Star Trek Has Been Cancelled
I was nine when the Star Trek Next Generation episode “Encounter at Farpoint” first aired. My father, a big fan of the original series, and I watched as Q put Picard on trial for the crimes of humanity. I fell in love at first sight. Phasers, Klingons, androids, empaths, transporters, warp drives, all powerful entities, and a bald captain -- I absorbed it all.
After every episode, my father would turn to me and ask the perennial question: “Do you know what was wrong with that episode?” I learned critical thinking at my father’s knee as we’d tear the episodes apart on science, on military protocol, and on general plausibility. Star Trek pushed me to learn about black holes, time paradoxes, relativity, and thousands of other scientific topics -- I first learned about quantum mechanics from reading about the transporter’s Heisenberg Compensators. And Star Trek gave me a dream: I was going to become a scientist and an astronaut, just like Geordi and Data.
I’m 26 now, a grad student with a growing gut, a shrinking bank account, and a hairline in full retreat. I’m not exploring the final frontier, but then again, neither is anyone else. The shuttle is grounded, so we can’t even go where we’ve gone a hundred times before. The Hubble telescope is falling apart, and we can’t get into space to fix it. The big news this year was a private plane that made it into “space” -- kinda, sorta, and only for a certain definition of space. I doubt there will be a human moon landing in my lifetime -- and if there is one, it’ll probably be a mission from China, and it’s not like they’ll be short of people.
But it’s not the present that I find depressing. It’s the future.
The future of Star Trek, the future I was raised on, was one of possibility, curiosity, and hope. We were going to overcome war, hatred, and greed to become one united human family. We’d travel the stars and make friends with hundreds of aliens. There would always be new places to explore, new things to invent, new people to meet. The blind would see, we’d all live to be 150, and you could get all the ice cream you wanted from the replicator in your room absolutely free. Nothing was impossible, and love would conquer all.
Every Star Trek series explored this basic belief, that the future would be better than the past. Deep Space Nine asked whether such a perfect future could survive the threats of war and terrorism. Voyager asked whether such future people would abandon their ideals if they found themselves far from home, surrounded by enemies, with no one to turn to for help. Enterprise asked how we could get there from here.
But we don’t get that kind of future anymore. Talk with any science fiction fan and you’ll be told how naÏve the vision of Star Trek is. Everyone knows that humans will be just as xenophobic, greedy, and hate-filled in the future as they are now (Babylon 5). In fact, it’s likely that evil corporations (Alien) or a tyrannical government (Firefly) will take over humanity’s destiny. And anyway, the universe isn’t filled with friendly aliens, it’s filled with evil, an evil that can’t be negotiated with and must be killed with futuristic weapons (Star Wars, The Matrix, Stargate SG-1). We’ll be lucky if we can just survive in the face of this all-powerful, omnipresent evil (Farscape, Battlestar Gallactica).
Next year will see the first freshman class born after the premiere of The Next Generation. What is their picture of the future? Do they feel under siege by evil forces they can’t oppose? Do they feel it’s pointless to try to change human nature? Have they already decided that peace, love, and understanding are as quaint and cheesy as cardboard boulders and skin-tight catsuits?
Enterprise will end on May 13th, 2005, and with it will end 18 straight years of Star Trek on television. But the dream will continue. Some of us still believe in a future that is better than our past, one where we unite together to explore the endless possibilities of existence. We will continue to dream of transporters, warp drives, androids and replicators. And there will always be new frontiers, with strange new worlds -- and strange new gadgets, and strange new ideas, and strange new scantily-clad, green-skinned alien babes -- waiting to be explored.
I will keep the faith. After all, in a universe where a 73-year-old William Shatner can win an Emmy, anything is possible.
Matt Alvarado is a graduate student at MIT.