Star Trek was about the society we wish were encountering the imperfect society we currently are.
In honor of Leonard Nimoy, I wanted to say a few words about why Star Trek was so important.
Many of the science fiction works that have most influenced our society, like 1984, have been about warning society to avoid potential pitfalls in our future. While often compelling and hugely significant, these dystopian stories can also be very depressing. I believe, though, that most science fiction writers are at their core optimists. That is why they choose to dream of the future instead of writing about the past.
Part of why great science fiction tends toward the dystopic is that utopian societies can be boring. There is a reason why “may you live in interesting times” was considered a curse. Conflict, murder, war, conspiracies, etc., are often terrible for the real people who have to experience them, but they make great story lines.
The genius of Star Trek was that it found a way to give a broad segment of our society a glimpse of the better future we could have with technology, education, compassion and reason while still making its storylines compelling. It did this by taking our current failings and making them the failings of “aliens” encountered by the Federation.
The audience connected with the crew, which experienced these “alien” issues as outside observers. From this vantage point it was easy to see how foolish and destructive things like war and racism are. The audience would shake their heads wondering why these aliens, having been shown a better alternative in the Federation, would still let their stupid issues prevent them from becoming a more peaceful and prosperous society. Of course, it is our own struggle with these same issues that prevents contemporary society from becoming like the Federation.
Star Trek was hope. It didn’t just show us that the future can be better but showed us how to make it better.
*Photo By Paramount Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons