Cyberfetish and the World of Tomorrow
Brian Eno on Politics and Philosophy

Corporate Megatexts (3): Faithfulness

Flash Gordon Star WarsThere are just three screenings of the new Star Wars-branded movie left in my city and I'll have survived the new release with my honour intact, and the film unseen. This is a small and entirely personal victory, a test of my free will and my principles. It does not matter to me whether the new film is ‘any good’, because my concerns are not about being entertained... there was never a shortage of ways to be entertained. My concern is about the meaning we make of our megatexts (i.e. fictional worlds with many contributing works), and our relationship to the corporations that own them. I want to examine this topic as a question of faithfulness, which is to say a matter concerning the practices of authenticity (discussed two weeks ago) – and this is categorically not just about ‘being a fan’.

Surviving J.J. Abrams’ heavily promoted Star Wars film was challenging because I actively wanted to see it. I fell in love with the 1977 Star Wars as a five year old (the movie that would later be retitled A New Hope), and although I don’t consider myself a fanboy and have had a love-hate relationship with George Lucas ever since – I endured Caravan of Courage for a start – I never stopped caring about how the Star Wars megatext was being handled. Taking the classic Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials of the thirties and cross-breeding them with E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensman space operas, Kurasawa’s Hidden Fortress, and a sprinkling of World War II aerial dogfight movies was a creative masterstroke.

Mind you, it was also extremely inventive to take the Hollywood Biblical-Historical Epics of the 60s as a template for the prequels, and to layer in a positively prescient reflection on US foreign policy – not that anyone noticed. (The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, four years before Operation Enduring Freedom). But errors in aesthetic judgement matter more to audiences than grand designs: Jar Jar was the harbinger of doom both in and out of the fictional universe of Star Wars as far as a great many fans were concerned. As a matter of custodianship, however, the prequels were unquestionably a commercial success, with returns on investment that outstrip Abrams’ movie, and challenging any of Lucas’ films on authenticity grounds seems like a losing prospect. No matter how disgruntled some fans of the original trilogy might have been in respect of the prequels, they were in no position to overthrow the House of Lucas. That particular throne had to be abdicated.

At a more personal level, I have to decide what my relationship with Disney and with Star Wars will be going forward. Working this out involves difficult questions about corporate megatexts, community, and even friendship. Fiction matters, but it can matter for good reasons and for bad ones. My rejection of the newest Star Wars-branded movie was a chance to test my own principles, but it was not just knee-jerk nostalgiarism that provoked me. Disney and LucasFilm owe me nothing as a childhood fan of Star Wars: fans ‘buy in’, they don’t and can’t ‘buy out’ like Disney can. What troubles me here is the sheer extent of my entertainment money going to one creative economy – Marvel, Star Wars, The Muppets, Pixar, Disney Classics... it’s a rare day I find myself in a cinema without paying the Big Mouse these days. Of course, you can say that Disney is just the money behind these productions, and that different creative forces are being funded by them. Or you could take a hard-line stance and simply refuse to pay them (although it’s worth noting that refusing to pay while still watching the movies through piracy still supports the corporate megatexts through indirect patronage and cultural participation).

The commercial power of fiction in our century lies in the megatext, and the corporate powers will always acquire the successful megatexts. There are no blockbuster movies without media corporations (nor AAA videogames and ‘event’ mini-series for that matter), so to reject Disney outright is to give up spectacle cinema cold turkey. Yet I don’t want my son to never experience this media form even if I also don’t want it to be his only experience of narrative media. And I don’t want to have to give up going to see the latest dumb superhero movie with an old friend, for whom each new release gives us an excuse to get together and reminisce about comics from our youth. What I need is a principled way of declining to participate in popular culture, one not based solely upon the mere capacity to entertain.

A few years ago, I wrote about the concept of faithful adaptation in the context of the Peter Jackson movies collectively entitled The Hobbit. Here, the question was the role of the source book in the ‘game’ being played with the movie. Faithful adaptation requires the source materials to accord authentically with the new production (in terms of make-believe theory, for the book to be a viable secondary prop in games played with the film). This concept can be extended to new works: a faithful extension of a megatext is one that offers ‘games’ to be played with any combination of earlier works that are part of the relevant canon. Thus determining faithful works depend upon the notion of canonicity, discussed last week.

