Debate #1: Robert Mercer

December 29, 2001 (Gothmog's second post):

What is sci-fi analysis?

Robert, I thought you were going to deal with generalized philosophical discussions of how to analyze canon evidence in sci-fi analyses and "versus" discussions, rather than using that pretext as an excuse to rehash old arguments about what is and isn't canon in the particular example of Star Trek.

Yes, that is my goal, my concern here is not the actual canonicity (or non-canonicity) of particular aspects of a particular representation, but the larger question of authority and how it relates to the representation and the accuracy of the representation, and how the representation should be employed and analyzed in interpretation and argumentation. The particular example given was just that, an example? but you appear to be taking it both differently and following a direction from it that I did not intend. Perhaps I did not put enough thought into my choice of example, but it was something ready to hand.

But since you didn't look at some obvious philosophical questions which must be resolved before delving into that well-worn subject, I will do it instead. First, we must ask: what is the purpose of sci-fi analysis?

First and foremost, we must recognize that you can choose to examine fiction in a rational, objective manner or an irrational, subjective manner if you wish, and neither manner is inherently superior (it all depends on whether you're seeking a rational, objective conclusion or an irrational, subjective conclusion).

Why must a "subjective" conclusion necessarily be irrational or an "objective" conclusion necessarily rational? It is possible to be subjective and rational and/or objective and irrational. I didn't really want to get into the whole objective/subjective question here, but it appears as though I am going to have to at least touch upon it. Irrational simply means:

(1) Lacking the power to reason; (2) contrary to reason; senseless; unreasonable; absurd (there are two additional applications, one applying to the meter of rhyme and the other regarding rational/irrational numbers, neither of which particularly applies or is, I believe, what you intend here).

The qualities of subjectivity/objectivity and rationality/irrationality are not necessarily linked, popular misconceptions notwithstanding. Your choice of terminology here is particularly loaded. In other words, regardless of its basis (subjective/objective) garbage in still equals garbage out?. a fact readily borne out by computer programming/operation.

A chain of argumentation/analysis, correctly followed and supported will be rational, regardless of whether the basis of the argument is objective or subjective. Furthermore, let us take a look, for a moment at the term objective:

Objective: (1) Having to do with a known or perceived object as distinguished from something existing only in the mind of the subject, or person thinking; (2) being or regarded as being independent of the mind; real; actual; (3) determined by and emphasizing the features and characteristics of the object, or thing dealt with, rather than the thoughts, feelings, etc. of the artist, writer, or speaker; (4) without bias or prejudice; detached; impersonal; (5) being the aim or goal; plus a few others that are non-applicable.

Since we are, in essence, dealing with things that do not actually exist outside of the mind (be it the mind of the creator/writer or of the apprehending audience), the claim of objectivity in SF analysis is somewhat facetious (indeed, having looked at/participated in a large number of "versus" debates, one thing that is manifestly clear, to me, is that most of the arguments established and exercised are not objective in any meaningful sense of the term). The object involved is the particular text (depiction). There are no other objects, except in the focus of mediated apprehension (that is, reading (interpretation)-whether it be a reading of a film, the reading of a text, etc.). You may, if desired, create the illusion of objectivity (as you attempt to do through what you label as your "objective' approach), but your approach devalues and essentially ignores the actual qualities of the actual object (the depiction) to focus on the imaginary (subjective) construct. We are supposedly analyzing a fictional universe. The key word here is fictional-it is neither real/actual nor does it exist independently of the mind-regardless of what similarities may exist between it and actual reality. If you remove the creator or the audience, it ceases to exist (or, indeed, never exists in the first place). Intentionality (of both the creator and the reader) and the formistic conventions play a central role in the actual object and are manifest in the fictional universe that is created through interpretation of the representation? this is inescapable due to the necessarily subjective and rhetorical nature of the interpretive act.

