The Disruptive Influence of Star Trek
Today is Star Trek’s 50th anniversary. That’s hard to believe. I still remember when it was the 20th anniversary. A big deal to me then, but not as much to the outside world. Now it’s become more mainstream, and even some aspects of it embedded in our culture.
But I also remember when people looked at it and sneered with utter contempt. All they saw were the spaceships, the pointed ears, and the monsters. My guitar teacher would tell me repeatedly that her son had worked on the set and how fake everything looked, like she was trying to justify what was wrong with me watching and enjoying it. A fellow student informed me repeatedly that Little Rascals was soooo much better (it was airing every day on KTLA at the time).
No one got it.
Moreover, I’m not sure the people who didn’t get it made any effort to try. It was just something for weirdos and nerds, and those were strange people.
But it was representative of a small bit of change that started, that caught the attention of a few. And the thing about Star Trek is that it had so many layers that the appeal varied from person to person. Some people liked how it took current events and put them in a science fiction format. I didn’t understand enough of the news to understand those events, so I missed most of that completely.
Mine was more simple: I grew up in a world where books didn’t have much for women readers. Women could get married, they could be rescued—but they couldn’t have adventures. Though women were making their way out into the working world slowly and change was happening, the expectation was that women would get married, have kids, and cook and clean.
I didn’t like that being the only expectation. I wanted choices.
And here we had Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise, handling communications. Even though I was pretty young and didn’t know much about the military beyond what I’d seen on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and read in submarine books, I could tell it was an important position.
Looking at it now, her role is disappointing, and Star Trek doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to women. Then, it was better than we were getting anywhere else.
But the other thing Star Trek had was that it said things would be okay in the future and we would resolve our differences.
We need that more than ever now. But is anyone up to taking the chance like Gene Roddenberry did 50 years ago?
Despite having the internet where anyone can say literally anything, there’s even more influences trying to hold this change back. A new version of Star Trek is coming out, and I heard one of the movie actors saying that no one was ready for the Star Trek of the 1960s. I don’t think he understood the original Star Trek and what it did—it was more likely the studios were not ready for it. They’ve become so risk adverse that they want something safe that will make money; a show or movie that pushes the envelope scares them because it might cause controversy. It might not—gasp!—not make any money.
Star Trek was never about playing it safe. It was one of the things the executives really hated, and what the fans really loved.
We need this disruption.