Thursday, September 08, 2011

Happy 45th to Star Trek!

Happy 45th, Star Trek!  Its first episode aired September 8, 1966.  I watched "The Man Trap" that night (above is the first image of the Enterprise and the first of that episode), and I'm going to watch it again tonight to celebrate.

The 45th is not as big a deal as the 40th was, or the 50th will be, but that we care at all is still something.  Here's the first article (at I've seen to mark the occasion and suggest reasons why Star Trek still lives. I was a guest at a 40th anniversary convention in Seattle, where I chaired a panel on "The Soul of Star Trek."  I started it off with some of the ideas I presented on this site in "A Passion for the Future: the Soul of Star Trek."  Looking back, it summarizes what I still feel that Star Trek represents.  So I'm re-posting it here with a few changes.  (But even the introduction needed only a change in the anniversary year, from 40 to 45.)       

I can only add that in a time when apocalypse is more than ever the default vision of the future, Star Trek as the best-known model for a better future is more important than ever.

It’s 45 years later, and it’s pretty much the same. When Star Trek’s first episode aired on September 8, 1966 (after Daniel Boone and before The Dean Martin Show on NBC), the country was in turmoil over a long and unpopular war, there were racial tensions in American cities, environmental doom and nuclear destruction were common fears, and television tried to ignore it all. With the patina of prosperity on the fast-paced present, most people either dismissed the future, or viewed it with fatalism.

With hundreds of hours of stories over the past 45 years, Star Trek became the planet’s best-known saga of the future. Its earnestness inspired both devotion and ridicule, but perhaps that was a risk worth taking. While most responses to its anniversary consist of sentimental fauning over phasers and Klingons, warp speed and holodecks, its lasting achievement lies in a vision of the future with guiding ideals and cautions for our real world future, that are as valid and needed now as they ever were. A few of these precepts might be summarized as follows:

1. For a better future, we must become better people. Star Trek brought together believable future technology with identifiable human behavior, but it also modeled a vision of the future where standards were higher, and struggling with ethical issues was central. "To be good," novelist Iris Murdoch suggests, "it may be necessary to imagine oneself good." Bigger challenges require that we fulfill more of our potential, or we may never get to that future.

2. The journey out is the journey in. Because Star Trek's humans had to see themselves through the eyes of the aliens they encountered, they learned to value self-examination on all levels—as individuals, groups and as humanity as a whole. Star Trek also presented technology in human terms, another crucial connection, for the importance of technology is in how it is used, and technology follows psychology. The roles of art, mortality and human relationships all became central to the voyage. " is not the final frontier," wrote Star Trek and science fiction writer David Gerrold. "The final frontier is the human soul."

3. Respect all life. Its conscious championing of diversity became a commitment to respecting all forms of life and civilizations, and its grappling with these ideals in specific situations became its drama. “The continuing mission of the starship Enterprise has been to take us out of the smog of fear and hate into an open space where difference is opportunity, and justice matters, and you can still see the stars," wrote Ursula LeGuin. "Violence on the Next Generation is shown as a problem, or the failure to solve a problem, never as the true solution."

4. We are not invaders-- we are explorers. When Captain Picard said these words (defining the essential meaning of what Star Trek fans know as the Prime Directive), he was announcing a profound change from most of human history, in which exploration led directly to exploitation and conquest. Science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury dramatized the repetition of this pattern on other planets, but Star Trek portrayed the implications of its reversal--and the temptations to revert. This purifies and exalts the human drive to explore and to learn, and through the exuberance of Captain Kirk, portrays exploration without exploitation as joyful fulfillment.

5. Making money is not humanity's prime directive. A future without money was sometimes played for laughs, but it is one of Star Trek's most subversive ideas: people will work to "better themselves and the rest of humanity" (in Picard's words) without being paid. Even though everyone's material needs are met (some have argued since the 60s this is entirely possible now, even without Star Trek’s technological magic), it doesn't lead to laziness but to liberation. "When you take away the need to make a living, a lot of other things are possible," said Star Trek producer Jeri Taylor. Our myth of money, which Lewis Mumford calls "the most dangerous of modern man's hallucinogens," was not present in all of our past. Sociologist Max Weber argued that the acquisition of wealth as an ethically superior motivation didn't appear until the 17th century. It doesn't need to be--and perhaps cannot be--in our future.

6. It takes many hands to make a future. How do you evoke participation, creativity necessary for change, and yet keep focus on the future? Gene Roddenberry insisted on a plausible and self-consistent imaginary Trek future, but equally important, he inspired others to creatively participate in giving life to this future. There were bruised egos and some bad behavior along the way, but also dedication, collaboration and focus on the highest common denominator.

