How Star Trek's future stopped being optimistic

Discussion in 'General Trek Discussion' started by lawman, Aug 12, 2022.

  1. lawman

    lawman Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    This has been weighing on my mind lately. The roots of it go back years, but it's just crystalized for me recently.

    From its inception, Star Trek depicted a hopeful future for humanity... one where the better angels of our nature managed to defeat our inner demons. Yes, we'd had Eugenics Wars and World War III to contend with... but it was always made clear that we made it past them, and learned from them. And through it all we continued to explore space, seek new horizons, and aspire to higher ideals. We improved ourselves, achieved a United Earth, and made war and poverty things of the past. The details of this future history may have been obscure, but the message was clear: humanity could and would persevere.

    That was the underlying theme for Trek's first thirty years. It originated with TOS, and endured through TNG and DS9.

    Then, in 1996, came First Contact. And that's where things pivoted.

    Now, we still had all those awful things in our future... but it turns out we didn't put them behind us on our own. Instead, Trek's utopian future depended crucially on discovering warp drive (which doesn't exist in the real world), and even more than that, on the sheer dumb luck of doing so at a moment when it fortuitously happened to be noticed by Vulcans (who also don't exist in the real world)... an alien race more advanced and peaceful than us, who had solved their own problems in the distant past, and proceeded to give us a helping hand up out of dystopia.

    I don't remember this shift being much discussed at the time. It was a popular movie. I liked it myself! And perhaps, in the '90s, when we'd just put the Cold War behind us and everything seemed to be booming, it was possible to imagine that the awful parts of Trek's future history were just fantasy as well.

    It doesn't feel that way any more.

    This struck me, hard, with the latest seasons of new Trek on the air, Strange New Worlds s1 and Picard s2. (Spoilers ahead!)

    In SNW, we're informed
    (with real, contemporary news footage!) that Earth in our time is on the verge of a Second Civil War, and then a Third World War that's even worse than Trek ever made it out to be before
    . In PIC, we learn that
    our best hope of defeating climate change somehow lies in leveraging a new life form (which is imaginary) discovered on a crucial 2024 mission to Europa (which of course isn't happening)... and that even our best fallback solution lies in force field tech (which also doesn't exist!) invented by a demagogue who leads us down the path to fascism
    . Meanwhile, of course, real-world space exploration has been all but defunct for decades.

    I enjoyed both of those seasons, but the implications have been haunting me. The state of things now is that the dark side of Trek's future history—dissension, hatred, war, fascism, a dying climate—feels very real indeed, very imminent, and very threatening. But the solutions Trek depicts come across as sheer fantasy, rather than anything humanity has a chance of achieving in reality.

    Trek used to feel inspiring. It used to embody the promise of humanity's ability to solve our problems and achieve a better world. It doesn't any more. It hasn't for a quarter-century, really.
     
  2. donners22

    donners22 Commodore Commodore

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    Except the criminally insane, who were exiled to a distant planet an experimented on. Or those in Nazi societies. Or those who worked on barren mining worlds, and the women who were their mail-order brides. Or women in general who couldn’t be captains. Or those on colonies which suffered starvation (and even execution). And so forth, and so on. Oh, and it took the intervention of Gary Seven to avoid nuclear war.

    Through DS9? Where Starfleet members conduct a false flag attack on Earth in order to impose martial law? Where they engage in biological warfare and attempted genocide? Where our hero captain is complicit in two murders, draws the Romulans into a war under a false premise and engages in chemical warfare to displace civilians?
     
  3. F. King Daniel

    F. King Daniel Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I think that's informed by current/recent events showing us how much worse its gonna get for us, and Trek trying to tell us it's gonna get better even if it looks less and less likely IRL:(
     
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  4. Trekker09

    Trekker09 Captain Captain

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    This is something I ponder as well, though I haven’t watched the newer series. I imagine the Trek writers who worked in the post-WW2 era and saw many positive outcomes, felt that the world would continue to progress in an upward movement.
    I think hope and optimism have always been based more on a personal choice than current events. This video from a couple of months ago, makes reasonable points about human nature vs culture, and radical vs escapist hope.

