Archive for October, 2010

‘There Are Two Types of People in This World…

…those who put their butter in the fridge and those who don’t,‘  or so one of my more popular quips goes.  It’s a deliberately silly statement, designed to provoke and tease, which it does.  People think about what I’ve said, then more often than not, come back forcefully with, ‘What about if you don’t eat butter?’ or ‘What if you live in a cold house, then the fridge is unnecessary?’ or, most interestingly, ‘What do you think that says about me?’.

Of course, it doesn’t say anything about you, it’s a simple statement, an observation, which may or may not be true, that has no deeper meaning whatsoever, and certainly no judgement.  But people often react as if it might do.

So you can imagine the general outrage at another statement in my mock-list, ‘There are two types of people in this world…those who know why Star Trek is important, and those who don’t.’ Often the latter react angrily with lines like ‘I don’t give a **** about Star Trek’, ‘I hate the series’ or ‘I’ve never even watched it!’, not realising that puts them even more firmly in the second category.  Their mistake is they take it as a value-judgement, which it isn’t.  It’s simply an observation, as with the butter, which may or may not be true.  Also, I should add, there are plenty of people who watch Star Trek and don’t really get its significance.  (I could also add’, there are two types of people in this world:  those who create dumb dualities and those who don’t. Wonder which one I fall under.)

My own awakening came many years ago when a friend asked me to record an episode of  ‘The Next Generation’ called ‘The Defector’, as I had access to satellite channels and he didn’t.  I took the mickey mercilessly (‘You sad geek’ etc.) but agreed to do it.  The TV was on as I started the video tape recording, and I was immediately astounded to be launched straight into a rendition of ‘Henry V’.  Mesmerised, I continued to watch as the story unfolded into a tale of loyalty and trickery, with dramatic yet economic dialogue.  I was sold.  I had had no idea that something of this depth and perspicacity existed on television.

But I had only just started.  I was convinced of the literary merits of the series, and soon realised the scientific validation too, with the show constantly employing the services of science advisors.  The prophetic nature of Star Trek is well-known – we are all using communicators now, though we call them cellular or mobile phones; it may be a long time before we can transport entire people instantly elsewhere but this has now been achieved with sub-atomic particles; and when remote operators were being trained to use the Mars Rover, they designed it visually as an Enterprise Holodeck as that made their work easier.  And that’s just a few examples.

Even then, this is not what most interests me about the Star Trek phenomenon.  Now I’m not enough of a trekkie to be sure of my facts, but from what I’ve read the show’s legendary creator Gene Roddenberry experienced something of an epiphany when serving in the Korean War.  He had looked around at the carnage and mayhem, and in his moment of clarity realised ‘this is not an intelligent species’.  The imminent destruction of humankind seemed inevitable, as numerous dystopian views of the future in science fiction stories predicted.  Roddenberry could see this, but then he thought, ‘What if, somehow, we get through this and build a better, more advanced society, what might it look like?’.

His ideas are not that far removed in sentiment from John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, with no war and no superstition, but a fair, rational society where there is no longer need of money, and isms such as racism and sexism things of the past, like a bad dream.  This ties in with my previous blog where I mentioned a Type ll civilisation, though in reality scientists think that when we do reach Type l we won’t want to go into Space quite yet, being more than content on Earth.  Roddenberry, as usual, was a bit ahead of himself, and ourselves.

That Star Trek is very much relevant to the present, is confirmed by the account Nichelle Nichols, who acted Uhura on the original Star Trek, gives in her autobiography when Martin Luther King persuaded her to stay on the show as she was doing so much to promote racial equality in the world.  There is a further anecdote relevant to this, when Whoopi Goldberg as a little kid sees Uhura on the show and yells to her mother, ‘”Momma! There’s a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid!”.  As a consequence, Goldberg became an actress and later signed up for a part in ‘Next Generation’ for a fraction of her normal fee. Nichols meanwhile, started working for NASA in order to recruit – successfully – more minority and female personnel.

‘The Next Generation’ had more direct input from Roddenberry, with less interference from the studio, than any other ‘Star Trek’ series.  It remains therefore perhaps the truest to his vision.  A common criticism however was that it was – unlike the original – too staid, the actors and writers having to work under too many constraints.  There is a momentary break from this in one episode when Deanna Troi is unwinding in her room, about to indulge in an orgy of chocolate consumption, when she gets called by the Captain to come and see the opening of a giant worm-hole in the galaxy.  She walks to the reception, as ordered, muttering miserably to herself, ‘Of course I wouldn’t want to miss the opening of a giant worm-hole…’  It’s a moment of true life, the individual rebelling against everything around them, but only too singular in the philosophical oh-so-civilised melodramas of the ‘Next Generation’.

It’s a small criticism, all the more diminished by the scale of what Star Trek has accomplished, yet even this small criticism has been negated with the recent ‘Star Trek’ movie by J.J. Abrams, which throws us right back to the adrenaline rush, the sense of adventure,  of the original series, and even more so.  Once again, it seems  ‘Star Trek’ needed to take a break in order to come back revitalised, bolder and stronger than before.

So if you haven’t discovered yet the extraordinary phenomenon that is ‘Star Trek’, then now is the perfect time to get on board. Oh and if you’re persuaded by the stereotype, that it’s only for sad members of the male gender, many years ago I was told by three separate women after phoning one evening not to visit them ‘until Next Generation was over’ .  Then was given precise time and co-ordinates as to when that would be.

May we all live long and prosper.

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