Deep Thoughts About Deep Space

Kirk and Spock

I’ve been meaning to throw this out there for my fellow sci-fi nerds of a certain age who, like me:

  • grew up on Star Trek reruns;
  • have followed the various iterations of the franchise through the decades;
  • and who invariably notice the political philosophies and ideas that undergird TV series and movies.

Trust me, all dramas have a political viewpoint and an agenda. We storytellers are always either teaching or preaching.

The original Star Trek series was optimistic, idealistic and infused with a confidence that the guiding principles of Western Civilization, although flawed in execution, were unambiguously good.

How the political philosophy of Star Trek evolved (or actually devolved) over the last 50 years was the subject of a long but fascinating essay by Timothy Sandefur in an issue of the Claremont Review of Books last year, titled “The Politics of Star Trek.”

As the insightful piece pointed out, these changes in underlying ideology track perfectly with the U.S. dominant culture’s descent into Postmodern self-hatred and relativism. (Today, the only thing that can safely be condemned as immoral is moral certitude.)

The original network run of the original Star Trek series unfolded when I was ages six to nine. I was aware of the series but it aired past my bedtime.

I do dimly recall, however, being roughly six or seven and working with a friend to convert a discarded cardboard refrigerator box into our own personal Starship Enterprise, complete with NCC-1701 scrawled on the side with crayon. It was subsequently converted, through some clever feats of retrofitting engineering, into a Batmobile.

Even so, like most fans of my generation, I became a devoted follower only after the series entered syndication and became ubiquitous in reruns for decades.

Star_Trek_Picard_CrewIn 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation revived and reinvigorated the franchise. That was the year I got marred and my new bride and I faithfully watched the new series each week and became invested in the characters.

Even so, the distinct shift in worldview within the franchise and its spinoffs stuck out to me from the beginning. Sandefur’s essay explores this shift in fascinating detail.

220px-StartrekposterThe latest reboot of the franchise, crafted by master scifi-fantasy storyteller J.J. Abrams, has once again remade the moral framework within which the familiar characters think and act.

Referring to Abram’s second Star Trek film, Into Darkness, a reinterpretation of the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Sanderfur notes, “By the time Khan reappears under Abrams’s direction, the fixed moral stars by which the franchise once steered have been almost entirely obscured . . . Having lost their principles, the show’s heroes cannot really explain, or understand, what differentiates them from their enemies, and so are rendered vulnerable to the very forces they once opposed.”

This clearly isn’t for everyone. But if you have consumed all the various iterations of Star Trek through the decades and enjoy smart discussions of big ideas (Hi Ted! Hi Jed!), then you will find this essay well worth your time.

Check out:

Politics of Star Trek


1 Comment Deep Thoughts About Deep Space

  1. Ted

    Hi David! Great essay; thanks for the link. I especially liked this:

    For the orthodox bard, repentance is always a precondition of forgiveness, and conscience is the inescapable enforcer of natural law. Thus in “Conscience,” Shakespeare’s meditations illuminated Kirk’s thoughts on guilt and judgment. But in the film, the poet is quoted only to obfuscate.

    And this:

    Where Kirk pursues justice, Picard avoids conflict. Just as Kirk’s devotion to universal principles goes deeper than politics, so does Picard’s sentimentalism. When it comes to the universe of real suffering, real need, and a real search for truth, he is content not to decide, not to take responsibility, and not to know.

    And this:

    Ultimately, Khan is presented as evil not because he wars against equality and freedom, but because he isn’t one of us, while Kirk is—and because he loses, while Kirk wins.

    In my opinion Star Trek hit bottom with ENT S2-E22 Cogenitor. I think it’s even worse than Into Darkness.

    But none of this is as bad as Peter Jackson’s “adaptation” of Lord of the Rings. I better stop now.

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