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Gene Roddenberry 1921–1991
(Born Eugene Roddenberry) American screenwriter and producer.
Roddenberry is best known as the creator/producer of the television series Star Trek. Although the show failed to produce high ratings, many critics felt that it did succeed in achieving a level of sophistication and thoughtfulness not commonly found on television. The series was awarded an Emmy, an international Hugo Award for outstanding science fiction writing, and the Image award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In spite of this acclaim, NBC cancelled Star Trek after its third season. A relatively small but strong and vocal group immediately emerged to protest the network's move. This group's continued growth and energetic efforts to keep the show alive comprise one of the most interesting phenomena of recent popular culture.
Against the unfamiliar background of twenty-third century outer space, Star Trek explored such themes as equality, racism, sexism, and politics. Roddenberry feared that television in the 1960s might not be ready for such subjects and thus envisioned his series as a kind of "Trojan horse." He hoped that under the guise of relatively simple outer space adventure stories he might address meaningful, timely philosophical and moral questions. Many of Roddenberry's concerns are expressed through The Enterprise's Prime Directive, which is meant to steer the starship away from the war-torn past to a future of discovery, toleration, and brotherhood.
Although many critics lauded Star Trek, others termed it a melodramatic and cliche-ridden morality play. However, few deny that Roddenberry did at least conceive of a potentially dynamic and meaningful series.
Roddenberry's production of Star Trek—The Motion Picture received mixed reviews. Skeptics addressing this movie express the belief that, as with the series, Roddenberry is less an innovator and social conscience than a shrewd marketeer. Regardless, the extreme popularity of the series may indicate that parts of the television audience, especially young people, were touched by the message which Star Trek attempted to relay.
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Star Trek is a space version of Wagon Train. There's the crew, there's the encountered. The problems arise now from the in-group, now from the out. The future is not without its counterpart of violence in the past and present. This ranges from good old-fashioned impaling on primitive spears to ridiculous duels in which characters throw electrical charges at one another through their fingertips. The series carries the usual bag of space-fiction hard and software—lasers, telepathy, time warps, etc. Countering the comic-strip values is the image of an integrated crew representing diverse races—albeit, the captain is an American, and the known space system seems to be under the benevolent hegemony of a Pax Americana.
No attempt is ever made to hypothecate any realistic prediction about political, economic, or social conditions: the encounters are all in a contextual vacuum. Still, the program does focus attention on the relations that humans may soon have with intelligent life on other planets….
If Star Trek could escape the gravitational pull of thin sensationalism, it could contribute to rational public thought about these fascinating matters, with bonuses, perhaps, in more intelligent behavior among humans. To keep open the possibility of such a contribution, the show should be kept on the air.
Robert Lewis Shayon, "The Interplanetary Spock," in Saturday Review (copyright © 1967 by Saturday Review; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Vol. L, No. 24, June 17, 1967, p. 46.
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Star Trek neatly fulfils all of the requirements for a good TV series: a broad-based format allowing a wide variety of stories, an interesting hero, an unusual set of situations and confrontations, and the requirement of decisive and positive action from a protagonist whose...
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job and training is to do just that.
Plus, Star Trek has … one added virtue …—it is a genre unto itself. And that makes it unique. (pp. 17-18)
From a dramatic point of view, Spock is a beautiful character—he is the perfect character to be the ship's Science Officer. His superior brain powers give him the ability to accurately handle the large amounts of information that are his responsibility. But the fact that he is the only Vulcan on an all-human ship sets up a host of internal pressures and conflicts. All around him are individuals flaunting their emotions—a disgusting display of fears, prejudices, loyalties and friendships. While the human part of him wants to react to this and yearns to express itself too, the Vulcan half must keep a continual tight control. (pp. 21-2)
In many respects, Dr. McCoy is diametrically the opposite of Spock. Just as Spock is responsible for the ship's "mind," McCoy is responsible for its "body."
McCoy cares about the people he treats—he cares about them as individuals and he treats them as such. He is very much an emotional being—not simply that he expresses his emotions, but that he recognizes that there are fundamental biological, physical and mental reasons for the existence of emotions. (p. 22)
Perhaps each of these characters recognizes the dilemma that the other is in, and more than anything else, this could be the reason for the unspoken affinity between them—the mutual shock of recognition in a topsy-turvy mirror.
They are united also by a deep-seated regard for the Captain. (p. 23)
In another respect, McCoy and Spock are symbolic opposites. (p. 24)
Spock represents Rationality, McCoy represents Compassion. Thus, the two of them are more than just characters aboard the Enterprise; they symbolize Captain Kirk's internal dilemmas. The two of them serve to verbalize the arguments that the Captain must consider. Because we cannot get into the Captain's head to hear what he is thinking, Spock and McCoy are doubly important to the series' ability to tell its stories well—it is primarily through them that Kirk's internal conflicts can be dramatized.
The symbolism can be extended into the other crew members of the Enterprise:
Lieutenant Uhura represents the ship's ability to communicate. Mr. Scott represents the ability to take action once a decision has been made. Mr. Sulu, as helmsman, is the tool of that action. Ensign Chekov, as a Kirk-in-training, represents the next generation of command that must be raised to understand its responsibilities.
Actually, it is not the characters themselves that represent these elements, it is their jobs as crew members. Think of the starship as a living being itself, a single entity of which her human complement is merely the equivalent of individual cells within a body. These are the pieces of the Enterprise's soma. (pp. 24-5)
[The flaws that mar Star Trek] are all part of a pattern—but not a pattern of commission, rather one of omission. And the omission is a serious one. At no point was the Enterprise given a background culture.
Oh, we know that Kirk is an Irishman, Spock is a Vulcan, Scotty is a Scot, Sulu's an Oriental, Uhura is African, and McCoy is from the deep South. But these aren't cultural attributes, they're matters of inheritance and have nothing at all to do with the environment that produced this ship and this crew.
In general, the viewers were given so few clues about the social background of the starship that the result was occasionally grotesque. The walls of the recreation rooms were barren even of the simplest decoration. There were no paintings, no screens, nothing to look at, not even patterns of tile or enamel, just a simple stark gray. The basic bulk-heads of the ship seemed as grim as a prison, as utilitarian as a hospital.
If these were real people, vitally alive, as intelligent and able as postulated in the Star Trek Guide, they would make the impact of their individuality obvious on their "home away from home." They would make the ship their own. (pp. 42-3)
The men and women who crew the starship are no more independent of their cultures than is the starship independent of her technology. They're going to take their culture with them to the stars—and even if they were stripped of every physical aspect of their home cities, they would still reflect their social conditioning in their attitudes.
Yet, the Enterprise that we saw on NBC television was a strangely stripped Enterprise. Too often, she seemed to be independent of the rest of the galaxy, only occasionally taking orders from Starfleet. She seemed also to be sociologically independent. Indeed, there seemed to be nothing at all which could really be pinpointed as distinctive to the Starfleet culture. (p. 45)
The crew of the Enterprise is in no way meant to be representative of future humanity—not at all. They are representative of the American Sphere of Influence today. Their attitudes, their manner of speaking, their ways of reacting, even their ways of making love, are all contemporary.
We have met the Enterprise—and they are us.
The crew of the Enterprise is twentieth century America in space. (p. 47)
Star Trek is not pure science fiction. It is not predictive science fiction, and it is not accurate science fiction.
It was never meant to be….
