As part of “Star Trek” week, I’m doing a Retro Thursday posting from 2006. This is a story I wrote in September 2006 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Star Trek.”
“Star Trek” fans can celebrate this month, as the science fiction legacy commemorates going boldly into the future for 40 years.
“Star Trek” first aired on NBC in September 1966, and despite middling ratings that caused the series to be canceled after three years, the show became a cultural force.
Since, “Star Trek” has spawned 10 motion pictures, five television series and millions in merchandise sales and inspired thousands of fans.
Dara Fogel taught several courses on the philosophy of “Star Trek” while completing her doctorate in ethics and social-political philosophy at the University of Oklahoma.
” ‘Star Trek’ shows a society that has overcome its fears and differences in order to create a world where hate, fear and disease are aberrations rather than the norm,” Fogel said via e-mail.
Further, “Star Trek” forecast several developments in society and technology.
As explored in a recent History Channel special, “Star Trek” influenced technology on multiple fronts.
Graphic novel publisher Larry Young, who wrote the comic-book series “Astronauts in Trouble,” talked about the various kinds of technology ” Trek” pushed forward.
“The Emmy-nominated special ‘How William Shatner Changed the World’ (credits) ‘Star Trek’ with influencing everything from cell phones with their snap-open, commmunicator-style form to Palm Pilots, which echo the functionality of the series’ tricorders, to, dang, laser technology and deep-space probes,” Young said in an e-mail interview.
“Many, many scientists, engineers, doctors and other professionals exposed to (‘Star Trek’) at a young age can’t help but see those adventures and think it might not be a bad thing to address those disciplines in the real world.”
Fogel said “Star Trek” helped promote space travel.
“The exposure to images of space travel invigorated and sustained support for America’s space program, indirectly helping to inspire all the technology developed as a result of that program. The Very Large Array (VLA) program, which scans the skies for signs of extraterrestrial life, has also drawn much support from ‘Star Trek’ fans.”
Young’s background as a “Star Trek” fan paid off for him in 1992, when he worked on “Star Trek Logs: An MTV Big Picture Special Edition” around the release of “Star Trek VI.” The show starred Marina Sirtis as Counselor Troi, showcasing the events of the film.
“Back in 1992, my childhood pal Rick Austin was a producer for MTV’s movie show ‘The Big Picture,’ ” Young said. “Rick called me to help him write the bridge-shot framing sequences and be an all-purpose ‘Star Trek’ encyclopedia – just one of those things where all the Star Trek lore and trivia I’d collected in my brain over the years was vital to a project.”
“Star Trek” broke ground in gender and race relations, as well, Fogel said.
“In the original series, we saw female crew members (not just passengers), something quite rare in the mid-1960s. The character of Lt. Uhura was especially inspiring to young women, including comedian Whoopi Goldberg, who later became a returning character on ‘The Next Generation,’ ” Fogel said.
Capt. James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) and Nichelle Nichols (portraying Lt. Uhura) shared the first interracial kiss on television in the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren” by Meyer Dolinsky.
“I think it was Eddie Murphy who famously remarked that Kirk had been kissing green girls and blue girls and robot girls and all, so why would he balk at kissing Uhura?” Young said.
“Star Trek” continued to promote equality in sequels to the original series.
“With the spin-off series ‘Deep Space Nine’ and ‘Voyager,’ ‘Star Trek’ introduced the first African-American and female captains on an ongoing sci-fi TV series,” Fogel said. “This all stems from ‘Star Trek’ creator Gene Roddenberry’s personal philosophy of equality and faith in humanity.”
Norman filmmaker, artist and screenwriter Eric Webb, co-founder of Obviously Unrehearsed Improv! at OU, has been a ” Trek” fan since seeing “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” in his youth.
” ‘ Trek’ was, at its core, about telling a story about a possible future that would reflect back on our contemporary world. Through allegory and metaphor, it allows us to confront a variety of relevant social, political and ethical issues,” Webb said. ” ‘Star Trek’ utilized this tool again and again: The Federation/Klingon hostilities become a metaphor for the U.S./Soviet Cold War; the Maquis: The Palestinians; the Cardassians: Nazi Germany; and the Bajorans: Jewish victims of the Holocaust.”
Fogel said “Star Trek” can be credited with advances in technology and inspiring a new interest in science. But science isn’t the only legacy of the series.
” ‘Star Trek’ presents an optimistic view of the future, where technology and power are used to heal and explore, not to destroy and dominate,” Fogel said.
- By Matthew Price