Star Trek Over Time

I’m super curious about the new Star Trek show that will eventually be coming out, a bit delayed. The original is one of the shows I grew up with. And the entire set of series mark the changes of the world I’ve known over my life.

The Original Series is a cult classic. It’s Wagon Train to the Stars! It has the optimistic bravado of the early Cold War with a bit of an edge with the changing culture during the 1960s. It was largely escapist fantasy during a troubled era, but it was written and produced by those who remembered an earlier time. It resonated with the Golden Age of hard science fiction with its focus on technology and spaceships, exploration and adventure, along with some fun and imaginative ideas thrown in. It ended in 1969, before real world events turned even uglier in the 1970s, not to imply that American society wasn’t already taking a severe downturn.

I’ll skip over The Animated Series. It was a product of the 1970s, but it was very much an extension of The Original Series. I never watched much of it. The quality of the animation was equivalent of Scooby-Doo. The 1970s wasn’t known for its great animation, at least not on network tv, even if some of the cheap cartoons could be amusing for a child to watch. Anyway, Gene Roddenberry never considered The Animated Series to be canon.

Moving onto the 1980s and 1990s, there was The Next Generation. It revived the Star Trek world, brought the original out of status of mere cult classic and cheap rerun fodder. TNG was a truly high quality production. It made this future society much more compelling and realistic. The starship was an entire multicultural community with families, schools, entertainment, social events, etc. It was a utopian vision of technocratic socialism where the welfare state and social democracy had been pushed to their furthest extreme with all basic needs taken care of and all resources and opportunities made accessible, although a socialism that offered an alternative to the hard-edged communist totalitarianism of the Borg.

This particular futuristic imagining was the last gasp of Cold War optimism, the supposed end of history where capitalism had won and yet was becoming something entirely new. The show was initially produced during the last years of the Cold War and the beginning of the boom years that followed. It was a calmer time of history in the US and the West with no major wars or conflicts. Yet there was a growing edge of anxiety in the broader society. Threats of societal unease within the Federation mirrored the same in the United States, the tensions of a vast imperial-like civilization in both cases fraying at the edges with terrorism becoming an issue.

Interestingly, the Maquis were introduced in Deep Space Nine. That next series began in the last years of the previous series, The Next Generation. The Maquis were a terrorist group that arose at the frontier of the Federation, as some of the far-flung planetary colonists felt abandoned and betrayed by the centralized government. As TNG was still being produced, the Maquis storyline bled over into that series.

After the Cold War, Americans found themselves subjects of an empire and not sure what that meant. And those societies at the edge of the American Empire also were feeling on edge, as a new era of unchallenged neoliberalism came into dominance. It was a time of political conflict and culture wars. Without the global conflict of the Cold War, public attention turned toward these fractures within the Western world.

Years before the 9/11 terrorist attack, right-wing fanatics in the US and abroad were becoming central concerns. Ted Kazynski, the unabomber, continued his bombings through the early 1990s, the last two incidents killing the targeted victims, until he was arrested in 1996. The same year as Kazynski’s last bombing there was the Oklahoma City bombing, the largest act of domestic terrorism in US history. That was committed as retaliation for the 1993 violent conflict in WACO, involving the federal government and a religious cult that had been stockpiling weapons. There was also much violence by anti-abortion terrorists, including numerous murders in the 1990s. Outside of the US but in the English-speaking world, there was an upsurge of IRA bombings around that time as well, 28 attacks during the 7 years of TNG series.

On top of all that, it was a time of worsening racial and ethnic conflict. There was the police beating of Rodney King and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The tension of that decade was maybe exacerbated by the Immigration Act of 1990, which greatly increased the number of immigrants for the first time in decades. There was a realization that WASP culture was once again under threat. Fox News took advantage of those fears not just with right-wing pundits but also with hiring tall blonde women who represented the stereotype of the Aryan ideal, the white male audience presumably were supposed to fantasize about these women bearing them a new generation of Aryan children who would save America and lead us into the future… or something like that.

