I was intrigued with Henry Jenkins’ 1988 essay, “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching,” and his argument that the mostly female authored fan fiction is part of an effort to redefine a traditionally masculine genre like “Star Trek”’s military science fiction. But I think he elides a major reason why “Star Trek” is particularly conducive for this endeavor: not only does it contain stunted feminist paradoxes (noted by Jenkins) but it is also a primary example of the rare “male melodrama” that highlights the emotional terrain of male relationships in personal crises.
So much of “Star Trek” revolves around the circumnavigation of the bond between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (the soul, head, and heart, respectively), Kirk’s love interests, and the sturdy theme of emotion versus duty; and the Star Trek film series was widely celebrated by critics and fans when Nicholas Meyer “returned” the series to its melodramatic roots in The Wrath of Kahn and its sequel, both of which forefront Kirk’s midlife crisis and tear-jerking sacrifices. (One might contrast “Star Trek”’s tremulous, operatic theme song with, say, the brass fanfares, marches, and suppressed emotion of Star Wars.) Jenkins suggests that some male Trekkers dismiss fan fiction as “soap operas with Kirk and Spock,” but quite a few of us would describe “Star Trek” generally in exactly those terms.
Jenkins quotes Radway’s and Modleski’s attention to the “semiotics of masculinity, with the need to read men’s often repressed emotional states from the subtle signs of outward gesture and expression,” to make a point about why the series appeals to female fan writers. I haven’t studied the male melodrama, but a brief search reveals that Tania Modleski has continued to investigate the genre with articles such as “Clint Eastwood and the Male Weepie” (2010).
Jenkins rightly cites the influence of feminist SF (Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin et al) in the late-‘60s and ‘70s, but one of the most interesting aspects of “Amok Time,” the episode we watched in class, is that it was written by the renowned SF author Theodore Sturgeon, long associated with helping move SF into emotional and sexual terrain in the late-‘40s and 1950s and paving the way for the SF New Wave of the ‘60s. “Amok Time”’s emphasis on Spock’s mating season, the tensions it creates between his male friends (one of whom, Kirk, fights him over a woman, ostensibly to protect him) highlights the kind of male drama that makes it ripe material for feminist reimagining.
Note: While this doesn't pertain to the above, I was dramatically taken aback by the digitally "restored" version of "Amok Time" I watched on Hulu. Not only was it obvious that a new title sequence had been created (scrupulously recreating the original) but every shot of the Enterprise and a few establishing shots on Vulcan were clearly digital enhancements. Not surprisingly, I gather this was a bizarre decision on the part of Paramount that many fans decry, and it reminds me of Jenkins' comment that "fans often cast themselves not as poachers but as loyalists, rescuing essential elements of the primary text misused by those who maintain copyright control," although Jenkins' 1988 article doesn't, of course, consider digital enhancements.