Wednesday, August 19, 2009
To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before
Back in 1966 the World wasn't as tolerating as it was today. The Civil Rights movement was in full swing, the Cold War was raging on. Numerous military coups and oustings were taking place throughout the world and that was just the tip of the iceberg.
It was in this environment that Gene Roddenberry sought out to create his groundbreaking science fiction show. Having penned several shows in his early days all dealing with real life issues, it was with some tribulation that Star Trek was born.
The show itself received low ratings and was eventually cancelled. It later gained popularity during syndication (shown on numerous TV networks) and was brought back to life by a successful fan mail campaign.
But what were the merits of the show? What did Rodenberry achieve through his science fiction show about a ship exploring the uncharted areas of the universe?
1. Lt. Uhura
During the 60's, the civil rights movement was in full swing. Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, W. E. B. Du Bois and their followers were striving for equal rights for African Americans. So in this context it was rather groundbreaking that Rodenberry decided to have one of the chief officers on the Bridge of the Enterprise be African, portrayed by an African American.
But instead of stopping there, he went a step further. Not only was Lt. Uhura black, but she was also a woman. In a bold attempt to buck trends, Roddenberry had created something strangely iconic, a symbol for the rights of both African Americans and women alike.
She wasn't a demure character, but a sassy independent women who often expressed her opinion. In fact the character of Lt. Uhura went on to inspire Dr. Mae Jemison to become the first African American women to fly aboard a space shuttle. Whoopi Golderberg also famously became a fan with her often quoted statement "I just saw a black woman on television; and she ain't no maid!"
2. The First On Screen Interracial Kiss
A complete taboo at the time, Rodennberry forced this issue in to the homes of Americans throughout the country in a single episode where Alien beings had ceased to have physical form, existing purely in energy orbs, but with a desire to regain new bodies. The two alien lovers desperate to express their feelings one last time stole the bodies of Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura and shocked audiences everywhere with an interracial kiss. The show was subsequently banned in many southern states, but it had made a point.
3. Lt. Pavel Checkov
Roddenberry was often ridiculed by his peers for the introduction of his Russian weapons officer character. During this Cold War period he received numerous comments in the vein of "A Russian working alongside us? Give me a break" As absurd a concept it was at the time, a dreamers romantic notion, the idea is quite frankly commonplace today. In fact the absurdity lay with the statements made by those shortsighted individuals in opposition to the idea.
4. Ignorance and Culture
An episode entitled "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" involved a strange alien whose skin is half black and half white, split down in the middle being picked up from a war torn planet. Everything goes smoothly until another similar figure shows up, apparently of the same species. However it is soon revealed that there is great hatred between the two, both wishing the other nothing but death.
I remember thinking as a 10 year old boy, "Why would he hate the other guy? They look exactly alike." True, they did, but there was one subtle difference. The black and white skin tone on the two men were not infact the same, but were in actuality mirrored. I remember thinking then "that's the most stupid reason to hate someone" and I was incredulous, much like the regular characters of the show. But in reality this kind of thing is commonplace with India and Pakistan, Israel and Palestine and lets not forget our own conflict.
So what did Star Trek achieve in the 60's? To me it was always a ground breaking show that really tested and even broke the established mindset of people who lived in that time. By telling tales of far away planets, the show actually removed our ingrained biases and showed us our own world naked and exposed. True classic science fiction.