This week I have watched the TV in utter horror. I don’t say this to be political, and I don’t mean for this to be derogatory toward conservatives (on the contrary, real conservatism has a lot of virtue), but the RNC has been a parade of ignorance and hate. It is a parade of unthinking and unwavering “patriotism” in the face of a world facing increasingly complicated challenges. I see countries like Turkey on the verge of religious dictatorship, and other countries electing demagogues to “protect” them from masses of unarmed women and children whose only crime is the color of their skin. The world feels itself in crisis, and I think that’s the reason the world needs Star Trek.
Star Trek is Meant for a World in Crisis
When Star Trek debuted fifty years ago, it was not into the picturesque Norman Rockwell world we tend to think about. It was into a world threatened on a daily basis by the escalation of a seemingly perpetual Cold War into a hot one, one in which nuclear fire could consume all life. We also saw the death of Malcolm X the year before, and the recurrence of riots in Watts, California. The world had a growing since that it was becoming more dangerous, the gleeful post-war years were coming to an end. Star Trek grew out of this. Lets not forget that many of the talent behind and in front of the screen were veterans of World War II. Gene Roddenberry himself had see some horrible things, but for all his character flaws he was absolutely a hero. He had pulled people out of a burning plane before himself becoming a cop in LA in the late 50s before writing full time. These people had seen tough times, and in response Roddenberry and Co. crafted a story that was not only fun, it was challenging to the times it was in.
Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations
In a time where 88 percent of the country was white, Star Trek endeavored to give non-whites a place. Sulu was Japanese. Uhura was black. Later Chekov was Russian (he was white, but they showed a man who should otherwise be an enemy as an important part of the crew). The show would come to be famous for the first interracial kiss (even though it was forced, and it wasn’t actually the first one), and later, the not so subtle analogy of the errors of racial warfare in “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” and subsequently war itself in “Day of the Dove.” Instead of placing a show where the tension was between the characters, it was between them vs what they encountered. Star Trek was always overwhelmingly positive and full of people who were professionals (some would call it competence porn).
Star Trek Can Challenge Our Times
If the last few days have taught me anything, it’s that Star Trek still has a lot to teach us. Television today is filled to the brim with anti-heroes (and outright villains) scheming in darkly lit rooms about who to kill next. In other places heroes fight amongst themselves for what little food and water they have left trying to overcome hordes of zombies/vampires/viruses/aliens/smoke monsters/glittering ponies/bronies/and whatever else you wanna throw in there. Everywhere we turn, all the stories we see just tell us that bad guys will take advantage of us until they get caught or killed. In the worst case we will die a brutal and meaningless death that is also lacking in character development (looking at you The Walking Dead).
Star Trek, better than anything else, shows that what makes great stories are great characters, and that they don’t have to be bad guys. More than that, it excels at showing people working together for the greater good. It shows good guys doing the right things for the right reasons regardless of the difficultly (that is, unless you’re Benjamin Sisko in that episode of Deep Space Nine). Star Trek can speak to the issues we see with the world today, like how a community reacts to people coming back from war, what the results of an increasingly militarized police for can be, regional instability, floods of refugees, illegal immigration, free trade agreements even. Star Trek is a perfect place to see these issues played out in a way that’s a lot less abstract than seeing talking heads debate on cable news.
Star Trek gives us an ideal to strive for. It shows that when we put aside our petty differences (because most arguments on Facebook are soooooo constructive and important), we gain a playground to see what happens when certain arguments are followed to their logical conclusion.
Take one of my favorite episodes, “The Drumhead.” In that episode the Enterprise is believed to be sabotaged and an investigation starts to determine who could be involved. The investigations begin to go too far, and eventually people’s careers are being put on the line because of who they are, not what they may or may not have done. Well, it ends with this marvelous scene:
Worf is mortified by how quickly he was able to turn from the ideals the Federation have instilled in him, and Picard doesn’t fault him. He understands that it’s all too easy to let your inner darkness take hold.
I’ve watched as a week’s worth of speakers who have denounced a political enemy, and I watched as a politician put up a “case” before a “jury” and read off a litany of hyperbolic language and half-truths and fabrications while and audience of thousands of people chanted “lock her up.” This isn’t an issue of wanting to have Star Trek back on the air.
The world needs Star Trek.