lot of work into Discovery Season 4 that their work is going to be tainted by a truly selfish and shitty business decision. It isn’t their fault, yet their hard work is now soured in the minds of many of the show’s biggest fans because of incomprehensible corporate bullshit.

I’ve been disappointed with ViacomCBS for a while for their pathetic mishandling of the Star Trek brand, but this latest attack has come as a body blow. I’m angry – actually legitimately angry – with a cowardly corporation that doesn’t have the faintest idea how to operate in a 21st Century television and streaming market. Their mismanagement will continue to harm Star Trek – perhaps fatally so.

ViacomCBS is the company responsible for mismanaging Star Trek.

I can’t speak for every Trekkie, but a lot of Star Trek’s international fans are losing patience with this corporation. It’s long past time for ViacomCBS to get a grip and start managing the franchise properly – before too much harm is done. Star Trek is an amazing franchise that everyone should be able to watch together and share with one another no matter where they’re from – but disgusting and insulting corporate decisions continue to get in the way and actively harm Star Trek.

Lower Decks is so much less than it could and should be entirely because ViacomCBS fucked up its international broadcast. The same will be true of Prodigy – a decision compounded in that case by the utterly ridiculous broadcast schedule. Four episodes, then a two-month break? What fuckwit came up with that idea? And now Discovery.

Here’s a newsflash for the ViacomCBS board: fans aren’t going to wait for the mediocre Paramount+ to arrive. A lot of Trekkies will pirate the show, and a lot of viewers who had been looking forward to seeing it on Netflix just won’t bother; they’ll have forgotten all about it by next year. So let’s all sarcastically applaud ViacomCBS for hammering a nail into the coffin of Star Trek. I hope someone out there with a modicum of business acumen will be able to step in and save the day – but I’m not holding my breath.

The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Shatner in space

A few months ago I wrote an article about how space exploration has become boring. The title was deliberately provocative, and of course it goes without saying that I’m approaching the subject from the point of view of a layman. But the point I made stands – it’s been a very long time since any mission to space, and even longer since any crewed mission to space, was of anything more than minor interest.

Many space missions in recent years saw unmanned probes launched, satellites placed into orbit, and the only missions with crews aboard visited the International Space Station. The ISS is without doubt an amazing feat of technology and engineering – but after more than two decades of permanent inhabitation, it’s long since lost much of its interest from the point of view of the layman. Scientifically and technologically space continues to be very important, but for me – and many other folks as well – it’s no longer the inspirational, aspirational place it once was.

The International Space Station.

Partly that’s a consequence of the scaled-back nature of crewed missions, the budget cuts space agencies have faced since the end of the Cold War and its associated space race, and perhaps the difficulty, expense, and length of time required to undertake missions to places we’ve never been before. But regardless of the cause, missions to space in the real world have lost much of their lustre over the decades, and no longer feel as special or as interesting as they once did.

But William Shatner’s recent trek to space was different. Even an old cynic like me felt genuine awe and wonder at the idea that Shatner – Captain Kirk himself – was actually going into space. For decades, journeys to space were the exclusive purview of a tiny number of well-trained air force pilots and scientists. Just getting into the astronaut or cosmonaut programmes required either a career as a high-flying ace fighter pilot or a doctorate in a relevant scientific field. There have been attempts to put spaceflight within reach of more people – Christa McAuliffe, who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, was set to be the first teacher to travel into space. But generally speaking, becoming an astronaut and travelling to space was out of reach for practically all of us.

William Shatner aboard Blue Origin’s NS-18 mission.

People like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have talked in vaguely-defined terms about future missions to space or to Mars that would bring along more civilians and regular folks, but those missions seemed like a long way off. Then came missions in the last couple of years taking paying passengers – but at such a high cost that space felt like a playground for the billionaires’ club and was still beyond the reach of most ordinary people.

William Shatner’s space flight has gone a long way to challenging all of those perceptions. There’s something truly inspirational about the idea of Captain Kirk actually going into space; just writing those words feels incredibly surreal. This character was at the head of a television show and a franchise that, for more than half a century, has done more than any other to inspire people to look to the stars and to look to a future where space travel will be something anyone can participate in. And here he was, actually making that dream a reality in the real world.

Shatner with his crewmates.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Star Trek as an inspirational franchise. Generations of people have watched the series and been inspired by its message, its morals, its optimism, and its technology. The franchise has a track record of bringing its technologies to life – everything from tablet computers, wireless communicators, video calling, and more were “predicted” by Star Trek before becoming a reality. And perhaps that’s what makes William Shatner’s space flight so inspiring – he made the dream of going to space come true as well. There’s hope that, if Captain Kirk can actually travel into space, as Star Trek depicted all those years ago, perhaps the rest of us can too.

Not to be impolite, but at the age of 90, William Shatner isn’t in the prime of his life in terms of his physical condition. He looks great for 90, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a bit of a belly, a few too many wrinkles, and the ever-present toupée! But I’m not here to criticise any of that – because it’s those things that make his journey to space even more astonishing and aspirational. Not only is Captain Kirk himself in space, but here’s someone who’s older than any previous space traveller, who isn’t in the best shape of his life, and yet still it was possible to undertake that incredible journey. By simply being who he is, Shatner has once again inspired millions of folks who might’ve felt space travel was beyond them. Perhaps they felt they were too old, or they have a health condition, or something else. But seeing William Shatner at age 90 boarding that rocket and floating around up in space demonstrates to all of us that such a journey might be possible after all.

William Shatner and his crewmates boarding their spacecraft.

To me, that’s the success of this latest mission to space. For the first time in a very long time, a crewed space mission managed to get me genuinely excited and emotional; I felt I was sharing that moment with William Shatner and the others aboard the rocket. His sense of awe and wonder was so genuine, and the way he spoke and conveyed how it felt was passionate and beautiful.

There are still issues with space travel. The fact that it costs such an insane amount of money is going to be a barrier for a lot of people. But that was true of many inventions from the motor car to the aeroplane, and now those methods of travel are available to many more people than they were when they were first invented.

The idea that Captain Kirk could actually go into space has captured the public imagination in a unique way.

It feels like we’re on the cusp of a new age of space exploration. No longer will space be the exclusive realm of government-funded agencies, gated off to all but a select few people who were privileged enough to be able to head down the perfect career path. Commercial spaceflight has the potential to open up space to untold millions of people – and not just for short fun jaunts either. Orbital hotels, moon colonies, the exploration of Mars, and so many more things all feel one step closer today than they did just a few short weeks ago. That isn’t William Shatner’s doing – Blue Origin, SpaceX, and other companies have been building up to this moment for years. But once again, William Shatner brought space to the fore and captured the public’s imagination in a way that only he could.

I have no time for the naysayers. Prince William, one of the last wriggling vestiges of a dying aristocratic elite, had the audacity to criticise Shatner’s spaceflight shortly after he returned to Earth, saying that we should focus our energies on fixing climate change, not racing to colonise new worlds. But why can’t we do both? And not only that, but there’s more to fighting climate change than getting to the precious “net zero” that seems to be the fetish of our current crop of leaders. Space can offer solutions – harvesting solar energy, for example, capturing carbon and removing it from the atmosphere, or even building solar shades to shield parts of the Arctic and Antarctic are among many hypothetical ways that missions in space could have a real-world impact. And for all of the criticisms I made earlier of space exploration and missions to the ISS feeling boring from the layman’s perspective, the scientific advances they provide have already made an impact here on Earth.

William Shatner looking down at Earth from space.

For the first time in a very long time, a real-life mission to space managed to capture my attention – and showed off to millions of people that the dream of space travel, embodied by television franchises like Star Trek, hasn’t died. There’s the real and genuine potential to repeat this feat, and as technology continues to improve and costs come down, maybe spaceflight will be within reach of the average person sooner than we might expect.

All William Shatner did was accept an invitation and take his seat. But that simple act, and the wonderful reaction he had to it, was life-changing – and not just for the man himself. Just as he did in the 1960s when he commanded the starship Enterprise, William Shatner has once again inspired people all over the world, showing us that it isn’t futile to look to the stars.

Some images used above courtesy of Blue Origin via YouTube. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

It’s morally justifiable to pirate all of Star Trek.

I like Star Trek. I’ve been a Trekkie since I first watched The Next Generation in the early 1990s, and watching that series kicked off a lifelong love of the franchise that continues to this day. Over a span of three decades I’ve watched every single film and episode – practically all of them several times over – and in addition I’ve spent a lot of money on plenty of merchandise, ranging from action figures and coffee table books to artwork and stationery. My house is decorated with Star Trek posters and action figures in display cases, and if you ever stop by for a coffee you’ll almost certainly drink it out of a Star Trek mug. But Star Trek, it seems, doesn’t reciprocate.

At the very least, the suits in charge of the franchise at ViacomCBS do not care one iota about any Star Trek fan outside of North America – as evidenced by the fact that, for the second year in a row, a brand-new Star Trek series is not going to be made available to fans across the world.

Logo for ViacomCBS – the corporation that owns Star Trek.

Star Trek: Prodigy premieres in a couple of days’ time, and just as happened with Lower Decks in August 2020, the series is going to be kept away from fans outside of North America. This decision re-emphasises ViacomCBS’ disgusting attitude to the franchise’s non-American fans, but in one significant way it’s an even worse and more egregious insult than the Lower Decks debacle was.

Why do I say that? Because Prodigy is a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon – both of which are ViacomCBS subsidiaries. Nickelodeon, as I’m sure you know, is a children’s television channel that is broadcast across the world – in more than 70 countries from New Zealand to Ukraine and South Africa to Pakistan. In order to make Prodigy available to a worldwide audience, all ViacomCBS would have needed to do was put the series on Nickelodeon – something incredibly easy to do as Nickelodeon is a channel it already owns and operates. It wouldn’t have even cost the corporation any money, as there would have been no expensive rights agreements or broadcast licenses to negotiate.

ViacomCBS literally owns Nickelodeon and all of its international channels.

The decision not to broadcast the show on Nickelodeon can only be taken one way: it’s an insult. ViacomCBS is once again throwing up a middle finger to Star Trek’s international fanbase – a sizeable fanbase that must at the very least equal the number of Trekkies in the United States.

At first I thought I was okay with it. Prodigy is a show for kids, after all, and most kids won’t care. But the more I thought about it the more I kept returning to the argument I made in the run-up to Lower Decks’ premiere last year: that this is not an acceptable way for ViacomCBS to behave.

Star Trek became a global brand at the behest of ViacomCBS and its predecessors. The corporation adores globalism because it wants to make more and more profit – like a greedy Ferengi – from people who don’t live in the United States. But creating a global brand comes with a responsibility that doesn’t stop at international borders, and for seemingly no reason at all ViacomCBS is abdicating its responsibility to Trekkies.

Photo from the ViacomCBS boardroom.

I get it – ViacomCBS wants people to sign up for its mediocre second-tier streaming platform: Paramount+. The future is digital, and the corporation wants Paramount+ to be a success as more people around the world stop tuning in to broadcast television. But if that’s the case, ViacomCBS needs to make Paramount+ available internationally – the platform’s international rollout has been painfully slow and incredibly patchy, with films and shows the corporation owns not being available on the platform even after Paramount+ arrives in some regions.

ViacomCBS is trying to tie Star Trek to Paramount+, using the franchise to hook Trekkies in and convince us to subscribe. There’s a profit motive here – but that doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility they have to fans of their programmes and franchises. Star Trek only exists and was only able to be revived in 2017 because of its international fanbase – a deal with Netflix reportedly paid for almost the entire cost of Discovery’s first season. Yet time and again, ViacomCBS is content to ignore its international fans and leave us in the cold.

Prodigy will only be available to American audiences via Paramount+.

This isn’t just about one series – or two series now, counting Lower Decks last year. The Star Trek franchise is constantly prioritising fans in North America over us out here in the rest of the world. Trailers and clips for upcoming shows or even marketing material will be quite literally gated off on social media, with fans outside North America being told that “this content is not available in your location.” Star Trek’s official shop offers a paltry range of products internationally when compared to its North American offerings, and ViacomCBS is quite happy to ignore any and all questions on the subject of international availability.

Look at any recent social media post promoting Prodigy and you’ll see a slew of messages and comments from fans overseas. Most are polite, simply enquiring about if and when the series will be made available in their neck of the woods. And Star Trek’s social media team ignores every last one of them – just as they did last year when fans were clamouring for information about Lower Decks.

A handful of comments from social media directed at the official Star Trek pages and channels – all of which were ignored. Names redacted.

There has been no official word from ViacomCBS or the Star Trek social media teams about Prodigy’s international debut – and there won’t be. They simply do not care enough to even give a non-answer like “coming soon.” Instead, fans are left to shout into the void, bang our heads against a wall of silence, and whatever other metaphor you can think of for trying to get information from an uncaring corporation.

Last year there was an excuse – a piss-poor one, but an excuse nevertheless: the pandemic. Disruption to production and broadcast schedules – especially post-production work on Discovery Season 3 – meant that last-minute changes were necessary. Lower Decks was bumped up to be broadcast ahead of Discovery, and there wasn’t time to sort out the international rights. That excuse is bullshit, of course, because as I said last year it’s still up to ViacomCBS to broadcast or delay the series, meaning they could have waited to ensure fans everywhere could watch it together. But this year even that paltry excuse no longer applies.

There are two reasons why: Prodigy’s production hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic to anywhere near the same extent, and as already discussed, ViacomCBS owns Nickelodeon and has the option to broadcast the series on a channel that they own in 70+ countries around the world.

Prodigy is a Nickelodeon and CBS Studios co-production.

I want ViacomCBS and Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed and continue to be produced. But if the corporation is so callous and uncaring when it comes to fans like me, what am I supposed to do? It’s a toxic relationship right now; a one-way relationship with no reciprocity. Prodigy is supposed to be a series that will bring in new fans to Star Trek – but it’s also supposed to be a show with a lot to offer to Star Trek’s existing fans. For “business reasons,” though, only certain fans that ViacomCBS deems important enough or worthy will be permitted the privilege of watching the series.

In 2021, with the global interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS pushed to create, segregating a series or film geographically is indefensible. A delay of a day or two between regional broadcasts might be acceptable – though there’s no technical reason why, given the technologies involved. But to broadcast a new show in one location and not even give lip service to when it might be available anywhere else? It’s wrong – and more than that, it’s stupid and self-defeating from a business perspective.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

ViacomCBS wants as many people as possible to tune in to Star Trek. They want as many kids as possible to watch Prodigy, and I would assume they’re planning to sell merchandise based on the show as well – though the lack of any obvious Prodigy merchandise so far is yet another indication of the moronic and amateurish way the corporation is handling its biggest brand. But if the goal is to get fans excited and talking about the show, hyping it up in the run-up to its premiere and generating the kind of online buzz that makes television shows a success, cutting off at least half the fanbase is the dumbest and most idiotic thing the corporation could possibly do.

From Game of Thrones to Squid Game, online chatter is what drives people to check out a new television series. People who love something and who are passionate about it tell their friends and their social media followers, and that engagement drives people to the show – and the platform that hosts it. By deliberately and intentionally preventing many Trekkies from accessing Prodigy, ViacomCBS has killed a lot of the hype and excitement that the show could have generated.

Who knows how much bigger Prodigy could have been if the corporation in charge had handled its broadcast better?

The corporation has evidently learned nothing from the muted and lacklustre response to Lower Decks last year – a response that, sadly, has seen the show fail to hit the heights it could have in terms of viewership. Even when Lower Decks did arrive internationally and even when its second season did get the simultaneous broadcast it needed, a lot of damage had already been done, and the opportunity to make the series bigger than it ultimately became was missed.

Lower Decks and Prodigy are the two most unique and different offerings that the Star Trek franchise has arguably ever produced. Out of everything the franchise has on the horizon, it’s these two shows more than any others that had the potential to bring in hordes of new fans and to take the Star Trek franchise as a whole to the next level in terms of audience numbers and the scale of the fanbase. These opportunities have been pissed away by a corporation that clearly has no idea how to run an international franchise.

Fans outside North America might as well stare out of the window – because Prodigy won’t be hitting our screens any time soon.

When a corporation deliberately and wilfully treats a large section of its fanbase with such blatant disrespect, what can we do?

Since ViacomCBS clearly doesn’t care about anyone outside of North America, it seems to me that there’s no point in continuing to engage with the corporation or support it. They don’t care about us, so why should we care about them? And why should any non-American Trekkie consider spending a single penny on any ViacomCBS product in future? It seems like it’s only a matter of time until the next Star Trek show or film isn’t made available to us either.

If ViacomCBS chooses not to make Star Trek available to fans, we might as well pirate it. They clearly place no value on the money we could pay them or the passion we could have when talking about upcoming shows and films, so why bother? We might as well pirate all of Star Trek – and everything else ViacomCBS does, too. If they’ve chosen not to make Prodigy available internationally, and won’t even have the basic decency to answer repeated questions from fans, piracy is the default option – quite literally the only way to watch the series. It didn’t have to be, but this is a choice ViacomCBS willingly made.

When a corporation chooses to place no value on its biggest and most passionate fans, and takes increasingly stupid business decisions that almost seem intended to harm their franchise, they’ve made their decision. The lack of a response to these basic questions from fans about Prodigy’s availability or about the Paramount+ rollout is in itself an answer. And that answer is: “go fuck yourself, we don’t give a shit about you.”

In most jurisdictions around the world, piracy – defined above as the sharing of copyrighted material over the internet – is not legal. This essay was an examination of the moral and ethical implications of piracy only, and was categorically not an endorsement or encouragement to download any individual film or television series, nor should anything written above be interpreted in that manner. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Fighting the urge to panic-buy

The media is truly excellent at manipulation. Take the UK’s recent petrol and diesel shortages as an example. A “leak” from a private meeting between government officials and industry leaders suggested that the chronic shortage of lorry drivers – which extends far beyond Britain’s borders, afflicting much of western Europe and even the United States – could make it harder to ensure fuel deliveries to petrol stations. The inevitable and quite predictable result of the press reporting this as if it were imminent was panic-buying; a run on fuel.

It wasn’t until the media-reported “leak” that the panic-buying began, which led to the very fuel shortages that headlines screamed were coming. In short, the UK’s current fuel predicament is entirely a media-created problem, but I doubt very much that the responsible parties will ever be held accountable.

There has been a run on petrol stations in the UK over the last few days, all thanks to the media.

The same is true of other instances of panic-buying over the last couple of years. The infamous toilet paper shortage at the beginning of the pandemic was, once again, a media-created firestorm. And many media outlets, particularly tabloids, haven’t stopped trying to create more “shortages” to report on ever since. They prioritise sales, clickbait, and the revenue that panic-inducing headlines provide over any semblance of journalistic integrity, taking photos of supposedly “empty” shelves in supermarkets and showing them to the world under exaggerated headlines promising imminent doom.

My first ever job when I was still at school was working in a convenience shop in a small town. On any day of the week it was possible to find an empty shelf – most shops and supermarkets don’t have large stockrooms any more, with the just-in-time delivery system bringing everything on a daily basis. By the time evening rolled around, some shelves could look pretty bare. It’s at these times of day that many tabloid “journalists” and their photographer allies sneak into supermarkets to snap pictures of empty shelves in a desperate quest to keep the public buying newspapers (a dying format) or clicking on headlines proclaiming that we’re all about to starve to death.

You can find scenes like this seven days a week in most supermarkets, convenience stores, and food shops.

Even if there are individual industry-specific shortages or supply chain problems, these aren’t going to be permanent. The fuel panic has already blown over in much of the country, with only the London area still fully in the grip of the crisis. And promises of additional drivers and tankers backed up by the army should see that settle within a matter of days. Likewise in food, where certain products have been out of stock. These things don’t last forever, because it’s in everyone’s interest, from the government to the shops to their suppliers, to figure out solutions as quickly as possible. The only ones who benefit in any way from these shortages – or reported “shortages” – are the media.

So why, then, am I finding it hard to resist the temptation to join in and start panic-buying?

Partly this is an anxiety thing, and folks who suffer from anxiety to a worse degree than I do must surely be feeling awful right now. Headlines are screaming of shortages in fuel, meat, fruits and vegetables, and even proclaiming that Christmas is about to be “cancelled” due to a lack of festive food and toys. For people with mental health conditions, these kinds of headlines are just awful.

“Christmas is cancelled!” scream the headlines in some failing newspapers.

The rational part of my brain is fighting the irrational side – as it always has to. Are there enough lorries to transport everything I need? Will I have enough food? Will I be able to get enough food for the cats? What about my medication? What about cat litter? What about bin liners? What about this, that, and the other things?

It’s so very tempting to say “I’ll just pick up a couple of extras.” That doesn’t feel like panic-buying, and I can even rationalise it to myself by saying that I’m not panicking, I’m just being sensible and taking precautions in case other people start panic-buying. Besides, the supermarket won’t miss a couple of extra tins of potatoes and packets of cat food, right? They’ve got loads of stuff on the shelves (despite the false pictures printed in the newspapers!)

A shortage of HGV drivers is one factor in some of these “shortages.”

The problem with that mindset is that, when everyone does the same thing, shops run out of everything more quickly. When people who have their tanks half-full stop by the petrol station for a top-up “just in case,” fuel runs out. And that’s exactly what we’ve been seeing over the past week. People who didn’t need to buy fuel, and wouldn’t have under normal circumstances, have started queueing up to top up their vehicles in case there’s a shortage caused by panic-buying… not realising or acknowledging that they themselves are part of the problem.

It’s an easy trap to fall into. And it’s easy to talk oneself into it, too. After all, if there’s even the possibility of things running out, it makes sense to jump in ahead of the panic and stock up, right? The mindset of “other people panic-buy; I’m just being sensible” is a way for all of us to rationalise what is really not rational behaviour. The fear of missing out, of sitting at home without food or toilet paper or petrol wishing we’d taken action sooner is pushing people on, spurring them to take irrational action and do the wrong thing at the wrong moment.

Other people panic-buy, but when *I* rush out to buy things I don’t need, I’m “just taking sensible precautions” or “stocking up.”

In the west, most people have never had to experience a genuine shortage of anything. In the UK, there haven’t really been any major problems or shortages since the 1970s, meaning anyone under the age of 50 can’t remember the three-day week or rolling blackouts. There hasn’t been a petrol shortage since fuel protests in the year 2000, and that was swiftly resolved. While there were supply issues for a few select products – like toilet paper – early last year that are certainly playing into people’s fears, it’s been a generation since the country last endured any major shortages.

With no experience of hard times to fall back on, people are more inclined to panic. Some genuinely fear starvation – though their girth suggests that such a fate would take a very long time indeed. But most people simply fear the unknown: what will a world without easy access to abundant supplies of food look like? Not knowing leaves folks much more inclined to panic.

The UK hasn’t experienced problems like these since Ted Heath was Prime Minister in the mid-1970s.

The media as a whole is being phenomenally irresponsible, though certain publications are worse than others. The incompetent government isn’t helping, of course, and things like a cut to benefits (welfare), a lower-than-expected rise in pensions, tax rises, and major price rises for electricity and gas bills all pile on top of the supposed shortages, adding to a sense of unease and worry among the population. On a personal level, I’m seeing my income shrink right at the moment my bills rise. With people already worried about paying for the basics like food and heating, the threat of food supplies drying up or no fuel at the pumps was the last straw for a lot of people.

It’s understandable, then, why people feel compelled to join the queues at petrol stations or push their way into packed supermarkets to chase down the last roll of Andrex. And I can take some degree of comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who feels that way. Fighting the urge to panic-buy isn’t easy… but it’s worth doing. In fact, it’s the only way to prevent more panic-buying in the long term. That and not buying any newspaper with a red top or clicking on a clickbait headline on a poorly-coded website.

I’m going to try hard to avoid succumbing and contributing to the panic. Hopefully the reward will be a government that pays attention and actually takes action to fix the systemic issues that got us to this point – but I won’t hold my breath for that. Until then, I think I’m going to take a break from the news and focus on happier things. Like re-watching yesterday’s episode of Star Trek: Lower Decks. Damn, that was a fine episode.

Some stock images courtesy of Unsplash and/or Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ah, September!

I adore the beginning of September. As a kid I hated it, of course – the first week of September means back to school for kids in England – but with those years far behind me (too far, quite frankly) I’ve really come to appreciate what September brings. Even as a kid, September marked the beginning of the slow march to Christmas, and brought with it the end of the summer heatwaves and warm weather. As the leaves begin to turn shades of gold, orange, and red, autumn sets in and the weather cools. The nights start getting noticeably longer, and then before you know it it’s harvest time!

Autumn is, on balance, probably my favourite season. As much as I like seeing the beautiful frosts and snowfalls of winter, autumn has a sense of slowly-building anticipation that winter lacks; the hype before the main event. Just like the days leading up to Christmas are more enjoyable than Christmas Day itself, so too is autumn preferable to winter.

Don’t tell anyone, but Christmas is coming!

Though we don’t have Thanksgiving here in the UK like our American and Canadian friends, harvest time brings with it an abundance of many of my favourite dishes, like apple crumble – the perfect autumn dessert, if you ask me! As a kid we’d go bramble-picking, collecting the fruit you might also know as blackberries to make into desserts or jam. I tend to associate the autumn season with these kinds of fruity, sweet flavours – but you could just as easily add into the mix hearty stews or dishes like steak pie.

Apples – the quintessential autumn fruit.

As an aside, it was only when I moved away from the UK and met folks from other countries that I realised how British cuisine has acquired a truly awful reputation! It never occurred to me that it might be so looked down on by people from other parts of the world, especially because I grew up in a rural community where farm-fresh produce was often available. I can remember attending events celebrating cookery, where local chefs would show off the best (often very expensive) home-grown ingredients. There was even an apple festival that I went to once – around this time of year – which was great fun. And I still have a soft spot for cookery shows on television (or online) – many of which star British chefs cooking British food. But I digress!

Heat never used to be a big deal for me. I lived for a time in South Africa, on the KwaZulu-Natal coast, and summer was warm and humid there. Even when I lived in mainland Europe, temperatures were a lot warmer than they are here. Unfortunately though, as my health has gotten worse over the years I’ve found that my tolerance for heat has declined, and my idea of what makes for a comfortable temperature is now what a lot of folks would call “cold!” This means that I enjoy summer even less than I ever used to, so the beginning of September brings with it a sense of relief. Of course it’s still possible to get a heatwave or hot spell into September, but by and large we’re through what I consider the least-enjoyable part of the year.

Autumn is when the weather cools and the leaves turn beautiful shades of gold and orange.

