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 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.
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.
- The philosophy behind the legend of Batman.
- The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes.
- We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America.
- Why have our movies become so dark, showing a government so evil?
- Why don’t our dreams of a better world inspire us to act?
- So many of our hit films show dystopias. This shows how we’ve changed.
- Inspiration. The missing element that can reform America.