I recently read an excellent, long article about how the popular conception of Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series is all wrong. He never slept with a green woman, or even slept around: He was not a womanizer. His relationship history is reasonable and shows no pattern of abuse, not even emotional abuse. He wasn’t a maverick who didn’t obey orders or a jerk. He was competent, and even an intellectual, and the most important thing to him was his ship and the safety of the people on board it, not personal glory or any such thing.

We have weird ideas about history. A lot of it comes down either seeing the present as better, or worse, than it is.  We think we’re all better than the late 60s and early 70s when it comes to gender relations, for example, so we assume that Kirk was bad that way.

But, in fact, the conception of masculinity that we have in male movie leads today is completely foreign to that time. Even the “action” leads don’t look body builders, and, except in martial arts movies, they can’t win fights against lots of other guys, and so on. They aren’t power fantasies, in part probably because so many guys had been in real brawls and fought in wars.

Even the Dirty Harry movies show Callahan as very much not super-human. He isn’t an action hero as we typically define them: He can’t take on large numbers of “mooks.” He wins at least one iconic fight simply by outsmarting his opponent who drowns by being unable to stop his motorcycle from sliding into the ocean.

This is not to say that there wasn’t plenty of bad masculinity around then: There was a lot of wife-beating, for example. There was a lot more actual violence, period. But it was far less glamorized than we make ours–there was little pretense that it was pretty.

And it didn’t involve men with big muscles; that wasn’t the masculine archetype. Even John Wayne, while big, was not a body builder.

We have images of the past that are archetypes, and those archetypes aren’t necessarily right. The whole incel thing is unimaginable from a 70s perspective. Whatever has gone wrong with men in our era is not what was wrong with men in the 70s. We have actual different pathologies and in some ways (not all) they are worse.

Certainly we are less free in many ways than the 60s and early 70s were. It isn’t even a question: You could walk into almost any non-military building back then with no security. There were less cameras. Credit scores and drug tests were far less common. More drugs were legal.

In other ways we are more free, especially in terms of sex.

We use the past to justify the present, and to argue for our preferred futures. We caricature it, pick out highlights, and so on.

Some of this is inevitable, but it’s wise to at least know what we’re doing. And when the actual original resources are available, we should respect them. The movies and the TV shows of that era still exist. In many cases, we can easily still see them.

It was not “every thus” that TV was a sexist wasteland. In fact, Star Trek was a utopian show, trying to show a world in which gender and race mattered less than it does today, but where it still did matter (one of Kirk’s ex’s broke up with him because she hated that as a white male he got preference).

It wasn’t a dinosaur show that was evil–it was better than many shows are today. And Kirk wasn’t Don Draper sitting in the captain’s chair. He was a far, far better man.

Anyway, read the article. It’s important beyond the specifics of the case, but it’s also a good read.

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