This essay was inspired in part by a couple of conversations I had over the holidays with fellow Trekkies, as well as a number of social media posts and groups that I’ve seen over the last few years. Though I’ll be addressing the question of “do you have to love everything the franchise does” from the perspective of a Star Trek fan, much of what I have to say can easily be applied to other fandoms and franchises as well. This essay isn’t an attack on any individual nor on anyone else’s position; it’s a defence of my own and my way of doing things here on the website. Let’s get started!
As I state in my methodology, and as I’ve said on a number of occasions in essays, reviews, and other pieces that I’ve published, I reserve the right as an independent critic/commentator to speak honestly and share my genuine thoughts and feelings on any of the subjects I write about here on the website. That includes the Star Trek franchise, and although I’m happy to say that I love Star Trek, that doesn’t mean that I necessarily love everything that the franchise puts out. Nor can I offer ViacomCBS – the corporation which owns and manages Star Trek – my support for many of the decisions that they’ve taken in recent years.
I think we can break this subject down into two main parts: firstly we have criticism of individual episodes, films, seasons, and entire series for things like narrative choice, visual effects, acting performances, pacing and editing, and so on. This is a basic outline of media criticism in a general sense, and any review or impression of an episode of television, a film, or an entire season or TV show should be expected to talk about at least some of these topics.
Secondly we have the corporate side of things. Business decisions, the leadership of the corporation, the timing of releases, the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, the overall direction of travel for the franchise that’s being set by the corporation in charge, and many other related matters. These are all things that fans of any franchise need to be aware of – and I would argue that critics should be able to discuss corporate affairs because of how they can impact the quality of content produced. Corporate matters can also spill over into the fan community.
On the first point, I’m proud of the fact that I have a space on the internet where I can share my genuine and honest impressions of the latest Star Trek episodes (as well as other films, games, and television shows). I don’t want to restrict what I can say in any way, let alone confine myself to only sharing positive impressions and glossing over the negatives. This isn’t a space for whitewashing, and as I’ve said multiple times: I’m not aiming to be a cheerleader for any franchise, even one that I love as much as Star Trek.
That being said, out of more than eight hundred episodes and thirteen films (at time of writing), there really aren’t many that I consider to be irredeemably awful. Even Star Trek at its worst usually has redeeming features, and if you’ve read my reviews or write-ups of the handful of episodes that I dislike, you’ll see that I still find positive things to say about certain elements of them.
I also try to offer as much of my criticism as possible in a constructive way. Rather than simply saying “this episode is crap” and leaving it at that, I try to lay out in as clear terms as possible what it was that I didn’t like, why specific elements of the narrative failed to resonate, and offer anyone reading my reviews an explanation for my conclusions. One of the problems with social media – especially with platforms like Twitter that encourage very short posts – is that any kind of explanation or nuance is lost. One of the main reasons why I created this website in the first place was so that I could expand properly on my thoughts and not find myself curtailed by word or character limits.
It’s that nuance that I think too often gets lost in the fast-paced world of online media discourse. People see a tweet, a headline, or an out-of-context excerpt and then move on to the next one, not stopping to read a longer review or listen to a longer podcast or video essay. It isn’t possible to summarise a review in just a couple of lines – and as you’re probably already aware, I have a somewhat longwinded writing style that is especially unsuited to short-form reviews and posts!
Nuance is key to any decent review – and to any piece of media criticism in general. It’s incredibly rare to come across a film, video game, or episode of television that is completely perfect or utterly awful, and even in a positive review it can be worth drawing attention, however briefly, to negative aspects or things that didn’t work quite as well as others. This is something you’ll often see in my own work, and while I freely admit it can come across as “nitpicking,” for the same reasons of being constructive with criticism I stand by it.
It’s on the corporate side of things where I think it’s fair to say I’ve been far more critical than I have in any analysis or review! ViacomCBS has, in my view, mismanaged the Star Trek brand in significant and damaging ways in recent years, and the corporation’s failures have led to serious problems for the franchise as well as exacerbated divisions within the Star Trek fan community. I haven’t held back when it comes to criticising ViacomCBS and its board, and I will continue to do so as I see fit.
The way I see it, there’s always going to be a spectrum of opinion on any franchise or work of media. At one end are people who totally hate it and find it awful, and at the other you have those who find it perfect (or who are paid to say nothing but positive things in public). As is happening in all walks of life, though, the middle ground is being increasingly pushed out. The shades of grey are less popular than ever before, with folks being encouraged to go all-in with either the haters or the lovers. For too many people, there’s no longer any room for a nuanced, moderate take on any film, video game, or television series.
