These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise...
current mood: thoughtful
The other day I watched Star Trek: A Captain's Log which I had not seen before. Although it was not the best work about Star Trek that I've ever seen or read, it is definitely worth watching. Something that always strikes me about these shows is how Leonard Nimoy is more thoughtful and introspective while William Shatner has more of the qualities of a good host, thus making for a good team--just like on the show itself.
One aspect of A Captain's Log that I liked a lot was its heavy emphasis on interviews with cast members of the original series, including Nimoy, James Doohan, Deforest Kelley, Walter Koening, George Takei, and Nichele Nichols. The interviews were wide-ranging and there was a lot of discussion about what the show was trying to accomplish. Very often a lot of things can be said through science-fiction that can't be said in other ways. This is particularly true in the medium of television, where there is a constant need for keeping an eye on the political and social attitudes of the day--the latest chapter in a long history of using fiction and literature as a way to say what desperately needs to be said and yet can't be said directly.
And of course, Star Trek inspired many in the next generation of scientists, engineers, and explorers who would grow up to make much of the technology predicted in Star Trek into actual reality--the flip phone, desktop computers, portable electronics, medical scanning technology, bedside monitors in hospitals, and so forth. One particularly touching moment was the cast members talking about how they all got together (along with Gene Roddenberry and many others connected with the show) for the launching of NASA's space shuttle Enterprise, named for the show, with the band playing the Star Trek theme in the background.
But what so many people (particularly those who are only casual fans or not fans at all) miss is that Star Trek is not about cool gadgets and dazzling special effects. It is, rather, about our society and ourselves. Almost all of the episodes have something to say and you can often get something a little different out of them if you watch them several times over the course of your life.
The first interracial kiss shown on television was on Star Trek, between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura in the episode "Plato's Stepchildren". The Federation's long Cold War with the Klingon Empire paralleled America's own Cold War with the Soviet Union. The Federation's Prime Directive speaks to the issue of when or whether it is appropriate to interfere in the affairs of other cultures, an extremely complex problem that all modern nations wrestle with. More recently, Deep Space Nine used the Dominion War as a vehicle to explore a whole host of issues foreshadowing the modern struggle against terrorism, such as how fear can destroy a society and just how difficult it can be to balance civil liberties with the safety of the public.
Also explored are some of the deepest aspects of human nature and human relationships: friendship, loyalty, love, exploration. Or what happens when these things are tested to their limits. In Mr. Spock, we have an internal conflict between emotion and rationality that nearly everyone deals with over the course of their lives. Many Buddhist teachings say that an excess of reason is itself a form of madness, but with the history of the Vulcans and Romulans, we have madness channeled into either an excess of reason or an even greater madness.
In the daily problems of individuals trying to uphold the highest principles of the Federation--Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations--we have a metaphor for the day-to-day difficulties of personal growth and growth as a society, of trying to become more than we are. In the Borg or the Dominion, we have powerful examples of what can happen when those choices go wrong. In all of the various time travel episodes, we can take a look at that profound question that most people ask of themselves regularly: "What if...?"
Gene Roddenberry, like writers and visionaries before him, believed that through telling a story one could affect change and make things better. He once referred to Star Trek as "a wagon train to the stars". But in reaching our minds to touch the stars, we have learned a lot about ourselves. We can only hope that this will also be true when the day comes where reaching for the stars is not just a mental exercise, but also a reality. After all, that day is likely not very far away.
To all of you, as we begin a new year: Live long and prosper.