“At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map … I would put my finger on it and say, ‘When I grow up I will go there.'” – Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Who among us hasn’t had this exact same feeling about space? After all, space is, as the captains of the Enterprise have repeatedly told us, “the final frontier.” And yet, most of us will never go there. Most of us will never live to see the blank spaces on that particular map filled in. And so our imaginations – our vast, active, psychotic imaginations – fill those spaces with aliens and monsters and laser beams. Here there be Martians. Star Trek the television show succeeded in awakening our imaginations largely because it helped us to fill those spaces.
Launched only a few short years after men first rocketed into space aboard terrifyingly dangerous contraptions mounted atop columns of fire, Star Trek tantalized space-crazy audiences with it’s descriptions of what might lie beyond the reach of our rockets and what a future in which man could travel the vast distances of space might look like. At the time, Khrushchev was banging his shoe on the table, the Berlin Wall was still very much in place, the Soviet “Iron Curtain” even more so, President Kennedy had recently been assassinated and the threat of nuclear annihilation launched from Cuba was still a very recent memory. Popular opinion held that it was even odds whether humanity had a future at all, yet according to Star Trek, the future was the province of hope. Perhaps even change.
In the universe of Star Trek, the future belongs to peaceful, democratic Westerners. The seat of universal government is the quirky, fun-loving city of San Francisco, run by a democratically elected president selected from among one of many member races of the “Federation.” Protecting this futuristic utopia is the peace-loving Starfleet, an armada of fantastical space vessels armed with weapons of vast destructive power and manned by officers sworn to uphold a “Prime Directive” to not interfere in the cultures of other races. In effect, Starfleet is nothing less than a realization of the perfect volunteer army, commanded by the citizenry and beholden to democratic principles. The captain of the Enterprise, therefore, as opposed to other fantasy space captains like Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, is not just some space opera hero, but a gentleman, a scholar and an ambassador. In other words: the ultimate American.
It’s heady stuff. Trek appeals to the part of our souls that longs for order, and values reason. “Fuck the lizard brain,” says the librarian-spectacled temptress that is Trek. “Let me be the candy for your cerebral cortex. Take me, you brainy stud; ravage me … with your big, fat brain.”
In Issue 217 of The Escapist we’re celebrating Star Trek: Brendan Sears visits Riverside, Iowa, the “Future Birthplace of Captain Kirk”; Colin Rowsell questions the sanity of Trek fans; the developers of Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force share their post-mortem thoughts on what went right; and Catie Osborne shares her touching story of the bonds between a father and daughter, forged by Star Trek. Enjoy!