See WWWF Grudge Match for examples of the latter (that site is actually pretty damned funny and I like it a lot, but I digress). However, for the purposes of our discussion and my website, we are using the former. Think about it: when people claim to be objective and rational, and when they use the language of science (watts, joules, gravitons, electromagnetism, etc) in order to generate predictions about the behaviour of sci-fi technology (as opposed to sci-fi characters), what are they doing?

They are analyzing a fictional construct (representation) that is non-objective in nature by objective criteria, which may or may not be appropriately applied. And they are actually engaged in an exercise that is not objective (though it may be rational), though they might either believe that it is objective or wish others to believe that it is objective. Indeed the question of the applicability/appropriateness of such a methodology must necessarily require some previous analysis/interpretation of the actual object (the representation) by criteria and methods that are decidedly not scientific in the sense that you apply the term. In other words, before you can apply your particular methodology/criteria, certain questions simply must be addressed. Two major issues in this regard are the authority of the text and the accuracy of the text. These are qualities of the actual object that have to be determined before any further steps can be taken. If the representation has no authority, why analyze it? If the representation is not particularly accurate, what good is the data derived from it? The accuracy and authority of the text are qualities that are, in essence, outside the scope of a scientific approach.

Are they trying to determine what storytelling conventions might apply? Are they trying to determine what would happen according to Hollywood clichés or human nature? Absolutely not. Whether they are willing to admit it or not, they are trying to synthesize a self-consistent physical model of a fictional universe.

And the story-telling conventions, human nature, and Hollywood clichés inform the entirety of the object that they are basing this self-consistent model upon (the representation)-requiring them to ignore or rationalize away various and sundry aspects of the representation in order to make it appear as though they are being objective/scientific. You cannot be objective or scientific if there is no actual object. You are simply being subjective and dressing it up in the clothes of science. Indeed, decisions are made in the interpretive process that are rooted in storytelling conventions (i.e ignoring the presence of theme music; ignoring background noises in the supposed vacuum of space, variations in treatment of evidence because of its nature or its putative source (generally applied to dialog). Additionally, self-consistency does not rely upon the scientific or quasi-scientific nature of the interpretive methodology.

But what is a self-consistent physical model of a fictional universe? Guess what: it is a science!

No, it's a model or description. Science, in its strictest and most accurate sense, is a method (in common usage it is much more loosely applied, but the vast majority of people suffer from misapprehensions of what constitutes science and the scientific method.. the fact that there is something called political science shows that the term is often used for its cachet and rhetorical effect). Come now, you know better than that. Science is a methodology used to derive a (predictive) description of an objective reality. The cornerstones of the validity of the method are its predictive nature and its repeatability (via experiment and investigative observation). The Standard Model of physics is just that, a model or description, based upon the best available evidence (and guesses to fill in the gaps). It is not science. Science is used to derive, rationalize, and justify the appropriateness/accuracy of the model. Thus a rigorous application of the scientific method to the representation would (indeed must) necessarily deal with the actual object and the qualities inherent in it-as this is the only actual object to be studied. Unfortunately, science is not particularly adept at dealing with the subjective aspects of the object (something of an understatement, I think).

And how do we arrive at a science in real life? Through the scientific method! Even if a particular scientific principle does not appear to generate accurate predictions in a fictional universe (or the real one, for that matter), the scientific method still applies, and it is the most accurate method of generating the kind of models that we can use to generate reliable predictions (if you care to debate whether the scientific method works in real life, then feel free; your suffering would be legendary).

It doesn't work in all aspects of real life, particularly not in the humanities. Once you introduce humanity into the mix (other than at the most basic physical level-i.e. dealing with the objective nature of humanity rather than the subjective nature), science sort of goes by the boards. And nothing, ultimately, is more a product of the subjective nature of humanity than textual interpretation.

In short, I am pointing out that the purpose of what we refer to as "sci-fi analysis" on websites such as this one, the various tech newsgroups, or even the "vs" boards on spacebattles.com is to determine the science of fictional universes, not to determine their storytelling conventions. Since science is defined by its method, the only legitimate way to accomplish this task is to employ the scientific method while suspending disbelief.