Star Trek saw diversity as strength, and our relationship to the Other as the key to our social evolution, our new sense of ourselves necessitated by the realization that we are not alone in the universe, and the key to the efforts needed to create the future.

7. The future is an adventure. This is perhaps Star Trek's primary vision. The future isn't something to fear or to desire. It is not predetermined by fate or selfish genes. It is something we go out to meet, with heart, soul and wonder. This has always been the key to Star Trek's appeal. "Back in the 60s, most science fiction was about people who weren't on earth because they were escaping it, it was so overpopulated and polluted that people couldn't live on it, or it was a charred cinder because we'd screwed ourselves over," explained Michael Malotte, president of an international Star Trek fan organization. "Gene's Star Trek was really the first science fiction of its time to show a future where we actually learn from our mistakes. We bettered ourselves and we banded together, and we headed out for the stars. "

Now in 2011, we face an immediate future that is eerily like the mid-21st century of Star Trek's imagined future history--a dark time.  But even that is an adventure, in which the ideals of caring for one another, of coming together to solve problems, of enacting the hope for a better future in the work of the present--all of these Star Trek ideals, may well help save the world.

"What is now proved," wrote William Blake, "was once only imagin'd." For those with a passion for the future, acts of the imagination constitute the present adventure on the final frontier. If our civilization gets through the next century or so, it may be because we remembered to boldly go.


Jason said...

"When you take away the need to make a living, a lot of other things are possible."

Today this is more relevant than ever. We don't have an economic problem, we have inevitability. I'm waiting for one our leaders to say enough to stimulus and make-work, and account for what century we live in.

Excellent article thoughout. I can also say that convention was indeed a special one.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Star Trek fans, set your phasers to stun! William Shatner’s new documentary, The Captains, lands in participating movie theatres across Canada on Thursday, October 13 at 7 p.m. (local time) for a one-night only presentation. This special event, presented by Cineplex Entertainment’s Front Row Centre Events and Ballinran Entertainment, is the final frontier to see this highly anticipated documentary in theatres.

The Captains is a feature length documentary that “boldly goes where no man has gone before,” giving viewers an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at one of the most durable and profitable franchises in entertainment history, and the men and women who made the Star Trek brand an international phenomenon since 1966. The Captains is written and directed by William Shatner.

*Tickets can be purchased at participating theatre box offices, through the Cineplex Mobile Apps and online at or our mobile site

Anonymous said...

The Captains premieres Thursday, October 20 at 8 p.m. PT on Movie Central and 9 p.m. ET on The Movie Network, following the premiere the film will be available on demand and online to Movie Central and The Movie Central subscribers.
Press Room:

Anonymous said...

You may have already been contacted by one of our press folks already, but I wanted to also personally give you the heads up, as a devout Star Trek fan, that “Trek Nation” will be premiering on SCIENCE tomorrow night, 8pm ET/PT. Here’s more information, but feel free to reach out if you’d like more (photos, clips, etc.).


-- George Lucas, J.J. Abrams and Seth MacFarlane join Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry Jr. on the journey of a lifetime featuring never-before-seen footage in TREK NATION premiering Wednesday, November 30, at 8PM ET/PT on SCIENCE--

SCIENCE celebrates the 45th anniversary of one of the greatest television franchises of all time, Star Trek, with the world-premiere two-hour event, TREK NATION. This tribute follows Gene Roddenberry’s son, Rod, as he explores the deep impact of his father’s singular vision for the future. Through interviews with fans, including George Lucas, J.J. Abrams, Seth MacFarlane, and many notable Star Trek alums, TREK NATION chronicles a son’s journey to discover his father’s work that helped defined science fiction. TREK NATION premieres on SCIENCE on Wednesday, November 30 at 8PM ET/PT.

TREK NATION draws on hours of exclusive footage, including never-before-seen home movies from the Roddenberry family collection and the first-ever Star Trek convention. This film demonstrates that Roddenberry’s work has not only inspired legions of fans across the globe, but generated a cultural movement. Star Trek is a phenomenon that goes beyond entertainment; it has influenced politics, space travel, social morality and much more. Star Trek was a catalyst which has fostered an enhanced understanding of the human condition, capturing man’s constant search for a better world.

For clips, photos, videos and interviews please contact:
Joanne Schioppi
Discovery Communications
850 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10022
Office: 212-548-5084
Cell: 917-853-7484