Friday, August 9, 2013


I’ve recently been taken to task by the consignor of the Star Trek TOS Phaser that was recently offered up for auction by Profiles In History auction house (read my story HERE). 
And by “taken to task”, I mean he called me “malicious, intellectually dishonest, misleading, unfair, mean-spirited, lacking character, without honor” and “a bully” on the RPF forum. And that was in a single thread.

It’s my own fault. I have a diabolical talent – I can read and write the English language. That’s right – I’ve been called a “hater” because apparently I’m not illiterate. 

Here’s the sentence from the Profiles catalog phaser copy that is the source of the trouble: 

“This fiberglass mid-grade pistol phaser is perhaps the most extensively researched TOS prop that we have ever auctioned, with all of its major features and numerous subtle contours in its design painstakingly screen-matched to several late 2nd and 3rd season The Original Series episodes including “Assignment: Earth”, “Spock’s Brain”, “Plato’s Stepchildren” and “The Cloud Minders”

As the title says – don’t shoot the messenger because, yes, that’s actually one sentence. And therein lies the nature of the problem – because it is so poorly written, you have to tear it apart to figure out its meaning. I came to the conclusion that the copy was claiming multiple screen-matches for the phaser. Especially since this text was accompanied by photos showing the features and episodes in question. But just to be sure, I asked the opinion of several others.

I write for a living, and when I have a language problem, I go to my wife, an English teacher with more than 30 years of experience under her lovely belt. I asked her to read the copy in question and tell me what it meant. She’s not well versed in my hobby so she was a blank slate. Perfect.

She peered at the paragraph-sized sentence and then looked at me in horror. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” I said. She reluctantly read through it, and then read through it again. And again. And again.  “This is awful. It's the very definition of a “comma splice”, she said.  A comma-splice is a sentence that would best be understood if it were two separate sentences. “I’d give it an F”, she added.

She then started to break it down on a piece of paper by using a tool of her trade – the sentence diagram (I kid you not!). Her scratches soon became gobbledlygook to me but after a few minutes she had her answer. Since the consignor likes to use diagrams and such – however confusing – to tell his story, I thought I’d take a page from his book. Here’s a cleaned up version of what she ended up with:

This shows how much my wife really loves me.
I know, right? THIS is a sentence? A poor one, but yes, it’s a sentence.

She explained thusly: “This sentence means ‘This phaser has been extensively researched. It has features and contours that have been screen-matched to four episodes’ ”. 

To further simplify: “It has features screen-matched to four episodes”. 

This is not open to interpretation. If you asked 12 English scholars what the sentence meant, you’d get a unanimous interpretation because a subject is a subject and an object is an object. 

So now we have to decide on what these specific words mean. They are self-evident to me, but apparently not to the consignor so here we go:

“Features and contours” can mean any form, shape, part or detail that makes up the phaser. 

“Screen-matched” means, in prop collector parlance, a specific piece can be matched EXACTLY to a scene through small defects or features that could only be unique to that piece. This is not my own personal definition but is one recognized universally throughout the hobby. Google it for yourself. Screen-matching a prop is extremely difficult, but not impossible. It is a super-charged term and one of the highest proofs of authenticity possible. 

So according to the above breakdown, the text means that this phaser was physically and specifically used in 4 different Star Trek episodes, by virtue of it having been screen-matched by Profiles in all four. 

But that claim is wrong. It can be screen-matched to ONE episode, which is still very cool! It’s enough to confirm screen-use, which is an incredible thing, and good enough, in my opinion, to say the phaser was likely real.

But the consignor feels Profiles does NOT make the “four episode” claim. He says the text "relates to the verification of design characteristics”. And that since later copy contradicts this earlier copy, it can't mean what *I* think it means. Huh?

What I THINK he says it means is that “features on this phaser look like features seen on phasers in various episodes.” See how easy that was? No convoluted wording, no murkiness, and NO CLAIMS OF SCREEN-MATCHING. The term "screen-matching" is nowhere to be found. And if that is indeed what Profiles MEANT, great – then they should have said that. The fact that they didn’t is not my fault. I have no psychic powers that permit me to read intent – I have to stick to the literal meaning of words.

And because of this convoluted B.S., I am scum for soiling the good name of Profiles, and, by extension, him. 

So here’s the question: how do YOU read it? Is my viewpoint so egregiously wrong and (apparently) dangerous as to trigger the extravagant rantings of the consignor? Does my analysis make me malicious, intellectually dishonest, misleading, unfair, mean-spirited, lacking in character, without honor” and a “bully”? (BTW – the name-calling was all one-sided, which makes calling me a bully especially poignant.)

To my mind, the consignor’s reaction is like that of a petty, whining schoolboy who didn’t get his way on the monkey bars. To extend the metaphor, I hope he takes his ball and goes home. But I’m not betting on it.

It’s important to keep in mind that, in the final analysis, I concluded that there was a screen-match to one episode and that the phaser was probably real. Furthermore, I stated that while it COULD be a fake, I didn’t think it was. But that wasn’t good enough for the consignor. By not agreeing with EVERY claim Profiles (and he) made, I was trying to undermine the authenticity of the piece, according to him. And so the rants began. NINE of them in one forum thread!

In a world where everything from Louis Vuitton handbags to Dutch Master oil paintings– AND STAR TREK PROPS – are forged, it would be irresponsible and stupid of me to take a look at some photos and declare it 100% authentic. To fault me for taking that stand is truly absurd, fundamentally shortsighted and just plain dumb. But this illuminates the differences between me and a lot of self-appointed “authorities” out there: I don’t claim to be omniscient, and I despise those that do. And here’s a news flash: saying it MIGHT be a fake is not saying it IS a fake. Asking people to judge for themselves should not be a crime.

This is not the first time this type of thing has happened. I’ve been accused of undermining past auctions because I didn’t swallow the company line whole. But I will always steadfastly assert that with big claims should come big proof. In this case, I actually agreed with the consignor. But I didn’t agree ENOUGH.

With this consignor (as well as some of his cohorts), it is apparently not possible to have a simple disagreement on things. If you disagree – however well grounded your reasons – you’re not only wrong, you’re evil. The mind-set is apparently one of infallibility on their part – any disagreement is heresy and will be dealt with as such. And so I'm malicious, etc.

They also have the ego to think that the only reason I write about what I do is so that I can attack them (because, again, any time I don't agree, it's an attack). How self-absorbed do you have to be to constantly put yourself in the center of the universe? When a Star Trek piece has an asking price of a hundred grand, I don't care who owns it, I'm going to write about it. Read the masthead – it's what I do!

The bottom line is that I don't hate these people. Far from it, as hatred requires caring about them one way or the other. I do pity them, though. Going through life expecting everyone to agree with you on everything and to kiss your ass at all times must be exhausting. I got over that when I was four. Apparently this type never will.

By the way, the consignor also accused me of accusing Profiles (and him) of being dishonest. He says the meaning of the copy is as clear as a bell and no reasonable person could interpret the copy as I have unless they had diabolical intentions. I'll leave it up to you to decide for yourself whose analysis is "intellectually dishonest". IMO, the text is written so poorly that Profiles was either incompetent or deliberately misleading. I can't say which. But I can say that words have meaning. If you want to change the meaning, choose better words.

One last thing – two pieces of advice.

To Profiles: hire a copywriter who writes English as a first language.

To the consignor: don't shoot the messenger. And learn how to read.



No comments:

Post a Comment