Your consideration of purpose is too limited and too simplistic. Additional aspects of purpose exist beyond determining the science of fictional universes? and you engage in such exercises yourself (i.e the non-physical aspects, such as culture, politics, political organization, military considerations, etc). A majority of people (at least, of those that I have encountered) aren't interested in the science of the fictional universes, they are interested in who will kick whose butt (to put it bluntly). They use the "science" and the rhetorics derived from the application of a quasi-scientific method simply as a tool to additional ends. And while you may be able to arrive at some simulacra of a science for a particular fictional universe, it is not necessarily complete or particularly accurate (particularly since it cannot be tested and validated by experimentation, one of the key requirements of the scientific method). Nor is it necessarily predictive, given the plastic nature of fictional realities (the plot in episode 2 may require something that is, in effect, impossible by the standards of the model derived from all the other episodes). In other words, you end up with, at best, an essentially unverifiable hypothesis and a vague, perhaps predictive, perhaps not, description of the physical qualities of the fictional universe at the macroscopic level.

Neither is the suspension of disbelief necessarily required-indeed, to fully and capably analyze the material, the suspension of disbelief is an obstacle. In addition, the suspension of disbelief for "scientific" purposes is partial and arbitrary, anyway (otherwise, again, if you fully suspended disbelief, you must embrace and explain the overt formistic and clichéd elements that exist in the representaton).

Authority

You said:

"Authority flows from two sources: the creator of the representation; and the owner of the representation. In many cases, the creator and the owner are one and the same. In some cases, they are not. Legally, the owner of the representation (regardless of his role in its creation), has the sole power to determine the authority of the representation; and of additional representations that take place or are set within the same general representation of a fictional universe."

Plain English translation: "only Paramount can say what's canon in Star Trek.". This is an obvious attempt to have John Ordover's statement thrown out of court, since he works for Pocket Books rather than Paramount (it would be nice if you just came out and said that, instead of playing games like this).

Actually, I wasn't even thinking about that? but it is true. Ordover does not work for Paramount, nor is he a direct representative thereof. Any official statement by Paramount regarding the franchise, as the legal owner of the franchise must necessarily overrule a statement by someone else who is not an owner. This is a simple legal fact. The creators/owners have the ultimate legal right to dictate these issues.

I generally agree with the idea that the creator and owner of the representation are the best authorities who can tell us what is and isn't "real" in the fictional worlds of sci-fi. However, I take exception to the way you characterize this as "the authority of the representation". They have the authority to tell us what is and isn't "real" in their sci-fi franchise, but they are not dictating the "authority" of particular representations. The owners or creators tell us what is and isn't part of their fictional universes, but they don't tell us how to analyze any of it.

Actually, they do and have done so, simply by listing what is and what is not canon and what aspects of a representation are canonical and what aspects are not. Paramount has certainly and explicitly done so (otherwise, you would be including data from TAS and the novels in your analyses). If they state that only the background information on characters X, Y and Z is canonical in a particular representation (something well within their legal rights), then they have necessarily constrained your use and analysis of the material-unless you are willing to disregard them and provide warrant for doing so. This is not necessarily true in each and every case, but the possibility exists and its role must be accounted for.

Remember that serious sci-fi analyses take place under a "suspension of disbelief" agreement. If we are suspending disbelief, we temporarily agree to pretend that these fictional universes are not fictional. We pretend that they are real, and once we are immersed in them, we have no way of knowing the wishes of their creators. The creator/owner's only input in this process (apart from making the films/TV shows, of course) is to tell us which pieces of information are genuine. For example, the creator/owner can say, in essence, "you should suspend disbelief for this, but not for that." That is what we mean by "canon".

Why does it necessarily take place under a suspension of disbelief agreement (and who agreed to it, I don't recall signing any agreement)? And, to appearances, the willing suspension of disbelief tends to be very selective and context sensitive, depending upon the people making the analysis/interpretation and what they intend to use that analysis/interpretation for. I can achieve the same ends without the complexity and facetiousness of the suspension of disbelief. It is not necessary to believe that something is real to analyze it (philosophy of religion, among other things, provides many examples of this). I am trying to look at the philosophical and formistic issues surrounding SF analysis-and suspension of disbelief is a formistic and arbitrary condition (which, perhaps, needs further examination-but I am running short on time and long on space already, perhaps later).