What Star Trek is, is a set of fables—morality plays, entertainments, and diversions about contemporary man, but set against a science fiction background. The background is subordinate to the fable. (p. 48)
[The] difference between Star Trek and science fiction is that true science fiction requires that the background be logical, consistent, and the overall shaper of the story. The world in which the character moves determines the kind of actions he can make, and hence the plot of the tale. In true science fiction, the background is never subordinate to the plot….
Star Trek's backgrounds were always subordinate to the story—and because of that, it never quite achieved the convincing reality of true science fiction. Its use of a science fiction background gave it the appearance of science fiction; but in reality, Star Trek was a science fiction-based format for the telling of entertainments for and about the attitudes of contemporary America. And that's called science fantasy. (p. 49)
This writer submits that Star Trek was—and still is—the finest format ever designed for American series television.
There are few shows that can match it for potential.
But, potential must be realized. An unfulfilled potential is a very special kind of failure. (p. 50)
The background of the show was too broad. A whole new culture had to be presented. The only way to do it was cumulatively, from show to show. It took at least four or five weeks of steady viewing to gain a degree of familiarity with Gene Roddenberry's universe, but there were always new discoveries to be made and you had to watch regularly to keep up with them. At the end of the first year, only the broad outlines had been sketched, the details still had to be filled in.
Both as television, and as science fiction, Star Trek had its weaknesses, but despite whatever drawbacks it had, it still succeeded in fulfilling the functions of both of those mediums. As television, it entertained, and as science fiction, it stretched the mind. Star Trek widened a lot of horizons—right out to the edge of the galaxy. And maybe even a little bit beyond. (p. 177)
Instead of merely a world, Star Trek made its fans aware of a whole galaxy, a universe, made them realize that Earth was merely one speck of matter in a tiny corner of space and time. There's all the future and all the past—and all of space stretching in all directions. The concept is almost frightening. You need something to hand onto; you certainly need a couple of strong authority-images to identify with. The Enterprise filled the need for a stable frame of reference, and Kirk and Spock (and the rest of the crew) provided the emotional reassurance. The way the show was set up, Star Trek made it almost safe to confront the rest of the universe. (pp. 185-86)
Just as [Stanley] Kubrick changed the face of motion picture [science fiction with 2001: A Space Odyssey], so did Gene Roddenberry establish a new level of quality for television science fiction. No more Time Tunnel, no more Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, no more Lost in Space. In effect, Gene Roddenberry was saying, "Let there be a believable and realistic format, a background against which to tell fantastic and dramatic adventures. Begone with your childish fantasies—from this point on, television science fiction will mature!"
Star Trek didn't always reach this goal, of course—but at least, it was always trying. (pp. 203-04)
Star Trek is the visualization of such a basic concept that it is a whole genre of science fiction: the spaceship exploring new worlds. (p. 204)
Star Trek wasn't the first place the concept of man exploring the galaxy appeared—but then again, Shakespeare wasn't the first writer to deal with Troilus and Cressida. Shakespeare just did it a little bit better. And so did Roddenberry.
The difference is that when Shakespeare was through with Troilus and Cressida it was recognized as the last word on the subject and no one else attempted it. Roddenberry's Star Trek, however, will stand not as a landmark—only as a challenge. (p. 206)
The need for a heroine in every story is a leftover convention from the era of romanticism. There, the hero killed the dragon, slew the giant, conquered the trolls, defeated the orcs, and saved the kingdom—and his reward was the beautiful princess who immediately agreed to be his wife. (Love was never a consideration. Of course, she loved him—that was her job!)
Frankly, it's a stupid convention—it reduces women to objects. The subliminal message is that a woman is merely a reward for a job well done. Superimposed on a science fiction series—especially Star Trek—the effect is unreal. No, surreal.
We are continually shown that women are responsible members of the Enterprise crew. Lieutenant Uhura, for instance, is fourth in command, right after Mr. Scott. Obviously, in the Star Trek universe, equality between men and women is a reality—except for Captain Kirk. More often than not, when he solves a particularly difficult problem, he is rewarded with a particularly luscious tidbit whose function in the story is just that—to be Kirk's reward.
There are a lot of variations on the theme, but eventually it begins to grate like Johnny one-note on the kazoo. A story does not need a heroine. It needs a problem for the hero to solve. His reward is the solving of the problem. To then give him objects (a chest of gold, a medal, a woman) reduces the magnitude of his bravery and places the emphasis of the story on the object to be gained, not the problem to be solved.
Kirk should be a starship Captain, not a cosmic womanizer. Certainly he will have love affairs, but for goodness sake, couldn't they be mature affairs between two real live human beings? That means they should be kept in proportion to the rest of his life—as a Captain, he's going to have more problems than women. And the same should apply to every other member of the crew. (pp. 227-28)
The love story kind of involvement was particularly over-worked during the third season—during that set of shows, everybody had a chance to fall in love at least once, and all the major leads got two or three chances.
During the second season of Star Trek, a different kind of involvement was experimented with—"Well, who are we going to almost kill this week?" (p. 228)
Spock was one of the great strengths of the show—but he was also one of the biggest crosses it had to bear. His popularity tended to overshadow that of the rest of the show. The network, and a good many fans, would have been just as happy if the show had been called, "The Mr. Spock Hour." (p. 238)
Although the character was almost always kept in dramatic proportion to the overall story, he began to play pivotal parts in too many episodes—at the expense of other characters in the series. The cumulative effect was that Lieutenant Uhura was only good for opening hailing frequencies, and Sulu could only sit at the helm and occasionally fall out of his chair. Chekov was little more than a Captain Kirk in training, but with a Russian accent. And Christine Chapel was the ideal woman—silent and dutiful. (pp. 238-39)
[Far] too many of the stories used Spock when any other character might have functioned just as well. The overuse of Mr. Spock enlarges him all out of proportion to everything else on the Enterprise. (pp. 239-40)
[This] is the most deadly of all the criticisms that have ever been leveled against Star Trek:
A Captain, whether he be the Captain of a starship or an aircraft carrier, simply does not place himself in danger. Ever.
A Captain is too important an officer, his training is too expensive, his skills are too vital to the running of the ship to be risked. A good Captain is like a good general, he stays in his command and control center and delegates authority. He tells other people what to do—it isn't necessary for him to do it himself. (p. 240)
And yet, as pictured on Star Trek, not a week went by that Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock didn't end up in front of the business end of a gun, club, phaser or other tool of destruction at least once….
This is the one major problem in the Star Trek format, the one difficulty that forces the show into a set of formula situations week after week—the focusing of attention on two characters who should not logically be placing themselves in physical danger, but must do so regularly.
This is the real pity of hardened arteries—the show ends up telling and retelling only variations of the same story because it has so limited itself it can't tell any other kind of story. (p. 241)
I said earlier that Star Trek is not pure science fiction, and never was intended to be. It was designed as a set of contemporary morality fables against a science fiction background. The stories are about twentieth century man's attitudes in a future universe. The stories are about us.
And I said that this was probably the most flexible format that had ever been designed for a television series; the format was broad enough for an almost unlimited potential.
It is my contention that it was this aspect of Star Trek's format that made it such a special show. If our heroes represented the American attitudes, then as such, they could be thrust into a variety of situations which would test those attitudes.
And once in a while, those attitudes would be wrong. Once in a while they would come up against a culture that might be just a little more compassionate, or a little more aware, or a little more alive.
—And when that happened, the crew of the Enterprise would be students, not masters.
Once in a while, the American attitudes might be tested and found wanting.
It is precisely this potential that was Star Trek's greatest strength. Imagine a story where the hero does everything that he believes to be correct—and the audience identifies with him totally in his actions because they believe them to be correct too. Imagine that he is ultimately wrong in some of his decisions—when (and if) he learns better, then so will the audience.
The self-examination of the human condition is what drama is all about—but if you are going to test yourself, then you must be prepared to be found wanting in any respect. Self-awareness includes one's faults, otherwise it becomes narcissistic onanism.
But Star Trek rarely went that far. Too many of the stories were facile, and required not much more than a mind that was easily gulled by flashy technical effects. All that valuable background work, the props, the sets, the costumes, is a waste of time unless the story justifies it.
In 1966, when Star Trek first came on the air, Lyndon Baines Johnson was President; it was a time when the Viet Nam "adventure" was at the core of the American dilemma—were we supposed to be the world's policeman or not?
As far as Star Trek was concerned, we were—because Star Trek was the galaxy's policeman. By implication, that ratified and justified the American presence in everybody else's culture.
The mistake was that the Enterprise was a cosmic meddler. Her attitudes were those of twentieth century America—and so her mission was (seemingly) to spread truth, justice, and the American Way to the far corners of the universe.
Star Trek missed the opportunity to question this attitude. While Kirk was occasionally in error, never was there a script in which the Enterprise's mission or goals were questioned. Never did they run into a situation that might have been better off without their intervention. (pp. 250-51)
While each of the individual stories may have been valid, in the context of the series as a whole there is an implication of Starfleet's attitudes that reflects seriously on the attitudes of American television, as well as the American culture.
The subtext of the series, the subvocal message, is that if a local culture is tested and found wanting in the eyes of a starship Captain, he may make such changes as he feels necessary. (p. 256)
If Star Trek was to be about contemporary man against a science fiction background, then it is not just that back-ground we are exploring—it is the nature of contemporary man as well.
Every time Kirk knocked down a straw man culture, he was reinforcing the message that "In the name of my morality, this is the proper action."
The worst offender was an episode entitled "The Enterprise Incident." In this episode, Kirk (seemingly) goes crazy and orders the Enterprise into Romulan space. The Enterprise is captured, Kirk is killed (we think), Spock seduces a Romulan captain, Kirk puts on a Klingon disguise and—aha! Now we find out that it has all been an espionage plot—sneaks aboard the Romulan ship to steal their Cloak of Invisibility device. Never mind the holes in the story big enough to drive a starship through—the episode came about as a result of the Pueblo Incident. Remember the American spy ship that the North Koreans captured? Well, the way Star Trek told it, we won.
In fact, the way Star Trek told it, we were justified in spying because our side was right and theirs wasn't. (pp. 256-57)
The story was as dishonest as anything ever presented on American television, and representative of Star Trek's worst failures. Instead of testing Kirk—and by implication, contemporary man—it said that the ends justify the means; because our ends are just, then no matter what means we choose, our means will be just too. It ignored the fact that the means shape the ends; if a culture uses espionage and trickery and force, then no matter what is written in its laws and Constitution, it is not an honorable culture. As presented in "The Enterprise Incident" Starfleet was no better than the "evil" Romulans. (p. 257)
Star Trek had the greatest potential of any television series ever created—but its potential was rarely fulfilled because the decisions that Kirk was called upon to make were facile ones. A facile decision doesn't test Kirk. And it doesn't test the contemporary man who is the unwritten hero of every Star Trek episode. (p. 258)
Perhaps Star Trek was little more than Buck Rogers updated—if you think of it in terms of battles with Klingons and Romulans and tree-men and lizard-men, then maybe that's true.
But I believe Star Trek to be one of the finest television formats ever conceived. (p. 260)
David Gerrold, in his The World of "Star Trek" (copyright © 1973 by David Gerrold; reprinted by permission of Ballantine Books, a Division of Random House, Inc.), Ballantine Books, 1973, 276 p.
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Star Trek gives us a glimpse of [the] future hurtling toward us at dizzying speed, and shows us the kind of men who will build that world, successfully cope with its challenges, and remain free of any nerve-shattering traumas from future shock. Weekly, they confront the inconceivable … and come safely to terms with it.
The cure for future shock is not less technology, but more. Science fiction shows us how it is possible to use that technology to confront a universe which is not basically inimical to human life, and to carve out a comfortable place to live there. (p. 92)
Star Trek's message is multifold. One part of that message embodied in Spock is conveyed by means of the fictionalist's indispensable tool: conflict. Spock is a classic conflict recipe.
Good action stories have clear-cut external conflicts—man against beast, man against nature, man against man; kill or be killed. Good psychological drama has internalized conflicts, such as man against his conscience, man against his own desires, man against irrationality—his own or that of others. Most literature today is either one or the other of these. Science fiction is usually both at once. In Spock, we have a classic s-f hero, in that he is the nexus of two integrated sets of conflicts, internal and external. But we are never told about these conflicts, we are shown them. (pp. 94-5)
Spock represents the very problem so disturbing in our lives in America today—the clash of cultures and their values. (p. 95)
[Star Trek] openly and dramatically tackled the toughest philosophical questions, and the answers it suggested, or drew the viewer to reach, were the essence of hope, the soul of optimism.
It said: The nature of the universe is such that we can survive, we can cope, we can know, we will prevail. It said: Man is a difficult and dangerous creature; "To be human is to be complex." There is a darker side to man; it is a great and terrible thing to be a man, but we can choose the great. It said: We can learn to live together as human beings, as intelligent beings even when we are not "human," and we can learn to cherish our diversity and not destroy each other. (p. 115)
Kirk gives us hope for the development of the Ideal Man—strong, compassionate, sensitive, warm, rational, brave, able to deal even with his emotions. The whole universe of the United Federation of Planets strikes us as man's proper future—wiser, more peaceful, challenging, respectful of diversity, hopeful.
But the power of the Optimism Effect is perhaps nowhere better seen than in the character of Spock and his relation to the humans around him. His mere existence on the Enterprise speaks volumes. And the philosophy of the whole show is often put into his mouth or into his Vulcan culture. (p. 117)
The heart of the Vulcan value system is the Idic. The greatest joy in all creation is in the infinite ways that infinitely diverse things can join together to create meaning and beauty. (p. 118)
The Idic is the symbolic summation of all that Spock stands for. And that is not "live and let live." The Idic is a positive statement of deep concern for people, and of personal profit to be derived from a life of zestful involvement in combining our differences. And Spock actually lives that philosophy right before our eyes. Repeatedly, he has chosen to stay on the Enterprise among humans, where he is "different," partly because … he's needed there. His presence has changed him (third-season Spock is notoriously humanized), and it has changed those around him in subtle ways.
In other words, the Idic is the key to arguing without fighting, to disagreeing without destroying, to competing without losing, to growth—which is the essence of life.
The Idic implies that there is no particular virtue in winning, nor any particular disgrace in losing, any competition. The joys come from participating in a new combination. The winner of a contest has gained nothing because if he is reasonably mature, he doesn't need to prove his worth to himself, and he does not need the opinions of others to convince himself of his identity. The loser, however, has gained an enormous personal profit. He has observed a more successful technique, he has gained information and insight, and/or he has corrected some misunderstanding; he has grown.
