Debunking ‘Go Forward Not Backward’

This editorial is the first of a series from Dennis Russell Bailey on ‘Bad Reasons for not doing a TOS movie’

Based on published reports, it appears likely that the storyline J.J. Abrams has conceived for his “Star Trek” movie takes place in Trek’s 23rd century and revolves at least partly around youthful versions of James Kirk and Spock.  Some long-time fans of the Franchise are excited by this possibility, and some are dead-set against it.

Those fans who dislike the TOS-based movie premise have been active out on the Web advancing a number of assertions-passing-as-arguments as to how the premise somehow violates basic principles of “what ‘Star Trek’ should be about.”  There are several themes that crop up again and again on blogs and message boards. 

Here’s one of my favorites: “Star Trek is about the future.  It should move forward, not back.”


Playing the Roddenberry Card
This attitude is sometimes attributed retroactively to Gene Roddenberry himself, as in the case of this 2005 interview with George Takei.  Speaking of “Star Trek Enterprise,” Takei said: “It’s alright but it certainly doesn’t keep with Gene Roddenberry’s vision. Gene was always looking to the future.”

Okay…leave aside for the moment the fact that despite some fannish distain for time travel stories, tales which contrive to place Trek characters into “the past” – theirs and or ours – have been among the most successful and popular entries into the canon.  These would include “City On The Edge Of Forever,” “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,”  DS9’s “Past Tense” and “Far Beyond The Stars” and the movie “First Contact.”    It’s clear that what people mean by Trek being “about the future” is that each new Trek project should take as the primary setting for its main characters some point further into the mythical “Star Trek future” than previous projects.

Why should that be so?  It’s certainly not because each successive “Star Trek” series moving further into the “Trek future” has been more popular or successful as drama than the previous series.

In the interview quoted above, Takei elaborated: ”Gene was always looking to the future, shocking people with things they’d never seen before.” 

All well and good, except that as of 2006 we’ve taken extended tours of three eras of “Trek history” and been given the odd glimpse of a fourth (the 29th century introduced in the Voyager episode “Future’s End.”   And guess what?  Far from presenting shockingly new things that we’ve “never seen before,” it turns out that every “Star Trek” era is pretty much the same for the next thousand years.

The writers and producers move the furniture around every century or so.  One example:  by the 24th century the Klingons, who were introduced in TOS as militant jackbooted fascists who spied upon and slit one another’s’ throats when they weren’t torturing Federation officers, had evolved into an honorable society now friendly to the Federation.  Things have changed so much in a century that the Klingons are allied with the Federation against some newly-invented folks called the Cardassians: militant, jackbooted fascists who spy upon and slit one another’s’ throats when they aren’t torturing Federation officers.Shocking and new!   Substituting the hard “C” for the “K” must be the magic difference.


These boots were made for thugging


In the 22nd century, our heroes explore space in a faster-than-light ship.  They encounter aliens who are a lot like human beings.  They defend themselves with ray-guns called “phase pistols” or lasers and they go to and from their ship by using a teleporter called a “transporter.”  They fight totalitarians called “Suliban.”  They try to avoid interfering with primitive cultures and think maybe they should write that down as a “directive.”

In the 23rd century, by contrast, the main characters explore space in faster-than-light ships.  They encounter aliens who are a lot like humans, defend themselves with “phasers” and go to and fro using a teleporter called a “transporter.”  They fight totalitarians  called “Klingons.”  They say they don’t interfere with primitive cultures because of their “Prime Directive.”

In the 24th century, Picard and Sisko and their crews explore space in a faster-than-light ship (we’re told that it’s a faster faster-than-light ship), meet humanoid aliens, pack phasers and beam around space using their transporter.  They fight the totalitarian Cardassians.  The Big Change this time around is that the transporter has been upgraded into a “replicator” to deliver hot tea to Picard on demand while he debates with himself over whether it might ever be permissible to violate the Prime Directive.

Okay, let’s skip over Janeway – the accidental explorer whose ship has gone further than any in history to discover a wondrous new sector of the Universe dominated by some totalitarians called “Borg,” while resisting the temptation to violate the Prime Directive  – and peek into the 29th century.

Surely, things will be different in the 29th century; we’re talking, after all, about a period of time at least equal to that between Columbus’ arrival in the West Indies in three wooden sailing ships and Richard Branson plotting of orbital getaways for billionaires.

Well…in the 29th century there are these folks exploring in big ships – oh, wait, here’s something:  now they travel in space and time.  That changes everything, no question, which explains why they all still work for something called “Starfleet” and get from place to place (and time to time, now) using transporters and worrying themselves about something called the “Temporal Prime Directive.”

See, the “shocking future” is mapped out for us for the next millennium and it’s based on an ever-repeating fictional template.  Set a new movie or series in the 29th century, and I’ll bet we find some “shocking” totalitarians to fight with our “new” temporal phasers. 


Are we there yet?

All “Star Trek” eras are the same. 
Trek never moves forward.  It turns in now well-worn circles.  Every few years, concepts and storylines that date back to the beginnings of TOS are dressed up in new Spandex pajamas and sent out to explore the Universe with new foam rubber pieces glued to their foreheads.

That will be true even if the next ship “explores” another galaxy rather than the Delta Quadrant.

Some fans who believe that Trek should “always move forward” propose ideas for future stories that they believe will advance and enlarge the “Trek universe.”   When one examines these proposals, too often they simply function within the same repetitive template that we already know.