From an entertainment point of view, September marks the beginning of the traditional television season – though of course such things are increasingly meaningless in an era of ten-episode seasons and on-demand streaming! But it was in September when many shows would premiere or kick off their new seasons – Star Trek: The Original Series and The Next Generation both debuted in September, for example. Even today, with streaming becoming an ever-larger part of the home entertainment landscape, summer still sees fewer new shows and fewer video game releases than the autumn. Got to get those games out in time for Christmas, right?

When I worked in the city in an office – or rather, a succession of offices – September was usually a great time to take a break. Co-workers with kids would often want time off over the summer holidays, and would be grateful to us childless folks for not taking up too many vacation days during the weeks when schools were closed. So by the end of the summer most of them would come back to work, meaning it was my turn for some time off! Though I wouldn’t say this was a tradition I stuck to every year, it was certainly something I took advantage of for several Septembers.

A real harvest bounty!

For a variety of reasons I have positive associations with this time of year, some going all the way back to my early childhood memories of picking brambles in the hedgerows around the small village where I grew up. Or playing conkers! Do you remember that game? If you never got to play, as kids we’d pick conkers – the large woody seed of horse chestnut trees – and tie them to pieces of string. The game then involved two players swinging or flicking their conker at the other player’s – the surviving conker was declared the winner!

So as September begins, we mark the unofficial end of summer. My favourite time of year gets started, and we begin the slow march toward Christmas and New Year – which will be upon us sooner than we realise! I never like to wish away time; none of us really know how many months or seasons we’ve got left, so wishing for a particular time of year to rush by seems rather ghoulish. But every year I’m pleased to welcome September, which brings with it the beginning of my favourite season and favourite time of year. And today, I just wanted to take a moment away from the usual things I talk about here on the website to acknowledge that.

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective owner, studio, broadcaster, etc. Some stock images courtesy of pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Gene Roddenberry at 100

Today marks what would’ve been Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday, so it’s a good opportunity to pause and look back at the life and legacy of the man who created Star Trek – and changed science fiction forever.

Of course it’s true that we wouldn’t have Star Trek without Gene Roddenberry. But it’s very likely that Star Wars wouldn’t exist either, at least not in any form we’d recognise, and without either of those pioneers, countless other sci-fi and fantasy films and television shows would likely have never made it to the screen. Gene Roddenberry’s legacy extends far beyond the USS Enterprise, Captain Kirk, and the franchise he created that’s still going strong in its fifty-fifth year; he quite literally transformed science fiction and started the process of making it mainstream.

I never had the opportunity to meet Gene Roddenberry. In fact, by the time I settled in to regularly watch Star Trek: The Next Generation in the early 1990s, he’d already passed away. But his creation had a huge influence on my early life and adolescence, even though I only knew the man himself as merely one name among many in the end credits. Many people have spoken about the inspirational side of Star Trek, how the franchise depicts an idealistic future free from many of the problems and challenges our society has to deal with today. For me, that was – and remains – the appeal of Star Trek.

Gene Roddenberry (seated) with other members of the production and creative team behind The Next Generation.

Whole generations of people have grown up watching and loving Star Trek since Gene Roddenberry passed away. The fact that the franchise he created is still inspiring people to look to the stars – and to look to make changes for the better in the world today – a hundred years after he was born, and almost three decades since his death, is a phenomenal legacy for any one person to have. Untold numbers of people have been inspired by Star Trek to become scientists, doctors, engineers, astronauts, and even politicians, taking Gene Roddenberry’s philosophy and idealism for the future to every corner of our society. Star Trek may still be on the air, but Gene Roddenberry’s legacy has long since moved beyond the screen and into the real world.

As someone who never met Gene Roddenberry and only started watching Star Trek after he was already gone, I can’t comment on the man himself. I didn’t know him on a personal level, and I regret never having the opportunity to talk with him about the future and how our society and civilisation might evolve. But I can speak to how I perceive his legacy and how he affected the world, and though it might sound like a cliché, there are very few people who have had such a positive impact – both on my own life and in the wider world.

Gene Roddenberry with William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley on the set of The Motion Picture.

Star Trek was always double-layered for Gene Roddenberry. There was the cool sci-fi stuff; the spaceships, phasers, transporters, and the like. He brought those to life using the best available television technologies and special effects, some of which would be adopted by other productions and become mainstays of the sci-fi genre. But there was also social commentary and a desire to show audiences that the way the world is today isn’t the way it always has to be.

At a time when racial segregation was still ongoing in the United States, and when the battle for civil rights and racial equality was still being fought, Gene Roddenberry put black and white characters together on an equal footing. At a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in the Cold War, Gene Roddenberry put a Russian on the bridge of the Enterprise. And at a time when neurodivergent people were looked down on and mistreated, Gene Roddenberry created characters like Spock and Data, who present very differently to their peers but were nevertheless welcomed and accepted.

Gene Roddenberry created many wonderful and diverse characters.

Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Starfleet and the Federation was a space where everyone could feel welcome. Discrimination and hate didn’t exist in the 23rd or 24th Centuries as he saw it, and the way Star Trek depicted this vision of the future has been a force for good in the world.

On the practical side of things too, Gene Roddenberry’s legacy lives on. George Lucas has said on many occasions that Star Wars – arguably the biggest space-based entertainment property in the world – would not have come to exist without Star Trek and the trail it blazed. Countless other sci-fi and space-fantasy films, television shows, and even video games all owe a great deal to Gene Roddenberry and Star Trek. Though he didn’t invent the genre, Roddenberry expanded it in a big way. By creating one of the first connected fandoms, complete with meet-ups and conventions in which he and the show’s stars would happily participate, Roddenberry pioneered the concept of a fan community decades before the internet came along.

Jeffrey Hunter and Gene Roddenberry holding a model of the USS Enterprise during production of The Cage.

Later today, on what would’ve been Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday, a new episode of Star Trek will premiere. What would he have made of Lower Decks, the franchise’s first foray into comedy? Some folks who haven’t liked the direction that the franchise has taken in recent years might say he’d have disliked the concept, but actually Roddenberry had plans for a Star Trek comedy himself. Perhaps the most famous concept would’ve focused on Lwaxana Troi as a spin-off from The Next Generation, but he had many other ideas for Star Trek projects – including comedies – going all the way back to the 1970s.

A number of people involved in the production of Star Trek have noted how Gene Roddenberry was acutely aware of how audience expectations changed over time. One of the main reasons why his television project Star Trek: Phase II was reworked into The Motion Picture was because he’d seen the success of Star Wars in 1977 and how well audiences had responded to it. Though he may not have liked every single creative decision taken by the franchise over the years, he would at the very least understand that audiences have changed and that Star Trek has to change too. Whether he’d approve of every joke and character in Lower Decks or Discovery is thus a moot point; I think Gene Roddenberry would have understood and been supportive of the concept and of taking Star Trek to new places.

So that’s about all I have to say today, really. Though I never met him, Gene Roddenberry has had an ongoing influence on my life. As a Trekkie, I revel in the world that he created, the characters he brought to life, and the wonderfully optimistic vision of a future free from the kind of social ills that plague the world today. I believe, as he did, that the human race is capable of getting to that point. He encouraged all of us to reach for the stars – and to strive to build a better world. That legacy continues to this day – and I hope it will always be there.

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Some behind-the-scenes photos courtesy of TrekCore. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Wrangling with the Activision Blizzard scandal

During a recent episode of the DenPod (my unscripted podcast), I said that I’ve found it difficult to know what to say about the Activision Blizzard scandal, and how to cover the story in a way that’s appropriate in style and tone. It goes without saying that what happened at Activision Blizzard, as well as the company’s pathetic reaction to it, is incredibly serious, but I feel that a lot of the commentary and discussion around the scandal, even from well-established critics and publications, missed the mark.

To briefly recap what’s been going on in case you didn’t know, Activision Blizzard has been sued by the state of California in the United States for violating the rights of female (and other) employees. Activision Blizzard is accused of fostering a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination that is so intense that at least one employee is believed to have committed suicide following an extended period of harassment. The lawsuit is ongoing and unresolved at time of writing, but Activision Blizzard has acknowledged that there are “issues” with its corporate culture, and at least one senior executive has now resigned. Activision Blizzard employees also staged a walkout in response to the company’s handling of the scandal.

Some outlets have referred to this as a “frat boy” culture (a reference to the loutish, sexually aggressive behaviour of some college fraternities in the United States), but I don’t think that term comes close to describing what’s alleged to have happened at Activision Blizzard. Nor does it do justice to the severity of the accusations.

Sexual harassment is said to be rife at Activision Blizzard.

Other reports have suggested that this kind of sexual harassment is a problem that plagues the games industry as a whole. I agree, though I’d also add that this kind of behaviour can happen at any kind of company in any industry; it’s an industry problem, not specifically a games industry one. Tackling institutional or systemic misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace is clearly an ongoing struggle, particularly in the United States and other parts of the world where workers’ rights are not as well-protected as they are in parts of Europe, for example.

I used to work in the games industry. I spent several years with a large games company based in Germany, and as a freelancer I worked with about a dozen small and large games companies in the years after I left my position at that company. I was fortunate that, in the decade or so I spent working in the industry, I never saw or experienced harassment or bullying of that nature. But as I often say, one person’s experience is not a complete worldview, and the fact that I didn’t see sexual harassment first-hand during the years I worked in the industry doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening.

Activision Blizzard has this statement on their website – quite unironically, it seems.

In recent years we’ve learned a lot more than ever before about abusive management practices and “corporate cultures” at large video games companies. Rockstar is just one of many companies that have been called out for their awful practices during “crunch” times – and crunch is something I definitely saw and experienced first-hand during my time working in the industry. Other companies like CD Projekt Red and even the sainted Nintendo have been criticised for this as well. Then there was Ubisoft, a company which faced comparable accusations of sexual harassment – and worse – to Activision Blizzard.

All of these cases – and many more besides – follow a pattern which is all too familiar in the days of 24/7 rolling news and social media outrage mobs: the story blows up, has its five minutes in the spotlight, then disappears. News of the Ubisoft scandal broke barely a year ago, yet practically no outlets, publications, or even independent commentators have so much as mentioned it for months. New Ubisoft games like Watch Dogs: Legion, Immortals Fenyx Rising, and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla have all been released since the scandal, and what happened? Practically all of the outlets and critics who went hell-for-leather against Ubisoft for all of five minutes forgot the scandal and reviewed their latest games – often giving them glowing recommendations. Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has an average score from professional critics of 80/100 on Metacritic, for example.

A similar scandal involving Ubisoft doesn’t appear to have harmed its recent games.

So we come to the Activision Blizzard scandal itself. The reaction from amateur and professional commentators alike was unanimous – the company is to be condemned for not only allowing this behaviour, but rewarding those involved and covering for senior managers and executives. And that is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with, not that it should even need to be said. Practically everyone who hears about what’s been going on at Activision Blizzard will have felt that such behaviour is unacceptable – and potentially criminal, as the lawsuit alleges. Those instincts are spot on, and I don’t disagree in the slightest.

But then I started to hear some very familiar statements and promises, accompanied by the same semi-hysterical language and, in some cases, blatant over-acting on podcasts and videos by folks trying to channel their original instinctive outrage into clicks, views, and advertising revenue. Critics and publications began inserting themselves into the story. Articles and columns weren’t about Activision Blizzard so much as they were about the writers and critics themselves, and how the scandal made them feel.

Some of this is unavoidable; when people are paid to discuss a big news story, how they feel about the story often creeps into even the most well-intentioned journalism. But in this case a lot of folks seemed to go way beyond that, promising their audiences that they will “boycott” future Activision Blizzard releases and discussing at length their own feelings and opinions on the subject. Many of these stories ceased to be about Activision Blizzard and became a “look at me” kind of thing, with publications and critics using the backdrop of the scandal to score attention, clicks, and money for themselves.

A visual metaphor.

This happens a lot on social media, where scandals and news stories are often less about the events themselves and more about the people discussing them. The term “virtue signalling” is often used to derisively critique people who feign outrage or interest in a story while it’s popular, and there seemed to be an awful lot of virtue signalling coming from professional and amateur commentators as news of the Activision Blizzard scandal was breaking.

Having been down this road before, both with companies that saw comparable scandals and with other companies that received justified or unjustified criticism, let me say this: the vast majority of the folks promising to “boycott” future Activision Blizzard titles will do nothing of the sort. A small minority may stick to their guns beyond the next few weeks and months, but eventually critics and publications will return to the company. Activision Blizzard has big releases planned, including the next Call of Duty title, a remaster of Diablo II, and the long-awaited Diablo IV. Not to mention that the company manages hugely popular online titles like Overwatch and World of Warcraft. I simply don’t believe that most of the people who’ve jumped on this story and criticised the company in such a public way will be able to resist the temptation of talking about some of these titles – particularly if hype and excitement grows, as it may for the likes of Diablo IV.

I’m pretty sure that a lot of critics and commentators will be back for Diablo IV, regardless of what they may have said about Activision Blizzard in the last few days.

We’ve been here too many times for me to have any confidence in people sticking to any promises or commitments that they may have made in the heat of a (scripted and well-planned) rant to camera about Activision Blizzard. Not only that, but the backlash a publication or critic can expect to receive for reneging on such a promise is basically non-existent. They might get a few comments calling them out for going back on their word, but that’s all. If history is any guide, most readers or viewers won’t even remember the Activision Blizzard scandal in a few weeks’ time, let alone be willing to hold a publication or critic to account for failing to live up to a commitment not to cover their future releases.

As the news of the scandal was breaking and I saw the increasingly manufactured outrage from professionals and amateurs unfolding, I felt there was no way to cover the story without getting sucked into all of this. I don’t like my website to be a space for negativity, so I shelved it and aside from a mention on my podcast I haven’t talked about the Activision Blizzard scandal until now.

Trying to step back from the quagmire surrounding the story and address it head-on is a challenge, but here we go. There needs to be a complete overhaul of Activision Blizzard from the top down. Senior executives and managers need to be investigated to see what they knew and whether or to what extent they were complicit in the behaviour or in covering it up. The company needs to make real changes to the way it deals with its employees, and there needs to be some way of enforcing that and holding the company to that commitment. If those things can’t happen, the only other option is for the company to disband and be shut down.

Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick.

In 2021 it’s so incredibly depressing that we’re still dealing with sexual harassment of women in the workplace. It feels like the kind of story that should’ve been dealt with fifty years ago or more, and the fact that this kind of behaviour can still happen, and happen so openly at a large company, is unacceptable and deserves all of the criticism it gets – and more.

But at the same time, much of the criticism that I’ve seen smacked of the kind of soft-touch, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it coverage that has been all too common in recent years. And I note echoes of similar scandals at other large companies in the video games industry that have all but disappeared despite no senior managers or executives even being fired, let alone prosecuted for their actions.

The even more depressing truth is that I expect the vast majority of critics and players to drift back to Activision Blizzard in the weeks and months ahead, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit and regardless of whether any substantial changes are actually made at the company. Activision Blizzard will try to get away with doing the bare minimum, making superficial changes and perhaps finding a scapegoat or two to fire in public. The company will then likely spend a lot of money on a marketing blitz for upcoming titles, wooing critics with everything they can muster.

A new Call of Duty game is scheduled to be released this year.

I could be wrong, and this could be the first time a company actually sees long-lasting consequences from its customers. But I doubt it. The sad truth is that most people don’t care. They want to be left alone to play Overwatch or Call of Duty, and even if they joined in the discussion and said they’d never buy another Activision Blizzard game again, chances are it’s only a matter of months before they go back on that and quietly pick up Diablo IV or whatever game they get excited about after seeing a slick, expensive marketing campaign. The same goes for publications and professional critics. Having made hay with their righteous indignation at the company’s behaviour, they’ll go right back to reviewing their games and publishing lists of “the ten worst Call of Duty levels ever!!!” because they know hardly anyone will remember or even notice their empty words and hollow promises.

As for me, I’m not making any such commitment. I don’t play games like Call of Duty, and I can count on one finger the number of Activision Blizzard’s upcoming games I was even vaguely interested in. I’ll do my best to keep tabs on this story as the lawsuit and the fallout from it rumbles on, but I think the ending will be depressingly familiar. Activision Blizzard will bring in people to manage the “optics” of the scandal, they’ll do the bare minimum to convince people they’re taking it seriously, and sooner rather than later it’ll drop off the radar entirely. The company will lay low for a while, then return with their latest game – and most folks will have forgotten all about it. That’s what happened with Ubisoft, with Rockstar’s crunch scandal, and many, many others. Despite the way people have reacted to Activision Blizzard in recent days, I’ve seen nothing that makes me think this scandal will play out any differently.

This is why it’s been so difficult to know what to say about the Activision Blizzard scandal. It’s such a serious story that it deserves to be covered extensively, but at the same time the manufactured outrage and over-acting has been cringeworthy to watch and listen to in some quarters. I’m not calling out any one individual critic or commentator for their coverage, but as a general point this is how I feel about it. It’s been interesting to see the story hit the mainstream press, but even then it barely lasted a day before dropping out of the headlines. Activision Blizzard will try to ride this out, and for my two cents, I think most players and publications are going to let them, just as they let other companies survive their respective scandals.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective publisher, developer, etc. Some stock images courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

So Windows 11 is happening…

I avoided covering the rumours and so-called leaks a few weeks ago, but it turns out that Windows 11 really does exist and will begin being rolled out later this year or early next year. I was surprised to hear that Microsoft planned to release a whole new operating system so soon after Windows 10’s 2015 launch; Windows 10 was billed as the “final” version, with the prospect of updates and tweaks but no replacement. A mere six years later – or fewer, assuming that the new OS has been in development for a while – and Microsoft is ready to abandon that pledge.

Windows 10 is far from perfect. It’s an improvement over past versions of the operating system, of course, but it has its problems. For me, though, the worst thing about Windows 10 has been Microsoft’s lack of care. Bugs and issues which were reported to Microsoft more than five years ago – such as 4K displays not being able to use extra large icons – are still in the OS and it seems Microsoft just opted to ignore them.

Windows 11 is coming. Prepare yourself!

An update to Windows has been needed for a while, not just to address some of these bugs but to give the whole OS a bit of a refresh. But does it need to be a completely new operating system? Though Windows remains dominant across the PC space, a lot of people were initially sold on the upgrade to Windows 10 based on the promise that it would be the final version of the OS. Windows 10 had a solid launch because people were keen to upgrade from Windows 7 and Windows 8 on that basis – something that was helped by the upgrade being free at first.

To abandon that promise so soon after making it is going to sour at least some people on Windows 11 – even more so if the new upgrade won’t be free. I can’t find any information on that, by the way, so watch this space. Windows 10 has, over the course of the last few years, come to eclipse Windows 7 and 8 as the most-used operating system around the world, and with a renewed growth in the PC market partly thanks to lockdowns and working from home, I would have argued that Windows 10 is well-placed to ensure Microsoft’s continued dominance of the PC space going forward.

An example of a Windows 11 desktop.

Windows 10 will be Windows 11’s main competitor, at least in the first few months and even years of the new OS’ life. Apple Mac is its own walled garden, and Linux, despite some attempts to make “user-friendly” versions, is still a niche, enthusiast product. So Windows as a whole has no major competition in the PC realm – but Windows 11 will have to stand up against Windows 10, an OS with a built-in userbase that numbers in the billions.

Windows 11 will have to strike the right balance between offering improvements and changes but without being so different as to discourage users familiar with the basic Windows interface. Moving the Start button to the centre of the taskbar instead of leaving it in its familiar left-hand position is one of those dumb aesthetic things that’s likely to prove costly. Windows isn’t Mac, and shouldn’t try to imitate everything Apple does. Folks need familiarity, especially considering the prevalence of Windows in the business world, where many users aren’t as tech-savvy and just want something that they know how to use.

Does Windows need to copy Mac?

If Windows 11 can smooth some of the rougher edges of Windows 10, perhaps it will see success. And in the longer term, unless we get a repeat of the Vista problem followed in short order by another upgrade, I think Windows 11 will, simply by default, gradually roll out to more and more devices. As noted above, there simply isn’t a viable alternative for most PC users.

There are some concerning elements, though. I mentioned Vista, and that greatly-disliked operating system brought some elements to Windows that seem superficially similar to Windows 11. Widgets for the taskbar and desktop are the most notable. And from Windows 8, which was also considered a major disappointment, Windows 11 is bringing back the “multi-device” design, with the new OS supposedly being able to work on phones, tablets, touch-screens, and laptops as well as PCs.

Gaming was mentioned as part of Microsoft’s Windows 11 presentation.

One thing Windows 10 got absolutely right was its return to a focus on PC and standard keyboard and mouse input devices. I’m not convinced that enough people want a Windows 11 tablet or laptop to make building the entire OS around that concept worthwhile. Doing so risks making the desktop PC experience worse for users – and considering 99% of folks who use Windows do so on a desktop PC or laptop, that’s a mistake Microsoft can’t afford to repeat.

All that being said, I’ll give Windows 11 a shot when it’s ready. I like to stay up-to-date, and the newest version of Windows is an inevitability for someone who uses a PC daily. Might as well get in at the ground floor and start getting used to things – that’s been the attitude I had with every version of Windows since I first owned a Windows 95 PC!

I’ve been using Windows for a while now…

One point to note is that Microsoft’s current policy is to continue to support Windows 10 “through October 14, 2025.” That’s a scant four years away, and if it should happen that support for Windows 10 ends on that date, as Microsoft seems to be implying, then everyone will need to upgrade to Windows 11 at that time. If there’s a free upgrade offered for a limited time, as there was with Windows 10, it would make sense in my opinion to take it.

Despite lofty promises in 2015 about kids being able to grow up with the ever-present, unchanging Windows 10, six years later Microsoft is ready to ditch it in favour of a new operating system. It looks to offer some superficial visual changes, and while I’m hopeful it’ll fix some of the problems with 4K displays that Windows 10 has suffered from I don’t know that for sure. It feels unnecessary, but as Microsoft is utterly dominant in the PC realm, anyone with a Windows machine should think seriously about taking the upgrade when it rolls out in the months ahead.

When the official Windows 11 upgrade or launch happens, I hope you’ll check back for my full thoughts on the latest version of the operating system. Until then, all that’s left to say is I hope it’s a success along the lines of Windows XP, and not a disappointment like Windows 8 or, god forbid, Windows Vista.

Windows 11 is being released in late 2021 or early 2022 by Microsoft. Windows 11, Windows 10, and all other properties mentioned above are the copyright of Microsoft. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Why we should be sceptical and think critically about UFOs

Headlines have been made around the world in recent weeks about an official United States government investigation into UFOs; “unidentified flying objects.” It seems from news reporting as though the existence of alien visitors, which has been denied for decades by successive American governments, is about to be revealed to the public. A handful of images and even videos from official United States military sources have also come out, seemingly showing unknown objects moving through the sky.

But let’s slow down and try to put our critical thinking hats on for just a moment. What have we actually been shown? Beyond the headlines screaming about alien spaceships, what have we really seen in these photos and videos, and could there be an alternative, far more boring explanation?

Have we really seen alien spacecraft?

If you’ve ever studied philosophy, or even read articles on some pop-science websites, you might know what Occam’s razor is. Also known as the law of parsimony, in short the razor says that, when confronted with multiple hypotheses or potential explanations for an unknown event or phenomenon, the one with the fewest or smallest assumptions is preferable and most likely to be correct. To put it another way: the simplest explanation is the most likely.

So what is the simplest explanation for these UFO pictures and videos?

One thing we don’t have are any photographs or live video recordings. The clips and images shown off are all radar, infrared, and images put together from other scans and sensors. A computer takes the information taken in by the lens or scanner and translates it into a visual image. These are not “images” from a “camera” in the usual sense of either term.

It isn’t clear what this image represents.

When dealing with any technology, there’s scope for things to go wrong. An infrared sensor attached to a fast-moving aircraft could misinterpret something close as being far away, or something moving relatively slowly as moving quickly. Changes in the aircraft’s speed and position mean the sensor has to move and adjust its trajectory to keep track of an object, and this can make it appear as though the object is moving unnaturally.

There are many different objects that could be detected by a sensor, infrared scanner, and other sensitive equipment that would be far more likely than an alien spaceship. Balloons have been suggested in the past as one such example, and there are myriad others from reflections and clouds to other aircraft. There’s also the prospect of newly developed technology – either domestic (i.e. American) or foreign – some of these aircraft could be Russian or Chinese spyplanes or drones, for example. Even if we can’t account for every UFO by saying there’s a bug in the code or a problem with sensors or onboard computers, everyday phenomena are still more plausible explanations than alien spacecraft.

The F-117 “Nighthawk” stealth aircraft was developed in secret and is designed to be difficult to detect.

I’m not sure how I feel about aliens. On the one hand, it seems rational to imagine that alien life exists given the size of the observable universe and the consistent detection of exoplanets around practically every observed star. On the other, the lack of concrete proof of their existence, at least in our galactic neighbourhood, could mean that intelligent alien life is exceptionally rare. This is commonly known as the Fermi paradox; the absence of alien life in a universe that can support it.

But if intelligent alien life did exist, is this the way we would expect to detect it?

UFOs have been reported for decades, so if even 1% of the UFO sightings and reports are genuinely of alien origin, what have they been doing all this time? Obviously they don’t intend to contact us or make their presence widely known or they’d have done so by now. Any alien race that’s advanced enough to build interstellar or even interplanetary spacecraft is far superior in technological terms to humanity, and with their knowledge they’d be more than capable of announcing their presence to the world, conquering the world, or doing whatever else they might want to do. The fact that they haven’t is a significant hurdle for alien believers and advocates to surmount.

Another grainy and unclear still frame from one of the UFO report videos.

Then we come to a pretty big question: what’s the point? If an alien race is capable of travelling to the stars, why come to Earth and fly around in our atmosphere? What possible purpose could that serve? It can’t be for any kind of observation; even humans don’t need to fly at 30,000 feet to perform observations of things on the ground. Our satellites, even commercial ones like those used for services like Google Earth, are more than capable of performing accurate scans of the surface of our planet. If aliens existed and wished to observe us, they could do so at a great distance without us ever knowing.

And speaking of “without us ever knowing,” were these aliens careless or did they allow themselves to be detected? If they wanted to make their presence known, this is not a rational way to accomplish that goal. Nor is it particularly threatening or intimidating. If aliens wanted to let the peoples of Earth know that they were here, they could land in the middle of a big city and announce themselves. And if they’re possessing such technology as to be able to travel to the stars, would they really be so dumb as to allow a primitive human to catch them with an infrared sensor or a night-vision camera? I doubt it.

A third UFO as seen from the USS Russell.