     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2022
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  5. somebuddyX

    somebuddyX Commodore Commodore

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    There's been Third World Wars and Eugenics Wars since the 60s, we saw Sanctuary Districts, post-atomic horror drug taking soldier shooting it up with Q, Romulan Wars, Klingon Cold Wars, Tholian Wars, Cardassian Wars, Dominion Wars, bugs taking over Starfleet in an episode, drug dealing aliens taking us over with video games, multiple Borg invasions, Maquis rebellions. There's something in the water at Starfleet HQ because every Badmiral that shows up is either corrupt or vying for power. The Star Trek future is pretty great but a lot of things are fucked and always have been.
    On the other hand:
    DS9 showed that the way to end the Dominion War was not going in guns blazing but the simple act of compassion of saving the great link.
    Voyager had lots of hopefulness about the Doctor or Seven's journey into humanity or shit like "The Void" where what saves the day is teamwork and helping your mates.
    The Xindi crisis ended because Archer made mates with Degra and then convinced half the Xindi to rebel against the other because they realised nuking Earth was a bad idea. Plenty of Xindi died to save the NX-01 and Earth from their brethren.
    The Romulan drone crisis was nullified by yep everyone becoming mates and a whole bunch of aliens who'd been at each others throats putting aside their differences which lay the groundwork to build an alliance that would last for at least a thousand years.
    Drama is conflict or vice versa.
    Trek to me was always just a sci-fi TV show or film where people and aliens got on together. They investigated mysteries and weird shit happened each week. I like Trek but I feel like if anything we'd heading more towards Elysium (well without the actual Elysium in it) and I'll be long dead by the time it rolls around so I'm okay with it.
     
  6. Turtletrekker

    Turtletrekker Admiral Admiral

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    I think Star Trek is still extremely optimistic. Especially compared to modern day.
     
  7. lawman

    lawman Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Without getting into a lot of side arguments, suffice it to say that most of those things involved problems out on the frontier—which is where the Enterprise operated, and where drama was to be found. It was still clear that the Federation (and at its heart humanity, and Earth) was, if not a perfect society, at least one where we'd transcended the problems and failings that afflict us today.

    Indeed. :(

    I don't want to divert this into discussions of Trek's own time period, and how idealized vs. flawed it may be. (And, again, remember the rules of drama require conflict.) My point is that Trek's past—our present and future—has gone from something where we were able to rising above our shortcomings and solve our problems, to something where we appear to be doomed in the absence of miracle technologies and friendly aliens.
     
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  8. Vger23

    Vger23 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Trek’s “optimism,” which was always greatly exaggerated, has been based in one simple assertation:

    That we didn’t completely destroy ourselves.

    That’s it. That’s all it’s ever really been.
     
  9. Crazy 4 XmasLights

    Crazy 4 XmasLights Vice Admiral Admiral

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    That seems to just be how Americans like their entertainment these days: darker and edgier. It was already underway in the 90's when DS9 was a thing. Discovery and Picard just took it further.
     
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  10. Holly-deck One

    Holly-deck One Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The same argument can be said about humans on BABYLON 5... the fact they made it to the 23rd century was optimism enough.
     
  11. Captain Kris Kringle Pike

    Captain Kris Kringle Pike Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Indeed. Fans jumped on board and exaggerated what Trek was all about.
     
  12. Qonundrum

    Qonundrum Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Does that include any of the actors, or even by preemptive extension the writers, or creators who made and sold to what viewers reacted to? Or did even Gene just cash in on what fans of the time fathomed?

    e.g.
    https://www.inc.com/kevin-daum/50-star-trek-inspiring-you-to-boldly-go-into-your-future.html
    https://www.inc.com/kevin-daum/21-gene-roddenberry-quotes-that-inspire-a-great-future.html

    I'm certain some actors had mentioned "Gene's vision of optimistic future" or something to its effect back in the day as well. But the memory cheats, or can.