Let’s take a look at two popular, recurrent proposals of this kind: the “25th Century Return To Exploration,” and “Fall of The Federation.”

The “25th Century Return To Exploration” usually posits some means by which the cast of regular characters are to be propelled into some distant galaxy or some other previously unexplored, distant region.  The flaw in this is easy enough to see, given the multiple examples of the Cyclical Trek History Template cited above.  The next galaxy over – M-113 or Andromeda, or whatever – will still be made up of stars and planets and a lot of aliens who for the most part will have to be portrayed by human actors.  They’ll have their own alliances, and doubtless their own totalitarian baddies.  It’s not, after all, as if the producers will actually be exploring a new corner of the real Universe, where unique and wonderful things might in fact be discovered.  Writers and producers will be working within the same practical constraints, with the same materials and same budgets, as if the story were set in the 24th or 23rd or 22nd centuries.

“The Fall of The Federation” idea posits the collapse of the overbearing political structures that have long formed the background of the “Trek Universe”  in favor of a less civilized, less well-settled and well-explored setting than the one we’ve been watching for forty years.  The thought behind it seems to be that this will make Trek shockingly unpredictable again.   The scenario as described is usually acknowledged by those who advance it as somewhat similar to that of the recent “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda” television series.

In fact, this premise is not “moving forward” in any but a strictly chronological sense.  It’s a kind of resurgent atavism, a way of setting the story in a pre-22nd century galaxy while calling it the 25th or 26th or 27th or whatever.  

Perhaps more troubling is that in so doing, it discards the single real substantial change that Gene Roddenberry introduced into “Star Trek” when he created “The Next Generation.”

Roddenberry’s “vision,” the vision that’s so often called upon to support the “Trek should always move forward” argument, the vision that he was committed to by the time of TNG, was that human beings are perfectible.  We will become different and better than we are, we will be more effectively socialized and less selfish and less prone to “criminal” behavior.  Now, I don’t personally agree with that .  I think that it’s stripped a lot of the potential for real drama out of the Franchise.  That said, moving further into the “Trek future” by dumping it is really going backwards in a more fundamental and disrespectful way than the proposal to do a movie set in the somewhat rougher, more adventurous continuity of the original “Star Trek” television series could possibly be.


Fall of  The Twelve Colonies  The Federation

Setting is not story. 
Setting doesn’t dictate plot or tone or the visual scope and design of a film. “Shakespeare In Love (1999)” and Elizabeth (1998)” are two films set in the same country, within a few years of one another, even sharing a good deal of the same cast.  They were both successes, and they could not be less alike as stories or as films.

There were five or six decades of the 20th century during which the Western setting and its themes dominated American popular cinema and television.  Everything from drama to adventure to comedy (Lee Marvin won a Best Actor Oscar for his character in “Cat Ballou’) to family sagas were successfully placed during a period of American history which had been less than a century long.

No one suggested during that era of Hollywood entertainment that after a few very successful films set in the 1890s had been made it was pointless to go back and make a movie set in the 1850s or 1860s.   Likewise, an inspired “Star Trek” story featuring attractive characters can be a complete success whether set aboard a starship in the 22nd century or a “timeship” in the 28th century – or, as in  “City On The Edge Of Forever,” in a block of tenements in 1930s New York.


Where would you folks like to go?

 Dennis Russell Bailey is the coauthor of two episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation, "Tin Man" and "First Contact." Most recently he’s served as co-producer, writer, CG effects and design artist and bottle-washer for the independent film ‘Starship Exeter

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Very nice thoughts… I’d like to see how writers manage to avoid all previous ideas…and do something different. My theatre teacher in college told us that there are really only a dozen or more story scenarios in the world and through time, it’s a matter of how you tell them that makes everything unique… hope our Star Trek writers can do something that gets audiences and says something unique, but not to unique as to scare people off, it’s all a matter of opinion on what is good and bad!

Good post. I have to agree with you here. Anything they do will be in the same mold, I imagine, but I honestly hope it’s not. Maybe Abrams can bring something different and new.

Well, Abrams’ idea is not bad, but also we had good concepts in the past 12 years and success was always a question of realisation. And realisation was a big problem of the near past. “Going to the future” means, that social and political problems of our present will be mirrored within the story, independent of the local or chronological setting. DS9 is a good example for modern trek, it was a new standard of story telling and character development that was absolutely ignored by VOY and ENT. And although 3 series were set in the same timeline, no one came to the idea to combine those elements in a trekmovie to support each other – I really would call this LOST opportunities! And as a fact in the last 12 years there was absolutely no development in the franchise (except DS9 and the ironically unimaginative Nemesis).

James Heaney (fka Wowbagger)

A remarkably cogent and articulate article. Mr. Pascale continues his run of “hiring” excellent contributors. ;)

I want to see a TOS movie. Always have. So on that score I agree with the editorial 100%. But there’s a very disengenuous streak at the heart of the editorial, and that is by quoting Roddenberry’s vision of the future, and then listing off a bunch of settings, like DS9, Voyager, Enterprise and calling them repetative – as though Roddenberry himself created them, and that this was his vision of the future. That’s absurd. They weren’t his vision of the future, they were the vision of the people left to run Trek after he died, and their vision was to just copy what had come before, over, and over, and over… and that’s why Trek has almost died. Because they had no vision. So to try and foist that heap of nonsense on Roddenberry is to rewrite history and misrepresent the facts. The blame of course is not the setting, it’s who is in charge of the execution. Just look at Generations. A painful attempt at a TNG movie that uses TOS characters and fumbles the ball badly. Any one of those TNG movies could have been brilliant, if the people behind making them had had vision and real talent. They did not, and even First Contact, the best of the bunch, is pretty lousy. However, even given all of that, no part of the Trek universe should be off limits to new endeavours, and that includes recasting TOS and setting off with our favourite characters again. After all,… Read more »

TNG was, in most respects, the introduction of the repetitive template — at Roddenberry’s specific direction and under his supervision. The vast majority of the ways that future Trek would imitate TOS were set in place by Roddenberry himself.

