April 2005

It Went Boldly
Media Commentary By John Kenneth Muir

The 2005-2006 TV season will be the first in nearly twenty years to feature no new Star Trek episodes. Since September, 1987 when Star Trek: The Next Generation beamed down into syndication, there have been starships, Klingons, and tribbles to enjoy every week. After The Next Generation, the journey continued on Deep Space Nine. After that, Voyager, and more recently, Enterprise. That’s a gaggle of Star Trek, and thanks to the wonder of DVD box sets and Spike TV, it’s not as if any of these programs are going to vanish into another space-time continuum. At least not immediately, but a sensor sweep does indicate the franchise has finally--and seemingly irrevocably--suffered from what Dr. Crusher would term “replicative fading.” In other words, in recent years, Trek sometimes felt like a copy of a copy of a copy.

Still, the cancellation of Enterprise is a sad occasion because our world needs Star Trek today more than it has since the 1960s, when those landmark adventures of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy first were televised on NBC. When Gene Roddenberry created the classic series in 1965-66, the world seemed to be tearing itself apart. America was bogged down in the Vietnam War, fighting a global war against communism, and at home, there were battles in the streets over Civil Rights. Young people looked at the world that adults had built and wondered, “do we even have a future?” On NBC for three seasons, Star Trek entertained that question with wisdom, humor and optimism.

Star Trek asked people of different generations, colors, and genders to gaze at the stars and imagine what could be, if only mankind stopped his petty squabbling and worked together. Star Trek imagined a universe where poverty and hunger were eradicated; where people--even aliens--tolerated each other and considered themselves brothers despite differences like pointed ears or ridged foreheads.

Although there were always Klingons to battle and photon torpedoes to fire and green Orion slave girls to romance, the message of Star Trek was and remains clear. When mankind reaches the stars he will be at his best, and we can be proud. It has been said many times in many ways, but Gene Roddenberry’s vision is a positive vision of the future. It may not be a possible or likely one, given our predilection for self-destruction, but the joy of Star Trek is that, in episodes like “Arena” and “A Taste of Armageddon,” it tells us that we can grow; that we don’t have to kill, in Captain Kirk’s words, “...today.”

In 2005, the world looks worse than it did in the mid-1960s. We are bogged down in a war in Iraq, fighting a global war against terrorism, and at home, conservatives are waging a culture war asking us to hate homosexuals and diminish their legal rights all because they are different. At worst, laws like the Patriot Act appear to be restricting the rights of citizens, and at best, are growing a Big Brother-style government that is frightening in scope. Terrorists may get their hands on dirty bombs and nuclear weapons, and what is TV’s answer?

American Idol. The Apprentice. WifeSwap. Survivor. Fear Factor. These are all programs that, in direct contrast to Star Trek, wallow in the misery of human beings. They thrive on ugly emotions such as voyeurism and envy. They depend on people being insulted, eliminated, defeated, and fired. There is no hope or joy, and no dream for a better future.

So when Enterprise vanishes from the airwaves it will indeed be a sad day. In “The Savage Curtain,” a third season episode of the original Star Trek written by the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock encountered two great men from their respective cultures, Abraham Lincoln and the Vulcan philosopher, Surak. During the coda, Kirk mourned that there “is still so much of their work to be done in the universe.”

And now, on television too.