I see this through my limited interactions with the Star Trek fan community first and foremost, but it’s also just as prevalent in practically every other fandom and many other walks of life – not least politics! There are a growing number of people who are quick to write off any new Star Trek as being automatically bad – in many cases without even bothering to watch it. And on the other side of what increasingly feels like a two-sided, black-or-white argument are those for whom Star Trek can do no wrong, with every single episode being flawless. I find that I can’t fit in with either group.
I’m too in love with “Nu-Trek” for those that consider anything post-2005 to have no redeeming features. And for some on the pro-Trek side, my very direct criticisms of ViacomCBS in particular, as well as some of my critiques of the handful of episodes that I didn’t like, make me too much of “a hater.”
Sometimes it’s fair to invoke the old adage that if I’m being criticised by both sides – on the pro side for being too anti and on the anti side for being too pro – I must be doing something right. But it doesn’t feel that way, and it seems that, no matter what I say about Star Trek, I’m going to attract criticism from one side or, in some cases, both. Taking a position where I try to offer constructive criticism while also expressing my passion for a franchise I truly care about is difficult, and for some folks who seem only to want to have their pre-existing biases about Star Trek reflected back at them, my independent position and willingness to consider both positives and negatives isn’t what they want.
All of this leads me to the question I asked at the beginning: do you have to love everything Star Trek does to be considered a “true fan?” For some people, it seems that the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” I’ve spoken with some Trekkies who say that, if they ever did find something within Star Trek that they didn’t like, they’d prefer to keep it to themselves rather than say anything at all that could be considered critical of the franchise.
But to me, that isn’t how fans should react. Blind, unquestioning love or devotion is what some religions and cults seek from their adherents, but when it comes to something like a science-fiction franchise, surely we should feel free to speak as we find? And more importantly, if there aren’t people willing to offer constructive criticism, how will the creative teams and corporate leaders know what’s going wrong? Failing to offer valid criticism where valid criticism is due can only lead to the franchise repeating mistakes or doubling-down on them, and that will lead to Star Trek coming to harm in the medium-to-long term.
Star Trek, like all major franchises, has its own team of paid cheerleaders. ViacomCBS has a marketing department, social media channels, a website, and a number of people on its books either as full-time employees or freelancers. The corporation doesn’t need blind, unwavering support from fans that glosses over or ignores criticism. It needs honesty from its biggest fans.
At the same time, there are too many so-called “fans” who have come to deal in nothing but hate. Ironically, these people often undermine their own cause by being too spiteful and vitriolic – and that’s before we get into the blatant bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and other unsavoury characteristics that seem to be prevalent in some anti-Trek social media groups online. By offering one-dimensional hate – often for shows or episodes that they will admit to never having even watched – these people make it easy for ViacomCBS and the creative teams in charge of Star Trek to write off any kernels of legitimate criticism that they may have had to offer.
Since Star Trek returned to the small screen in 2017, there have been a handful of episodes that I disliked. I haven’t reviewed all of them here on the website (because I’ve only been here since late 2019) but for those that did get the full review or write-up treatment, I’ve tried to be both fair and constructive in my criticisms.
We often hear about toxic negativity within fan communities, and you can find many examples of so-called “fans” who take their dislike of certain narratives or characters to ludicrous and often hateful extremes. But I’d posit that there can be such a thing as toxic positivity as well, where fans are unwilling to so much as entertain the possibility that some aspect of their favourite franchise is wrong, or that the company running that franchise has made a mistake. Both forms can be damaging, both can lead to arguments and disagreements within fan communities, and I would argue very strongly that neither serves the franchise in question well.
I can empathise, to an extent anyway, with people who haven’t enjoyed Star Trek’s return to the small screen. Around the turn of the millennium, I was listening to the radio when the news of a new Star Trek show was breaking. I was dismayed to learn that the planned series was going to be a prequel, as I felt that Star Trek was a franchise that should aim to look to the future rather than look backwards at its own past. I also felt that prequels in general were problematic – this coming in the wake of the disappointment of The Phantom Menace over in the Star Wars franchise, which had been released around the same time.