I don’t see any reason to assume that Trek would have evolved in a more interesting or imaginative way had GR continued to head it, based on what he did with TNG. No, he didn’t produce the later shows…nor will he be producing any future shows or movies, so that’s a moot point. Nonetheless, if one does not choose to violate the established continuity of the “Trek universe” then it remains pretty static up until — what, the 29th or 30th centuries?

I’m not “making an argument for a TOS movie.” I don’t have to — either Abrams is producing one, or he’s not. I’m discussing the limits of some of the recurrent arguments *against* making one.

If you take into account the several hundred hours of Star Trek produced via TV and film, yes, you’re going to see repetition and overlapping of plotlines in that sample size. And unfortunately, by the end of the film series (NEMESIS) and TV run (ENTERPRISE) you saw some blatant ripoffs of old concepts. But my displeasure with Berman towards the end of his run as STAR TREK’s caretaker was that he stopped being innovative within the established framework of STAR TREK. Take VOYAGER for example. This was a rather progressive concept for STAR TREK– a ship stranded far frome home trying to figure out a way home. From the first moment I heard of that idea, I was immediately excited. Finally, we’re going to get out of the neighborhood and get into some exotic storylines and new aliens. What did we get instead? Westmore prosthetic nose-aliens and da-da-duuuum: THE BORG! I can’t tell you how underwhelmed I felt by Season 3 of Voyager. I sat through the whole run, through some very good episodes between the start and finish of that series but it always nagged me that they didn’t push it farther. Imagine if after finding a new technology to come home, half the Voyager crew prepares to go home and the other half of the team insists that they stay behind to explore outwards, towards the edge of the galaxy. And at the end, when Voyager finds her way home, the other crew somehow communciates that they are… Read more »
I am one of the “move forward” people. “It’s certainly not because each successive “Star Trek” series moving further into the ‘Trek future’ has been more popular or successful as drama than the previous series.” Certainly not. But not because you say it’s so, but because every show following TOS, with the exception of “Enterpise,” was in the same era, that being, 80 years following TOS. It never moved “further into the future.” So your argument is based on a false premise. With that said, the one and only prequel flopped. No one was interested. Why would Paramount think trying the same trick in a movie would fare any better? The fact that some of the most popular “episodes” take place in the “past” is equally fallacious. In each such example the trip to the “past” is temporary and couldn’t have happened unless the story was set in the “future.” And anyhow, we all know that time travel stories are for the most just a gimmick. I’ll admit City was a great piece of television, but its story was dependant on human interaction than stone knives and bear skins. The Voyage home was a cartoon. Voyager is discussed below. “Far from presenting shockingly new things that we’ve ‘never seen before,’ it turns out that every “Star Trek” era is pretty much the same for the next thousand years. In the one instance we went into the far “future” in the Voyager series the episode had ironic (almost facetious) undercurrents or… Read more »
1. Gene Coon and some very talented authors contributed more to Trek than its creator. 2. With all due respect to the Great Bird of the Galaxy, GR was a bit off the deep end in his “visions” of serial adultery, “vision enhancing chemicals” and sticking-a-thimb-in-the-eye-of-society religious game playing (his Budhist marriage to #2, for example). In other words, there were valid reasons why he was asked — repeatedly — to leave his own product. 3. Star Trek’s “vision” — if we may call it that — was simple: TELL GREAT STORIES. No one but pimply faced nerds care about the make-believe worlds and “let’s-make-up-some-more-treknobabble-to-impress-the-engineering-majors” dreariness of TNG/DS9/VOY/ENT or whatever. Bailey makes that point far more diplomatically that I choose to make it! 4. Of all the casts and settings, Star Trek was specifically suited to TELL GREAT STORIES becuase “canon” and “timelines” were the furthest thing from the production crew’s mind. Indeed — they kept such bravo-sierra to a bare minimum and then only as an excuse for suspension of disbelief. Who believes any of the made-up “canon” and “timelines”???? WHO CARES?????? JJ Abrams: please TELL A GREAT STORY with your movie. About people. About their problems. About how they overcome their problems. People with money to spend on a movie and popcorn for the family won’t give a slide rule if you leave out every silly word of treknobabble and stupid, made-up aliens, make-belive languages and anthropologies be damned! GIVE US A GREAT STORY WITH CHARACTERS THAT MAKE… Read more »
I rewatched CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER tonight as I am also reading the new book CRUCIBLE: McCoy– PROVENANCE OF SHADOWS which ties into that period of the original series. What stuck me as I watched the episode was what Edith Keeler did in talking to Kirk and Spock. She summarized the value of these characters, saying to Spock that he “belonged by Kirk’s side” and that Kirk belonged basically “out there” somewhere impliedly beyond Earth That’s the essence of the show- great characters with a purpose that belong working together. Its rewarding to know that you’re watching characters doing what they were born to accomplish and alongside those whom belong with them. Its meaningful to watch good friends stick together– never giving up one one another. I know it all sounds hokey, but that’s a good thing, I believe. I grew up watching the original series and from that I learned by example what friendhsip means. Yes, the actors, the supporting producers, etc. all had a lot to do with that element to the show, but I do credit Gene Roddenberry with putting that foundation out there himself. Heck, even in The Cage you could see Capt. Pike and Dr. Boyce having a meaningful friendhsip. But the way these characters care about eachother is a huge factor in making this show important. Maybe TOS was truly lightening in a bottle, but if anyone out there is thinking of doing another Trek, they need to keep this notion in… Read more »
Captain James B. Quirk
I actually find myself in agreement with DRB, but I’m also in agreement with “old timey fan.” I believe the key thing to a watchable and engaging movie, or series of any genre is the depth of the writing, the quality of the acting, the chemestry between the actors and a director that’s able to pull it all together. One of the biggest causes of the decline of recent Trek is it’s unbelievable social utopia and it’s conformity to PC. Where is the conflict? Where’s the drama? What’s there to engage the audiance? If you want a “Buffy” audiance, then all you have to do is tell a stupid story with no depth, but if you want to return to what made Trek great, then you have to have the cajones to go out on a limb and deal with real issues. This was the corner stone of what made Trek great. Taking the issues of the day and dealing with them in an adult manner, not fearing to offend, but putting the drama of the day out on the table and presenting both sides of the issue. “Star Trek” dealt with the signs of the times and was an open commentary on the issues that were tearing America apart. Viet Nam, for one… The Coms vs the Yangs… Abandoning all in a desparate search for Eden was another. A commentary on the Hippies and the Drug Culture. Racism, Oppresive Despots….. all of this was dealt with by the writers… Read more »

