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Where No One Had Gone Before: Star Trek and the Utopian Vision - by Jonathan Willbanks

Where No One Had Gone Before: Star Trek and the Utopian Vision - by Jonathan Willbanks

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Published by: Jonathan Willbanks on Oct 02, 2010
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10/04/2010

 
Jonathan WillbanksProfessor Miranda BanksGloria Shin (TA)Introduction to Television and VideoApril 16, 2008Where No One Has Gone Before:Star Trek and the Utopian VisionWar is a thing of the past. Money is a thing of the past. Racism is a thing of the past.Humanity has finally learned to put aside its differences and unite toward a commongoal.This is the world of 
Star Trek,
the brainchild of television producer Gene Rodenberrythat took a bold and daring stance in its utopian portrayal of race and gender relations inthe future. His optimistic vision for humanity portrayed a society that had moved beyondthe issues of war, race, and gender and realized true equality. Most significantly, the peaceful color- and gender-blind future the telvesionaryimagined in
Star Trek 
waswatched by record numbers of young people who went on to shape American society inthe following decades. Through the science fiction genre and the protective socialinsulation it provided, Rodenberry relied employed the multiplicity principle to exploitthe conventions of the genre to create a deeper and far more literary meaning,(Thornburn) filling an immense social void in the television world. His iconic sciencefiction melodrama showed humanity what it could look forward to when it united inconcert toward the common goals of peace, freedom, and equality - when humanityboldlygoeswhere no one was gone before.
 
In the rich universe of 
Star Trek 
lore, humanity faces two major global conflicts before finally eradicating war and uniting humanity. The first of these is the EugenicsWar. Inspired by fears of Nazi and rumored Russian eugenics experiments designed to perfect a genetically superior ³master race,´ Rodenberry used the television medium toconvey his beliefs of the dangers of eugenics. According to the Star Trek chronology, theEugenics Wars reached their apex in 1996, ending in the banishment of Eugenics leader Kahn Noonien Sigh, who would not meet his end until the events of the highly successfuland critically acclaimed
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
(1982). The topic of eugenicswould likely have been extremely difficult to address through conventional televisiongenres at the time, but science fiction allowed Rodenberry the leeway to bring the topicinto America¶s living rooms through the open-mindedness inherent in the viewing of ascience fiction program.The Eugenics Wars set the stage for humanity¶s last great internal conflict ± World War III. While the details of this war are vague, Rodenberry again places it withinthe social context of the day with references to the Eastern Coalition or ³ECA,´ a clear allusion to the fear of eventual massive conflict between the westand the eastern states oRussia, China, and other East Asian powers. In Rodenberry¶s world, this devastating war is the last of its kind waged between humans. In 2063, the war is over. Over six billionhave died. The world¶s major cities have been destroyed. It is on December 2
nd
of thisyear that a scientist named Zefram Cochran living in a rural survivor colony in Montanatests his prototype faster-than-light ³warp´ engine in a converted nuclear missile, thePhoenix. By coincidence or providence, a passing Vulcan survey ship detects the warpsignature and stops on Earth to investigate. This is humanity¶s first contact with an alien
 
race. Once the human race realizes that it is not alone in the universe, its internal conflictsseem trivial and within a hundred years the world unites, abolishing war on earth for centuries to come. Rodenberry is making several poignant statements here. First, he believes that it will take some great external force to unite humanity, some incident of cosmic importance that will trivialize internal conflict once it is placed in the newlyapparent ³big picture.´ Secondly, he employs a great deal of symbolism through hischoice of making a converted nuclear missile the catalyst for a united humanity. Theaptly named Phoenix conveys his optimistic belief that good things can come from bad,that like its mythical namesake, from the ashes of death, life and beauty are born.Another staple of Rodenberry¶s
Star Trek 
universe was its arguablyunprecedented portrayal of racial equality on national television. In the context of American society at the time, this is quite remarkable. At the height of the civil rightsmovement, racism and racial persecution were still rampant, especially in the south andMidwest. Less than a decade after the crushing grip of racism plagued the Jim Crowesouth, Rodenberry cast African American actress Nichelle Nichols as the Enterprise¶communications officer Uhura. In the midst of the Cold War, Rodenberry took the nearlyunfathomable step of awarding the role of ship¶s navigator to Walter Koenig. BothKoenig and his character Pavel Checkov were Russian. Elevating the Chekov character tonew levels of onscreen multiculturalism was Rodenberry¶s deliberate choice to makeChekov highly nationalistic and proud of his Russian heritage. This would almost surelyhave been unacceptable in most of American television at the time, but the freedom thescience fiction genre afforded Rodenberry allowed him to make his bold and optimisticstatement about the future of U.S. ± Soviet relations. But Rodenberry¶s colorblind vision

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