Four Series and the Trek Ideology

December 8, 1997

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Foreword: I've long been meaning to express my thoughts on the "larger issues" of the Trek ideology, and with this article I've finally gotten around to doing so. The primary intention of this article is to demonstrate how Trek and some of its devices have been adapted for each television series (as well as some of the feature films). However, this article was also written for a VERY general audience, which means I've supplied background material that is certain to be obvious (and often painfully so) to those who are familiar with Trek—so you may have to bear with me during those passages. Many of my opinions are undoubtedly common and have likely been expressed by many others in the past, but that may perhaps demonstrate just how universal Star Trek's vision really is. My emphasis on DS9 and recent episodes will hopefully be a departure from past discussions on the matter. I'd also like to thank everyone who contributed their thoughts on Trek to my survey. Your ideas very often reflected my own (as well as each other's), and helped spark my feelings and thought processes.

Star Trek is an entertainment entity that has been running for more than thirty years, and has gained an intense fan following that is arguably unequalled by any television production ever created. Because it has gone so far beyond the confines of a single television series, the Star Trek entity is commonly referred to as the "franchise"—an enormous body of work (and also merchandise) that has ventured the mediums of television to film to books, back to television, and back to film again. The original Star Trek series eventually led to a spin-off series, which, in turn, led to more spin-off series. The franchise slowly elevated to a state of apparent immortality, with the newer series gaining new audiences, some twenty years after the original series had come and gone. The reasons behind this popularity and thus the ongoing production and publication of new Star Trek storylines are many, but they can best be attributed to a set of values called the "Star Trek ideology," combined with intriguing science fiction story devices. The ideology is present in all of the television series, as well as the resulting films, but each series has its own way of manifesting the themes.

The first series, Star Trek, now also known as Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969), features a simple and now famous mission statement: "To boldly go where no man has gone before." Created by science-fiction aficionado Gene Roddenberry, the series, in the broadest of terms, grows from a relatively simple premise, which would ultimately lay the foundation for all Star Trek to come. The setting is the 23rd century on the starship Enterprise, which is on a mission to explore unknown space. The ship is captained by James Kirk (William Shatner), a brash, sometimes hotheaded hero. Kirk's crew is an important part of the series' makeup (just as future crews would be to the future series)—a diverse set of supporting characters—but the series centers a majority of its action on its three main characters: Kirk, First Officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley). The situational backdrop depicted by The Original Series offers a great deal into the ideology of Star Trek. In the 23rd century, Earth is a member of the United Federation of Planets, which might best be imagined as an ideal version of the present-day United Nations. The members of the Federation are planets who have solved their social problems—have, to a great extent, eliminated poverty, hatred, crime, and prejudice—and now embark on a mission to better themselves by exploring space "to seek out new life and new civilizations."

The Original Series defined the basic goals of Star Trek, and with future incarnations of the series came more stories to be framed within the context of this view of future humanity. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) is like TOS in many respects, but also different in a number of important ways. The second series takes place in the 24th century, roughly eighty years after the first, and shares the same history centering on the Federation. Like the original, The Next Generation is set on a starship, also named the Enterprise (it has the letter "D" appended to its registry number, indicating the fifth in a line of traditionally named starships). And like the original, TNG features a supporting cast to comprise the crew's key people. Unlike the original, however, TNG strove to make its cast an ensemble, rather than focusing so heavily on three main characters. The captain of the Enterprise-D is Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), whose persona fits the 90s the way Kirk's fit the 60s. Picard, unlike Kirk, is diplomatic and calm when confronted by aggressors.

Naturally, the universe of the Star Trek future isn't perfect, for stories without some form of conflict make for dull stories. Because one of Roddenberry's rules for both TOS and TNG stated that the Enterprise crew members were not allowed to fight among themselves, that often meant turning to alien cultures to provide conflict. In TOS, a warrior race called the Klingons was the Federation's primary nemesis. By the time of TNG, however, the Klingons and the Federation are allies under a peace settlement, highlighting Star Trek's emphasis on peace and forward progress.

