Friday, March 29, 2013

Optimism

One of the things that made Star Trek different from the science fiction of its day was that it presented an optimistic vision of the future. In an era when it was widely believed mankind didn't even have a future, Star Trek dared to say that we did, and it was a bright one. It embodied the optimism that was beginning to spread through America in the mid 1960s.

Today, I heard Star Trek coming under fire for this reason more than any other. It's too nice, it's too peaceful, it's too optimistic. Human beings are flawed creatures, they can't become angels. Shows like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica have defined themselves by contrasting themselves to Star Trek on this point. Even Star Trek writers, especially on Deep Space Nine, have disputed the realism of this defining belief of Star Trek.

I have always found Star Trek's view of human beings in the future to be realistic, though certainly an optimistic projection. There are four basic reasons why I find Star Trek's vision of humanity's future realistic.

1) Human beings were much more barbaric 300 years ago than they are today. Star Trek assumes the trend will continue in that direction. We are already making "rapid progress," as Captain Picard once said.

2) The Federation has apparently renounced materialism. This seems outlandish and unimaginable to us, since materialism seems as natural to Americans and Europeans as breathing air. But materialism is not an innate human trait -- it's a relatively recent development in human history, and it's by no means universal on Earth today. One interpretation for modern materialism is that it points to a spiritual emptiness. Although the Federation isn't particularly religious, Star Trek characters seem spiritually fulfilled by their humanist belief that the purpose of existence is to improve oneself. Once people stop taking comfort in material possessions, the material needs of the whole society are much less, and the society no longer has as much cause of conflict with others.

3) Speaking of material needs, technology and space travel have eliminated most of the remaining material needs in the Federation. Food and basic goods are produced by replication. Power is produced by fusion, antimatter reactions and renewable sources. Weather disasters are preventable. Colonizing other planets has lead to unlimited land and natural resources. No one is hungry, no one is uneducated, everyone's basic needs are met.

4) For all the advantages provided by the Federation's philosophy and technology, Federation morality is not a fait accompli. Especially on Classic Trek, we see that it is a standard the characters are holding themselves to and are constantly struggling to reach. Human nature hasn't changed, just human values.

Ultimately, I think that whether you find Star Trek realistic is going to depend on a personal belief: do you believe human beings are basically good or basically evil. If you believe that people are basically evil, then you will also believe that a utopia like the Federation would free human beings to be even more diabolical. If you believe that we're basically good, then a utopia like the Federation would give us the opportunity to be angels.

To me, there is no doubt that we're basically good. If we didn't intrinsically value goodness, we couldn't even have even created the concept of goodness. Maybe my belief in human goodness is what draws me to Star Trek, or maybe it comes from the fact that I grew up watching Star Trek. I couldn't say. But that's what I believe that that's why I find Star Trek's future believable.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

This is totally awesome.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Way Too Much Fun

This was an excellent challenge! The creator of this poster challenged the Internet to name every one of his 8-bit Star Trek characters -- 235 in all!



Because that wasn't hard enough for a Supernerd like me, I gave myself the additional challenge of doing it from memory, without looking anything up.

Click "Read More" to see my answers...

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Why Don't Some Trekkies Like the New Star Trek Movie???

Sci-fi fans get so weird about their shows. I've been a Trekkie for twenty years. The original series is my favorite, closely followed by the middle years of TNG. DS9 flew in the face of a lot of what those shows stood for but that doesn't mean I have to hate DS9. A new set of creators took over from the Roddenberry set and they needed some room to put their own stamp on Star Trek. Maybe I do love what came before DS9 just a little bit more but I also recognize that doing the same old thing over and over gets boring after awhile. DS9 allowed Star Trek to change and grow. Maybe I don't think the result was quite as good as the old days but it was infinitely better than if they had just tried to recycle those old ideas for seven years.

I don't know why fans of the original Star Trek can't look at the new film that way. Just 'cause I like the way Shatner played Kirk in 1966 doesn't mean I can't also like the way Pine plays Kirk today. Yeah, it's different. Big deal. Are there a few moments in Pine's performance that don't ring true to me? Yes. There are moments in Shatner's performance that don't ring true to me either but the difference is I'm so used to those moments that I kind of love them as much as the parts that are actually good. Come on, nobody really thinks Shatner should have won the Oscar for the way he shouted "Khaaaaan!" but we all love that scene.

To be a Classic Trek fan, you can't just turn a blind eye to painfully bad moments like that. You have to LOVE the bad stuff just as much as the good. You love all those moments when it's thought-provoking, profound, when it sheds light on what it means to be human... and you also love the styrofoam boulders, the fake-looking aliens, the bad accents, the ham acting (and let's face it, Shatner isn't the only offender in that department), the fight scenes with obvious stunt doubles, the plot holes, the unintentionally hilarious moments. Who doesn't love the "Risk is our business" speech? Who doesn't love "Brain and brain, what is brain"? Who doesn't love, "Spock, we reach"? Or Spock mindmelding with the Horta ("Pain!")? Or, "I am Kirok!"? And if you're more of a TNG fan, I can come up with a list for you too. I love watching Borg-Picard menace the Federation in "The Best of Both Worlds," but I'm equally entertained when Commander Shelby says, "Data was available, I took him, we came" -- and I don't think I'm the only one who loves that moment.

I think there's way more good than bad in the new Star Trek movie but it will never pass muster with the Trekkies who refuse to love its faults the way they love the faults in their favorite episodes. With that kind of double standard, nothing could compare favorably. Most non-Trekkies who come in without our built-in love for the characters loved the film, which suggests to me that most Trekkies would love it too if they gave it a fair shot. Why can't we do that? Beats me. It's not like we're married to Shatner and company. We can dilly-dally with their younger, hotter doppelgangers and then go back without needing to feel guilty. Just like we can like DS9 or Doctor Who or Grey's Anatomy or Project Runway without "betraying" Star Trek.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

NY Trekkie

Hi Trekkies! Today's NY Times has an article about the comptroller of New York City and how he's a super-major-major-king-kong Trekkie. Oh, yeah, and he's running for mayor. Why not? We already have a Trekkie president!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Herb Solow Reviews Star Trek

Herb Solow, the executive in charge of developing Star Trek and Mission: Impossible for Desilu Studios back in the 1960s, has just written a review of the new film for the BBC website.