Although last week’s discussion focussed on how creative people ended up in the role of ‘arbiter of canon’, it is also clear that fictional canonicity is a community practice. Sole authors wear the crown by tradition; in bigger projects, there are always multiple heirs to the throne, which can be passed down in a family but need not be. It is the ‘players’ of megatexts who determine, through agreement, or rather, alignment, who have this role. It seems as if we want a person to have a claim to Regent of Canon because then there are always answers to the ambiguous questions, as if our imaginative experiences were anchored in part upon them existing outside of us, always offering a final court of appeal. Perhaps we learned this habit from Plato’s view of reality, and if so it would be no coincidence since the nerds who sustain the practices of canonicity are also greatly into the sciences.

This means the concept of a ‘faithful work’ leads to the notion of a ‘faithful community’, and thus of faithfulness. A person displays faithfulness to any given canon when they withhold their support from works that deviate from it (the ones that are heretical, if you will). This all sounds overtly religious, and it should: prior to the twentieth century, the megatexts that nerds fought about were holy scriptures. It is no coincidence that the term ‘canon’ being applied in this context comes from the code of church laws in the Middle Ages. Contemporary usage of ‘religion’ as a derogatory term often obscures the way our religious practices are quintessentially human practices, and as such are shaped by situational factors such as tradition and ideals, whatever their ultimate meanings might be. These practices never go away, but they change – often radically – over the centuries.

So is my resistance to the new Star Wars movie an act of faithfulness? Not exactly. The faithful community of fiction I belong to that grounds my non-co-operation with Disney in this case is not Star Wars but Star Trek. In this regard, it is noteworthy that demands of custodianship could be invoked to explain why Abrams had to ditch almost every aspect of the thematic and moral background to the Star Trek megatext in order to bring it to as wide an audience as possible in the cinema. One of the things that was lost in this popularising move was the ethical role of the Prime Directive, which Roddenberry and his writers created to serve as a surrogate for Westphalian sovereignty by transposing the relationship between nations into the relationship between planets. It is noteworthy that a great many Trekkies and Trekkers do not support this concept in or out of the fictional world they love, since they favour international interventions around the world on ethical grounds that would be judged utterly unacceptable by any Starfleet captain. Here, as with the religious megatexts, there is a notable gap between faithfulness to the works in question and faithfulness to the moral practices they extol.

My own faithfulness to the Star Trek megatext is a key reason I withdrew my support for Disney’s Star Wars. It is because Abrams could not (indeed, would not) faithfully extend the Star Trek megatext (as I outlined last week) that I object to Disney handing him the keys to the Death Star just so he can blow it up. Again. Perhaps the new movie is a faithful extension of the Star Wars megatext for many of those who rejected the prequels – I have certainly heard fans of the original trilogy treating the new movie as if it were akin to the vain promise of mum and dad getting back together after an unpleasant childhood divorce. Most likely Disney’s custodianship of Star Wars is just yet another fork in the canon, creating ever more splintered communities and endlessly propagating the arguments over minutiae. This has been what communities of nerds have done for nearly two millennia, after all, and these days it is at least mostly harmless.

Corporations are not the enemy, but they cannot be our friends, for all the money they spend securing that mythos. They need us more than we need them, and they are adept at getting us to take them for granted. The challenge of twenty first century ethics increasingly entails forging and maintaining communities that are more than merely commercial, and in this regard corporations are indeed opposed to us. They are vested in the commercial communities of so-called late capitalism because this is what sustains them. It also happens to be what entertains us. In so much as faithfulness in fiction might give us reasons to break from the status quo, it could become something more than just pugnacious geeks arguing amongst themselves. My suspicion, however, is that our established loyalty to specific megatexts is a force stronger than faithfulness and authenticity. For myself, at least, I have strived to assert my humanity by resisting the inevitable pull of my childhood nostalgia. It is through nostalgia, after all, that the power of the corporate megatexts accumulates.

