Monday, September 18, 2006

To Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before

Imagine my suprise when I saw this article in the New York Times.

I've been saying for years -- with little to no irony -- that Star Trek was one of the most fascinating shows I'd ever seen, because of its social consciousness. Although Ron Moore is certainly a biased author (as he freely admits here) -- I'm glad to find that there's some one else out there who realized. Star Trek was an important part of my movement from the conservative background I grew up in to the more liberal stance I've taken today. Its role as social commentary was astoundingly inflential for me: I still remember the aliens who were at eternal war because they were black and white -- but one was black on the left, white on the right, and in the other it was reversed. And though the later shows were certainly more complex, they too addressed difficult issues in ways I, in high school, could identify with and understand -- witness the commentary on religion and politics that was brought to the fore in Deep Space Nine, with the tensions between the Bajoran provisional government after the Cardassian occupations and the theocracy preferred by members of the religious order, like Kai Winn (played to a malificent perfection by Louise Fletcher).

I think Moore sums it up for me when he says this:

Kirk, for me, embodied an American idea: His mission was to explore the final frontier, not to conquer it. He was moral without moralizing. Week after week, he confronted the specters of intolerance and injustice, and week after week found a way to defeat them without ever becoming them. Jim Kirk may have beat up his share of bad guys, but you could never imagine him torturing them.

A favorite quote: “We’re human beings, with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers, but we won’t kill today.” Kirk clearly understood humanity’s many flaws, yet never lost faith in our ability to rise above the muck and reach for the stars.

Ok, so Moore's romancing a bit -- I'll give him that Kirk didn't torture the alien bad guys, but I have to say that the whole "conquer their women" thing is a little murkier. And god knows its a terribly fine line. But all my academic inclinatiosn aside, he's right -- One need look no further than Star Trek VI : The Undiscovered Country to make the point. When the high chancellor of the Klingon empire speaks to Kirk on the subject of the possibility of peace (and it is important to remember that the Klingons were the bad guys throughout the original series) he sums up the problem that will plague them: "If there is to be a brave new world, it's going to be our generation that has the hardest time living in it." Star Trek may be kitsch at moments but I think it's the refusal to take it seriously that is so deeply sad. It models so well what television can be, what it can do. The questions it can raise that the majority of people never have a forum to ask, or consider.

I guess my point is that Star Trek, though certainly simplistic in many ways (not least of which its approach to Jim Kirk's role as "American idea"), was a vision of the future I, like Moore, could hope for. Maybe humanity would improve. Maybe we could learn from the past. Maybe there was hope for the future. Maybe Star Trek, for all its nerd status, got one thing right: Television is a place where social commentary and serious reflection can take place. It doesn't always have to be simple entertainment, or "reality TV" that only proves we haven't the slightest idea of what the first term means.

So -- yes. This, I suppose, is why I don't really mind being a dork.

In other notes, after a long hiatus I am back to blogging. May not be as frequent as I'd like, but I do hope to use it as I begin my orals reading. Which, for the record, is officially begun: I started it with From Memory to Written Record this weekend. Coming up this week: Augustine, translation theory and Derrida. And more teaching, which I am adoring. But more on all that another time.