In the most general terms, it is this ideal of forward progress that draws many people toward the Star Trek mythos. The depiction of the future as one where humanity thrives on hope, morality, and tolerance—unlike the often-depressing post-apocalyptic settings of the future in films like Blade Runner, The Terminator, or Mad Max (not to take away from any of those films' merits)—is one of Trek's biggest appeals. It is a characteristic that can be found in any production that carries "Star Trek" in its title. One of the important criteria for filmmakers and television producers when creating a product under the name is ensuring that the story and characters' actions are conceived "in the spirit of Star Trek." This issue took a new meaning upon the death of Roddenberry in 1991. No longer was there the possibility of a "seal of approval" from the originator of the ideology. The "passing of the torch" to Rick Berman (who had co-produced with Roddenberry and even taken over TNG several years before Roddenberry's death) evidenced that Star Trek would continue to exist without Roddenberry. The reason: because the franchise's ideas were universal; they could prove just as relevant in the 1990s as in the 1960s. Arguably, as long as there is continued viewer interest in the idea of Trek, as well as a studio and producers willing to back it, it could be easily readapted endlessly for decades to come.

Under Berman's reign came the third and fourth adaptations of the Trek series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-) and Star Trek: Voyager (1995-). Obviously, an idea cannot continue to survive if it isn't supplied a new angle (such is the case with remakes). So, to answer the problem of why a viewer would continue to return to a science fiction concept (whether it contains the Trek ideals or not) for a third and fourth time in less than ten years, the two new series began with story settings that gave them more specific directions, which is where we can truly begin to see the way Star Trek is a set of ideals rather than simply a two-shot wonder that lived or died on the adventures of the two Enterprises and their crews. While the idea of the "crew"—a set of starring roles, with each starring personality representing a specific duty on the starship—certainly did not change, its purpose and the personal interaction within it certainly did.

When Deep Space Nine first aired, many people considered it a risk in some regards because it changed a fundamental aspect of what many considered an important part of Trek, namely, the idea of space exploration. The premise of DS9 turns the accustomed starship setting into a static space station that can't go anywhere. Rather than seeking out new life, this series is primarily about a Federation team building a relationship with one civilization, the spiritual Bajorans. The Bajorans have recently liberated themselves from the Cardassians, who had occupied their world for 60 years. DS9's storylines are in many regards much more complex than those of either TOS or TNG, because they deal with drawn-out relationships and political situations within the context of a single culture, as well as the impact on that culture when outside political developments threaten its well-being. Such relationships create DS9's core of the Trek ideology; the hope is that the Federation can help Bajor better itself, while at the same time Bajor's own culture will cooperatively benefit the Federation.

Aside from science fiction, Star Trek has always been known as a means for allegory and social commentary on contemporary times, an aspect that appeals to socially aware viewers. The feature film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), for example, framed the ending of hostilities between the Klingons and the Federation in a context similar to the end of the Cold War; the film was released less than two years after the fall of the Soviet Union. (Interestingly, the proposed peace agreement between the Klingons and Federation was sparked by a devastating Chernobyl-like mining accident on the Klingon colony Praxis.) Similarly, DS9's plight of the Bajorans to rebuild their world follows a brutal occupation that has many times throughout the series (most memorably in the tour de force episode "Duet") been framed as a genocide comparable to the Holocaust. The resulting turmoil faced by the starring characters—most notably Major Kira (Nana Visitor), the Bajoran first officer of the station—feature complicated shades of grey that provide problems very unlike the other Star Trek series. These are not characters who are simply on a mission of exploring space; some are tortured, conflicted characters with realistic problems that must be solved from within. This is also true with the station commander, Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), a single parent whose wife died in an enemy attack. In addition to characters that face tougher personal challenges than previous Star Trek characters, DS9 also supplies the franchise an avenue to tackle religious issues. Religion among humans in the 23rd and 24th centuries is never directly addressed by Star Trek, but the Bajoran people in DS9 are very religious, which allows the series to venture into the questions and conflicts arising from faith in society. Political intrigue combined with religious extremism was the topic of "In the Hands of the Prophets," in which outspoken spiritual leader Vedek Winn (Louise Fletcher) challenged Federation secular teaching—providing an interesting allegory for creationism colliding with evolutionism. The questions asked by this episode did not have easy, clear-cut answers, which is typical of DS9's approach.

Even DS9's heavily sci-fi-oriented adventure concepts often contain character subtleties and questions. Take, for example, the episode "Crossover," in which characters cross into a parallel universe where the same people exist, but with very different roles and personalities. "Crossover" is a sequel episode to a TOS installment that aired 27 years earlier called "Mirror, Mirror," which also took place in this parallel universe, and where the TOS cast members played evil "opposites" of themselves. But even though "Crossover" is a follow-up, it does not visualize its characterizations on the terms of simple opposites like "Mirror, Mirror" did. Instead, "Crossover" gives its troubled alternate characters depth and grey areas, indicating that they weren't simply "evil," but that perhaps their actions and personalities were side effects of their chaotic universe.