A new serial begins later this year.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I read this and the previous articles in this series and I don't follow you. It's not a perfect SW movie - it's more a Marvel movie with a SW theme - but it's a good, entertaining movie.

Can you summarize in 70 words or less: why aren't you going to see the new Star Wars film(s)? To avoid giving Disney more of your money? To avoid ruining the memories of the first three/six films? To be in the "out" crowd?


Hi Yehuda,
Here are my 70 words or less: "I am not going to see the most recent Star Wars movie because Disney gave the Star Wars franchise to J.J. Abrams, whose custodianship of Star Trek (which Paramount gave him) violated my standards of authenticity in just about every conceivable way. This was thus a principled decision on my part that does not reflect in any way upon the purported entertainment value of the new film." Hope that clarifies!

Always great to hear from you,


PS: I always enjoy your capsule reviews of recent blockbuster movies! You have a knack for nailing their merits and their flaws.

Thanks for the response. I'm still confused, and I suspect it's going to get philosophical. :-)

1. What principle drives this "principled decision"? Is it a protest or a boycott? Is it to deprive J.J. Adams or Disney of your money? Or to persuade others to do so (in other words, the principle only works becuase you have a blog or friends to tell)? Is it a principle of taste, like not using the wrong fork? Or a moral principle like not saying a half-truth?

2. I assume that you continue to enjoy the original movies, correct? That enjoyment was not sullied by the new movies.

3. I also assume that, were the original movies never made/books never published, you might not only enjoy the new movies, but even be able to appreciate the plots, acting, directing, and so on. Correct?

It is odd how a fan is not able to enjoy an adaptation that is not true to the original. When I watch a Marvel movie, I care about acting, directing, characters, plot, and so on. When a comic fan watches it, she cares about authenticity to story and characters and integrity to the best of what made the source material good. When I saw Ender's Game, I was not able to separate from my review that they had eliminated most of the main parts of the book qua that part that made the book good. But it shouldn't have mattered to me. I should be able to view the movie in a vacuum from the source material, without requiring that one duplicate the best parts of the other.

4. If a different director/studio had made the exact same Star Wars VII film, would you be able to enjoy it? If it was a fan film, for example? Is it because Disney gave the film to JJ Abrams? Or is it because JJ Abrams now has a bad history, so you no longer want to see his films because of their association to his other films (like a new inability to enjoy a Bill Cosby routine because of his recent actions)? Would you watch another JJ Abrams film that was not connected to a franchise that you love?

5. Depriving yourself of something entertaining (which is a net positive) only make sense if it involves a net negative of equal or greater value. You can't prevent the new Star Trek from being made by not seeing the new Star Wars. So the net negative is that seeing is brings up a frustration at the past movie having been made?


Hi Yehuda,
You ask what principle drives my 'principled decision'. It is that corporations depend upon our money, and so we owe it to ourselves to deny them money when they act in ways inconsistent with our own ideals. I'm not seeking to persuade anyone else to join me, so I wouldn't call it a boycott, and similarly 'protest' seems to overstate the matter, although you could call it that I suppose.

I view this as a matter of conscience. To pay to see the new movies would be to fail to act in good conscience. Even to see them could be; I am less convinced of this, although certainly participating in piracy to see them is not an acceptable way of resolving the tension, since it supports it indirectly.

I'm certainly not making any claim that my childhood has been ruined by the new movies, or any such thing. That would be extremely puerile. Disney paid for the franchise, they should make new movies with it. Whether I see them or not makes very little difference here, at least to them.

The question of whether I would find the latest movie entertaining seems to me to be irrelevant, since there are plenty of entertainments and participating in this one doesn't deprive me of entertainment in any meaningful sense. (I lack time, not things to do.) So I don't quite buy your argument that depriving myself of something entertaining would only make sense if it was balanced against something. But of course, it is balanced against something - what you might call my honour. I suppose I am claiming my honour is worth more than being entertained by yet another movie.

You ask:
"If a different director/studio had made the exact same Star Wars VII film, would you be able to enjoy it?"

Well I'm not saying I wouldn't be able to enjoy this one. The thought that I might - as much as anything, to see the 'old gang' wheeled out one more time - was one of the reasons that I did, in fact, really want to go and see it. I expect I might have enjoyed it, if I could have got my expectations low enough, and may yet, who knows!

