Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Not just a Benetton ad on the bridge

Brave New World (The Star)
4 March 2015

‘Star Trek’ went much further than any series has gone before, exploring the struggle for understanding and mutual co-existence.


I GOT a message at 2am on Saturday which said, “Spock is dead”. It was sad news for me, being a semi-hardcore Trekkie/Trekker (I really don’t care which term is used – geeks amongst you will understand).
Now, of course I am not emotionally distraught because as much as I liked Leonard Nimoy’s work on Star Trek, I never knew the man, but there is a sense of loss nonetheless, as the character he portrayed has been part of my consciousness for as long as I can remember.
After I got the news I stepped out onto my balcony, looked up to the stars and wished him well. There was a lovely half-moon with the rather odd appearance of the top part being dark. Rather fitting I thought.
Anyway ...
The geek world is generally divided into two, those who are mad about Star Trek and those who are mad about Star Wars. I like them both (although when talking about Star Wars I do not count the abominations that were the last three films), but I must say that Trek resonates more.
You see, I think Star Wars is more about the struggles of individuals.
The society within which these individuals operate are merely the backdrop and the plot merely a device with which to help the hero find himself.
Trek, on the other hand, is more concerned about the bigger picture.
Sure there were insights into the individual, with Spock being the physical manifestation of the Superego and Bones McCoy the Id, but in the background there is always a concern about societies and communities and how they interact with one another.
Much has been said about how the original series broke so many boundaries with regard to the racial make-up of the crew.
This is certainly true, but Trek went further than just having a Benetton ad working on the bridge.
It worked on the premise that the petty bigotry and prejudice on Earth may have been over, but the struggle for understanding and mutual co-existence continues, if not on the planet, then out there amongst the stars.
To make these parallels more understandable, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, apparently tried to make alien species symbolic representations of earthly nations.
Therefore, the Vulcans were supposed to be the Chinese and the Klingons the Russians. Remember, the original series was made during the height of the Cold War and thus, such thinking was quite expected.
These rather crude caricatures were refined over the years and the following series (there were four spin-off series), but the stories nonetheless still had the crew dealing with problems of culture clashes, war, moral and ethical dilemmas.
The thing about Trek is that although the problems in the series are the same or a reflection of what we see here now, the approach taken by the intrepid crews when faced with problems have generally been enlightened and intelligent, suggesting that humankind has moved forward, we have become better. That was the key hopeful message of the series.
Now, I am not one of those precious artsy fartsy type folks who think that art can change the world. I don’t believe it can.
What it can do is to give life to the intellectual aspirations that we as a species may have. Trek did just that with the noblest aspirations that we have imagined and longed for.
For playing a major part in that effort to bring those dreams to life, Nimoy will always have my respect and affection.

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