Archive for the ‘Gene Roddenberry’ Category

Having just seen the film, I decided to watch an episode of The Original Series—the first episode of TOS I’ve ever watched. This comes right after me sitting down and watching through TNG’s “Aquiel,” which is the first full Star Trek episode I’ve deliberately watched and not just fled from when I saw my father had it on. Again.

I picked this one because my work deals with U.S. history content on the net, and I’ve run into mentions of this episode before. Yesterday, I was doing research on the U.S. Constitution to put together a short quiz, and this episode came up again, so I thought, why not? It’s likely as good a place to start as any.

And so I begin watching Star Trek with an artifact of the Cold War—one, that, in the tradition of science fiction, is cautionary but also one-up-ish. Freedom is for all people, but its purest ideological source comes from the good old U.S. of A. The Constitution appears solely as a symbol (even when Kirk reads the words properly, he doesn’t bother to explain what they actually mean to the hundreds-of-years-later-living-on-another-planet descendants of the Founding Fathers—and apparently the U.S. is, in the 1990s, an entirely Caucasian nation. But one committed to freedom!). Really, the Constitution doesn’t mean much out of context. It was created two hundred years ago to solve, as best as a group of men thought they could in a short period, problems of organization and power that existed at the time. We continue to honor it about like the Yangs do in this show—it’s the Constitution, it must be meaningful! We shall wave it about and hold it up in the U.S. Supreme Court and argue over and over about the Founding Fathers’ intentions in writing it, as though their intentions 200 years ago in a pre-industrial pre-digital culture could have perfect relevance today. Symbols are like language (well, language is symbols)—they allow us to communicate and establish a semblance of common meaning, but then we forget that we created those symbols to begin with. They’re tools, not scientific facts.

But what about the show? Well. I liked this episode about as much as I like the Classic Who episodes of the Three and Four eras I’ve watched—I enjoyed it, enjoyed the characters, and thought the writing, for all its being dated in subject and style, wasn’t half so bad. There’s a funny quality to writing in older SF television—it’s less self-aware, somehow. Like it sticks to its guns. Yes, everything is cardboard, but you aren’t going to see the actors or the writing letting on to that. It’s like the seriousness of children, kind of. These things are phasers and alien planets and deadly situations because they are, and appearances to the contrary aren’t about to change that. Somedays, that style makes me laugh; somedays, I admire it.

And I can see why the characters are and continue to be loved. They’re made distinct quite quickly. By the end of this one episode, I knew Spock and Kirk were close and had likely saved one another over and over and over and over in other situations; that Kirk’s the fighting, active one, and damned if there’s not always some way out of a tight spot, but also very aware of his responsibilities; that Spock has to pull Kirk out of the fire often, and is far less logical than he pretends to be; that Bones tells it like it is (and does he like the ladies? It looked like he liked the ladies, there. Granted, if that particular lady brought me snacks, I might appreciate it, too); and that redshirts die. Like goldfish. Kirk’s a very American kind of hero—idealistic, not overly sophisticated, a bit rash, and ready to get into a punch-up at a moment’s notice. That’s one of the ways this country likes to present itself. Ye pioneer spirit, as illusory as that might be.

I’ll likely watch more. At least the Tribble episode, for my cultural education.

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