Star Trek The Next Generation speaks to me now more than ever. And it should for you, too.
The image of the Starship Enterprise, so impossibly futuristic and symbolic of the great hopes of the future, flashing past at warp speed is something that has truly stuck with me for decades. In 1987, when this show was first aired, there was a sense that the future was going to be positive and optimistic, and that humanity would ascend to the stars and shake off our current limitations in society.
Since as a kid watching this show on my grandmas old cathode-ray humpbacked tv, in her kitschy and inescapably baroque home in Haberfield, I always yearned to live on the Starship Enterprise and to be counted as one of its team and to be a part of this world which promised so much for the future.
As much as the technology in the forms of improbable starships, phaser weapons or replicators that could produce any type of food one would want were alluring, it was really more the social concepts that have stood the test of time and left a mark on me since adolescence.
The future as I was growing up, held so much promise, and beckoned for me. I grew up in the 1990’s. It was a time of optimism, and the expectation that the future was going to be great, and a place almost within our reach. The Sydney Olympics were years away, in the then awe-inspiring year 2000. The future felt as though it was just over the hill, and it would be a bright, modern and vibrant place. We would live in a world of peace and It was a place removed from my reality, but somewhere out there, almost able to be grasped, and that I felt it would slowly coalesce and appear. Star Trek The Next Generation came to embody what I believed in for the future. That humanity would surpass the need for greed, warfare and monetary gain. Poverty, rampant and exploitative capitalism and discrimination would be relegated to the past as barbaric.
The Federation in Star Trek came to symbolise for me all the things I had hope for the future of humanity. Things like the common good. Working together to achieve greatness. Humanity being able to overcome greed, avarice and selfishness. To see beyond our own prejudices and own selfish needs, and to want to succeed and prosper by bettering ourselves for society, not for material gain or the attainment of status or authority, but solely for the sake of it. The societal norm and status quo is to want to improve yourself, which thus would improve the world around you. This very ideal of enlightened egalitarianism, and the ‘good’ of humanity evolving to become enlightened beings that had no need for trifles, status or even money would be the baseline and the bedrock of the future society that Star Trek the Next Generation would portray. And it was something that left a mark on me to this day.
It was a message that was intoxicating and full of ideals and optimism. This was a tv show that gave me a glimpse into a world, or rather an entire galaxy of possibilities and potential for all of us to become or achieve whatever we wanted in life. A true meritocracy. And, in hindsight, a society built upon the very ideals of what we would identify as, yes, Socialism: working together for collective prosperity, and the obsolescence of private ownership and the need to attain status as well as the concept of rugged individualism. Money simply no longer existed, as due to the rise of technology and limitless energy, material goods inherently lost any value. A post-scarcity society. It helped form my politic, in which I fervently believe humanity can and must surpass the limitations of capitalism and scarcity, and we can only do this with the application of technology, working together as equals and the willingness to understand that our world is finite, and not simply a resource to be wasted.
I fast fell in love with this program. I loved the characters, I loved the ship itself, and the general ‘look’ of the show. Bright spandex uniforms and all. It let me escape my world which I didn’t really want to inhabit as a child. This show helped my imagination grow and become verdant with endless possibilities; it took me away from the mundane simpleness of suburban and familial life… I was enamored with so many aspects of this show growing up. The characters, in the for their time outlandish yet smart-looking crisp uniforms. Even the way the Starship Enterprise looked, with its updated [again, for the time] interiors, replete with pastel coloured bulkheads, indoor plants abound in living spaces and hallways, and a bridge that resembled more a Hilton hotel lobby than a military ship would ever. I loved this idea that the interiors resembled more a luxury hotel than a naval vessel, as it showed that form is just as vital as function, and that technology had reached a point where design and form were as equally important as function and utility. Hell, there was even a Counselor on board, a telepathic one at that, which speaks volumes of the era this show was produced in. Only A Trek show produced in the 1980’s would ever perceive there being a need for a counselor on board a starship, nonetheless give her a seat next to the Captain himself.
It was this idea that the Enterprise was more than just a military vessel that attracted me. It was for all intents and purposes a small city in space. I loved the fact that there were families with children on board the ship. I remember wishing I was one of them.
I feel that now, more than ever, we need programs like this. Adolescents especially need to be shown that humanity can indeed be a force for good. Like I was, at a younger age. Not to mention the fact that the future can be and hopefully will be a place and time of enlightenment, advancement and egalitarianism. As much as I love a good dystopic tv series or film, I feel that we as a society need to understand that we can achieve fantastic and miraculous things, that the future can indeed be a bright place, and doesn’t have to be analogous to the acid-rain strewn, dark noir neon-lit world of Blade Runner. Not every character has to be filled with contempt for the world, jaded and bitter or worse yet have ulterior motives that will ultimately harm others.
EDIT: Since writing this post, NASA has revealed that a star system 40 light years to our solar system has been discovered, with 7 possible life-harbouring planets in this single system. This shows just why we need to have programs and literature and narratives like Star Trek, as we as humans thrive on discovery, exploration and ultimately, trying to understand our universe.