This is also consistent with the religious origins of the word "canon". The Church tells you which texts are canon, but the definition of canon does not carry with it any preferences for methods of interpreting those texts (the right-wing fundamentalists would beg to differ, but I don't have time to debate their idiocy right now). Millions of Christians around the world have various opinions on how we should interpret "canon", without disagreeing on what it is. Some appeal to its authority, while others have a complete frontal lobe.

In other words, canonicity does have implications regarding how they should be interpreted, which you are willing to disregard (even though others are not, from your example). Because they disagree with you, they are, of course, idiots and can be safely disregarded.

Regardless of whether you choose to falsely attribute it to the creator/owner, the concept of "authority" does not exist once we suspend disbelief. To suspend disbelief is to temporarily assume that Star Wars (for example) is not a fictional movie. To suspend disbelief is to temporarily assume that it is just as real as you or me, without question. If we are assuming that it is just as "real" as reality, then we should approach it the same way we would approach reality. In reality, no rational person argues that visual evidence (eg- a telescope picture) has more or less "authority" than a book or a person's words. Such forms of evidence represent scientifically useful observation, historical source, and hearsay respectively, and that is the way any scientist will treat them.

In other words, they do have differing levels of both authority and accuracy, contrary to what you are arguing. The very labels that you apply to them indicate value judgments based upon preconceptions of authority and accuracy (and any interpreter, upon hearing or making these value judgments will act in accordance with them, which inhibits the objective nature of the investigation). Any time you introduce comparative value judgments, you have immediately removed objectivity, because value is subjective, not objective. Authority and accuracy are implicit and necessary qualities that exist in any interpretive schema, be it a subjective or objective schema.

This further serves to point out the necessity for applications of methodologies beyond a strict scientific methodology, in that, before the suspension of disbelief (if such should necessarily occur), it is necessary to determine the boundaries within which we should and can suspend disbelief-and to provide warrant for those boundaries.

They are different types of evidence which should be treated as such, and the concept of "authority" doesn't enter into it.

Ethos and authority very much enter into it, as they enter into any aspect of interpretation or methodology (the selection of a particular methodology, in itself, is often an appeal to the ethos/authority of the particular method). The entire concept of authority permeates the discussions regarding the validity of particular interpretations and particular representations when dealing with fictional realities? if this is not so, then why are numerous representations of various fictional realities ignored, deprecated or more highly valued than others? If it's all evidence (since you argue that authority plays no role), why is it that not all the evidence is used?

Star Trek's rules

In order to turn an ostensibly philosophical, generalized sci-fi debate into a debate about the particulars of Star Trek (as per standard Trekkie modus operandi), you quoted some passages from Paramount's website:

As a rule of thumb, the events that take place within the live action episodes and movies are canon, or official Star Trek facts. Story lines, characters, events, stardates, etc. that take place within the fictional novels, the Animated Adventures, and the various comic lines are not canon.

This is fairly unequivocal. They state quite clearly that the "live action episodes and movies" are canon. They do not make that statement for anything else.

Pocket Books have published several excellent reference guides, but due to the overwhelming nature of the Star Trek oeuvre, it's nearly impossible to create technical reference for every ship seen on the show. However, they have gone a long way to help those of you who are technically minded by publishing the following books: "Star Trek: The Next Generation - U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D Blueprints, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual and the "Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual.

There have been earlier versions of technical manuals, including "Mr. Scott's Guide to the Enterprise" (Shane Johnson) and the "Star Trek Starfleet Technical Manual" (Franz Joseph), but these books, although fun to read, were not written by production personnel and are not considered 'canon.'