The optimism of the Idic is implicit in the fact that this philosophy is practiced, lived, realized by a planet-wide culture, the Vulcans, and it works! The Vulcan nature is said to be more violently warlike than that of humans, but their world has enjoyed peace for hundreds of years. (pp. 118-19)
Spock and Kirk and the whole realm of Star Trek speak to us eloquently of knowledge and efficacy and hope, of striving and prevailing, of seeing each other. And the sum of the message is love. (pp. 120-21)
Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak, and Joan Winston in their "Star Trek" Lives! (copyright © 1975 by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak, and Joan Winston; reprinted by permission of Bantam Books, Inc.; all rights reserved), Bantam Books, 1975, 274 p.
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Star Trek is consistent but often childish science fiction, engaging but often belabored drama. (p. 711)
Star Trek never had high ratings; it did have in science fiction an intriguing format. By inventing a believable world, Star Trek provided the viewer with material for his own imagination. He could elaborate upon the sets and equipment, bandy arcane knowledge, even write his own scripts. That the format had the potential to involve the viewer beyond one hour each week is the initial basis for the phenomenon. Star Trek's format created a world alive, turning viewers into fans.
Gene Roddenberry, creator of the series, referred to it, if only in jest, as "'Wagon Train' to the stars," and the similarity between groups journeying toward the unknown is evident. Movement is a prominent motif of both Western and Star Trek where it is made visual in the flyby of the gliding starship. But the similarity goes deeper. The Western story is the only indigenous mythic narrative of the white American…. Since the publication in 1893 of Frederick J. Turner's essay "The Significance of the Frontier in American History," the dominant symbol of the Western myth has been the frontier. Star Trek views space as "the final frontier." Despite its format Star Trek is not speculative fiction in the way of written science fiction or even of Space 1999 in its first season. It is American myths clothed in the garb of science fiction. "Space—the final frontier" is conceptualized through the same motifs and themes as the Western frontier. (pp. 711-12)
During the 60's American myths and the values they supported, after a brief sojourn in Camelot, began coming apart, not to be replaced by those of the counter culture. Star Trek revitalizes American myths by displacing them into a futuristic, quasi-scientific setting. In effect, Star Trek takes our roots and disguises them as branches for some of us to cling to…. Things on Star Trek look right. The family of the Enterprise is closely knit, appealing and calmly efficient. The men are men, and the women are endowed. (Though set in the 23rd century, sexual roles are those of the 50's.) Kirk … projects emotion, strength and unthreatening paternalism…. Spock surpasses him by striving not to emote at all. The result was that Star Trek's message of revitalized mythic narratives, brought directly to the emotional needs of the viewer, engendered the feeling that the shows were more than escapist entertainment. They had meaning. (p. 712)
Star Trek is a product of the dreams and nightmares of the 60's. It came to those who needed the confidence and triumph of the American past while fearing a present that foreboded the disappearance of the American way. The need has become stronger in the diffident 70's. Star Trek's vision, as Roddenberry and the authors of Star Trek Lives! maintain, is "of a brighter future of man, of a world characterized by hope, achievement and understanding." But Star Trek's impact transcends simple optimism for a tomorrow we may never see. Star Trek creates a future world where the glories of the past are pristine and the failures and doubts of the present have been overcome. It gives us our past as our future, while making our present the past which, like any historical event for the future-oriented American, is safely over and forgotten…. Star Trek, by disguising our past as our future, puts us in it—not the historical past but the mythic past of our first beginnings. There ensues a feeling of permanence, stability and renewed confidence. (pp. 712-13)
I wish now to illustrate this view by looking at one mythic theme of Star Trek—that of paradise, whose role in mythizing America began before the Puritans touched its shores.
Paradise is a fundamental theme of the series, the subject of at least 13 of 79 episodes. It is imagined as the lost Eden of Genesis or as the garden of the New World that lies just beyond the Western frontier. Paradise is destroyed, the victim of Star Trek's unquestioned identification of tranquility with stagnation. (p. 713)
For the men of Star Trek as for the pioneers paradise is to be exploited. Open land beckons the plow, way to the new beginning that brings rebirth. It is the dream our ancestors followed westward; it launches our descendants into space. Inseparable with rebirth is death: natives of paradise too contented to appreciate the virtues of progress and advancement are reeducated…. Despite the nagging of its conscience Spock, the series subscribes to McCoy's benevolent imperialism…. Star Trek assures us of [the validity of the belief in America as world peacemaker] by showing it as the unquestioned truth of the 23rd century. Near propagandizing, to be sure, but Star Trek gives out the message to those who want to believe in a way that they can believe.
In one episode the theme of paradise is treated quite differently. The tensions inherent in the myth are relieved, not by the dogmatic destruction of one pole, but by the device of the mediator. Although not typical of the paradise-theme, This Side of Paradise is a microcosm for the way the series generates its impact. (p. 714)
The authors intend for us to see the story [of This Side of Paradise] in the context of the drug culture of the 60's…. But the meaning coming from the story's structure is very different: friendship and the self-sacrifice and responsibility it demands offer a middle way between the dropping out of the Flower Children and the rat race of their parents. The episode ends … with the three friends reunited in the common mission of the Enterprise. This mission, stated after the teaser of every show, is never questioned (or questioned in order to be reaffirmed) in this or any episode. The bitter conflict over lifestyles of the 60's, as worked out through the mediator Spock, is relieved by a third: being with friends on a mission whose undoubted worth confers upon existence ready-made meaning and purpose.
In a similar fashion the series itself mediates the tension between the past and the present by establishing a third time, that of first beginnings. It is a time with the anticipation and wonder of the future without the anxieties of the present, with the glory and security of the past without its remoteness. By transcending in an ultimately inexplicable way the sum of message and medium Star Trek puts the fan-become-believer in that time….
For the believer "Star Trek Lives" is more than the slogan of a TV show that would not die. It is the ritual cry to a world where he belongs, where he has it all together. Star Trek offers the comfort of religion. (p. 717)
Wm. Blake Tyrrell, "'Star Trek' as Myth and Television as Mythmaker," in Journal of Popular Culture (copyright © 1977 by Wm. Blake Tyrrell), Vol. X, No. 4, Spring, 1977, pp. 711-19.
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In Star Trek, Roddenberry made a universe where known must be brought into contact with the unknown, where drama is played out on the borderline between self-definition and self-annihilation. The great enterprise at stake is dramatizing our own encounters with the unknown and hence with the alien within ourselves, as well as the alien beyond. It is an evolutionary process like life.
Also, as in life, this process of encountering the unknown involves us with both the familiarity of the past and the foreignness of the future…. Spock the hybrid Vulcan-human can function as resident alien precisely because he is half human and can therefore dramatize the point of contact between the familiar and the foreign. Spock's foreignness, on the other hand, allows us to see—worked out in him and hence in ourselves—the relation between polarities usually seen as diametrically opposed in our human world…. Such tensions in Spock are dramatized on a larger scale in the encounters of the Enterprise with still more alien beings. Although familiar polarities establish the terms of the problems Spock and the Enterprise must cope with, they do not circumscribe the final outcome. Instead the dynamic tension between opposing forces animates both the characters and the episodes. The psyche of the viewer is stimulated in its own evolution by encountering these old polarities newly combined first of all in Spock, then in the voyages of the starship, then in ourselves.
In the world of Star Trek, certain polarities are especially prominent: good and evil, female and male, young and old. (pp. 18-19)
The Starship Enterprise is composed of a circle and three cigar-shapes. The very simplicity of these shapes is important and contributes to the universal or archetypal resonance of the Enterprise…. (p. 34)
The symbolism of the bridge of the Enterprise is reinforced with each episode that opens and closes there. This magic circle of wholeness is drawn around the crew as they move freely through space…. The plot of most episodes is circular insofar as each begins in and returns to the harmony of the bridge. Whereas movement suggests quest, closure indicates completeness.