The U in “UFO” stands for “unidentified.” By definition, that means we don’t know what these objects are; they were not able to be identified in the short span of time that the various pilots and military personnel spent in the vicinity. That could mean we’re dealing with alien spacecraft, but it also seems very likely that we aren’t. This is not the coup that tabloid headlines and the tin foil hat brigade want it to be. The United States government has admitted that it has detected a handful of objects that it can’t identify. Given the size of the US military, the number of daily flights undertaken, and the increasing reliance on technology, sensors, and computers – all of which are subject to glitches, issues, and even misinterpretations – it doesn’t seem all that far-fetched that they’d occasionally spot something that they couldn’t immediately identify.

I like science fiction, and there have been some wonderful depictions of aliens and extra-terrestrial worlds over the years. But we can’t let our wishes and our fantasies guide the real world, and the fact remains that no matter how much we might want to believe in aliens, there still isn’t any proof. When making an argument and building a case, you can’t just slap down any old explanation into the gaps in our knowledge and cry “gotcha!” as if that’s the end of the matter. That’s the classic “god of the gaps” argument that many religious people often make; “you can’t explain X, therefore god.” In this case, some people seem to be making an “alien of the gaps” argument, proclaiming that, because the US military has been unable to identify something, it must be an alien spaceship. That’s simply not a valid argument.

The United States military (Pentagon HQ pictured) is investigating these incidents and will soon release a report.

So I’m sorry to pour cold water on this story. Maybe some of these UFO encounters are genuinely down to alien visitors, but until there’s more proof than a grainy non-image from a sensor made by the lowest-bidding military contractor, I’ll remain sceptical. The discovery of intelligent extra-terrestrial life would be the single biggest scientific achievement of the century, and has the potential to radically change many aspects of human life. Given the scope of such an important moment, we need to be absolutely sure of what we’re dealing with, and this set of unknowns may be circumstantial evidence in its favour, but it’s a long, long way away from being conclusive. It’s possible that “they” are hiding things from the public or not revealing everything they know, but unfalsifiable conspiracy theories and a lack of evidence to the contrary do not make for a valid argument and do not come close to constituting proof.

It’s possible that one day we’ll discover more about extra-terrestrial life. It seems almost certain, for example, that microbial life and bacteria once existed on Mars. But aliens in UFOs flying over United States airspace (and seemingly no other country’s)? As long as these items remain unexplained, aliens are always a possibility. But on a ranked list of all the possible explanations, they have to be at or very near the bottom. So despite all of the excitement, these images and video clips, and the impending government report about them, don’t come close to proving the existence of alien spacecraft. Sorry!

The United States government will soon release a report into “unidentified aerial phenomena.” Some stock photos courtesy of Unsplash and Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Building a basic two-week emergency kit

This subject is pretty far outside of my usual wheelhouse here on the website, but it’s something that the past year has highlighted and I feel it’s important. For a little background, about ten years ago I got really into survivalism – you know, the whole “doomsday is coming, let’s stockpile and plan” thing that you might be familiar with from television series like Doomsday Preppers. Partly this was because I was pretty unwell at the time, going through some tough mental health issues, and one way I found to deal with my anxieties and other issues was to make intricate plans for all kinds of highly unlikely scenarios… like worldwide pandemics!

The coronavirus pandemic caught many people entirely off-guard and unprepared. Here in the UK, they say that the average household only has enough food, water, medicines, and other basic necessities to last three or four days without running into major problems, and while the pandemic has brought this into focus for a lot of people, particularly in the early days when shortages of things like toilet paper threatened to become a big issue, there are still many folks who haven’t taken any steps to get themselves better prepared to ride out an emergency.

A flood is just one of many emergency scenarios that could happen.

A global pandemic or the zombie apocalypse aren’t the only things to be concerned about, and there are many smaller-scale but far more likely events that make having the kind of basic emergency kit we’re going to look at today a sound and practical investment. Local weather events like windstorms or flooding are relatively common in the UK and around the world, and while the damage they cause is not usually extreme, when a major storm is raging simply going out to the shops – or ordering anything for delivery – can be difficult or impossible. Then there are personal-scale events: something like contracting the flu (or coronavirus) can mean days or a week stuck at home unable to get out or do much, and a basic emergency kit can even come in handy if you experience financial issues or things like identity theft. Such things are manageable and are usually resolved within days, but having no access to money or credit cards can become a major headache in the short term if you don’t have the basics at home to tide you over.

So this time we’re going to work on building a basic two-week emergency kit. Obviously the kit I’m showing you today is based around items that are easily accessible here in the UK and that make sense for the kinds of emergencies that are plausible in this neck of the woods. Your emergency kit should be adapted to the needs of your local area; there’s no point in buying heavy winter clothes, for example, if you live in a tropical area that’s warm year-round!

Though we aren’t necessarily talking about the zombie apocalypse, if that inspires you to get prepared then that’s great!

Though I should caveat this by saying that I’m not an expert and make no guarantees about emergency survival, the items we’re going to talk about have done well for me over the years and I wouldn’t want to be without them. Having even a very small kit designed to last 3-4 days already gives you a significant boost ahead of 90% of the population who have made no such efforts, and considering that many of the items we’re going to look at are relatively inexpensive, to me having something like this makes a lot of sense.

So let’s get started and build up a basic two-week emergency kit.

Number 1: Extra medication

I have to take a cocktail of different medications every day as a result of the various conditions and health issues I suffer from. If you or someone in your household are in the same boat, having extra medication on hand is going to be important. You can have all the food, water, and other supplies you want, but if you need to take daily medication and you don’t have enough, your emergency kit can’t be considered complete.

The most important thing to say is to never skip doses to try to build up a stockpile. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist and explain that you need a little extra; or else try collecting your prescription early so you’re never going down to the wire. Remember that medication, like food, has a shelf life, so you should always be taking medication and not squirreling it away for later.

I have a repeat prescription which I collect every four weeks. What I started doing was picking it up a few days early every time, and by now I’ve never got less than a two-week supply on hand. In the worst case you could always come up with a “little white lie” and tell your pharmacist that you’re going to be out of town and unable to collect your prescription for a couple of weeks so you need extra!

Number 2: Food

If you read a lot of blogs or even books by self-proclaimed “preppers,” you’ll often see things like rice, pasta, and flour talked about as things to keep and store. There is a role for dry foodstuffs like that, and having things like rice on hand is no bad thing. However, one thing that concerns me with the approach of basing one’s food supply around these dry items is that they all use a lot of water to prepare and cook. Rice, if stored correctly, keeps for a very long time, but it also requires twice its volume in water to cook; one cup of rice needs two cups of water.

Some emergency events can damage water pipes, treatment plants, and pumps, meaning the water supply system is not something that can always be relied upon; it takes a lot of effort and maintenance at the best of times to keep clean water coming out of the tap. If someone’s food supply is entirely dependent on dried foods like rice and pasta that need large volumes of water for preparation, that cuts into their supply of water for other basic needs, not least drinking. So while there’s a place for dried foods, especially if you get into “hardcore” prepping and go down that rabbit hole, if we’re looking at a basic emergency kit I’m going to advocate keeping that to a bare minimum.

In this case, tins (cans) and packets are your friend. Look for things like potatoes, pasta in sauce, vegetables, soups, and fruits. These are things which, generally speaking, have a shelf life at room temperature of several years, and crucially, they can be opened and eaten without wasting any water on preparation. Many tinned foods are designed to be heated, but even those are usually pre-prepared or pre-cooked; it’s uncommon to get raw food in a tin that’s inedible without extensive preparation.

So how many tins of food are we talking about? For an adult, you can get away with two tins per day – according to some online sources – but I like to figure that if we’re going to stick to three meals a day, each meal can be approximately one tin. Tins vary in size, and it will depend on the contents and calories, but this is a good general rule.

If we say one adult is going to consume three tins of food per day for fourteen days, we’re talking about 42 tins per adult. Children could perhaps consume two tins per day, so two tins times fourteen days gives us 28 tins per child. These are very rough guidelines, and you should consider it for yourself.

A variety of different foodstuffs is a good idea, not least in case of spoilage! If you buy a job lot of 200 tins of potatoes, they could all spoil at once if you’re unlucky. Or you could get incredibly bored of eating the same thing every day! A mix of different items is the best bet. And whatever you do, don’t forget to have at least one tin opener! All those tins of food are useless if you can’t safely open them. Considering how important your food supply is, I recommend having at least two tin openers so you always have a backup.

While we’re on the subject of food, don’t think that everything you keep in your emergency kit has to be purely nutritious and functional. Emergency situations can be incredibly stressful, and for a lot of people having a treat like a piece of chocolate or candy can be helpful. Your emergency kit shouldn’t only consist of candy bars, of course, but there’s incredible value in such things from a psychological perspective, so my emergency kit contains some milk chocolate, as well as packets of hot chocolate mix, expressly for that reason.

One final note about food: your emergency kit should consist of things you enjoy eating, or at least can put up with. If you hate green beans, for example, why would you keep tins of green beans in your emergency kit? As noted above, psychological factors come into play in emergencies in ways we won’t necessarily expect, and if the only thing to eat is something you hate, that’s going to have an impact on your state of mind. So the best advice when it comes to food is find shelf-stable, long-life versions of things that you know you at least tolerate eating, if not enjoy.

Number 3: A power brick/battery backup

Battery banks, power bricks, or whatever terminology you use can be incredibly useful in a situation where mains electricity is out. The average mobile phone these days might last 24 hours on a full charge; 36 if you’re lucky, and the length of use per charge decreases over time. If the emergency situation you’re in sees power outages that last for days, you’ll need a way to charge your phone.

These backup power supplies can handle several complete phone charges – so long as you remember to keep the battery itself charged! – and are incredibly useful. In an emergency situation, getting information and communicating with loved ones are both going to be vital, and with phones being the primary way folks keep in touch these days, having a way to stay charged even if the power goes out is important. That said, it’s worth having a backup “offline” copy of important telephone numbers – in case you need to contact a loved one and your phone isn’t working. Write these numbers down and keep them with other supplies in your kit.

These backup power supplies can power many USB devices, and while mine is primarily a backup for my phone, having that facility could be useful for all kinds of things. A small LED light can be powered by USB, for example, or a fan.

Number 4: Lighting

Unless you live in a rural area or have lived through a major blackout, I think it’s not unfair to say that a lot of folks don’t really appreciate just how dark it can get when there’s no street lighting or other ambient light outside. If the power goes out in a major way, you can’t rely on any kind of electric lighting, including street lighting, to illuminate your home or the surrounding area after nightfall.

Where I live, in the dead of winter nightfall comes very early – the sun sets around 4pm in mid-December – and for around five months of the year we’re dealing with at least as much darkness as daylight. Autumn and winter are also the seasons where extreme weather is more likely. For all of those reasons and more, having a source of illumination that doesn’t rely on electricity is a worthy investment.

Though torches (flashlights) are useful and a good one is definitely a fine addition to an emergency kit, if we’re talking about building up a kit that can sustain you for two weeks, battery life becomes an issue. Many torches on the market today come with a built-in rechargeable battery, which in my experience tend not to last as long as regular disposable batteries. Under normal circumstances that would be fine, but if the power is out for days on end, that battery is going to run down.

Candles are inexpensive, especially if you buy a bulk pack, and as long as you’re careful with them they provide perfectly adequate illumination, especially if you use several at once. If you do decide to add candles to your emergency kit, remember you’ll also need a way to light them! Safety matches are by far the best option, but you can also get a lighter or something like that if you prefer. It can be a good idea to store matches and other fire-lighters in a waterproof bag or container.

Number 5: Heating and cooling

Depending on where you live, you might need to add a way to keep warm or a way to keep cool to your emergency kit. If your home’s central heating or air conditioning isn’t working, the additional stress of being too hot or too cold can make an already-difficult situation worse, so this isn’t something to overlook.

Anything to do with heating tends to involve fire or burning, so make sure that any fuel you keep around is properly and safely stored! If you have a fireplace with a chimney, you’re probably good to go as long as it’s clean and useable and you have wood or coal to burn. The rest of us will have to make do with things like butane-fuelled heaters. Look for anything called a camping heater or greenhouse warmer; get a good quality one and make sure to read the instructions and get the right fuel. Small kerosene heaters are a good option, and kerosene has a long shelf life.

On a smaller scale, getting a collection of warm blankets, good winter coats, gloves, and other cold-weather gear is going to be helpful as well. You can also invest in a pack of those disposable hand warmers! Emergency foil blankets don’t take up much space and can also help keep you warm in a crisis.

For cooling, you’re basically limited to fans as air conditioning isn’t something that can be easily simulated without power! However, it’s also worth getting spray bottles which can be filled with water; some people find that helpful in keeping cool – though it’s not my favourite method! A battery-powered fan (often sold as a travel fan or camping fan) is a worthwhile investment – just make sure to keep extra batteries on hand.

Number 6: Water

Water is perhaps the most important thing to consider when preparing an emergency kit. Many people can survive even a couple of weeks without food, but with no access to clean drinking water you can become very ill in hours. As above, we have to assume that, in the worst-case scenario, water will either not be coming out of the tap or the water that does won’t be potable.

Bottled water is your friend here – as long as you have the space for it. According to the NHS and other health bodies, men need anywhere from 3-4 litres of water per day, and women need 2-3 litres per day. Here in the UK, bottled water can be bought in 2l bottles, so for me on my own for a fourteen day survival kit I’d want to have 28 2l bottles – two bottles per day times fourteen days. You can do similar maths for your household!

You can get larger drums of water, like the big five-gallon (19l) ones designed for water coolers. They may be more cost-efficient, but you have to consider ease of use. Can you effectively carry such a large container and access the water inside without spilling? In my opinion the 2l bottles are a good middle ground, and as they’re easily accessible and relatively inexpensive that’s my preference.

Water is heavy. When considering storage, you need to keep in mind that weight can be an issue. In my case, if I want to store 28 2l bottles for my fourteen-day kit, those bottles have a combined weight of around 56kg (over 100lbs). If you store your water on shelves, you’ll have to make sure the shelves can take the weight. Likewise if you’re on an upper floor like an apartment or storing your water in an upstairs room or attic. The last thing you need is for your emergency kit to cause damage to your home – or even a flood!

Bottled water has a shelf life. The shelf life is important to keep in mind, because water stored in plastic bottles eventually becomes contaminated with molecules from the plastic which can be harmful. Like with your food, medication, fuel, and everything else in your kit, you can’t just buy up a bunch of water bottles and leave them sitting around forever. Eventually you’ll need to cycle through the bottles and replace them – though bottled water usually has a shelf life of at least a couple of years. But it’s something to always keep in mind.

Some folks advocate having a rainwater collection system, but this is something to only consider if you really know what you’re doing and you know how to get potable water at the end of the process. Making yourself sick because you tried to drink rainwater that had ran through your gutters and drainpipes will make your emergency a lot worse! However, if you don’t have the space for two weeks’ worth of water, something like this could be useful – but you really need to work at it to make sure you know what you’re doing.

Water purification tablets are relatively inexpensive – again, look to camping supply shops for this kind of thing. As always, read the instructions so you know when they can and can’t be used, but having some around won’t take up a lot of space and could be a lifesaver.

Number 7: First aid

You don’t need to go crazy and stockpile enough medical supplies for a small hospital, but a decent first aid kit should be part of your emergency kit. Websites like Amazon sell pre-prepared first aid kits designed to be kept in your car, and larger ones for workplaces. These can be a good place to start, but in my experience they often need to be augmented with a few extras – and better-quality items like tweezers and scissors than these kits typically provide.

A basic first aid kit should have: plasters (a.k.a. elastoplast or band-aids) in a variety of sizes, sterile gauze dressings, eye dressings, at least one roll of cloth/linen bandages, tweezers, scissors, medical tape, a thermometer, safety pins, disposable gloves (in the correct size), cleaning wipes, rash cream, basic painkillers (paracetamol, ibuprofen, and/or aspirin), antihistamines, distilled water (for cleaning injuries), antiseptic wipes and cream, hand sanitiser, face masks, and anti-diarrhoea medicine.

Most importantly you’ll also need a first aid manual or guide book – the items you have aren’t going to be a lot of use if you don’t know how to use them correctly! I have a first aid manual published by a charity called St. John’s Ambulance, and it’s detailed while being easy enough to understand. If you can’t take a proper first aid course, having a good book is the next best thing.

It’s also worth looking up some of the basics ahead of time. For example, do you know how to perform CPR? There are classes you can take in CPR, basic first aid, and the like that will all impart useful skills – and even websites like YouTube offer tutorials that are better than nothing. In an emergency situation, it’s possible that the emergency services will be very busy, overwhelmed, or even unable to access your location for a time. Knowing the basics – and having access to the right supplies – could quite literally save life and limb.

Number 8: Supplies for babies, children, and/or pets

You’ve thought through your own food supply – but what about your furry and feathered friends? If we’re building a two-week emergency kit, you’ll also need two weeks’ worth of food and other pet supplies. Same goes for babies and children: do you have enough nappies (diapers) and changing supplies, as well as baby formula, food, etc?

If your children are growing up fast, make sure you’re regularly updating their part of the emergency kit. Having two weeks’ worth of nappies is useless if the child has outgrown that size, for example. I don’t have kids myself, so I’m not the best person to put together a comprehensive list of everything a child might need. But if you think about the things they go through on a weekly basis, you’ll need to add most to your emergency kit.

If any part of your kit is delinquent, it compromises the entire thing. In an ongoing emergency situation, where access to supplies may be difficult or impossible, the last thing you need is to run out of nappies or dog food because you didn’t include those elements in your plan!

Number 9: Cleaning and hygiene

Keeping clean – or at least as clean as possible – is the best thing you can do to prevent illness and infection during an emergency situation. As such, you’ll need some basic cleaning and personal hygiene supplies.

Soap. A good bar of pure soap lasts a long time, though those augmented with scents, oils, and the like tend to expire sooner. Regardless, a bar of soap is a great basic thing to keep around, and you almost don’t need anything else if you have enough bars of soap for each member of your household. If you only get one item from this section to begin with, make it a good quality bar of pure soap.

Dry shampoo and bodywash. Often sold as camping supplies, these are products for cleaning hair and your body that, as the name suggests, don’t need water.

Hand sanitiser. After the year we’ve all had, I think practically all of us have hand sanitiser lying around! Though I did include this above in the first aid section, having extra for personal hygiene and keeping your hands clean is a good idea too.

Feminine hygiene products – enough for everyone in the household.

Baby wipes and toilet tissue. Even if you don’t have kids, baby wipes are still a good idea to keep in your emergency kit.

Plenty of waterproof bin liners (garbage bags). In the event that the water supply is compromised, you’ll need somewhere to do your “business” – and some way to seal it up and get it away from your living quarters. Toileting in an emergency could be a whole essay in itself, but suffice to say that you’ll need somewhere to put bodily waste, and unless you want to invest in an expensive camping toilet or spend time digging a latrine outside, bin liners are probably the least bad option.

Number 10: Miscellaneous supplies and tools

In this category I’m going to dump everything not already covered! Let’s start with a basic tool kit. At the minimum you’ll want a hammer, a couple of screwdrivers, some nails, screws, tape measure, wire cutters, strong gloves, a spirit level, and a good box cutter/stanley knife. You never know when any of these items might come in handy, and if you don’t have them already it’s worth investing in a basic tool kit just to keep around the house!

You may also want to add a spanner or wrench, particularly if you think you may need to turn off your home’s water supply at the stopcock/stop tap. Contaminated or dirty water can be a source of disease, and in some cases it may be necessary to turn off the water supply entirely to prevent leaks or to stop dirty water entering your home.

This is a controversial one, but keeping at least a small amount of cash may be invaluable if payment systems aren’t working and you can’t get to an ATM. Obviously this is something that needs to be carefully and secretly stored, but it’s worthwhile having some just in case. This can also be useful if you’ve had your credit card or card details stolen and need to wait for the bank or your card issuer to resolve the situation. In short, there are possible scenarios where you’ll need cash – so keep some squirreled away!

A spare pair of glasses or extra contact lenses for everyone in the household who uses them.

A waterproof box or container to store important documents – the deed to your house, insurance policy, passport, birth and marriage certificates, etc. It can be worth investing in a fire-proof box for this purpose, but those are more expensive.

A good fire extinguisher. Before you buy or use one, check! Is it suitable for use on all types of fires or only some? If you get a water-based fire extinguisher, for example, you won’t be able to use it on electrical fires. Fire extinguishers also have a shelf life – typically several years – so you will need to check this and update it when required.

Disposable plates, bowls, cups, and cutlery. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have very many knives, forks, spoons, or plates! If we’re building a two-week emergency kit, having plenty to eat and drink is great – but not if you have no way to eat or drink it safely. Putting your bare hands into an open can could lead to injury, and if your hands aren’t clean you could get sick. Dirty crockery and cutlery can also harbour bacteria, so disposable is the way to go. There are a lot of card and paper-based options, so you don’t have to go with plastic if you’re concerned about the environment.

A wind-up (hand-crank) radio. Even if you have two or three portable battery banks and use your phone sparingly, it may eventually run out of battery power. A wind-up radio may be your best way to hear what’s going on in the outside world – including potentially important information about the emergency and the response from the authorities. I consider this one absolutely vital, something to add as soon as possible to your emergency kit.

A map of your local area – the higher-quality the better. Do you know all of the routes in and out of your local area? If the main road was cut off or unusable and there’s no Google Maps or sat-nav in your car, would you know an alternative? Having a good quality paper map of your local area could be valuable, not only for your own navigation but if you need to guide emergency responders to your location.

Pen and paper (or pencil and paper). Who knows what you might need to write down in an emergency. The time and date of events for insurance purposes, telephone numbers or contact details, or something random that we can’t predict! Having something to write with and something to write on is potentially going to be important. And if you’re artistic (or have artistic kids) having extra supplies for drawing and colouring is no bad thing too!

A good quality all-purpose knife is also a valuable tool to have. It can be used for all manner of things, from preparing food to household repair. Beware of anything that looks too cheap; the last thing you want is a broken knife blade potentially injuring someone.

You might want to invest in heavy-duty plastic sheeting. Not only is this waterproof, but if your emergency situation requires you to seal off part of your house, seal the doors and windows, or even just replace or patch a damaged or broken window, heavy-duty plastic and good strong tape will do a good job in the short term.

Number 11: Activities

Though an emergency situation is hardly a vacation, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll have a certain amount of down time – perhaps more than you’re used to. So many of us live digital lives, with our activities being primarily conducted via electronic devices. You know best what members of your household will like doing, but a library of fiction and non-fiction books is a good place to start, as well as board games like chess, scrabble, and the like.

You’ll want to have access to things that can keep your spirits up, as well as the spirits of others in your household. This will vary depending on the individual, but think ahead and make sure you can keep yourself and others entertained.

So that’s it.

That’s my guide for a basic two-week emergency kit. Two weeks is the longest that 99% of emergency scenarios I can think of could reasonably last. Obviously some exceedingly rare events can last longer, but even then your two week kit will have given you a real head-start.

An adequate water supply is, as you may have gathered, something I consider top priority. Many of the items in your emergency kit are designed to preserve as much of your water supply as possible for drinking – so you should use the bare minimum for things like washing, preparing food, etc. Water is also the bulkiest and heaviest part of your kit, so figuring out how and where to store it safely is important.

As I found when I got into preparedness and survivalism a few years ago, this is a rabbit hole that’s easy to fall down and get lost in. If you start thinking about all manner of unlikely scenarios it’s possible to convince yourself that no emergency kit will ever be complete and that you need ten years’ worth of food, expensive systems for storing and preparing things, and so on. If you have an unlimited budget and want to dig a bunker, go for it I guess. But in 99% of cases, having a two-week emergency kit will get you through whatever life throws at you. That’s what I base my current kit on, at any rate.

So this was a total change from what I usually talk about. But you know, I think it’s important. Not only to share my (admittedly limited) knowledge in this area, but also to shake things up and spend some time considering a different subject. I hope it was interesting and informative, and if you do decide to build an emergency kit for your household – which I fully encourage – I hope you’ll check out other sources as well, as there’s no telling what I might’ve missed!

Some stock photos courtesy of Pixabay and Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The Amazon buyout of MGM is another blow to cinemas

We’ve recently talked about how the pandemic may have a long-term impact on cinema attendance and the box office, with many folks getting used to the convenience and practicality of streaming big blockbusters at home. But it seems cinemas just can’t catch a break, because it was recently announced that Amazon will be buying legendary Hollywood studio MGM.

Make no mistake, this is all about streaming. Amazon Prime Video looks set to benefit greatly from this acquisition, helping the service compete with the likes of Netflix and Paramount+ in terms of films. Though Amazon does have its own film studio, and has had a hand in titles like the Academy Award-winning Manchester By The Sea, most films available to stream via Amazon Prime Video were licensed from other companies. As more and more companies try to launch their own streaming platforms, these licensing deals are increasingly difficult (and expensive) for the likes of Netflix and Amazon, so finding ways to get their own in-house content is hugely important.

Buying MGM will enable Amazon to add a huge library of titles to its Prime Video streaming service.

Netflix has branched out into making more and more of its own original films – for better or worse! But Amazon is one of the world’s largest and most successful companies, having grown massively during the last year, and can throw its money around to buy up studios – and the rights to properties like The Lord of the Rings. We’ve recently seen Microsoft do something similar in the gaming realm, buying up Bethesda and adding that studio’s games to Xbox Game Pass. Amazon is doing the same thing with MGM.

I’ve seen some outlets trying to make the case that this is Amazon further diversifying its business model. What began as an online bookseller in the mid-1990s has grown to sell practically everything and has involvements and holdings in industries as far apart as space technology and baby nappies. But this MGM acquisition is not about diversification. Amazon doesn’t want to break into the film distribution market any more than they’re already involved; they want films, both old and new, to add to Amazon Prime Video for the sole purpose of driving more subscriptions. It’s that simple.

Amazon announced a deal to buy famed American film studio MGM for $8.45 billion.

This is a hammer blow for cinemas and cinema chains already reeling from the pandemic and associated closures and cancellations. We’ve already seen many films that would otherwise have received a theatrical release go direct-to-streaming, and Amazon’s acquisition of MGM comes with the real threat of all future MGM titles following suit. There aren’t many studios the size of MGM, releasing multiple high-budget titles per year, so this is a coup for Amazon.

Upcoming titles like the sequel to Tomb Raider, Legally Blonde III, Soggy Bottom, and House of Gucci would have all been draws at reopened cinemas around the world, but their theatrical releases are now in doubt. And that’s before we even consider one of the biggest upcoming MGM titles (at least from a UK perspective!) No Time To Die, the latest instalment in the James Bond series.

No Time To Die may still manage a theatrical release… or it may not.

It’s not unfair in the slightest to say that British cinemas have been desperately waiting for No Time To Die’s release, as no other upcoming film has quite as much potential to bring audiences back after well over a year of closures, lockdowns, and cancelled titles. Even the mere threat of No Time To Die going direct to streaming is enough to make a lot of people involved in the UK cinema industry very nervous, and I’m not sure we can rely on promises that the film will still meet its planned theatrical release in September – especially if the pandemic causes further disruption in the months ahead.