    And I agree; even TOS is replete with examples of how the future isn't "rosy". Just different, with different pluses and minuses.
     
  13. Holly-deck One

    Holly-deck One Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I know Frakes was one who talked about how Gene sat him down and said, "In the future, there will be no hunger and there will be no greed."

    Personally, I think it's a good message. Who cares if some of the writers and actors echoed back what fans were thinking all those years ago? Isn't it enough that it's a good message? And shouldn't we all strive to make that message a reality?
     
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  14. Captain Kris Kringle Pike

    Captain Kris Kringle Pike Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    What's enough is the desire to make a positive future. Not because of human "evolution" but as an effort to become better as people through recognizing that we have choices that we can make, even in limited circumstances. That's why Kirk's "We're not going to kill today" is more inspiring that Picard's "We've eliminated...the need for possessions" speech. One states choice, the other just the destination.

    That's enough for me.
     
  15. XCV330

    XCV330 Premium Member

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    Star Trek has been a post-holocaust tale since TOS. SNW and PIC are just filling in the details. TOS had already given minor details about Col Greene and the Eugenics Wars. The VERY FIRST episode of TNG deals with the post-war horrors. Star Trek isn't our future. It never could be. The physics are make believe so it doesn't matter what time it can take place in. That's not what is important.

    Star Trek remains optimistic. Discovery (season 4 at least) , LD, SNW still have that Trek optimism, even Prodigy, where what the federation could be is more of an ideal for the young crew.
     
  16. Vger23

    Vger23 Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Don’t get me wrong, I love optimism in Star Trek.

    I just don’t think it’s as utopian and optimistic as everyone seems to make it out to be. And I agree with a lot of what the OP is saying.
     
  17. Dee1891

    Dee1891 Captain Captain

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    And I feel this is what doomed the franchise in my eyes in the first place. I don't think that humanity, in general, is capable of evolving into a hopeful future or more ideal state. Individuals, yes. But not all of humanity. Certainly not in the space of two hundred to four hundred years. I think this was a fantasy on Roddenberry's part. A fantasy that made it difficult for many of the franchise's writers to portray both its Human and non-Human characters in an ambiguous way without a good number of fans going into a tizzy whenever Humans or the Federation are portrayed that way.

    Over the years, many of the Federation characters - especially the Humans - have come off seeming self-righteous, self-satisfied and arrogant to me.
     
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  18. donners22

    donners22 Commodore Commodore

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    I see it as a replication of our problems today. You have the haves in their protective little bubbles, and the have nots who largely suffer except when our heroes ride in to temporarily save the day. It's like Starfleet is the developed world, and the colonies are the developing world. That's not a truly optimistic future, it's just an extension of what we have today. It adds to what Nicholas Meyer rightly identified as TOS being centred around Starfleet representing America going around imposing their values on what they perceived as lesser species.

    Nor do I think it truly represented humanity having transcended the problems and failings that afflict us today. There was still racism, sexism, greed, violence, etc - all well before First Contact. Indeed, it was lampshaded before First Contact in DS9 with the classic line "It's easy to be a saint in paradise." Outside the Starfleet bubble (and even within it - see The Undiscovered Country as but one example) humanity's flaws were still ever-present.

    TOS was a relatively optimistic view of humanity's future, compared to other sci fi where we tended to ruin Earth, get taken over by aliens, etc, but it was plain we still had a long way to go as a species. TNG was largely an exaggerated version of "Gene's Vision" as it had evolved since TOS, but implemented by writers who didn't believe in it and didn't think it made for good TV - hence it tended to be shallow and largely amounted to lip service.
     
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2022
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  19. dupersuper

    dupersuper Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I mean, if enough individuals do it...
     
  20. Paul Weaver

    Paul Weaver Rear Admiral Premium Member

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    I think Idicoracy is optimistic compared to modern day