Kirk, at the center of this circular microcosm, sets up a differentiation essential for human functioning…. Hence familiar polarities: masculine and feminine, good and evil, youth and age. Although perhaps at times the potential for conflict in polarities seems undesirable, it is a condition of knowledge and consciousness. (pp. 37-8)
At the center of the bridge, Kirk is … at the center of opposing ways of dealing with the world, ways which are embodied, for example, in Spock, the science officer, and McCoy, the physician. The position of his chair repeats his centrality as captain in relation to the crew on the bridge. In addition he provides the central point of union between his two chief consultants and friends, Spock and McCoy. To be a mandala ["magic circle" in Sanskrit], a circle needs a center through which consciousness and unconsciousness are united. Kirk is the center of such a circle whose circumference always includes Spock, the alien. (pp. 38-9)
To Kirk, as a man, the Enterprise, his ship, is his woman.
As Kirks says in Metamorphosis, gender differentiation is universal. Like the circle, sexuality is a principle known to people of all times and places. Perhaps because all people are born of mothers, the feminine has long been associated with the unconsciousness from which the infant is ejected at birth, leaving consciousness to characterize its generic opposite, the masculine. As the individual begins to distinguish him/herself as a being distinct from the mother, consciousness becomes identified as masculine. With this conscious pole are associated clarity in contrast to mystery, light rather than darkness, pursuit as opposed to receptivity, discrimination versus acceptance, culture rather than nature, a series to which one could add hierarchy as opposed to anarchy, work rather than play, and many others. (p. 40).
In the world of Star Trek, however, these traditional oppositions relate to each other in new ways. As we saw in The Way to Eden, the representation of the circle as Mother Nature, as Eden, as the natural nurturing feminine is replaced by the circle as the enclosure of the Enterprise.
The round body of the starship assumes a feminine character, first in relation to the crew which it carries and cares for, and then in opposition to the three phallic, cigar-shaped engineering and propulsion units. Viewed from above, the round body of the starship resembles a wheel with twenty subdivisions, at the center of which is a light much like the luminous eye found at the center of mandalas throughout the world. Viewed from the inside, this central portion constellates around Kirk, figure for the ship's commanding consciousness…. [The] feminine as an idea becomes in the starship articulated into machines created by human consciousness and therefore hierarchy, order, work, intention, decision. Star Trek thus turns away from outworn notions of the feminine as unconscious and edenic to a forward-looking embodiment of the feminine within what humans can consciously understand and construct. (pp. 41-2)
The traditional balance between the oppositions of masculine and feminine implicit in the circular and linear shapes of the Enterprise has been modified in the universe of Star Trek…. In terms of this new union, the Enterprise becomes a "masculine" light of consciousness perpetually exploring the dark and mysterious unknown of outer space…. The purely "feminine," like pure nature or pure unconsciousness, is ultimately unknowable, as it always has been. What has changed is the locus of symbolic representations of these phenomena. The vision of atonement, of the Heavenly City or the Paradisal Garden, is no longer projected in terms of unconscious union but is recreated within the realm of consciousness. Within the archetypal world of the Enterprise, we have a new paradigm for psychic atonement: the organic harmony of the Garden has been transferred to a world of human creation. (pp. 43-4)
McCoy brings to space the once-familiar general practitioner, the good, old-fashioned doctor who takes care of patients when, for whatever reasons, they cannot take care of themselves. He is not the coolly analytical specialist, but like the earlier prototype, is concerned with what is traditionally known as the "whole" person, including both body and feeling…. He moves beyond Ben Casey or Dr. Kildare to recall a figure from the Middle Ages, the Good Physician, in whose hands suffering is medicinal, emotion a purgative.
Going further back than the Middle Ages, McCoy recalls the Good Samaritan who reminds us that it is good to help humans whatever their situation or state of development. In his hands, the ideal of his profession embodies our Judeo-Christian heritage of charitable service and humanitarianism. (p. 50)
Although the feminine has been traditionally associated with women, McCoy emerges through many episodes as a repository of the positive feminine from the past. Similarly, his own personality depends largely on the feminine faculties of feeling and intuition. Although trained to measure, analyze and calculate, his instinctive responses are emotional and intuitive. (p. 54)
McCoy, besides his loyalty to the ideal of love as self-sacrifice, also feels and tries to make others feel the guilt which is the inevitable result of the inevitable failure to live up to the ideal…. It is as if McCoy cannot tolerate too much assertion of self, even when it is necessary to the Enterprise. (pp. 57-8)
[In] McCoy, we see a personality characterized by emotion and intuition, a professional commitment to caring for the physical and emotional health of others, a personal commitment to the inherited notions of self-sacrificing love and guilt…. In short …, we have McCoy as "Mother." (p. 58)
Although [McCoy's] emotional personality and the nurturing functions which he performs evoke femininity, his medical training, conscious and masculine in tendency, justifies through his official job his presence on the Enterprise. Conflict seems inevitable, yet tension between opposing forces as well as their union, gives the Enterprise its impact. Just as matter/antimatter engines fire the starship, so the on-going tension between McCoy, the Mother, and McCoy, the Scientist, gives both three-dimensionality and vitality to the character. A comparable three-dimensionality emerges in the relations between Spock, Kirk, and McCoy, who make one family if not, at times, one personality. (pp. 60-1)
McCoy attends to the body; Spock deals with the mind. McCoy is emotional, Spock intellectual; McCoy is familiar, Spock alien. Nonetheless, McCoy is outside the command hierarchy, Spock is the first officer…. Although we need McCoy as we need our bodies, we need Spock to penetrate inner identities and to communicate with radically alien beings. We may appreciate McCoy for what he embodies of our past, but it is Spock who opens our way to the future. (p. 62)
Spock as half-human and half-Vulcan can both reach out to the unknown and relate it to what we know. He is central to the Enterprise, if not its center, because, confronted by a world polarized into the known and unknown, we are also confronted by a paradox: the conscious mind can only know the unknown in so far as it is known. (p. 79)
Although initially an intellectual phenomenon, Spock's mind-melding catalyzes new emotions and new ways of reacting as well as acting. Although half-human, perhaps because half-human, Spock is consummately humane. Supremely conscious, Spock is a link with the unconscious; archetypally masculine, he opens a new door for the feminine.
Because of Spock's special relationship with the feminine and the future, he has special importance for women. (p. 81)
[Spock] demythologizes evil when he reveals to us the specter of the omnivorous mother, the devil-in-the-dark, as intelligent and sympathetic. In reaching out to the feminine, Spock neutralizes the myths and stereotypes that have helped keep it underground as diabolical or on a pedestal as heavenly. (p. 82)
Whereas Spock is the archetypically masculine, Kirk is the perfectly well-rounded human male. If McCoy's feminine side makes him at times fussy and whimsical, Kirk's use of emotion and intuition is combined with a vigorous and accurate intellect. (p. 88)
Besides space, the other essential dimension of Star Trek is time. Although the episodes are projected into the future as science fiction, the time they create is the same mythical time there was "in the beginning."… As one departs from the present into either the imagined past or the imaginary future, one enters the world of the psyche.