But the moment I realised that it meant more to me than I originally realised that Abrams had 'murdered' Star Trek (excuse the dramatic license), the more I realised I couldn't possibly go and see a Star Wars movie the man had made. Nor any adaptation of anything else I care about. To do so would be to act dishonourably. It would be to patronise the work of someone that I find unworthy of my patronage.

Now chances are you lean towards consequentialism i.e. you measure the value of actions by their outcomes, and all this talk of honour may seem quaintly distanced from contemporary life. So to put this in outcome terms I could say that paying to watch the new movie, given the circumstances of its creation, would have left me feeling lacking in self-worth, and that outcome could not possibly be weighed against the entertainment value of the movie. I hope that translation makes sense, and I am not overstepping the mark in providing this alternative exposition.

"It is odd how a fan is not able to enjoy an adaptation that is not true to the original."

Your discussion in this paragraph is spot on, and indeed thinking this way is what lead me to write the paper What are we playing with? Role-taking, role-play, and story-play with Tolkien's legendarium, which bears directly on this topic. That might be worth a read - I would certainly welcome your thoughts on it if you should give it a go.

Thanks for continuing our discussion, and indeed for all our discussions, which I greatly value. However, I must also warn you that my Summer social media break begins after tomorrow so we might not get to finish this discussion now! My virtual doors, however, are always open.

With great respect,


Thanks for answering, too. I think your principle is summed up here: "the moment I realised that it meant more to me than I originally realised that Abrams had 'murdered' Star Trek ... the more I realised I couldn't possibly go and see a Star Wars movie the man had made." So perhaps my Cosby analogy is apt. You feel Abrams treated the ST franchise with such disrespect, that he undoubtedly did so as well with SW - and even if he didn't, he deserves no audience after what he did with ST.

That's ok.

But isn't any franchise taken over by a new voice perforce this kind of murder? Come to think of it, isn't any sequel or a story the same thing? Perhaps what GL did in the second trilogy was a murder to the original SW trilogy. Perhaps ESB was a murder to ANH - new writers, new story, new morals and messages, new crew, new characters.

Even deeper, wasn't SW a murder to itself?

Every vision is translated and transformed into its medium. In some cases, the transformation loses a great deal - GL felt so, which is why he came back 20 years later and redid parts of the SW movie. In some cases, the transformation gains a great deal - actualization adds texture and details. Serendipity adds a great performance that evokes more than the screenwriter could put into lines. Just as every translation is an interpretation, so is every instantiation: putting it into just these words, or using just these brushstrokes. Yet we treat the instantiated work as the true work of the artist. GL making SW was actually chopping up his vision and then reassembling it into a different product to the limits of technology and his ability to communicate.

I imagine that you give GL and his team a pass for SW, ESB, and RotJ, since a good deal of it was guided by the same artist. And you probably even give him a pass for the second trilogy, even though probably every one of the thousands of people working on the movie had changed, except for GL and whatever parts of his script made it into the movie.

Why isn't ESB a "money grab" but "TFA" is? I don't know if, of the people who worked on SW, more of them also worked on TFA compared to ESB. Maybe not. But change is inevitable from conception to actualization, and from one story to its sequel or to the next in the "megatext", regardless of who writes it or directs it. I understand ostracizing Abrams if you feel that the reworking of ST semiotics (character names, trademarks, weapons, ships, and uniforms) into a different set of values and stories is "murder", but I don't really get why this reworking is bad. Because the new story didn't keep the prime directive?

Why do get so upset when I change rules in a game to ones that are more to my liking: they cry "it's not the real game!" Some of them try to dissuade me and others from even trying my changes. Some of them tell me NOT TO PLAY THE GAME AT ALL rather than change the rules, which shocks me. Some of them become nasty on BGG about it. If I were a woman and the board game community were larger, I would have been the target of gamergate-like abuse dozens of times.

