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What will Discovery say about contemporary america?

It is often noted that nothing ages quite as badly as science fiction. You can always tell when a science fiction film was made, not only from the ideas in the plot, but from the mise en scene. This is especially true of Star Trek. Each individual Trek series is a product of the period when it was made, and the characters within them can be shown to represent contemporary values. By and large, each crew reflects society when each show was made and first aired. The Original Series thus reflected cold war America: it had a strong, white male leading figure; around him there were a variety of figures from diverse backgrounds, trying to present a future where barriers of gender and race, so dominant in the sixties, were no longer such a social force. But the crew were nonetheless always subordinate to the white male, reflecting the racism and sexism of the time; the utopian vision of the future still held in check by the dominant values of the day. The dynamic between the impulsive captain and the cool, logical science officer reflected the tensions between head and heart in sixties america, allowing the show to enter into and comment on contemporary debates. The show thus reflected the concerns of the day, the crew playing out social tensions, with the domineering Klingons a constant menace.

The Next Generation likewise reflected the time when it was produced. It was very much a product of the eighties and early nineties: old enemies had become allies, but there was still a tension there. There was still a strong white male central figure, but he was less dominant and more likely to accept the opinions of others (although the occasional 'Make it so!' wasn't out of the question). The crew reflected the social values of that period; women were in positions of authority; hell, they even had a counsellor on the bridge. There were still threats, but they were more prone to be overcome through diplomacy, reflecting an eighties optimism and belief in the power of negotiation.

Similar things can be said of the next three Trek series: Deep Space Nine was all about political intrigue, backstabbing, and not knowing who to trust. It was a lot more interested in political complications, the relations between peoples, and an america which was no longer quite as secure about it's place in the world. Voyager, I feel, was less overtly political and less complex, yet still about re-finding one's place. Both these series, it must be noted, had captains who were not white male. Sisco was a strong, complex leader, war-weary and grieving the loss of his wife; Janeway, I must admit, never really chimed with me, and frankly just struck me as inept.

I never really got down to watching Enterprise, so I don't really think I can comment on it much. I was at university when it first aired. I have seen a few episodes so I know roughly what it is about, but I don't know it as well as, say, TNG or DS9. However, I know that in one of the later seasons of Enterprise, earth was attacked unpovoked, and the rest of the series was largely a response to that attack. Obviously this arose out of a reaction to 9/11; earth is a stand-in for America and the conflicting urges and dilemmas it went through after the attack.

Thus we can broadly see how the various trek series reflect the times at which they were being made. This begs an obvious question: how will Discovery reflect our current epoch? It was recently announced that the new Trek series will start airing on Netflix in September. I would be fascinated to see how it mirrors our own time - how will it handle Trump, for one? What will it say, if anything, about america's diminished role in the world? How will it's crew reflect contemporary America as it now sees itself? If Trek series do indeed reflect the times in which they were created, then it will be intriguing to see how america currently sees the future, especially it's own future where it is trying to retain fading glories, trying to stay the world's foremost superpower. How will reflect it's current leader, and what will it say, if anything, about being lead by a buffoonish egomaniac? I suppose we just have to wait for it to come out, but it will be fascinating to see how Trek changes, once again, to reflect these modern times.


[Edited 21/06/2017 at 17:34:26 - added a bit]
[Edited 22/06/2017 at 10:49:03 - added a bit]

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