I think those argumenting against a TOS film are being disenegnuous. They don’t have a really point. Their POV is simply that they are TNG generation fans and want a TNG era movie.

I think Mr. Bailey does a good job de-bunking the Spirit of Star Trek / Gene Roddenbery myth. GR himself recycled “The Cage” as a “prequel” to TOS – thats proof enough for me that Star Trek can look back as well as forwards.

As Old Timey Fan points out TOS was a success because fans appreciated the work of many fine writers, producers, technicians and performers – not just Gene Roddenberry. The purest GR Trek we ever saw was ST:TMP and very few people consider that their favorite vision of Trek.

I do think it is important to note (as DB states) this is not a \’defence of a TOS movie\’ editorial. Only a reaction to those that seem to believe that a TOS movie (or a so called \’going back\’ movie) cannot work. It is true that the vast majority in that camp also seem to advocate another TNG movie.

I for one am in the \’go quality not crap\’ camp. I dont care where the film is set, I just want a well crafted, fun film that feels like Trek and has some good action and drama. I would love to see Trek get the \’summer blockbuster\’ treatment and have Paramount grow the fanbase and the fracchise for the future. I totally agree with Bailey\’s point that setting is not story, and I really dont understand some fans total obsession with setting…as if that is all that matters. I am far more concerned about theme, tone, direction, writing, acting, production design…the setting is waaaaay down my list.

I din’t think this new movie is a ‘going back’ film.

It’s a new movie that happens to be set after Enterprise and before TNG/DS9/Voyager. nI believe the term is ‘continuity plug-in!’

If no ‘going back’ was allowed, there would have been no Star Trek V and VI (Trek VI being very much a ‘PREQUEL’ to TNG, please note, prequel haters!) and there could never be any comic books, games or novels set in any era except after Star Trek: Nemesis!

Dom,

Star Treks V and VI take place after TNG premiered and before that show in terms of the timeline, but I think it is incorrect to regard thsoe two movies as “prequels.” The events f thsoe movies had very little to do with TNG, save for a nod to the show by having Michael Dorn play a miniscule character in one scene.

The new movie’s rumoured story is rightly called a “prequel” because it is associated very closely with TOS’ characters and story. Many feel that going back to before the original series’ storylines with these characters is unnecessary. I think its problematic too, but I’m open to the diea for now.

Hi Adam.

Well STVI was made concurrently with TNG’s Unification, so there was always the intent that it would be used by the TNG crew as a prequel to that story. The use of Khitomer for the peace conference was a result of TNG’s Worf’s family’s connection to the Khitomer announcement, IIRC.

As for STV, I think even most fans would have preferred STV not to have been a sequel or prequel to anything (although I still prefer it to Generations, Insurrection or Nemesis!) ;-)

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the TOS crew. The biggie is whether they can cast actors who can make the characters convincingly their own and whether the story is any good.

Unlike Marina Sirtis, who condemns Paramount, saying they’re ‘. . . trying to reach a new “Lost” audience . . . they just dont get it!’ I think they actually do get it. The Lost audience are the sort of people the new film has to reach out towards.

Recent years have seen the Star Trek become marginalised the way the old BBC series Doctor Who, which I liked, had. The new Doctor Who series has found a massive new audience (although I HATE it!) and Trek, given new a decent spin, could come back as well.

