The Star Trek television series from the 1960s has become such an ingrained part of American speech, values, and sensibilities that a newcomer to the United States would do well to become familiar with the look, the feel and even the vocabulary of the show.
- When Americans say, “Beam me up, Scotty,” they indicate dissatisfaction with a present situation and a desire to leave it.
- “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it” connotes, humorously or not, a phenomenon worth noting.
- “To boldly go where no man has gone before” refers, seriously or not, to breaking new ground or having new experiences in life.
Only a total immersion in Star Trek programming can fully bring across the meaning of these and many other references.
The original Star Trek, and the motion pictures and television sequels it spawned, command a huge following, including annual conventions of “Trekkies,” sales of memorabilia, and every possible variety of book, magazine, audio and video.
Writer J. LaVelle Ingram adds her own personal analysis on Why Star Trek Is Important Americana:
Yes, Star Trek was a television drama aired way back in the 1960s, and many people wonder how and why such an outdated, under-developed TV show could have become such an important, pervasive and persistent cultural phenomenon in America. Some people dismiss it as a haven for social misfits and odd dreamers of the science fiction variety, but the proliferation of related series (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise) and no less than nine movies should give both American citizens and new immigrants pause. Maybe there is something to this whole Star Trek thing.
As an unapologetic Trekkie/Trekker (or any other name you’d like to apply to stark raving fan), I’d like to try to answer these questions. First, I believe that Star Trek persists because it depicts an optimistic view of the future. Developed during the Vietnam War, just after the Korean War, and during a time when nuclear war was a growing possibility, Star Trek portrayed a future in which human beings not only survived but prospered. It looked past our conflicts and the real possibility of mutual annihilation, and depicted, in living color, a vibrant future. In that version of the future we have been able to slip the bonds of war and the limitations of technology and reach even to the stars. Indeed, the show served as a model for technologies as simple as automatic doors and cell phones and as complex as computers, all indicating a better life for us humans when we finally make it past our violent conflicts.
Second, I believe that the show portrays the ideal of diversity. Star Trek had the vision to include the range of human races in the command crew of the Starship Enterprise. At a time when there remained efforts to discount the relative intelligence and capabilities of some human races, this little television drama showed us the benefit of using all of our human resources. And they did not suggest that there was a “lowering of standards” to include the Asian, the African, the Southern or the woman, but rather portrayed this team as the top team, the best in the Federation. As issues of race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation continue to generate troublesome conflicts among us, no wonder so many Americans are drawn to the version of the future wherein we’ve worked it all out, and to everyone’s benefit.
Finally, every version of Star Trek indicates that, one day, our enemies will become our allies, even our friends. In the original series the Klingons are the enemies of the Federation, but by the time of the Next Generation, a Klingon is on the command crew of the Enterprise. In the Next Generation, the Borg are the enemies, but in the Voyager series, a Borg becomes a crew member. Again and again, the Star Trek vision includes the notion that we will one day overcome even our most contentious differences and gain the benefit of befriending one another. Put together, the optimistic future, the diverse ideal and the over-coming of hatred make up a compelling background for telling some truly human stories; and who can resist all that?
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