Thursday, August 04, 2005

Star Trek: A Passion for the Future

by William S. Kowinski

If you wanted to find the future, where would you go? To a World Future Society convention, as I did once? (There was one in Chicago just last week, which got almost no media coverage.) Or to the annual Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference like the one last month, where high technologists plug their products (big announcements by Steve Jobs and Bill Gates mean this one gets more media) and each expert ignores the field of every other expert, producing a chaos of foamy promotion, narrow prediction, and airy generalities?

Or would you head instead for a Star Trek convention, where people of all ages, races and descriptions gather to celebrate and talk about a future of adventure, exploration, ethics, intelligence and infinite diversity?

While you would obtain useful information and insights into aspects of the future at conferences like the WFS and TED, these smorgasbords of marketers and experts dominated by whatever it is they are selling or are expert in, seem unsatisfying, and the future they portray often appears to be mostly for themselves.

Star Trek conventions feature plenty of commercialism and obsessive experts in arcane areas, but they have at least one major advantage. At these other events, people have an interest---and very often a self-interest---in the future, or their version of it. At a Star Trek convention, as in the soul of Star Trek itself, you are likely to find a passion for the future.

Why is passion for the future important? Hope is enacted in the present. If you believe the future will be better---exciting, fulfilling and compassionate---it's heartening: it helps you get through the day. But if you have a passion to make a better future, then you can contribute to that possibility by what you do and say, what you advocate and represent, in the present.

Passion is not a word you generally associate with Trekkies, and perhaps it is more obvious in the people whose job it is to project emotion and articulate thought. When you hear people like actors LeVar Burton, George Takei, Denise Crosby or Nichelle Nichols, or writers and producers like Michael Piller, Dorothy Fontana or Jeri Taylor talk about the Star Trek vision of the future, the passion comes to the surface. When they speak from the stages at convention, you can feel it in their connection to the audience. They are speaking for the audience as much as to it.

The audience, or a significant part of it, wears the uniforms or attends the conventions and watches the shows to identify themselves with statements like Nichelle Nichols'---in this case, part of an on-camera interview, but just as likely to be heard from convention stages: "Star Trek is a format for what our future could be, one of harmony and respect and progress and adventure and intelligence, and of peaceful exploration with infinite diversity in infinite combinations, is what makes this universe beautiful."

They may try to express this passion in odds ways, like building the Star Trek future around them so they can, in one way or another, live in it, rather than give themselves up to the deluded, tyrannical and extremely lame present. But some also find other ways, working through organizations with Trek affiliations, or more covertly in their professions, civic and charitable activities and other commitments.

Many of them would also agree with George Takei: "I think it is very important that the philosophy [of Star Trek] not just remain an ideal out there, but we incorporate it into our lives and act on it. Certainly that's part of the message of Star Trek."

Today, Star Trek is conspicuously alone in being a complex vision of the future known around the world. It functions as a mythology of the future that has already influenced actual events and trends, on many levels, from the fairly mundane to profound decisions individuals have made concerning their own lives and futures.

Star Trek influences many cultures and helps to define a global culture, particularly in relation to the future. The passion for the future that Star Trek evokes and helps to delineate and instill is central to its contribution and its identity. Even in the current waning of its apparent popularity, no other vision or saga---or "franchise"--- has this identity and influence.

(Text continues after photos)

No comments: