Star Trek Enterprise was a mirror. We hated what we saw.

Summary: Tomorrow we buy a house, and in a week or two will resume normal publication. Meanwhile, here is another note in one of my major themes — how our films and TV provide a mirror showing how we have changed. Star Trek has run in various forms for 50 years. Comparing the various shows — and our reactions to them — reveals much about us.

“People need stories, more than bread, itself. They teach us how to live, and why. …Stories show us how to win.”
— The Master Storyteller in HBO’s wonderful Arabian Nights.

Star Trek Enterprise poster
Available at Amazon.

Star Trek: Enterprise is the best of the Star Trek TV shows (the original series is a close second), with great acting and uneven but often gripping scripts. More importantly, it powerfully reminds us of the global order built at such great cost by the Greatest Generation. This was vision of a better world made real by an alliance of nations — and destroyed by America after 9/11. From 2001 to 2005 Americans watched the creation of the Federation while its real-world analogy died.

One show, three themes

Enterprise tells how the Federation was born, told through the stories of a human and a Vulcan.

Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) leads the Enterprise out to explore the galaxy, and find it a vortex of hatred and injustice. Appalled by this, he decides to bring peace and order — no matter what the cost. At first Commander T’Pol (Jolene Blalock) is committed to Vulcan’s policy of isolationism, but slowly becomes convinced that Archer has a better way. The alliance of these two people, polar opposites in personality (epitomes of heart and mind) makes possible the Federation. Just as it did the post-WWII order, centered on the UN and the various regional defense alliances.

Archer and T’Pol persuade a few of the other great powers to set aside their quarrels and stand together to create a space in which peace and trade reign. Of course, smaller nations — victims in a universe where might makes right, will eagerly join. We can easily imagine how such an organization would have grown quickly in a century to become the great Federation seen in the original series.

In 1945 this was an idealistic vision, which the West dared to attempt after the oceans of blood shed in WWII. It was an immense success, with the usual compromises and self-interested actions of any project in the real world. We built a world ruled by treaties, by agreements among nations, and by principles. Just like the Federation of Planets.

T'Pol of Star Trek: Enterprise
She is astonished at our folly.

The show failed, as did the West’s new order

The first episode of Enterprise aired on 26 September 2001, as the ruins of the World Trade Center cooled. As we watched Captain Archer and Commander T’Pol build the Federation, President Bush tore down its equivalent in our world.

We used lies to justify our invasion of Afghanistan. We used lies to justify our invasion of Iraq. Our invasion of Iraq was a preemptive war, illegitimate in the West since the Treaties of Westphalia (1648) — and illegal under the UN Charter. Our occupations of both were illegal. Eventually the Iraq government expelled us (although conservatives criticized Obama for respecting its demand). Our puppet regime in Afghanistan continues to allow us to prop it up.

Seen against that backdrop, of course Americans recoiled from a show about building the vision of what we were pissing away. The heroes whose work, imagination, and sacrifice built the Federation in the 22nd century were an anathema to 21st century Americans, both Left and Right, who were (and are) tearing down the dreams of the Greatest Generation — building a world in which might again makes right, and racism and sexism are again respectable (as explained by the newest member of the NY Times’ Editorial Board.

Trekkies were especially hostile to Enterprise. They preferred the soothing fantasies of The Next Generation and Voyager. They Realpolitik by which peace is achieved and maintained is repellant to them. This mirrors the abandonment of the West’s geopolitical program by the Left’s idealists during the Cold War, and their delusional love for the Soviet Union.

So here we are, again

Our dreams are broken. We are adrift without a vision of the future. This will not last long. Someone will devise new dreams that catch our imagination, making this interregnum a period of fantastic potential for good or ill. We can reach for inspiration into our myths, including the stories of Star Trek.

Or we can draw inspiration from darker currents in our history and myths. Time will tell which we find more attractive.

For more information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about ways to reform Americaabout heroes, about Star Trek, and especially these…

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  3. We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America.
  4. Why have our movies become so dark, showing a government so evil?
  5. Why don’t our dreams of a better world inspire us to act?
  6. So many of our hit films show dystopias. This shows how we’ve changed.
  7. Inspiration. The missing element that can reform America.

21 thoughts on “Star Trek Enterprise was a mirror. We hated what we saw.

  1. It’s my favorite of the ST series (haven’t seen the newest one). It mostly failed because of the awful third season. Seasons 1, 2 and 4 are better than anything ever done in the name of ST. The new Abrams’ films aren’t even good as pastiche.

    1. Charles,

      These things are subjective. I thought the first few shows were poor to terrible, that seasons one and four was quite mixed in quality (some awesome, some weak), and enjoyed the third season a lot. But the showrunners were clearly running out of ideas in season four, and season five probably would have been terrible.

