13 May, 2010


My appetite for all things Star Trek has bemused my friends. All the series and the movies… even the ones that might have been done better.

Don’t be misled; I have no interest in dressing up like Captain Picard or Mr. Spock. Perhaps I’m a poor ‘trekker’ in that regard. I’ve never attended a Star Trek convention, nor do I possess trek memorabilia of any kind. When I was small I did assemble a model star ship ‘Enterprise’ with flashing lights but that was all. I have managed to collect a range of televised Star Trek episodes on VHS. Sadly VHS has gone the way of cassettes, 8 tracks and vinyl albums.

To appreciate the Star Trek phenomena as do I you really have to grapple with those times.
I had finally gotten to the age where my parents would allow me stay at home (alone) on Friday nights (instead of dragging me to the grocery store). This was fine with me in part because I actually had control of the television for a few hours. Of course, we had only 3 channels but I did stumble onto Star Trek one night at 10 pm.

These were volatile years for America. It was shortly after the Kennedy assassination and our nation continues to be rabidly obsessed with that great mystery. We were making the conversion from ‘black and white’ to ‘color’ televisions, and those weren’t the only colors of the day. America was undergoing the civil rights movement. Inner cities throughout the nation were over the top with violent demonstrations. These demonstrations weren’t always about civil rights. We were still immersed in the Viet Nam war and tempers flared. Additionally, the ‘draft’ was still in place and the ‘space race’ was in full swing.

As you already know, a succession of Gemini and Apollo launches would eventually culminate in the first men to walk on the moon. You might not know that the final moonwalk was in 1972 (many years past).
Somewhere along here comes the fictional star ship ‘Enterprise’ representing an earth peopled by our future selves; an earth that has ostensibly eliminated war and poverty and discrimination. A powerful vessel, replete with food ‘replicators’ (no one goes hungry) and with hand held weapons that can be set to ‘stun’ (instead of kill). Doors retreat into the sidewall and computers speak aloud. Medical instruments scan our bodies and injections are administered pneumatically. This multi-national crew carries what appear to be ‘flip phones’. And however odd it may seem, some of these scripted elements are today’s reality.
A multi-national crew it is; an Asian navigator (Sulu), a Russian helmsman (Chekov). A female Watusi (Uhura) handles communications with a Scottish engineer and an Irish doctor and even an extraterrestrial with pointy ears! And of course this able talent was intuitively commanded by the all American hero from Iowa (James T. Kirk). And they weren’t alone; there exists an entire ‘Starfleet’ of ships. We had survived great trauma as a people and somehow the best of our society had prevailed. We found hope.

And yet more hope. As the star ship ‘Enterprise’ speeds throughout the galaxy new worlds are revealed. Most of these worlds were allegorical to our own. A cold war, a convenient war, a corruption; a power struggle, a despot… it was all out there in the stars. We’ve traveled hundreds of light years at warp speed only to meet our previous selves. As above, so below.

For in the end, however far away we may have traveled, the adventure was always in our hearts and minds. ‘Starfleet’ was larger than any of us. A community of planets. We were encouraged to be open and honest and kind; to save, to heal, to preserve, to respect. In accordance with the mantra of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination”.

The series was and remains very much a discourse in topics that are not readily addressed in conventional media. Greed, prejudice, oppression, discrimination; all these issues were confronted by our fictitious crews and more. To paraphrase Roddenberry: “We talked about stuff you couldn’t say in the news and it went right over the censors head, but all the 12 years olds got it.”