The world of Star Trek returns again and again to map out human nature in terms of … three sets of bipolar opposites which … can be related to each other as the axes of a cube. Two are physiological in origin and hence universally human: sex and age…. In addition, Star Trek probes another set of opposites imposed by every society in which humans might live: good and evil, the positive and the negative. (pp. 100-01)
Although the oppositions that stem from age, sex, and morality are everyday realities in the world around us, they are often unwelcome when circumstances force an individual to pay serious attention to them. Thus, in Star Trek they are often imposed by an external factor which upsets the internal balance on the starship or within its crew…. Unwelcome as they may be, these polarities also provide paths to self-knowledge and wholeness. They, too, contribute to Kirk's three-dimensionality and to the human insights implicit in the world of Star Trek. (p. 101)
The mission of the Enterprise, which is to make contact with [alien life] forms, implies a willingness to move outside of the illusion of one's stability of self in time as well as to explore in space. One aim of the voyage is to transcend egocentricity as much as ethnocentricity. (p. 106)
In almost every episode [of Star Trek] we have a different female guest star, which usually guarantees that the character she portrays is alien and disposable. Most often she dies, disappears, or remains at the service of a father-figure, if not her actual father. Fatherhood as portrayed in the world of Star Trek expands to match the importance of fatherhood in our patriarchal society…. Even when the disposable female is not responsible to a father-figure, she serves the needs of some other male…. (pp. 126-27)
[The] disposable anima-women function as men's fantasies. As ideals projected by the male psyche, they are forever cut off from those negative characteristics which … can give the three-dimensionality and the assertiveness necessary to be captain of oneself. They are cut off from the three bipolar axes to knowledge treated earlier. They have no mothers who could defend their right to live or who could provide the possibility of seeing themselves in the dimension of age. As idealized fantasies, they cannot encounter their opposites along the scale of good and evil. Female figures conceived as embodiments of male fantasies, they cannot encounter men on the axis of sex on an equal and potentially maturing basis. (p. 140)
The idea of the feminine … seems to evolve from the universal human experience of Mother, that vast reservoir of unconscious preexistence from which we all emerge into being. "She" remains as a backdrop which counterpoints the changing consciousness of growing beings just as she is also the matrix of eternal space and darkness through which the Enterprise continues to explore.
Paradoxically, the idea of the nothingness that is space-Mother can appear embodied as a separate entity that has at least minimal form, for example, that of a gaseous cloud. Such entities embody projected fears of being lost in space, in nothingness, in unconsciousness. (pp. 143-44)
[This] fear is sometimes projected as an ill-defined creature whose chief life function is to swallow up and annihilate conscious life forms. Such creatures embody a human terror in the face of the unknowable as old as the Hindu Mother-goddess Kali, who in one of her aspects is the prototype of the omnivorous Mother. (p. 144)
Spock as archetype is part of a long tradition of half-human half-alien beings which have peopled folklore and plagued moralists for centuries. Most of his predecessors, however, were half-human half-animal, with the result that, like the Greek satyrs or Pan, they were often condemned in Western culture as aggressive and diabolical, alien forces to be feared and rejected….
However, unlike his avatars in the past, associated as they were with the underworld, the bestial, blood, suffering, violent sexuality, Spock is not half-human half-animal but half-human half-Vulcan. His specialness comes from association with a superior world of the mind. (p. 166)
The logic with which Spock controls his emotions contributes directly to his sex appeal to female viewers…. Union between the sexes can regain a lost innocence when a sharing of minds precedes or even substitutes for a union of bodies. (p. 167)
Spock is not an authority figure…. Whereas previous divinities were concerned with imparting the Word embodied in a fixed tradition, his semidivine overtones consist in his being able to modify past bodies of knowledge and adapt them to an unprecedented present situation. (pp. 167-68)
[Spock] shows us how survival in the fullest sense depends on freeing oneself from a past one learns from and therefore can build upon. In Star Trek we see that one is condemned to repeat what one has not understood. (p. 168)
Despite Spock's hints of a fuller future for both men and women, Star Trek dominantly emphasizes the masculine axis. Perhaps this orientation simply reiterates the Christian cosmic drama in which the crucial relation is between father and son. (p. 204)
Karin Blair, in her Meaning in "Star Trek" (copyright © 1977 by Karin Blair), Anima Books, 1976 (and reprinted by Warner Books, 1977, 208 p.).
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Star Trek appeals to us so much because Captain Kirk's story and Mr. Spock's story and the Enterprise's story is our story too….
The tales and people in the original seventy-nine Star Trek episodes "tell our story" because they address themselves to the common questions and hungers and experiences of life that all people of all times and places (including each of us) have ever lived through. (p. 20)
[Star Trek is] filled with eternal overtones, a series that links its viewers to people of both the future and the past, people who—like us—are concerned with eternal questions. (p. 21)
Star Trek gives us, better than any other modern-day visual expression, an awareness that a journey in search of something is what makes life worth living. (p. 38)
Star Trek, with its beautiful moving image of a purposeful journey (the Enterprise) and its ethereal setting of sky and space and flight, is a constant reminder to its viewers of that "deep longing for otherness" we all have. Some call it our need for transcendence, while others speak of religious experience; still others have not yet acknowledged this need, or speak of it hesitantly with words like Jim Kirk's: "at the risk of being called a mystic." Acknowledged or not, the hunger is there and the fact is that many people have begun their journeys from their spiritual vacuums into their inner space as a result of being triggered by this television show. It has helped them see that there is a journey to take, a quest that will bring meaning to their lives … and they are on their way to a transformation as complete as the Companion's (in Metamorphosis). (p. 40)
[We] find a number of near-utopias throughout the Star Trek universe which have been created by humans and other entities. Most of these have some fatal flaw in them, unfortunately. (p. 45)
The recurring mention of the search for immortality in Star Trek is a Paradise type of theme. (p. 46)
We are, time and again, reminded as we watch of a place of peace, happiness and innocence, of simple joys and eternal life … and we may feel a twinge of recognition, sensing that this too is, certainly, part of our story. Jim Kirk speaks for all of us in fact, saying that "the cave is deep in our … memories." Those of us moving from chore to chore and from school to phone call to family hassle to snow-shoveling may know that there's a calm place, a beautiful Eden for us (as yet undiscovered)—but our many external concerns get in the way of our finding it. We, just like the shipbound space explorers we watch on TV, yearn for a place where we can rest, trouble-free and happy. (p. 47)
[Star Trek is] a present-day incarnation of this same basic tale, a modern parable told wonderfully well for our times. It is our story, our personal myth; the journey of the hero is the story of all men and women and children of the past, the present, the future. (p. 119)
Betsy Caprio, in her "Star Trek": Good News in Modern Images (copyright © 1978 Betsy Caprio), Sheed Andrews and McMeel, Inc., 1978, 156 p.
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The problem of the alien is essential to every civilization, which inescapably defines itself in terms of what it is not. In American history the alien par excellence was the Indian. As Tyrrel points out in "Star Trek as Myth" there were two categories of Indians: "The noble warrior forever outside the white man's world" and the "sly, perfidious, fallen" Indian bound to the white man's world by that very fall. Translated into the world of Star Trek we have the Romulans who are "aggressive militaristic aliens … nonetheless … hard to hate" and the sly deceitful Klingons. From this initial point of similarity, however, Star Trek scripts do not continue with the usual anticipated attempts to destroy the alien…. Hatred and attempts at mutual destruction will lead only to an eternal hell. Familiar moral categories are used as points of departure for a new trajectory. The national disgust for the old ethic that demanded destruction of the evil alien in Viet Nam also left America without a viable concept of hero: Star Trek responds to the need for such an ideal: the character of Kirk overlaps with the dedicated man of action, the traditional ship's captain, while at the same time adding something new. He is at home with his emotions and can be almost moved to tears. Something new has been added to the categories of the past in order that we can move beyond them. Similarly Spock must be half human for us to appreciate his Vulcanness and through him the even greater alienness of such characters as the bodiless Medusan ambassador whom only Spock can contact and then translate to us through his humanity. (p. 311).