Though I ultimately tuned in to see Enterprise’s premiere in late 2001, for much of the show’s four-season run I only tuned in sporadically, and was far from being a fan – or even regular viewer – at that point in my life. I can relate to at least some of the folks who haven’t been wild about everything Star Trek has done in recent years because I was once in a similar position. I actually find it somewhat ironic, considering the divisions in the fandom that were prevalent around the time of Enterprise’s premiere, how so many of these anti-Trek folks seem to lump Enterprise in with all of the previous Star Trek shows as being the franchise’s “heyday” and a time at which there was no division. Just because they missed those arguments doesn’t mean that they didn’t happen!
I did eventually get around to watching all of Enterprise when I got the series on DVD a few years after it went off the air. And I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. It was a true Star Trek series, one that embodied the spirit of exploration of the franchise’s early days – something that had been, to an extent, lost in the Dominion War arc of Deep Space Nine’s later seasons and that played second fiddle in Voyager’s journey home. I came to respect and even admire what Enterprise had to offer – even though I didn’t see it at first. In time, I wonder how many people on the anti-Trek side of things will come to similar conclusions about the current crop of Star Trek shows.
That’s just part of my personal history as a Trekkie, and I hope it provides context to some of the things we’ve talked about today. I very firmly believe that fans don’t need to adore everything that Star Trek does. Disliking an episode or two here and there or feeling that the franchise’s corporate leadership is making mistakes doesn’t make anyone less of a fan, and calling these things out is actually important. The franchise, and those who lead it and are responsible for taking it forward, need that kind of honesty from Star Trek’s biggest fans.
However, it’s important that criticism is presented in a constructive way. There are many forms of constructive criticism, and trying to dismiss any or all of them as unwarranted hate isn’t the right approach. As Trekkies, I feel we should be bold – fearless, even – in calling out mistakes or problems as we find them. That’s what I try to do here on the website, offering a balanced and I hope fair approach with all of my reviews and commentary.
There have been mistakes made by ViacomCBS. We won’t get into all of them again here, but suffice to say that I also feel that it’s important for us as Trekkies to hold the corporation to account when it screws up. We saw an example of this recently with the Discovery Season 4 debacle, and that represented a rare moment of unity within the fandom – fans from all sides of the debate, and even some Star Trek creatives, all joined in to call on the corporation to do something to address the self-inflicted problem. The end result was a victory (of sorts) for fans.
We’re lucky that, right now, there’s more Star Trek on our screens than ever before. I noted with happiness in 2020 that it was the first year since 1998 where three different Star Trek productions were broadcast – but 2022 is going to eclipse that by a country mile! We’re on course to see five different Star Trek productions hit our screens between now and Christmas, and the varied mix of different shows with different focuses should mean that there’s something that the franchise can offer to every Trekkie. As someone who has generally enjoyed what modern Star Trek has had to offer, I’m incredibly pleased with that!
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to ignore missteps or problems. Several of these upcoming shows won’t be available for every Trekkie because the rollout of Paramount+ is painfully slow and plagued by problems. That’s by far the biggest issue, and it’s one I’ve been calling on ViacomCBS to address since Lower Decks Season 1 only aired in the United States back in 2020.
My approach to Star Trek will continue to be nuanced. I’ll continue to say that I’m thrilled that ViacomCBS is producing so much Star Trek, while simultaneously criticising the corporation for failing to bring these new shows to fans around the world. I’ll continue to say that, as long as ViacomCBS and Paramount+ deny shows like Prodigy to international fans, piracy is absolutely morally justifiable. And I will, of course, continue to criticise everything from bad acting and crappy editing to poor narrative decisions. Does that make me less of a “true fan?” I don’t think so.
But if you disagree, that’s up to you. I’m not in the business of telling anybody what to think, and I offer my reviews and commentary as-is. Take it or leave it, and if folks don’t like what I have to say or the way I approach my discussions of Star Trek, they’re free to click off my website and seek out other critics and reviewers whose content they prefer. There are always going to be a plethora of opinions and a wide spectrum of views about Star Trek – such is the nature of media criticism in general. I offer my take to folks who are interested, and although I find myself speaking negatively about Star Trek and the corporation that owns it, I like to think I do so from a place of love.
There is a lot to love about Star Trek in both its older and modern forms. There are also elements that deserve criticism, and I don’t believe that anyone should be considered less of a “true fan” for pointing those out.
The Star Trek franchise, including all 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.