What is it with the preservation of the purity of "what is"? Why does a canon, or "megatext" as you call it, need defending from anyone who doesn't own the IP? What is wrong with mixing and matching culture and coming up with something new? SW is, as you noted, just that: a meshing, often quite transparently, of existing megatexts into a new one. TFA is a mixing of SW and a bit of Marvel into something that looks pretty strikingly like the original SW. The next movie will mix this movie and ideas from some other things (or even some original ideas) into something else.

Enjoy your retreat.

Hi Yehuda,
At the heart of my concerns here are the principles of authenticity I outlined in the first part of the serial. But a key point I make in this final part is that those principles belong to communities. So my position here is that I belong to a community for whom Star Trek was not merely a science fiction entertainment, but a moral commentary on contemporary life. This is true of all the TV franchises, although to varying degrees. It operates in a manner quite similar to religious megatexts in the morality tales. To resurrect Star Trek and excise this element is to utterly violate the spirit of the original megatext. It's not just the prime directive, it's the entire reason for telling stories in the mode invented by Roddenberry and developed by Berman. Without it, it's just playing with the same toys.

When I first saw Abrams Star Trek I was entertained, but it seemed incredibly stupid. When I saw Into Darkness I suddenly realised that I couldn't continue to support what was going on. And that set me to work to try and understand why.

You say:
"You feel Abrams treated the ST franchise with such disrespect, that he undoubtedly did so as well with SW - and even if he didn't, he deserves no audience after what he did with ST."

I would not claim he 'undoubtedly' disrespected Star Wars: I suspect his vacuously flamboyant style is better suited to it. And I wouldn't say he 'deserves no audience' because that would be to pre-empt other people's aesthetic and moral judgements. What he does not deserve is just my patronage, and presumably the patronage of anyone else belonging to the same community as me with respect to the authenticity of Star Trek.

"I imagine that you give GL and his team a pass for SW, ESB, and RotJ, since a good deal of it was guided by the same artist."

Not a fan of Return of the Jedi, which is the weakest of the bunch, but there's no need to give a 'pass' because it's clearly a single consistent megatext at this point. George's decision to alter the movies meets with my disapproval, though, which is not to suggest he was not in some sense 'within his creative rights' to do so.

"Perhaps what GL did in the second trilogy was a murder to the original SW trilogy."

There is a large community for whom this is the case, but I do not belong to it.

"Perhaps ESB was a murder to ANH - new writers, new story, new morals and messages, new crew, new characters."

I am not aware of any community that asserts this. There is clearly some refinement between Empire and Star Wars, but I think it would be odd to find a violation of authenticity in this instance. Possible but not plausible. But Empire cannot murder A New Hope since it was one year earlier (1980, versus 1981 for the first print of Star Wars with the subtitle added).

Regarding "money grab" - did I ever use this term? It is the nature of media corporations to market media. I do not hold it against them. I am acutely aware, as a media-producer myself, than the flow of money is the lifeblood of a franchise. I am not inclined to see this aspect of media production as directly problematic, although it can be indirectly problematic in a number of ways, all of which go beyond the scope of our discussion!

"Why do [people] get so upset when I change rules in a game to ones that are more to my liking: they cry "it's not the real game!" Some of them try to dissuade me and others from even trying my changes. Some of them tell me NOT TO PLAY THE GAME AT ALL rather than change the rules, which shocks me. Some of them become nasty on BGG about it. If I were a woman and the board game community were larger, I would have been the target of gamergate-like abuse dozens of times."

This is something that is close to my heart, as I have the same tendency as you to 'hack' every boardgame that I play. My wife and I have only once played Settlers of Catan with the rules in the box since we both find the Robber too directly competitive, so we replace it with a different rule that makes us both happier, whereby rolling a seven still causes the loss of cards, but the player rolling gets to trade with a market of five cards that initially contains one of each material. This works well for us.

My wife may support this 'hacking', but my friends are often less keen, and sometimes make jokes about it. These are intended both to make light of my tendency and to dissuade me from doing it, and usually entail the phrase 'tournament rules' (which, of course, would be nonsense for many of these games). I have found I have become more willing to accede to playing by the rules 'as written' (and supplemented by the house rules required to make any written rules work!) as I have got older, though, and I am less inclined to 'hack from the box' as I once was.

