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I noticed a few days ago that Thursday was the 50th anniversary of the initial broadcast of the first Star Trek television show. I thought about marking the milestone, but I already had a post scheduled so I decided against it. But I didn’t want to let the date pass un-noticed.
Star Trek, pitched to NBC Television by its creator, Gene Roddenberry, as “Wagon Train to the stars,” has had a long run. I think five different television series, though my count could be off – I stopped watching after the second one. Three different movie series. Cartoons and comic books and lots of merchandise. An enduring money maker that no-one really saw coming.
Star Trek has definitely been influential in shaping to some aspects of our culture. It featured television’s first interracial kiss, something that was a really big deal in 1966. It portrayed the future as challenging but positive, at a time when the Cold War was still in full swing. And it introduced technological possibilities that have since become reality.
Probably the best known of those is the version of the cell phone that was extremely popular in the late 1990s. The “flip phone” was modeled after Star Trek‘s communicators. When you think of it, there’s no reason to design a phone like that, and no-one does anymore, but Star Trek was embedded in everyone’s consciousness and I think there was a subliminal desire to have a telephone that mimicked a 23rd century device.
It’s always a question as to whether life imitates art or art reflects life, but whichever it is Star Trek has had considerable influence.
That aside, I’ve always had some issues with the show. Quite a bit of the science is questionable. That doesn’t detract from the show’s entertainment value; I just have to remember not to ask too many questions.
Socially there is no doubt the show(s) have been at the forefront of social commentary, addressing sexism, racism, militarism and climate change, among other issues, through an entertainment medium. Especially back on the 1960s, the television audience was probably not terribly interested in dealing with those issues but was willing to accept Star Trek. The shows sowed some seeds, gave people what may have been a new perspective.
But the one area in which the shows did not really dare to go was religion. If you have watched the show at all, think about that. In the 23rd century humanity has apparently outgrown the need for a relationship with the Creator. There is some portrayal of religion, but those beliefs are held by the non-human species. Humans don’t seem to have a religious impulse anymore. Yes, I know you can buy a Bible that has been translated into Klingon – but that didn’t happen on the show.
My guess I that the topic was avoided so as not to give the impression of favouring one religion over another.
Except once. In 1968, during the original series’ second season. I’m not sure how “Bread and Circuses” snuck into the mix. I’m not sure whether I should spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it yet, but the ending makes a religious statement. True, the people involved aren’t from Earth, but they are definitely human and the planet exhibits a parallel development to ours (there’s that science thing again, just choose to suspend your disbelief). The religion the crew of the USS Enterprise discover is definitely from Earth, though they don’t realize it until the last minute of the show.
But that is pretty much it.
While the creators of Star Trek may have thought that religious impulses would be gone by the 23rd century I doubt very much that they were right. Anyone who knows anything about human nature knows that we have a longing for relationship with our Creator, a desire for something more. I can’t see that dying out in the next couple of hundred years.