In Discovery, the ongoing Star Trek series, we are in the fourth season. The fourth episode, All Is Possible, was directed by John Ottman (b. 1964) and written by Alan B. McElroy (b. 1960) and Eric J. Robbins (b. ?). So, it’s slanted to a Boomer worldview, specifically that of American Boomers; of course, as projected onto an imagined distant future society. It’s definitely an American vision of multiculturalism, an idealistic American Dream or rather post-American Dream where anyone, even alien species, can get ahead; according to egalitarianism and fairness, talent and hard work.
This episode is all about therapy, self-development, personal growth, and such (Cora Buhlert, Star Trek Discovery realises that “All Is Possible” in a Tilly-centric episode); a theme having shaped that generation of Boomers; although a German commenter stated that it didn’t resonate for him because psychotherapy is supposedly less common in Germany. To start off, that brings us to some questions. Would therapy, as we know it, even exist far into the future when all of civilization had been transformed? Or would it be like a medieval Catholic, under the theocratic Inquisition, having written a story about confession in the 21st century?
That is what we are getting at here. What exactly is the cultural bias being brought to the narrative? What is this historical moment (in American society and Americanized global society)? To emphasize the generational point, the first major role for a psychotherapist on a Star Trek show, The Next Generation, was Deanna Troi played by another Boomer, Marina Sirtis (b. 1955). That iteration of the Star Trek universe, compared to the original series, was more laidback, thoughtful, and emotionally sensitive. But both it and the original had captains played by members of the Silent Generation, if one Canadian and the other English — we wouldn’t get an American captain as a main role until Avery Brooks (b. 1948), of the Boomer Generation, as Benjamin Lafayette Sisko. It’s been largely Boomers ever since.
Anyway, in that episode, one specific sub-plot has to do with teaching a racially and culturally diverse selection of new cadets, as the United Federation of Planets is rebuilt. All of the actors involved are Millennials. So, it could be taken as a story about future Millennials as conceived of by present day Boomers, many of them being parents of Millennials. It’s not clear this tells us anything about actual Millennials right now or merely how certain Boomers perceive Millennials, in being filtered through the dreams and fantasies, hopes and aspirations of science fiction. This storyline, anyway, is amusing.
During a training exercise, Sylvia Tilley (played by Mary Wiseman, b. 1985), with the help of Adira Tal (played by Blu del Barrio, b. 1997), leads a group of cadets: Taahz Gorev (Adrian Walters, b. 1993), Harral (Seamus Patterson, b. 1994), and Val Sasha (Amanda Arcuri , b. 1997). But a gamma-ray burst causes them to crash-land on the wrong moon, quickly the pilot dies, and, with comms down, no one else can know their location (presumably the beacon is also down or otherwise unable to transmit). To make matters worse, moon monsters attack their shuttle, attracted by all of the electronics, and they are forced to escape in the middle of a spider lightning storm (lightning that spreads out).
So, lightning aside, they decide to head toward high ground in order to be able to contact the starship. Then while being chased by the moon monsters that are moments away from killing them, future space Millennials pause to share emotions, express gripes, compare victimization, mutually listen, develop solidarity, and team build. Through their newly learned skills of team work, they cooperatively struggle to save one of their members, continue to evade the moon monsters, and then are successfully teleported back to the ship; just in the nick of time, right before Tilly was almost devoured. All is well that ends well, except for the pilot who nonetheless does get a name, Lt. Callum, before he met his end.
It’s a generational fantasy, par excellence. Still, it’s no more unrealistic than the original Star Trek show; a fantasy about a privileged white male as the hyper-masculine space cowboy Captain Kirk bucking the centralized bureaucracy and top-down hierarchy while breaking rules and having promiscuous alien sex (not to mention the first interracial kiss showed on television). In reality, that would’ve led to his early death, demotion, or firing, not to mention STDs. That early Cold War SF fantasy was created by Gene Roddenberry (b. 1921), of an even older generation. The producers, writers, and actors were a mix of GIs and Silents, a far different generational mix producing a different kind of SF vision.
If we must be lost in some far-fetched fantasy or another, the more recent variation described further above, from Discovery, is more appealing to those who aspire to freedom, egalitarianism, and democracy. Yes, it may seem naive, if not outright silly. After all, when imminent death is looming, it’s not necessarily the most optimal time to do group bonding and trust building, unless one is seeking to bond in a shared sense of mortality. But the general humanistic and compassionate ideal is probably not entirely unrealistic, certainly not undesirable, specifically in attempting to envision well-functioning democratic socialism; as supposedly is the post-scarcity and post-monetary Federation.
