Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Traversing the Heavens' Expanse

What is “Vaka Rangi”?

The name Vaka Rangi comes from the common language of the Polynesian islands and the area making up the larger geopolitical region known as “Oceania”. Although each region in the Polynesian triangle has its own variations on it, it is commonly believed all of these dialects can be traced back to a common language, which would account for the striking similarities to be found in all of them.

The Ancient Polynesians and their ancestors were simply put the greatest mariners the world has ever seen and the term vaka (meaning canoe, or canoe hull, in several languages) displays the centrality of the concept to their culture. Spurred on primarily by limited resources and the need to manage sustainable populations, the Ancient Polynesians used voyaging canoes to settle remote and previously unpopulated islands throughout the Pacific Ocean, and many scholars claim they further managed to reach any shore that touched the Pacific and Southern Oceans. The Ancient Polynesians were explorers, navigators, poets, mystics and philosophers, not conquerors or empire-builders: For them, each vaka was not merely a watercraft or a means to an end, but a microcosm of Polynesian society and an island unto itself symbolizing the interconnectedness of the village, the sea, the Earth and the Heavens.

Rangi is thought to be derived from the hypothesized proto-Polynesian word “*laŋi”, meaning the sky, or the heavens. The variant “rangi” is found in several Polynesian languages, most notably that of the Maori and Rapa Nui. In Polynesian Reconstruction, a vaka is often given a secondary name to distinguish itself and its people, thus a “Vaka Rangi” would be “A Canoe for the Stars”.

Today, traditional Polynesian navigation is undergoing a renaissance, bolstered by, among other things, the rediscovery of ancient oral history and techniques on the outlying island of Taumako and a renewed sense of cultural pride in places such as Hawai'i and Samoa. Fleets of vaka once again roam the Pacific, this time to share their message of solidarity with the natural world. It is this spiritual exploration of the universe's interconnectedness that has been a guiding inspiration for my life and provided the impetus for this project, which I hope will help translate these concepts for those who, like me, grew up during Western post-industrialism. I felt the best way to explore this was to call upon another major interest of mine: Experimental comparative media studies.

What This Project Is

Vaka Rangi is the account of a spiritual journey. Vaka Rangi is a personal memoir. Vaka Rangi is an unauthorized post-structuralist critical history of Star Trek. Vaka Rangi is many things at once.

Fundamentally, this project an attempt at a critical history of utopian futurism in televised science fiction, particularly science fiction involving voyaging starships, from a specific perspective and using the Star Trek franchise as a “guiding text”. I chose Star Trek for a number of reasons, most notably for its substantial cultural capital in Western regions and my personal connection to it. I coined the term “Soda Pop Art” in another blog project of mine to refer to a product of commercialized pop culture that attains enough significance and ubiquity to become a kind of shared Western mythology. It is my belief Western cultures have a unique shared oral history all to themselves, but one that is paradoxically and often problematically bound up with concepts like corporatism, copyright and profit. It's this contradictory dualism that I invented the term “Soda Pop Art” to convey, and Star Trek is the Soda Pop Art that is the archetypical utopian voyaging starship story.

This blog is also the account of my personal history with Star Trek and similar science fiction stories and the many ways I have interacted with it throughout my life, but also the many ways in which I've found myself in opposition to it. My primary aim here is twofold: Firstly, it is to offer a unique critical re-evaluation and reinterpretation of Star Trek, and more generally the concept of the voyaging starship series, around themes of sustainability, communalisim, spiritualism, idealism and the troubled relationship between exploration and imperialism in Western literature. I'm particularly interested in how these themes have been dealt with and interpreted by various creative teams at various points in history and the repercussions caused by them being examined via Soda Pop Art. At the same time, Vaka Rangi is also an examination of my own positionality and how that has shaped my reading of Star Trek and works like it over time.

What This Project Is Not

Despite using Star Trek as a kind of “guiding text”, concerning itself with the series' ups and downs and frequently looking at various licensed spin-off works, Vaka Rangi is fundamentally not an attempt to craft a definitive, authorial history of the franchise. As it's structured around very specific themes and is at once built around my personal experiences with Star Trek and larger than it, readers already versed in Star Trek fandom might be surprised to find the sorts of things I've chosen to include in this critical history, and indeed some of the things I've chosen to omit. Perhaps strangely, given my extensive history with it, I only consider myself a casual Star Trek fan and this project reflects that. Those looking for episode guides, cast lists, discussions of canon, in-universe minutiae and behind-the-scenes information won't find it here and would be better served by something like the tremendous Star Trek wiki Memory Alpha or the great dead tree work of Paula Block and Terry J. Erdmann (both of which are sources I highly recommend). I'm interested in exploring one specific strain of thought within the franchise, not in writing a comprehensive documentation of every single thing ever to go out under the Star Trek banner.

How This Blog Works

I will be going through most, but not all, the works under the Star Trek name on a roughly episode-by-episode basis with frequent tangents (called "Sensor Scans") to look at related books, TV shows, movies and other comparable works. I'll also put a heavy emphasis on certain Star Trek spin-off projects in posts under the header "Myriad Universes" and plan to examine at length different aspects of Star Trek history and lore as a way of tracking how different groups and individuals have interpreted the franchise over the years in the "Ship's Log, Supplemental" posts. As Star Trek is Soda Pop Art, and a very ubiquitous breed of it at that. the merchandise side of the franchise is something I'll have to address as well: At the moment I plan to deal with that side of things in the "Totemic Artefacts" sections and, once the time comes for them, "Flight Simulators", i.e. video games. New entries will go up on this site each and every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for as long as I can stretch this theme and metaphor out.

Star Trek is an entity that has had a profound effect on my life and will remain a part of me forever. This is my best attempt at expressing why and how. I do hope you'll find the journey as rewarding and as enlightening as it will be for me.


  1. Sounds great. Looking forward to following this.

    1. Thanks for the well wishes! Every voyages needs something like that when setting off ;-)

  2. Directed here from Phil Sandifer's Tardis Eruditorum. It looks Fascinating. I'm on board!

    1. Thanks very much for stopping by-Glad to have you aboard!

  3. Good luck with the journey - came here to from Phil's blog. Will travel with you!

    1. Thanks for the well wishes and for stopping by!