“The human race is a remarkable creature, one with great potential, and I hope that ‘Star Trek’ has helped to show us what we can be if we believe in ourselves and our abilities.” – Gene Roddenberry
On this very date back in 1966, the world would forever change when audiences were reintroduced to the world of Star Trek. A retooled version of the series, with William Shatner taking the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise, aired on NBC on the evening of September 8th in one of the most sad and humanistic tales the early days of the series offered to audiences. The episode The Man Trap was the start of a three season exploration of a world that was very different from the real 1966 – a world in which people of different races and colors collectively traversed the unknown together and having zero trepidation to staring down situations and forces they’d never before encountered. Little did Gene Roddenberry know that 50 years would spawn now seven television series (including the canonical cartoon adventures), scores of novels, and a wildly adventurous movie franchise. Now more than ever though, fandom aside, is the time in which audiences need to do more than just celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchise. We need to embrace Roddenberry’s deeply-rooted messages now more than ever.
Look at the political climate in which our country is currently in the throngs of, propelled by the senseless and the quick to please. The presidential campaign of one particular candidate may be straight from the hip and without much thought on possible recourse, but is built upon a divisive view on the color and creed on which our country rests its weary back. Those who protect and serve us without a moment’s hesitation have their backs against the wall thanks to our own media, of which said media purports the brothers in blue have it out for a particular segmentation of our nation. A crevice divides those who have the world catered to them and those who struggle to make ends meet, let alone provide the bare necessities of survival to the ones they love. Violence erupts when those who want the most in life will do anything to rob from those in the very same shoes as everyone else, but have peaceably settled on the work they’re committed to.
I take a long look at the news daily, ingesting outlets via online mediums as opposed to the biased sensationalist media that has usurped American journalism. The violence. The scare tactics of modern politics. The fact that tomorrow isn’t necessarily guaranteed. 2016 is not a year to arise from bed daily, pull open the curtains, and beam upon a brand new day. This year has been wrought with one overblown story to the next, setting back the viewpoints of our society, leaving the world over afraid of what the end all will be. Is it widespread death? Another war that will engulf a multitude of nations over? You cannot simply sweep the dirt from your eyes in the morning, turn on the news, and feel optimism about where the Earth is headed. The direction is not for peace but more of a Darwinist society in which only the strongest will survive.
How would Gene Roddenberry drink in modern society? I firmly believe he’s in the heavens above looking down dourly with an infinite sadness. Roddenberry may not have been the easiest individual to work with, but he was forever an optimist and futurist who looked at tomorrow, not today. Though he’s cited Wagon Train as being part of the inspiration for his property’s creation, Roddenberry was motivated by the world of the 1950’s and 1960’s. He saw a society being ripped to shreds much akin to what we face today. Witnessing the horrors of World War II as an Air Force Pilot. A nation plunged into fear between the Korean, Vietnam, and the Cold Wars. The mistreatment of those of color during the 1950’s and 1960’s. Being a man who saw a future whereby all were united out of desire to prosper instead of constant conflict, Roddenberry centered the story of Star Trek on a ship with people of various backgrounds, colors, and creeds. There was no show in broadcast in 1966 that had individuals of African, Chinese, and Russian ancestry working together for brotherhood and duty. It was a fantastical notion and revolutionary.
I saw someone pose in a nonsensical post a couple weeks back, following the release of Star Trek Beyond, that perhaps the time has arose the franchise be put to rest. Not only did I eye roll, smartphone clutched in one hand, but I muttered words I’m unable to repeat here. On the surface, any Trek feature film or television show may seem like just a space soap opera set upon a starship. In reality, that is far from the lessons that Star Trek teaches us, thus why now more than ever we need a franchise like this to stay fresh in all of our minds.
Roddenberry planted bigger ideas into the show. Sure, the meat and potatoes of the episodes were about facing the unknown and banding together to overcome the odds. But never before on television were their very emotional and human stories told by way of science fiction. The fear of other societies and peoples. Man always quick to pull the trigger rather than rationalize a peaceable solution. People coming together to respect diversity around and among them. The revelation that staying true to what you believe in can triumph over any type of slighted ignorance. That emotions can be kept in control when tempered by the power of love and loyalty. These are tropes that not only defined the original series but were as steadfast in The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, both of which remain as two of my favorite television shows not only in the genre but of all time.
People brought together under the right situations only bring a triumph that can topple even the biggest concerns and threats. We don’t flourish when we’re driven apart from others who are like brothers and sisters to us, ideologies clashing among a tidal wave of negativity thrust at us saying one side is more correct than another. Says whom? Just because one person, one viewpoint says otherwise, who are we to fall into the trap of turmoil against those we should be united with? Of the many ills that plague society these days, we seemingly are being forced to choose one side or the other. Scroll through Facebook any given day and look what media pages are saying. None try to walk down the middle – you must choose one side or the other. You may wake up one day to find yourself up against those closest to you because you opted to cross one side of the street against your friends and loved ones. And that’s not fully the world that Roddenberry saw with a gleaming eye.
Sure, we’ll never agree fully on anything. We can challenge each other’s opinions, make each other better without the necessity to beat our brothers and sisters down into a pool of defeat. We can use our worldly views together in the aims of achieving greatness, of making a difference. Of changing the status quo. Rather than march against blindly without rationality, we can work together to make the impossible possible. Shows like Star Trek have and continue to demonstrate what working towards one goal can do to a group of people. The problem can be relatively simple. Hell, a situation can be unwinnable. We all face our own Kobayashi Maru, a scenario that forces us to think fast on our feet not as one but as many.
And without a storied franchise like Star Trek to reel in fans for fifty years and plant such ideas, facing the impossible and saying “I can” is not even possible. We all cross moments in life that seem unattainable, our backs flush against a wall with no direction to go but forward. Any one person can face the unwinnable and tread forward, leaving fear behind. But people banded together in the same boat? If one person can leave a footprint, imagine a sea of people facing a Kobayashi Maru.
Not only would that be a footprint, but that’d be a force to admire.
Star Trek has taught us much, and taught us well. While the latest wave of movies hinge more upon spectacle, the message is still very much clear. Even when a line is drawn in the sand and you must stand up for what you believe in, you make that stance. Slowly but surely, Chris Pine’s interpretation of Kirk is morphing into the iconic character with gusto that Shatner thrilled audiences with fifty years ago. With Beyond being the most true to the original series, in an adventure plucked straight from the original series with nary a beat missed in the decades that have warped past us, I would stay the franchise isn’t ready to go quietly on just impulse. A new series from Bryan Fuller is on the horizon. The next movie escapade is already in the scripting faze. With the world focused more on the negativity surrounding our society these days, this is a franchise that, more than ever, offers lessons as topical as they were in the 1960’s. Now is the time to become reacquainted with a series that was way ahead of its time and still holds up just as fresh as the day the episodes initially aired.
I’ll leave you all with this quote. Roddenberry is over twenty years gone from his Earthly existence but there’s no denying he saw a brighter future than most men and women did during his time. Now more than ever, with tomorrow not looking as sunny as we would like, we need a series as storied as Star Trek to show us that, united, we can confront any problems that lay beneath is. The power is in our hands but the question is whether we can grow as one to face the ills of the unknown rather than continuously drift on our own pathways.
“It is important to the typical ‘Star Trek’ fan that there is a tomorrow. They pretty much share the ‘Star Trek’ philosophies about life: the fact that it is wrong to interfere in the evolvement of other peoples, that to be different is not necessarily to be wrong or ugly.” – Gene Roddenberry