It was in this atmosphere that DS9 was produced. It showed a different side of the Federation and presented the first main captain character of a Star Trek series that was black. It was set on a space station near a wormhole and a highly religious planet, former territory of the Cardassian Union. The issues of the show were about conflicts, often violent, between various societies and groups within societies. These conflicts were often religious and ethnic in nature, but it also portrayed a setting of a multicultural meeting point where key characters of different races worked together and formed friendships.

The future of the Federation was being threatened like never before, but the enemies involved weren’t what the Federation was used to dealing with. The challenges faced were less of the variety of mighty space empires or communist-like Borg, but instead primarily the dangers of local religious fanatics and the menace of a highly advanced and secretive race of shapeshifters. The Dominion was an enemy that could be anywhere and appear like anyone. It wasn’t always clear, in DS9, who were enemies and who were friends or at least potential allies, as everything was in flux. Relationships, personal and political, were sometimes strained to the breaking point. And it was the destruction of the Maquis, caught in the middle, that was a prelude to war with the Dominion.

Back in the world of the United States, the sociopolitical mood during the mid-to-late-1990s was beginning to sour with the rise of a new kind of reactionary and conspiratorial right-wing that was given a platform through talk radio and Fox News: Alex Jones, Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, etc. The Cold War had been about American might expanding onto the global theater and also a time of exploration of space. But in the last decade of the century, American society had turned more inward. The United States was drifting along into the future, we Americans having lost our cultural bearings. Many sensed an impending doom with our civilization approaching the year 2000 and along with it the third millennium, a symbolic calendrical shift giving rise to a foreboding mood as if almost anything could happen, even the end of the world as we knew it.

The reason the Maquis had been brought into the Star Trek world was as a plot device for the then upcoming series, Voyager. That next series, having begun in 1995, took over when The Next Generation ended. The confident optimism of the earlier Star Trek series had entirely evaporated. The new storyline was about a Federation starship and a Maquis starship becoming lost in distant and unknown stretches of space. The stability and safety of the Federation are gone. The crews are forced to join together in hope of finding their way home again. They are thrown into the unintended role of explorers, a rough-and-ready crew reminiscent of the the Federation’s early years.

Like these former enemies who became necessary shipmates, the bitterly antagonistic two-party system of the 1990s found itself unprepared for a world not expected or understood. DS9 having ended in 1999, Voyager carried us into a new century and a new era. The last episode of Voyager was aired only months before the 9/11 terrorist attack. The Voyager had made its way back to the Federation and soon after, outside of the Star Trek world, the United States would regain a sense of national purpose. But the economic good times were already winding down with the bust of the Dot-com bubble. America’s sense of greatness would be militaristic, not economic.

In the new century, Americans became even more obsessed with the national history. Maybe unsurprising, the last aired Star Trek series, Enterprise, brought us to the beginning of the Federation or rather slightly before its formation. That series demonstrated the mood of simultaneously looking back and peering forward. The period of the Enterprise was the Federation’s past and our future. According to the Star Trek timeline, this present century will involve World War III and a period of post-atomic horror. Following that comes first contact with an alien species. Later this century, human society begins to recover. And it is in the next century that humans become a spacefaring civilization, the story told in the Enterprise series.

Watching that series is to see the initial fumbling steps of humanity moving toward maturity as a species, but humans at that point are still largely arrogant toward and ignorant of the world beyond Earth. Many mistakes are made, as humanity attempts to gain a moral compass. For example, the Enterprise crew are confronted with a situation where they have to decide about intervention and this is prior to any Prime Directive, as there is no Federation yet. The Prime Directive has often been interpreted as a criticism of American interventionism, such as during the Vietnam War, but it took on new meaning during the post-9/11 years when the Enterprise series was aired.

For various reasons, many fans disliked that series. It maybe doesn’t help that it is the only series involving a non-Federation crew. A Star Trek show minus the Federation is not quite the same. It is specifically the vision of the future offered by the Federation that has attracted so many fans. But maybe it would have been hard for Americans to feel much interest in any Star Trek series in that early period of the War on Terror, a time when dark and dystopian entertainment captured the public imagination.

