Anniversary Post: Star Trek

Star TrekOn this day in 1966, Star Trek debuted on television. I remember my brother was really into it. The only episode I remember seeing was doubtlessly a rerun of “Arena.” This was where Kirk is forced to fight some reptilian species known as “Gorn.” It is some kind of trial by combat thing, where Kirk shows he is a Good Guy™ by refusing to kill the Gorn when he has the opportunity. It is one of the silliest episodes of the first season.

When I was older, I became friends with Will who was a Star Trek fanatic. In junior high school (middle school now), he wore a Star Trek shirt. It seems like he always did, but that can’t be correct. Regardless, I still wasn’t that into the show. To be honest, I’ve never really been into science fiction. What finally made me take Star Trek seriously was my first wife, who was also a huge fan.

That was during the first years of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I don’t even much remember it. I must have liked it. I may be a terrible romantic partner, but I am good at embracing whatever my partners are interested in. But TNG made me appreciate the original series (TOS). TNG was just too perfect — everyone was so well adjusted. Who thinks that is a good idea for a drama?! Spock and Bones might have had ridiculous arguments and pathetically developed characters, but at least they disliked each other!

And I came to appreciate Kirk as a Romantic hero. TNG is everything that conservatives (wrongly) claim liberals want in society. But the truth is that it mightn’t be such a bad thing in society, but it’s damned boring on the screen. And it ended up with the episodes being more like puzzles than plays. There was always some perfect trick that would make everything work out. And after a while: who cares!

Today, I like Star Trek for what I originally didn’t like: it is cheesy. And it was at its best when it was doing comedy. “A Piece of the Action” is probably my favorite episode, because it is so clear that they are all in on the joke. And that is something that has been sorely missing since then.

Happy birthday Star Trek!

4 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Star Trek

  1. The TOS episode Arena was adapted by from the short story, same title, by Frederic Brown. I read it in an old SF anthology, but it was first published in a magazine. Arena get’s lampooned in Galaxy Quest, “Try to construct a rudimentary lathe” while Tim Allen is fighting a rock monster, and Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey, where they use an identical location shot with a big sloping rock. Your observations about Next Gen being boring for having no conflict were shared by the show’s producers and writers. They staged a palace coup against Gene Roddenberry to correct it. Those early seasons remind me of how American culture in the George H.W. Bush years didn’t know what to do with itself. Gorbachev and Bill Clinton hadn’t invented the ’90s yet. I do look to Star Trek as a model for a Utopian future. No racism, no capitalism, not much religion, clean energy, peace. We would need to invent something socially useful, or at least harmless, for the triathalon/hedge fund competitive people to do with themselves. Maybe just freeze them, like in Howard Fast’s “The Man In The Box”. There’s also a funny article out there by Dilbert creator Scot Adams about how holodecks and replicators would be the last thing mankind ever invents.

    • Lawrence — it’s like I’ve mentioned before, it’s a different show depending on whether or not one wants to bask in the escapism of it. In terms of interesting writing and a great cast, “Firefly” was probably better than any “Trek” — but I enjoyed that show for the scripts and actors, not the futuristic idealism. Maybe “Trek” could have been both things, an idealistic show and more dramatically compelling. “Northern Exposure” had conflicting personalities and the same comforting sense that group consensus/diversity solve problems in the end. (I hated it when it was on for the blatant “it’ll all work out” optimism — that’s what I like about it now.)

      “A Piece Of The Action” is an interesting episode because it demonstrates what different viewers might enjoy. Frank’s right in that the silliness is fun — I remember as a kid enjoying Kirk making up a super-complicated card game to distract his captors. To someone who loves Trek liberalism, though, the episode feels a little like free-market worship! Change this silly society, make it more competitive, and maybe someday they’ll be ready to compete for “a piece of our action.” (Which I think was a favorite Nixon phrase.)

      If you’re a fan of old sci-fi writing then you’re aware a lot of it was pretty conservative/libertarian, and there’s more of that in TOS than TNG. Which is fine! But different strokes, etc. Me, I love how the nerdy guy — second banana on TOS, although everyone’s favorite character — becomes the all-out hero on TNG. The writing can be criticized a lot, but Patrick Stewart’s a god!

      As for hegde-fund trust-fund types, I say as compensation for taking all their money (as we should) we give them all the opportunity to be in reality TV shows. Clearly many seem to enjoy that already. However the Cubans and Trumps should be contestants, not judges.

      • Star Trek was always clear that capitalism was a transitional system. This was also true of monotheism, as I think is implied in “Bread and Circuses” with the most puke inspiring line by Uhura in all of Star Trek, “It’s not the sun up in the sky. It’s the Son of God.”

    • I love Galaxy Quest — it’s a great comedy. And that line is one of my favorites: Guy is the only one who really knows the show. Of course, Kwan is the only one who knows he is in a movie. That was the movie where I first took notice of Sam Rockwell. Another excellent film: Moon.

      I know it was all Roddenberry’s fault. And I understand: we often destroy things by trying to make them perfect. But there were other problems with the show like a general smugness. I thought Deep Space Nine was better. I did remember Yesterday’s Enterprise as a particularly good TNG episode. So I went back and watched it. I was not impressed. That made me think the other episodes of that time (4th season I think) were really bad. DS9 at least made the Ferengi into something more than a joke. You want capitalists? Make them bar owners.

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