You conclude that "These statements imply that the reference materials produced by members of the show's production staff also have canonical or quasi-canonical status," which I can only imagine is a desperate attempt to enforce your preferred conclusion upon the facts. At no point does this state or imply that the books are canon. In fact, it states very explicitly that certain books are not canon, and you take an enormous leap of faith to conclude that other books are therefore canon.

Then you, perhaps, need to brush up on your English if you think that a statement that particular books are not canon means that all books are not canon- if all books were not canon, it would have been much simpler and clearer to so state in the first paragraph. In the first paragraph we have a statement that events within the live action episodes and movies are canon. We have a statement that material in the fictional novels, TAS and comics are not canon. The statements do not rule out canonicity for any materials not explicitly listed, but do tell us some material that is canon. The TMs do not fall under the classification of fictional novels (indeed, they are later referred to as reference guides), TAS, or comics; therefore, they are not covered by the second statement in the first paragraph.

In the third paragraph we have an additional statement of what is not canon (earlier versions of TMs) that is in a syntactical contrast to the second paragraph about the TNG TM, DS9 TM, and blueprints. The contrast is both one of linguistic positioning and of authorial qualification (production personnel contrasted to non-production personnel). The obvious conclusion (for those with sufficient understanding of the language and its forms) is that the TMs/materials listed in the second paragraph are, indeed canonical-as a minimum this is strongly implied. Their canonicity is not ruled out by any other official Paramount statement that I am aware of (please point out an official Paramount statement that says this, if you know of one).

Suppose a scientist says something like: "religious books are handy for religious folks, but Christian books such as the Bible are not scientifically valid. They were not written by scientists, and they are basically useless." Would you look at this quote and conclude that therefore, any book written by a scientist is valid? Scientists make mistakes too, which is why even the greatest piece of scientific literature cannot contradict a legitimate observation. Suppose you saw a creationist book written by a scientist (yes, they exist; the power of childhood brainwashing is an impressive thing to behold); would you accept it, because it skirts by the semantics of the scientist's statement? Do you know what the "black and white fallacy" is? If A and B are opposites on a spectrum, you cannot show that A is true simply by showing that B is not true.

That is why I used the term implication.

Worse yet, you seem to have "accidentally" forgotten that John Ordover, senior editor of Pocket Books (the publisher of the Technical Manuals) stated quite clearly that "Nothing is canon except what you see on screen" on October 5, 1998 (and don't tell me you've never seen this quote, because I know you have). I guess you figured that you didn't have to mention it because of your clever word-play earlier (if you're not in corporate law, you missed your true calling), as if Mr. Ordover would have any incentive to understate the importance of a product which he sells for money, or as if he never talked to Paramount about its canonicity.

Mr. Ordover's intentions/motivations are not germane, nor is his statement, as it is not an official statement of Paramount policy regarding canon in the Trek franchise. Mr Ordover is not an employee (so far as I am aware) of Paramount, nor is Pocket Books a subdivision of Paramount. His statement is also post-dated by the statements given above, still to be found on the official Star Trek website (run, IIRC, by Paramount Digital Entertainment, a subsidiary of Paramount Pictures). So far as I am aware, those statements are the current definitive statements regarding canonicity within the franchise.

If the senior editor of the company which publishes the Technical Manuals states flat-out that they are not canon, what possible reason do you have to believe they're canon? Vague implication? Vague implications don't trump explicit statements, Robert. The TMs were only written to "help those of you who are technically minded" as they put it, ie- help Treknobabble fanatics get their "fix".

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule: the Jeri Taylor penned novels "Mosaic" and "Pathways." Many of the events in these two novels feature background details of the main Star Trek: Voyager characters. (Note: There are a few details from an episode of the Animated Adventures that have entered into the Star Trek canon. The episode "Yesteryear," written by D.C. Fontana, features some biographical background on Spock.)

Notice once again that they do not explicitly state that these novels are canon. They state only that certain novels should not be completely ignored (by virtue of having particular story elements verified in televised episodes), and that certain things have "entered into the Star Trek canon", by way of being seen on a TV episode. Why is it so hard to admit that something must be in a TV episode in order to be canon?