I disagree with people who think it’s bad thing for humanity to be portrayed as more evolved in startrek because it is “boring” or the unfortunate stroke of “where’s the conflict, where’s the drama”? If seeing conflict is what engages you then why are you a startrek fan? It makes absolute sense to portray humanities future as non-confrontational within itself and harbouring feelings of peace and prosperity, this leaves the premise of what we would call drama way opened to explore new depths of the human condition that we wouldn’t be able to if we continually portrayed humanity as it is today. I honestly do not like the battlestar galactica series because of this, primarily because it spends 97% of its time portraying humanity as being inherently conflicted and warlike and the other 3% of the time on making sure the characters look like they shop out of a macys catalogue circa 2006 earth. Furthermore it is my belief that the truest trek fans have always been futurists, those who have faith that some of the possibilities of what we see on trek can and will unfold before our eyes, in our time. But most importantly the ethical considerations of the characters, which we consider futuristic by todays standards, is at the very heart f the series. If you decided to make the human characters on startrek more at conflict with one another you are taking away the very essence of what startrek is, which is an extended portrayal of… Read more »

“If seeing conflict is what engages you then why are you a startrek fan?”

First of all, because back in the day when I *became* a “Star Trek” fan — back when it ran once a week on NBC — “conflict” was not a dirty word in Trek. The shows were good drama, and as such were full of conflict and the very best ones were about conflict between human beings who could not easily be divided into “the good guys” and “the bad guys.”

Secondly, I’m a fan of good drama, of good science fiction, of imaginative and clever storytelling. All of those attributes are bigger and more durable than “Star Trek” as a brand. To the extent that Trek embodies them it may well survive and be worth watching; to the extent that TPTB pander to the notion that fans must be pandered to with mediocre “utopian” formulae then its future is *exceedingly* limited.

And I used “pandered” twice in the same sentence and there’s no edit function here that I can find.

I’ll survive and adapt. :lol:

Dom I agree about STV– I prefer it to Generations, Insurrection and Nemesis as well.

I know I’m going to get crap for this, but I actually *like* Star Trek V. Really. I know its poorly written and the plot is silly. But its grown on me…. and the Big Three are great together. Ah, maybe I’m just nostalgic for the old crew, but I am not ashamed to say I enjoy watching Star Trek V. There. I feel better…

I disagree. TOS was full of conflicted characters who ran the gamut of human emotions (including the aliens!) Humans in the TNG era aren’t evolved: they’re stagnant, dehumanised. Data, an unemotional android, even the Borg, are more human than later-era Trek humans. I don’t go for this ‘Gene’s Vision’ stuff. ‘Visions’ are the preserve of psychotics. Gene was, let’s be honest, a bitter man, an ideas man, who saw his creation embellished on by more talented people and ultimately taken away from him after the near franchise-suicide of ST:TMP. How he must have seethed to see STII:TWOK championed as a better film, more in keeping with the tone of TOS. In truth, Gene Roddenberry’s beliefs changed and he tried to change Star Trek along with it. He created TNG as a far-future sequel to TOS, surrounding himself with lawyers, so he could regain creative and financial control over the Star Trek concept and have nothing to do with the original series beyond a cameo for Deforrest Kelley, whose ‘Admiral’ character is never even named. Look at the disaster that is seasons 1 and 2 of TNG. Very swiftly, a worried network placed a young man named Rick Berman on Roddenberry’s team to try to sort out the mess of seasons 1 and 2 of TNG. For a while he even succeeded. Gene Roddenberry came up with one truly great TV concept in his life: the original Star Trek. It’s sad that he never really understood what made his creation tick;… Read more »

Wasn’t diagreeing with you Adam, btw, this was a response to futuristic attitude :)

That’s cool Dom. I agree with your comments. STAR TREK is about adventure and conflict (inner and outer).

And to Futuristic attitude, let me direct you to several TOS episodes in which Kirk forces Federation ideals down the throats of “backwards” peoples around the galaxy. Even the Organians got the Kirk-treatment (“we offer you protection from the Klingons” etc.) and looking back at that now, you kind of laugh at the colonial spirit that governed Starfleet. I doubt Roddenberry was unaware of that aspect of the show, in fact I think it was intentional. Roddenberry had some pretty silly notions about the human race and he wanted to shove them down the audiences’ throats from time to time. As Dom said, ST:TMP was one extreme example. TNG’s first two seasons are further examples. Michael Piller saved TNG by riting the characters better AND by putting together the single best cliff-hanger in television history with The Best of Both Worlds. That episode was basically TNG’s TWOK. Conflict, baby. It works all the time.

I think we’re preaching to the choir here. Obviously Dom, Adam and myself prefer the action / adventure / sf “cowboy diplomacy” of TOS to the PC stagnation and hand-wringing of TNG. I think it’s why Insurrection and Nemesis feel so wrong – we just can’t believe in the TNG characters doing anything pro-active.
(Okay there is alot more wrong with Nemesis – I was half expecting Vern Troyer to make an appearance as Mini-Shinzon).

I think I might even watch ST:V again.

