November 6, 2016

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: “Where No One Has Gone Before!” Part 2

Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City in August 2016 (to which I was invited and had a friend pay my membership! [Thanks, Paul!] but was unable to go (until I retire from education)), I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #2153. The link is provided below…

50 Years of Star Trek Part 2 (Part 1 is here: ): How has Star Trek changed and developed as a franchise. Everything from writing styles, special effects, characters, ethics, social norms, toys, and more will be considered. Dave Creek, Randy Henderson (M), Ms. Melinda Snodgrass, David Gerrold, Shanna Swendson

Dave Creek – an ANALOG regular

Randy Henderson (M) – an experienced fantasy author

Ms. Melinda Snodgrass – REALLY??? She wrote several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation while serving as the series' story editor during its second and third seasons!

David Gerrold – REALLY??? This is the name I remember immediately after Gene Rodenberry’s when it comes to script-writing. Not DC Fontana or any of the others. THIS one!

Shanna Swendson – an experienced fantasy writer

So, the panel was possibly dominated by comments from the most relevant comments from Gerrold and Snodgrass, but I’ve no doubt that in the others chimed in.

Onward, then. The subject: “How has Star Trek changed and developed as a franchise? Everything from writing styles, special effects, characters, ethics, social norms, toys, and more will be considered.”

OK – so I decided to do more on characters because my wife and I just finished re-watching STAR TREK: GENERATIONS.

When ST:TOS debuted a half century ago, no matter what people say about its “groundbreaking” look, the fact is that there was a young, studly white guy in charge, surrounded by sexy women in miniskirts; a doctor who was easily lifted from classic American Westerns; a Scottish engineer (of course, only the Scots can be good engineers); and a format that was as familiar as, well…WAGON TRAIN, only like, a “WAGON TRAIN to the stars”.

They acted as if problems like racism, sexism, violence, rape, and greed could be solved in 50 minutes (TOS) and continued to impose on us the idea that all it would take is to learn that “We Are Not Alone” in the universe, and we’d be all hunky-dory.

The fact that a Russian (who “accidentally” looked like one of the Beatles), a “Chinese” helmsman who did as he was told, a black woman who was in essence, a telephone operator, and Satan Incarnate (who ALSO did as he was told by the Power of White Males – were incidental).


When ST:TNG was reborn a zillion  years later, a white guy was STILL heading stuff up and everyone – the black guys, the chicks (a doctor and a cheerleader), an artificial Human, the children, and the rest of the crew – did as they were told. Oh, this time the white guy was OLD…sorta and more closely matched…the show’s creator’s age. The young white male was tightly leashed and kowtowed to the Big, Old, Skinny, White Guy.

Shatteringly different…

Then came ST:DS9. I loved this series. Hailed because COMMANDER Sisko (note, he was not a captain) was IN CHARGE!!!! The question I had was “In charge of what?” A beat-up wreck of a place that was NOT a ship, but an extremely out-of-the-way shopping mall with a bunch of crazy, religious, recently-freed slaves on the planet below – did anyone else find that ironic?

Altogether unprecedented…

ST:Voyager had the Katharine Hepburn look-alike, Captain Janeway. Hailed as the first profoundly visible female captain, what is the first thing that happens to this crew led by a woman, with a “native American” first officer, a black second-in-command and engineer, a “Chinese” navigator, and a surly, rebellious young white dude sitting front-and-center? They got lost.

Leaping into the unknown…

Last of all, ST:Enterprise. The white guys are back in charge all over the place, only an Asian woman answers the phone now, a sexy Satan hovers over the white guy’s shoulder (and is generally ignored), a young black guy tries vainly to “Make It Good” neatly tucked under the wing of the captain, and the Big, Fat, Old White Guy is now the doctor with headgear – whom EVERYONE listens to.


This doesn’t lessen my love for the series, and in fact some of the things I disparage above WERE unusual in broadcast television (and movies). But I think that Trekkers, Trekkies, and the SF community has a bit of myopia when it comes to viewing its favorite TV series with claims that it was wow, shatteringly different, altogether unprecedented, and leaping into the unknown.

It was a TV series that during its five hundred and twenty-three hours of entertainment, occasionally had something profound to say. That’s hardly anything to sniff at!

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