Early in DS9's run, Sisko, found his Federation agenda at odds with some of the Bajorans' way of doing things. Sisko sometimes fell into heated conflicts with his first officer Kira, who initially didn't respect the Federation's presence. Conflict among the regular cast was rare on the first two Trek series, but with the different mindset of DS9 came the reinforcement that conflict among people inevitably leads to mutual understanding and respect. This provides a new spin on Trek's positive ideology of cooperation to attain a common goal. It also roots the drama more believably within the personalities and individual goals of the characters. And believable characters (a separate topic, which will be discussed later) are vital to the existence of Trek.

But since space exploration is also an important part of Trek, the DS9 creators placed the space station next to a wormhole, a passage that allows access to vast, unexplored space on the other side of the galaxy. (Sisko also has a starship named the Defiant, which is based at the station and can be taken through this wormhole on brief missions.) Adding a new element of the unknown became important after TNG, where unknown space seemed increasingly rare because the Enterprise-D was always within a reasonable reach of home. Because the exploration factor and the series format in TOS was fresh, space didn't seem so familiar. But by the time TNG was well underway, being so close to home also meant being farther away from the unknown. But now, by having literal front-door access to a completely unknown area of space via DS9's wormhole, the feelings of exploration and mystery were in a sense renewed.

This renewal of exploration brings us to Star Trek: Voyager, which took some of the character conflict typical in Deep Space Nine and offered a new premise which strove to fully recapture the taste of adventure evident in The Original Series. The new series was a return to the "ship-based premise," although the creators moved away from the well-utilized Enterprise and chose to name its new ship the Voyager. The captain of Voyager is Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew). In "Caretaker," the pilot episode, the Voyager, along with a group of political Federation renegades called the Maquis (a group established in a DS9 episode, which was itself based on events in an episode of TNG) are pulled 70,000 light-years from familiar territory. At maximum speed it would take 70 years to reach home. With limited resources and supplies, no way to communicate with home, and a with a very long journey ahead of them, the two groups must put aside their differences and work together in a mutual effort to survive as a stranded "family." Once again, the themes of understanding and cooperation are prime, but with dramatic interpersonal tension giving the series its adapted edge. Being so far from home also means being closer to things that are new and unknown (in theory, at least, since the under-utilization of the unknown element remains one of the series' biggest criticisms to date)—the premise of Voyager proves that in order for Star Trek as a franchise to survive, the basic premise must be reworked with each subsequent series. Simply telling the same story with different characters is inadequate; readapting the situation to give a new series a specific flavor and set of goals is vital. Naturally, however, these goals must still be based on the underlying attitudes, values, and history of Star Trek.

As touched upon earlier, the heart of Star Trek is its characters, which have always been a very diverse set of people. Trek's future of humanity is one where racial prejudice is nonexistent. Gene Roddenberry made this clear by casting Nichelle Nichols, an African American, as a regular character in TOS. "At a time when networks were still dubious about the use of black characters in television, Roddenberry pushed the envelope by creating the black communications officer Uhura," says James Van Hise, author of The Unauthorized History of Trek. TOS also featured an Asian character (Sulu, played by George Takei) and, even in the time of the United States' worst relations with the Soviet Union, a Russian character (Chekov, played by Walter Koenig). Women and minorities have always been portrayed as equals in Trek roles, but DS9 furthered this trend by casting an African American in its leading role (Avery Brooks' Sisko), as did Voyager by casting a woman as the ship's captain (Kate Mulgrew's Janeway). While racial and gender problems are by no means conquered in Hollywood, and Star Trek still sometimes feels the burden of the limits of 20th-century attitudes concerning television, Roddenberry's precedent, followed by Berman's continued push forward, were definitely steps in the right direction.

But the term "diverse" goes far beyond the issues of ethnic background; it also stands for different ways of thinking in different people—a set of distinct, contributing individuals. Individuality and independence are also key ideals the franchise celebrates. And each series' more distinctively unique characters almost always have been the most interesting and popular. Many of these compelling individuals are not even human. In fact, a common role adapted across each Star Trek series is the concept of a non-human individual who supplies an ongoing commentary on the human condition.

On TOS, there's the immortally famous Mr. Spock. As a half-Vulcan/half-human he was raised on the teachings of disciplined logical thinking and trained to repress all emotions. Audiences found his ongoing philosophical and polemical banter with the conversely emotional McCoy—discussions which spanned the series and the feature films—to be greatly entertaining. Many of their discussions ventured into social commentary by underlining the arrogance or violent tendencies of humanity.