“I disagree. TOS was full of conflicted characters who ran the gamut of human emotions (including the aliens!)” The characters disagreements were over more evolved sensibilities, not 20th or 21st century tendencies. The fundamental basis of the character relationships was unity, not conflict in the present day sense of the word. “Humans in the TNG era aren’t evolved: they’re stagnant, dehumanised. Data, an unemotional android, even the Borg, are more human than later-era Trek humans.” Why are they “stagnant” and “dehamanized”? Because they aren’t EXACTLY like people of today? Because they aren’t ALL EGO? Because they don’t compete with one another for their place in the universe? This comment of yours reveals an unfortunate tendency to equate how people will be in the future with how they are today, this is unsound and short sighted. Just because they don’t express their thoughts and emotions in sudden dramatical outburts doesn’t mean they aren’t expressing it, but again, one must look beyond this present moment to see this. If startrek depicted humanity as being EXACTLY how it is now It wouldn’t be startrek, I think people of today can learn a lot from these characters. “It’s sad that he never really understood what made his creation tick; that his series, for all its 60s-era elements, tapped into some great archetypes (thanks to Gene Coon) the same way Star Wars would a decade later.” Your problem is that you speak of your own experience as though it were universally valid. First of all,… Read more »

What I meant to say is that a “dissident” as depicted i startrek is usually someone who is jepordizing lives on a mass scale, not someone who merely thinks or acts differently than the rest of the galaxy. For example george w bush would be considered a dissident in 24th century federation terms because his actions threaten the continued existence of many species.

lol and unlike in todays world he would be stopped!

Ah, Futuristic attitude your George W. Bush comment is interesting in that I would argue Capt. Kirk did his own “naiton building” during TOS on various planets. Kirk manipulated societies frequently, injecting “Federation ideals” into cultures that he deemed backwards or in danger.

Basically, Kirk was a neocon.

There were exceptions to the prime directive made of course, but these were almost always facilitated by the fact that a species was in danger of self destruction, it had nothing to do with kirks personal gain, with exploiting a cultures resources under the guise of wanting to “spread democracy” or of seeking to instill federation philosophy on other cultures.

Most of the time kirk would say that the society, once freed, would learn its own way toward its own freedom, or that it would take its own path of self discovery, that is not what george bush is doing, but quite the opposite of forcing american democracy on middleeastern society. What Kirk would do is he would free a society then he would say “now it’s up to you where you go from here”. Much much different than forcing a system on a people.

No, Kirk was what Gene Roddenberry and Gene Coon were in the 1960s — what would later be called “Kennedy Liberals” or, already at the time, “New Deal Liberals.” By current standards this would make many of his attitudes moderate-to-center-right.

Many of the conflicts in the show’s later stories reflect the struggles of its traditionally-liberal minded writers with divisions then rivening American mainstream liberalism concerning our military role in the world as a result of the evolution of the Vietnam conflict.

“Nation-building” was not a popular neo-con idea prior to George Bush’s embrace of it in a specific instance in the Middle East; in fact, Bush mocked the notion during his 2000 Presidential campaign.

Good points by all.

Now, I know this is a silly quesiton, but what do you think Kirk would to with a pre-war Iraq?

I can tell you what picard might do with a post-war iraq and that is he would try to bring the insurgents together and make all starfleet personel comply with the non-interference directive. I think to call the non-interference directive a product of liberalism is an attempt, either cosciously, or unconsciously, to take some of its overall credibility away as a valid universal concept that can work when it’s needed. Why must anything progressive, peaceful or open minded be considered a feature of liberal politics anyway?

Picard’s lot would let the populations of the Middle East kill each other! Picard and his Federation cohorts were willing to stand on the bridge and watch an inhabited planet get destroyed because the Prime Directive had ceased to be a guide and become an unbendable law! Worf’s half-brother was treated as a criminal for doing for saving a race!

How arrogant and distant have 24th century humans become that they can allow innocent people die for no sane purpose?! By evolving, they set themselves up above the gods! If the whole TNG Federation was a person, they’d be someone you’d want to see fall on their ass!

Additionally, while we might be told that humans will be different in four centuries, I’d say that we should look across our previous thousands of years of conflicts. Have we really changed all that much?

I’d posit that we haven’t. Conflict, desire, rage against the system, sex, lust, joy, pain, ambition . . . all the extremes of emotion are vital to our development. That’s something that just won’t change other than through some Nazi-style breeding programme.

Plus I refuse to believe that the majority of human beings would EVER accept having a career where they aren’t paid!! ;)

I do not understand the notion of the canon bashing that many people tend to take in reference to Star Trek. They seem to draw a parellel between the lower quality of story telling; not to mention acting; that was produced under the likes of Enterprise as a sign that there is a direct issue with the canon and not the actual writing and story developments themselves. If Star Trek XI is to take on the idea of showing Kirk and Spock early on, the writers should embrace the canon and not reject it. Casino Royale and Batman Begins are not good comparisons with Star Trek simply because both are already understood by the notion of the audience as to be vague in timeline conception. Batman has already gone under numerous incarnations since 1939 and remained 34 since then. And with Bond, we have had 5 actors play the role with two of them (Connery and Moore) playing them til they were really past the prime of the character themselves to only be replaced by a younger actor. The whole notion of belief thus is basically left open for the audience to interpret for each new incarnation, since neither of the previous franchises ever specifically set out a specific time frame to which their stories took place. Star Trek, however, has come to incorporate the notion of time and date usage into the story telling by both the writers and more importantly by the fans of the series. To go… Read more »

Dom – October 2, 2006

Dom, that was one of the most brilliant, penetrating essays I have read regarding the difference between American civilization when I was a boy (the 1970s/1980s) and today. Today, the West is run by people who think much as the TNG world thinks. The oppression imposed in the name of liberation would make a fine Trek episode if we weren’t in truly in danger of arrest for holding a traditional, Western thought.

Frightening is indeed a complete description of the “new” Trek setting. Medicated. Theraputic. Managed. Equal. Without distinctions.

