1966 was a time of rebellion in America: The Civil Rights movement, the anti-Vietnam war movement, the Free Love movement, were all on the rise. People were pissed — at the government, at the establishment, at each other, and at the ‘other.’
Along came a TV show called Star Trek (now referred to as The Original Series, or just ToS). In the show, we had gotten past our differences, we had gotten past greed, we’d molded the establishment. We were out to make the known world a better place for everyone, and we were actively seeking out new members. It was a very positive, stabilizing message.
Fast forward to today.
We live in a time where distrust of government is at an all time high. Hatred and fear of the ‘other’ is not only readily apparent, it’s stoked by the President of the United States for his own political gains. Greed is strong, corruption isn’t even hidden any more. The establishment sucks.
And Star Trek: Discovery (with the unfortunate but maybe appropriate acronym of ST:D) launches. In it, there is hatred of the other, a strong cult of personality that outweighs rationality, and all sides saying that war is the answer (even the Vulcans).
Is this the Star Trek that we need today?
When it first aired, ToS was different, unique. Look at the other mainstream science fiction show of the day, Lost in Space. That show dealt with no issues, offered no vision of the future. it was fluff meant to distract us from the realities of the day. ToS dealt head on with the issues of the Cold War, racism, racial purity, stereotyping, racial boundaries (both within humanity and across species), and more. Lost in Space gave us a cute monkey and a robot that always shouted “Danger, Will Robinson, Danger.”
ST:D reflects the cynicism of our age back at us, with a hipster wink and nudge. This, the producers tell us, is what Star Trek is today. But they’re wrong. And we have the example to show just how wrong they are.
The Orville is only three episodes old, but it’s already tackled gender identity, parental rights versus cultural norms, and rising to leadership in a power vacuum. It’s been funny (a little, not as much as it thinks), intelligent (but also a little, frustratingly, stupid), and positive. It’s attempting to be what ToS was when it first aired. It’s going against the common thread of angst, fear, and anger in our culture and is saying “hey, let’s not forget idealism.” It’s everything a good Star Trek should be.
There was a time and a place for the universe that the producers of Star Trek: Discovery want to share. But it’s not today. The time was fifteen years ago, and the place was called Battlestar Galactica.