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Star Trek: Cultural vector and Hollywood cash-cow (Part Three)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted June 1, 2009

Another aspect of Star Trek is the old-fashioned-liberal homage which it pays to classical music and art (e.g., Shakespeare). As far as the author is aware, something akin to rock music and similar musical genres, has very rarely appeared in the Star Trek universe. (Although there was an episode of TOS that alluded to Sixties' hippie culture.) The optimism of Star Trek virtually precludes the appearance of late modern forms of music and art (especially in their more extreme forms), which rather than "soothing the savage beast" (as the old saying goes) -- can sometimes be seen as actually contributing to making one into a savage beast. The appearance of rock and rap music (specifically, of their more extreme subgenres) would throw into relief the possible grunge and alienation which the Star Trek future is said to have left far behind. Indeed, the Star Trek future (at least for Earth), appears to be irrepressibly "nice" and optimistic. This stands in strong contrast to the "gritty future" or so-called "air-conditioned nightmare" presented in such works as: Ridley Scott's Alien and Blade Runner (a brilliant rendering of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?); Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange (filmed by Stanley Kubrick); and in the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction in general (typified by William Gibson's Neuromancer).           

Star Trek could be seen as not much better than a more positive take on that antiseptic, well-ordered dystopia, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. It is also in some ways nothing more than a somewhat elegant updating of the optimistic, super-scientific projections of science-fiction pioneer Hugo Gernsback's 1920s and 1930s science-fiction and futurism (typified by air-cars, moving sidewalks, and gleaming jumpsuits). It should be noted, however, that the first major "dark-future" film, Fritz Lang's Metropolis, had also appeared in the 1920s. It could be argued that in current-day, late-modern society, all the promise of a shiny, happy, liberal (so-called) "utopia" (which to a traditionalist, is actually also a dystopia), has moved in the direction of turning into the ashes of a "gritty" dystopia typified by the cityscape, mediascape, and soundscape of Blade Runner.

The Earth of Star Trek's future is also one where any real national identities are at best superficial. There is not merely a world-government, but an interplanetary and interstellar one. And, as in the real world over the last three decades, there has been a relentless push in Star Trek of advancing the outré and minority tendencies at the expense of more traditional social roles and conventions. White males became increasingly less prominent in the Star Trek shows, and there were often such scenes as, for example, a black female admiral berating Picard for his stupid mistakes. Indeed, some conservatives have complained that the Federation is effectively a matriarchy. However, some years ago, gay activists had denounced the fact that persons who are unambiguously homosexuals and homosexual couples – as opposed to some situations and characters which hinted at gayness -- had hitherto never appeared on Star Trek.

One of the perennial traits of Star Trek is its drive to what could be called "pluralization." For example, for almost every culture shown, no matter how uniform, conformist, or masculine-ruled in the beginning, there always begin to appear "women and minorities." For example, there have now appeared "the black Vulcan," a few black Bajorans, an extremely influential female Cardassian leader, and "the Borg Queen" (yet another powerful female figure from that group). Among the Ferengi, who were initially said to standardly keep their females unclothed at home, there has appeared an independent and highly intelligent female, who masquerades as a male of the species.

All this could be seen as paralleling the unceasing, unrelenting "liberationist" drive for placing "the first" woman or minority in virtually every social, political, and cultural institution as well as workplace in Western societies – to be followed by ever-increasing, multifarious "diversity" at every level.  And anything that prevents the emergence, for example, of a black lesbian Pope, tends to risk being denounced by ever more politically-correct opinion-makers as "illegitimate privilege."

The central principle of Star Trek (discussed in some of the literature, but which never quite made it onto the screen) is said to be IDIC -- Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. This is the central principle that Spock is said to be guided by, which is rather ironic, considering how deeply rooted he seems to be in his Vulcan heritage. Indeed, Spock, in the manner of "accredited minorities," is allowed to celebrate his flourishing and "thick" identity -- whereas humans in the Federation have to embrace a definition of IDIC that consists of complete openness and amorphous self-definition, where "the universal idea of human rights" (and its proceduralist "working out") supersedes one's own possibility of having what might be seen as a more authentic sense of rootedness and self-worth.

Some persons have identified the economic system of Star Trek as "market socialism," i.e., business is allowed to exist, but it must turn over most of its profits to "the public good" (probably as defined by Star Fleet or the Federation government). Some screenwriter had also worked in references to the abolition of "animal slavery" in the Star Trek future.

One of the defining moments of Star Trek, as far as the author is concerned, was the premiere episode of TNG, where the Mephistophelean figure of Q (an alien superbeing), briefly takes on the appearance of a stereotypical 1950s American army officer, ranting about "Commies," to show Captain Picard the "primitiveness" of the human race. Picard flinches away from this representation as if it really were the embodiment of the epitome of human evil! He also says something to the effect that humanity has progressed centuries beyond this "barbarism." What is also troubling is how easily Picard can identify an image from over three hundred years ago -- presumably the Federation education system continues to be steeped in late-twentieth century liberal demonology, expounding on the evils of U.S. militarism, McCarthyism, and Nixon. Q then takes on the role of a villainous presiding judge on a gilded throne, with red and black robes obviously reminiscent of medieval or Renaissance Europe. This scene of Q's trial of Picard seemed rather symbolic of a "conspiratorial Left" view of America, with Q (the white male overlord), being served by soldiers in thrall to drugs, and eliciting the support of a crowd of poor, raggedly dressed "common-folk."

It has been noted by some critics that Star Trek often in fact has a rather moralistic or preachy element or tone about it. Many episodes, particularly of TNG, can be interpreted as nothing more than neat liberal "morality-plays," where the audience is expected -- without too much intellectual effort or hesitation -- to draw the proper "lesson" or "message" at the conclusion of the episode. One may indeed wonder if this makes Star Trek typical or atypical of current-day film and television efforts. Perhaps Star Trek anticipates the emergence of "political correctness" as a "new morality."

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.





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