Monday, July 07, 2014

Utopian Scifi and Families in Star Trek

I recently found a link to a slightly obnoxious Slate/Quora article about shipboard families in Star Trek. Feel free to not read it, I'm not a fan of Slate, Quora, or the specific essay. Link via @derekpost

The essay basically states that Roddenberry's ideas were half-baked and stupid, and that Star Fleet is clearly a military operation. What a thing to say!

At the time, Roddenberry's ideas were amazing. The steady drift of the series from a utopian future to a typical military sci-fi drama makes the ideas seem foolish in hindsight, but that's because the series became military sci-fi.

It didn't start that way, and it should not have drifted that way.

But Hollywood will be Hollywood: never enough guns, never enough explosions.

Families and non-military friendships have always been an important part of the heart of Star Trek. A lot of the unique flavor of Star Trek came from the way it dedicated itself to these relationships, and not to military camaraderie and competition. This was especially true in TNG: just think about how many episodes featured these kinds of nonmilitary relationships. Hell, Data's entire character was about "learning how to have normal social relationships", no matter how they cast it as "getting emotions".

The original series was a bit less obvious about it, but even there it was not militaristic. While the crew was not really friendly with each other, they were more about learning to get along and figuring out how to work together rather than approaching things as soldiers doing their job. It was intended, right from the start, to be about international cooperation. Not shooty-shooty murder.

The universe of Star Trek has become typical military science fiction since then. When we look at the universe, we see it overrun with threats that are met by military force. It is so generic that you can literally run simulations based on the known stats of the various ships. The games make this explicit: every recent Star Trek game is about killing shit more efficiently than shit kills you.

When the Borg were initially introduced, it was to show the hopelessness of military obsession. The borg were the "super-military". No weapons could threaten them. Resistance was futile. If you do try to resist them, they actively pursue you and incorporate you into their whole, turning whatever military strength you managed to obtain against you.

The only thing to do was to band together with everyone and try and find a nonmilitary solution. It was TNG's way to introduce the same impetus TOS had: international cooperation instead of shooty-shooty murder.

But Hollywood couldn't bear to let that stand, and so the Federation's military was upgraded and upgraded and upgraded and upgraded and upgraded and now the Federation can win a slugging match against the Borg. The Borg do not incorporate your military strength any more, either, because that doesn't fit into a summer blockbuster narrative. Their incorporation is now a weak point to be exploited, because obviously learning things is a weakness.

That is so wrong and stupid.

Roddenberry's "half-baked" ideas about the future were extremely compelling. In Science Fiction, "The Other" is usually met with force, with murder. That's a bad way to see the world. The idea that you can meet up with something alien and talk it out is much better. The universe is chaotic and confusing, but you can meet it halfway and still have a life, still have a family. That is a world worth living in.

I'm sorry Hollywood's obsession with explosions and murder has degraded Star Trek to the point where people think the original idea is incomprehensible.


Antsan said...

I don't know much about Star Trek (although I watched a bit of it).

This makes me sad. I definitely prefer pacifist science fiction.

Craig Perko said...

Well, even at its most optimistic it wasn't pacifist scifi. It was just... nonmilitary? Not xenophobic?