Yet in its own way, the Enterprise series did resonate. It maybe resonated too well, in presenting a future that was too close for comfort. In the 21st century, we are entering into the future history of the Star Trek world and it ain’t pretty. The coming years are supposed to be a time of mass unemployment, poverty, and homelessness which leads to the formation of ghettoized Sanctuary Districts and ends up inciting the Bell riots of 2024. It’s a pivotal moment, the setting of the stage for the events that move us toward global disaster and rebuilding. In its inspiration, it mirrors another pivotal moment, as the idea of the Bell riots was based on two real world events from decades ago: the 1970 Kent State shootings and the 1971 Attica Prison riot.

The era of the early Starfleet is born out of the ashes of, from our perspective, a yet to happen near apocalypse. With the mood of America and the rest of the world right now, World War III and nuclear destruction seems all the more probable. Our present fearless leader, President Trump, is a dumbed down and even less competent version of our last demoralizing chief of state, President Nixon with his inglorious impeachment and resignation, providing yet another link between the events of the 1970s and contemporary developments in the 21st century. As we face the future, it’s an immense gulf between our petty American Empire and the grand galactic civilization of the Federation guided by wise leaders such as Captain Picard.

That leaves us with the next installment. Coming soon is the Discovery series. It will return us to the time period of the original Star Trek, approximately ten years before. So, this will involve a refocusing on exploration and, well, discovery. I’m not expecting a re-envisioned Wagon Trail to the Stars, but I suspect the recent movies in the franchise very well might be indicative of the direction being taken. It supposedly is intended to help bridge the 150 years between the Enterprise and the original. I must say that sounds rather ambitious.

I’ll be curious to see how it might touch upon contemporary issues. One thing that stood out to me is that the cast is described as diverse, including a gay character. I don’t recall homosexuality coming up in the original show, but Captain Kirk had interracial kisses in two separate episodes which was scandalous for mainstream tv at the time. Whatever kind of show it is, it will be nice to return to my favorite fictional universe. And I certainly wouldn’t mind the opportunity to escape dark and depressing present realities, by leaping forward a couple centuries into the future. Star Trek, at its best, has been a visionary show and even leaning toward the utopian. We Americans could use some confident optimisim at the moment.

22 thoughts on “Star Trek Over Time

    • The original series surprisingly did deal with many issues. Maybe a science fiction show back then was given more freedom.

      That is unsurprising. Obama has been cashing in for a while. He became quite wealthy in the years after entering politics and before becoming president. He was already a millionaire before he won the presidential election.

      • I read an article yesterday about media bubbles. It was probably in the Wall Street Journal, the most corporatist of the corporate media. The author pointed to various things such as social media as an echo chamber. It amused me. The author was probably more in an echo chamber than the average American. But it was obvious that the author, as a member of the intellectual elite, thought he was above such biased worldviews.

        As for this article, it is good to see more in the corporate media waking up to their blindness and obliviousness. The authors is pointing in the right direction. They acknowledge some obvious factors that can’t be ignored. But they still don’t quite get at the most fundamental issues.

        “As of 2013, only 7 percent of [journalists] identified as Republicans […] If you’re a working journalist, odds aren’t just that you work in a pro-Clinton county—odds are that you reside in one of the nation’s most pro-Clinton counties. […] So when your conservative friends use “media” as a synonym for “coastal” and “liberal,” they’re not far off the mark.”

        This is rather muddled thinking. Corporate media is dependent on profits and so targets the largest markets. As most Americans live in urban areas and as most urban areas are in or around big cities, the interests of the targeted demographics will be the focus of corporate media. Most media companies and so most media jobs are located in the main media markets where most media consumers live.

