Culture

Even if Modern Star Trek Doesn't Think So, the World Is Getting Better

Star Trek used to dare to say that things were getting better.

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For decades, various incarnations of Star Trek have offered mostly positive visions for the future of humanity—one in which we've set aside petty, earthbound squabbles in favor of boldly seeking out new worlds (and, of course, finding the occasional conflict). 

But the first three seasons of Star Trek: Discovery (Paramount+), the seventh television series in the long-running franchise, have too often seemed tied down by storylines that might have more in common with real-world politics of the 21st century rather than the unbridled optimism that was such an important part of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's original conception for the show. Discovery is highly serialized, more focused on a single calamity than a larger sense of exploration, and with far more internally focused characters who care more about their own interests than in a larger plan for society.

As a result, Star Trek now seeks to reinforce the trepidation and existential doubt that is a hallmark of our modern culture. Instead of showing the potential of what humanity can become, Discovery seems to reflect more on what the feelings of the human condition are today.

That's a shame, because society is actually moving toward Roddenberry's vision of a humanity that reaches beyond the petty conflicts of the day, rather than the fractured future presented in the newer Star Trek shows. Global poverty continues to decline, in part because advances in food production have dramatically decreased the number of starving people. War remains a threat to human civilization, but it is on the decline as the world grows wealthier. Incredible advancements in technology have in many ways already surpassed the supposedly futuristic tech imagined by the creators of the original Star Trek series in the 1960s. 

But as our world gets better, the world of Star Trek grows bleaker. When Discovery debuted in 2017, it created a future that was foreboding and plagued with mistrust. Much of the first season's serialized storyline focused on a conflict with the so-called "Mirror Universe," a lawless parallel dimension populated by violent versions of the show's characters. That laid the groundwork for double-cross after double-cross, as characters from the Mirror Universe invaded the main continuity.

The second season reintroduced popular figures from other Star Trek series, including Spock and Captain Christopher Pike (who, in Star Trek canon, precedes James Kirk as captain of the Enterprise), but significantly retconned their characters. The theme of mistrust carries over into the second season of the show, when Spock is accused of murder and flees from the Federation. Section 31, the clandestine, extra-legal organization introduced in Deep Space Nine and run by the Mirror Universe version of Phillippa Georgiou, is ordered to track him down. After regrouping with Spock, it's clear there is a traitor onboard the Discovery, and it's a race against time to track him down.

Shadowy conspiracies continue to drive much of the plot in the fourth season, which debuted in November 2021. In the recent episode "All Is Possible," powerful politicians conspire to get Discovery's captain, Michael Burnham, to involve herself in a complex series of events. After discovering the deception, Burnham insists that that kind of lying has to come to an end. The president of the Federation is, at best, non-committal.

To be sure, Star Trek has always had its share of duplicitous and scheming villains. But Discovery embeds that sense of distrust in many aspects of the show. Main characters are routinely and openly insubordinate. In the pilot episode, for example, Burnham is facing life in prison for mutiny.

To different degrees, modern Star Trek no longer seems interested in exploring a future where humanity has risen above the cultural and political swamps of the day. Through more than three seasons, Discovery has yet to produce an episode like "The Measure of a Man," in which The Next Generation's Captain Jean-Luc Picard made a convincing argument for why Data the android is, in fact, human. Or "Tuvix," the poignant early episode of Voyager that asked Captain Kathryn Janeway to make an impossible choice, one she confronts with conviction. 

That's true not only of Discovery but of other contemporary Trek series too. Star Trek: Picard depicts a retired and weary former starship captain now living as a recluse and processing the trauma of Data's death in Star Trek: Nemesis, the 2002 film that served as a send-off for The Next Generation crew. He comes out of hiding when he discovers that Data has a daughter and makes it his personal objective to protect her. With the help of a ragtag group of misfits and outcasts, Picard succeeds in his mission, but uncovers dark secrets about a society of androids that have hidden from humanity for decades. Though there is hope that the androids could be reinstated into society, that future is uncertain. Not least of which because they have the ability to call down a highly-advanced synthetic menace that could destroy the entire galaxy.