TOS used to tell stories about such nightmares (Return of the Archons, for one); newer Treks became it. So too has our Western civilization become somethign we once abhored.

I find myself hoping for a movie such as advocated here as much as it would be a sign of the reversal of what I call “The Madness” of the nightmare world of the 60s. Honestly, I don’t know how much more of the Leninist-Bolshevik-Deweyan “Religious Secular Humanist” agenda I can stand.

Where’s the duct tape??!!

Futuristic Attitudes writes, “Why are they “stagnant” and “dehamanized”? Because they aren’t EXACTLY like people of today? Because they aren’t ALL EGO? Because they don’t compete with one another for their place in the universe? This comment of yours reveals an unfortunate tendency to equate how people will be in the future with how they are today, this is unsound and short sighted. Just because they don’t express their thoughts and emotions in sudden dramatical outburts doesn’t mean they aren’t expressing it, but again, one must look beyond this present moment to see this. If startrek depicted humanity as being EXACTLY how it is now It wouldn’t be startrek, I think people of today can learn a lot from these characters. ” With all due respect, Futuristic, you need to get away from the television and Internet and live your life. If you insist on staying locked up in your apartment, please take time to read something written before 1985: Ivanhoe. Pride & Prejudice. Crime and Punishment. The Gospels. Leaves of Grass. Heart of Darkness. Pilgrim’s Progress. Mere Christianity. Or anything by Solzhenitsyn to see what life under people who believe in the perfectability of Man is *actually* like. Hint: it is not pretty. I feel sorry for you and the many thousands like you. You were cheated of life and its rewards that come only with risk and with failure. Growing up in hermetically sealed schools, with censored and state-approved curricula, taught never to think but to emote, to… Read more »

Future Shock wrote,

“Why must anything progressive, peaceful or open minded be considered a feature of liberal politics anyway? ”

Because the first to call themselves “Progressives” were more honestly knowns as “Bolsheviks” who believed mankind could be scientifically improved to remove class, race, and familial distinctions with those former loyalties transferring to an all-wise and benevolent State. Oh yeah, Christianity had to be suppressed as well becuase it also competes for the loyalty due the State.

Liberals today are not the liberals of the JFK era and certainly not of the Adam Smith/John Locke time! Even so, Liberals in the tradition of Robbespiere have ultimately resorted to violence against the very subjects of their “good intentions” that was many times worse than the status quo.

And the “non interference” directive sounds an awful lot like George Washington’s plea to avoid permanent alliances (what Jefferson paraphrased as “entangling” alliances).

Futurama dude, please do yourself a favor and study the past before you dare attempt to dictate the future. D’accord?

Captain Kirk was NOT a damn Neocon! Let’s get that straight right away. Captain Kirk was intended to be analogous to John Kennedy patrolling in a U-boat, with Lord Nelson overtones, and the fictional Horatio Hornblower, and a little Alexander the Great sprinkled in for good measure. The paradoxical irony is, despite popular belief and consensus, Kirk NEVER fired first. Kirk represented the notion of talk softly and carry a big stick. Kirk was always forced into situations and was reactionary, not pre-emptive. Only when given no quarter or alternative did Captain Kirk become the man of action and John Wayne mold. Kirk grieved every subordinate lost under his command, took it personally. That is the hallmark of compassionate leadership. I never once saw Picard pause, stoop over a body, and have a distant look of “why” in his eyes after a crewman was killed. Also, how often did you hear Picard informing the crew of the current situation over the intercom? Kirk routinely sometimes 3 and 4 times per episode announced the ships current situation to the crew below decks. What Kirk knew, the crew knew. That is responsible leadership. Picard delegated authority, Kirk personified it. Picard would send you on an away mission, Kirk would go WITH you in harms way. That is inspired leadership. Can anyone honestly say they would follow Picard into battle? Picard is an Admiral in Captain’s stripes, deskbound in mentality pushing pencils. Picard has the luxury of his style of command because of… Read more »

The mass(moviegoing) audience started leaving Star Trek as soon as the next gen cast showed up.They also don’t give a s#$% about some trekker’s obession with minuche (min ewe shay).Get a life guys.If this things gonna fly, canon’s gotta go.They need to make Trek for a mass audience.It needs to be re-interpreted and reinvigorated because it’s dead.Re-cast tos characters just like they do w/James Bond.

Actually, the mass moviegoing audience took a powder for “Star Trek V,” and the box office for ST 6 was disappointing. If the TOS films had still been going strong, there would have been no TNG films.

It is beyond the point of mere ideological conflict when a leader invades anther nation on the basis of pure greed and vendetta, directing troops to indiscriminately bomb locations at the expense of being more discriminate and saving the lives of some innocent civillians. How could you say this level of conflict is natural? How could you say it has anything to do with free will and choice? How could you pretend to be even remotely open-minded and philosophical after unwittingly suggesting these things? How could you suggest that violence and persistent conflict is a sign of maturity? Do the countless women and children being murdered by u.s troops in iraq have a choice? Can they even defend themselves against this indiscriminate bombardment? How can you compare what a starfleet officer does with this? Before the invasion there was internal conflict, yes, there was some civillian casuality, yes, but NO WHERE NEAR the extent that it has happened since the invasion. More iraqi civilians have been murderd in the past 3 years than in the previous three decades put together! There is a reason startrek tries to encourage non-interference and this is one of them. Don’t you think violence would escalate any time an outside world enters the equation, hasn’t history even proven this countless instances? And you must remember that the weapons of the 23rd and 24th centuries are a lot more destructive than anything in human possession today, so the repurcussions of interference must be weigh’d much more… Read more »

Actually the actors(as much as we all loved them) got too old to be believable(Which is why they need to re-cast them with younger actors).That’s! why the studio dredged up tng(with a little Kirk cameo).There’s no audience anymore for a TNG film.Bring on the re-boot ,Forget the trekkies.Star Trek is americana and Mr. and Mrs. america don’t give a flyin tribble what trivia some Trek geek is hung- up on

Oh,by the way.Trekkies will go to see the re-boot or whatever Paramount decides to slap the “Star Trek” name on.Trekkies will go to see a Star Trek movie called “Star Trek-Plumbing”,so their opinion is irrelevant.