        What percentage of head editors, head of newsrooms, corporate management, CEOs, shareholders, and owners are Republicans? Journalists don’t decide what gets put on the news. Those above them do. And where do those people above them live? With concentration of corporate media, the same parent companies will own news media that gets sold as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’, but in reality the bias presented is simply corporate and corporatist. The corporate media bubble and echo chamber has little to do with partisan politics. Commenter Jeff Tarrant explained this well:

        “Everything you list is corporate owned and therefore slanted towards ratings. The news corporations are primarily controlled by conservatives. Hoilywood actors may lean left, but studios lean right. Beat reporters may be ideologically more liberal, however, their editors are generally conservative. (See Ron Fournier and Fred Hiatt for proof.) And those Sunday shows average two Republicans/conservative to each Democrat/liberal. Business media and AM radio are completely monopolized by conservative voices. Your rightwing bubble is safe and secure. Not to worry.”

        The populist era also didn’t see mainstream media and politics representing them. And that was at a time when most of the population was rural. It’s always been the case that even local media has taken its cues from the national media in urban centers, including the reprinting of articles. That is nothing new. During the colonial era, most of the media was concentrated in coastal urban areas. As commenter Keith Romero stated it, “Lois Lane worked as a reporter in Metropolis not Smallville to put it in the simplest terms.”

        Here is another good point made by another commenter, Macrena Sailor:

        “Okay full disclosure I have a masters in journalism and media studies. First of all journalsim students have always skewed more socially liberal since the beginning of j-schools. A broad unrestricted orientation is required and objectivity rubs a lot of conservatives the wrong way (on a abortion for instance). Objectivity is a learned liberal arts principle, it’s a not an inherent human trait that we all have
        “Similarly, I have worked in news bureaus and media relations capacities for more than a half dozen prominent schools. Liberal to progressives types are more likely to attend j-school because they want to have a “positive” impact on the world. On the flip side you’ll find a lot more conservatives in Business and Finance Schools. That’s called self selection by the students based on their respective interests, psychographics and worldviews.”

        Most journalists are ‘liberal’ in some basic ways. Yet at the same time these ‘liberal’ journalists are to the right of most Americans on many major issues, such as their showing opposition to or little support for progressive economics and public healthcare while promoting neoliberal corporatism and beating the drums for wars of aggression. These journalists do tend to be Democrats. But exactly what kind of Democratic Party do they belong to? Is the third way politics of the Clinton New Democrats actually liberal to any great extent?

        To return to the article:

        “What caused the majority of national media jobs to concentrate on the coasts? An alignment of the stars? A flocking of like-minded humans? The answer is far more structural, and far more difficult to alter: It was economics that done the deed.”

        It’s not just Democrats and liberals but the majority of Americans across the political spectrum that are concentrated in the same urban areas. Even in the conservative South, most of the media companies and jobs are concentrated in big cities and coastal areas. What the authors don’t point out is that, in the American population, there are more people who lean left than lean right. Trump won an election partly by making campaign promises that expressed old school New Deal Progressivism, far to the left of Clinton’s politics: ending neoliberalism, stopping big money corruption in politics, using big government to rebuild infrastructure, etc.

        Strongly principled liberals along with left-wingers and radicals are also to be found in big cites and coastal areas, but you don’t see them much in the corporate media. On corporate media, there are more conservatives, right-wingers, reactionaries, right-libertarians, etc than there are liberals (in the sense that the general public is liberal), left-wingers, radicals, left-libertarians, etc. I’ve regularly have watched right-libertarians on corporate media, including some with their own shows. Could you imagine Noam Chomsky being given his own show on even the most ‘liberal’ corporate media? Chomsky explains far better the problems of media, in his discussion of the propaganda model.

        Also, consider someone like Cenk Uygur. He was a Reagan Republican of the classical liberal variety who turned away from the party’s extremism and became what once would have been considered a standard progressive liberal. His views are moderate an in line with the American public, but within corporate media and the two-party duopoly, he looks like a radical. He started his own news show and grew it into a large following. He then took a job with MSNBC, but quit because they were telling him what to report and how to report it. Never have the illusion that journalists are free to express their views for, if they do and their views don’t align with corporate interests and profits, they won’t be working long in the corporate media. Uygur left his job in big biz media because otherwise he probably would have been fired for being too liberal.

        “With few exceptions, Clinton ran the table in urban America, while Trump ran it in the ruralities.”