In some ways, the serialized nature of the new shows makes it much more difficult to simply revel in the sense of exploration and discovery that was such a core aspect of previous series. But other key components of the Star Trek formula are missing too. Discovery seems to go out of the way to make the differences in the characters a central theme. And while diversity has always been at the core of Star Trek, its true virtue is that diversity didn't need to be celebrated or condemned, it just was—the natural result of a multicultural, multiplanetary society.

When Star Trek debuted, the inclusion of a Black woman on the crew was a political statement about how diverse the future would be, and 60 years later, that dream has been realized. Culture, and entertainment in particular, is more diverse than it ever has been, and Roddenberry's vision for an equal society is closer to being fulfilled today than ever before, in more ways than one.

Maybe it's no wonder that the original series and The Next Generation remain incredibly popular on streaming services, while Discovery has struggled with low ratings. While everyone with a platform keeps telling the world that things are getting worse, Star Trek used to dare to say that things were getting better.

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  1. On the second day of Kwaanza Dr. Karenga gave them hos karate baton blows,
    and a whipping with electrical cords.

    1. M5 Computer wishes you a Merry Christmas....could you imagine a flawed character like Daystrom today in ST who was black?

  2. At least on STD, when a non-binary character says their preferred pronouns are "we" and "they", she has a symbiotic parasite on her spine, so the plural makes sense.

    1. STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) is, yea verily, a problem! No denying THAT!

      HERE is a MUCH bigger problem or question:

      Q: How are the Starship Enterprise, and a roll of toilet paper, alike?

      A: They both circle around Uranus, looking for Klingons!

      1. The above, translated for ALL of ye Klingons, is as below:

        tugh yInmoHpu', *tlhaw'DIyo*! DaH suvwI' neH!

        'e' qelbogh yabwIj.

        12:39 chaHvaD jatlh yeSuS : qatlh nuq?

        ghor leghlaHbe' qeylIS puS.

    2. Ackchyually, symbiote and parasite are contrary concepts. Symbiotes have a mutual relationship with the host and a parasite has an all-take, no-give relationship....Kinda like the difference between Commerce and Government plunder.

      1. An awful lot of symbiotes do a heel turn and become parasites, if they detect that their host is unhealthy. Once 'you' know your host is going to die, that long term relationship is out the window.

  3. Someone described the current crop of hollywood creators as locusts. They are hired to reboot beloved content but have no connection to it. Discovery writers only learned enough Star Trek canon to try to get the uniforms to fit (they don't) and reference people and places from the previous shows (and suck dry their bones). So as locusts they come in, destroy a property and then move on to something else.

    Discovery is objectively space garbage. The writers mine drama from the stupid actions of childish characters. The concept of a hierarchical command structure that is necessary to exist in any large organization much less would be essential in a vessel navigating the void of space seems so foreign to them that one would think the show is produced solely by foot-stomping millennials and zoomers with no life experience to guide them.

    1. Writers today are also children in post-pubescent bodies who haven't had to deal with any sort of real hardship, and so have had to make up ones by under they can pretend to have suffered.

      They therefore write characters who act like children in adult bodies, because that's the only thing they know.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQ92cggLMx8

      1. Critical Drinker (who I believe is a writer himself) seems to understand storytelling and makes me wonder why people like him don't get hired. It's apparently not a lost art. These new showrunners find writers whose agenda is anything but coherent storytelling to make their shows on message but otherwise unwatchable.

        It's as though the clickbait mentality of modern journalism is being applied to movies and television, and I can't see how that's sustainable. Maybe it is only sustainable in the age of streaming services.

    2. Wholeheartedly +1 to that.

      Fist nailed it.

    3. You've basically summarized, clearly and concisely, what I expected from this show, and why I, a die-hard Trekker, have never watched it. For this, I thank you.

      1. When I heard the SJW creators crowing about how everything was going to be about girl-power running the entire ship, and the Klingons being analogs for white supremacists, or some such, I could already tell I wasn't the market these wokesters cared to entertain. And then I discovered that under the new show model, I would have to actually *pay* to let them agitate me. I never watched a single one and kissed the franchise goodbye.

        1. Honest to space-god, if they did all that and made a good product, I would be fine with it. But after putting in all that bullshit there was nothing left in the tank for the actual writing. Just like Abrams conceived a bunch of cool visuals and then just clumsily jammed them together into a feature length turd.

