“Please, Spock! Do me a favor and don’t say it’s ‘fascinating’!“ (Dr. McCoy)
“No … but it is—interesting.” (Spock)
THE MOTHER SHIP of sci-fi-spiritual connections is beaming up yet another resurrection of this mythic tale that’s been hovering around in global culture for 43 years. In other words: The latest “Star Trek” movie opens this week! And it’s going back to scratch for a look at “Star Trek” origins. So plan ahead!
Industry analysts in publications like Advertising Age are predicting that “Star Trek” won’t eclipse the socko opening of Hugh Jackman in the new “X-Men” movie that kicked off “the summer movie season.” Industry number crunchers are finding, for instance, significantly more women interested in seeing Jackman’s antics than a classic-sci-fi remake. Also, younger viewers are hotter on X-Men than the crew of the Enterprise. In response, there’s an MTV blitz of Trek ads on your TV right now.
HOWEVER, we can guarantee this: In terms of spiritual reflection (blog postings, mentions in sermons, newsletter notes, discussions in small groups)—Trekkies will beat out the X-Men hands down.
So, today, we want to help you get your minds churning with some tough-to-find resources on the underlying spiritual and philosophical themes in “Star Trek.” And we want to hear from you, please!
FIRST UP: A WORD FROM GENE RODDENBERRY …
If you’re a Trekkie or simply an alert reader—you may be able to track down the origin of this statement by Roddenberry. I was aware it existed from years of covering religion—and I tracked down one copy on a sub-page of a German fan site. Despite a bit of our own Web wizardry, though, we weren’t able to nail down its origin. The piece originally appeared in the 1970s. If you know the origin, email us.
This is especially “fascinating,” because Roddenberry died in 1991 and this statement represents a pretty pure snapshot of what he thought about the series. A former WWII bomber pilot and briefly a commercial pilot and policeman, Roddenberry brought a unique background to creating “Star Trek”—coupled with a pragmatic view of popular culture. More recently, for example, Roddenberry’s son has declared the series’ legacy to be nothing short of Shakespeare. It’s interesting that Roddenberry himself didn’t buy that line of thinking.
So, here are a few words from Gene himself:
How can a simple space opera with blinking lights and zap-guns and a goblin with pointy ears reach out and touch the hearts and minds of literally millions of people and become a cult in some cases? …
First of all, our show did not reach and affect all these people because it was deep and great literature. “Star Trek” was not Ibsen or Shakespeare. To get a prime time show—a network show—on the air and to keep it there, you must attract and hold a minimum of 18 million people every week. You have to do that in order to move people away from “Gomer Pyle,” “Bonanza,” “Beverly Hilbillies” and so on. And we tried to do this with entertainment, action, adventure, conflict and so on.
But once we got on the air, and within the limits … we did not accept the myth that the television audience has an infantile mind. We had an idea, and we had a premise, and we still believe that. As a matter of fact we decided to risk the whole show on that premise.
We believed that the often-ridiculed mass audience is sick of this world’s petty nationalism and all its old ways and old hatreds, and that people are not only willing but anxious to think beyond most petty beliefs that have for so long kept mankind divided. So you see that the formula, the magic ingredient that many people keep seeking and many of them keep missing is really not in “Star Trek.” It is in the audience. There is an intelligent life form out on the other side of that television too.
The whole show was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but to take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. We tried to say that the worst possible thing that can happen to all of us is for the future to somehow press us into a common mould, where we begin to act and talk and look and think alike.
If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there. And I think that this is what people responded to.
WE WANT TO HIGHLIGHT YOUR STAR TREK “FIND” …
Our goal in “Star Trek” coverage this week is to provide a wealth of “spiritual connections” with Trek themes. So, if you’ve got a favorite site to recommend—email us. If you’re a writer and you’ve published an online piece on these themes—tell us about it and send us a link.
If you’re simply a fan of the show, or you’ve taken one of the many classes that use Trek episodes—write us a quick note about your experience.
AND—make sure to visit ReadTheSpirit on Wednesday for a special Conversation With an expert on spiritual-sci-fi connections.
HERE ARE SOME OTHER ONLINE GEMS WE’VE FOUND …
THE U.S. CENTENNIAL OF FLIGHT project honored “Star Trek” with a special essay on its contribution to Americans’ hopes and dreams. One key point emphasized in this article is the multi-cultural diversity in the show that encouraged breaking down barriers: “Roddenberry envisioned a multi-ethnic crew, including
an African-American woman, a Scotsman, a Japanese American, and
most notably, an alien, the half-Vulcan Mr. Spock. In the second
season Roddenberry added a Russian crew member at a time when the
United States was engaged in a tense cold war with the Soviet
Union. Blacks and women were also shown as scientists and doctors
on the ship.”
NASA SORTS OUT SCIENCE FROM FICTION: Here’s a fun look at science vs. fiction on “Star Trek.” It was written by a NASA-related physicist in 1993, 15 years ago, so some of the scientific judgments he makes may be a bit dated. But it’s a pretty good look at these issues.
Why are we including it in “spiritual connections”? Because the NASA author points out that this is one of the most powerful portrayals we’ve seen in popular media of science and engineering as a noble pursuit on behalf of mankind. Often, scientists are … well, “mad” … and scientists and engineers, together, are often the folks at the heart of some evil conspiracy trying to wipe out the good guys—even today in TV and movies.
ONE FAN’S OVERVIEW OF MAJOR THEMES: “Star Trek” also helped to pioneer the now very popular practice of fans writing oceans of independent prose about their beloved storylines. Fan-written fiction now ranges from “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” to “Lord of the Rings”—vast new extensions of the original tales published online for other fans to enjoy.
Within the “spiritual connections” theme, attorney and author J. William Snyder Jr. is a longtime Trekkie and his 1995 fan-written overview of major Trek themes remains a pretty good introduction. Yes, there are a few typos in Snyder’s work, but—welcome to the realm of fan-generated prose.
WANT TO SEE HOW HIGH-BROW IT GETS? There’s such a large scholarly interest in “Star Trek” that academic studies related to the show and its legacy actually are branching into distinct camps. The online, open-source Scientific Journals International project provides a free PDF download of a 12-page, 2007 scholarly article from the “Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences.”
Here’s a one-line summary of the article: “This paper will argue that ‘Star Trek’ deliberately lacks and resists the imposition of a point of presence, a fixed origin, favouring negotiative rather than authoritative meanings.” Sound numbingly academic? Yeah, it is esoteric, but the article is loaded with references to other cool Trek analysis and, if you wade through it, the author does pose some intriguing arguments about Gene Roddenberry’s aims and the series’ continuing evolution over time.
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)