        I’m not even sure what that is supposed to mean. Trump’s victory came with the support of 8 large coastal states and many other states with large urban populations. Some of the swing states that Trump won were heavily urban.

        Anyway, most Americans, specifically most white Americans, have been urban for more than a century. Most conservatives and Republicans are urban these days, although they might choose to live in suburbs and gated communities from where they commute to their jobs in cities. Most Americans, left and right, live in or around and consume the media produced in urban centers. Furthermore, these urban/suburban residents, left and right, vote at higher rates than their rural counterparts.

        None of this is ideological in a simple sense, although there is definitely something going on with the rural population that is shrinking, aging, and dying. This has led to a brain drain as rural residents see their children and grandchildren leave, while everyone else is left behind specifically those with the worst problems (under-education, impoverishment, single motherhood, toxicity-related illnesses, work-related injuries, physical disabilities, learning disabilities, lower IQ, mental illnesses, drug addiction, etc). To the degree it is ideological, it is because Republicans have slowly won over, as Democrats have abandoned, the old progressive leftist strongholds of the regions of farming, mining, and industrial manufacturing.

        These rural people, ever lessening in number, have increasingly turned to Republicans not because they represent them but because these people are living in fear and Republicans are selling a narrative of fear. Still, it’s easy to forget that large swaths of rural areas remain Democratic-leaning and would vote Democratic en masse, if Democrats ever returned to genuine progressive liberalism. This is because many of these rural people are old school Democrats, retired union members, and also a large number of minorities.

        Even rural populations aren’t turning right, per se. They are simply turning scared of a world that is leaving them behind and that sense of fear is based on real reasons, as the lives of the poor especially the rural poor are worsening with increasing unemployment and underemployment, stress-related and poverty-related physical and mental health problems, addiction and alcoholism, suicide, etc. If Democrats refuse to offer any tangible hope and instead dismiss them as deplorables, that will simply make these already desperate people even more desperate.

        “Resist—if you can—the conservative reflex to absorb this data and conclude that the media deliberately twists the news in favor of Democrats. Instead, take it the way a social scientist would take it: The people who report, edit, produce and publish news can’t help being affected—deeply affected—by the environment around them.”

        That is a good point. Living among concentrated populations does make one more liberal and progressive in many ways. This probably is why most Americans, as they become more urban, become more liberal and progressive.

        Here is a major problem. People still living in rural areas have their entire lives funded by the taxes from urban areas. Yet they don’t understand the issues that are important to those in urban areas, as those in urban areas don’t understand rural issues. Those in rural areas would like an economy that serves all Americans so that rural residents wouldn’t be economically dependent on funding from the wealth concentration in the urban economy. Wealthier urban residents think that rural residents should simply move to urban areas to find work, which entirely ignores the fact of high unemployment and homelessness in urban areas. Many rural residents understandably believe that it is better to be poor around friends and family than to be poor while alone in the city.

        “But is this really America, either? It’s worth mentioning that Fox and Breitbart—and indeed most of the big conservative media players—also happen to be located in the same bubble. Like the “MSM” they rail against, they’re a product of New York, Washington and Los Angeles. It’s an argument against the bubble, being waged almost entirely by people who work inside it.”

        There is the rub. Right-wing media is also corporatist media located mostly in big cities and along the coasts. It’s the same media bubble. The conflict between ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ media is largely a staged fight to create spectacle and provide diversion from the corporate interests pulling the strings. None of this corporate media can challenge the corporatist domination of our society and politics because, left and right, that corporate media is owned, operated according to, and serving the interests of corporations. It’s all the same corporatist system, a massive circle jerk and it doesn’t particularly matter if they jerk off each other with their right or left hands.

        “Is America trapped? Certainly, the media seems to be. It’s hard to imagine an industry willingly accommodating the places with less money, fewer people and less expertise, especially if they sense that niche has already been filled to capacity by Fox.”