See above.

You are desperately treading water, by pitting vague implications against explicit statements. While you struggle to make people believe that a statement "implies" that books can be canon, I have senior executives from both the TV show and the book publisher stating in plain English that they are not! Not only is there the Ordover statement, but Ron D. Moore also piped up:

"Actually, NONE of the books are considered canon. We consider only the filmed episodes (and movies) to be canon for our purposes. We do use things like the Encyclopedia, the Chronology, the Technical Manual etc. for reference, but unless it was explicitly mentioned on screen, we won't feel bound by anything stated even in those books."- Ron D. Moore, executive co-producer of Star Trek, quoted by Graham Kennedy.

And in case you need repetition:

"None of the the books should be considered canon"- quoted from a Trekweb.com archive of one of Ron D' Moore's AOL chats from October 1, 1998.

Game, set, and match. I'll be signing autographs in the lobby.

And, again, the material listed on the website post-dates those statements (by someone no longer in a position to make such statements, although he was, at the time). Mr. Moore left the employ of Paramount some time ago. If his statements are in effect, then the information on the website needs to be adjusted. As it has not been adjusted to reflect his statements and is currently posted, it currently represents the official Paramount policy regarding canonicity in the franchise. It is the only currently valid statement regarding such.

But, enough of that particular segue, it was not my intention to actually discuss what is and is not canon in that particular sense, but in the sense of how canonicity is determined and its role in authority/accuracy (neither of which you really addressed in a convincing manner, from my perspective).

Analysis of Evidence

After that completely unnecessary side-track, you went on to the real subject of this debate:

"Since the depictions that we are dealing with are neither religious scriptures nor great works of literature, the question then arises as to how the term "canon" is being applied here. Note that canonical status appears to be tied primarily to events and matters of fact, not the actual phenomenological details of the representations."

Plain English translation: "visuals are not canon.". Didn't you say you would try to avoid this long-winded legalese? Don't try to sell me that line about how you're trying to be "precise"; that's the same excuse lawyers use, and they're lying. This kind of language is about covering your ass and trying to make yourself look smart, not about precision. Scientific papers have greater precision than any literary or legal work, and they don't use this kind of language.

Because they are not concerned with nuances of language and are not aimed at people concerned with said nuances. Don't complain about the presentation, address the content. Language is very important, particularly in literary and legal work and it is the realm (in those contexts) in which precision is key.

Anyway, could you beg the question any harder? You said you would argue that visual representations are poor sources of information. How can you simply state your conclusion as a premise?

I intended to discuss it in my subsequent post (as I note at the end of that particular post), so your objection here is out of context, as I note:

The concepts of canonicity and authority tie into the question of accuracy-the accuracy of the particular representation in question in regards to its depiction of the fictional reality. This will be addressed more directly in my next post, which is concerned with:

[3.2] What do the particular constraints and misrepresentations due to the rhetorical, stylistic and production constraints inherent in the textual modes do to shape and inform the evidence that can be gathered via interpretation of the text; and what, if anything should be done to account for them?

So the rest of what you had to say here is jumping the gun, somewhat. I have spent most of my time dealing with your reply here and am running out of time/energy-so I will save it for my next post.

If this statement goes unchallenged, your logic is entirely circular: "visual effects should not be treated as canon because I declare that they are not canon"! You continue:

"in other words, it is stated that, "the events that take place within the live action episodes and movies are canon, or official Star Trek facts." In other words, an event (the birth or death of a character, for example; or the presence of the USS Enterprise in a particular location at a particular time) has canonical status; while a strong argument can be made that the visual (VFX, for example) details do not enjoy "canonical status" that is, that the dramatic elements are separate considerations from the content."

Plain English translation: "the Paramount website uses the word "events", and I interpret "events" to mean everything but visuals".