The Garden of Eden is our cultural stereotype of paradise and implies basic attitudes toward the essential psychological categories of the conscious mind and the unconscious. Although the healthy psyche must always be a function of both of these two components—the immanent world of one's individual experience and the transcendent world lying beyond the frontiers of one's knowledge—cultural devaluations of one of the pair can make this vital relationship difficult. In the West one of the persistent mythical images for the unconscious has been paradise. By examining two Star Trek episodes with opposite approaches to it we can see how the television series moves beyond cultural stereotypes to archetypes and new possibilities for the future. (pp. 311-12)
In [a Star Trek episode entitled] The Apple we encounter a vision of Paradise and are invited to move beyond it and the dreams of childhood represented there. The dragon-creature Vaal, who is neither male nor female, maintains a society characterized by undifferentiated bliss. There is no aging, no death, no sex, no conflict, no assaults on the lives of others. Vaal becomes a figure for the original cosmic dragon who, self-begetting and self-consuming, spends eternity eating its own tail. Similarly the citizens of his society are involved only by the circularity of Vaal's ritual feeding. (p. 312)
Kirk addresses the natives on the joys of sexual differentiation and the rewards of meeting the challenges posed by work. Theirs is no longer a self-contained world which consumes and begets itself, imaged perfectly by the tribe going down into the mouth of the dragon with their offerings. This uroboric self-containment, a hieroglyph for eternity, has encountered change. The cosmic egg has been split and from it individuals emerge. Kirk wants to communicate to them the joy of individual becoming in a world subject to opposites like female/male, young/old, good/bad. What has traditionally seemed evil in the loss of paradise suddenly in the Star Trek world has its polarity reversed.
Evil as the social counterpart of individuality has interesting implications for various characteristics of paradise. Paradise is usually a place of play, not work, where man's only activity is ritual obedience in return for which all needs will be met. After the fall, work emerges as a form of penance done for the glory of God or the good of humanity, in short in expiation of one's sins. On the Enterprise, however, it offers the individual ways of expanding his skills and of interacting with the world. A similar shift in attitudes concerns the desirability of social distinctions. In the traditional paradise, although Vaal has a spokesman, all share equally in the life of the tribe: no one is richer (because he works harder) or more highly placed. Once again on the Enterprise hierarchy and distinctions between individuals are essential orchestrations of the working network of relationships. (pp. 312-13)
In The Way to Eden we see a group of space hippies try to realize their dreams of a return to our cultural prototype of paradise. Having stolen a space cruiser, they are apprehended by the Enterprise and taken aboard. Their anarchic ways anger Kirk, who as captain represents the military hierarchy of the Federation. Their somewhat bizarre unisex clothing further sets them apart from the rest of the crew, as does their focus on play rather than work. Spock, however, is able to establish rapport with them first of all by adopting a circular hand sign signifying oneness with which they greet one another. On further contact they discover and appreciate Spock's musical ability and find in him someone with whom they can play. Furthermore, whereas Kirk dismisses Eden as a non-existent myth, Spock is willing to search out its possible reality. For the hippies Eden is the goal of their search for the oneness of unconscious union with a fertile, bountiful and all-embracing Mother Nature. Spock, appropriately for the resident alien on the Enterprise, feels sympathy for these young people who disobey the accepted working rules of society. By putting his research skills to work he discovers that there is a planet called Eden.
The outcome of the episode depends on Spock as mediator first of all between their ideal goal and the planet which the Enterprise visits. Eden, now subjected to the light of investigation, reveals itself to be quite other than the fabulous paradisal garden. Although on first appearance it lives up to its model with lush greenery bearing abundant fruit, on closer contact the hippies discover that the sap of the vegetation is in fact a harmful acid. They cannot leave their shuttlecraft without burning their feet, and, as their leader, Sevrin, demonstrates, to eat the fruit is fatal. The Eden where there is no labor, no competition or need for order, no self-consciousness or responsibility, proves uninhabitable. (pp. 313-14)
[We] are reminded that paradise is an enclosure constructed by the human mind, just as the circle is also a mathematical construction…. To seek an undifferentiated unity where there are no walls, no distinctions, is to seek unconsciousness and untimely death. (p. 314)
The unity shared by Spock and the hippies was not based on intellectual agreement or moral judgment or even shared emotional state; rather it came from within the structure of the psyche and was based on currents and forces that are part of every human being regardless of time, place or cultural state. Thus, through Spock, the circle could retain an archetypal function by relating a stereotyped vision of the unconscious—Eden—to contemporary consciousness. In this perspective Star Trek represents as much of an innovation as does Spock. It has taken historically and physically opposing forces and placed them in a new relationship to each other. Whereas death awaits one on the planet Eden, the tree of life grows within a wall, and life goes on inside the walls of the Enterprise, within the structures of the human psyche implying as they must conscious differentiation through hierarchy, work and sexual awareness. If in The Apple the Enterprise served as the apple of self-awareness which disrupts "paradise," here it has become the Garden itself, replacing the need for "paradise." (pp. 314-15)
Star Trek addresses [the] problem of how to combine spiritual values and civilization. Star Trek embraces the desert of outer space "whose solemn silence is seldom broken" even though it cannot be transformed into man's image of the ideal garden. Instead within the Enterprise we have a new model for a human garden where work, knowledge and change contribute to the cultivation of human nature.
In this perspective we can understand the importance of the Enterprise in an American context by comparing it with another famous American ship, the Pequod. Although both were intended as microcosms, the shape of the world each encloses is significantly different. In addition the implicit evaluation of the polarities nature/culture, garden/machine, paradise/fall has been reversed in the world of the Enterprise.
The Pequod is a typical sailing ship. It is manned by a variety of persons under the control of a solitary captain. Although Ahab at one moment appears to share intimacies with Starbuck through a common appreciation of the landsman's life of hearth, home and family, we see him essentially alone. No one has access to his ear when it comes to decision making. Thus when the ship at sea assumes a symbolic sense, it represents isolated ego consciousness. It is not only Ahab as guiding intelligence but Ahab as willful individual that captains the ship and leads it to its fate. Ahab is alone at the top of the hierarchy.
Well below the captain in the hierarchy are the pagan harpooners. As pagans they are outside the human community of true Christian believers; they must perform the kill and stoke the diabolical flames of the try-works. Their condition evokes that of the unredeemed animal—the unconsciously predatory beast, which nonetheless retains a spontaneous tie with nature—coupled with the social evaluation implicit in "unredeemed." Hard manual labor is a sign of their condemnation. Although it is the coffin of Queequeg, the unredeemed pagan, which saves Ishmael, these persons have no access to the ear of the captain, hence no possibility of affecting the course of the ship. The alien remains isolated to all but the single surviving narrator.
Kirk, the captain of the Enterprise, though responsible for command decisions, is no longer an individual but rather the focal point for uniting crew members and focusing their energy, converting it into purposeful action. His two chief advisors are McCoy, the Physician, and Spock, the science officer and second in command. Whereas the former typifies traditional values from the past, the latter is an alien, half Vulcan, who therefore permits a distanced view of cultural assumptions. Unlike the aliens in Moby-Dick Spock is first officer, second only to the captain in authority. As an archetype figure he opens the way to the future.