As I said when Microsoft acquired Bethesda, companies don’t spend these vast sums of money and expect nothing in return. With Amazon making this move to shore up and expand its library of streaming titles, any future MGM release now has the potential to end up on Amazon Prime Video either exclusively or alongside a release in cinemas. Even if imminent titles like No Time To Die meet their theatrical obligations – which will almost certainly be due to pre-existing contracts if it happens – future titles, both announced and unannounced, are almost certain to join Amazon’s streaming line-up. In short, cinemas may get a temporary reprieve from the fallout of this acquisition, but it won’t last much beyond the end of 2021.

Amazon will be expecting a serious return on such an expensive investment – and that’s all focused on streaming.

The way people consume media has been changing for years. The pandemic may have accelerated some of those changes to light-speed, but it isn’t the fundamental cause of a shift in audiences away from cinemas and broadcast television to online on-demand streaming. Just like the pandemic isn’t the root cause of problems with many high street shops, it can’t be blamed for people moving en masse toward an all-digital streaming future. The future of companies like MGM is in the digital space, and unfortunately for cinemas that means fewer films, smaller audiences, and growing irrelevance as bigger titles bypass a theatrical release altogether. Even in the pre-pandemic years, going to the cinema had become, for many folks, an occasional treat rather than a regular outing, and this move is simply a reflection of the changing way in which people choose to watch films.

Amazon’s acquisition of MGM is a big deal, but it’s unlikely to be the last such move as the so-called “streaming wars” look for new battlefields. It isn’t yet clear how many streaming services people are willing to put up with, nor which will ultimately survive, so it seems inevitable that more big studios and distributors will eventually team up with – or be bought out by – other big players in the streaming landscape. None of which is particularly pro-consumer, it has to be said, but then again I’d rather see MGM films go to Amazon Prime Video – a streaming service I already have access to – than wait for MGM to set up their own “MGM Plus” or whatever they would’ve called it!

It’s a serious blow to cinemas in the medium-to-long-term, even if some titles scheduled for this year will still get a full theatrical release. But will audiences really care? As I said last time, the shift away from the cinema had already set in long before the pandemic struck, and with film studios and audiences alike having discovered the many advantages of at-home streaming, it seems like we’ll be seeing a lot more of this type of acquisition or merger in the months and years ahead, with many more films going direct-to-streaming in the very near future. MGM may be one of the biggest so far, but it won’t be the last. Cinema chains and owners are already feeling the effects.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright and/or trademark of their respective owner, studio, company, distributor, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Have we seen an unstoppable shift away from the cinema?

One of the consequences of the pandemic has been the long-term closure of many cinemas (movie theaters for my American readers). Aside from a short respite last July and August, most cinemas here in the UK have been shut since March 2020 – for well over a year now. Some, like a local independent cinema near me, have had no choice but to close permanently, even with the end of lockdown seemingly in sight. Even when cinemas are able to reopen, limits on capacity due to social distancing, the general unease among many people about sitting in a room with dozens of strangers with the pandemic still ongoing, and most significantly, the lack of major film releases in the near term will – in my opinion, at least – most likely mean it will be a long time before things are able to get back to normal.

But will things ever get back to normal? That’s the question I want to ask today.

Will empty cinemas be full again one day?

In the early days of the pandemic, most films scheduled for release in spring or summer 2020 were simply postponed; their release dates pushed back by a few months so that they could be released to full crowds when lockdowns were lifted in their key markets. But as the pandemic has dragged on and on, film studios have begun to switch the way they release many big titles – opting to send them to streaming platforms rather than wait.

Without Remorse was originally supposed to get a theatrical release, but premiered on Amazon Prime Video instead. Raya and the Last Dragon went directly to Disney+. Then there are titles like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, Mulan, The Little Things, Godzilla vs. Kong, Bill & Ted Face The Music, News of the World, and Tom & Jerry. Upcoming titles such as Jungle Cruise, Space Jam: A New Legacy, Black Widow, Malignant, and A Quiet Place II are all going to either be released directly on streaming or with a limited theatrical run at the same time as going straight to streaming.

Animated film Raya and the Last Dragon went straight to Disney+ earlier in the year.

Is this a one-time thing, purely caused by the pandemic? And if it is, will audiences be happy to return to cinemas once the pandemic has cleared and they can fully reopen? If you’d asked me in March or April last year, I’d have said yes to both questions without hesitation. But now I’m not so sure.

There are a lot of advantages to streaming compared to going to the cinema, and as more and more people come to see those advantages, the cinema becomes a less-attractive option in contrast. This trend is not new – cinema attendance has declined a lot from where it was a few decades ago, and with the rise of high-quality television series which can rival and even surpass films in many cases, this is a reckoning that cinemas have had coming for a while. The pandemic has accelerated that to light-speed, but the trend has been going in this direction for a while.

Paramount+ is one of many competing streaming platforms that have arguably benefited from the forced closure of cinemas during the pandemic.

So what are the supposed advantages of at-home streaming? The first has to be convenience. Viewers can watch what they want on their own schedule, with the ability to pause a film to take a phone call or go to the bathroom, watching before or after work, or even late at night. It’s possible to watch with subtitles, audio description, director commentaries, and even watch in other languages. Most folks are more comfortable in their own homes than they are in a cinema chair – even the nicest cinema seats aren’t as pleasant as a comfy armchair or couch. There are no distractions from (other people’s) noisy kids, people munching popcorn, or idiots on their phones. You don’t have to sit through half an hour of adverts and trailers to get to the film. If you’re using a phone or tablet it’s possible to watch on the go, or literally anywhere. And some of the things we might’ve considered to be disadvantages a few years ago – such as screen size, resolution, and audio quality – are all easily surmountable even for folks on a limited budget.

Obviously not all of these points apply in every single case, but as a general rule, as screens get bigger and better, the need to watch something in the cinema is dropping. The old adage that a particular film was “better in the cinema” or “made for cinemas” no longer applies in many cases.

Amazon Prime Video have snapped up a number of films that couldn’t get a theatrical release this year – including Without Remorse.

I have a relatively inexpensive 4K television that doesn’t have OLED or HDR or any of those higher-end features, just a bog-standard LED set. But this model, even when I was buying it a few years ago, only started at a 40-inch screen size, with sizes going all the way up to 60″ or 65″. Nowadays, 85″ and 90″ sets are on the market and within reach of many consumers. Sound bars and speakers that put out fantastic quality audio are equally affordable, with prices dropping massively from where they had been when 4K and large screens were new. Even on my cheap and cheerful set, films look great. And if you sit reasonably close, it really does feel akin to being in the cinema – in the comfort of my own home.

It’s difficult, in my opinion, for cinemas to compete on price or quality. Even the more expensive streaming platforms, like Netflix, cost around £10-12 per month. It’s been a while since I was able to go to the cinema – health issues prevent me from doing so – but the last time I was able to go, £10 wouldn’t even stretch to two tickets. For that money you get one month’s worth of access to a massive library of titles – including many brand-new ones and Netflix originals made specially for the platform.

Large, good-quality television screens are increasingly affordable and offer a cinema-like experience at home.

In the late ’40s and ’50s, when my parents were young, going to the cinema was a frequent outing. You’d see an A- and B-movie, as well as perhaps a newsreel or something else, and it would feel like good value. Since the early 20th Century, going to the cinema on at least a weekly basis was a big part of many peoples’ lives – but things have been changing, slowly, for quite a while.

For at least the last couple of decades, going to the cinema is something most folks have viewed as an occasional treat rather than a regular outing. The price and value of a cinema ticket – and the additional extras like drinks and snacks – have shot up in relation to earnings, while at the same time the number of advertisements and trailers have also increased. Though the cinema still has a place in many folks’ lives, that place had been slipping long before the pandemic arrived. In the ’90s and 2000s, the blame for that lay with cable and satellite television channels, including many dedicated film channels. Nowadays, the blame has shifted to streaming.

Netflix has picked up a lot of subscribers in the past year.

Many film studios are keen to play their part in this trend, too. Sharing a big chunk of their profits with cinema chains and operators was never something they were wild about, which is why we’re seeing more and more studios and production companies either partnering with big streaming platforms or else trying to launch their own. Paramount+ exists for this reason, as do Disney+, HBO Max, and many others. These companies don’t care in the slightest about the fate of cinemas – except insofar as they can use them to turn a profit. When the pandemic meant that wasn’t possible, many companies happily jumped ship and released their films digitally instead.

Though I know a lot of people who have told me they’re keen to get back to the cinema as soon as possible, when I probed most of them further and asked how often they would go to the cinema pre-pandemic, or what films they were most excited to see at the cinema next, all of the answers I got back up everything I’ve been saying. Most folks go to the cinema infrequently at best, and while they’ve missed some of the social aspects of the “cinema experience,” they certainly haven’t missed the adverts, loud seat neighbours, and hassle. Streaming, while not as glamorous or exciting in some ways, is a more enjoyable experience in others.

Some people have missed every aspect of being at the cinema… but many haven’t!

I know I have to acknowledge my own bias here. As someone whose disability prevents them going to the cinema, I’d be quite happy if every film I want to watch from now on comes directly to streaming! On a purely selfish level, that’s something I’m fine with. And while I stand by the fact that the trend away from the cinema in a general sense is real and demonstrable, the pandemic probably hasn’t killed the entire concept of the cinema stone-dead. Nor would that be a good thing. Many cinemas offer more than just the latest blockbusters, with classic films, recorded theatre plays and ballet performances, and other such events. In the rural area where I live, the idea of being able to see something like the Royal Ballet is beyond a lot of people due to the distances involved. But local cinemas occasionally show things like ballets, operas, and Shakespeare plays, bringing a different kind of culture and entertainment to the region. Cinemas are also big local employers, and it’s nothing to celebrate when a local business is forced to close.

So most cinemas will eventually re-open. But the question I asked is still pertinent, because I don’t know whether they’ll see pre-pandemic numbers of visitors for a very long time – if at all. The pandemic has forced the hand of film studios and distributors, and the result has been an uptick in the number of subscribers to streaming platforms. Many folks have tried streaming for the first time, and while there will always be holdouts, people who proclaim that it really is “better in the cinema,” I think a lot of people have been surprised at how enjoyable streaming a film at home can be, and how favourably it can compare to the cinema experience.

Many people haven’t missed the “cinema experience” as much as they expected.

A big home theatre setup is no longer necessary. With a relatively inexpensive – but still large – television set and maybe a sound bar or pair of satellite speakers, many people can have a truly cinema-like experience in their own living rooms. And a lot of people who’ve tried it for the first time, prompted by lockdown, may have no plans to return to the cinema any time soon – or if they do, they’ll be making fewer trips.

In my opinion, this is something that has the potential to continue to build over time. As screens continue to improve, and as more people eschew the cinema in favour of staying in, more films will go direct to streaming because companies will see more success and more money in it. Fewer films will end up in cinemas exclusively, so fewer people will go. And the cycle will continue!

Even if I’m wrong on that final point, I do believe that we’ve already seen a slow move away from cinemas in the pre-pandemic years. The pandemic came along and blew the lid off that, and while there will be a return once things settle down, at-home streaming is here to stay. It benefits viewers and companies – the only folks who are going to lose out are the cinema chains themselves. I’m not saying it’s a positive thing necessarily, although it does stand to benefit me in some respects, nor am I advocating for it. But when I look at the way things have been going over the past few years, and add the pandemic’s disruption into the mix, I really do feel that we’re seeing a big move away from the cinema in favour of at-home streaming.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, distributor, production company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

English football needs to add two MAJOR new rules

A love of football has been in my family since my great-grandfather first emigrated to England in the late 1800s! My grandfather attended his first football match shortly after the First World War, and was a lifelong fan of Fulham – a team whose fortunes have bounced around a lot in recent years. The sport has changed immeasurably since then, with the upper echelons of football becoming awash with money and arguably losing touch with the working-class roots someone of my grandfather’s generation would recognise.

The amount of money in football is partly driven by television broadcasting, but also by a change in the way clubs themselves operate. No longer are clubs content to make a small profit; enough to pay the wages, maintain their ground, and keep the lights on. Instead, some of the biggest clubs in the country have become corporations, earning huge profits for shareholders and/or private owners – many of whom are based overseas.

Football has changed a lot since my grandfather’s day!

Football has seen a number of rules added and changed over the years. Extra time and penalty shoot-outs have replaced replays. The offside rule, and adjustments to it, changed the way matches are played. There were “golden goals” for a while! And of course, the recent addition of VAR (video assistant referees) has been controversial in some quarters. These rules affect the game in different ways, and we can argue whether each one has been for better or worse.

Recent events over the last year or so have shone light on the fact that English football is missing two rules that I think are absolutely vital to the future success and integrity of the sport. It’s surprising to me that a professional league like the Premier League never adopted such rules in the first place, or that the EFL, which has been running since 1888, has never considered either rule necessary. Let’s look at each in turn.

The logo of the English Football League.

Firstly we’re considering something that the pandemic brought into sharp focus last year: what to do if a season can’t be completed. For some reason, the Premier League, EFL, and other leagues around the world appear to have no provision for this scenario – yet it’s something that any professional body should be planning for. There was an intense debate last year about what to do in the event that the season couldn’t resume following pandemic-related disruption, and the absolutely stunning thing to me was that there seemed to be nothing in the rulebook to cover this.

Professional football has been disrupted in the past, by both world wars. Even though no such disruption had occurred since the 1940s, it should still have been a possibility for the Football League to consider when drafting and updating its rules, and it’s really a dereliction of duty – or else rank incompetence – that no one knew what was going on last year. Football’s governing bodies appear to have taken the approach of “it probably won’t happen,” and just not bothered to put any kind of rule or guidance in place. That’s not acceptable and has to change.

What should happen if the football season is disrupted again?

The rule needs to be ironclad and simple, so there’s no room for argument or cries of “unfair” based on the performance of individual clubs. I would have it look something like this:

In the event that a season cannot be completed, one of the following will apply: If fewer than one-third of scheduled matches have been completed, the season is declared null and void. All points earned, goals scored, yellow and red cards awarded, and so on are considered entirely expunged. When a new season is able to commence, all teams remain in place, with no promotion or relegation taking place. If more than one-third of matches have been completed, the season will be considered complete. League table positions will be considered final, with promotion and relegation based on current standings. All goals, yellow and red cards, etc. will remain on the books.

An empty football ground.

When the rule has been decided on and incorporated into the laws of the game, no club will be able to cry “unfair!” if a future season is disrupted and needs to end early. It might be difficult to agree on the appropriate cut-off, before which the season is voided and after which the season is declared complete. I’ve suggested one-third of the total number of matches, because usually by that point in the season things are becoming clear as to which clubs are doing well and which aren’t.

If one-third of matches doesn’t seem right, that number could be changed to half, 75%, or whatever clubs agreed on. But the principle remains: there needs to be a cut-off point at which the season is declared complete, and a point at which the season is simply declared void. Every club needs to sign up to this, so that there will never again be the kinds of arguments we saw last year.

New rules need to be written ASAP!

The second new rule pertains to the European Super League, the failure of which is one thing fans of practically every club can agree was fantastic! When the European Super League was proposed, I wrote a piece for the website criticising the project for its patent unfairness. But that’s kind of beside the point. The new rule needs to prohibit any team(s) from joining a breakaway competition without the explicit permission of the Premier League and Football League, and needs to specify strict penalties for any clubs that do so without permission.

As above, this rule needs to be watertight and easily understood, with no loopholes or get-out clauses. It will also need to be specific on the penalties for clubs that violate the rule. I propose something like this:

No team may agree to join or participate in any competition, league, tournament, or match, even in principle, without seeking the prior agreement of the Football League and a majority of member clubs. No “breakaway” competition, league, or tournament may be set up without the permission of the Football League and a majority of member clubs. Penalties for violating this rule will include: an immediate twenty-point deduction for any club involved, the complete prohibition of any player involved in such a league, competition, etc. from playing in any match in the Football League, Premier League, FA Cup, and other football competitions in England, and for clubs that continue to violate this rule over the course of more than one season, expulsion from the Premier League, Football League, and all other English competitions.

The “treacherous six” – the six English clubs that tried to undermine football.

Despite the rapid collapse of the European Super League, some of the wealthiest clubs and individuals involved in English and European football have not given up on the idea altogether. However, they have now tipped their hand, which gives the Football League, Premier League, and other European leagues time to act and bring in these kinds of harsh penalties to discourage it from ever happening again.

English clubs are already threatened with a ten-point deduction for falling into administration (i.e. becoming insolvent) so the principle of points deductions for bad behaviour exists and is acceptable. If a twenty-point deduction were put into place for the six Premier League teams who tried to join the European Super League last month, at least two – possibly three – would have been relegated. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Tottenham would all be in or just above the relegation zone, so this kind of threat will work.

Arsenal would be in serious trouble if there were consequences for their failed attempt to join the European Super League.

In Scotland there are two huge teams: Celtic and Rangers. They’re the two biggest clubs in Scottish football, and between them have dominated the Scottish league and cups for decades. But in 2012, following a series of financial issues, Rangers was relegated from the Scottish Premiership and had to begin all over again from the Scottish Third Division. Rangers is a case in point: no club, no matter how big and powerful they think they are, is above the rules.

Scottish football was dominated by Celtic in Rangers’ absence, and it was only this season – for the first time in a decade – that anyone other than Celtic won the league. English football is not a two-horse race, so the relegation of even clubs like Liverpool or Manchester United would not lead to one team dominating in the way it did in Scotland. It might even be a net positive for English football overall.

I love football. The unpredictability of the sport, especially in cup competitions, is fantastic. But as the game has become a worldwide money-making machine, corruption and greed have followed. The two rule changes I’m suggesting wouldn’t fix everything wrong with football in England. But they’d be a step in the right direction.

All brands and clubs listed above, along with shirts, logos, etc. are the copyright of their respective owners. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten of my favourite Disney World rides and attractions

It’s been a long time since I visited a Disney theme park, but with the re-opening of Disneyland in California recently hitting the headlines, I’ve been thinking about past visits. I’ve been very lucky to have visited three of the six Disney parks in my life, and though California’s Disneyland is the original and thus a classic, for my money you can’t beat Walt Disney World in Florida. There’s just so much more going on and so much more to do!

The last time I visited Walt Disney World was in 2006, and there have been many changes to the resort and its four constituent parks since then. This list won’t reflect those changes, so don’t expect to see me talk about Galaxy’s Edge and Rise of the Resistance. I would love to try that ride for myself one day, but my health prevents me from travelling (even if there weren’t a pandemic going on) so I doubt I’ll ever get to experience it for myself.

Cinderella’s Castle is the centrepiece and icon of Walt Disney World.

Luckily, though, I had several wonderful Disney experiences earlier in my life while I was able, and I’ve visited the parks both with family and with friends. Disney World – and the other parks – are presented as family-oriented attractions, but even as an adult you’ll find plenty going on and lots of things to have fun with.

So let’s celebrate all things Disney by picking out ten of my favourite rides and attractions! For the record, because I know people like to argue: I’m not saying these are objectively the best things to do at Disney World. These are simply ten rides and attractions that I enjoyed at the park on my earlier visits. If you have your own favourites and don’t like these ones, that’s okay! There’s a broad range of things to do at Disney World, with rides and attractions to cater to many different folks and the things they enjoy. We don’t all have to like the same things!

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at my list.

Number 1: The Tomorrowland Transit Authority/PeopleMover

The Tomorrowland Transit Authority/PeopleMover track.

I said at the beginning that this isn’t a top ten list of my absolute favourite rides. But if it were, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority would be my number one! It’s almost certainly my favourite ride at the Magic Kingdom and the whole of Disney World, which might come as a surprise considering it’s very tame. Unlike other slow rides at Disney, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority doesn’t really have its own theme, instead making a loop of Tomorrowland – one part of the Magic Kingdom – from about one storey up.

The Tomorrowland Transit Authority is fun and interesting, passing through several rides in Tomorrowland and a shop, giving you a birds-eye view over much of the future-themed area of the park. It’s gentle, so it’s perfect for young kids and others who don’t enjoy fast-moving rides, and unlike many of Disney’s other slow rides it isn’t in the dark, which again makes it great for kids who might not be so happy in the dark.

There usually isn’t a horribly long queue for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority (or at least, not as far as I remember from past visits) which, combined with its gentle nature, means it’s something relatively easy to do in between “bigger” attractions. Riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority can nicely punctuate a visit to the Magic Kingdom, providing a way to slow down while still enjoying a ride. But it’s absolutely great fun on its own merit, and well worth a visit. If I ever go back to Walt Disney World, I’m making a beeline for the Tomorrowland Transit Authority as soon as I walk through the gate!

Number 2: El Rio del Tiempo (Mexico Pavilion at Epcot)

The entrance to El Rio del Tiempo.
Photo Credit: Disney Wiki

Sadly, El Rio del Tiempo has been re-themed since I last visited the parks, with the dark ride now taking on a theme based loosely on The Three Caballeros, a 1944 film featuring Disney mainstay Donald Duck. I believe the ride layout remains the same, though, despite the re-theming, so I imagine the gentle pace of the attraction has been retained.

Epcot’s World Showcase is an eclectic mix of different countries, with themed areas representing different parts of the world. There are points of interest and lots of places to eat, but what World Showcase doesn’t have in abundance are rides. The Mexico Pavilion contained my favourite, which is/was a dark ride set inside the attraction’s Mayan pyramid. The version of the ride I remember was a gentle boat ride, with no big drops or splashes, and after trailing around World Showcase in the Florida heat, it was great to take a break and sit down in the shade – and air conditioning!

A lot of theme parks (especially here in the UK) go all-in on thrill rides, trying to outdo each other with bigger and faster rollercoasters. Walt Disney World has always been great at having slower, gentler attractions that aren’t just rides for kids, and El Rio del Tiempo was a great example of an adult-oriented dark ride, one which paid homage to Mexico and Mexican history in a respectful way. I haven’t ridden the updated Donald Duck version, but I hope it managed to keep some of what made the original attraction so pleasurable.

Number 3: The Great Movie Ride

A recreation of Hollywood’s famous Chinese Theater served as the building for The Great Movie Ride.
Photo Credit: The Walt Disney Company

Another attraction that, sadly, can no longer be ridden, The Great Movie Ride was one of the original rides and showpieces of Disney’s MGM Studios/Hollywood Studios. It closed in 2017, being replaced by Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. As with El Rio del Tiempo above, this reflects a move on Disney’s part to introduce its own characters and brands into all of the rides at Disney parks.

What I loved most about The Great Movie Ride was that a cast member (i.e. a real person) was present throughout, serving as a guide as the ride took you through clever recreations of scenes from famous films like Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and even Alien. There was an incredible diversity of films on display, and having a live performer along with the wonderful animatronics brought the world of Hollywood to life in a way I’d never really experienced before.

The Great Movie Ride was a love letter not just to the “Golden Age” of Hollywood, but to cinema in general. The queue area contained actual props from more than a dozen films – including the famous ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and a dress worn by Kate Winslet in Titanic. While it makes sense in some ways for Disney to want to stick to its own brands, I think something significant was lost with the closure of The Great Movie Ride that took away from Hollywood Studios’ premise as a park.

Number 4: Star Tours

The StarSpeeder 3000!
Photo Credit: Disney Wiki

Galaxy’s Edge was not the first Star Wars-themed attraction at Disney World. Not by a long shot! Star Tours opened in 1989, and is still open today – albeit having been given a makeover! Unlike most attractions at Disney World, Star Tours is a simulator, meaning that it stays in one place and doesn’t follow a track.

I can still remember the thrill of boarding Star Tours in the early 1990s, not too long after having seen the Star Wars trilogy for the first time. Actually boarding a starship, complete with a droid pilot, and going on my own Star Wars adventure was a geeky kid’s absolute dream, and the sense of wonder I had as the doors to the simulator opened that first time is a memory that has stuck with me for decades.

The simulator itself was clever, and the ride managed to really give you the sensation of being a spaceship passenger, lurching from side to side and up and down as the ship tried to escape Imperial attacks! The “story” of the ride was, of course, a bit silly, but the experience of being part of Star Wars – even just for a few minutes – is something I’ve never forgotten. I haven’t been able to ride the updated version of Star Tours, but I’m sure it’s just as much fun, and that there are young Star Wars fans today about to have that same kind of experience!

Number 5: Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean exterior (at Disneyland Paris).
Photo Credit: Crazy Uncle Dennis

Pirates of the Caribbean was a ride long before anyone conceived of Jack Sparrow or the film franchise! And it’s a fun pirate-themed boat ride perfect for Adventureland. It wasn’t the first ride to be given the feature film treatment – that dubious honour goes to Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror, which saw a truly mediocre adaptation in 1997 – but it’s not unfair to say it’s been the most successful to date.

The ride itself – at least the classic version, prior to being updated with characters from the films – didn’t have a strong story, instead comprising little more than a set of pirate-themed scenes loosely bound together. Thus there wasn’t much to “adapt” to bring it to screen, just a theme and a song.

Though the ride has now been updated to reflect the popularity of the films, which makes sense, the original version was plenty of fun. The ride is a step in between something like El Rio del Tiempo and more thrilling, faster-paced rides, containing several short drops and faster sections rather than simply being a slow boat tour in the dark. Pirates of the Caribbean is a Disney classic, and one that nobody should miss when visiting!

Number 6: The Monorail

A Walt Disney World Monorail train.

Though you aren’t technically supposed to… this is the only ride on this list you can ride for free! Because the Monorail runs outside of Disney World itself, connecting the theme parks to several resort hotels and the main entrance, it’s possible to hop aboard even if you don’t have a ticket for the theme park – or at least, it used to be!

The Monorail is a lot of fun to ride, and offers great views of both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot. As a kid, I was seriously impressed with the way the Monorail glides through the inside of the Contemporary Resort – one of the hotels near the Magic Kingdom. The idea of a train going inside of a hotel blew my mind!

It’s designed to be a practical method of transportation, providing guests with an easy connection between their hotels or the car park and the theme parks. But the Monorail is so lovingly designed and well maintained that it’s a fun ride in itself. It also bookends a day at the parks – and even a whole Disney trip – perfectly, by beginning and ending with a ride.

Number 7: Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth is symbolic of Epcot.

Epcot’s talisman is a perfect representation of the concept behind the Epcot theme park. It’s a dark ride that goes through a summarised version of history, specifically the history of communication, with great animatronics and excellent narration. Epcot was originally intended as a park with a greater emphasis on imagination and education, showing off a particular vision for a possible future. Spaceship Earth is one of the few remaining elements of that original vision, with others having been closed or Disney-fied.

