We live in a world of black and white. Everything has to be either one or the other and those who believe differently will fight to the death about who is right. iPhone or android. Team Mystic or Team Valor. Batman or Superman. Marvel or DC. Star Wars or Star Trek. People will insult each other endlessly simply because they like one side and not the other. Thanks to the internet we spew hate because someone likes the color red or blue or yellow and that somehow makes them less than human.
From this hate, many visions of dystopian futures have risen. Futures where the world is divided into factions, where children are forced to kill each other in an arena, where boys are trapped in the center of a maze while the rest of the world has been destroyed. When storytellers look at what they think the future might hold they see destruction, not hard to believe if you take a quick glance down at the comments of a kid’s YouTube video.
But we didn’t always think like that. Once upon a time people looked at the future and saw things like Back To The Future where we would have hover boards and other bright shiny types of technology, but as our society changed so did our opinions on what the future would be. Now we look to the future and see nothing but bleakness. The Hunger Games and The Terminator are prime examples of what we expect from our future, yet there is one franchise that depicts something better.
Gene Roddenberry imagined an optimistic future. Roddenberry wanted a future where prejudice and greed no longer existed, something people today could use a good dose of. In his future we as a planet no longer used money. On our star ships women of color served right along side the men, and we didn’t even have to slaughter animals for meat because any food could be achieved synthetically. When it originally aired Star Trek pushed boundaries—especially with its pilot—with women in command positions like Number One, the first officer of the Enterprise under Captain Pike’s command. The show also featured one of the first interracial kisses on television history. No one cared if you were black, white, or a slightly greenish-yellow hue . Although the US relationship with Russia was rocky at the time Roddenberry included a Russian character, Palov Chekov, to show respect to the rivals to US in the race to space at the same time as the Cold War with Russia. In this future humans overcame their differences in order to come together to explore space and alien civilizations.
In a famous episode, Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, aired in 1969, the show touched on racism with the inclusion of an alien race. Some of them were white on one side and black on the other and they hated a group of people that were black on one side and white on the other. The episode showed how ridiculous racism was from an outsider’s standpoint because these aliens were all the same. To give you a sense of the time period, this episode was aired less than a year after the death of Martin Luther King Jr..
In the most recent addition to the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond, the film makers have begun to return to the feeling of the original series, all with a single word: Unity. The feeling of unity was a strong one throughout the film. When the crew is trapped under the control of a murderous tyrant they stick together to see themselves out of the situation. No one cared that Sulu was gay or that Uhura was black and a woman. The aliens in the crew are not treated like second-class citizens. The movie brings back unity in a time when people need it most. In a time when we need it most.
Now, fifty years after Star Trek began, we still deal with issues of prejudice. While many people no longer care whether there is a woman of color in a position of command on a TV show, we now target other groups. Star Trek believed in a better future where people on earth didn’t hate each other because of things like gender, race, or sexual orientation. Star Trek also inspired an entire generation to believe in science, something that had helped the world infinitely. We’ve even gone further than they did in the show with our smart phones and video chat technology, though the science of the transporter has yet to be developed.
To put it simply, Star Trek is relevant because the show can give us hope for the future. Instead of imagining a dark future of wars and bombs, we can imagine a future of peace and equality. As a child I hoped for a future on a Star Fleet ship with a lightsaber on my hip and a friendly magwai in my cabin with a tribble as its best friend. Now that I’m an adult and I see the world for what it is, I recognize that what we really need is equality and for the ties of prejudice to be cut. Maybe I’m just too much of an optimist, but if Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy can deal with Spock the Green Blooded Hobgoblin, I think we can deal with some of our prejudices.
What do you guys think? Is Star Trek still relevant today? What kinds of things can make the new series more controversial in a good way? Let me know in the comments!