Star Trek - Life Imitates Art

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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.  

Comments

Norton Louis Added May 18, 2015 - 4:15pm
What's your favorite episode and why?
Norton Louis Added May 18, 2015 - 6:04pm
Daniel.....frankly as to first contact, I'd be afraid to have contact with an alien at this point.  Can you imagine an alien landing in the Middle East and encountering ISIS?  We're much to agressive and warlike I think to be invited into somebody elses Federation.
 
I agree, that Star Trek offers much to aspire to.  The elimination of money, and the ability and desire for folks to explore their full potential are attractive.
 
John....thanks.  Elon Musk is our Iron Man, is he not?  But your comparison to the ideals of a Star Trek captain I think is even more apt.  He is one of the only big thinkers of our current generation....and he has expressed a desire to get humanity onto another planet to help ensure our survival.  All our eggs are currently in one basket, so to speak.
Norton Louis Added May 18, 2015 - 6:51pm
Galactic Arkansas......LOL!!!!!!!
 
Below is a definition from the Galactic encyclopedia (known as Wiki here on earth).
 
Fermi Paradox:  The Fermi paradox (or Fermi's paradox) is the apparent contradiction between high estimates of the probability of the existence ofextraterrestrial civilization and humanity's lack of contact with, or evidence for, such civilizations
 
For me the most obvious solution as to why we have not been contacted is that we are comparative savages, and the watchers are waiting to see if we will first blow ourselves up before we get rid of our low intelligence and aggression by taking control of our genome.  No self respecting alien is going inflict themselves with eerie banjo music and an invitation to "squeal like a piggy".
Norton Louis Added May 18, 2015 - 9:40pm
I have to say that my favorite episode ever was the original Star Trek 2nd pilot.  The first pilot did not make it....ironically because Captian Pike was more like TNGs Picard. Pilot number one was eventually reused in a two part episode called "The Cage".
 
Lucille Ball believed in Gene Roddenberry, and exercised an option with NBC to shoot another pilot with the more action-oriented (and dramatic) William Shatner as Caplain Kirk.
 
The 2nd pilot was called "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and focused on exponentially growing powers of ESP.  The episode was an allegory for the maxim "absolute power corrupts absolutely" but also follows your Louis CK example that a sufficiently advanced alien culture would be something we would have difficulty relating to.  
 
Mr, Shatner is now 84, but he looks like he is 64....perhaps he picked up some alien DNA from the green girl?  
Norton Louis Added May 19, 2015 - 12:11am
I have a gold robe trimmed in black with gold captains rank piping on the sleeves and an authentic Star Trek logo on the left breast.....I wear it every day.
 
 I bought it in Vegas....wanted to get my wife the "doctor" blue robe, but she declined!
Patrick Writes Added May 19, 2015 - 2:54am
The invention of the character Q was great. And they had more problems with that holodeck that one could ever dream of. In real life, it would be a hazard with more problems than it was worth.
Norton Louis Added May 19, 2015 - 10:55am
Jamie, The flashing light in Pikes chair makes it a draw!
 
Patrick, that dangerous holo deck was one thing, but what about the consoles on the bridge kept blowing up in battle!  You'd think they could build consoles out of non-explosive material.........many lives have been lost by bridge officers while at their post on the bridge.
Norton Louis Added May 19, 2015 - 3:39pm
Cynthia...oh you HAVE to watch William Shatner as Captain Kirk in the original series.  He is a cultural phenomenom.  I will bet you feel differently after you witness his Space Cowboy swagger. 
 
He he was a combo of President Kennedy, John Wayne and Muhammad Ali; dressed up in a tight t-shirt, culottes and shiny space boots.  A twinkle was always in his eye while as he sucked in his stomach in front of a pretty girl......he was very much a prodigal son of his era.
Mike Haluska Added May 23, 2015 - 10:05am
I am a huge Star Trek fan, but I have to admit I was totally amazed by the SyFy re-make of "Battlestar Galactica".  Like a lot of people, I was highly skeptical of the re-make - the original wasn't a very good program.  But Ron Moore (writer for ST:TNG) created a new vision of science fiction that fans and non-fans of science fiction could enjoy. 
 
Battlestar Galactica is an allegory for our times, dealing with political, social and human issues while simultaneously frightening, exciting and surprising the hell out of the viewer for the entire series.  Validation of the viewer response was made when the show got the prestigious Peabody Award.
 
If you haven't seen the program, I highly recommend that you rent the 2 part mini-series pilot.  Don't expect the standard "Space Opera" fare of bizarre aliens, robot dogs, cliche's, etc.  Just be ready to get hooked on the Best Frakkin' Show on television ever! 

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