Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Well with Star Trek’s 48th anniversary coming to a close, it’s time I sat down and answered the one fundamental question that’s been hanging around since 1966: Why is Star Trek so popular? What is it about it that keeps it going even to this day? Well lets find out.
First off, I just want to sidetrack to look at the history of Star Trek because, in many ways, it echoes the history of Doctor Who. The original ‘classic’ series of Star Trek got made and was eventually cancelled (though not from lack of trying from the fans) and went in an unusual direction. And this is where I praise it over Doctor Who (don’t think this is going to be a regular thing now), for it did something that Doctor Who didn’t: It stayed relevant. During the heyday of Doctor Who it essentially became a fan thing, existing through the use of books and audio adventures. Star Trek, on the other hand, became a series of somewhat good films instead. The story didn’t end with the series cancellation, but continued on instead. Where most shows disappear forever, Star Trek managed to stay not only alive but relevant while it was off the air. Leading to the creation of Star Trek The Next Generation, very much an inspiration of the new Doctor Who. Same universe, same concepts, even the same names here and there. But, on the flip side, something entirely new. Something that honoured the past while doing its own thing. It even had two spin-offs (Deep Space 9, still my favourite version of Star Trek, and Voyager) that can be linked to Doctor Who (Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures). Star Trek set the stage for Doctor Who’s return in a way that no one could have really predicted. Here’s hoping that Doctor Who doesn’t have some disastrous prequel series that kills the franchise (though it came close, since The Sarah Jane Adventures was originally pitched as exploring the Doctor’s backstory). Nor some trendy reboot movie that does a disservice to the original. But I’m getting way off on a tangent. Back to the original question: Why is Star Trek so popular that it continued to survive?
Well I think the answer is so obvious that it almost doesn’t need stating: Star Trek is one of the most optimistic shows out there. It presents a future where everyone works together, regardless of race, gender, nationality or beliefs. It’s very much an idealistic show in a rather cynical world. Now people have and will always argue whether Star Trek really is as free as it tries to be (what with the issues its had portraying women and minorities over the years), but you can’t fault a show for at least trying to do the morally right thing. It’s trying to be as all inclusive as possible while presenting a future where this is indeed possible. We moved past our petty squabbling and evolved to a higher form of life, one where we can work together to achieve the greater good. It’s such a fantastic idea that it sticks with us. We want the world to be like this and work towards a world that is like this. But that’s just one reason why it’s popular. What are some of the others?
Well unlike most shows, this one isn’t afraid to get dirty when it comes to delivering a message. Whether it shows that racism is wrong, or that people have the right to be free, or that Nazi’s are bad (cos, you know, that really needed to be stated), the show always attempted to promote peace and tolerance. While people criticize Captain Kirk a lot, a lot forget that the job of a captain, first and foremost, was to be a diplomat. To meet new cultures and establish a mutual trust with them. The world of Star Trek is not one that’s poised at war, but one that promotes peace. But, much like America itself, it’s willing to fight to defend this peace (if you don’t get what I mean, just look at the Great Seal of the United States). It’s willing to stand up and say ‘this is wrong’, even when it gets booed off-stage for doing it. Famously, Star Trek is touted as the first televised interracial kiss (how much this is true depends on what you do and don’t count, but I always like to think that it was). Here was a show willing to do things that most people feared to do because they were the right things to do. The show had good morals and stood by them whenever it could. But those are just two elements. Are there any more?
Well I could mention the great characters and fantastic writing, but again, that pretty much goes without saying. Some of the best television are Star Trek episodes. Whether it’s episodes dealing with combat against a superior foe, or episodes that examine what it means to be human, the show is brilliantly written at times. Science-fiction, at its best, tells us something about ourselves while using fantastical contexts. It shows who we are and what we do. The best episodes of Star Trek do that. They tap into the human condition to show what makes us such an interesting species. Of course that’s not to say the standard space opera episodes aren’t as good, far from it. It’s always great to see characters get in and out of danger using their wits and skills. But again, all this has been said before and said again. Why do I think Star Trek is so popular?
Well I suppose that relates to how I view Star Trek. As a kid I watched Doctor Who, since Star Trek: The Next Generation was on TV just a bit too late for me to stay up and watch. But I always knew about Star Trek and liked it in a way. The first Star Trek film I saw in theatres was Star Trek: Nemesis, and I enjoyed it (mostly because I didn’t have any real frame of reference for what was good and bad Star Trek). But as I grew older and met a Trekkie fan I decided to watch the original TV series… and loved it. While I’ll always be a Whovian at heart, I will admit that Star Trek is a somewhat close second for quality science-fiction. While there were times it was laughably bad (even by someone who enjoys camp), other times it was amazingly good. I also watched highlights of the other seasons, which lead me to liking Deep Space 9 the best (long story short, I actually enjoyed the soap opera style of writing that went into it). So while I only enjoyed Star Trek as an adult (and thus missed out on it becoming a defining factor of my life), I can still look upon it as just really, really, really good television.
So there you have it. My look at Star Trek and why it continues to endure even to this day. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.