On TNG there's the android Data (Brent Spiner). Data doesn't have emotions either (at least, he didn't until the 1994 feature Star Trek: Generations, but that's not important here), but unlike Spock he wishes he could experience and comprehend emotion. His ongoing goal is to learn to become more human, and through Data the creators invite their viewers to vicariously experience what Data finds new and intriguing about human behavior—but which the viewer takes for granted on a daily basis.

DS9 stepped back from the emotional issue and instead created Odo (Rene Auberjonois), a lone outsider from a race of shapeshifters that at the beginning of the series is unknown. Odo's personality has a cynical, sarcastic edge; he often comments on the absurd trivialities in human behavior. His initial quest is to find people like him—where he might also find a better sense of belonging—because he doesn't truly feel accepted among "humanoids." Unlike Spock and Data, who know where they want to go as individuals, Odo represents the lost individual who doesn't understand his own nature of purpose or role in life, and consequently takes pleasure in his work. When Odo eventually does discover others like himself he's torn by indecision and clashing responsibilities, because he realizes his own people's values go against what he has learned by living with humans and Bajorans.

Voyager has a character who isn't even alive, but appears to be: A holographic computer program that serves as the ship's doctor (Robert Picardo). He doesn't even have a name, but for all practical purposes he is a sentient being. His existence brings up questions about the nature of life. Does he have rights as an individual because he is self aware? Or is he simply an elaborate computer program and nothing more? The answer in the Star Trek value system should be obvious. Also recently added to the Voyager cast is Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), who was once part of a collective mind from a nefarious race known as the Borg. She doesn't understand individual thought very well, which leads to constant misunderstanding between her and other members of the Voyager crew. She represents the relevant issue of culture shock—forced to coexist with people whose way of life she does not understand or agree with.

Each series has its own take on the matter, but all of these characters are on the outside looking in—expressing opinions about human behavior simply because their nature makes it difficult or impossible for them to understanding why we do what we do. Their purpose as characters, obviously, is to prompt the viewer to see things in their terms, which has two effects: It creates interesting characters whose experiences provide fresh and entertaining points of view, and it prompts us to reevaluate our own opinions of ourselves. It can be said that many people tune into Trek because they want to see characters they have come to know and understand—witness the ever-developing relationships between different characters. And in the context of their settings, the Trek characters represent an optimistic human heroism, whether with the exploration and boldness of Kirk, the diplomatic skill of Picard, the patient builder in Sisko, or the determination and responsibility of Janeway to her stranded "family." And because the franchise has so many episodes, there is the chance to say a lot about all these heroes and characters—by examining their pasts, their families, their attitudes, and so forth. One thing is certain: If the original cast hadn't clicked so well, Star Trek would not have lived to see a second (or third or fourth) life. The original cast's and actors' popularity played a big factor in cementing Trek into popular culture.

But what fun would heroes be without villains? Aside from their entertainment value, Trek's most famous villains also play a role in the ideology issue. The Klingons were the bad guys of TOS, but with TNG and the peace settlement came an objective, tolerant analysis of their culture—a respect for their warrior beliefs and strict code of honor. On the other hand, the Borg, the franchise's most useful and interesting race of villains to date, represent the antithesis of Star Trek's emphasis on the importance of individuality. Composed of billions of cybernetic "drones," the Borg Collective is an efficient, malevolent beehive-like group of single-minded conquerors—set on assimilating cultures into their mind of oneness with no such intention of negotiation (as particularly well conveyed in "The Best of Both Worlds," in which the Enterprise had to stop them from assimilating Earth). Later, within the political intrigue of DS9 came the Dominion, a powerful organization of paranoid controllers who undermine their enemies with covert action, particularly appropriate given DS9's method of storytelling.

The characters, villains, and the vision of the future form the basis for the ideology, but another undeniable reason for Trek's commercial success over such a long period of time comes down to the science fiction content. Star Trek is intelligent and socially aware, but it also has a sense of fun, excitement, and adventure. It has been the benchmark for sci-fi on television for decades, always featuring the latest in special effects and nifty gadgets. Also, sci-fi fans tend to be faithful, if the overwhelming commercial success of the Star Wars trilogy re-release earlier this year is any indication. Trek is wonderful escapist entertainment that has a well-above-average imagination and sense of wonder. As sci-fi means being able to do the impossible, that in turn means the possibility of telling an interesting story. There's a lot of fuel in sci-fi, which is perhaps a big reason why Trek's fire can burn so long and not bore its audience. Also, because Trek's sci-fi format combines with an emphasis on dramatic characterization and meaningful plots, it gives the series a great deal of flexibility in telling many different types of stories.

