Saturday, June 04, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #19



Written: December 13, 2004

“And of course back on Earth, we ended poverty way back in the 23rd century!!!”

It was originally my idea to do some research on the internet to find out which episode of the TV show “Star Trek – The Next Generation” the above quote came from. Then I realized that if I were to provide the series, episode number and title it may be assumed that in fact I knew it all along, which would make me appear to be an incredible geek, which in turn would totally contradict the whole point of this chapter!

What I wish to do here is to dispel the myth that in order to be a fan of “science fiction”, and the Star Trek phenomenon in particular, you have to be some kind of “nerd” or whatever similar names are roaming the halls of American high schools these days.

Of course several fans of the show don’t help me in my quest by attending conventions, dressing up in the various aliens’ costumes, and even taking university courses in Klingon! I have never, nor will I ever, get involved to such a degree; instead I want to illustrate what I consider to be the real objectives of the various versions of the concept. Though I don’t know too much about the original creator of Star Trek, the late Gene Roddenberry, having watched most of the stories that were spawned from his vision it is clear to see what he was going for.

Imagine all that plagues the human race today, or at least all that which we cause ourselves; greed, war, injustice, corruption, you get the idea. Then try to picture a time in the future when we somehow manage to overcome these failings and actually discover a means by which we can co-exist peacefully on the planet together. Having finally evolved socially to catch up with our advances in technology, we then discover the ability to travel huge distances of outer space at amazing speeds, and endeavour to go and “seek and discover new civilizations, to boldly go….etc etc” you know the rest!

Of COURSE it’s all incredible, and that is why we call it science FICTION. All the stuff that makes so many people scoff at Star Trek, the costumes, the pointy ears, the weird names for alien beings, is merely elaborate window dressing; Star Trek is nothing more than a hopeful interpretation of how our future may unfold. Having successfully developed as a race ourselves, we are then supposedly able to move on and try to take it to the next level and establish relationships with other races in the universe. I suppose you could argue that perhaps it is a satire of The United States and how she can interact as a nation with those around her, but I won’t go any further down THAT road!

When you go on to examine the various alien races created by the writers over the years, you find they mostly show character traits that hinder us today. The Klingons, Romulans and Cardassians are war-loving empire-building peoples, The Vulcans are reliant on logic to the point of obsession, The Ferengi are unscrupulous opportunists. Possibly the greatest enemy every created by the show, The Borg were in my opinion chosen to represent the corporate world which still seems to be taking over the world today, and against whom resistance really does appear to be futile!

Now of COURSE you can have a laugh at the show on many levels. In every episode, they beam down to a planet with about five people, one of whom is not a regular on the show and is clearly travelling to his death. Also, you can categorize various episodes by the romantic partner that for the first few scenes is obviously being lined up for a particular principal; many a time I have shouted “Ah! Worf Nookie Alert!” five minutes into a show! In the original series, the funniest moments happen when Kirk makes some quirky comment after Bones and Spock have locked horns right at the end. These one-liners are so not funny they become funny!

I did watch an episode this evening to prepare for writing this chapter, and it was from The Next Generation and was entitled “The Enemy”; it perfectly proved my point. Lieutenant Worf, a Klingon and a Starfleet Officer aboard the Enterprise, is faced with a moral dilemma when he discovers he is the only person able to save a Romulan soldier they saved from a planet with a hostile atmosphere; a decision that was extremely difficult as the soldier’s people had killed the Klingon’s parents in the past.

You would expect him to do the right thing in the end and donate his blood, but he doesn’t, nor does his Captain order him to, and the soldier actually dies. The death nearly starts a war between The Federation and The Romulan Empire, but with some clever negotiating tactics borrowed from the poker table, Captain Jean-Luc Picard manages to save the day. I took the moral of the story to be something I actually firmly believe, that for as long you call someone your enemy, they will be.
Another attraction for me must be that according to the show, the centre of the Starfleet universe is based in San Francisco of all places! I take this to mean that either Rodenberry himself hailed from the Bay Area, or he at least recognised the open-minded nature of people living there enough to imagine that it could come to represent his optimistic utopian view of the future.

The writers could easily be accused of overkill, with five, yes FIVE different shows coming from the genre. No doubt it will go on for years to come and for future generations to savour, but wouldn’t be ironic if it continued purely to service the desire to generate immense wealth and move us further away from the Roddenberry dream as outlined by Captain Picard’s quote back at the beginning!!!

© JL Pagano 2004

Next : #20, 1000 WORDS ON...WORKING IN THE PUB

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