I've often wondered if that television show, along with my progressive Catholic upbringing, actually shaped the basis of the political beliefs I've taken into adulthood. If not then they at least had some influence.
To me Star Trek doesn't just represent sci-fi action, technobabble and the occasional bad acting. There's an optimism that runs through Trek, at least the Trek inspired directly by Gene Roddenberry if not the later television series(*), that presents us a picture of the future in which the superficial is immaterial.
I've been thinking about this as the reverberations of Proposition 8 continue to move through our political landscape. One doesn't need to believe that man will be able to dematerialize one place and appear somewhere else or fly through space in giant ships named after famous nautical vessels to believe that progress is inevitable. The future will be better for all of us regardless of race, religious belief, gender, sexual orientation or whatever else separates us.
Just to highlight my point I'd like to share a few quotes highlighting the "vision" of Star Trek. Here's an old interview with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry given shortly before he died--
"As you know, one of the joys of Star Trek, for me, has been the variety of our fans. When I go to conventions and I see people of all sizes and shapes and abilities, and when I see people with nerve disorders that can’t really sit properly and so on, I still know what’s in their mind. They are saying, “In a better world, I can do anything. I’ll be there in a better world. In a better world, they will not laugh at me or look down their nose at me.”
I used to speak at colleges a lot because it was what kept me alive and paid the mortgage in the days when Star Trek was considered a gigantic failure. I have met some of these people. I remember one night someone called me over and said, “Can you possibly talk to this man?” And here was a fellow with some kind of nerve disorder who had an electronic box, he couldn’t speak, and by hitting the box, he could make halfway intelligible sounds. He could only make grunting-like noises. And finally I began to understand what he was saying and he was asking me why I did a certain thing in a certain show, and why I had invented somebody who had something of his disorder. I said to him, “Someday when we become wise, we won’t look at those things. We will look at communication and knowledge, etc.” And I saw his hand rise up with great determination and he said loudly and clearly, “Yes!!” Those are the high moments in my life."
Here's a bit of a speech Gene's son Rod Roddenberry gave this week--
“The idea of tolerance of something I’ve heard about for a long time,” Roddenberry said. “I’ve always had a problem with that word.
“Star Trek was so far beyond tolerance. I feel like I’m talking to the choir. It goes to acceptance. Enjoying the fact that there are different ideas.
“The different ideas that we all have are what makes life interesting. ...Don’t be afraid of different beliefs. Go up to that person and have an intelligent conversation with them. That’s how we’ll evolve into the Star Trek future.”
Finally here's bit of wonderful speech actor Wil Wheaton gave a couple of years ago as Gene Roddenberry was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in Seattle--
"Like all great science fiction, it held up a mirror and showed us our failings and triumphs – not by beating us over the head with a message, but by making that message easy enough to discover for those who cared to see it. Star Trek dared to do this during an incredibly turbulent time, when it was risky to even acknowledge that the mirror existed, much less hold it up on network television.
It has been more than forty years since Kirk and Spock first boldly went where no man has gone before, and twenty years since Picard and some kid boldly went where no one has gone before.
Today, many of us still dream of living in the Utopian world Gene envisioned, where we play in holodecks, beam ourselves to work, and embrace the crazy notion that race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation are differences to be celebrated and learned from, not feared and destroyed."
Roddenberry wasn't blind. He knew the world was an ugly place. In the interview linked above he was asked if he had any heroes. Here's part of his response--
But I have less of that collection of heroes than an overwhelming affection for humanity. I think the human race is just a fascinating creature. I think we are so wonderful they should build statues to us. (Laughter) The things we are able to do are just marvelous. I know that humans, even today, capture and torture people and commit war and all of that. But that’s because they are still children and children are violent. But I refuse to think any other way about the human race but that they are beautiful children. They will, in the end, persevere.
Isn't that a wonderful way to think of humanity?
(* including some of the movies. Some of my friends are worried about the new film because of the young actors, JJ Abrams, etc. Is long as it has Roddenberry's sense of optimism I'm in.)