Spaceship Earth is the first thing you seen upon entering Epcot, and the huge geodesic sphere can be seen from all over the park. Its futuristic design still looks great as the park approaches its fortieth anniversary, and it’s become absolutely iconic. I hope that a planned renovation of the ride, which was due to start last year before the pandemic delayed things, doesn’t take away its educational charm.

Because Spaceship Earth is the first attraction inside the gate, it’s easy to make it your first port of call in Epcot. In my recollection, the queue wasn’t especially long on any of the occasions I wanted to ride, and inside a combination of moving walkways and continuously-moving ride vehicles seem to provide a smooth experience. The final part of the ride, which takes you through a field of stars “into the future” always feels moving and beautiful, and the ride ends on a very optimistic and hopeful note.

Number 8: Kilimanjaro Safaris

The sign welcoming guests to Kilimanjaro Safaris.

In 1998 my family and I were fortunate to be among the first guests ever welcomed into Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The new theme park was fantastic, and coming a few short years after The Lion King had been in cinemas, it was wonderful to see Disney really embracing the animal theme. Kilimanjaro Safaris is, as you might expect from the name, a safari ride.

Growing up, my family visited South Africa on a few occasions to visit an aunt who had moved there, and I lived in South Africa for a time shortly after graduating from university, so I’ve been lucky to have been on a real safari on a number of occasions. And I have to say, Kilimanjaro Safaris compares positively to the real thing! Because the ride is relatively compact, it’s possible to see many different animals – real animals, not animatronics – during the course of your expedition, which is fantastic.

There is a story to the ride, and like The Great Movie Ride above, Kilimanjaro Safaris has a cast member driving the ride vehicle to serve as your guide, adding a whole extra level of immersion. The animals at Animal Kingdom are well cared-for, and while it is still a “zoo” of sorts, knowing that the animals have space to roam and aren’t confined to small cages is nice to know. Getting up close and personal with some of these wild animals might otherwise be impossible, so Kilimanjaro Safaris offers a unique experience that really can’t be found elsewhere.

Number 9: Splash Mountain

Splash Mountain looms large over Frontierland!

After putting so many slower rides on the list, I suppose we need at least one “thrill ride” before we wrap things up! Splash Mountain is a log flume with a slow and tense build-up to a long drop, and it’s very easy to get absolutely soaked while riding! The ride is being re-themed at some point in the near future, following criticism of its present theme, which includes elements from the controversial film Song of the South. The new theme will draw on The Princess and the Frog, and based on concept art looks fantastic.

Splash Mountain slowly builds up a sense of tension. A couple of smaller drops get you riled up for the big one, and the slightly creepy vibe present in some of the animatronic scenes really ramps things up as you… go up the ramp! By the time the big drop is imminent, the ride has done its job of building anticipation!

I’ve always enjoyed Splash Mountain, and though I don’t expect to be able to see the re-themed version any time soon, it sounds like it’s in good hands. It’s one of the main attractions in Frontierland, and one of the “three mountains of the Magic Kingdom” along with Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain. Doing all three in a day makes for an amazing and thrilling time!

Number 10: Peter Pan’s Flight

Entry to Peter Pan’s Flight.
Photo Credit: Disney Wiki

Peter Pan’s Flight is a dark ride that vaguely follows the story of the 1953 film, taking you on a journey to Neverland with Peter and the Darlings. The gentle ride is great for young kids, and the adventure of following Peter Pan as he flies above London and battles Captain Hook is rendered beautifully with Disney’s animatronics.

Clever use of forced perspective really does give you the sensation of flight – being high above London and Neverland, looking down. It’s a very well-designed ride to get that sense of scale, and I’ve always appreciated that about Peter Pan’s Flight. Most of the characters from the film are present, including Tinker Bell and Captain Hook, and it’s just a cute, fun ride.

Given the recent controversy surrounding the way Native Americans were depicted, and Peter Pan’s restricted access on Disney+ that has resulted, I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter Pan’s Flight is reworked or even closed and entirely re-themed at some point in the near future. So this might be one to ride while you can!

Bonus: Fireworks displays

Fireworks in the Magic Kingdom.

Few places in the world do fireworks displays as well as Walt Disney World. Even though I’m not the world’s biggest fan of fireworks, which I feel can be a tad boring, the displays Disney World puts on at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot in particular are absolutely fantastic, and well worth sticking around for after dark.

Seeing the fireworks pop over Cinderella’s Castle, while also watching performers in costume as Mickey, Minnie, the Princesses, and other Disney favourites is one of the must-do experiences while in Disney World, especially if you’re visiting with kids. Not only is it a quintessential Disney World experience in itself, it’s also one of the best fireworks shows you’re ever likely to see!

Most places around the world are only treated to fireworks once or twice a year, so seeing a live display – especially a professional one on a large scale – does still present a sense of wonder and excitement, even to an old cynic like me! It’s a great way to end a day at the parks.

So that’s it. Ten of my favourite attractions at Walt Disney World.

No Rise of the Resistance for me… yet!

Did your favourite(s) make the list? If not, I hope you’ll stay tuned. This is a subject I’m sure I’ll revisit at some point in future, as there are at least ten more rides and attractions I can think of that didn’t make this first list! Disney World really has something for everyone, in my opinion. Whether you want the thrill of a fast rollercoaster, an immersive story-based ride, something gentle to do with young kids, or a show to sit down and watch, there’s so much going on that kids and adults of all ages should be able to find something to enjoy. I greatly enjoyed my visits to the park, and I’m glad to have been able to attend while I was capable of doing so.

The great thing about Walt Disney World is – as Walt Disney himself said – that the parks are “never finished.” There will always be changes, additions, and updates to keep things fresh and interesting, and while the trend in recent years has been for including more of Disney’s own characters and intellectual properties, that may not always be the case, and we could see more changes in future that bring back ideas like The Great Movie Ride or Epcot’s Innoventions.

Regardless, I hope this list was a bit of fun, and maybe a trip down memory lane for those of you who, like me, haven’t been able to visit the parks in a number of years.

All rides and attractions listed above are the copyright of and owned by Disney Parks and/or The Walt Disney Company. Some images courtesy of the Disney Wiki and Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Worf and the spiral of clickbait

One potential news story that I opted not to cover here on the website was a recent social media post by Worf actor Michael Dorn. In a single Twitter post, Dorn wrote the following: “Just got the news, being summoned back into action. Starfleet calls. #ad”

Well, no sooner had that post hit Twitter than the Star Trek fan community began scrambling to “break” the news of Worf’s return to Star Trek. Websites, blogs, and YouTube shows all jumped on Dorn’s post, using headlines like: “Michael Dorn CONFIRMS Worf’s Return!” As the battle for clicks escalated, Trekkies online began speculating about what form Worf’s return could take, and this too began to grow and spiral out of control.

The Tweet that launched a thousand clickbait articles…

The Captain Worf series that he’s been trying to get off the ground for the better part of a decade seemed to be 100% confirmed, if you believed certain websites and channels. Others were convinced the Twitter post meant Worf would appear in Picard Season 2 or Discovery Season 4. And of course, many outlets reported their wild speculation with minimal caveats as though it were fact.

All of this hype came crashing down within 48 hours, however, when it became clear that Dorn’s Twitter post was nothing more than an advertisement for mobile game Star Trek Legends, an Apple Arcade exclusive title. Legends looks like so many other mobile games released in the last few years, and I have no desire to sign up to Apple Arcade at £5 per month just to play one mediocre-looking title. Even if it does have Worf!

Logo for Star Trek Legends.

Uninspired mobile games aside, I think this whole Michael Dorn saga is yet another example in a very long line of how we have to be incredibly careful how we use social media and how difficult it is to trust even supposedly “reputable” outlets. In this piece I’ll look at the issue as it relates to the Star Trek fan community in particular, but obviously these same broad points can apply to news, politics, and so on.

Michael Dorn’s post was designed to get attention. He may have written it himself, but it’s equally likely – in my opinion as someone who used to work in video games marketing – that it was written by the marketing team behind Star Trek Legends. But whoever wrote the actual words, the post was deliberately ambiguous and designed to get Trekkies talking, playing on fan hopes of the return of a major character who hasn’t been seen on screen since 2002.

Worf made his last canonical appearance in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis.

Marketers do this kind of thing all the time; it’s a nostalgia play. It isn’t the first time we’ve seen it in the Star Trek community, either. But because we’re in an age of 24/7 social media use, some of the biggest names in the online Star Trek fandom jumped on Dorn’s comment, seeing an easy way to get clicks – and thus money – for themselves.

Reading the Twitter post, and especially seeing the #ad hashtag, it should’ve been screamingly obvious that this was not connected to a new television show or film. And I have no doubt whatsoever that the social media managers, webmasters, and fan group leaders who began to write clickbaity articles and produce clickbait videos knew that for a fact. But they did so anyway. It was a topic of conversation – and an easy win. Who wouldn’t click on a video or article that screamed “Worf is coming back!” in big bold capital letters? For fans unaware of the original Twitter post, they jumped on such articles and videos hoping to learn that Worf was getting his own show or that he would appear in Picard – the natural implication of such a headline.

Worf having a role in Picard Season 2 was something some fans speculated about at length.

I’m lucky to have my own website, and that means I can cover the topics I want to at my own pace. I did see the Michael Dorn controversy unfold, but two things became apparent very quickly. First was that no one commenting online, no matter how large their website and following, actually knew anything substantial. And second, Dorn’s post had the #ad hashtag, which meant it was clearly connected to a product of some kind. Star Trek Legends turned out to be that product.

As a result, I chose not to cover a “story” that was a bag of nothing. I could easily have penned a short article about the prospects of a Captain Worf series and the potential for Worf to appear in Picard Season 2, Discovery Season 4, or Lower Decks Season 2. Maybe doing so would have driven traffic to the website. But it would’ve felt more than a little dishonest.

Worf in The Next Generation Season 7 episode Lower Decks.

Rumours swirl in the Star Trek fan community all the time – as indeed they do in every online community. But most of these “rumours” are clearly nonsense, based on unverified and often unspecified sources. The truth is that ViacomCBS and the creative team in charge of Star Trek generally do a good job at keeping a lid on leaks. Occasionally a story will leak ahead of an official announcement, but as we’ve seen with some big projects recently, including the new film scheduled for 2023, most of the time that is simply not the case. Yet many social media channels, fan groups, and websites insist on reporting rumour as if it were fact.

When I write speculatively here on the website, you’ll note that I always caveat what I’m saying by explaining that I have no “insider information” nor any “sources.” This is specifically to damp down any theory or speculation that I’m writing about and to clarify that it’s just guesswork on my part. Sometimes it’s educated guesswork, putting together things that seem obvious even if there’s yet to be official confirmation, but even then such a caveat is incredibly important.

Worf is a character in mobile game Star Trek Legends.

It’s easy for a website or social media group to fall into the trap of writing clickbait based on things like Michael Dorn’s Twitter post, but it doesn’t do anything for the Star Trek fan community. In some cases it can be actively harmful – building up hype and expectations that are obviously only going to lead to disappointment. Marketing folks need to be aware of this, as well. As much as Dorn’s post got people talking about Star Trek Legends, they deliberately set up Trekkies for disappointment by allowing Dorn to imply – albeit in a way that should’ve been easy for fans to see through – that Worf was coming back to Star Trek.

But the blame in this case doesn’t lie only with the marketing team at Star Trek Legends, who are, after all, doing their best to market a product. It lies with fan groups, websites, and social media channels who took that obvious piece of marketing and put their own spin on it, building up the hype of Worf’s possible return to Star Trek in order to drive clicks, views, and website traffic.

Worf in a teaser video for Star Trek Legends posted on Twitter.

This is what I mean by the “spiral” of clickbait: a slightly dishonest marketing post on social media appears. Fan websites and social media channels jump on it and take it out of context, in some cases completely disregarding or ignoring the possibility of it being marketing. As the hype bubble starts to build, more outlets and fans jump on the story, talking about it and driving more and more clicks and traffic. What began as a single post advertising a mobile game thus exploded to become a big story online, and it didn’t need to be. From the marketers’ point of view, it’s a rousing success! But for fans, at best it’s a mild disappointment.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find reliable, objective sources of information online, and it’s getting to a point where, unless something is confirmed unambiguously by an official outlet, I don’t trust it.

We all need to be careful what we read and watch, and try our best not to give in to clickbait!

Star Trek Legends is out now for iOS devices via Apple Arcade. The Star Trek franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

My encounter with a royal broadcast, and how Prince Philip’s funeral will be very different

In 2011 I found myself in London working with a client. It just so happened that, during the month I was in the capital, the wedding of Prince William was set to take place. Royal events like weddings and funerals are broadcast live in the UK and around the world, and doing so is an incredible logistical feat that takes a huge amount of planning. In this current coronavirus moment, with restrictions and limitations in place, the upcoming funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh will be quite different to the royal event I – in a very minor way – attended a decade ago.

Although my health was in decline by 2011, at that point I was still working full-time and was still able to travel in relative comfort, so when a client I’d worked with for several years asked me to spend some time in their office with their marketing team I happily agreed and travelled to London. All expenses paid, I thought, so why not? I stayed in a small room in a shared apartment in King’s Cross, from where my client’s office was a short commute. It was, for someone who grew up in a small rural community, a change of scene! Though I’d lived in cities before, I never really got used to the dense crowds of places like London – but if I thought my commute or my lunch break were busy, that was nothing compared to the royal wedding!

Crowds at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.

After several years of dating, Prince William and Kate Middleton – now Kate, Duchess of Cambridge – announced their engagement in November 2010, and planning for the wedding kicked into high gear not only for the royal family, but for media companies as well. Though Prince Charles’ second wedding to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in 2005 had attracted a modest television audience of around 7 million in the UK, his first wedding to Diana, Princess of Wales in 1981 picked up an audience of over 28 million in the UK – and some 750 million worldwide. Broadcasters certainly expected William and Kate to manage something similar!

A huge event was planned, and the royal family were accommodating of the media, despite decades of mistrust between them, setting up cameras and microphones to capture every single moment of the day. Screens were set up in public parks in London – where I watched the ceremony – and all around the UK, and people lined the routes waving flags and joining in. After sitting to watch the wedding in Green Park – a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace – I found myself on the Mall in time for the newlyweds’ appearance on the palace balcony, as well as to see a flyover by the Royal Air Force.

My view of Buckingham Palace from the Mall in 2011.

There were an estimated one million people on the Mall along with me, and scenes of the event were broadcast to an audience of some 30+ million in the UK, and well over 160 million worldwide. It’s always been a source of interest to be able to tell people that “I was there” – even though I’m no royalist and wouldn’t have attended on purpose, it’s certainly something interesting to have participated in while I was able. An event.

Royal funerals, too, tend to draw significant audiences, and in light of the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh last week, it’s these events we should really be looking to for points of comparison.

The funerals of both the Queen Mother in 2002 and Princess Diana in 1997 are the largest royal funerals of note in the last few years, and the best comparisons to what we could expect to see on Saturday. The Queen Mother’s 2002 funeral picked up an audience of over 10 million in the UK – but this is barely a third of the 32 million who tuned in to see the funeral of Princess Diana.

The funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales was a massive television event in 1997.

Royal weddings, like the one mentioned above, are meticulously planned months ahead of time, with every detail ironed out. With eight days between the announcement of Prince Philip’s death and the funeral, you’d think that putting together an event like this, with plans to televise it worldwide, would be impossible. But that’s far from the truth.

The reality is that the royal family and broadcasters have been working on funeral plans for Prince Philip and other senior royals for decades. Prince Philip himself is said to have worked on his own funeral arrangements, crafting an event that would cause, in his words, “minimal fuss,” and even designing his own Land Rover-based hearse! Perhaps he would have appreciated the scaled-back nature of this event, caused by the pandemic, which means a maximum of thirty people can be in attendance!

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021)
Picture Credit: Allan warren, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A lot has changed since even the wedding of William and Kate ten years ago in terms of the way audiences consume media, and I will be genuinely interested to see whether the viewing figures for Prince Philip’s funeral come close to matching other comparable royal events. The move away from broadcast television to on-demand streaming has changed the way many people, especially younger people, interact with what they watch.

In a growing number of cases, people are opting not to watch any broadcast television, replacing it with subscriptions to streaming platforms, and even eschewing the traditional television set in favour of smaller, portable screens like phones and tablets. While that wouldn’t be my preference for how to watch, well, anything, I can’t deny that it’s a trend that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. How many of these people will step away from Netflix, YouTube, or Paramount+ to tune into a royal funeral, I wonder, and how many will simply opt to watch highlights later?

How many people will watch the funeral live, and how many will simply stream the highlights afterwards?

Royal events have been huge draws for television audiences going back to at least the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953. My father can vividly remember crowding around a brand-new television to watch the queen’s coronation, and while in 2021 we shouldn’t be crowding around anything, there is still power in royalty for television broadcasters. One need only look to the success of Netflix’s The Crown as evidence.

So it will be a point of interest to learn how many viewers turn up for Prince Philip on Saturday. Broadcasters will have had a number of plans in place for different events, different crowd sizes, and even different weather conditions. April weather in the UK can be unpredictable – in the last couple of days it snowed, coming after several days of unseasonably warm weather! So you never know what you might be up against, something broadcasters will have to work around.

The Crown on Netflix shows how big of a draw anything involving the royal family can be.

In 2011, to get back to my own experience, while exploring the Mall in the days before the wedding, and on the day itself, I came upon a temporary structure that had been built opposite Buckingham Palace especially to house a number of different domestic and international broadcasters. It was an odd shade of green and appeared to have been built largely from wood and scaffolding! Regardless, it did its job and quite a few broadcasters – including big ones like the BBC – appear to have made use of it.

Whether such a structure will be able to be built in time for the funeral is not clear, nor are whether restrictions in place because of coronavirus would even allow for so many people to work in such close proximity. The pandemic has disrupted so many events and plans, and Prince Philip’s funeral is no exception.

The temporary media structure in 2011.

It’s a huge logistical effort to televise an event of this nature, and given the pandemic and associated restrictions, it will be a herculean task to get everything ready in time so that the funeral and its broadcast go smoothly. But plans have been in place for a long time – just as there are plans for other big funerals and events – so all the broadcasters have to do at this point is put them into place efficiently.

On a personal note, as someone who grew up in the UK with family members who were generally pro-monarchy, the passing of Prince Philip is a noteworthy event. We shouldn’t taint that nor sidestep it with criticisms of the man or the institution; there will be time in future to discuss both monarchy as a concept and the present royal family, but now is not the right moment. Suffice to say it will be a significant event for the country, despite the unusual backdrop of pandemic-related restrictions. And I daresay I will tune in on Saturday to watch at least part of the service.

The funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021) is due to take place on Saturday, the 17th of April 2021. The event will be televised in the UK and around the world. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Has space exploration become… boring?

I’m a huge fan of Star Trek – which you probably know if you’re a regular around here! What would become the Star Trek franchise was born out of the space race of the 1960s; the incredible excitement of launching rockets, sending human beings into space, and the Apollo programme that would eventually send Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon in July 1969.

It’s hard to remember now, almost fifty years since mankind last set foot on the moon, but the pace of technological progress required to get there in the first place was incredible. The Wright brothers made the first ever powered flight in a heavier-than-air vehicle in 1903. Sixty-six years later, Neil Armstrong took that “giant leap for mankind.” In less than the span of a single human lifetime, we went from the horse and cart to the Saturn V rocket.

It’s been more than fifty years since Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the surface of the moon.

This was the world my parents’ generation grew up in. My father would’ve been in his late twenties when the first moon landing happened, and like practically everyone his age he can remember that event vividly. My grandfather, on the other hand, could distinctly remember the excitement he and his schoolfriends felt at seeing an automobile – a rarity when he was a child.

For all of the monumental accomplishments made in the field of space exploration in my lifetime, nothing compares to landing on the moon, launching the first satellite, or sending the first people to space. And that’s for a pretty simple – yet devastating – reason: we don’t do those kind of big missions any more. The space race ended, and with it the investment of governments shrank significantly. The scope of future missions was curtailed, and NASA in particular looked to money-saving measures.

The launch of a Saturn V rocket.

We’ve heard in every decade since the eighties the promise that we’d land humans on Mars within ten years – then the decade draws to a close and the promise is repeated. If you’d spoken to someone of my parents’ generation in the late ’60s, the idea that humanity would still have never gone to Mars – or even left Earth’s orbit – over fifty years later would have seemed utterly absurd! Surely, they felt, the pace of technological change and improvement would simply continue, and with it, more exciting space missions would come.

But the fundamental technologies involved in space travel haven’t really changed. The rockets that launch all of our satellites, probes, and astronauts are based on the same technology that Wernher von Braun created for the V-2 rocket during the Second World War. The engines and reactors powering our probes have hardly changed since the days of the Pioneer and Voyager programmes. When the money dried up, and the impetus pushing humans to explore space also dried up, technology stagnated.

Dr Wernher von Braun (circled) initially developed rockets for Nazi Germany before working for NASA.
Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1978-Anh.023-02 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en, via Wikimedia Commons

The development of the reusable space shuttle was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allowed for more frequent missions, sending more humans to space and putting up more satellites and probes than ever before. On the other, it limited humanity’s manned missions to Earth orbit only, and restricted the size and weight of those same satellites and probes. The shuttle remained in service for thirty years, and in all of that time, the development of other spacecraft slowed to a crawl.

There are financial and political reasons why this is the case, especially in the United States. For the US government, space exploration is expensive, and thus NASA’s budget is first on the chopping block when savings need to be made! But there are also political reasons – many politicians have promised a return to the moon and further manned missions, yet were unable to deliver due to changes in political control of the White House and Congress.

All of this has contributed to a sense that I have, as a non-scientist and layman, that space exploration has lost much of its excitement.

The Space Shuttle Enterprise during a test-flight.

The recent landing of the Perseverance Rover on Mars kind of encapsulated this, and is what prompted me to write this piece. Because as amazing an accomplishment as Perseverance’s successful landing was, it’s an almost-identical vehicle to Curiosity – a rover which has been on Mars, sending back data and photos since 2012.

From a scientist’s point of view, the two rovers may have different equipment. Perseverance may be able to conduct experiments that Curiosity couldn’t, and that’s fine. As scientific instruments I’m not doubting their merits. But as a layman looking in, we’ve been seeing photos of the barren Martian landscape for decades, and in high-definition for almost ten years. It’s pretty much a given that Mars once held liquid water and some forms of bacteria, even if the “smoking gun” evidence has yet to be found, so even if Perseverance were to conclusively prove that Mars once harboured microscopic life… even that wouldn’t feel all that interesting.

The Perseverance Rover recently landed on Mars.

The same applies to manned missions. No human has left Earth’s orbit in my lifetime. Manned missions to “space” today take humans to the barest edge of what we could reasonably call “space” – a few hundred miles above our planet’s surface, locked in orbit. The International Space Station, like the space shuttle before it, may be a wonderful engineering accomplishment, and its experiments may achieve interesting results for scientists, but after more than twenty years of continuous occupation of the ISS, it’s not exactly exciting is it?

The last time I felt truly awed by a space mission was New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto in 2015. Seeing images of a planet – or dwarf planet, to give Pluto its official designation – that had never been visited before was genuinely interesting. New Horizons completed the set – all nine planets that I learned about in school had now been visited and photographed by human space probes. That was an interesting moment.

Pluto in true colour, as seen by the New Horizons probe.

I’m increasingly sceptical, though, that any manned mission in the years to come will recapture that feeling. We’ve heard every few years that a manned mission to Mars is in the planning stages, but so far it’s never happened. There are certainly still technical and medical issues to overcome with such an endeavour, such as the long-term effects of low gravity on human bodies and the not-so-easy feat of constructing a large enough and powerful enough spacecraft to make such a journey. I doubt we’ll see it before the most-recent promised date of 2030.

Nor does a return to the moon seem to be on the agenda – again, despite promises to the contrary. The United States had talked about a manned mission sometime this decade, but nothing seems to have been done to further that objective in a long time; NASA’s “back to the moon” web page hasn’t been updated in several years, and I haven’t heard any talk of the proposed mission in a long time.

NASA’s “back to the moon” web page.

So we’re left with more missions to Earth orbit and probes to places we’ve already been. Nothing about that inspires me right now, and the missions that humanity sends into space have become mundane and routine. Perhaps that’s a comment on how we’ve become a spacefaring species: that rocket launches which would have drawn huge attention in years past are now considered dull. But I think it’s also a comment on how space exploration has lost some of its focus and impetus, with missions opting to stay in – relatively speaking, of course – “safe” territory.

As we come to learn more about space and our place in it, the expectation from decades past that we’d be up there exploring it has failed to come to pass. We’ve discovered thousands of planets orbiting stars in our galaxy, yet we have no way to ever practically visit them. We’ve sent countless rockets up into space to undertake a variety of missions, yet never tried to develop an alternate method of propulsion or getting into space. Because the fundamental technologies underlying our space missions haven’t been replaced, space exploration itself has kind of stagnated.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket uses the same basic technology as the V-2 did in the ’40s.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Zoe Thacker.

As a kid I can remember wanting to be an astronaut and having a fascination with all things space. In the late ’80s and ’90s it seemed that there was still the potential to keep exploring and do bigger and better things – even if that potential had gone unrealised for twenty years or more. But it never came to pass, and I find it quite sad in a way that no human has walked on the moon, or even left Earth orbit, in my entire lifetime.

Perseverance landed on Mars a few weeks ago, and I have no doubt that it will send back data and images that will be of interest to scientists. It may even make the long-awaited breakthrough regarding ancient microbial life on the red planet. But as I look in as a layman, I can’t help but feel that I want to see something else. Why not go to Venus, to Mercury, to the moons of Jupiter? Why not send a probe to visit Neptune or Uranus, neither of which have been visited since the Voyager probes flew past them in the ’80s?

Perseverance at NASA prior to travelling to Mars.

Above all, our goal should be to send humans out into space, pushing the boundaries of science and technology to go where no man has gone before. And there’s the rub. We’re sending probes where probes have already gone before. Rovers to planets where rovers have already gone before… and are still actively exploring. Humans are going to a space station where more than 200 people have gone before. More than 550 humans have spent time in Earth orbit. It’s beginning to stretch the truth to call the most recent ones “pioneers.”

There are some interesting-sounding missions on the horizon, including planned missions to Saturn’s moon Titan, flybys of asteroids, and the James Webb Space Telescope, which will be an improvement over the decades-old Hubble Space Telescope and may potentially help scientists learn more about the formation of galaxies and stars. But there aren’t any manned missions I can feel excited about yet – and as I said I’ll be sceptical of any mission claiming to send humans anywhere other than the ISS until the rocket is on the launchpad and the astronauts are suited up. We’ve been down this road too many times for me to have any confidence, I’m afraid.

