Thursday, November 10, 2011
Kirk vs. Picard
Various sources have requested that I weigh in on the Captain Kirk vs. Captain Picard debate, which is currently raging over at StarTrek.com. Technically, this debate has been around since 1987, when The Next Generation first aired. I only got "back into" Star Trek around 2005; with The Original Series, while I was pre-occupied with pre-Star Wars science fiction. (Starting with Harlan Ellison, who wrote City on The Edge of Forever.) I remember TNG from my childhood, and certainly the Next Generation movies (First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis.) were more my time. But, The Wrath of Khan was a classic tale of charming captain vs. equally charming genetically-altered crazy dictator with doomsday weapon. And who can forget "KHAAAAAAAAAANNNNN!!!" echoing off the dead planet? I can't. I suppose Picard had his screaming moment too, with the Borg. (NOOOOOOOOOO!!! as he shattered a glass case; that was awesome.)
Obviously, as I was pre-occupied with pre-Star Wars sci-fi during my college years, I grew to like Kirk's command style. He's assertive, cocky, and credible because he represents ethos in Roddenberry's allegory for the structure of a logical argument. (Aristotle's troika; logos, pathos, ethos.) Actually, I identify with the science officers more than the captains. But, I prefer Kirk because he is confident. That's his role in the troika. And also, he got the ladies and has many quotes about what it is to be human, which inspires Spock (who looks at the world the way I do; half-alien, half-human.) to be "more human", so to speak.
Given my background in Intercultural Comm. and the era in which I grew up, you'd think I prefer Picard. I do like him; I just prefer Kirk. I drink Earl Grey, and rent TNG discs from the library...and I like his command style, he likes to investigate with everyone (even his enemies, as his brief stint as Locutus shows.) before he reaches a decision based on democratic civility, not gut instinct. After Kirk violated the Prime Directive so much, Starfleet needed a captain to show that it's institutions were fundamentally good. For Kirk, rules were obstacles. I like that style. I don't hate Picard; he does what I do, he investigates, and he's cultured. I just have more fun with Kirk, because he's sort of wish-fulfillment for me; and as a trained Aristotlean/rhetorician, I understand his command model ultimately better than Picard's, strange as it may seem.
I could drag this argument out, but the fact is I wish the "winners" could be Data or Spock. Data was funny, and I identified with his quest to be more human and accepted. On the other hand, Spock's conflict was more subtle, and I learned the benefits and disadvantages of objectivity. And the fact is...in order that there be no doubt that my logic is solid in this argument, I need objective criteria, lest I be accused of favoritism. Google, I've found is the quickest way to gauage cultural relevance, because it ranks things top to bottom, and the results would be random. I conducted my experiment by googling each captain's popularity, combat, cultural knowledge, battle tactics, and greatest enemies. Granted, it still depends what I type in, but I can't decide the battle with completely uncontrolled elements.
The data are as follows...
Captain Kirk - 5,860,000 results
Captain Picard - 445,000 results
Winner: Kirk (By a reboot probably; or a surplus of quotes.)
Khan - 601,000 results (The Wrath of Khan)
Borg - 61,900,000 (Star Trek Borg)
The Inner Light: 50,900,000 results
City on The Edge of Forever: 4,370,000 results
(episodes showcase adaptation, investigation, coping skills)
The Picard Maneuver - 17,200 results
The Corbomite Bluff - 48,300 results
(Maneuvers invented by the captains)
Captain Kirk Combat: 588,000 results
Captain Picard Combat: 1,170,000 results
Winner: Picard (By a grapple with Shinzon, apparently. And the hilarious ineffectiveness of 1960s TV fight choreography.)
Of course, disregarding the "joke reasons", let's analyze the raw data.
By this evaluation, Kirk "wins" in terms of wit and charm, even deception. (Kirk went behind the nebula to attack Khan; and invented the Corbomite Bluff.) But, it does reveal one character trait that gives Picard an advantage. Kirk's style of command works best when he knows he's in charge. Whereas Picard regularly places himself at the mercy of the unknown. (Kirk almost failed because he had to sacrifice a woman in City on The Edge of Forever. Picard adapts to his new family life on Kitan in The Inner Light, and thus fulfills the planet's memory; even becomes a Borg in another episode.) Anyone who has watched an old Star Trek fight probably knows that, while Kirk would attack first (since he is the anti-authority captain.) he would probably be outmaneuvered by Picard who has grappled with Romulans twice his own size, and to my knowledge, never struggled so hilariously as Kirk did vs. the Gorn captain.
Although I prefer Kirk, I have to admit that much of TNG was simply done on a grander scale. Khan was an epic story of revenge, not threatening the fate of the universe as the Borg did. And when the universe when threatened in TOS, Kirk often solved it by fighting, or by quoting about humanism. Picard was driven to understand both sides, even at the temporary cost of his humanity. Kirk often aggrevated the cold war between Klingons and the Federation (by referencing Earth's Cold War, and TAKING ACTION.) Picard appears to have all respect for the Prime Directive, but loses his cool when his friends are pushed, and so would win in a fight with Kirk, defending himself.
To summarize this eternal debate, it could be that TNG is just better in American cultural memory right now because of the grander scale, and better special effects. (7 seasons vs 3 seasons with universe threatening battles.) However, there's been a resurgence of Kirk in American cultural memory, because (ultimately) people need more philosophy in sci-fi than just the Star Wars religious allegory; and Kirk has the style to do that. He holds to his values while investigating and understanding others. Whether it surpasses Star Wars (at least, the prequels.) remains to be seen. Hey...Phantom Menace was 1999. Star Trek was 2009. 9s are good years for reboots. Maybe in the reboot, they'll reinvent some TNG characters, too. I can't see Paramount just dumping that. If Google is any indication, TNG lives on!