One of the most popular and utilized Star Trek motifs is time travel. Time travel is among the most interesting and reliable devices available to science fiction. Some time travel episodes make for great episodes. Here we'll consider a time travel premise from each series, which in addition to providing solid sci-fi entertainment also reflects upon the greater nature of each series, highlighting different ways each series utilizes the device as a means to an end.

In TOS's classic "City on the Edge of Forever," McCoy inadvertently travels through a time portal and ends up on Earth of the 1930s. Upon McCoy's departure Kirk and Spock find the 23rd century immediately changed beyond recognition (the Federation no longer exists), so Kirk and Spock follow McCoy back to prevent him from taking whatever actions that will change the future. While in the past, Kirk is taken in by and subsequently falls in love with a woman named Edith Keeler (Joan Collins). Meanwhile, Spock constructs a "time scanner" (a device that, incidentally, would probably not convince a 1990s sci-fi audience) to discover what aspect of the past McCoy had changed, and learns that Keeler is destined to lead a pacifist movement if she lives. McCoy, being in the past, had been present to save Keeler from getting hit and killed by a car, thus allowing the happenings of a pacifist movement that would keep the U.S. out of World War II—which, in turn, would allow the Nazis to win the war and change the course of history. As a result, Kirk must stop McCoy from saving Keeler's life, much to his own emotional agony. "City on the Edge of Forever" uses time travel to explore and analyze our own history, demonstrating the possibility that a single individual can conceivably change the course of history, either for good or ill.

A similar theme exists in TNG's time travel outing "Yesterday's Enterprise," a dark, brooding hour that exists as a "what if" premise. In this episode, the Enterprise-D meets the Enterprise-C, which arrived from 22 years in the past after narrowly escaping a deadly battle encounter with the Romulans and passing through a rift in time. But due to the Enterprise-C's absence in its own time, a crucial peace relationship with the Klingons disintegrated, causing 20 years of brutal warfare between the Klingons and the Federation. In the hopelessness of this timeline Picard realizes one ship won't help the war effort, but that one ship in the past could have averted the war before it had ever started. Subsequently, Picard must ask the crew of the Enterprise-C to return to its own time period, which will almost certainly mean their deaths in the hopeless battle they had escaped from. The use of the Enterprise-C not only reinforces how a seemingly minor sacrifice can cause major changes in history, but it also turns the episode into a meditation on TNG's own universe and the two possible ways it could've conceivably turned out. It's a historical perspective on Trek's own setting (rather than 20th-century history), making heroes out of two Enterprise crews in the same episode.

DS9 has also used time travel in a number of ways. A two-part episode called "Past Tense" echoed "City on the Edge of Forever" with not only its basic plot line, but also with its social commentary and meditation on history. However, a better example of a time travel premise for the DS9 characters is "Children of Time," in which the crew of the Defiant visits a planet to find themselves talking to their own descendants. They're told that in two days the Defiant will fly into a rift that will send it back in time 200 years, after which the ship will crash and the crew will be forever stranded. The crew will then decide to build a new home, which over 200 years becomes a thriving community of over 8,000 people. The twist is that with the forewarning the crew realize they can avoid their fate. The question then becomes whether or not they should; if they avoid traveling back in time, they also cause 8,000 people and their 200 years of ancestors to have never existed. "Children of Time" is a tightly woven character piece that examines all sides of a very unique burden. The episode, like the best of DS9's stories, uses the sci-fi device to address moral questions that don't have easy answers. It prompts viewers to open their minds to possibilities beyond what exist in the real world, but still asks real-world questions that people might ask if they were in the unique situation themselves.

Voyager's two-part time travel episode, "Future's End" represents the simple, escapist fun that can arise from science fiction premises. In this outing, the Voyager crew is confronted with a time ship from the future whose captain is convinced the Voyager is the source of a disaster in the 29th century. A resulting accident sends both ships to Earth, 1996, where the Voyager crew must stop a corporate tycoon, who has found the abandoned time ship and misuses its power for his own financial gain. It's revealed he is ultimately the one who will cause the disaster in the 29th century, so the crew of Voyager must pose as 20th century humans in Los Angeles to infiltrate his organization. The plot uses a series of fish-out-of-water gags and occasionally pokes fun at the L.A. culture of the 20th century. But what makes "Future End" a good example of Voyager's strengths is its tight but manic plot filled with time paradoxes, which includes a scene where a character attempts to explain the incomprehensible nature of the circular time events, in which event A causes event B, which causes event C, which in turn causes event A. "Future's End" proves that sometimes the storylines of Star Trek can be entertaining and interesting, even when the plots are extremely complicated, implausible, and even downright silly.