Timeline complications aside involving time travel, events transpiring more than a millennium in the future when the Starfleet Academy cadets are being trained, there is no doubt individuals in a world where exists a technologically and socially advanced intergalactic Federation would possess highly developed emotional intelligence, psychological understanding, and social skills. The thing is they’d most likely have already resolved their basic differences immediately after joining the Federation, not while confronting moon monsters during a failed training exercise as diversity workshop. Heck, one would think that, from childhood, they’d have training, enculturation, and modeling for interracial and intercultural relations.
Sure, rebuilding the broken and ailing Federation, from reforging old alliances to seeking new members, would be no easy task. As the series portrays, a lot of anger, fear, and distrust has formed when some of these societies became isolationist for a time. On the other hand, many of these humanoid species have been in contact with one another at least for centuries by that point and some of them for far longer (e.g., Vulcans having contacted humans all the way back to our own century, the 21st); and still others have faced common enemies (a detail that comes up in the episode plot). Interplanetary relations and multicultural dialogue is hardly a new phenomenon.
But presumably the writers thought the episode needed some extra oomph of tension, conflict, and drama; to be played out on an interpersonal level. Besides, the show isn’t really about prospective intergalactic distress and uncertainty, distrust and hostility but about the present state of intercultural tumult and international crisis here on earth. The optimistic narrative implies that Millennials will heal us or rather heal themselves, in these and coming times of conflict. Though, interestingly, the ship therapist, Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz, b. 1973), is a GenXer; as are many of us in the audience. During a psychotherapy session, Culber is the one who suggests to Tilly that she take on that training opportunity with her fellow generational cohorts.
So, in this futuristic fantasy, future GenXers play the role of mediators and guides — maybe speaking more to the actual role being played by contemporary GenXers now in middle age. Though, also like in the present world, GenXers are rarely in Star Trek leadership positions; such that no starring role as captain has ever been given a GenX actor; if memory serves us correctly. Yet Millennials have already played key roles as captains; including the main actress of Discovery, Sonequa Martin-Green (b. 1985) as Michael Burnham. GenXers on 21st century earth, forever sandwiched in between, have long understood that power would likely slip from Boomers to Millennials — apparently, the same applies to their 32nd century equivalents.
By the way, Cruz as an actor made his initial fame playing the role of Rickie Vasquez on My So-Called Life, a show also created and produced by Boomers: Winnie Holzman (b. 1954), Edward Zwick (b. 1952), and Marshall Herskovitz (b. 1952). With his former and present roles alike and many in between, he has long been playing openly gay characters, from a homeless teen in 1994 to a spacefaring doctor in 3189. Talk about bridging a generational gap! One might like to believe that GenXers, if somewhat an overlooked generation, generally do carry a kind of social liberalism, a laissez-faire live-and-let-live attitude, forward from one century to the next and beyond; excluding, of course, reactionary knuckleheads like Glenn Beck, Kanye West, etc (Generation of Clowns in the Fourth Turning). Okay. okay, so it’s not a perfect generation — we had a tough childhood (Young Reactives In War (4th turning analysis); Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates; From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations; & Dark and Dystopian Entertainment). It’s our lot in life.
Interestingly, My So-Called Life played on tv the same year Kurt Cobain died, marking a pivotal period of cultural change remembered by both younger GenXers and older Millennials, these intergenerational cuspers sometimes being referred to as the MTV Generation; a time when what was formerly counter-culture became mainstream and hence co-opted and commercialized, symbolized by Cobain’s passing and what replaced him: “If you want to understand what happened to X sensibility in the nineties, everything starts with the gym scene in “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and everything ends with the gym scene in “. . . Baby One More Time.” Those are the bookends” (Jeff Gordinier, X Saves the World, p.69). It was also the decade of the first Star Trek revival. Many of these teenagers grew up watching the ’90s era Star Trek shows: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. The first two are the only Star Trek series to ever have had a lead role for a young adult, both roles acted by a GenXer: Wil Wheaton (b. 1972) as Wesley Crusher and Cirroc Lofton (b. 1978) as Jake Sisko; plus Jake’s best friend, Nog (Aron Eisenberg, b. 1969).
That set the stage for where the Star Trek imaginary is heading again. The focus seems to have returned to a younger audience, albeit the Zoomer Generation is oddly missing from all the recent main series, or at least no major character comes to mind played by anyone quite that young. At first, it occurred to us that maybe some of the cadets in Discovery might be Zoomers, but it turns out that none were in that particular storyline. Nor are they apparent much of anywhere in these shows, as starships seem to have few families, specifically among those in command positions; although TNG and DS9 often showed families, children, and schools.
No doubt there are Zoomer actors in various recent Star Trek series, but none quickly come to mind. In looking to some of the smaller projects, though, Zoomers briefly come up in two episodes of Short Treks, in the second season. Interestingly, at least one of the directors and two of the writers are GenXers, the generation that represents the majority of Zoomers’ parents. For now, Boomer writers are still dominating not only politics and economics but the cultural imagination. Whereas GenX writers, though getting well up in age, are often still stuck to doing small side projects like these short videos that likely gets few viewers. And so there is no influential creative force to bring Zoomers into the Star Trek spotlight, even as there are plenty of other popular shows with Zoomer actors and Zoomer-focused stories. It seems a lost opportunity for hooking young fans as the next generation of Star Trek viewers.
