Friday, October 05, 2012

Rewatching Star Trek: Geordi LaForge

As you know I've been rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation lately. Currently, I'm up to the seventh season opener, "Descent," so I've covered a lot of ground, both good and bad. One of the cool things about watching something you've seen one hundred times or so before is that you don't have to focus on the plot, the events, or the central action (unless it's really, really good). It lets your mind wander over the details of set quality, line delivery, and the thought processes which guide the creation of the core cast of characters. All of this wandering has lead me to the conclusion that Geordi LaForge is an underappreciated gem that invites a lot of conjecture about geek culture.

For those of you arriving twenty years or so late to the party, Geordi LaForge was the Chief Engineer for the Enterprise for four movies and six of the seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation (He was around for the first season, but he was something like Chief Officer in Charge of Miscellany or something.). Most of the previous Chief Engineers died during the first year, meaning that he either has no apprent fear of death or colludes with a lot of alien space mysteries for advancement. Over the course of the series, he gets promoted from a Lieutenant Junior Grade to a Lieutenant Commander (and he's even seen as a Captain later). He's a good engineer, but he's not a literal machine like Data* or a genius like Wesley (there are even a few times where he's like, "Transporters? You want O'Brien for that.").

Most of his contributions to the show are providing technobabble or following a logical progression of thoughts to come up with an engineering solution to a problem. In "The Next Phase," we get to see his insight on death (It's pretty laid back, and pretty New Orleans-ish for a guy from Africa*). He manages to make friends in the least likely of scenarios, simply by wanting to make connections with the people around him (Hugh, Brahms, that Romulan, Aquiel, and even Data).

I've seen Geordi classified as a nerd before. It's apropos, I guess. He "does computers" and is awkward around women. But really, it's because he's not anything else. He stands next to Riker, who holds up societal expectations of alpha male behavior like he's Atlas Wolverine Batman Bond the Fourth. Data and Worf are also--as it's believed men should be--physically strong and emotionally resilient. Wesley lacks any those qualities, but he's excused because he's a child.

Then there's Captain Picard, which might seem complicating at first glance because he's fucking sensitive and calm. But even before you get to Kung-Fu Grip Picard from the movies, it's a no-brainer. Picard is The Captain, The Decider, the man whose unwavering certainty** gives him the unquestioned moral strength to demand the loyalty of Role Model Males(TM) Riker, Data, and Worf. When Picard is emotional, he's passionate; when he's physically weak, he's injured or clearly outclassed; when he's stymied, it's because he finds himself in a genuine conundrum. Picard runs into obstacles and shortcomings, but they're always framed as being really, really tough. Picard is the best of The Federation and Starfleet. Like all Star Trek captains, he's the banner-bearer and icon of the principles of the series. Geordi is...good, but he's flawed.
Discussing affinity for characters with fans, I've skipped over Troi, Beverly Crusher, Pulaski, Ro, and Yar***. Yes, they are women and yes, they are popular with fans, but I feel that they are largely received and portrayed as female archetypes first and characters second. I've been speaking about characters on their placement on a metric of male aspirations, but I think that a different metric was applied to how they were made and received. I'm not going to stumble over myself outlining how wrongheaded that metric, its existence, and its use are, but they are. Very.

For a nerd who's awfully bad with women, basically wears corrective lenses(VISOR*), but is otherwise a nice guy who upholds his Starfleet duties and the ideals of The Federation, I'd think he'd be someone fans could relate to, and therefore someone they'd like to see more of. In many ways, he mirrors the role of Miles O'Brien plays on DS9; the regular guy. O'Brien struggles with normal concerns, like insecurities about being a husband and a father, much as LaForge grapples with problems relating to women, confidence, and being a poorly developed character underutilizing a talented actor.

If Google search is any indication, LaForge is just above the one-season Chief Medical Officer Katherine Pulaski in terms of lifetime popularity. He loses even to the likes of recurring guest stars like Ro Laren and Reg Barclay.

Reg Fucking Barclay, who is such a living chunk of bafflingly terrible decision-making that I am curious as to why they didn't add him to the Voyager cast proper, and he's almost universally loved. You might say that the popularity of Barclay--High Potentate of Bad Star Trek Ideas(*, lots of *)--is more liked than Geordi, a core cast member of the (debatably) most successful Star Trek series, contradicts my "Geordi isn't as archetypically male enough to be popular" theory.

The explanation is that Barclay--a massive fuckup with rampant escapist fantasies, like if Walter Mitty lacked any charm or real imagination and instead retreated into computer generated power fantasies peppered with sexual trysts--is what Geordi is supposed to be: a character the fans like because they can relate to him. I want to state unequivocally that instead of relating to Geordi, who may have used the holodeck as a tool to try (and fail) to get laid, fans liken themselves to Barclay, who fucked a holographic Troi.

I'm not saying that Geordi wasn't a creeper at times, but while Will Riker's doing some empty fretting bout how manly he is (Thomas Riker, Best of Both Worlds, etc.), LaForge has the job that requires technical know-how, people skills, responsibility, and a stifling amount of consistency. He has the life where he enjoys meeting new friends, spending time with old friends, and staying in touch with his family. He is a good, ordinary man living an enviable life and virtually no one in the Star Trek fan base aspires to that, elevates it, or even acknowledges it exists.

*Something which I can write a whole other blog about.
**Yes, it does waver, but even when it does, it kinda doesn't (Disaster).
***Though some might rightfully say I've discussed Ro and Yar enough that I cannot, at any point in the future, be considered as having "skipped" them.
****For some reason not in the spellchecker.


Derek said...

I didn't know Warf hopped series? Does that make him a Star Trek's version of wolverine?

VanVelding said...

Worf saw TNG through to the end of the series, then signed up to buoy the (then) struggling DS9 in its 4th season. While on DS9, he was also in all four--

Yes. Yes, he is Star Trek's Wolverine.