The relationships which unite these three principal characters—Kirk, Spock and McCoy—reflect on their different psychological capacities and their different ranking in the hierarchy. They reflect tensions in all of us—between feeling and intellect, between authority and submission—but in such a way as to reveal the creative potential of conflict. (pp. 315-16)
The trajectory of the Enterprise is not toward destruction but creation; it is not a fall but a flight. The "evils" which signal the end of the unconscious paradise and doom those who would seek it have been incorporated into the essential framework of the world of Star Trek. The sought-after garden is no longer "out there" in nature or "natural" unconsciousness but inside the human mind and its conscious constructions. Work, culture, technology, hierarchy are no longer associated with the fall, but with flight…. On the Enterprise we are in the lap of culture, not nature, and like the surviving space hippies we are glad to be protected from a nature, a stereotyped paradise, that is destructive and poisonous. All scenes are circumscribed by technology, all characters have a clear place in the hierarchy, a job to do and an individual identity which can border on the idiosyncratic. (p. 317)
As Gene Roddenberry points out … we as travellers need neither crush nor be crushed by our judgments of "evil" or "injustice"; rather our passports permit us to improve what we can but most of all to enjoy and fully experience the trip. We are all aliens and as such "are part of each other and of everything that is." (p. 319)
Karin Blair, "The Garden in the Machine: The Why of 'Star Trek'," in Journal of Popular Culture (copyright © 1979 by Karin Blair), Vol. 13, No. 2, Fall, 1979, pp. 310-20.
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"Star Trek—The Motion Picture" isn't as funny and inventive and energetic as "Star Wars." It isn't as beautiful and imaginative and obsessive as "2001," or as scary and lowdown as "Alien" (it isn't scary at all, in fact), and it isn't as touching as "Silent Running." But outer-space is a biggish territory, and there is plenty of room in it, I think, for a medium-range, medium-boring vehicle like this one, and although time aboard the Starship Enterprise at warpdrive speed often seems to pass more slowly than it should, Einstein did warn us about that. I enjoyed the trip.
Right at the outset, the Enterprise survives the most serious crisis of its mission, which is the tricky passage from a ten-years-gone television series and subsequent cult object into a movie spectacular—survives it easily, because Gene Roddenberry, who thought up and produced the television show and also has produced the movie, and the director, Robert Wise, have come up with a nifty analogue (the Galacto-Serv model) that does the job at once. (p. 167)
[Special effects] may be what we really come to outer-space movies for, and sometimes it is almost enough in itself. A more subtle usual ingredient, the overlay of metaphor, is missing in "Star Trek—The Motion Picture," and there is nothing in the picture that goes jangling around in our unconscious, either. What we are left with is some pretty familiar space talk…. and one of the hoariest of sci-fi plot turns—the one about the evolving baby. But the story, I noticed, also touches on the survival of emotions in space people who are under attack by mere technology or pure intelligence. This ineffable humanistic nonsense used to turn up in most of the old "Star Trek" episodes, and it accounted for the importance of Spock (who is half human) in the whole Nibelungenlied. ("There was always a lot of 'Mister Rogers' stuff mixed up with the Klingons and the phasers," a Trekkie said to me recently.) I'm glad Gene Roddenberry stayed with his formula in the movie, for this modesty … gives "Star Trek—The Motion Picture" most of the innocence and charm that almost make up for its considerable deficiencies. (pp. 167-68)
Roger Angell, "High and Low," in The New Yorker (© 1979 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LV, No. 44, December 17, 1979, pp. 167-68.∗
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[In Star Trek-The Motion Picture the] Enterprise once more flies off into the Unknown, adding a few new crew members, including a bald woman name Ilia whose entrance line—"My oath of celibacy is on record, Captain"—is surely some kind of cinematic landmark. After much backing and filling, that "alien object" [threatening the earth] is discovered to be a kind of living machine that is desperately unhappy because its life is barren of emotion. Its problem is solved when it mates with a member of the Enterprise crew (no, I am not making this up) and civilization as we know it survives to live another day.
Silly and pointless as this sounds, it really is no worse than any of the plots that made Star Trek all the rage on television. But what was passably entertaining on the small screen looks cretinous when blown up to theater size…. Equally off-putting is the film's air of pretension, its insufferable claim that it is saying something terribly meaningful about the human condition.
But what is most unforgivable of all is that this lifetime sleeping pill cost $44 million, making it the most expensive motion picture ever made. The film has more hardware than Sears and a lot of special effects, but they are hardly breathtaking: easily the greatest trick Star Trek performs is disposing of all those dollars without leaving a trace. (p. 53)
Kenneth Turan, "Spaced Out," in The Progressive (reprinted by permission from The Progressive, 408 West Gorham Street, Madison, Wisconsin 53703; copyright 1980 by The Progressive, Inc.), Vol. 44, No. 3, March, 1980, pp. 52-3.∗
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If you've seen Star Trek—The Motion Picture …, then you already know that whatever else it may be (or may have aspired to be), what it is basically is just the most expensive episode of the TV series ever shown. How you feel about that depends, of course, on how much the original show meant to you, rather than on any specifically cinematic standards. Is it better than other movies derived from hit TV shows? Sure—but don't forget that the competition is headed by McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force….
Is it good science fiction? Yes and no. In terms of written SF it's certainly as mundane as can be, but in terms of film I'd have to say, grudgingly, that it's better than most. After all, since 2001, what has there been worth mentioning?…
The only sane way to evaluate the latest voyage of the USS Enterprise is to ask, simply, is it Star Trek? And the answer to that has to be an unqualified yes, which for my money makes the almost uniformly savage reviews the flick has had seem ridiculous. What were all those ignorant critics expecting, Ingmar Bergman with photon torpedoes?…
The real reason Star Trek became a worldwide phenomenon … is pathetically obvious: the damned thing was more consistently entertaining, on the most basic level, than any other American TV action series before or since. The characters related to each other in interesting ways, there were occasional doses of real wit and believable sentiment, and, most of all, the episodes zipped along in an easy, B-movie fashion that is by now a lost art on the tube, give or take a Rockford File or two. Star Trek, the Series, may have been dumb, but it was never dull. Given a choice between watching a Star Trek episode you've already seen three times, even one dubbed into Tagalog, and a pristine, never-before-aired hour of Marcus Welby, which would you choose? Exactly.
Steve Simels, "'Star Trek' Soundtrack," in Stereo Review (copyright © 1980 by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company), Vol. 44, No. 3, March, 1980, p. 130.
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The novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture does not have the depth of [Arthur C.] Clarke's 2001: a Space Odyssey … or Robert Heinlein's s-f but it has a ready audience and captures much of the film's mood. The premise is that an alien energy force is speeding toward Earth circa 2200 leaving destruction in its wake. If readers can accept the romantic contrivance that only the Starship Enterprise is capable enough and near enough to intercept the alien cloud, the balance of the events follow in an ordered fashion. Although the writing is not distinguished and much of the technical jargon seems forced in both dialogue and narration, Roddenberry has defined his characters and integrates several familiar Star Trek themes into the action to produce a solid adventure.
Linda Ward Callaghan, "Book Reviews: 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture'," in School Library Journal (reprinted from the May, 1980 issue of School Library Journal, published by R. R. Bowker Co./ A Xerox Corporation; copyright © 1980), Vol. 26, No. 9, May, 1980, p. 71.