To get a taste of what might be coming next in GenX-led storytelling, about the stories being told by these now middle-aged GenXers, one episode shows young school age kids who witness mass violence, but neither of the characters has any dialogue. The other episode, a cartoon, is about a little girl being told a story by her father. As with the Discovery episode with Millennial-aged cadets, both of these Short Treks episodes are about fear and overcoming fear, maybe indicating future Zoomers will likewise be needing therapy, or else how GenXers are worrying about the mental health of their own children, godchildren, nephews, and nieces. Certainly, mental illness is skyrocketing, from one generation to the next. How might this up-and-coming generation, along with the next generation quickly arriving on the scene, fit into the larger Star Trek universe? Stay tuned. Boomers and Millennials won’t dominate forever.
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Transcript of “All Is Possible” (Season 4, Episode 4)
Gorev: Damn thing’s hunting us.
Tilly: It can’t see us with our equipment off.
Sasha: But we got to keep moving to stay ahead of this storm.
Gorev: But the lightning’s rolling in too fast. We won’t make it to the ridge.
Sasha: If we pick up the pace, we can get there ahead of the lightning.
Gorev: Stop acting like you are the expert.
Tilly: Calm down.
Gorev: You don’t know any more about this moon than the rest of us.
Harral: We’re too exposed out here. We need to find a cave and, uh, ride out the storm.
Sasha: Oh, there’s a genius idea. Let’s trap ourselves in a cave, make it easier for the monster to corner us. We don’t have time to stand around and argue. All right? I’m going.
Harral: This is ridiculous.
Gorev: If they’re going, I’m going, too. What about sticking together?
Tilly: Adira, stop. Stop it! All of you. Listen, you know, I’m usually a very upbeat person, bubbly, some would say. But right now I have one job: it’s keeping all of you alive. So we’re staying together. (Lightning strikes.) Adira! (Ice melts and then refreezes. Adira is frozen to the ground.)
Adira: I can’t move. I’m stuck! I can’t get out.
Tilly: Stay still, you’re okay. You’re okay. (Moon monsters screeching.)
Gorev: We have to do something before that gets here.
Tilly: Uh, okay, okay. Give me the emergency kit. Now! Come on. Here, Adira, grab it. You got it. Okay, everybody grab a piece. Sasha, you grab them. You got it? One, two, three, pull! (All grunting.) Pull! Pull! Almost. Keep going. Heave! Pull! Keep going! Come on.
Sasha: It’s working. Don’t let go! We got you. Keep going. Almost there. Almost. Almost there. Keep going. Closer! Almost! Keep going. Keep going, keep going! Got you! (All grunting.)
Tilly: You… you good? You good? Okay? Okay, good, we got this. The ridge is right there. We can make it.
Harral: Once we turn the comms on, that thing will sense us.
Tilly: Listen, we can do this. We just have to work together as a team. The same way we just did for Adira.
Gorev: Sure as hell would be easier if we didn’t have to count on an Orion.
Gorev: I’m just saying, he wanted to hide in a cave.
Harral: That’s what we’re trained to do.
Gorev: Just admit it.
Harral: We seek shelter.
Gorev: You only look out for yourself.
Tilly: Hey, enough! Enough. The Burn is in the past, all right? You got to decide now… are we gonna work together as a crew or not?
Gorev: When I was ten, an Emerald Chain raiding party commandeered my family’s food replicators because they could. I watched my grandmother starve to death. I had to bury the body because my parents were too weak from giving me their food. Now you expect me to work with him? (Moon monster growling in background.)
Tilly: I hear you. Have you ever asked him about his history with the Chain? Tell him. (Harral shakes head.) There is common ground here, but you’ll never find it unless you talk to each other.
Tal: Uh, his father was Bashorat Harral.
Sasha: Wh-Who’s that?
Tal: Uh, he was an activist. He drafted the Emancipation Bill for the enslaved, which was part of the armistice that the Emerald Chain eventually proposed to the Federation. He died a political prisoner before he could see any of that happen.
Harral: My father always said being an Orion meant we had an even greater responsibility to speak out against what the Chain was doing.
Sasha: Sorry for shutting you down earlier. The cave wasn’t a bad idea.
Tilly: That’s good. That’s really good, you guys. You’re talking. We need so much more of that. Right now, we need to make it to that ridge. Right? You with me?
All: Yeah. Yes.
Tilly: Come on, guys, you’re Starfleet now. It’s “Aye”.
Tilly: Nice work, cadets. Let’s go. Move out! (Moon monsters still hunting them down.)