The Best Thing JJ Abrams Gave To STAR TREK

The future is now slightly cooler.

One of the great scenes in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home sees Spock and Kirk riding a bus and forced to deal with the sound of a punk rocker's boombox. 

It's one of the iconic funny scenes from the film, and I absolutely love it. I understand that the tension in this scene comes from the idea that Kirk and Spock were born in a more genteel, civilized future. But at the same time, as a kid who grew up on both Star Trek and punk rock, it sort of bums me out. One of the premises of the joke is that late 20th century pop culture - especially punk and, judging by the rest of Trek, rock - will be forgotten by the 23rd century. Classical music and literature survives into the time of Kirk and Spock but it seems as if much of the rest of our modern culture is erased. The message: we live in an age where the art we make and consume is too barbaric for future generations. 

This is because Trek premiered just before a huge shift happened in our culture, where we began accepting pop culture as high culture. Star Trek premiered in 1966, the same year that The Beatles got kinda serious, and while Trek, like The Beatles, crossed over from pop to real culture, its basic ethos is stuck with the idea that there's a divide between high and low art*. Star Trek, weirdly, doesn't believe that Star Trek will be remembered in the 23rd century. 

I have a different view. I think Lennon/McCartney will be remembered 200 years from now on an equal level with Mozart. I think rock - and hip hop - will be folded into the category of old, possibly 'classical' music, and that kids in the 23rd century will find a lot of it hopelessly corny and outdated. They won't think of it as irritating noise, they'll think of it as ancient history and kind of boring. Imagine a group of 23rd century schoolkids being forced to sit through a holoconcert of 1960s hits, and they're all dozing off and fucking around, just as you did when your school dragged you to the Philharmonic when you were 9. 

Enter JJ Abrams. In his Star Trek reboot he changed a lot of things, many of them for the worse (I legitimately think blowing up Vulcan is a top ten all-time bad idea that has no payoff or point), but one for the much, much better. He introduced the idea that James T. Kirk listens to the Beastie Boys. 

A lot of fans hated this, even if they like the Beastie Boys. They hate it because they buy into Trek's vision of the future where everything is ever so slightly Muzak-y (a lot of them probably love Star Trek: The Next Generation, a seven season TV show set inside the conference room of a Marriott) and they have a kind of reactionary self-loathing for their own modern culture. But me? I loved it. I loved it from the beginning, and I loved it as not just a Beastie Boys fan but as a Trek fan. It made canonical sense to me. 

See, it's established that Kirk is a history buff and he's into antiques. He likes old stuff. The problem is that the Nick Meyer movie era further establishes the idea that Kirk's version of old stuff is the same as our version of old stuff - again, it's as if culture comes to a screeching halt around 1930 or so for these characters. But wouldn't it make sense that Kirk's fascination with antiques and old culture would extend to our time period? I buy it, and what's more, I like it. I like what it says about Kirk, in universe. He's cool and has swagger... but in an old-fashioned (for the 23rd century) way. When he's playing Body Movin' during his hook up scene in Into Darkness he's actually being sort of square; it's like taking a girl home in 2016 and playing Robert Johnson. I mean, it's fucking cool as hell, and the music is awesome, but it's likely that your date is going to be wondering why you're playing this weird sounding old-ass shit while making moves on her. 

 In total fairness to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, there is a throwaway gag where Spock mentions 'the literary giants of the late 20th century' and includes pop writers Harold Robbins and Jacqueline Susann. But that plays as more of a joke, a jab at the lack of 'serious' literature at the time. This is about the diminishment of culture, not about modern culture being great and enduring for hundreds of years. Abrams including the Beastie Boys is a statement that this music, our music, will live on.

Henry Rollins, troubador of Generation X, once said that our generation would be the first in history to be more hardcore than the one that came before and the one that came after. He has been proven right, and I guess I can forgive the 'punk = noise' thing in The Voyage Home on those grounds. But while I can give the movie a pass on the punk stuff, I don't believe that Star Trek should exist in a future that is untouched by our current culture. The movies and books and pop art of the late 20th/early 21st century should still resonate in some way in Trek's utopian world. I really want to live in the future that Gene Roddenberry envisioned, one where humanity has its shit together and has taken to the stars. I just don't want to live in that future if it means The Beatles no longer exist.