Star Trek’s optimistic future in a pessimistic present


Photo Illustration by Haley Prieto | Staff Illustrator

Jordan Pilkenton

Space: The final frontier. These are the words first broadcast to American families in September 1966 on the soon to be revolutionary television program, Star Trek. Created by Gene Roddenberry, it revolved around the crew of the Starship Enterprise, and was meant to encapsulate all that humanity could accomplish while banded together in complete peace and equality. Star Trek as a franchise has lasted until today, but its message of hope and prosperity has found increasing difficulty resonating with contemporary audiences.

As the years go on, our generation has become more and more cynical. With the looming threat of nuclear attack as tensions with North Korea rise, a rampant amount of mass shootings and an unpredictably unstable executive branch, we are living interesting times.

Claiming a pointed eared man saying “Live long and prosper” could make any difference seems preposterous. Roddenberry thought differently, as his vision of the future had humans putting our differences aside so we really could live long and prosper. The era when Star Trek was not too different from our own, it was the height of the cold war and mutually-assured nuclear destruction with Russia seemed like a certainty. Both the social upheaval of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were in full swing; it was a dynamic and uncertain time for America. Despite the negativity in the air, Roddenberry created a show with the rule that an episode’s dilemma could never come from inter-cast disagreements but only external threats or hazards. The Enterprise crew was intended to represent all of humanity. Roddenberry believed that together there was no obstacle the human race could not overcome if we could just move past our own egos and put aside prejudice and bigotry.

Star Trek did not just hope for a better tomorrow, it actively pursued it in its time. Roddenberry was not afraid to push the boundaries of what the general audience of 1966 would accept, especially when it came to casting. It was the unbreakable norm of the television world that a cast needed to be American and male. Despite that “tradition,” and at the apex of the red scare, Russian native Officer Pavel Chekov was a mainstay of the Enterprise crew. That itself was risky enough for the late ’60s, but the show did not stop there.

One of the show’s highest ranking members was Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, played by real-life internment camp survivor George Takei, who was the earliest positive representation of Asian-Americans in T.V history. The most impactful progressive milestone Star Trek achieved was by casting black actress Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura. This was the first major role for a black woman on television, and she remained a member of the main cast for all three seasons of the shows original run. While that is historically monumental, the previously mentioned milestone came in the show’s final season. In season 3, episode 10, Captain Kirk, a white man, and Uhura shared the first interracial kiss in American broadcast history. With overwhelming fan support, Star Trek opened the door for a plethora of talented actors and actresses of all races to enter the entertainment industry.

For Roddenberry, Star Trek was not about simply glimpsing at a possible future but making that progressive utopia happen. We need Star Trek now more than ever, we need the idea that we as a species can put all this strife behind us. The news has not been the most positive in recent years, the world as a whole has been going through a lot, and it is far easier to adopt a cynical outlook toward life. That kind of outlook has never benefited progress, to make a change it has to be believed in. When we have nothing else, we have hope.

If you liked this story, consider supporting student media through a donation or by signing up for our weekly newsletter.

Did you like this story? Share it on Flipboard

Flipboard share
Viewed 144 times, 1 visits today