But your point here is directly parallel to the cases I was talking about, because it is once again about communities of authenticity that are 'playing' the games in question. To a great many boardgamers, the 'tournament rules' (the rules as written, supplemented by the necessary house rules that are seldom if ever recognised) just are the game. I might say, equivalently, the authentic player practices are those of the game developers. Our desire to 'hack' the player practices to our satisfaction is therefore a deviation from the authentic version of the player practices upheld by this other community. That creates an aesthetic tension and - just as with the videogames civil war you mention - that puts people against each other in occasionally ugly ways.

One final remark. One of the reasons I love boardgames is precisely because they are so easy to 'hack'. The effort required to 'fix' a videogame to my satisfaction is monumental, but a boardgame can so easily be tailored to one's aesthetic tastes that there is something truly liberating about playing them. This, for me, is why I still prefer tabletop games to videogames, and am slightly sad at never having had one published, although I came terribly close with my card game Star Fleet Officers that Task Force Games were allegedly going to publish, way back in 1990. You, on the other hand, have successfully published boardgames, and for that I am slightly envious! :)

Well, I've said enough, and I'm out of time. I will be back in approximately two weeks.

All the best,


You should be back soon, so I'll write again. Hope you had a nice rest.

One thing I've realized from this conversation is the equivalence between the far right that occupy gamergate and anti-gay marriage vs the far left that occupy cultural sensitivity and trigger warnings in academic lectures. The one believes that their franchise cannot survive unless everyone accepts it and plays with it exactly as it is, and any semblance of using the terminology for, or making similar play with, a similar activity that they don't want to participate in must - somehow - perforce destroy their own enjoyment of the activity. And the other believes that only people who uphold their values and speak with their own perfect understanding are allowed to say anything at all, everyone else is racist/sexist/criminal and/or trying to wipe out a culture, and everyone's general freedom must give way to a single static understanding and the sensitivity of whomever is offended, so long as whomever can claim historical persecution.

I understand this if it comes from a religious perspective. If someone takes a ritual or object that has sacred significance and wears it because it looks cool but uses it for its opposite intended function or message, it can be hurtful. Worse, if people begin to associate the object or ritual with something that is entirely against its actual meaning, it will be hard for those who use it for its correct meaning or message to pass that message along, even to their own community or children.

What I don't understand is: do you really consider the message of Star Trek so important that you value it as a religious message? Is this really a "desecration" on that level? Are you worried that future generations will no longer remember Star Trek standing up for a higher principle? If it's not religious, then what?

What I'm asking is: ok, I see now that it violates the spirit of the metatext. And that this upsets you enough to not want to watch more movies from Abrams. But is this a sane reaction? Or are you simply presenting your reaction without actually justifying it as rational? Is this the same as someone claiming that a homosexual calling his partnership a marriage disgraces the meaning of marriage, or someone claiming that a white person wearing her hair in cornrows is racist and destructive to black culture?


Hi Yehuda,
Your opening paragraph refers to a lot of points that I explored in Chaos Ethics, although perhaps not quite in the ways you are exploring here. Unless I'm misreading you, you are recognising that 'far right' and 'far left' are frequently operating in ways that run deeply parallel... There are certainly significant problems here today, and this was part of my motive in writing Chaos Ethics: the 'left' (particularly in the US) has become almost as big a problem as what it opposes, precisely because it defines itself in almost solely in terms of its oppositions.

(As you have probably surmised, I am now back, although I am only just crawling out from under the monstrous pile of email and so forth that has built up in my absence. I couldn't miss the chance to respond to an actual blog comment, though, since they are a rare commodity these days!)

"What I don't understand is: do you really consider the message of Star Trek so important that you value it as a religious message? Is this really a 'desecration' on that level? Are you worried that future generations will no longer remember Star Trek standing up for a higher principle? If it's not religious, then what?"

I don't see this as a black-and-white split between religious and non-religious; all stories are part of the mythological background of our existence, and can matter in many different ways. However, it's my view that Star Trek is - perhaps now, was - one of the major non-religions of our time. I wouldn't put my own relationship with that particular megatext on a par with my five religions, personally, but that isn't to say that it doesn't matter to me. I certainly am concerned that what has happened in this case has effectively eliminated any sense of 'standing up for a principle', whether it is judged higher or not.

