Fifty-five years of Star Trek – a cultural vector and Hollywood cash-cow (Part Five)
By Mark Wegierski
Note: This article was not prepared, approved, licensed, or endorsed by any entity involved in creating or producing the Star Trek television series or films.
Rick Berman and Michael Piller, often seen as the leading successors to Roddenberry, are unlikely to let such a lucrative cash-cow as Star Trek disappear. It was said that by the 1990s, at any given time of the day or night, there was some episode of Star Trek running somewhere on television in North America. Close to a hundred Star Trek-based formulaic novels and other books are published every year. The franchising of Trek products is virtually endless. There are probably hundreds of thousands of hardcore Trek enthusiasts, mostly in North America, and probably millions of more casual fans around the world. The fact is that Star Trek alone probably comes close to representing somewhere around one-third (or even close to half) of popular interest in the entire genre of science fiction. And Star Trek has a fan-base with a degree of intensity among a considerable number of enthusiasts perhaps unmatched by any other film or television show. This is certainly one reason for some "more serious" SF fans' resentment of the phenomenon, which they sometimes derisively term as "the Blob."
Also, various elements and expressions from Star Trek have deeply infiltrated into the general pop-culture, reaching persons who may been only vaguely aware of the phenomenon. For example, the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty!” is sometimes popularly used as a term for expressing the completion of a well-rendered task in the workplace.
One may indeed wonder what the future of Trek holds. Voyager ended in May 2001. There was a flurry of speculation before the premiere of the new Star Trek series, Enterprise, in September 2001. Enterprise is set 150 years before the events of TOS, in the Star Trek “future-history.”
There was much speculation about possible "new show-concepts” before the premiere. DS9 had worked out the "space-station in a trouble-spot" idea pretty thoroughly. Voyager had carried out "the perilous voyage home" idea. Some had suggested that "Star Trek: Earth" -- set on the Earth of the 24th century – was the way to go. One could also have had a space-station in another, artfully-created, highly interesting trouble-spot. There was a faction of fans that there were supporting the idea of a Captain Sulu ship.
The premiere of Enterprise finally arrived with much fanfare. The show introduces numerous innovations into the Star Trek “future-history” – most notably that humans were under Vulcan tutelage for close to a hundred years. The previously constructed “future-history” was also disrupted, when First Contact with the Klingons already occurs in the first episode. And there was, obviously, no return to the Old Klingons from TOS.
The central figures in the new series are the human Captain, who chafes at the Vulcan restrictions, and his subcommander and Science Officer, a Vulcan “babe” with a superior attitude. Other notable figures are the female Japanese linguist, the jovial alien doctor, a young white U.S. Southern officer, a young Black officer, and an English officer. The premiere introduced the main backstory of the series, a struggle against an alien race that accepts massive genetic enhancements as part of a “temporal Cold War.” Given that the mode of time travel shown is the vortex (and that there has already been a time travel film involving them – Star Trek: First Contact) hints strongly that the nefarious time-travelers are in fact the Borg.
One’s impression of Enterprise is that it is certainly less politically-correct than TNG or Voyager. Some of that is obviously due to the fact that it is considered to be set 150 years before TOS, in the “future-history” chronology. The soft rock intro theme, “Faith of the Heart” had annoyed some fans. It was probably chosen in an attempt to widen the audience, hoping, for example, that more women would tune into the program. It may have been an attempt to demonstrate that the show has an emotional core beyond the techno-gadgetry.
The new Trek series, however, has not been as popularly successful as the previous ones, and has ended in May 2005, after four years.
Some have suggested that the franchise will be orienting itself toward such products as elaborate interactive videogames, and the MMPORPG (massively-multi-player online role-playing game), a virtual Internet-based interactive environment. The MMPORPG is said to be a perfect fit with the fan-base – which is already known for the vast amount of fan-fiction it produces.
Nevertheless, the newest Star Trek movies (the first two directed by J. J. Abrams) – which are set in the Star Fleet Academy days of Kirk and Spock, introducing a whole new set of young actors in the iconic roles of TOS -- have been a great success. However, with the evil time-travelers premise it could itself be seen as an alternative-Trek. That this could be considered as being “loyal to the canon” (i.e., to the earlier established background of Star Trek) seems questionable.
The latest iteration of Star Trek, Star Trek: Discovery, has pushed the envelope even further in terms of political-correctness and wokeness and the displacement of straight white males from the universe. The new series Star Trek: Picard, has been better received. There has also arisen a poorly-received comedy animated show, Star Trek: Lower Decks.
As one of Hollywood's hottest properties, it is unlikely that any aspects more clearly congenial to traditional notions of nation, family, and religion will ever be allowed to be significantly featured in (or to slowly infiltrate into) the Star Trek phenomenon. And the notion that such an evolution would even be theoretically possible appears remote. If the future becomes increasingly polymorphous, what are we going to be able to say to young people who want to surgically alter themselves to look like Star Trek aliens?
Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based science fiction and Star Trek aficionado.