Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Captain's Log: 50 Year Anniversaries

There were two 50 year anniversaries of public interest this week.  One was the 50th birthday of the Doctor Who series that began on BBC television on November 23, 1963.  The BBC and the cable TV station  BBC America have been building up to the day with old episodes and documentaries, then on Saturday a  Doctor Who special episode, "Day of the Doctor," starring Matt Smith, David Tennant and John Hurt, with a cameo by Tom Baker.

It was a ratings hit in the UK and the U.S., over here becoming the most watched BBC America program ever, and the most watched cable show in its time slot.  It was simulcast to movie theaters around the world, and was the number two movie in the U.S. on the day.  It got very good reviews as well, such as this one and this one--both heavy with spoilers.

But it was preceded by another anniversary, marking 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963.  I've reflected on its immense significance here.  But it's worth noting the importance of President Kennedy to Star Trek.

John Kennedy served in the Pacific in World War II at the same time as Gene Roddenberry.  Kennedy captained a PT boat that was cut in half by a Japanese vessel.  For several days he and his men were lost.  Kennedy led the survivors swimming to the nearest island, towing one of them by holding a rope in his teeth.  Roddenberry was flying B-17 bombers from a base in the vicinity. He was involved in a crash on takeoff at about the same time.  Otherwise he might have joined in the air search for Kennedy and crew.

GR's aversions to war and authority came from his wartime experiences.  As Thurston Clarke notes in his new book JFK's Last Hundred Days, so did Kennedy's.  His wartime experiences made him question the pressure he was getting from military brass that might have led to thermonuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it was important to his championing of the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

When JFK accepted the Democratic Party nomination for President, it was at the convention in Los Angeles, where GR was beginning his TV writing career.  In his acceptance speech, he outlined his vision of a New Frontier:  "The new frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges…Beyond that frontier are uncharted areas of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus." "…I believe the times demand invention, innovation, imagination, decision. I am asking each of you to be new pioneers on that new frontier."

In his Inaugural, Kennedy called for cooperation among all countries, especially the U.S. and USSR:“Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.”

All of this and more suggest the vision GR would extend to the Star Trek universe.  Some commentators suggest that JFK was one of the models for Captain Kirk.

And of course it was JFK who greatly expanded the U.S. space program, and challenged America to send a man to the moon and return him safely by the end of the 60s.  In a 1962 speech in Texas he talked about the importance of space: "We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war." "

"I do not say the we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours."

 " We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone..."

Kennedy visited Cape Canaveral just six days before his assassination, and saw the Saturn rocket--seven times taller than the previous Redstone that had taken the first Americans into space. He talked about this new frontier, what Roddenberry would call the final frontier, on his trip to Texas fifty year ago.

1 comment:

brenna coopersmith said...

hi there

pharrell williams just interviewed leonard nimoy for our show artst tlk, and i'd love to share the link with you so you can post it on your blog. please let me know how i can contact you.

thank you!