NASA’s upcoming Dragonfly mission will visit Saturn’s moon Titan. (Artist’s impression)

I know how this article comes across, and it’s for that reason I didn’t want to publish it immediately after Perseverance landed on Mars. That is undeniably an accomplishment, one which the team can and should take pride in. And as I keep saying, I’m not a scientist. These missions achieve a lot from a scientific standpoint, bringing in a lot of data about different aspects of the cosmos. The data we gain from missions like Perseverance, for example, will hopefully further inform a future manned mission to Mars.

The fact that we have so much technology in space, and that we see so many rocket launches that they don’t even make the news any more are accomplishments. Humanity’s space infrastructure may not have developed in the way I would have wanted, or in the way people of my parents’ generation may have expected in the aftermath of the moon landings, but we have achieved a lot. None of that should be in dispute, and that isn’t what I’m trying to say in this article.

The International Space Station over Florida.

Space exploration isn’t just about raw data and scientific interest. It needs to be inspirational, calling out to future generations of scientists and astronauts to say “hey, look at this absolutely amazing thing we’ve done.” And for me, that inspiring aspect hasn’t been present for a while. The decisions made going back fifty years or more to focus on Earth orbit and unmanned probes to Mars at the expense of other destinations has led space exploration to feel boring by 2021. I think that’s a shame, but I also worry that if that inspirational aspect remains lost, we may never get it back. If nobody cares about going into space because the things we do in space have already been done before, the resultant loss of interest will mean future generations won’t even try to develop new technologies or push forward to new destinations.

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. And with space exploration having become a luxury rather than a necessity, there has been no real drive toward creating new and better ways of doing it. Why spend time, money, and resources inventing some kind of anti-gravity thruster when chemical rockets from the 1940s still work? But without that need, that drive, I really do believe we’ve seen space technology stagnate and fail to improve.

The Nazi V-2 rocket (modern replica pictured) was the first truly successful long-range rocket.
Photo Credit: Lars Aronsson, CC SA 1.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/sa/1.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

None of these things are easy, and it’s outstanding in many ways that we’re in as good a position as we are in terms of space exploration and space technology. But I can’t be the only one who feels this way. There hasn’t been a truly pioneering manned mission since we last went to the moon in the early ’70s, and when we’re sending probes and rovers to planets that have seen probes and rovers visit on a number of previous occasions… let’s just say that the first time is always interesting, but each subsequent one draws less and less attention and excitement.

The sad reality, I suppose, is that there isn’t any compelling reason to go to space beyond the thrill of exploring it. And thrills don’t pay the bills! We have all of the resources we need here on Earth – at least in the short-to-medium term – and the expense of doing something commercial in space, like mining or collecting resources, versus the potential profit seems to rule it out. Space is hard to commercialise right now, and thus we seem not to be as interested as we were in decades past.

The planet Uranus – last visited by a human probe in 1986.

SpaceX, the most successful commercial space company, makes its money by launching satellites and other missions in Earth’s orbit – as well as from the upcoming Starlink satellite internet service. That aspect of space can and has been commercialised. But the rest of it – the moon, the asteroids, the planets, and beyond – are currently beyond our reach, at least in terms of a cost-to-profit ratio. It falls solely to government-sponsored agencies, then, to engage in exploration.

I always keep my fingers crossed for interesting and exciting news from space. And it isn’t all doom and gloom; there have been some interesting events, such as the recent transit of ʻOumuamua – which may have been the first interstellar object ever detected. But even then, I’m left with a sense of a missed opportunity. We didn’t send a probe to investigate ʻOumuamua because we couldn’t. We lacked the technology to catch up to the fast-moving object, and thus we’ll never know for certain exactly what it was or what it looked like.

Will we put humans back on the moon – or even on Mars – in the next few years, or even in my lifetime? I can’t answer that question with any certainty any more, and having been let down so many times, I don’t think I’ll believe it until I see the astronauts strapped into their seats on the launchpad. I want space to be interesting, for humans to push the boundaries and strike out into the great unknown. And I want probes to do the same, visiting distant parts of the solar system in the name of exploration. Revisiting Mars and the ISS may provide interesting scientific opportunities, but speaking for myself as a layman, these things no longer hold my interest. Space exploration has become boring.

Some images and artwork courtesy of NASA and/or Wikimedia Commons. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What’s the right ratio of advert to video on YouTube?

I watch at least one video on YouTube practically every day, and there are a few channels that I regularly stay up-to-date with. There are some great, well-produced videos, mini-documentaries, and short films on almost any topic you can think of – including a growing number of Star Trek channels, which is great to see! But we’re off-topic already. YouTube itself runs adverts on most channels and many of the videos on its platform, and that’s one aspect of the question I’m going to ask today. But there’s another, and it’s one which primarily affects channels when they reach a certain size: paid sponsorships.

I’ve talked before about paid reviews on YouTube, which is a slimy practice that needs to be abolished. But this article isn’t about what specifically is being advertised or even the way in which YouTube channels handle what products and services they choose to associate with. Rather it’s a simple question: what is the right ratio of advert to video? Or to put it another way: how much of the runtime of a video can and should comprise sponsorships and other advertising?

Getting the balance right between advertising and content is difficult for some YouTube channels.

This question was prompted by a video I watched recently – and no, I’m not telling you which one as that would be unfair. This article is not intended to single out any one individual YouTube channel for criticism; it’s a common enough problem across the platform. The video I watched clocked in at just over seven minutes long, which is about average for the channel in question, and because I’m a huge nerd as you well know, it was about trains.

The channel in question runs ads, and as such I was forced to sit through a pre-roll advert before the video played. Luckily this only lasted a few seconds, and while it is somewhat outside the channel’s control, the fact that YouTube shows ads is another layer in answering my question as we’ll see in a moment. After the pre-roll ad, the video began. But of the seven-minute video, the first minute-and-a-half was entirely dedicated to the aforementioned paid sponsorship – this time for a VPN service. 90 seconds may not seem awfully long, and in the grand scheme of things it isn’t – but in a video this short, 90 seconds is already more than 20% of the total runtime.

And that wasn’t all. After the main portion of the video had concluded, I was surprised to see the timer was sitting only at the 6:15 mark. The remaining 45 seconds of the video were dedicated to the YouTuber plugging their Patreon account (where fans can pay monthly to support the channel) as well as another reminder to sign up for the crummy VPN service that was sponsoring the video. That means that, of the seven minutes of total video time, two-and-a-quarter minutes were taken up with advertising. That’s practically one-third of the total runtime of the video, without even accounting for the pre-roll ad. To me that’s just too much.

Everyone is trying to make money – understandably so.

In a way we’re spoilt by the internet offering so much ad-free content. Netflix, Paramount+, Amazon Prime Video, and other streaming services generally don’t run any ads at all, and compared to broadcast television, which takes frequent and long ad breaks, online content is pretty consumer-friendly. But that doesn’t mean we should give content creators a free pass or let things slide when they go too far.

Even in the United States, where the rules around advertising on television are lax compared to the UK, no television channel is dedicating one-third of its time to ad breaks. When I lived in the United States in the mid-2000s, prime time television shows would show around 15 minutes of ads per hour – which is, if you’re quick with the maths, one-quarter of their time.

Older, more established YouTube channels tend to have a better handle on this problem, having worked out the right balance between making money and what their audience is willing to put up with. Thus it tends to be newer YouTubers, or channels which have only recently become popular, that fall prey to excessive advertising and overly-long sponsorship slots, at least in my limited experience with the platform.

This issue seems to affect newer YouTube channels more.

I don’t want to begrudge anyone making money, especially in the current economic climate. But there are good and bad ways to go about doing so, and there are good and bad ways to handle advertising and sponsorships. I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that a video which is one-third advert is too much, and this can become costly for YouTubers. They can lose subscribers, receive dislikes, receive negative comments and feedback, etc. It’s not uncommon to see comments calling out a YouTube video for dedicating too much time to advertising, and negative comments can be hurtful and even offputting.

Some videos can make the actual topic feel secondary, as if the video and indeed the whole channel only exist for the purpose of advertising. The content underneath the ads is what viewers come to YouTube for, and when that feels unbalanced it becomes very offputting. Whatever trust may exist between a YouTube channel and its audience becomes strained. This isn’t just the case when a YouTube channel is advertising a product or service close to the subject of the video, either.

Striking the right balance and getting the right advert-to-video ratio is important for any amateur on YouTube who hopes to make money on the platform. It’s worth any aspiring YouTuber taking a look at established channels to see how they handle things rather than launching headfirst into a sponsorship agreement without thinking it through. In the case we looked at, the two-and-a-quarter minutes of advertising would have felt far less egregious on a video that was twenty minutes long, so as I alluded to it’s not the raw length of time spent on advertising that’s the issue. Instead it’s making sure to get the right balance between time spent on advertising and time spent on the actual video. How much time in seconds or minutes to spend on advertising will depend on the channel and the length of video that the YouTuber intends to produce.

Being offered a large sum of money by advertisers can be very tempting to aspiring YouTubers.

As a good rule of thumb, I would suggest no YouTube video should try to pack more than 10% of its total runtime with advertising, and I would include in that plugging Patreon, PayPal donations, YouTube channel memberships, and the like. YouTube has recently become more aggressive with its own advertising, and it’s not uncommon to see two pre-roll ads now, as well as ads that run in the middle of a video, so YouTubers should try to take that into account when adding in their own ads.

It’s not always easy to make money on YouTube, and I’m sure that sponsorships are a very tempting prospect for an up-and-coming channel. But YouTubers in that position need to be very careful that they aren’t putting off their audience and potentially seeing those subscriber numbers and total watch hours drop as a result of being too aggressive. Usually this problem corrects itself; if a YouTube channel goes too hard and too fast on the paid sponsorships, they wise up either because they lose viewers or because of the backlash it generates. But it’s something to be aware of for anyone starting a YouTube channel and intending to pursue it as a money-making endeavour.

So what’s the tl;dr? In my opinion it’s about 10% or less. 90% or more of proper video content, 10% or less of adverts and self-promotion. Shorter videos in particular need to be careful with this, as it’s on shorter videos where I’ve found that the balance has not been correctly struck more often than not.

Sorry for the rant, but this is something that was really bugging me today for some reason!

Some stock photos used here are courtesy of Pixabay and Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I’ve had my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine!

It’s been almost a full year since the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK in a major way. In late March last year I was advised by the National Health Service that I’m classified as “clinically extremely vulnerable” to COVID-19, and more likely to suffer serious complications from this nasty illness. That didn’t come as a surprise to me – and if you’ve been a regular reader here on the website you’ll know I’m in generally poor health. Because of my pre-existing health conditions I was put into one of the NHS’ priority groups to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

At the end of February I was given my vaccine appointment, and I promptly attended it. The UK’s vaccine rollout has been one of the best in the world, and the NHS deserves a huge amount of credit for the way they’ve handled things. Though there can be reasons to criticise the bureaucracy at the NHS sometimes, there can be no denying that, in this case, having a centralised system has helped immensely. Once the NHS got the ball rolling on vaccinating folks late last year, it became an unstoppable juggernaut, and the UK looks to be on course to have vaccinated everyone who could be vulnerable to coronavirus in short order, with the remainder of the population also vaccinated in time for summer.

I’ve had my first dose of the vaccine!

My vaccination appointment went incredibly smoothly. I arrived on time, and was guided to the right entrance to the health centre by one of a number of volunteers. Once inside I gave my name and date of birth, and was handed a card which noted the batch number of the vaccine. From there I waited in the queue for less than five minutes, at which point I was ushered into a room, answered a couple of questions, and within literally 30 seconds of sitting down the needle was in my arm. And that was that. A very efficient process indeed!

Nobody likes getting an injection, and I will admit that my arm was a little sore in the hours after my appointment. But feeling the needle go into my arm was actually an incredible moment. After a year of shielding myself at home, not interacting with friends or family except online, and not being able to go anywhere or do anything, it was cathartic. It felt like the first step toward a return to normal life, and after the year we’ve all had, I’m more than ready for that!

I wasn’t sure whether or not to share my vaccine experience. This website is really a forum for me to discuss entertainment topics, so it isn’t really a good fit, nor is it something I would usually talk about. But unfortunately the coronavirus pandemic has seen a number of conspiracy theories propagated, including an expansion of anti-vaccine conspiracy theories. In whatever small way I can, I wanted to lend my voice and share my experience to re-emphasise that this vaccine is safe and to push back against anti-vaccine narratives.

In some communities, the reappearance of previously-eradicated diseases like measles, rubella, and even polio is directly and unquestionably attributable to anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and many of these same conspiracy theory proponents have begun arguing against the COVID-19 vaccine. This is incredibly dangerous.

Protesters in the UK during the pandemic.

Vaccines don’t just work on an individual basis, they work en masse. The more people who get vaccinated, the less chance a disease can break out because human-to-human transmission becomes impossible. Vaccines are not 100% effective on a personal level; they don’t provide everyone with protection due to various factors. It’s therefore up to all of us to protect one another. Receiving the vaccine is about so much more than just protecting yourself – it’s a civic responsibility to protect everyone in society, including those with serious illnesses or compromised immune systems who cannot receive the vaccine for themselves.

This is what many anti-vaccine folks seem to miss – and indeed what many anti-mask or anti-lockdown folks have missed throughout the pandemic. So let’s be very clear: it isn’t just about you. The actions that we take at a moment like this have the potential to affect everyone in society, and the effectiveness of any vaccination programme relies on as many people as possible receiving their dose when it’s their turn.

The sooner we’re all vaccinated, the sooner life can return to normal.

I’m not the only one to have been vaccinated. My elderly parents both received their first doses a few weeks ago, and a number of other friends and relatives have had theirs too. Nobody I’m aware of suffered any ill effects, and I can say with confidence that the vaccine is safe. I know there’s a lack of trust in our governments, leaders, politicians, and even scientists, and part of the reason why conspiracy theories in a general sense have become accepted by some folks is because of that mistrust. I don’t know how to counter that in the long run, nor what the consequences may be.

All I can say today is that I went to my appointment. I took the jab. I got vaccinated. There were no ill effects, no complications. The vaccine is safe, and I’m not saying that because of the result of a scientific study or because a politician said so. That’s my own lived experience. I truly hope that when it’s your turn, you’ll get vaccinated too. Then we can put all of this nonsense behind us and get back to living our lives.

There are several different COVID-19 vaccines available, with more on the way. When you can expect to receive your dose will depend on where you live, how old you are, your general state of health, and other factors. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The odd criticism of Six Days In Fallujah

This article discusses the Iraq War and the Second Battle of Fallujah and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

One of the bloodiest and most controversial battles of the Iraq War was the Second Battle of Fallujah, which took place in November 2004. The battle saw coalition forces – most of whom were American, but there were a number of Iraqi and British troops who took part as well – capture the city from al-Qaeda and other insurgent forces. The Iraq War is controversial and its history complicated, and I’m simplifying the events of the battle and the war to avoid making this article about a video game too long. Suffice to say that even now, eighteen years since the United States led a coalition to defeat Saddam Hussein, and more than sixteen years since the Battle of Fallujah, the events are controversial, disputed, and the consequences of military action are still being felt in Iraq, the wider Middle East, and indeed the whole world.

Six Days In Fallujah is a video game depicting the battle from the American side, and when it was initially in development in the late 2000s it became incredibly controversial in the United States, with politicians and Iraq War veterans’ groups expressing opposition and disgust. The idea of recreating for fun any aspect of one of the most divisive conflicts of the last few decades was considered obscene, and the idea of encouraging gamers to play through a battle that took place, at that time, a mere five years earlier was too much for many people to countenance.

After the controversy boiled over and saw media personalities and politicians get involved in 2009, Six Days In Fallujah disappeared, and by 2010 or 2011 the project was effectively shelved. The critics moved on, the developers moved on, and that appeared to be the end of the matter.

Last month, however, there came the announcement from a studio called Highwire Games – which is said to consist of developers who worked on games in the Halo and Destiny franchises at Bungie – that Six Days In Fallujah was back. The game is now scheduled for a late 2021 release date, and plans to retain the original focus that was the cause of such controversy a decade ago. Cue outrage from the expected sources.

What took me by surprise was not the strength of feeling expressed by some veterans of the battle, nor the criticism by largely self-serving politicians. That was to be expected, and the announcement of Six Days In Fallujah went out of its way to highlight how Highwire Games has worked with veterans in particular – clearly anticipating this kind of reaction and trying to pre-empt some of the criticism. Instead what genuinely surprised me was the reaction from some games industry insiders and commentators, who appear to be taking an equally aggressive stance in opposition to Six Days In Fallujah.

Politicians, particularly those to the right-of-centre, have long campaigned against video gaming as a hobby. Initially games were derided as being wastes of time or childish, but some time in the 1990s the tactic switched to accusing games of inspiring or encouraging violence; equating in-game actions with real-world events. Numerous studies have looked into this issue, by the way, and found it to be without merit. But we’re off-topic.

Advocates of video gaming as a hobby – in which category I must include myself, both as someone who used to work in the industry and as an independent media critic who frequently discusses gaming – have long tried to push back against this narrative and these attacks. “Video games can be art” is a frequently heard refrain from those of us who support the idea of interactive media having merit that extends beyond simple entertainment, and there are many games to which I would direct an opponent to see for themselves that games can be just as valid as works of cinema and literature.

To see folks I would consider allies in the fight for gaming in general to be taken more seriously calling out Six Days In Fallujah because of its controversial subject matter was disappointing. Art, particularly art that deals with controversial current and historical events, can be difficult and challenging for its audience – and it’s meant to be. A painting, photograph, novel, or film depicting something like war is sometimes going to challenge our preconceptions and ask us to consider different points of view. That’s what makes art of this kind worthwhile. It’s what makes everything from war photography to protest songs to the entire genre of war in cinema incredibly important.

Documentaries and news reports only cover events in one way. The way we as a society come to understand events is partly factual but also is, in part, informed by the art those events inspire. The First World War is covered very well in history textbooks and newsreels produced at the time, but another side of the conflict – a more intimate, personal side – is seen in the poetry of people like Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. The poems that they wrote about their wartime experiences were not pure depictions of fact, they were written to both inform and entertain – and perhaps to inform through entertainment.

If we relegate the Iraq War to contemporary news broadcasts and documentaries by the likes of Michael Moore we will miss something important, and so will future generations who want to look back and understand what happened. There are many works of fiction and non-fiction which attempt to show the big picture of what happened in Iraq, from the lies about “weapons of mass destruction” through to the use of banned weapons. Those works absolutely need to exist. But in a way, so does Six Days In Fallujah. It aims to depict, in as realistic a manner as game engines in 2021 will allow, one of America’s most controversial battles of recent decades – an event which will be seen in future, perhaps, as one of the American military’s darkest hours of the entire 21st Century due to their alleged use of illegal white phosphorus.

Getting as many perspectives as possible across as broad an array of media as possible about such an important event seems worthwhile, at least to me. Six Days In Fallujah may ultimately turn out to depict the event poorly, or be a game plagued by technical issues. It might be flat-out crap. But it really does surprise me to hear serious commentators and critics suggest that it shouldn’t be made at all, perhaps because of their own biases and preconceptions about the war and the game’s possible depiction of it.

There is value in art, and if video games are to ever be taken seriously as artistic expression, we need to make sure we allow difficult and challenging works of art to exist in the medium. That doesn’t mean we support them or the messages they want to convey, but rather that we should wait and judge them on merit when they’ve been made. As I said, Six Days In Fallujah may be a dud; an easily-forgotten piece of fluff not worth the energy of all this controversy. But maybe it will be a significant work that aids our understanding of the history of this battle, and the entire Iraq War.

It feels odd, as someone who lived through the Iraq War and all its controversy, to be considering it as an historical event, especially considering its continued relevance. I actually attended a huge anti-war march in London that took place a few weeks before British forces joined the US-led coalition and attacked Iraq. But the beginning of the Iraq War is now almost two decades in the past, and even as the world struggles with the aftermath of those events, we need to create works like Six Days In Fallujah if we’re ever to come to terms with what happened and begin to understand it. We also need to consider future generations – are we leaving them enough information and enough art to understand the mistakes our leaders made in 2003? If we don’t leave that legacy, we risk a future George W. Bush or Tony Blair making the same kind of mistake. I don’t know if Six Days In Fallujah will even be relevant to the conversation, but it’s incredibly important that we find out.

Six Days In Fallujah is the copyright of Highwire Games and Victura. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

I pre-ordered Starlink

February was a month where I was hoping to save some money, putting a little aside for some overdue computer upgrades. But I was pleasantly surprised to hear that pre-orders for Starlink – the satellite internet company owned by Tesla founder and Mars enthusiast Elon Musk – were available here in the UK. I promptly paid my deposit and have signed up for Starlink, which is scheduled to become available in “mid-to-late 2021.”

Usually I encourage people to avoid pre-orders, as they can lead to disappointment. But I’ve been in dire need of upgrading my internet connection for a long time, and with neither fibre broadband nor 5G seemingly on the cards any time soon, Starlink is the best option for me. I live in a rural part of the UK, and while some nearby settlements have been connected to fibre broadband and are enjoying download speeds around 50-60 Mbps and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps, I’m stuck with copper telephone lines.

A SpaceX rocket launches, taking Starlink satellites into orbit.
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Zoe Thacker via WikiMedia Commons

It’s amazing to me in a way just how much data these old-fashioned copper telephone wires can actually transmit. Considering the technology is well over a century old, and that this village had its telephone lines installed sometime in the 1950s or 1960s (yes, rural England was late to the party!) it’s a shock that any internet connection is possible, quite frankly! I remember my father telling me about his childhood in London, when his family was the only one on their street to have a telephone. People would queue up at their front door sometimes to borrow their phone! How times change.

In 2021, the kind of speeds that copper phone lines can deliver are just not acceptable, even using broadband. On a good day I can expect around 7-8 Mbps down and barely 1 Mbps up, which means I can download almost one megabyte of data per second. That’s adequate for streaming, even in high definition, but it means downloading large files is interminably slow! When it comes to video games, which I predominantly buy digitally on platforms like Steam, this can mean waiting literally an entire day – or even longer – just to download the installation files for some of today’s modern titles.

My download speed could be worse… but it could be a heck of a lot better too!

That’s not to mention the unreliability of the service I get from BT – a.k.a. British Telecom. A few years ago, a fault of some kind at BT knocked me offline for over six weeks, and the “best case scenario” download and upload speeds I mentioned often fluctuate and dip below that; some days I can find I have barely 1 Mbps of download speed, meaning doing anything online besides reading text is impossibly slow. As a disabled person who spends a lot of time indoors, I find myself increasingly reliant on the internet for everything from communication to everyday necessities. I do my banking and sort out my bills online. In these pandemic times I use video chat to keep in touch with friends and family. I even order my groceries online! And of course, the online sphere is where I get much of my entertainment, whether that’s in the form of films, television, or video games.

As I said when I criticised the television license, I don’t watch broadcast TV any more, so the internet has become my primary way of accessing entertainment, news, and really everything else. It’s become a necessity in a way I would never have predicted in the 1990s or even the 2000s – and not just for me, but for almost everybody. So I’ve been in need of an upgrade for a while!

I’ve got a new toy to play with coming soon!

I looked into getting a 4G modem and router, but as it happens the 4G availability in my area wouldn’t improve the situation much. It was also much more expensive – almost double the price I currently pay. And as mentioned, neither fibre nor 5G seem to be coming here any time soon. I could move house of course, but I’m settled here and moving into a town simply for the sake of faster internet is not something I’d realistically want to do.

Then along came Starlink! I’d signed up to be notified about the service over a year ago, excited at the prospect of faster internet via satellite. And now I’ve officially pre-ordered it! Hopefully the company will stay on course for their mid-to-late 2021 launch, and all being well I’ll get connected in late summer or the autumn. Be sure to check back because I’ll let you know all about the experience when I finally get connected.

So that’s it. There isn’t much else to say at this stage, really. I’m very excited about this new, fancy-sounding piece of technology, and I don’t mind paying a little extra if my internet experience will be vastly improved. The pre-order process was simple, and I can’t fault it from that point of view. I’m looking forward to faster internet speeds some time soon!

Starlink is available to pre-order now in the United Kingdom and some other locations in Europe and North America. Availability varies by location but over time the company plans a worldwide rollout of the service. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Crazy Uncle Dennis – some stats and numbers for 2020!

As we look forward to some of the entertainment highlights of 2021, I wanted to take a moment to look back and reflect on how the website did over the last year. 2020 was my first full year of running Crazy Uncle Dennis, and thanks to both my platform and Google analytics I have a lot of data about the site and how it’s been performing.

First, I thought it could be fun to run down my top five most-read articles of 2020. Obviously I’m excluding the home page and any other non-post pages. Let’s start the countdown!

Number 5:
Cyberpunk 2077 and the dangers of hype

At time of publication this article did alright, but wasn’t exactly lighting up the board. As the release of Cyberpunk 2077 edged closer, however, I began to see an uptick in views. In the article I argued that, while Cyberpunk 2077 may ultimately be a good game, the ridiculously inflated hype bubble was likely to leave at least some players underwhelmed. Because this was published before the game’s release, the controversy the game ultimately generated was not yet known. Despite that, however, I’ve been around the games industry long enough to know an over-hyped title when I see one!

Standout line: “There will be things players can’t do, limits to customisation, and perhaps even the odd bug or glitch that snuck through testing or couldn’t be patched before launch.”

Number 4:
In defence of Luke Skywalker

I was pleasantly surprised to see such a big response to my essay about Luke Skywalker. I didn’t expect to see it in the top five most-read posts considering it was only published at the beginning of December, but I guess that says a lot about how folks responded to it. When I first began working on the website, this was one of the pieces I had in mind. I made several attempts to begin writing it earlier in the year, but I couldn’t get the words out the way I wanted and it ended up being re-written several times before I was happy with it. I know that The Last Jedi remains controversial, but I hope this essay at the very least presents a different side of the argument.

Standout line: “I absolutely see Luke’s characterisation as a mental health story, and not only that, but one of the better cinematic attempts to depict mental health in recent years.”

Number 3:
Could Voyager’s Doctor appear in Star Trek: Discovery?

You guys loved this idea, apparently! With one episode left (at time of publication) it’s still technically possible – and would be an interesting way for the season to end! I had speculated that the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – or rather, a backup copy of him from the fourth season episode Living Witness – could still be active in the 32nd Century. Bringing Robert Picardo back would have been fun, and would have tied Discovery to the 24th Century Star Trek shows. We did see some connections this season, but there aren’t many characters who could easily cross over. I didn’t necessarily expect this to happen, but there’s no denying it would’ve been cool!