        Now this misses the point. Those rural areas aren’t going to make a come back. Those populations will continue to shrink as more and more people move to the cities. That is the near inevitable future, unless some new development alters this centuries old trend of growing urbanization. The main problem isn’t that corporate media doesn’t represent most rural people, as corporate media doesn’t represent most urban people either. As the American public shifts further left, the corporate media shifts further corporatist. The reality that the corporate media can’t admit, not even in articles like this, is that the corporate media isn’t all that ‘liberal’ in any meaningful sense.

      • The big problem is that I don’t see corrective action being undertaken.

        They have 2 purposes:

        Get the message of the ruling elite to the common citizen
        Make advertising revenue

        They gave all pretense of objectivity in Clinton vs Sanders and later in Trump vs Clinton. The idea that Sanders and Trump supporters might have legitimate economic grievances was dismissed.

        “What percentage of head editors, head of newsrooms, corporate management, CEOs, shareholders, and owners are Republicans? Journalists don’t decide what gets put on the news. Those above them do. And where do those people above them live? With concentration of corporate media, the same parent companies will own news media that gets sold as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’, but in reality the bias presented is simply corporate and corporatist. The corporate media bubble and echo chamber has little to do with partisan politics. Commenter Jeff Tarrant explained this well:”

        I guess Fox News might count, but not much otherwise save the alternative media.

    • In the article, the main message is that Clinton, her campaign, and her cronies had no idea what they were doing or why they were doing it. I’d say that is incorrect.

      They had a very precise purpose in mind. They were doing what they had always done to maintain wealth and power among the plutocracy while maintaining the status quo among the establishment. But the problem is that doesn’t make for a good campaign platform for winning an election.

      It was amusing what one campaign worker stated: “our failure to reach out to white voters, like literally from the New Hampshire primary on… never changed.” Heck, she couldn’t even successfully reach out to Clinton’s own demographics of white women and middle-to-upper class women, much less other demographics like younger women.

      This still misses a deeper failing. She had less minority support than previous Democratic presidential candidates. She failed to reach out to young minorities, poor minorities, rural minorities, and post-industrial urban minorities. Many thought it a better choice to not vote at all than to vote for Clinton, which is to say that as a politician many considered her worse than nothing. Also, she actively repelled minorities in some key places, such as Cuban-Americans and Haitian-Americans in Florida.

      Too many people remain deluded. Clinton failed all across the board. If she had targeted more whites, she still likely would lost. Everyone could tell that she stood for nothing but her own ambitious careerism. All of her rhetoric was disingenuous, such that it was clear that even she didn’t believe it. So, what was the point?

      Clinton lost because she is a loser. She needs to own it.

    • She actively worked to alienate people it seems.

      It’s hard to run on a pro-war, pro Wall Street campaign platform and make it seem attractive.

      Her entire campaign has been trying to pretend to be something she wasn’t, from insisting she had the same platform as Bernie Sanders to pretending to be a left wing progressive to try to win Sanders voters.

      • To fully write about the corruption of Clinton New Democrats, it would require multiple volumes each with a thousand pages of cited text. It seems endless. The more people look for it the more that is found. And just imagine what is still hidden. Let’s hope for some more leaks.

    • There are definitely plenty of professional politicians who are out of touch. But that is because there is so many incentives to be that way. Why should these plutocrats give a fuck?

      Whether they lose or win any particular election, they remain in power and grow wealthy. It is irrelevant which wing of the corporatist duopoly controls government at any moment. And when these assholes leave Washington, they simply get a job with the very corporations they spent their political careers servicing.

      It’s not like Trump being president is a threat to the plutocracy that Democrats love so much. If Perez was told by his corporatist puppet masters to suck Trump’s dick, he’d do so gladly but then afterward argue that he didn’t swallow.

    • I think that it is very tragic that Sanders did not win in that regards. He would not have been perfect and found himself against a 2 front war versus both parties, but it might have been a big step forward.

    • I can see why the DNC chose Tom Perez to be their new leader. He’s a reliable stooge for the corporate Democrats.

      Look at how he answers the questions too – he’s pretty evasive, trying to avoid giving a direct answer, versus Sanders.

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