  4. If you want modern Star Trek, ignore STD and watch The Orville instead.

    1. This and/or rewatch old Trek. I just started to binge DS9 for the nth time.

      1. SPOILER ALERT: The bloody Cardies did it.

    2. Agree wholeheartedly. Probably why The Orville is dead.

    3. Orville -- the best Star Trek series since the original Star Trek (TOS). Absolutely!

  5. STD is better than Picard, and an actual std is better than STD.

    1. Indeed.

    2. Picard made the Federation the enemy, a century of Star Trek for naught, and an octengarian into an action hero.

      1. The Federation was always about "you will own nothing and you will be happy." Weren't they always the enemy?

  6. Wokeness is a distraction. It was never the main point, not even when all the other Star Treks were being woke. When Spock kissed Uhura, it wasn't the point of the story. It was called for in that part of the story. You're just destroying the plot--and interest in the series. Someday, all of this will look like the Enterprise saving the whales.

    "Space, the final frontier
    These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise
    Its five year mission
    To explore strange new worlds
    To seek out new life
    And new civilizations
    To boldly go where no man has gone before"

    "To boldly go where no man has gone before" is to go into the future with confidence that humanity can face any challenges with intelligence, technology, and understanding. To destroy that premise is to destroy what made the series. It's like reading Ayn Rand without capitalism or Harry Potter without magic. What's the point of doing that?

    1. I stopped watching after the first 9 or 10 episodes. There’s no point giving it more attention.

    2. Many TV stations, particularly in Southern States, didn't play the episode of the kiss between Kirk and Uhura and those that did got angry letters and even firebombing death threats from Ku Klux Krud. Standing on principle was way costlier back then, though with SJW/BLM/Woke Mobs, the price is going back up again.

      1. Funny, Roddenberry said he got not one letter of complaint

        1. Roddenberry was insulated from the viewers, most of whom see a network show as being FROM the network (or even the local station), the same way you think of a car as coming from a showroom, without ever knowing the name of the guy in charge of producing it.

          The original letter-writing campaign that saved Star Trek (for a third season) was the first time that most people had ever thought of actual PEOPLE at the network, rather than just some monolithic entity called "NBC."

        2. Perhaps he failed to understand the significance of "Let's Go, Gene!"

  7. In 1966 when TOS originally premiered the United States was much more unified and optimistic. The United Federation of Planets seemed to simply be an outgrowth of the United States of America. Most of the crew were apparently American , except for the token Russian Checkov, whose comments about how something obviously originated in Russia caused bemused eye rolls all around.

    In the real world those in power were the WWII generation that had defeated Fascism and brought prosperity to the world. The country was embarked on a bold program to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade. The nuclear powered USS Enterprise was the most famous ship in the US Navy and the pride of the country.

    The Civil Rights movement enjoyed wide support and there was optimism that that issue would soon be put behind us. Even Colonialism seemed to be in retreat India became independent in 1947 followed by 25 or so former British colonies before TOS premiered, mostly without war.

    The US had only recently introduced combat troops into Vietnam.

    1. Some of the most optimistic ideas in the original included a Russian serving on the bridge. At the height of the Cold War, Chekhov was a Russki and serving on the bridge! Assuming humanity would survive the Cold War on Star Trek and start working together was the most wildly optimistic thing in the world--right up until Reagan made his "Tear down this wall" speech.

      Like that was ever gonna happen!

    2. While Americans were overrepresented, you did have Uhura who was from Africa (not just an African-American) and Sulu, who was vaguely Asian and could have been Japanese or Chinese

      If there are any glaring omissions by modern standards, it would be an Indian and Brazilian.

      1. Today's TV shows always have an obligatory lesbian, queer, and multi-racial couple.

        By multi-racial, I mean black and white. The bigots in Vancouver and Hollywood seem to always relegate Asians and Latinos to bit parts, never the multi-racial couple role.

        By queer, I mean a homo who acts feminine, not just being gay. Because they need to be visibly sissies and affirmed for their waxed eyebrows.

        By lesbian, I mean a broad who looks like a female transvestite, heaven forbid she appear to be a normal woman.

    3. "In 1966 when TOS originally premiered the United States was much more unified and optimistic. The United Federation of Planets seemed to simply be an outgrowth of the United States of America."

      Can you imagine trying to make an episode like "The Omega Glory" today? It probably would be reworked to contrast the shameful history of American oppression with the Chinese Communist Party's noble efforts to build humanity's progressive future.

