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The politics of Star Trek

Star Trek.

Yep, I’ve just ensured that at least 1/3 of you have just closed this window. The rest of you, bear with me.

There’s no denying that Star Trek has been monumentally influential in the development of producing some truly amazing episodic sci-fi television. But putting aside the awesomeness of Quantum Leap for now, I’d like to talk about the historical significance of being able to analyse an entire body of work that spans multiple decades, and extract an understanding of the socio-political movements and ideals of the time. Star Trek enables that. Look:

star-trek-crew (1)Star Trek: Original
Captain: James T Kirk
Enemy: Klingon (angry), Romulan (evil Vulcans)
Lesson: Explore, learn, kick someone’s ass and sleep with the sexy alien.
It’s the 1960′s, and everyone is amazed by the possibilities of space travel, whilst also being terrified of nuclear war and communism. Enter the obviously American space explorers who offer escapism, sexy antics and adventure and futuristic plots. Hard hitting diplomacy and a captain who is willing to fist fight for justice. Just like Uncle Sam.

star-trekStar Trek: The Next Generation
Captain: Jean-Luc Picard
Enemy: Cardassian (very angry), Borg (cyborg)
Lesson: Diplomacy will always win, as long as you’re always right.
It’s the 1980′s and things have changed. We’re no longer about violence and power – now we’re into diplomacy, politics and being morally right. We are holier than thou in our attitude towards understanding and bettering ourselves. The Federation is ethically sound, and humans strive towards excellence without material desires (the irony of a society without money during the cash-obsessed 80’s is not lost).

Star Trek: Deep Space NineStar Trek: Deep Space Nine
Captain: Benjamin Sisko
Enemy: The Dominion (genetically engineered ruthless killers)
Lesson: Commerce (and capitalism) rules.
It’s the 1990′s and sitcoms rule the airwaves. No high-flying adventuring here – stick to the space station, delve into the political ramifications of several species attempting to co-exist and throw in a few blindingly obvious religious themes. Smacks of the West Wing years before it’s time. With aliens.

Star Trek- VoyagerCaptain: Kathryn Janeway
Enemies: Internal conflict and the unknown
Lesson: Standing tall and fighting with your morals against dirty, sandy rabble is the right thing to do.
We’ve nearly cracked the big 2000. Time to put a woman in charge. But don’t get a feminine woman, we need a manly woman. Captain Janeway accidentally pilots the Federation’s flagship vessel Voyager into unknown territory, forcing the crew to deal with completely new situations, enemies and ideas. Increased threat from unpredictable terrorist cells and Middle East insurgents, anyone?

Star Trek- EnterpriseCaptain: Jonathan Archer
Enemies: Klingon (still angry), Xindi (crazy)
Lesson: Bluntness and rude attitudes are the best weapons with which to discover the galaxy.
Latest attempt to reboot the series, this time with a total prequel. Scott Bakula from Quantum Leap (one of my favourite shows as a kid) is cast as Captain Archer, to pilot Earth’s first warp-capable spaceship years before Kirk arrives on the scene. A weird mix of original series bravado and bluster alongside modern ethics and attitudes. Fail. Can’t have it both ways, people.

Stay tuned for next week, when I thrill you with all the pseudo-political understanding I have gleaned from watching the entirety of Stargate Atlantis. I know, right?

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