Taking comfort in Trek’s hopeful future
Lately, whenever I have some free time, I try to immerse myself in something as far removed from today’s current events and politics as possible. Because of my job, I don’t have that luxury during work hours, but I figure I don’t always have to take the world’s problems home with me every night.
I’ve found that reconnecting with my some of my pop culture obsessions from adolescence has really helped. Lately, the world of Star Trek has been my chosen destination for escapism. Netflix has long tempted me with its full collection of the original 1960s series, along with The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. So, I decided to start at the beginning, with William Shatner at the helm as Captain James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy somewhere in the background as Spock.
As an adult re-watching the series, I’m much more attuned to the goofy graphics, outdated gender roles and predictable story lines. But I’m still enjoying the ride, wondering what strange alien cultures the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is going to encounter in each episode. The aliens usually fall into one of two distinct categories: semi-omnipotent beings with magical powers or primitive humanoids dressed up in monster costumes or wearing weird makeup.
It is interesting to watch a 1960s vision of what the future might look like. Miniskirts were still fashionable, as were buoffant haircuts and psychedlic colors. Of course, this was all written during the huge cultural shifts of the 1960s. One admirable goal of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the series, was his desire to show a more inclusive and equitable future for mankind. He even included a Russian character — with his hilarious accent — during the height of the Cold War. To me, the inclusion of Pavel Chekov shows me that Roddenberry saw a more hopeful future beyond the one he was living in, one that wasn’t so confined by divisions among humanity.
This past weekend, I skipped ahead in the Star Trek universe and re-watched the 1996 movie First Contact, which features a time travel storyline set in 2063 — a year that will fall within the lifetime of many people alive today. The plot brings the Enterprise crew into contact with a character named Zefram Cochrane (played by James Cromwell), a man born in 2030 who invents the very first “warp drive,” that still-fictional technology that allows their ships to zip across the galaxy in time for the next commercial break. Cochrane’s invention enables humans to make their first contact with extraterristrial beings; in this case, the pointy-eared Vulcans.
What struck me about the movie is the alternative future envisioned by the writers. The action takes place in the aftermath of World War III, a nuclear battle that claims millions of lives and leaves civilization in ruins. The silver lining to the mushroom cloud is that Cochrane repurposes an old nuclear missile to create his revolutionary spaceship. His invention ushers in a new era of peace, scientifi c progress and global unity. The cynical part of me thinks this is hopelessly naive, but in a world as divided as ours, it’s nice to imagine something different.
OUT FOR A WALK