"What I'm asking is: ok, I see now that it violates the spirit of the metatext. And that this upsets you enough to not want to watch more movies from Abrams. But is this a sane reaction? Or are you simply presenting your reaction without actually justifying it as rational?"

In answer to your question "Are you mad?" my answer would have to be "most definitely!", although that doesn't necessarily bear upon this particular issue! I view my response to Abrams to be a sane reaction - I certainly don't mean to offer it as an example of irrational behaviour that I would defend against its irrationality (as I sometimes do defend my irrational behaviour on various grounds).

I believe it is entirely rational to act on principle even when that action is not, by itself, sufficient to evoke change. Further, I believe one of the fundamental insanities of our time is that people think that since their acting on principle wouldn't (on its own) amount to much, they are effectively excused from doing so. This is another case where using solely outcome-focussed arguments creates problems. Morality is about more than just outcomes.

While I appreciate the parallel you are trying to draw, I don't think this is on a par with someone claiming gay marriage 'disgraces' the meaning of marriage, because I am not attempting to dictate anything to anyone else - it's not like I was picketing cinemas or the like! (And, incidentally, I think people are entitled to deny the validity of gay marriage as marriage on grounds of faithfulness to tradition, even though I think they are wrong to do so in terms of the values of the traditions in question, and have argued the exact opposite). I see what I was doing as more akin to inviting anyone to whom the Star Trek megatext mattered to consider what that means to them. I'm not condemning anyone, even Abrams, for all that what he's done appalls me.

I appreciate a great many people think that franchises should be judged solely as entertainment, and that it's better for the franchise to still be 'live' than for it to be 'dead'. But I don't agree with either of those principles, personally. A live franchise that is not faithful to its antecedants in at least one sense is involved in a betrayal. And no story is ever 'just' entertainment... our stories are what make us who we are, both individually and culturally. If every media betrayal can be justified by the mere pursuit of entertainment, perhaps we really are (as Roger Waters warned) a species that will ultimately be amused to death.

So let me turn the question back upon you: you think me (possibly) insane for withdrawing my support for franchises I have enjoyed in the past on the basis of the betrayal of the spirit of a megatext. Is that because you would continue to participate with corporate megatexts as long as they are entertaining? Do you think this is a sane reaction? Is entertainment really of so great a value that nothing else matters next to it?

What you wrote seems to imply that you take my pieces in this serial as condemning those who continue to support Star Wars and Star Trek. Honestly, that's not for me to judge in anything other than a trivial sense. What I am saying is that if someone did care about what the Star Trek megatext stood for, they ought to consider whether the 'desecration' (as you termed it) is something they ought to respond to. For me, it was. If I had let the lure of mere entertainment overpower my objections, I would have failed myself. And that - being true to myself - is precisely why I would justify my behaviour here as sane and rational. No mere entertainment could be measured against my own self-worth, and that judgement need not reflect negatively upon anyone else who was not moved to act in similar ways.

To be sure, these media issues are fantastically far from being the most important moral problems of our time - but I think there is a sense in which they are indicative of other more important problems that make them worthy of careful consideration.

Many thanks for continuing our discussion,


Welcome back. I have almost no questions left. I strongly agree with you that acting on principle is important, even if the outcome will be unaffected. That is why I often (as my friends call it) "throw away my vote" on someone who can't win. I would rather that people, and the politician, know how many people support their positions. (I suppose the knowledge of how I voted IS a small effect).

In answer to your question: I would continue to "participate" in the megatext, and I believe that this is the only fully sane reaction. In the same way that a movie does not have to follow its origin book to be a good movie, a sequel does not have to preserve the tradition of the original to be a good movie. If The Empire Strikes Back stressed the joy of friendship and sparkling ponies, it wouldn't have detracted from the messages of Star Wars. Star Wars would still be Star Wars; the new movie would be a new movie using the Star Wars semiotics, but I would (and do) see it as an entirely new, disconnected movie. That's why I consider it the only sane reaction: every work, every act of creativity stands alone.

