Responding to my previous post on Jean-Luc Picard, commenter Divine Right has given us a very interesting and detailed essay on the degeneration of Star Trek. The destiny of the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises is instructive. Whatever one thinks, and beyond politics, there used to be some heart and even philosophical or mythical elements in these shows/films. Today, one has superb special effects and technical prowess, absolutely no substance, considerable vulgarity, and utterly empty melodrama and hyperemotionality over nothing. This is a good mirror to our civilization as a whole today.
My take on modern Star Trek compared to the old:
Star Trek very much embodied what liberal American white males of the 1980s and 1990s thought the future would (or should) look like: secular, sexually liberated, humanistic, meritocratic, equitable, and technological – a man’s world, basically. In this world, religion plays practically no role in public life. Problems are solved with diplomacy instead of violence. Money doesn’t exist, so there is no capitalism, greed, or want. People spend their lives bettering humanity and doing other such noble things like negotiating peace with aliens or exploring the universe in one of Starfleet’s advanced starships, each equipped with a plethora of miraculous technologies. In their leisure time, the crews of these starships visit a holographic room, the holodeck, which can conjure any fantasy into a photorealistic facsimile of the real thing.
Probably the only place in the Western world where this mentality can still be found is California’s Silicon Valley. As in the fictional world of Star Trek, men do most of the work; they advance through meritocracy; and there is something akin to a fraternal culture, irrespective of the prevailing progressive ideology. Silicon Valley is also still largely free of the odious diversity requirements imposed on the rest of society.
That was also once true of Hollywood itself, and it showed in the television they produced — Star Trek, for example. That franchise, spanning hundreds of television hours and a number of theatrical releases, was mostly helmed by men who got their jobs through merit – actors, writers, ship designers, show runners. The main characters of each of the television series were also men. The Original Series (TOS) featured a lead triangle of male actors – Kelley, Shatner, and Nemoy. The sequel, The Next Generation (TNG), featured mostly male characters, certainly all the most popular ones. These characters often featured something educated men are interested in: the second officer is an android; the chief engineer has a technology-supplemented vision; the executive officer is a ladies man and a master strategist who plays games of skill underpinned by mathematical rules; the captain is a wise and cultured authority figure who reads Shakespeare; the security chief is a noble warrior from an alien species whose culture is based around rules of honor.
Spinoffs like Deep Space Nine (DS9) and Voyager were more diverse, but still roughly comported to what the male audience desired. DS9 featured a male captain, and the most popular characters were all men. Voyager had a female captain who mostly avoided gender politics outside of a few instances in the earlier seasons (written by a woman) – a rarity these days. In that show, one of the two most popular characters was a male and the other was a sexy Borg chick, Seven of Nine.
The high point of the franchise, The Next Generation, featured a mostly white liberal cast and various things white liberals liked at the time – sex appeal, food, pseudointellectualism (although handled capably by talented male writers), cutting edge tech, meritocracy, optimism, exploration, and the white man’s moralism.
Starfleet, the Federation’s military and scientific branch, was a rigorous meritocracy, just as Silicon Valley is today. Members were admitted only through a combination of senior officer recommendations, high scholastic achievement, and phenomenally high standardized test scores. Character was also paramount. Crew evaluations feature prominently in several episodes of TNG, and it was made clear to underperforming members that the starship Enterprise cuts a standard above the rest; perform or hit the road.
In the diverse world of Star Trek, the white writers imagined meritocracy would ensure whites like themselves would still have a position at the top of society (just as in Hollywood then and Silicon Valley now) despite soon becoming a minority in real life America. You’ll notice progressive humans are at the center of the Federation in Star Trek despite being a small minority in that fictional universe as well. That’s by design, conscious or not.
You can tell the creators desperately wanted to believe this sweet little lie about diverse societies. I’m sure they imagined their tolerance would be reciprocated when they were on the receiving end; we now know that’s not true, unfortunately. Remember, this was the generation that famously cheered President Bill Clinton’s college commencement speech where he lauded the idea of America soon becoming majority minority. The primarily white crowd roared in approval.
White Male Star Trek Alum Denied Directing Job on Discovery Because He’s . . . White Male
In this imagined future, white liberals would still get to feel morally superior to contemporary white conservatives, just as they often strive to in today’s world. In TNG, this is accomplished through various means – cooperation with hostile aliens (demonstrating philosophical supremacy, superiority of intellect and temperament), bravery, tolerance of differences in others, multiculturalism (the show almost never celebrates an earth holiday like Christmas but often supports alien cultures, including breaking Starfleet’s rules of dress for aliens), standing up to corrupt superiors (usually white conservative caricatures).
In the TNG episode The Drumhead, Picard faces down a witch hunting admiral — a woman, no less. The plot revolves around an incident that occurred on the starship Enterprise. Sabotage is suspected, and the situation is tense. The initial evidence points to a low ranking crewman who is later discovered to be of mixed race, one-quarter of the Federation’s most feared enemy. This all but convicts him in the eyes of the admiral’s tribunal. The admiral mercilessly presses her case, threatening to destroy anyone who gets in her way. She’s meant to be a caricature of conservative jingoists of the era – always scared of the Russians, racist against minorities, emotional. In Hollywood’s view of history, those were the people behind the McCarthy hearings, which this episode obviously pulls from.