If "a strong argument can be made" that visuals are not included in the definition of "events", then go ahead and make it. It's bad enough that you base your entire argument on this kind of nitpicky semantics nonsense, but you're still begging the question. First you defined canon as "everything but visuals". Then, you defined "events" as "everything but visuals". Sorry, but those are not the proper definitions of those words! An "event" is merely an "occurrence", and the definition does not in any way exclude the appearance of that occurrence!

Nor does it necessarily include appearance, depending upon the context. In objective reality, appearance and event are not easily (or usually separate), but the same is not necessarily true of fictional settings.

In real life, do we say that an "event" like the explosion of the Space Shuttle is defined only as the commentators' words, and not the visuals? You're trying to define your conclusion as a premise, and sneak it in on the coattails of some other idea, like canonicity or "events".

This particular conception of canon flows from the nature of the representations in question and the role of "canonicity" in continuity considerations. In order to maintain continuity over the run of a series (or over several series and movies, etc.), it is necessary to designate, through some means, events and facts that cannot (or should not) be altered. Thus the designation of events as canonical; meaning nothing more than that this event is an established part of the continuity of Star Trek and should not be ignored or discarded without cause or explanation. This internal, continuity-based designation, has been extended, by the audience, to encompass all aspects of an episode or movie (including the VFX).

Plain English translation: "(repeating yourself) canon events don't include visuals, blah blah blah, lots of unnecessary words."

You are committing the "complex question" fallacy, by packaging your definition of "canon" and your preferred method of analyzing canon together as one conjoined idea. The producers merely tell us what is and isn't canon. They do not tell us how to analyze it! They do not tell us whether we should differentiate between visual effects and other onscreen information, and I strongly object to your obvious attempt to make it seem as if the objective analysis of visual effects would somehow violate the producers' wishes. You are merely trying to reserve the right to pick and choose which portions of a canon film or TV show you will accept, and that is not permissible if you are suspending disbelief.

And, again, where did I mention or require the suspension of disbelief, anywhere, in my discussion? And do you not reserve the right to pick and chose which portions of the representation you will accept, based upon value judgments and other criteria? If you say that you don't, then you are lying. Criteria and warrants for what aspects of events are and are not utilized exist (and should exist) both in objective reality and in fictional realities. These decisions are arbitrary in that they are the result of convention and of particular methodologies. They have warrant within a particular convention or methodology, but not necessarily outside of it.

For these discussions to occur, the audience agrees to suspend disbelief.

Within a particular convention, perhaps. As you are enjoining me to, I am attempting to take a larger scale perspective on the philosophical and methodological issues here. Again, it is not actually required for analysis to occur (indeed, most literary and rhetorical analysis stands outside of the suspension of disbelief-and since I am approaching this from the perspective of rhetorical/literary analysis, working outside of that context of suspension of disbelief is appropriate.

If you suspend disbelief while watching a movie or TV show, you assume it is genuine footage. You are not permitted to differentiate between "visual effects" and "events". Everything is simply happening before your eyes, and you are not permitted to question it. If you refuse to suspend disbelief, then simply admit it and move on, instead of straddling the fence. Every conclusion on my website is made under the premise that we are suspending disbelief when watching the TV shows or movies that make up Star Wars or Star Trek. If you reject "suspension of disbelief", then do not participate in discussions where it is accepted by all the participants.

Then perhaps we actually have nothing to say to each other, as my approach does not necessarily involve the suspension of disbelief. We certainly appear to be mis-communicating on a large scale here.

If this were a correct application of the term, then it would be "canon" that there is a medium in Star Trek space to carry the sounds of the ships to the listener's ears and that background music plays out of nowhere during especially dramatic moments. These particular examples are somewhat extreme, but serve to point out the essentially arbitrary nature of what we decide to include/not include under the umbrella of canon within the context of a particular representation. These things (the sound and background music) are done no less for dramatic purposes than are aspects of the visual representation (VFX).

How is it "arbitrary" to disregard a musical score or sound effects? A piece of WW1 war footage or space shuttle footage often has sound effects and music superimposed on it in real life when it is packaged for public viewing, and we do not summarily declare that it would be "arbitrary" to take its visual evidence at face value.

