I remember first watching reruns of the original Star Trek series starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy after getting home from elementary school. Though I did not realize it at the time, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry frequently included ground breaking commentary on the human condition for us to ponder upon. For example, the first televised inter-racial kiss occurred between Capt. Jim Kirk, and his communications officer Lt. Ohura in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”. I also remember one episode in particular (The Outcast) within the successful second franchise Star Trek Next Generations. Second officer William Riker falls in love with an androgynous inhabitant of a planet where heterosexuality is considered to be a perverse atavism leftover from more primitive times. The parallels to our discussion today on homosexual rights in relation to marriage are obvious.
It is worth noting, that following Gene Rodenberry’s death, the Star Trek television franchises Deep Space Nine & Voyager were lacking in much visionary social commentary.
At any rate, I found myself pondering all of the Star Trek Captains recently, and some socio-economic parallels occurred to me that might be worth sharing. The original, mid-twentieth century Captain Kirk was brash, unafraid, sure of himself and the master of all he surveyed. He dove in feet first, led all of the landing parties on hostile planets and relished conflict as a means to reign triumphant. A perfect allegory for the feeling of invincibility we felt as a country in the late 60s and early 70s. The Next Generation series occurred in late 80’s to early 90’s. Here Captain Picard led with a more cerebral approach, and delegated authority in a much more methodical manner than his predecessor Captain Kirk. He seldom led the landing parties, and deferred that duty to his first officer. Again, this is perfect allegory for the time where U.S. President Reagan was urging us to run the country in a much more cerebral and businesslike manner.
Subsequent to Captain Kirk and Captain Picard, we saw diversity play a role in the Star Trek executive seats in the 90’s and early 00’s. A black Captain Sisko and a female first officer Nerys led Deep Space Nine. Following this series, a female Captain Janeway and an American Indian first officer Chakotay led Star Trek Voyager. Interestingly we have now had a black U.S. President and are strongly contemplating a female President in the U.S. for the first time. We’ve also had a potential female V.P. on a political ticket. Life imitates art.
So what do our Star Trek Captains currently say to us about the state of our existence today? Though there are rumors of an upcoming pilot for a new Star Trek TV series planned, we must turn to the most recent Star Trek movies to catch a reflection of our plight as a society. The most recent movies in the franchise (“Star Trek” and “Into Darkness”) return us to the heyday of the original series, but in a slightly altered timeline. A still brash, independent and intuitive Captain Kirk in “Star Trek” is a rebel outsider fighting an at times inept, moribund bureaucratic system to save us from a technologically superior enemy from the future. In the movie “Into Darkness:, Captain Kirk chases a one man weapon of mass destruction following an unprecedented act of terrorism that destroys much of Star Fleet. Again, life imitates art.
I assert that Star Trek movies are a profound reflection of the outlook of Western society. If true, the next Star Trek movie may focus on a collapse of some kind, whether environmental, economic or a collapse of freedom.