Standout line: “If I were writing it, the way I’d see him involved would be working alongside Burnham, Saru, and the crew of Discovery to restore the Federation.”

Number 2:
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 theory – warp drive

This is the second of two of my standalone Discovery theories that apparently people responded to! The odd thing about this one, though, is how many folks were reading it weeks after the season premiered. We knew as early as the first episode that this theory – in which I postulated that warp drive may not work at all – was not true. Yet this piece continues to get clicks, perhaps from folks who haven’t begun watching the season.

Standout line: “In order to understand this theory, we need a basic refresher course in how warp drive works in Star Trek!”

Number 1:
It’s time for Deep Space Nine and Voyager to get the HD treatment

Out of everything I wrote in 2020, this article was the runaway winner in terms of readership – more than three times as many people read this as read any other piece on the website. In this article, which was published back in March, I argued that Star Trek having a new home on CBS All Access (soon to be rebranded as Paramount Plus) should be the catalyst for Deep Space Nine and Voyager being remastered in HD. And the fact that so many of you have been reading and clicking on this post seems to validate that! I plan to follow this up and discuss options for upscaling or remastering older Star Trek episodes at some point this year, so stay tuned for that.

Standout line: “From a branding point of view, it isn’t a great look for CBS All Access to be offering some of its content for its flagship franchise in DVD quality. Netflix doesn’t do that, Amazon Prime Video doesn’t do that, and Disney+ certainly doesn’t do that.”

So those were the top five most-read articles and columns – out of a total of 226. When I started the website I had a few ideas for articles that I wanted to write – some of which have still not been published – but I had no idea I’d end up writing so many pieces on a range of subjects over the course of a year.

Not all of them performed as well as those above, though, so now let’s count down the five least-read posts!

Number 5:
VE Day – marking the 75th anniversary with documentaries

I love a good documentary, and in this relatively short piece to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day (the end of World War II in Europe) I highlighted a couple. On the day it was published it did okay, but only picked up a handful of views. Looking back, if I were writing it now I’d make sure to give it a better header image which might’ve inspired a few more clicks; as it is now it doesn’t look very professional! But even in May I was still getting to grips with the site and how images worked. I will continue to highlight documentaries that I like – and I note that my piece on the Netflix documentary series Pandemic: How To Prevent An Outbreak did much better.

Standout line: “I’m going to look at two documentaries in this article, one British and one American. They both look at the same conflict from the same side, but with very different perspectives.”

Number 4:
An amazing tech demo

This piece looked at an Unreal Engine tech demo, one which I felt was as close to photorealism as I’d ever seen in a “game.” Even on my PC, which is several years old and is by no means a powerful gaming rig, Mýrdalssandur, Iceland looks outstanding, and it’s not always possible to tell you’re playing a game, such is the level of detail. I thought it was a great preview of how games could look in the years ahead. But I’m a geekdom and gaming writer, not a tech writer, and perhaps this piece just didn’t find favour with this website’s audience – even though I maintain its subject matter is interesting!

Standout line: “The imagery would fit right in with CGI created for the big screen – and looks a heck of a lot better than many of the CGI environments present in films from just a few years ago.”

Number 3:
Children of Mars – a review

At the time I felt that my review of Children of Mars did okay, and it did – by the standards of how many hits the website was getting then. For a short while it was even the most-read piece on the whole site! But this was January 2020, and the number of hits I was getting at that time is much smaller than I’m lucky enough to see a year later. So it’s not a big surprise to see it as one of the least-read pieces. I didn’t like Children of Mars on the whole, its overly-artistic, music-heavy style just wasn’t my thing.

Standout line: “The sequence where Mars comes under attack is worth watching for anyone intent on tuning in for Star Trek: Picard, but as I said it’s barely a minute long, and the rest of the episode, while interesting in concept, ends up being little more than fluff.”

Number 2:
Star Trek: Picard has red carpet premieres

Picture credit: StarTrek.com

As above, this was an article I wrote back in early January 2020 which likewise did okay by the standards of the website at the time, but has been eclipsed by other pieces written since. It’s also very topical, even more so than episode reviews, as it took a look at the premiere of Star Trek: Picard. This article was also a short one, which may be another reason why it was quickly forgotten.

Standout line: “When I’ve said in the past that it’s an absolutely amazing time to be a Star Trek fan, some people will have shrugged. But with such a huge amount of content coming, there really should be something for everyone…”

Number 1:
How football is handling the pandemic

So we come to the least-read article of 2020. And it’s one in which I stepped away from the usual output of the website – entertainment and geekdom – and turned to the world of professional sport. It was also a piece that was topical, dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and for both of those reasons perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that hardly anyone read it! Despite that, I don’t feel that the website needs to be confined to a single topic or series of topics. There’s room for me to talk about other things – and as I’ve said before, I don’t do this for clicks, I do it because I enjoy it. So while this piece about football was the worst-performing of the year, it may yet be a topic I revisit in future… if I have something to say!

Standout line: “But this situation is not only unprecedented, it’s one which the Premier League and the Football Association seem to have had no contingency plans for.”

So those were the top five least-read articles. Or the bottom five, if you prefer to think about it that way!

Let’s talk numbers. In 2020, over 14,000 of you visited the website. That’s an absolutely insane number of people! When I started writing I had no idea that my articles and columns would be read literally all over the world, but I’ve had readers from every continent except Antarctica! I’ve also seen the website’s readership grow month by month, such that December was the most successful month of the year in terms of hits.

In the first couple of hours on the 1st of January 2021, I’d surpassed the total number of clicks for all of January 2020, and by midday all the views for January and February. When I first started putting together the bare bones of this article I was planning to tell you that the best day for the website was back in October; I saw a big spike in views around the time Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premiered, with folks checking in with a couple of my big pre-season theories. But to my surprise, December 31st blitzed right past that and became the site’s best day of the year – and best day ever. That was caused by a lot of people reading my article on what to watch at New Year, but that piece was a couple of weeks old so I was surprised to see it take off!

This piece about New Year did very well in the final hours of 2020.

Just going purely by categories, gaming is the most-discussed subject on the website. But adding up all of the various Star Trek categories, the Star Trek franchise beats gaming handily! I added eighteen posts to my “greatest hits” page in 2020 – a couple of which may not stay there forever! But those are the pieces I’m most proud of, and I’d encourage you to take a look at some of those articles and essays if you have time.

Across the 226 articles from 2020, I wrote a staggering 718,796 words.

To put that into context, I wrote more words on this website in 2020 than: Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged, Gone With The Wind, East of Eden, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit combined, or Moby-Dick.

Now I’m not saying that what I’ve written is objectively better than all of those famous works of literature. But… if someone wanted to read the most words possible, and didn’t care what those words were about, my website offers more to read than any of them. Just sayin’!

So that was a self-congratulatory look back at last year. I’m astonished at the positive response to Crazy Uncle Dennis and the pieces I’ve written here, and all I can really say is thank you. I’ll keep working on the site moving forward, discussing the topics I’m interested in, remaining positive wherever possible but also criticising where I feel it’s deserved, and hopefully continuing to have fun along the way!

Thank you for your support in 2020, and I hope you’ll check back regularly across 2021 and beyond.

– Crazy Uncle Dennis
Thursday, 7th January 2021

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, distributor, company, etc. Some stock images courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Merry Christmas!

Just a short one today. This year has been strange and disappointing for many of us, to put it mildly. When I began to create this website a little over a year ago, I had no idea that 2020 would have seen such misery on an unprecedented scale. It’s times like these where we need to close the door on the outside world and enjoy some wonderful escapism.

As someone with a varied (and growing) set of health problems, I do that a lot. Even pre-pandemic, disability greatly restricted what I was able to do and how far I was able to travel. My youngest sister is due to get married in the spring, and even travelling an hour to get to the wedding venue seems difficult – if not outright impossible. From a purely selfish point of view I haven’t lost as much of my freedom this year – because I’d already lost it gradually over the last decade.

You are not alone this Christmas.

I sympathise with everyone who’s not enjoying the holidays. As a kid I remember big Christmases with my parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. We could easily have twelve or more people together on Christmas Day. And later, when I lived in the United States for a year, I had fourteen people over for Christmas, fellow foreigners who likewise had nowhere to go for the holidays. Cooking Christmas dinner that year was exhausting! This year is, of course, very different. And like many of you, I don’t have anyone to share Christmas with in person; stricter lockdown rules are in place in the UK this year.

Though it’s become a cliché over the last year, none of us are really alone. We have the best communication tool humanity has ever devised literally at our fingertips or in our pockets, and even just by reading this you’re interacting with me. And I wish you a very Merry Christmas – or Happy Holidays if you prefer.

Merry Christmas!

I’m not a religious person, but Christmas has always felt like an enjoyable time of year. The bright lights, beautiful decorations, and sense of community that comes out has always been appealing. I decorate my home as best I can, and even managed to put up some outdoor lights this year. It meant so much to me when a neighbour of mine sent me a Christmas card and told me how she and her kids had been enjoying the lights on their way to and from school the last few weeks. Even when we don’t see one another, this time of year can bring us together – just not quite in the same way as usual.

Loneliness is something that takes some getting used to, and for people who are especially sociable, that’s going to be difficult. If you’re missing people you can’t be with this year, there is small comfort in knowing that the creation of vaccines should mean next Christmas – or even this coming Easter – has a high chance of seeing normal service resume.

Vaccines are coming!

Until then, let’s find a nice film series or television show to binge-watch as we count down the last days of 2020. Pick up a nostalgic favourite or something new you’ve been wanting to try, grab some nice snacks and a cold drink (or a mug of hot chocolate) and escape this world for a short while. Whether you’re visiting the distant future, a galaxy far, far away, or a fantastical realm, getting out of your own head and revelling in something different is no bad thing. It might just take the edge off.

Though there are many great festive classics to enjoy, if you want to skip this Christmas altogether I wouldn’t blame you. The Expanse is an underrated science fiction series that you can find on Amazon Prime Video, or perhaps something like last year’s The Witcher on Netflix if you’re in a fantasy mood. There’s always Star Trek – Star Trek: Picard Season 1 was great, and you can find that on Amazon Prime Video too if you missed it earlier in the year. The Mandalorian Season 2 has just wrapped up over on Disney+, and The Lord of the Rings film trilogy has just been re-released in 4K on Blu-ray.

Star Trek: Picard premiered in January.

If you’re looking for something different, perhaps something under-appreciated or off the beaten path, I could recommend a sci-fi show from the 1990s called Space Precinct, which is a fun mix of space adventure and police procedural. Then let’s see… Fortitude is an engaging thriller series set in the arctic – perfect for this time of year! The first season of horror-anthology series The Terror is similarly set in the icy north, and is a riveting watch with some absolutely outstanding performances.

On the film front, one of this year’s few big releases Tenet is already available to stream or get on Blu-ray. The Sonic the Hedgehog film from earlier in the year managed to be a surprisingly fun time as well. I’ll always heartily recommend Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek: Generations – the latter even features a Christmassy sequence. If you have access to the internet you aren’t short of options for things to watch!

Star Trek: The Motion Picture is fantastic.

You could try Fall Guys, the fun obstacle course video game that was released earlier in the year. It’s hard not to have a fun time with that cute indie game – even though it can be frustrating at times! Star Wars: Squadrons lets you pilot your own TIE Fighter or X-Wing, and if you want something gentle, Animal Crossing: New Horizons on the Nintendo Switch has weeks’ worth of fun.

Although it’s a crappy Christmas for a lot of us, there’s still plenty to watch and play to take our minds off it. And if you’re struggling, aside from telling you that you aren’t alone and you’ll get through it, all I can really do is recommend a few interesting options to watch or play. As somebody who lives alone with few friends or relatives nearby, I’m often in this position even in better years. For me, entertainment like television and film can take the edge off. We all need good distraction sometimes.

Wherever you are, however you’re celebrating, and whatever you wish you could’ve done instead, I truly hope you have a Merry Christmas.

All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, broadcaster, distributor, publisher, etc. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Axanar, Discovery, and the fan community coming back together

The video referenced in this article can be found below.

I sporadically check in with fan project Star Trek Axanar. After Tim Russ’ and Walter Koenig’s Star Trek Renegades, Axanar was the fan film I was most interested in seeing when it was announced a few years ago. I was surprised to see Alec Peters – the creator and star of Axanar – had released a video titled In Defense of Alex Kurtzman – Why Star Trek is going to be OK on the fan film’s official YouTube channel a few days ago, and while I don’t normally do “responses,” I thought it was very interesting and worth drawing your attention to.

If you aren’t familiar with the development of Axanar, here’s a quick recap – and it should explain why the aforementioned video came as a bit of a surprise. In 2014, a fan film titled Prelude to Axanar was released. Produced by Alec Peters, the film served as a prologue to a longer crowd-funded fan film he and his team hoped to create. Star Trek Axanar would look at Garth of Izar, the famed Starfleet captain who was encountered by Kirk and co. in The Original Series’ third season episode Whom Gods Destroy. Fleet Captain Garth was the hero of an event known as the Battle of Axanar, and Peters intended to depict the events surrounding the battle in this fan film, which would feature a number of Star Trek actors.

However, CBS took exception to Axanar and ended up suing Peters and the team behind the fan film. The details of the lawsuit are complicated, but suffice to say CBS went after the production on copyright grounds, and the end result was a set of rules handed down that all fan films would be expected to follow. In addition, the Axanar team lost a lot of time and money that had been originally intended for the film.

Prelude to Axanar was released on YouTube in 2014.

All of this took place in the run-up to the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, and proved incredibly divisive for the fan community. Many folks backed Peters and Axanar, feeling that CBS was being unfair and attacking Star Trek’s most passionate fans. Others suggested that the motivation behind the lawsuit was that CBS was concerned that Axanar would be better than Discovery. Though it wasn’t the main reason why some Trekkies aren’t fans of Discovery and other modern Star Trek productions, the real-life battle over Axanar was certainly a factor.

CBS – now ViacomCBS – has certainly been tone-deaf when it comes to the fandom on occasion. I’ve talked at length about the decision to broadcast Lower Decks in North America only, and we can also point to things like the forced shutdown of fan project Stage 9 at a time when ViacomCBS doesn’t seem to be making any Star Trek games or comparable interactive experiences. So I can certainly understand the position of fans who took an anti-CBS position in the wake of the Axanar lawsuit.

I’ve written previously about divisions within the Star Trek fandom, and how people often present it as “old” Star Trek versus “new” Star Trek. Since 2017 Star Trek has been, in many respects, different from how it was in the 1960s or even the 1990s. And as I always say, individual tastes are subjective – we like different things, even within a single franchise. Some fans love The Wrath of Khan, others like The Motion Picture, just to give a single example. As the Star Trek franchise approaches its fifty-fifth anniversary and its 800th episode, it’s no wonder there are debates about which series or style of storytelling are the best!

ViacomCBS hasn’t always done right by Star Trek fans.

What I was so pleased to see from Alec Peters and Axanar in this video was a respect for what ViacomCBS and the Star Trek franchise are doing. Alex Kurtzman’s leadership has seen three new Star Trek shows premiere, with at least four others in the pipeline. It looks certain that the franchise will live to see its sixtieth anniversary in 2026 with new episodes still being broadcast, and as we enter the 2020s the franchise is, perhaps, on the cusp of a new era that could rival its 1990s heyday.

There is room within a fandom like Star Trek for Discovery and Axanar to coexist. We aren’t gatekeepers, telling other Trekkies that they aren’t “real fans” because the show or film they like best isn’t “real Star Trek.” That has never been what the franchise is all about, and anyone saying such nonsense has missed the point. Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees; to get so bogged down in the minutia and detail that we miss the big picture.

The Star Trek fandom has always been a welcoming community. I remember my first visit to a Star Trek fan meetup in England in the mid-1990s, and as a younger guy I was welcomed by other fans to their event. This would have been sometime after Star Trek: Generations has been in cinemas, and while I was a huge fan of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, I wasn’t fully caught up on The Original Series outside of its films. Despite that, fans of The Original Series who I met didn’t tell me that I wasn’t a “real fan” or that I had never seen “real Star Trek.” They were incredibly welcoming, and most people seemed thrilled that the franchise was still alive and kicking.

The logo for Axanar.

The Next Generation was controversial when it premiered in 1987. People who entered the fandom in the 1990s or later – as I did – missed that controversy, but it happened. Deep Space Nine was controversial too, with its static setting and darker tone. I know some Trekkies who utterly hated the Dominion War arc, feeling it went counter to the franchise’s optimistic tone.

The point is that we all have things within the franchise that we like and things that we aren’t keen on. But we would never dream of telling someone who’s a fan of The Next Generation and Voyager but dislikes Deep Space Nine that they somehow aren’t a “real fan.” And the same is true of the Star Trek projects of today. Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks are “real” Star Trek, just as much as any other series or film. It’s okay to disagree about every aspect of those productions, and people will always do so. But they are part of the franchise, and just because they aren’t to some people’s taste doesn’t make them invalid.

Alec Peters and the team behind Axanar have largely avoided commenting on Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks. I was pleasantly surprised to see them do so this time, and even more so to learn that Peters is a fan of Picard. There is a lot to like in modern Star Trek, and a lot to like in past Star Trek too. And Axanar still looks like an interesting proposition, one I will certainly tune in to see when the final version of the film (or episodes) are released.

Discovery is real Star Trek.

There are so many things in the modern world to divide us. But I would argue that, as Trekkies, we have much more in common with one another than we do with, for example, fans of celebrity reality television shows! There are, sadly, people who have begun to make money cashing in on this division, widening the gap between different groups of fans and trying to convince their audiences that only one kind of Star Trek fan is a “real fan.” I’m glad to see that Axanar isn’t on board with that, because there is room in the franchise for all of us. We can be passionate about what we like and dislike, and everyone is entitled to their own opinions about what makes for a good Star Trek story. But there’s no need to get nasty or aggressive toward someone who expresses a different opinion.

Watching the video I was struck by how mature Peters was in his tone. Axanar may have been controversial, but there’s no denying that he – and the team he built to bring the project to fruition – are deeply passionate Star Trek fans. What I took away from his video, though, was that he can appreciate that Alex Kurtzman is a fan too. Kurtzman and Peters may have very different attitudes to Star Trek and storytelling, but to express respect across that divide is something I believe many fans needed to see.

I liked what he had to say about giving Kurtzman time, too. Though I don’t necessarily agree that every Star Trek show’s first two seasons “suck,” as Peters put it, we certainly should give the new team at ViacomCBS time to tell more of the stories that they want to tell. For a lot of younger fans, Star Trek has always been a complete product. Every episode was available on DVD or streaming, and it’s easy for someone younger to look back at the franchise as a single entity, not appreciating the decades of work that went into it. Star Trek developed gradually, over a long period of time, in order to become the franchise it was in the 1990s. For fans who didn’t see any part of that process, for whom Star Trek has always existed in its current form, it’s perhaps easier to criticise modern productions as they find their feet and grow.

A screengrab from the video.

We are certainly in a new era of television storytelling, and this is another point Peters brought up. Star Trek – like any franchise – has to adapt to meet audience expectations in the 2020s; many episodes and stories that we look back on fondly would struggle if made today. As Trekkies, we’re a tiny portion of Star Trek’s audience. The franchise has to have broad appeal to a wider audience beyond this niche if it’s going to survive, and someone like Alex Kurtzman was brought on board because the people at ViacomCBS believe he has the creative vision to help the franchise grow. It’s never nice to be told “this wasn’t made for you,” but in a sense it’s true – and always has been. Even The Original Series was produced with a wider audience in mind, and we can trace the franchise’s move away from ethereal sci-fi toward more action-oriented stories to at least 1982’s The Wrath of Khan.

The point is, Star Trek has always been evolving. It’s a franchise that has tried many different things over the years, and the current era is no different. As Alec Peters pointed out, Kurtzman and his team are listening. That’s why we got Strange New Worlds, that’s why some of the storytelling decisions were made in Discovery, and even while Kurtzman and his team focus on bringing Star Trek to new fans and a wider audience, they are trying to balance that with feedback from fans.

It’s not up to Alec Peters or myself to defend Alex Kurtzman and his vision for the franchise, at the end of the day. It’s okay to dislike Discovery, Picard, or any other Star Trek project that you feel didn’t appeal to you or didn’t work very well. But I think we could all agree that the fandom would be a nicer place for everyone if we didn’t try to play gatekeeper and tell genuine Trekkies that they aren’t welcome because they like the “wrong” show or film. It’s a big galaxy, and there’s room for all of us.

You can find Alec Peters’ video embedded below.

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Star Trek Axanar, Prelude to Axanar, and the Axanar logos were created by fans. The video above is hosted on YouTube, and merely embedded (linked) here on Crazy Uncle Dennis. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

In defence of Luke Skywalker

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker, and other iterations of the Star Wars franchise.

This article deals with the sensitive topics of depression and mental health and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

The Last Jedi was an incredibly controversial film within the Star Wars fan community. Many people I’ve spoken with greatly disliked it, ranking the film as the worst in the franchise, with some even becoming “anti-Star Wars” as a result. Though recent projects like The Mandalorian have brought a lot of those folks back into the fold, there is still a significant contingent of ex-fans; people who have come to hate modern Star Wars.

There were many points of criticism from The Last Jedi’s detractors – the confrontation between Admiral Holdo and Poe, the hyperspace ramming manoeuvre, the death of Snoke, the Canto Bight storyline, and the character of Rose Tico being just a few off the top of my head. In this essay I’m not going to look at any of these in detail, though I would make the case that, by and large, while I understand the criticisms I don’t feel that any of them overwhelmed the film or made it unenjoyable. Instead I want to focus on what I feel is the most misunderstood point of criticism: the characterisation of Luke Skywalker.

We aren’t going to dive into every aspect of The Last Jedi on this occasion.

Of those fans who hated The Last Jedi most vehemently, many had been invested in the old “Expanded Universe” of novels, comic books, games, and the like. The Expanded Universe told a wholly different story to that of the sequel trilogy – a generally poor quality, incredibly convoluted and overcomplicated story, in my opinion – but one which put Luke Skywalker at the centre as an invincible hero, taking on all manner of enemies and challenges in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. To fans who fell in love with that version of Luke – the all-conquering unstoppable hero of fan-fiction – the new version presented by Disney and Lucasfilm in the sequel trilogy is understandably jarring.

Even to fans who weren’t invested in the Expanded Universe, many had built up in their heads over more than thirty years a vision of where the Star Wars galaxy may have gone after Return of the Jedi. At the forefront was Luke and his plan to rebuild the Jedi Order – he was the embodiment, after all, of the “return of the Jedi.” There was an expectation, perhaps not unrealistically so, that Luke would succeed in this task, and that any sequel films which focused on him would depict that. He could be a wise old Master, having trained potentially hundreds of new Jedi in a rebuilt order that would, like the Jedi of the Old Republic, serve as peacekeepers and a check on the power of evil.

The Jedi Council in The Phantom Menace.

The Force Awakens set up a far bleaker view of both the galaxy as a whole and Luke himself in the years after Return of the Jedi. A new wannabe-Empire was on the rise, led by a dark side user named Snoke. And Luke’s attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order ended in failure when Ben Solo betrayed him, killing most of the students and swaying others to the dark side. Luke himself had vanished.

All of this was a “mystery box;” a style of storytelling common to many projects helmed by The Force Awakens’ director JJ Abrams. Initially contracted to tell the first part of a three-part story – a story that would, unfortunately, be split up and have practically no overarching direction – Abrams did what he does best and created a mystery. Where had Luke gone and why? Was he secretly training more Jedi? That’s what fans hoped, and as Luke stood in his Jedi robe in the final moments of The Force Awakens, that was at least a reasonable assumption.

JJ Abrams directed and co-wrote The Force Awakens, and was responsible for the “Luke is missing” storyline.

Photo Credit: Dick Thomas Johnson from Tokyo, Japan, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

There was a two-year break in between The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. For two years, fans speculated wildly about what the new film would bring, crafting intricate theories about all manner of things, including Luke. Many of these were appalling and would have made for awful stories, but fans latched on to some of the popular ones, convincing themselves that their pet theory was true and that The Last Jedi would surely prove it. When I write fan theories of my own – as I often do in the Star Trek franchise, for example – you’ll see me say that these are just theories, and that no fan theory is worth getting upset about. The reaction to The Last Jedi is a big part of why I feel the need to add in that little disclaimer.

Though it can be hard to look back even a few short years and remember the way people felt and the overall mood, especially in the aftermath of the film and its controversial reception, in 2017 the hype around The Last Jedi was growing, ultimately building to fever-pitch in the weeks before its release. This would be Luke Skywalker’s big return to Star Wars having been almost entirely absent in The Force Awakens. What happened after he met Rey on the clifftop on Ahch-To?

Fans speculated for two long years what would come next.

This moment had been built up for two years – and for more than thirty years since Luke’s appearance in Return of the Jedi. There were lofty expectations for what Luke would be and how he might act, informed in part by the Expanded Universe, fan theories, and the like. Those expectations were not met for many fans, because far from being the invincible hero they hoped to see, Luke was jaded, depressed, and uninterested in galactic affairs. When his attempt to rebuild the Jedi Order failed, he didn’t try again. He cut himself off from his friends and from the Force itself, and retreated to Ahch-To to die.

Luke Skywalker suffering from depression is not what fans wanted or hoped to see, but not only is it an incredibly powerful story, it’s one that many fans needed to see, whether they realised it at the time or not. There is an incredibly important message burning at the core of Luke’s story in The Last Jedi – and continued, to a degree, in The Rise of Skywalker. That message is simply this: anybody can fall victim to depression and mental health issues. I absolutely see Luke’s characterisation as a mental health story, and not only that, but one of the better cinematic attempts to depict mental health in recent years. It’s also a story which strongly resonated with me.

I found Luke Skywalker very relatable in The Last Jedi.

My health is complicated. In addition to physical health conditions which have resulted in disability, I also suffer from mental health issues, including depression. When I saw the way Luke Skywalker was presented: apathetic, lonely, withdrawn, and bitter, I saw myself reflected in Mark Hamill’s wonderful portrayal. Depression isn’t just “feeling sad,” as it’s often simplistically presented in fiction. Depression can be social withdrawal, apathy, a lack of sympathy, unintentional rudeness, and many other things. Luke doesn’t sit around on Ahch-To crying, he sits there overthinking, letting the intrusive thoughts dominate his life. He refuses to let anyone – even his sister or his closest friends – know where he is or help him, taking on the burden of his mental state alone. I’ve been there. I’ve been Luke.

One of the worst arguments put forward by The Last Jedi’s critics was some variant of this: “Luke Skywalker is a hero! He would never have run away. He would never act like this!” People making that argument are, in my opinion, incredibly lucky. It would seem from that ignorant statement that they’ve never had to deal with mental health or depression, either in their own life or with somebody they love and care about. If they ever had, they would recognise something in Luke that would elicit empathy, and a recognition that life isn’t as simple as it seems when you’re a child or teenager – which is when many critics first encountered Luke.