      The problem was that it was a Star Trek show that the core Trekkies did not like. Realpolitik shattered their Trek fantasy world. A different example: “Bound” in S4. As feminist a plot as possible, their reaction was screams of horror. It featured boobs!

  2. Congratulations, and very best wishes for the new life.

    On the post, popular media is enormously informative about a culture’s nature, values and changes. Too few reflective people pay it the careful attention it merits. These are in a basic sense our myths, whether we watch and read them or not.

  3. You’re right, it is the best series. What with the blatant episode to episode sexism, the Asian stereotypes built in to the character of Hoshi, T’Pol’s treatment by the writers, the climaxes lacking any actual stakes if you’ve even heard of the other series, and the diversity on par with a Trump rally, I’m surprised so much of the Star Trek fan base hates it.

  4. In my opinion the show failed for a simple reason: poor character development. Flat, two-dimensional characters do not attract an audience. Your theory is more fun, however.

  5. This is the only ST show I watched from beginning to end during it’s original run. It is probably the most erratic of the franchise. It has the best two episodes of any ST series, the “mirror” eps in season five. It also has the dumbest reoccurring plot element in all of ST, the “massage” scenes for treating T’pol’s “condition.” There’s a fine line between smart and sexy and dumb and pandering and ENT went right over that line in a sad way. Yet, “Bound” gave us the feminist reconstruction of Orion Slave Women! (I’d forgotten about that episode!)

    ENT is what happens when you have too many cooks stirring the pot, and they all have wildly differing visions about what the show should be. Much like BSG and Lost, ENT shows if you are doing long story arcs, HAVE A PLAN! It could have been a great show if they had focused on the building of the Federation and the development of the crew as they overcome obstacles. The Temporal Cold War thing was evidently a directive from upper management that the writing staff was not too fond of. I liked some elements of what they did with it, but ultimately, it had ZERO payoff and the show would be better without it.

    Probably the biggest problems for ENT came when it tried to do VERY explicit parallels between modern day issues and plot points — e.g. Xindi and 9/11, homosexuality/AIDS and mind-melding. The latter was some laughably awkward writing. TOS Klingons and Romulans may have been the USSR and the Chinese to some extent, but the show never got carried away with extending this metaphor too far.

    The good parts were awesome though! I loved the Andorians. When she was written well, Hoshi was shown as a competent genius, and “Tripp” was a breath of fresh air as an intelligent and sensitive man from the American southeast — with an accent! I loved Scott Bakula as Archer, and every ST Captain needs a dog!

    My wife is sitting next to me as I write this, and she thinks ENT is the most watchable of the franchise as well, but she also reminded me about that theme song– which went from “lame” to “yes, we hate you viewers!” Lyrics have no place in SF show openings. Except for “The Leftovers.”

    Someday I will watch “Discovery” some day, but I don’t want to sign up for another steaming service. I love TOS, I was a avid watcher of TNG (interrupted by a low TV era in college), DS9 is something I have liked for the limited amount of episodes I’ve seen. Voyager is a show I watched during it’s terrible last few seasons. Checking out some of the seaons online made me come to the conclusion that it had some promise, but it flushed it down the toilet about the time they replaced the very interesting Kes (really interesting backstory and possible “future”) for the boring Seven of Nine. Also, VOY made the Borg not scary.

  6. This article and its author are a joke. Biased supposition at its finest, from a so-called “writer” who manages to hit a new low of idiocy featuring opinions stated as facts. What a joke and a waste of time. Here’s to someone at least attempting to beat intelligence into this knuckle dragging moron via aluminum baseball bat.

    1. Joe,

      While it’s nice to hear your share your feelings, This isn’t grade school show and tell. Spouting denciations to a 2500 word essay tells us nothing. If you have actual rebuttals, let’s hear them.

  7. Arguably the best cast of any of the second wave Trek shows. I liked Scott Bakula a lot. The theme music sounded like a commercial for an insurance company, but whatever. You’re right that there was a lot less of that sixties idealism around in 2001, but there was also less patience with the utopianism that marred the second wave shows. The franchise as a whole had put out a lot of glug by the time Enterprise appeared, and it’s appeal, as they said in Spinal Tap, was getting more selective. The appeal of the UN, where America was getting lectured about its moral failings by the likes of Iran and Zimbabwe was getting a lot more selective too.

    The show’s uneven scripts, as you rightly put it, probably had a lot more to do with its eventual demise. Also, maybe it’s just hard to make a prequel show work.