The most I feel about Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness is ... disappointment (actually, I liked Star Trek). What a waste of good potential. I don't like empty entertainment, as you know, so it's not that I "approve" taking a series with meaning and churning out movies that have nothing but entertainment. Instead, I communicate that disappointment to the studios in my reviews: "Hey, you're doing it wrong!" If I don't like the first two movies, and I hear that the third movie is more of the same, I won't watch it; but only because I know I won't enjoy it. But if the new Star Treks had had some deeper meaning - not the messages of the original Star Trek but some other interesting or compelling messages - I would be totally fine with it being a "new megatext". it's a "new" Star Trek: different author, different generation, different messages. That's fine with me. The originals are still there to show my kids.

I can't make that leap from disappointment, frustration, or boredom to outrage. I don't feel that I have any right to outrage. I don't own the franchise, I don't make movies. I'm not putting myself out there trying to create something on that scale to speak to that many people. When someone does that, I may tear their effort apart, but not because of its lack of faithfulness to something else that someone else created in the past. I think that the assumption - the restriction - of faithfulness to someone else's message is misplaced.

I think that leaves us respectfully nodding.


P.S. SW7 is more faithful to the SW messages than the new STs are to old ST, FYI. What room do you leave for Abrams to redeem himself?

Hi Yehuda,
Thanks for returning to continue, and perhaps conclude our conversation. It's been very helpful for me to thrash this out with you, and I hope it's been an interesting exercise for you too.

"...every work, every act of creativity stands alone."

There are, I think, two faces to every act of creativity. One is its uniqueness. The other is its situatedness. The core of our disagreement, if it even is that, is your desire to stress the former and my desire to stress the latter. I don't see anything wrong with this state of affairs, and I don't think you do either.

I have great respect for your position of making your relationship with the corporate megatexts something that you express within your reviews. I do see that as a sane approach... I hope it is clearer now why I also think that choosing not to participate is also a sane response. I feel this is particularly important in the case of Disney (and Hasbro for boardgames) because, as I like to say, "All roads lead to Hasbro". Since the current economic order guarantees the acquisition of the megatexts by a few media corporations, I find it essential to have principled reasons to withdraw my support from them when it is warranted. I have come to realise that negative responses to media still (minimally) support the owning companies, so I am drawing my lines with more draconian principles these days.

Disney chose to give Star Wars to Abrams after seeing what he did to Star Trek. That makes them complicit in endorsing what Abrams did to Star Trek. That, for me, is a reason to withdraw my support for, and participation in, this megatext under Disney's watch. It is not, however, a reason to withdraw my support for Disney in all cases. They are what they are, a global media corproation... I'm not going to change that.

This is as much a moral experiment for me as anything, but it is an area I feel could use more experimentation.

"I think that the assumption - the restriction - of faithfulness to someone else's message is misplaced."

I can understand that, but what I am defending here is something rather more subtle than orthodoxy, at least in my eyes. When the writers and showrunners of Deep Space Nine decided to develop a plotline around a war, they knew they were doing something Roddenberry would not have approved of. But they were, I and they believe, still being faithful to Star Trek in going on this road. There were many faithful roads that could be taken, not just one. But there were also roads of betrayal. You perhaps deny the validity of the claim to betrayal, and that is probably where we disagree.

"What room do you leave for Abrams to redeem himself?"

I fully expect that the new Star Wars branded movie is more faithful to its megatext than Abrams mauling of Star Trek, and mentioned this previously in our discussion. I expect I will eventually watch this movie and make my own judgements, long after anyone else will care. My only requirement here is to provide no commercial support for it, nor indirect support such as pirating or reviewing it. It is for me, as I have outlined earlier, a point of honour.

So do I allow Abrams to redeem himself? I leave open the possibility. But having withdrawn my support for this megatext at this time, it will be up to others to make the case, for it is not appropriate for me to spend my time on his work now. Redemption is always possible in my eyes, but I have no obligation to him now. My relationship, such as it is, with this creative individual is over. That frees me up to pay attention to other creative people whose work I might respect.

I do not think, on the basis of the scuttlebutt that I have heard, that the new Star Wars branded movie is very likely to redeem Abrams in my eyes. But we will see, won't we... eventually. :)

All the best,


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)