Treknology Dept.

The Displaced Utopia — Matthew Buscemi

... in 1960's America, a story about a spaceship that ferries an ethnically diverse yet socially functional group of humans from one planet to another so that they might learn and discover not just more about aliens, but more about themselves, and who would only use force as a means of self-defense, never as a means of conquering or pillaging–this was sf, even if it was on television, and even if had to be supplemented heavily with baser content to appeal to the masses.

I find it incredibly infuriating when Star Trek's achievements are referred to as "naive." ... A science fiction television show once challenged a deeply racist culture to believe that people of varying skin color and ethnic background could travel the stars together and leave not just their planet but their galaxy a little better than they found it.

Buscemi has some de-lovely points to make about the latter-day Treks that hint at why I might have fallen out of favor with the franchise. The later shows traded up their pulpy but visionary explorations for "gritty" realpolitik that you could get in a dozen other places . But the point cited here is the core of it. It's not "naïve" to suggest that we can do better, look further, try harder, inhabit the universe more charitably. Our survival might well depend on it. It doesn't mean that anything that comes our way with that message is immune from criticism, but naïve isn't a valid criticism for it.

I can't begin to count the number of people from my generation — or the previous one, or the subsequent one — who credit Star Trek to some degree with awakening a sense in them of how the universe isn't just some place we putter around in looking for better places to eat. Whether or not they bought the show end-to-end, whether or not they became fans who redid their rec rooms to look like the bridge of the Enterprise, the show mattered.

A former friend of mine once trashed the Trek POV as being little more than a kindler, gentler "white man's burden" view of the universe. This actually came out in the context of a discussion about why little non-Western SF was in the Trek mold unless framed explicitly as a ripoff. His take was that the whole "manifest destiny" motif wasn't something you saw outside the U.S.; that the conquering impulse could receive some lipstick and a wig, but couldn't be completely disguised. My take, unvoiced at the time, was that the "conquering impulse" manifests differently in every society, whether as WWII Japan's Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere or the Soviet Union trying to rework every nation within its reach into a communist ally. Maybe he only meant it in the sense of a frontier beckoning endlessly as part of some social mythology, but I still think he was deliberately ignoring big parts of the picture for the sake of a juicy theory.

The real problem I had with Trek was that as a franchise, it couldn't sustain the tension that sprung up between its creator's idealism and the conflicts that are needed for mainstream dramatic material. Eventually it all gets dark 'n gritty for the sake of a story. I shouldn't make this sound like a "too good for the world" parable, but the best things in Trek are, I think, not any one story or even character, but the general lean of the thing — the lesson it has for us to try and work into other things we come up with in its wake. Tough act to follow.

Tags: Star Trek  futurism  science fiction 

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2015/12/08 10:00.

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