‘Trekkies will go to see a Star Trek movie called “Star Trek-Plumbing”,so their opinion is irrelevant.”

Wrong! That travesty of a reboot enterprise was cancelled in its fourth season instead of continuing for 3 more as it was scheduled to, because trekkies stopped supporting it

There aren’t enough trekkies to support a television show,It has to appeal to a mainstream audience.That’s why “enterprise” flunked,BECAUSE only trekkies watched it.

Oh it also sucked.But since when does a trekkie care about quality.

To Dom, futuristic, et al, I have to add one thing to this discussion: You have to analyze the behavior of each incarnation of Trek based on the context in which it was written. TOS came up during the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy, like some have suggested here. The whole “ask not what your country can do for you…” notion permeated the writing of the show. Look no further than the diverse crew put forth on the bridge. Week in and week out you saw a cross-section of humanity playing a role in a mission, and they worked *together* in accomplishing their mission. In that sense, TOS was an egalitarian ideal. And human nature was not different from 20th century basics, but what we did hear often was this goal that humans strived to better themselves from past mistakes. I think that’s an ideal that persists throughout history. Certainly we don’t talk about it much nowadays, but it comes in waves. TNG came at a time of great prosperity in this country. From Reagan to Clinton, this nation enjoyed great success. And the Cold War ended, leaving many to talk about the “end of history.” I’ll skip over VOY for a sec and talk about DS9. DS9 concerned the Balkanisation of Bajor, analagous to Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia. Was DS9 directly linked to those issues? No. But the parallel is there and it makes sense considering the fact that despite great prosperity in the 1990s, the religious/cultrual clashes… Read more »
Jon, I care about quality. That’s why I’m a TOS fan, mildly enjoy TNG, tolerate DS9, avoid Voyager, and abhorre Enterprise. When I was younger I naturally was caught up in TNG success, but that’s the paradoxical irony of TNG. With time, I find myself enjoying TNG less and less, and yearn for TOS more and more. TOS speaks to me in a way TNG doesn’t. I think in many ways TNG is far more dated than TOS. TOS episodes have a timeless quality, transcending the era they were produced in. The same cannot be said for TNG, it stinks of post modern 80’s and early 90’s sensibilities. I think this distinguishing characteristic is what seperates TOS from the copycats- the storytelling speaks to us far more and is actually more relevant than the several year old Enterprise, despite being produced 40 years ago. As far as the motion pictures are concerned, first I think “The Motion Picture” is ENTIRELY underrated and panned because of the ADD generations inherent inability to sit down and focus more than 5 seconds. There are no explosions so, naturally, the interest level wanes as the slobber and drool form. In many ways “The Motion Picture” is THE most cinematic and epic of all 10 Trek films, certainly the production design, cinematography, and photography of miniatures is leagues above the sequels, and as Daren Dochterman can probably point out, the reason many individuals are in the film business today. The refit Enterprise, and the way… Read more »
I think the historical context in which they were filmed obviously lends itself to some of the issues discussed in the stories but I don’t think the characters are driven by these contexts, rather I think they are driven by the main trek ideal, which is the betterment of the self. What I mean is that while some of the story relates to events in our own current unfolding history the characters are not reacting to these events as people would today, with fear, paranoia, anxiety and bigotry. They are instead given a great responsibility to be the spokesperson for our generation, but from the enviable position of being men and women of the future. In other words maybe it’s not so much that people may become like the characters in startrek, more evolved, sensitive, caring and sharring. But that this is how we should be today and the notion that we ought to wait 3 centuries for this inner shift of being is a sad one. I just think it’s faulty to continually relate certain truths to political ideology. For example being kind, considerate, respectful and compassionate to your fellow beings is not a feature of left or right, it is a feature that is dead center in the heart and it should be appreciated if we plan to survive as a species. So I think the important part is not so much the historical context when the series are filmed so much as how the characters respond to… Read more »

hey Jon,

I agree about the tng films and a portion of the tng episodes, namely many after ’91. The whole issue i have with later TNG was that it seems they moved the shift from the crew being “apart of the universe” story wise to being the “central focus of the universe.” With the TOS series and films, excluding some of the lackluster 3rd season additions, many of the stories in TOS revolved around the notion of the universe moving forward and circumstances taking place to where at one point or another the TOS crew played apart in just keeping the river to flow straight as it were. There was no notion that they controlled what was going on around them, they were simply there to attempt to make sure everything comes out in the best possible circumstances. In TNG however, it seems it moved more and more toward everything in the universe beginning to revolve around the crew- (i.e. a picard clone taking down and attempting to take control of the romulan empire and destroy starfleet). There was no sense of real world flow to events.

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