Wednesday, October 05, 2005

So in the coming weeks and---the producers hope—years, the nature of the aliens, their invasion (already known to have traces in the past) and their intentions will be slowly, oh so slowly revealed. But you can pretty much bet they won’t turn out to be good guys. And though Braga tells reporters how Threshold will be different from Star Trek, it’s not the techno-babble vs. understandable science, or freedom from the restrictions of the Roddenberry ethic---it’s this basic element: the aliens will be evildoers who hate our freedom.

Star Trek started at the height of the Cold War, but at the threshold of the period that came to be known as the Thaw, when Americans and Russians began to acknowledge each other’s humanity. After several dangerous confrontations, particularly the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, President Kennedy made serious efforts to lessen tensions. He got Soviet Premier Khrushchev to agree to the first nuclear test ban treaty, and the thaw in the Cold War began. It didn’t last; by the 80s President Reagan was demonizing the Soviets again as the Evil Empire. But the Thaw had prepared the way: when the walls fell, Americans and Russians were more able and willing to overcome the last stereotypes and, among other things, go into space together.

One of Star Trek’s well-known contributions to the culture as well as the science fiction genre was to propose the somewhat novel notion that aliens weren’t necessarily evil invaders, that their mission might not be to exterminate people. (It wasn’t completely new, of course---even the aliens in a few of those space invader 50s movies turned out to be good guys, or at least Misunderstood.)

This insight (insisted on by men like Roddenberry and Gene Coon who had seen combat against the Enemy, and learned as soldiers often do that the actual people they are fighting are not so different) in turn helped Star Trek portray and communicate a hopeful view of future possibilities.

How Threshold will avoid contributing to a harmful xenophobia, in an America that is in many ways alienated from the rest of the world, remains to be seen. I just hope we aren’t on the threshold of another war and torture movie, with no point but to raise blood pressure and hence ratings. The real thing is bad enough.

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