It’s a shame that modern iterations of “Star Trek” are rooted less in a vision for the future but of a glib, post-modernist condescension for modern life.
“Star Trek” has always had a progressive vision of the future, but in modern politics, progressivism has run out of optimism. It doesn’t sell you hope for a better world but fear of your current one.
- Trump. Always Trump
The most optimistic thing modern “Star Trek” tells us about our future is that when we’re left to fight a genocidal war of attrition against Neo-Nationalist terrorists, we’ll at least be doing it with a diverse group of people.
The show’s creative team confirm how much the Trump Era guides their hand.
“We are creating a world that we would like to see,” series co-creator and executive producer Alex Kurtzman told NBC News about the newest “Star Trek” shows like “Discovery” and “Picard.” “We’re creating it in the literal world that we surround ourselves with the cast, the crew and the writers and we’re creating it on screen and we’re hoping that people can follow.”
When Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek in 1965, he had a vision for the future he wanted to express. He crafted a televised future where humanity had successfully conquered the worst aspects of its nature. He offered mankind a vision of the future beyond petty modern issues like racism, poverty and war so that people could look forward to it.
It’s a wonderful vision, but an untenable one given man’s nature. Historically, attempts to straighten the warped tinder of humanity don’t tend to end with starships and post-nationalist unity.
It ends in despotism and poverty.
Even so, “Star Trek” is a beautiful dream. It’s not technically a communist paradise as some would claim because the future it portrays is a post-scarcity future. Humanity in the 23rd century has developed the Matter Replicator and human need has dissolved. Resources are now infinite. Money isn’t even necessary. People join Starfleet just because they have a passion for diplomacy, science and exploration.
The optimism for man’s nature and future that precludes these ideas is intoxicating.
That hopeful vision for mankind gave the original series, its successor “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and the original 10 films a voice and vision for human prosperity. This is what the world could be if human beings could figure out how to fix our limitations.
Since the 1960s, progressivism has changed its tone radically. It’s stopped wanting to offer a vision of what the world could be and has switched to reflecting on how bad the world is. The radical progressive worldview sees a world declining into cataclysmic ruin.
— Climate Reality (@ClimateReality) April 13, 2020
Unexamined, decades-old racial prejudices are oppressing most every Strada of society at home and abroad. Every societal value western culture believes in is invalid if only because of its rhetorical proximity to dead white men. The only way to escape the hell of the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy is to embrace the religion of progressivism and dedicate your energies to the inversion of the status quo.
Thus when this generation’s progressive writers take their shot at the newest “Star Trek” rendition, the story becomes one of subversion of the status quo. This change in priority and tone has reflected progressivism’s loss of hope.
As I wrote for Legal Insurrection, you can actually date the very moment “Star Trek” began to pivot from optimism to desperation.
“Star Trek: Beyond” was the first film in the series since “Star Trek: TNG” that actually bothered to articulate a worldview in between the “Fast & Furious” style action set pieces. It’s a vision defined by cooperation, multiculturalism and scientism being challenged by a rabid cur seeking to spark a war with the Federation to end its ceaseless utopianism.
This becomes more interesting in context as the film was released in July of 2016, right in the middle of the race between Trump and Hillary Clinton. That election cycle was particularly brutal, but with “Beyond” we see a very clear vision of progressivism’s hopefulness.
At this point in 2016, the expectation was that Hillary Clinton would be the president. President Barack Obama’s progressive society would continue to evolve unabated into the mythical world, “where the rise of the oceans would slow and our planet would begin to heal.”
The left assumed traditional societal standards would continue to break down in the face of post-modernist deconstructionism, capitalism would weaken and we’d get to live in “Star Trek’s” pseudo-socialist world. It’s as though progressivism merely perceived opposition as a gnat that needed to be swatted away to protect the glorious inevitable future.
Then the election happened.
The following year, “Star Trek: Discovery” was released. As a show, it has a very similar setup. A group of highly militaristic combatants shows up at the doorstep of the Federation threatening war to destroy the uniquely progressive world that humanity had built up over centuries.
The differences are rather striking, however.
In that time you see the radical change from a movement hopeful about the future, worried that conservative militarism would destroy their utopia, to a bleak vision where the only way to stop that militarism is through drastic violent measures.
The bleak desperation at the show’s heart is what most bothers me about the series. There’s something to be said about exploring the moral quandaries of war in the face of Armageddon. The problem is that for the show writers they’re already living in Armageddon. They feel like their backs are up against the wall and they have to win “by any means necessary.”
“Star Trek: Beyond,” for all its flaws, was the last “Star Trek” project that embraced optimism for the future. In the aftermath of Brexit and Trump’s election, progressivism has endured a sustained four-year anxiety attack that has yet to let up.
The two “Star Trek” shows that have premiered in 2017 and 2020 both reflect the deep-seated antipathy for the status quo. The first season of “Star Trek: Discovery” shows a society reeling from sudden onset siege with an ultra-nationalist, ethnocentric Klingon Empire who incite a war with the peaceful and progressive federation.
The war becomes so desperate that the main character is almost convinced that committing mass genocide against the Klingons in the season finale is justified.
Season 2 of “Star Trek: Discovery” is a more vaguely written story about religious extremism. There are multiple episodes dedicated to the issue of religion in this season that either disregard religion as a thing of Earth’s past or a mechanism designed to uphold oppressive systems. These themes mostly fall by the wayside as the story devolves into a convoluted time travel/artificial intelligence story.
Kurtzman’s newest series, “Star Trek: Picard,” just wrapped its first season. The series is more overtly angry with the status quo than before. When the federation’s enemy the Romulan Star Empire is faced with a massive refugee crisis, Admiral Picard resigns from Star Fleet when they refuse to come to their aid.
Patrick Stewart even said the series was “responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed? Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought.”
Stewart effectively used the show to castigate isolationists as well as anyone with reservations about the European migrant crisis or illegal immigration in America.
Anti-isolationism is a frequent theme of modern “Star Trek.” The writers all but spell out the notion that isolationism is a tool of oppression and inhumanity that prevents the downtrodden from being saved by the post-national elite embodied by Star Fleet.
It’s clear the writers despise the rise of Trump, Brexit and other isolationist movements and loath what it means to the progressive worldview.
Both of these shows reflect the desperation of the progressive worldview. Their future was denied to them by a single election loss, and they’re paranoid enough that they fear they’ll be driven to political extremes and violence to protect their vision of the future.
Maybe this would be tolerable if the shows were better written but as is they’re convoluted and exhausting shows that fail to dramaticize the themes they so deeply want to restore.
What’s on screen is merely a shout of impotent, adolescent rage. Like a protester who can’t express their emotions through words and takes their rage out through physically assaulting others, “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Star Trek: Picard” lash out at their audiences through fits of violence, nihilism and swearing that’s unbecoming of “Star Trek.”
The new shows don’t understand what it means to be part of the “Star Trek” canon. It only understands what it means to use the imagery of Star Trek to castigate the modern world for not accepting the progressive utopia. It’s a shame they had to take Roddenberry’s hope with them.