Because the interpretive context is entirely different between an audience's viewing of newsreel footage (a representation of a actual, objective event, which occurs within a particular interpretive environment) vice a fictional representation approached from a literary/rhetorical perspective (which is a subjective event , being viewed in a different interpretive environment).

All that matters is whether the footage is genuine or faked, and that's where the concept of "canon" comes into play. To be "canon" simply means that the footage is indeed genuine, so we suspend disbelief and treat it as we would any other piece of authentic footage in real life. There is nothing "arbitrary" about it.

No, actually, it is arbitrary, as it depends upon what are effectively arbitrary designations of authority and accuracy. These designations are real (or, at least have effective reality), but no less arbitrary for that reality.

There is, however, something rather arbitrary about the viewer refusing to accept what he sees on screen based on a stubborn refusal to suspend disbelief, while simultaneously accepting the existence of (and certain theories of operation for) things like transporters, instead of admitting that they were merely invented by the VFX department because they couldn't afford shuttle landing shots. I grow tired of saying this, and you're not the first person who has forced me to make this statement: there is no such thing as "visual effects" if we suspend disbelief!

I suspect that you will need some examples to clarify this situation, so I am providing two:
  1. The following link is to a very small page from which you can view footage of an astronaut talking about his experiences in space. You will hear a commentator, and you will also hear the astronaut himself talking. By your strange logic, we must discard the "visual effects" of this footage, because we can hear sound in space! Anything else would be "arbitrary!" So why don't we discard the visuals? Because we know that it is genuine footage, ie- "canon" in a sci-fi universe. The addition of audio commentary does not in any way suggest that the visuals have been altered or fabricated.
  2. When Osama Bin Laden's video tape was released, we accepted that English subtitles were added to the picture rather than assuming that there were glowing yellow letters floating in the room with him. The existence of the subtitles did not invalidate the footage! Is that "arbitrary" too?

It does not invalidate the footage, but it alters the interpretive context (which is one of my concerns). You have, in essence, altered the representation, with various effects (depending upon what the alteration is and what the context of viewing/interpretation is).
You draw a false dilemma between mindless interpretation of visual footage and a refusal to suspend disbelief, quietly ignoring the option of intelligent, objective analysis of that footage. Then, you falsely characterize my approach as "arbitrary" without giving any reasons that would even remotely hold up in reality. In reality, there are perfectly good, non-arbitrary reasons to disregard a movie's music track, just as there are for pieces of real-life footage. The only way out is to claim that the footage is faked, ie- generated in a special effects lab, which (for the umpteenth time) is not possible if you suspend disbelief! Unless you're willing to preface all of your arguments with a disclaimer that you refuse to suspend disbelief, then stop butting into a debate where the viewer's suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite for participation.

Again, I think you are misunderstanding/misrepresenting what my position/argument is, because of your fixation on suspension of disbelief. This (suspension) is something that we need to address further if we are to continue. Problems with methodology extend to the base assumption in which that methodology is rooted (which is one of the points that I was intending to make). Within a defined context, the rule of the particular game apply (i.e. agreement as to what constitutes acceptable evidence, whether or not suspension of disbelief is required, and so on)-anything that conforms to the rules of the context is valid. That which does not conform is invalid. My major point is not that a particular method is universally valid (or invalid) as this statement is patently false. What I am trying to point out is that there is not simply one correct way of creating a self-consistent model of a fictional universe (or of utilizing that model in various contexts)-and I am trying to make clear, through this discussion, exactly what lies underneath what most people simply accept (often uncritically) as being the "correct" way to do a particular thing.

Your entire discussion of Star Trek books was a useless red herring, and it only occurred because you followed standard Trekkie modus operandi ("all sci-fi discussions should revolve around Star Trek"). You said you wanted to debate the general philosophy of sci-fi analysis. I say: "Fine. Do it.". Because up till now, all you've done is to fallaciously bundle your conclusion as a premise, play games with semantics, and drag this debate into your vortex of Trek obsession.

Click here to see my rebuttal


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