Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Star Trek and the Olympics: Topicality and Imaginary Universes

Egnatius told me that if J.J. Abrams did not make Kahn the next villain in his Star Trek movie, he's kicking himself. Immediately, I realized this was true.


Well, it should be obvious to the viewers of the Olympics. A few days ago, a 16 year old swimmer beat the time that Ryan Lochte swam in the 400m individual medly for the last 50m. This seems highly unprecedented and she's been dubbed a "supergirl." Immediately, commentaters said "doping," but my reaction was "genetic enhancement." And then I realized I'd probably just been watching too much Deep Space Nine.

However, today I read that I'm not the only one who jumped to this conclusion. The Daily Mail argued that some scientists are taking the genetic enhancement claim seriously. According to the same article, scientists have successfully tested genetic procedures using genetically modified viruses to improve the athletic endurance, muscle tone, and ability to gain weight in rats. I can imagine that an unscrupulous group of coaches, scientists, or both might be tempted to experiment on some athletes. I mean, athletes are already storing up liters of their won blood in order to put back into their bodies right before a match for increased endurance. Why not use a virus to genetically modify themselves?

What happens when one country can modify its athletes? Imagine, for a moment, that Ye Shi Wen is genetically enhanced rather than just incredibly well-trained. If China were to be successful with one athlete, they would probably try to modify as many as possible. As the technology is so recent-- the human genome was only sequenced in 2003-- the success rate would start off pretty low. In my same imaginary universe, they might start sweeping the games in around 2020 with athletic Frankensteins. At this point, things could start to turn ugly. Perhaps the rest of the world would band together in order to discover a means of genetic testing. Politics immediately become embroiled (as they already have in real life-- China claims that the world is biased against them). There might even be a low-level cold war type scenario-- the genetics wars...

Obviously this is a bit unrealistic, but it might just be real enough to help a box office smash. While I maybe a little unusual, this idea about genetic modification must be pretty widespread and will probably be discussed extensively in the press. While the Bourne Legacy, coming out this month, is about genetic modification and supersoldiers, it is a theme that has run through American cinema for a while and probably will not get a substantial topicality boost. However, the idea of a big blockbuster coming out about eugenics wars might make people think. There has been a rumor going around that Benedict Cumberbatch is set to play Kahn, the genetically enhanced supervillain from the 1967 episode "Space Seed" and the movie Wrath of Kahn was a tyrant from the Eugenics Wars on Earth, after which genetic modification was banned in the Federation (this is revisited in Deep Space Nine). While, in reality, we didn't sequence the human genome until 13 years after the Eugenics Wars were supposed to have began, at some point, genetic re-sequencing will become a massive political and ethical issue. And, if the seemingly absurd supposition that one of the Olympic athletes was enhanced turns out to be correct, the day might be coming sooner that we think. If Abrams did create a new Kahn movie, then he's right on the money (in more ways than one).

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