Star Trek, Axanar and the power of stories

axanar

I have mentioned that I am a firm believer in the power of narrative, and the rhetoric of stories. I will now prove it to you with a story. Star Trek has been one of the biggest narrative phenomenons of the last century, spanning 6 decades with 5 TV series, 12 movies, cartoons, and novels. The fact that it was science fiction, which is sometimes regarded with similar amounts of scorn to fantasy, makes these facts all the more remarkable.
For anyone who is unaware Star Trek, over the course of the series and movies, tells the story of the starship Enterprise, the flagship vessel of Starfleet. Starfleet is the exploration, science, and sometimes military arm of the United Federation of Planets, an intergalactic alliance of worlds, governed from a utopian Earth. Technology has effectively wiped out hunger, disease and the need for currency on Earth. I labour this point for one reason. Star Trek was a phenomenally successful TV show when released, including in the United States, and it was promoting socialist/communist Utopia at the height of the cold war, no one noticed; that is the power of stories.
So, Star Trek is immensely successful and has the aforementioned list of productions, and I want to take this opportunity to promote a current Trek product currently in production.

 

Axanar is a film that tells the story of the 4 years war with the Klingons and is the time period when the constitution class (the class of vessel that the Enterprise was) was being designed and built. What is amazing, at least to me, is that no major studio is funding this production. It is being crowd funded. Which is to say people donate some money, get a perk or two, and if enough people donate they finish production. People are moved to part with their hard earned cash because they want to see how the story ends. They are motivated by the story. The Prelude clip is amazing quality, with some pretty good names attached to it, and actually demonstrates the power of narrative within it. Admiral Ramirez, played by Tony Todd, establishes the narrative, that the death of the ideal of the Federation is far scarier to him than his own death. And he does so passionately.
So, lets talk about the secrets of Narrative for a minute. Actually, they aren’t secret, they were written down by Aristotle thousands of years ago in his essay, the Rhetoric.
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, though it is often mislabeled in the media, it is the art of building a story. Rhetoric has three components. Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Ethos is the character of the speaker, who they are, the strength of their brand, what you know of them and their ideals. Pathos is the emotional content of the narrative, whether it be an appeal to patriotism as in Ramirez, or paranoia and fear as in certain political parties. Logos is the factual content of the narrative.
People respond to stories, rather than facts, and they respond to individuals they can identify with or trust rather than the unknown. Looking at the Ramirez address in Prelude, his ethos appeal is he is a Starfleet Admiral, therefore someone who is highly trained, courageous and reliable. His pathos is targeting the patriotism in the room. Remember, in the Federation people don’t need currency, they work to better themselves. People join Starfleet to protect the Federation and improve it. The pathos appeal is intended to remind the audience of why they joined Starfleet in the first place. More simply put, it addresses the question ‘Why should I listen to you?’ with the answer ‘We have similar beliefs.’ Pathos addresses the why, and this is a very good place to start in persuasion.
In a less positive example, some politicians use the same techniques. Their ethos appeal being, I am one of you/I am like you, their pathos appeal letting the audience know they share their fears. I would recommend the study of rhetoric, if for no other reason than to make sure people can’t use it against you. Because an unscrupulous individual is more than capable of winning an argument with Ethos and Pathos, without every bothering to include logos. Or, in less academic terms, they are all flash and no substance. Mouth, and no trousers. You get the point.

Back to Axanar. The ethos appeal of Axanar is that it is Star Trek. And it has several reasonably famous actors already cast in leading roles adding credibility. The Pathos of the product is ‘We love Star Trek. So do you. We want this to happen. So do you.’ And the logos woul be the running total of money already crowd funded. They have met initial goals but do still need more money. I am more than happy to say I am a contributor, and I very much would like to tell this story (with my spin on it, of course) as I love Star Trek and want to know how the story ends.

You can donate to the campaign page here

Also, read Aristotle. Or some other book on Rhetoric. You Talkin to Me by Sam Leith is an accessible and entertaining venture into the study of a classical discipline that is no longer as prevalent as it should be. If more people understood the tradecraft of it, unscrupulous individuals might get away with less.

All the best

John

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