Star Trek (YGtCTO #30)

Television Series created by Gene Roddenberry

How does art become a cultural phenomenon? By all expectations, Star Trek should be no more popular now than The Fugitive or Space: 1999.

The original Star Trek was well into syndication when I was young. My older brother turned me on to it, but we could only watch it sporadically. The antenna on the top of the house had to be positioned just so in perfect weather and we could pick up that independent station out of Wheeling that held the rights to broadcast Star Trek. At the start of the show, heated arguments broke out that one or the other of us had no idea how to properly point the antenna. Tears and recriminations began until the snow cleared from the screen and the sight of the U.S.S. Enterprise would magically appear on the screen. Logically or not, I was always afraid to move for the next hour out of fear of rendering the picture unintelligible. Mind you, this was even before the Saturday morning cartoon. Later, local stations picked up the series, but then everyone knew about the show because the movies had begun.

Still, the show is only fifty years old, a mere drop in the bucket for a work of art. I would haphazard a guess (and a small hope) that more people have considered the Mona Lisa or Hamlet in the past year. They all endure, which is to the credit of the artists involved. I can’t say Star Trek seems likely to last another few centuries, but the staying power of current television shows as part of the cultural conversation, or even the general zeitgeist, seems dubious. The idea of high school students being assigned A Separate Peace and an hour of a Nineties drama looks like the downfall of civilization, though it probably signals nothing of the sort. Watching movies in class and learning about that art form hasn’t ended the world.

And would they be assigning Star Trek? The show was remarkable at the time for not insulting your intelligence as much as many others. On the other hand, it was not significantly better at that than Mission: Impossible or The Avengers. In this day and age, when passably intelligent television shows are the norm, the original Star Trek stands out mostly for its general optimism, its world building, and some fortuitous hiring. The writers did outstanding work. The actors turned out to be ideal for myth building.

But it’s the optimism and the world building that have lasted. At a time when we have a glut of dystopian fictions, the overall hope that underlies that original series is what endures. Individual problems have not been eradicated. Everyone does not get along all the time. Lives remain filled with challenges and struggles. But they can make food essentially out of nothing. They can send you someplace instantaneously. And most of all, people retain a hunger for work and endeavor even if you feed and clothe and heal them. The hope of Star Trek is how much people continue to give even when they have what they need.

You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 270 more to go.

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One thought on “Star Trek (YGtCTO #30)

  1. Indeed! And its creation was a great tribute to the space race in that decade, reflecting competition and hope and excitement along with optimism and world building despite the war in Vietnam and tensions resulting from the Civil Rights movement.

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