    1. The Man,

      “The show’s uneven scripts, as you rightly put it, probably had a lot more to do with its eventual demise. ”

      We can only guess at reasons why a show is liked and disliked by the public. Voyager’s scripts were offen b-grade comic book level, but still ran for 7 seasons. So I don’t believe the TV audience is very sensitive to script quality.

      As for Trekkies, what should have been its core audience, they hated even the best Enterprise scripts. They just hated the show, for the reasons mentioned in this post.

      “The appeal of the UN, where America was getting lectured about its moral failings by the likes of Iran and Zimbabwe was g”

      I doubt 2% of America was aware of what Zimbabwe was saying in the UN. Iran has many legitimate grievances with the US, but I doubt that 2% of Americans know those. It’s the kind of thing that only the far-right cares about, whipped up by the propaganda fed them — and they’re not in the target audience for a Trek show.

  8. “We can only guess at reasons why a show is liked and disliked by the public. Voyager’s scripts were offen b-grade comic book level, but still ran for 7 seasons. So I don’t believe the TV audience is very sensitive to script quality.”

    People will tune in week after week if they really like your characters and care about them. I don;t think 24 ever had a season as good as its first, but people really liked Jack Bauer, and some other characters on that show as well. And for shows that get a long run, well…most of them eventually jump the shark, but the audience keeps watching because they like the cast, the characters, or they just from force of habit. Whatever the writing issues on the show I did like the cast and the characters, so maybe there’s something I’m not seeing here. if it wasn’t the writing, then I don’t know what it was, but we aren’t going to break out the sharpened screwdrivers over this.

    You are being entirely too kind to Voyager.

    1. The Man,

      On reflection, I agree with you. Nicely said.

      As for Voyager, I agree. It’s a mystery why so many like that show. To mention just one of many oddities — from the few I watched, the competent exec should have shot Janeway. Only devine Plot Intervention kept the crew alive despite her terrible judgement.

    1. DerMaiden,

      I agree, on both counts.

      How well do you believe it fit with the Star Trek themes, as established by the Original Series? The improvement of humanity, benign interstellar fraternity of species (the Federation), bringing peace and prosperity, etc.

  9. Larry,

    These are a few thoughts off-hand.

    First off, latinum, a rare silver-colored liquid used as currency was introduced in the ST universe during DS9, changing the dynamics a bit about a currency-less society. Even if the Federation itself is a post-scarity society, having a currency available would encourage Federation citizens to do things to “earn” it.

    Second, DS9 mostly takes place in a port in space, where interpersonal conflicts that happen in today’s episode might have not been resolved in next’s week episode. In that way, it was more “realistic” to how people behave from different cultures. Part of that was because of the writers

    “Unlike Star Trek: The Next Generation, interpersonal conflicts were prominently featured in DS9. This was at the suggestion of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s writers, many of whom also wrote for DS9, who felt that Roddenberry’s prohibition of conflicts within the crew restricted their ability to write compelling dramatic stories. In Piller’s words, “People who come from different places—honorable, noble people—will naturally have conflicts”.

    Improvement of humanity? Not improvement as more showing off what can cooperation can do.

    We don’t really see a lot of the Federation’s citizens enjoying themselves with all the limitless energy they have at their hands, even when San Francisco and I can’t think of any other Federation planets that show off their wealth.

    Benign interstellar fraternity, well, there is Section 31 an officially nonexistent autonomous intelligence and defense organization not subject to Starfleet’s ethical constraints. Some people might say that Section 31 exists “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” so that a few patriots willing to do anything ensures the peace and prosperity of the system.

    Mind you, these are my theories. I don’t think it fits in the theme established in the Original Series but that is why it works so well. No one is perfect, people struggle with the consequences of their actions that lasts for several episodes unlike the rest of the series. ( No, I havn’t seen the latest ones after Voyager. I won’t admit to seeing Scott Bacula )

    It is the most morally ambiguous ST series that I like because it is realistic regarding relations but not as popular as the previous two since most people like knowing who is the bad guy and who is the good guy right away.

    1. Der Maiden,

      That you for that cogent analysis!

      “I won’t admit to seeing Scott Bacula”

      I don’t understand. Why won’t you admit that?

  10. Larry,

    because then I would be admitting to seeing Enterprise where then I have to think if it is bad as Voyager or worse.

  11. Generation gap, Quantum Leap, and other stuff. Would take too long to explain the joke and even then, it isn’t that funny.

  12. I like this framing of Enterprise, hadn’t thought about it in that context. It makes me juxtapose your thoughts on Enterprise as the beginnings of the Federation with DS9’s portrayal of a Federation as a utopia with unsightly issues simmering under the surface. My only holdup is when did Enterprise pass Voyager as the most despised show by trekkies? (Based on the trekkies in my corner of geekdom which is…not a complete sample, by a lot)

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