"Star Trek" Lives!
"STAR TREK" LIVES!, by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak, and Joan Winston, New York: Bantam, 1975, 274 pp., $1.95 (pb).
Much ado has been made about "Star Trek," and this book falls right into line. This is not to say that either the show or the book is without value. The series is undoubtedly the best science fiction ever presented on television (a small field indeed), and the book should provide entertaining reading for anyone with even a moderate interest in the show. But those who have never seen "Star Trek," dislike it, or are indifferent to it might as well leave this volume to hard-core Trekdom.
For one thing, less-than-enthusiasts will find the book somewhat flawed by the inclusion of Joan Winston's first-hand accounts of the first New York ST convention (1972) and a week spent on the "Star Trek" set at Paramount. She has a propensity for gushiness perhaps exceeded only by the Gabor sisters or a Heinlein heroine. The worst offense, however, occurred in connection with Winston's interview of William Shatner. As she probed into his portrayal of Kirk, Shatner smiled at her. The event is described by the other authors: "Since William Shatner's smile is the same as Captain Kirk's, it has the same devastating effect on twentieth-century women as it does on the legions of twenty-third-century females throughout the galaxy. Until the effect wears off, it knocks everything out of their heads, including the questions they were asking." This nonsense is particularly repugnant in view of the earlier presentation of Helen Jean Burn's thoughtful criticism of the female characters of "Star Trek" for being "so badly hung up on some man that they were often incapable of functioning intelligently."
It is interesting that many claims made in this book about ST and its fans were deflated during an NBC "Tomorrow" program. Three cast members, an ST convention chairman, and sf writer Harlan Ellison were guests. The Woodstock-nation camaraderie claimed for the conventions ("Love, that is what the Con was all about.") must be a thing of the past. When asked by "Tomorrow" host Tom Snyder if they were getting tired of going to fan conventions, DeForest Kelley and Walter Koenig (Chekov) replied in the affirmative.
"Star Trek" Lives! abounds with case histories of people supposedly suffering from various forms of quiet desperation, until ST revitalizes their lives, expands their horizons, gives them the courage to go on, and clears their sinuses. In regard to these kinds of claims for the show, Koenig told Snyder: "I wouldn't like to think that I was proselytized by a television series. I would hope that I have enough intellectual resource to have already formulated those kinds of philosophies for myself."
Much is made of the philosophic content of the series. In fact, one opens "Star Trek" Lives! with great expectations, having heard that one of its authors is an Objectivist. And it is immediately obvious which one, since on the dedication page Marshak refers to her husband as "my proof that men like that do exist."
Most of the "Objectivism" in this book is just as recognizable, almost second-hand in flavor—which would be acceptable if it in fact applied a little better to the subject. At one point, the authors suggest that television "could provide that direct perception of our goals, that fuel, as no other medium can—at the flick of a switch, every day. But not much television has done so, providing, at best, a very watered-down form of romantic art in which we pan for a few traces of gold."
At least one of the authors was panning like mad to find a nugget or two of romanticism in "Star Trek." If the ST luminaries interviewed often seem to confirm the romantic aspects of the show, this is primarily because the conversations were so guided and the questions so suggestive as to virtually put the "proper" words into their mouths.
For example, one question put to everyone was: "Do you think that the emphasis of man in the United Federation of Planets world, man as he could and should be, achieving rational values, expanding his horizons, caring for and respecting other lifeforms and their values, is what is proper for mankind, and do you think that this view in our present irrational society is one of the major appeals of Star Trek?"
Small wonder that the authors got answers that were just what they wanted to be able to report. Revealingly, it is mentioned at one point that "in most cases, it took us hours of patient interviewing to dig out the little stories of things which we would call heroic." Only Gene Roddenberry professed to have had any knowledge of Ayn Rand or her theory of romantic art before being interviewed.
This is not to say that there are no elements of romanticism, however dilute, in "Star Trek." Nor that there is no emphasis on rationality. Although most of the Star Fleet personnel seem to live by a glorified Boy Scout code, Spock is expressly devoted to rationality.
Marshak does attack Spock's reason-emotion dichotomy fallacy, and does so quite effectively by reproducing part of the original analysis of this error from an ST fanzine. This piece makes it clear that the writer, Myrna Culbreath, also has some acquaintance with Objectivism. Although somewhat under two pages in length, this reprint is one of the best parts of the book. Culbreath expresses herself clearly, cogently, and without aping the style and phraseology of Ayn Rand—as Marshak so often does.
Criticism of Spock's fallacy is one of the few leveled at the show. Other elements that should have been questioned are not. The notion that human beings are "instinctively savage," which played a large role in so many episodes, is not challenged. Tales involving human aggressiveness were often hopelessly bungled by the failure to distinguish morally between initiation and retaliation. And what about all those episodes where inept diplomats and implacable bureaucrats fouled up everything? Are things really that much better in the "Star Trek" universe?
Marilyn Harper received her BA in physical anthropology from the University of Texas. She has worked as a hydrochemical analyst and has studied archeology, and is currently pursuing doctoral studies in psychology.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline ""Star Trek" Lives!".