      1. If you REALLY want to make heads explode, redo https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Let_That_Be_Your_Last_Battlefield_(episode)

        The DNC/KKK/BLM/Klantifa axis would be marching on the studio with torches and pitchforks!

  8. I find it odd. Star Trek used to be shining optimism while Matrix used to be crushing pessimism. Each movie ends with almost every major character dead.

    However, while Star Trek is now broodingly pessimistic, the new Matrix shows tremendous progress from the first movie. Machines and humans working together. The military goes from a few radicals supporting the heroes to universally volunteering. It even extends to the point that none of the heroes or their allies are shown to be killed in the final battle.

    Cyberpunk has always been counter to the prevailing ideology of the time, and now that mainstream has become more depressed, it's interesting that Matrix has become so uncharacteristically half-full.

  9. I still believe that STD is a crime against humanity and everyone involved should be brought to The Hague.

  10. New trek is for idiots who just want more explosions.

  11. Don't forget that there was a "horror" in the time before "The Next Generation," as demonstrated when Q takes the appearance of a Grand Inquisitor from that time.

    1. Maybe they predicted Trump...

    2. The Q Continuum was Roddenberry's Secular Humanist swipe at the Abrahamic God, and a very apt and humorous one too.

      1. The Q Continuum was Roddenberry's Mister Mxyzptlk.

      2. To this day I argue that the Q Continuum is probably one of the greatest storytelling additions that there is. Q was a remarkable and fascinating character.

        1. I'm not going to say that you can't tell some interesting stories by throwing in a nearly omnipotent deus ex machina occasionally. But that's essentially what Q was.

  12. Oh where to start? STD is pure woke garbage and distorts what Star Trek was all about. The original series best episodes were based on Western Myths and the concept of Heroic Men. This "diversity" crap came about later in the 70's when Roddenbery was short of cash and trying to drum up support anywhere he could find it. Read Shatner's books "Star Trek and Star Trek Movie memories." Kirk/Bones/Spock were classic men of Greek and Roman myths. Liberty, duty, freedom, sacrifice and good old red blooded American manliness drove the series. This woke POS where leadership, quick decision making, command structure is missing might appeal to the "soft viture signaling" wimps but honestly it sure isn't Star Trek. More like "cultural appropriation" with a good dollop of white male bashing. I'd like to see an episode where this joke of a woke Captain meets Khan...ha ha ha

  13. Everything woke turns to shit.

    1. Yep...it does

  14. "Much of the first season's serialized storyline focused on a conflict with the so-called "Mirror Universe," a lawless parallel dimension"

    Full stop. Say no more. Sounds awful. No thanks.

    1. Well, it's not even original. TOS had an episode where the characters interacted with their evil dopplegangers from a parallel Universe. In the parallel Universe, barbarity and betrayal were the rule, Spock had a beard, and everyone saluted with a right-handed extension of the hand like You Know Who Else.

      1. And the point of the episode was that the good guys could function and even triumph in the bad universe, but the bad guys were hopeless losers in the good universe, on account of good actually being superior to bad. Bad was missing something important, good had the complete package.

        1. Like it is easier for someone of the Right to understand the arguments of the Left than it is for a Leftist to understand how a conservative thinks.

        2. That ain't nothin. You need to check out the last two episodes of ST: Enterprise. Evil parallel universe Jolene Blaylock and Linda Park: Smokin!

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  16. Discovery doesn’t present the utopia of The Original Series, true. But it does something more important: it models ethical, self-sacrificing behavior even in the face of fear and loss and despair. “No matter your shame,... find a way to help.” And: “No, we will not take shortcuts on the path to righteousness. No, we will not break the rules that protect us from our basest instincts. No, we will not allow desperation to destroy moral authority.” That’s how to achieve utopia for ourselves.

  17. 'the first three seasons of Star Trek: have too often seemed tied down by storylines that might have more in common with real-world politics of the 21st century rather than the unbridled optimism that was such an important part of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's original conception "

    Cut them some slack- this season is less cheesy than the 1968 debut, and far less so than The Cheese Wheel Of Time

  18. Roddenberry is rolling over in his grave 🙁

  19. Star trek is a good season. I really enjoyed while watching this season. I watch it at: https://apkpicker.com/ultra-iptv/

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