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Non-Review Review: Dating Amber

Dating Amber is a sweet, if perhaps overly familiar, coming of age story.

Dating Amber has a pretty compelling hook. Eddie and Amber are both gay teenagers growing up in rural Ireland during the mid-nineties. The country has just decriminalised sodomy, and finds itself in the midst of a highly divisive and contentious referendum on divorce. Against this backdrop, Amber hits on a clever idea to avoid the scrutiny of her classmates. She and Eddie will pretend to be a couple, so that they can both present as heterosexual long enough for Amber to escape this suffocating environment.

Vicious cycles.

It’s a very straightforward but compelling premise. It evokes the set-up of something like Easy A, tapping into the youthful anxieties of teenage life, and combines it with the increasingly progressive and diverse entries into the genre like Love Simon or Handsome Devil. Writer and director David Freyne draws from his own teenage experiences to add a level of authenticity, and the film is elevated by two winsome performances by Lola Petticrew and Fionn O’Shea.

The film lacks the delicate tonal balance that is necessary to elevate a teenage coming of age story from a charming affair to a classic of the genre, swerving too dramatically from its playful and cheeky opening premise to an overly earnest and sincere final stretch. It allows suffers slightly from a heavy reliance on formula, hitting most of the marks expected of a story like this, but never really finding a way to push past those conventions into something more profound or insightful. However, Dating Amber is an appealing and engaging entry into the genre.

Couple of friends.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rejoined (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

For a show that is supposedly about an enlightened and utopian future, Star Trek really doesn’t have the best record when it comes to gay rights.

Many fans laud the work that the franchise did in popularising the Civil Rights anxieties of the sixties, offering memorable and distinctive parables and the futility of racism while offering one of the first interracial kisses to air on national television. Fans of the franchise are quick to celebrate these triumphs as an example of Star Trek holding up a mirror to contemporary society and championing the causes of equality and social justice. It is part of the mythmaking that Gene Roddenberry baked into the foundation of the Star Trek legend.

A Trill alone...

A Trill alone…

Of course, the reality is more complicated. As important as it was to have a racially diverse crew on the bridge of the classic Enterprise, that idea came from the studio rather than Roddenberry. The show defended and vindicated the Vietnam War just as often as it criticised and opposed it. The interracial kiss in Plato’s Stepchildren might had more meaning if it weren’t an example of telepathic mindrape by sadistic aliens, or if it had aired before I, Spy had broadcast its own interracial kiss.

As much as fans like to believe Star Trek is progressive and enlightened, the franchise does not have as strong a track record as its advocates would contest. This is particularly true of the depiction of homosexuality in Star Trek. In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, David Gerrold’s script for Blood and Fire was scrapped. Richard Arnold claimed that it was because the script was terrible; but this was the same season that produced The Last Outpost, Angel One and The Neutral Zone. It seems “terrible” is a relative term.

Kiss me.

Kiss me.

There were other examples. During production of The Offspring, there are accounts of David Livingston sprinting down to the sets to stop a shot of a same-sex couple holding hands making it into the episode. When the show finally decided to do an allegory for homosexuality, it was careful to cast a female performer in the role of Riker’s love interest to be sure that the audience did not get the wrong idea. The mirror universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are populated with gay stereotypes and clichés.

No matter how alien the creatures in Star Trek might get, sexuality tends towards heterosexual. In Metamorphosis, Kirk and Spock only realise that the Companion is attracted to Cochrane once they deduce the creature’s gender. Odo’s pseudo-sexual relationship with other Founders is typically expressed in relation to the character known as the Female Changeling. (Chimera does try to fix this.) Although there have been allusions to Andorian marriages featuring four partners, Star Trek: Enterprise presents the relationships as decidedly normative.

Take a bow!

Take a bow!

What little queer content exists seems to have slipped in under the radar. There is a decidedly homoerotic undertone to Amok Time. In The Offspring, Data allows Lal to assign her own gender and Whoopi Goldberg defined kissing as something that happens when “two people” (rather than “a man and a woman”) fall in love. In Rules of Acquisition, Jadzia Dax suspected that Quark’s newest employee had a crush on the rogue trader; Dax was just surprised to discover that the waiter in question was a woman in disguise who was trying to subvert the Ferengi patriarchy.

All of this serves to make Rejoined the most successful Star Trek episode to deal with the topic of homosexuality. This is not to argue that Rejoined is perfect or flawless. It is a science fiction show that aired in 1995, and there are some uncomfortable subtexts to the whole story. At the same time, its heart is in the right place. Rejoined is a beautiful piece of work, because it represents a rare example of the franchise trying to live up to its own publicity. In doing so, it serves to emphasise how frequently (and easily) the property has allowed itself to fall short.

Just Trilled to be there...

Just Trilled to be there…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Stigma (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It’s been a long road.

Continuing the effort in Dawn to refocus Star Trek: Enterprise on franchise core values, Stigma offers a good old-fashioned allegory episode. It is a script clearly designed to stand alongside earlier iconic Star Trek shows like A Taste of ArmageddonErrand of MercyLet That Be Your Last BattlefieldToo Short a SeasonThe High GroundHalf a LifeEthics, The Outcast, Rejoined and Distant Origin. This is a big and important episode, dealing with big and important themes. In this case, the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS and (whisper it) homosexuality.

It's just not in the show's DNA at this point...

It’s just not in the show’s DNA at this point…

Of course, it arrives well over a decade too late. Writer David Gerrold had pitched his own allegory about HIV/AIDS and homosexuality with Blood and Fire during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The script was a little clunky, but – rather than rework it – the producers decided to shut it down completely. During that show’s third season, David Livingston was on hand to stop the show from providing the franchise’s first glimpse of a homosexual couple in The Offspring. What queer content made it into Star Trek seemed somewhat haphazard.

The decision to allow Lal to chose her own gender in The Offspring is remarkable, because it goes almost unremarked. Dax’s deduction that Pel has a crush on Quark in Rules of Acquisition comes before Pel reveals that she is a female passing herself off as male. The sincerity of The Outcast was somewhat undermined by the decision to cast a female performer in the role of genderless alien who is attracted to Riker. The good work of Rejoined is undercut by the crassness of Profit and Lace and The Emperor’s New Cloak.

Meditating on a contemporary issue...

Meditating on a contemporary issue…

There was a time when an episode like Stigma would have seemed cutting edge and provocative. Broadcast during the first (or even the second) season of The Next Generation, the episode would have challenged a number of the underlying public assumptions about the spread of HIV/AIDS and attacked a very real (and very frank) homophobic policy from the government. The biggest problem with Stigma is that it features Captain Jonathan Archer instead of Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

Of course, this suggests a very tangible issue with Enterprise at this stage of its life-cycle. It still feels like a show stuck in the past. This is still Star Trek as it was being produced in 1989, despite the fact that it is now 2003. It is a problem that has haunted Enterprise since the broadcast of Fight or Flight, but one which is really emphasised not only by the plotting of Stigma, but also in its political targets.

"You know, given how often I seem to risk removal from the ship, I should probably just keep this packed..."

“You know, given how often I seem to risk removal from the ship, I should probably just keep this packed…”

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