And Star Trek knows that it's absurd at times, which is part of the fun. Another interesting aspect of the franchise—which reflects its own affectionate fan following—is its own sense of self-awareness and even narcissism. It knows what the fans want to see, and it capitalizes on this knowledge. Take, for example, the 30th-anniversary episode produced for DS9 titled "Trials and Tribble-ations," which used a time travel premise and digital visual effects ingenuity to insert the DS9 characters into film footage of TOS's popular comic episode "The Trouble With Tribbles," which aired 29 years earlier. The plot was contrived and minimal, but that didn't matter in the slightest because the show was so effective in its intentions of being a nostalgic celebration of the franchise and its followings. Similar story events also happen for the sake of satisfying fandom. The feature film Star Trek: Generations (1994) supplied the anticipated physical bridging of the 80-year fictional gap between TOS and TNG by creating a time travel premise that united Captain Picard with Captain Kirk. (From the sound of things, one would think that Star Trek storytelling is based solely on time travel, but this is not the case; time travel merely happens to be one of the best avenues for analyzing the larger impacts of the series.)

Perhaps time travel is so useful because it allows for the filling of holes in the Star Trek mythos. What has possibly ingrained the franchise so firmly into popular culture is not simply that it makes good science fiction or commentary, but that its massive body of work (as of now, eight motion pictures and more than 450 hour-long television episodes) creates a fictional universe with its own comprehensive history. The franchise painstakingly tries to be consistent with old shows within its new stories, and sometimes one line of dialog from years earlier can feasibly be the genesis for an entire episode on another series. When TNG ran concurrently with DS9 for two seasons, there would occasionally be characters or issues that would cross into the other series (and Michael Dorn's character Worf even permanently joined DS9's cast after TNG's television run ended!). Trek's desire to look into its own past constantly fleshes out more of what the franchise envisions itself as from a story point of view. The most recent feature, Star Trek: First Contact (1996), finally evaluated how Earth became part of the Federation. Other episodes like Voyager's "Flashback" comment on the way the Federation somewhat mellowed over the 80 fictional years between TOS and today's currently airing series—paralleling America's own change from the more radical 1960s to the more conservative 1990s. This comprehensive fictional history sheds much light on why some people continue to watch the newer series: They want to see how this history will continue to unfold and develop. This incredible body of work also highlights why books with titles like The Star Trek Encyclopedia are available in any bookstore.

It is not one thing that makes Star Trek so popular; nor is it one thing that comprises the Star Trek ideology. It is a vast number of ideas and dramatic devices. It is character development, adventure, social commentary, optimism, and the impossibilities of science fiction as projected into a massive body of work. When filtered through the production standard, quality of writing, and solid actors that Star Trek has typically enjoyed the results are usually entertaining and provocative. The allegory and historical perspectives are interesting to intellectuals. The gadgets and adventure scenes are appealing to kids as well as to an adult's sense of fun and wonder. The characters, relationships, and dialog are appealing to people who enjoy watching drama. The complicated plots are appealing to imaginative science fiction fans. In short, Star Trek appeals to the most general of audiences. But most of all, it appeals to Star Trek fans, and a Trek fan can be anybody; it's just a matter of whether or not they want to be—whether they take the leap to accept a decidedly absurd yet, simultaneously, all-too-convincing fictional culture.


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2 comments on this post

    Great essay Jammer and congrats on the A+ that you got on it! I must say that the ideology of Star Trek (the notion that humans will learn to get along and act ethicaly) and the fact that DS9 challanged it so much was what made the series so lively, special, and intellectually appealing. The time travel was simply a gimmick that worked better sometimes than others.

    Now that I have finally graduated from college, I regret that I only qouted Star Trek in some of my essays but never wrote an essay about Star Trek. Oh well - I will always have your comments pages :-)

    Brilliant article. I wonder though, if your'd written this article some years alter, what your analysis of Enterprise would have been, how you would have fitted that series into the greater Trek mythology.

    As for Deep Space Nine, don't forget cynical ex-spy Garak the Carcassian and his many discussions about human literature and conflicting worldviews with the station's idealistic (and in the beginning sometimes rather naive) Dr. Bashir.

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