Luke’s story says that anyone can fall victim to depression.

I was born after Star Wars’ 1977 premiere. So anyone of my age or younger quite literally grew up considering Luke to be an epic hero, particularly if they encountered the original films in childhood. I first watched the original trilogy in the early 1990s, and I have to confess that much of the nuance was lost on me in my youth. It’s only going back, decades later, and re-watching the films with a more critical eye that I can spot elements within Luke’s character that clearly set up what The Last Jedi would do.

Luke made a mistake. He may have made a series of smaller ones leading up to it, but the big mistake we see on screen is his wordless confrontation with a sleeping Ben Solo. Luke, fearing the power of the dark side growing within his nephew, very briefly considers killing him. It was a flicker of a thought that lasted mere seconds, but when Ben noticed Luke’s presence and sensed what he was feeling, that was enough to tip him over the edge. What came next was Ben’s transformation into Kylo Ren and the destruction of Luke’s new Jedi Order.

Luke made a mistake – or a series of mistakes – and sunk deeply into regret and depression as a result.

Who among us hasn’t made a mistake? Who among us hasn’t considered or fantasised about – for the briefest of seconds – using violence in a certain situation? Who among us hasn’t had an intrusive thought that makes us feel uncomfortable or ashamed? If you can honestly raise your hand to all three of those points, then you’re very lucky indeed, and perhaps having never had such an experience, it’s easier to criticise others for it. The fans who attacked this characterisation of Luke are either conveniently forgetting their own mistakes, or they haven’t lived. Many are young, and perhaps that’s part of it too. As we get older we experience more, we grow, and we come to realise that no one is invincible, and no one is perfect. Luke Skywalker isn’t perfect, and he never was.

Upon seeing Ben Kenobi killed by Darth Vader, Luke’s reaction was to seek revenge, desperately firing his blaster in the vague direction of Vader. He then sat, depressed and dejected, aboard the Millennium Falcon. Princess Leia – who had very recently seen her family, friends, and practically everyone she knew murdered in the destruction of Alderaan – tried to comfort him, but did Luke ask if she was alright? No. He sat there sulking, selfishly absorbed in Ben’s death not thinking of others.

Luke sitting depressed and dejected aboard the Millennium Falcon following Ben Kenobi’s death.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke rashly cuts short his Jedi training, casting the Jedi Order aside to do what he believed was right. He ignored the advice of Yoda and Obi-Wan, believing he could take on Vader alone. That hubris ended up costing him his hand, and while he did return to his training afterwards, acting on a whim and doing things while unprepared are innate parts of Luke’s character.

And finally, Luke was tempted by the dark side of the Force in Return of the Jedi. In his final duel with Darth Vader he drew upon the dark side to give him the power to defeat his father, even considering killing the disarmed and defenceless Sith after beating him. That moment alone should be enough to prove to even the hardest of hardcore Luke Skywalker fans that there is, at the very least, a flicker of darkness within him. That he can suffer from those intrusive thoughts that we talked about. That he can act “out of character” when under pressure or in dire circumstances.

Luke was tempted by the dark side in Return of the Jedi.

So those points all show that Luke has at least a sliver of darkness, and that he’s capable of making mistakes. He was never the perfect, invincible hero of amateurish fan-fiction in the Expanded Universe. If he had been such a one-dimensional, boring character, the original trilogy would have been an exceptionally dull watch; what made it interesting was the nuance and conflict within Luke.

We also have to keep in mind that it’s been decades since we last met Luke, both within the story and outside it. The Expanded Universe was expunged, and though some fans may still cling to it, it has no bearing on The Last Jedi. Those events, canonically speaking, did not happen. The last meeting we had with Luke prior to The Last Jedi was 1983’s Return of the Jedi, and in the intervening decades he’s been through a lot. No one is exactly the same at age 60 as they were at 30; people change. Sometimes those changes can be positive, sometimes neutral, and sometimes they can be for the worse.

Luke’s new Jedi Order was destroyed by Kylo Ren.

Expecting Luke Skywalker to be the same man we left at the end of Return of the Jedi was naïve in the extreme, and fans should have known that. The experiences of half a lifetime have shaped his character, changing him in many respects into the man we meet at the beginning of The Last Jedi. Because some of those experiences have been incredibly powerful and transformative, there was no way to know how he’d be feeling, but one thing should have been clear: he was not going to be how we remembered him.

We can absolutely argue that seeing Luke’s transformation for ourselves would be a story worth showing within Star Wars, and indeed it could have been an entire trilogy of films all by itself. That’s a valid argument, and perhaps would have quelled some of the detractors’ criticisms had his descent into depression been allowed to unfold on screen. Of all the criticisms of The Last Jedi, this might be the one I consider to have the greatest merit, as it is an undeniable change in the way Luke’s character is outwardly presented, even if many of the elements and much of the groundwork already existed.

Perhaps seeing more of Luke between Return of the Jedi and The Last Jedi would have made his transformation easier to understand.

Regret can be a very powerful emotion. Anyone who’s actually lived a life will have regrets, some bigger than others. When the feeling of regret becomes overwhelming, depression may not be far behind. That’s what I see in Luke: regret, heartbreak, shame, and depression. His depression was caused by circumstances he believes himself responsible for, so he withdrew. Feeling himself a failure, considering himself incapable of guiding a new generation of Jedi, and ashamed of his actions, he became bitter and jaded, and travelled to Ahch-To to hide away and await the end of his life.

When you try your utmost at something and truly give it your all – as Luke did when training his young Jedi – failure can be devastating; even more so if that failure feels like it’s your own fault. Telling someone in such a situation to “just try again” is missing the point and demonstrates a clear lack of empathy. Luke wasn’t ready to train anyone else. He felt that the rise of Kylo Ren and the deaths of his students was his own fault; training anyone else could lead to a similar disaster, and he just can’t handle the thought of that. It takes time for someone feeling this way to even be willing to try, and it isn’t something that can be forced.

It took time – and the arrival of Rey – for Luke to confront and overcome his depression.

The lack of empathy for Luke shown by some critics of The Last Jedi was truly sad to see. Even with very limited knowledge of mental health, seeing someone suffering as Luke was should prompt a degree of empathy – at least, in anyone with a heart. When I saw the misunderstandings and the lack of empathy from people attacking the film, saying things like “Luke Skywalker is a hero, he would never be depressed!” I honestly felt upset. These kinds of statements, born of ignorance, not only went after what I saw as the film’s core emotional message, but they also showed that, on a fundamental level, as a society we have a long way to go when it comes to understanding mental health.

And this is why someone like Luke Skywalker becoming depressed is so important. It shows clearly that anyone, no matter how “strong and brave” they seem on the surface, can fall victim to this insidious illness. In Luke’s case we can find the cause – the loss of Kylo Ren to the dark side, and the deaths of his students, all of which he blames himself for. But in many cases, depression can hit someone from nowhere, coming out of the blue and bringing someone’s world crashing down. Seeing a character like Luke Skywalker go through this is incredibly powerful because it tells people suffering from depression that they aren’t some kind of freak; depression is normal and can happen to anyone.

The story of Luke becoming depressed is incredibly powerful and shows how anyone can suffer from mental health issues.

Young men in particular need to hear that message. The availability and quality of mental healthcare is improving compared to even a few years ago. But there is still a huge stigma around mental health, particularly for men. There’s a sense among men that in order to be “macho” or “masculine” you mustn’t show any weakness or vulnerability, and admitting to something like depression carries with it a stigma as a result. To take one of the most important characters in a massive entertainment franchise which probably still has a majority-male audience shows to young men that depression is real, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and maybe, just maybe, the way Luke was presented in The Last Jedi actually helped someone out here in the real world. I know that it helped me.

It’s okay to be disappointed in a work of fiction, especially if it’s something highly-anticipated. I don’t pretend to tell anyone how to feel about The Last Jedi or the way Luke is portrayed in it; works of fiction are, despite what some of the film’s detractors like to say, subjective. But where I absolutely feel that people need to be willing to consider things from “a certain point of view” (as Ben Kenobi said in Return of the Jedi) is the way the film deals with mental health. You can disagree with me about Luke till you’re blue in the face if you believe he acted “wrong” or you didn’t like the performance or the storyline or for any one of a number of reasons, but don’t make the ignorant, asinine argument that “Luke would never be depressed.” Depression does not work that way; you don’t get to choose if it afflicts you, and being a strong, heroic character is no guarantee of avoiding it.

We can disagree about Luke’s characterisation in The Last Jedi. But mental health is an important subject that shouldn’t be ignored in fiction.

I sat down to watch The Last Jedi several months after it premiered in cinemas. My health precludes me from going in person these days, so I’d heard much of the criticism already. I had relatively low expectations for the film as a result, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did it tell a different story within the Star Wars universe, one which didn’t attempt to be a beat-for-beat retelling of a previous title, but specifically because of how Luke was presented. Here was the hero of Star Wars shown to be human. Vulnerable. Relatable. And as much as I disliked The Rise of Skywalker when I saw it earlier this year, it continued a theme we saw in the final act of The Last Jedi: hope.

Yes there was hope for the resistance, for Rey, and for ultimate victory in the galactic war. But that wasn’t all. Luke himself had found hope; he found a reason to believe in something again. Depression isn’t usually something one can just “snap out” of, and in that sense perhaps it’s the least-realistic part of the narrative. But it’s hard to tell a story about depression in two hours that doesn’t have at least an element of that if a character is to find a way out of depression by the end, so I give it a pass on that front.

Luke eventually found something to believe in again.

Not only did Luke himself find hope, but The Last Jedi conveys to sufferers of depression a sense of hope. After everything Luke experienced, he was able to move on. He found inspiration and was able to begin the process of getting back to his old self, a process we see continued in his ghostly appearances in The Rise of Skywalker. The way Luke came across in The Rise of Skywalker can feel like fan-service and certainly was a conscious effort to overwrite his portrayal in The Last Jedi, but if you remember that they’re two parts of one story, it’s possible to see the way Luke behaves as indicative of his overcoming depression.

I find that to be a powerful message to end a powerful storyline. Luke became depressed, just like anyone can. But he found a way out. For my two cents, different groups of fans needed to hear those messages, but in different ways. Folks going through their own difficulties needed to see someone like Luke falling victim to this condition to normalise it, to make them consider the way they feel, and perhaps even as a prompt to seek help. They could also see that, despite the way Luke was feeling at the beginning of The Last Jedi, by the end he found a way out; there is light at the end of the tunnel. And fans who have been lucky enough never to have to deal with mental health either in their own lives or with someone they care about needed to see that it’s real. That it can happen to anyone.

The Rise of Skywalker tried to overwrite large parts of Luke’s characterisation. But taken as two parts of a larger story they show his recovery from depression.

The way Luke was presented in The Last Jedi may not have been what fans expected or hoped to see. But it was a powerful story, one which resonated with me and, I have no doubt, with a lot of other people too. It built on what we already knew about Luke from the original trilogy in different, unexpected ways, but ways which were true to his character. His flicker of darkness, his occasional rashness, and his struggles were all present in those films and made Luke the kind of flawed protagonist worth supporting. Those elements remained in his characterisation in The Last Jedi, but so did his innate decency and ability to reach for the best in others and in himself. It just took him some time to rediscover that about himself; a journey that will be familiar to anyone who’s been in that position.

I don’t want to tell anyone disappointed by The Last Jedi that they have to like it. Nor do I want to say that the way Luke was portrayed is something they have to like either. Instead I wanted to present the other side of the argument, to defend Luke’s characterisation, and to explain why it resonated with me. We can disagree vehemently on this topic – and myriad others across fiction – and remain civil.

I’d like to close by saying that, however we may feel about Luke in The Last Jedi, in my mind there’s no way he wasn’t Luke. Some fans latched onto a comment by Mark Hamill saying the character felt like “Jake Skywalker” and not Luke, but I have to disagree. He was always Luke.

The Star Wars franchise – including The Last Jedi and all other titles listed above – is the copyright of Disney and Lucasfilm. This can be a controversial topic, so please keep in mind that this is all subjective. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Crazy Uncle Dennis – a year in review

I know what you’re thinking – it’s way too early to look back on 2020 as there’s still more than a month left. Believe me, that kind of thing irritates me too – but that’s not what this article is. It was one year ago today that I started the website, and I wanted to commemorate the occasion by looking back at some of the highlights, as well as give my own thoughts on a year spent writing about the things I like.

My first article was published on the 30th of November 2019, and it was just a very brief introduction to the kind of website I intended to create. I would go on to incorporate some elements of that into my “about me” page as I built up the site.

As the 2010s drew to a close, I was hit with a strong feeling of time slipping away. I was reminded of a line spoken by Dr Tolian Soran in Star Trek: Generations: “Time is the fire in which we burn.” Picard, of course, would rebuff that in the film’s closing act, but the line – and the concept it represents – always stuck with me, and although decades are merely arbitrary representations of the passage of time, the impending end of the 2010s led me down an introspective path.

“Time is the fire in which we burn.”

Though I’ve had health problems going back decades, the 2010s saw my health take a sharper decline, one which culminated in disability and a restriction on what I’m able to do, both physically and psychologically. It also saw a divorce, bereavement, financial troubles, and other problems which had me at a very low ebb at points. I don’t say this to seek attention or sympathy though, because by 2019, despite my health issues I was relatively settled in a home I can manage despite my limitations, with my cats for companionship, and feeling generally secure. The ending of the decade, had you asked me in early 2019, seemed no more significant than any other New Year.

By the summer of last year, though, I had begun to think differently. Though it was still an arbitrary date, there’s significance in a new decade. This would be the fifth turning of a decade in my lifetime; an event that comes rarely and often marks change. When looking backwards we talk about “the seventies,” “the eighties,” “the nineties” and so on as blocs of time. Whatever the 2020s was going to bring – and whether I’d still be alive by the end of it – it was going to be a change. A new bloc.

The impending beginning of a new decade pushed me to take the plunge and start a website.

That was the mindset I was in when I decided I wanted to make a website. For several years I’d been commenting on videos on YouTube and on social media posts, but I wanted a space of my own where I could discuss what I wanted to at my own pace. I began looking at website-building options, and after considering a few possibilities I settled on WordPress. Crazy Uncle Dennis was born.

The site has evolved massively since I made that first post. Firstly, I stated back then that reviews “are not really my main purpose,” yet I’ve since reviewed 25+ individual Star Trek episodes and several films! I’ve also gotten better with the way I use images, as well as selecting a better overall layout for the site – at least, I think those are improvements! Unfortunately I don’t have any screenshots of the site as it looked back in November last year, but I do have all of the logos and such that I made – mostly in Microsoft Paint. If you’re a regular reader, perhaps you’ll remember some of these:

The original logo from November 2019. It was in use for a few weeks into December.
The second version of the logo kept the Star Trek & Star Wars fonts but changed up the colours, and moved to a narrower format.
By the spring of 2020 I’d changed to this orange logo with a “warp speed” background.
This logo was not in use for very long at all, but features a cool “eclipse” background.
In the summer I switched to this logo, retaining the orange colour and crooked text but moving to a ground-based “staring up at the stars” background.
By late August I’d adopted this style, and the green “D” became the site’s mini logo.

Well that was a trip down memory lane, eh?

As someone who enjoys writing, having somewhere to publish my musings and thoughts on some of these topics has been incredibly helpful. When I first imagined creating a website, this is what I hoped I’d be able to achieve: posting a selection of articles on the topics I find interesting within the entertainment realm. And when I look back on the past year’s pieces, that’s exactly what I’ve done. Occasionally the site can feel like a burden, but those deadlines are self-imposed. There are no real consequences for me if I don’t publish a review of a Star Trek episode within a couple of days of its broadcast! But in a way, that self-imposed pressure to write to an imaginary deadline spurs me on, and at no point have I felt like I’m writing out of obligation rather than enjoyment. If I had felt that way, I probably would have taken a break.

It isn’t my intention for this website to grow into something large and unwieldy, with a huge social media following. That might seem odd, but I measure success less by the number of people clicking on a page and more by what I got out of writing a post. That’s something I learned over the summer when I challenged myself to try to write every day – something I can keep up for a while, but not indefinitely. As I’ve said before, I don’t have a Twitter account, Facebook page, or any other social media attached to this website. The posts here speak for themselves, and while some have been shared on social media, they weren’t shared by me. That’s not because I don’t want criticism or want to fly under the radar because I write controversial things, but I feel that if Crazy Uncle Dennis were ever spun out into a “brand” with a huge following, the pressure to write to deadlines and to push out content would grow. I don’t enjoy writing under those circumstances, as I found out when I took on that daily posting challenge.

A lovely stock photo of someone typing.

So after a year, what am I proudest of? That’s a good question – and the answer is right above you: the Greatest Hits page. Those articles are my favourites, where I feel I put out some of my best work. In particular I’d point to my essay on the Borg, my two-part teardown of Game of Thrones Season 8, my critique of television licensing in the UK, and finally, my piece on objectivity and subjectivity that I find myself frequently referencing in other columns, particularly any time I’m about to give a potentially controversial opinion. Those pieces, I feel, all accomplished what I set out to, and I wrote them about as well as I could write anything.

There aren’t many things from this past year that I’m disappointed with or that I would want to cover up. Perhaps I could’ve been less critical of The Mandalorian in my first post discussing the show; I stand by most of the points but perhaps I’d reword some of them to be less confrontational. When it comes to the new generation of games consoles, Xbox in particular, I’ve blown hot and cold on them and as a result, my output on next-gen gaming in general might look a bit confused if you tried to read all of it. In general I feel that both companies made mistakes in the run-up to launch, such as concealing their prices until the last minute. However, I didn’t mean for that to detract from anyone’s enjoyment or excitement for new consoles, and despite the problems with pre-orders and stock availability, I hope both machines are a success. Otherwise I don’t think I’ve published any “hot takes” that I’d like to retract… famous last words!

Hopefully no angry mob is coming for me… yet.

Occasionally, after having published a review or other article, I’ll stumble upon someone else’s take on the same episode, film, or subject, and they’ll make a very good point that I wish I’d thought of! I want my reviews and writings to be my own thoughts first and foremost, so I’ll never read reviews or critics’ opinions before I sit down to write my own review – something I make very clear in my methodology page. Within the Star Trek fan community there are a few reviewers and critics whose articles or videos I regularly check out, but only after writing my own reviews.

So having looked back, it’s time to look forward. What will 2021 bring?

The short answer is probably more of the same. I have no immediate plans to make major changes to the website or the kind of things I do here, so as we move through this holiday season and into the new year I expect to keep up with posting several new pieces each week on topics relating to – as I say at the top – “Star Trek, gaming, and the wide world of geekdom.” I have a few articles in the pipeline that are in various stages of being worked on, and of course I’ll continue to cover major developments as I see fit.

For those of you who have become regular readers over this past year, thank you for your support. If you’re new here, welcome. I hope you find something interesting to read.

See you out there!

– Crazy Uncle Dennis
Monday, 30th November 2020

All properties mentioned above are the copyright of their respective studio, developer, distributor, company, etc. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Election night – gripping viewing?

Crazy Uncle Dennis is based in Great Britain and does not endorse any American political party or candidate.

Ever since I was first able to vote when I turned 18, I’ve found election night coverage fascinating. Though the manner in which elections are conducted is very different in the United Kingdom and the United States, election night programming is remarkably similar on both sides of the Atlantic, with panels of self-proclaimed “experts” lining up to break down the incoming results, and politicians on hand to chart increasingly unlikely paths to victory for their party or preferred candidate. I still find election night programming absolutely fascinating, and stay up for hours and hours to watch it.

We’ve seen several recent elections go against expectations – here in the UK, the 2015 and 2017 election results were unexpected, as was the 2016 referendum result. And of course, in the United States the result of the 2016 presidential election came as a tremendous shock to all but a few pollsters and pundits. It’s difficult to get into the ins and outs of election night coverage without discussing the actual political implications, but what I’d like to try to do is examine election night programming itself rather than comment on either of America’s two presidential candidates.

The exit poll in the 2017 British general election came as a surprise to many – and was very accurate.

One of the things you hear on every one of these broadcasts – and often for weeks or months beforehand – is some variant of this expression: “this is the most important election in our lifetimes!” Gosh, that phrase irks me. I’ve lived long enough to have seen enough elections come and go – and enough politicians of all stripes voted in and voted out – to know that no one single election is that important. For Americans in particular, if you don’t like who you voted for you only have to wait a scant four years before you have the chance to unseat them. Even less than that when you consider the presidential primary season begins more than a year before election day.

Hyperbole aside, what really interests me are the statistics. The vote tallies are, of course, the main event, but seeing different areas broken down expertly into different voting blocs or constituencies is fascinating stuff. The sheer volume of data coming in can be overwhelming, which is where having the right presenter who’s able to explain what’s going on in a calm and easily-understood manner can make all the difference.

Though pre-election polling has been sketchy at best in recent years, exit polls have proven far more useful. The amount of time and attention required to properly craft an exit poll on such a large scale is almost unimaginable, yet they routinely prove to be accurate on election night. Here in the UK, exit polls are kept sealed until the moment election day is over – 10pm sharp. That’s when the broadcasters make their big reveal and their predictions, and even if the result seems a given, the moments leading up to it are tense!

Pre-election opinion polling for this year’s American presidential election.

Nowadays the visuals and graphics used by news organisations are great, too. Gone are the days of the “swing-o-meter,” a crude cardboard arrow attached to a board! Instead we’re greeted by green-screen projections and fancy computer graphics, with presenters making use of huge touch screens to look at incoming results or polls in specific constituencies or districts.

Election night programming is, most of all, designed to be informative. Most people are tuning in having cast their ballot and in nervous anticipation, waiting to see if their favoured (or least-hated) candidate or party will score a big win. And the programmes have to cater to this audience, providing as much information in as nonpartisan a manner as possible. But that doesn’t mean that election night can’t be entertaining too, and if you’re a statistics nerd like I am, the way the results are discussed and debated – and the fancy graphics and technology the major broadcasters have for this purpose – is all part of the fun.

In a kind of bloody-minded way that I think a lot of Brits have, there’s fun to be had when things don’t go to plan. Watching politicians squirm as they see their party sinking ever-closer to defeat can be heart-wrenching… or pretty funny, depending on how you look at it (and how apathetic you’ve become to the actual outcome!) Politics is something that affects all of us, of course, but at the same time, I find the passion behind it to be a younger person’s game. I certainly don’t subscribe to the argument that says this election – or any election at all, for that matter – is “the most important in history,” as I’ve seen enough politicians come and go to know that no matter who wins, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be out of office too. Though I have my political preferences (as indeed we all do) I’m no longer as passionate about seeing any of them win or lose as I was when I first sat down to watch an election night programme after casting my first ballot.

Donald Trump was not expected to win in 2016 – yet he surprised the pundits and polling organisations and defeated Hilary Clinton.

The other fascinating thing about election night programming is how long it goes on. It can take many hours for the results to trickle in (or longer, in some cases) meaning that the programme’s presenters have to find things to talk about and keep the show going for all of that time. After the excitement of any exit poll news, there’s often a lull while the votes are counted, and it can take time before the first official results are announced. There’s a skill to keeping viewers interested during those moments, and as well as being informative, presenters have to be at least somewhat entertaining.

I know it’s an unusual kind of programme to get excited about, and I also realise that for most viewers election night is less about the broadcast itself and more about the information presented about the politicians and political parties. But I think it’s possible to view election night broadcasts the way one might watch a major sporting event – it can be tense and exciting, with moments of high drama.

I’ll be tuning in tonight to see how Trump and Biden get on. And it’s quite likely that, whatever the outcome, it’ll be a fascinating broadcast.

The United States presidential election takes place on the 3rd of November 2020. Election night programmes will be broadcast on many channels and networks both in the United States and around the world. Crazy Uncle Dennis is based in Great Britain and does not endorse any American politician or political party. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

There’s no easy answer for film studios and cinemas right now

To perhaps nobody’s real surprise, three big films have recently announced delays: No Time to Die, Dune, and The Batman. With the coronavirus pandemic clearly not dying down any time soon – at least in the west – studios quite rightly feel that releasing their titles this year or even early next year won’t bring in audiences and won’t make enough money. They’re not wrong in that assessment; many people I know here in the UK would be uncomfortable visiting a cinema in person, even if the law or guidelines say that doing so is allowed. It’s going to take time – and, perhaps, a widely-available vaccine – for that mindset to change.

Over the summer, the UK government ran a scheme called “eat out to help out.” If you’re unfamiliar with it, the programme offered diners a 50% discount (up to a maximum of £10 per head) at participating restaurants. The goal was to encourage people anxious about the ongoing pandemic to get back into restaurants and, frankly, save the industry from collapse. It was successful, at least partially, with participating restaurants reporting increased takeup. However, such schemes are temporary, and there’s no way the government could run something like that for every impacted industry.

Cinema bosses have denounced decisions to delay releases – or, in the case of titles like Mulan – send titles directly to streaming platforms. Without big blockbuster releases, there’s no way to entice cinema-goers back, and the entire industry is on the brink. Cineworld, one of the world’s largest cinema chains, has announced it will close all of its US and UK sites until further notice – putting 45,000 people out of work. This is the real impact of the pandemic, and the longer it goes on, the worse it’s going to get.

Dune (2020) has been delayed.

There’s no “eat out to help out” equivalent coming to cinemas. The industry is on its own to handle the fallout from the pandemic – as are so many others – and there’s no easy fix. Until the public at large have confidence that it’s safe to go out, that it’s safe to sit in a big room with a couple of hundred strangers, there’s nothing that can be done. Even the release of Tenet in August failed to bring in sufficient numbers of viewers to make running a cinema financially viable. At this rate, the highest-grossing film of 2020 will remain Bad Boys for Life. Nobody would have predicted that in January!

I can understand from the cinemas’ perspective that film studios aren’t behaving appropriately. Cinemas and film studios are two parts of a greater whole, yet the studios have unilaterally acted to pull their films, either delaying them or sending them directly to streaming. And I can understand why that’s going to sting. Where there could have been a coming together, it feels like the bigger companies are acting selfishly; it’s everyone for themselves instead of a sense of community and togetherness.

And ultimately that’s going to make things more difficult. We’ve already seen Odeon, another large cinema chain, pledge to stop showing films from Universal Pictures in retaliation for Universal making Trolls World Tour a streaming-only title. As I wrote when looking at Mulan’s release on Disney+, if every cinema chain were to come together and announce a boycott of companies that acted this way, they could effectively prevent the release of any film they chose. There’s power in working together, but ultimately the question will be: who has that power?