Our 21st Century Trek begins...
Sometime in the 2060s, after an apocalyptic global war, Zefram Cochrane constructs a space ship in Bozeman, Montana and tests the first 'warp drive' engine. This is moment that the fictional saga of "Star" Trek begins. Out of the ashes of a future still to be lived, still to be survived, still to be endured. Presently, we might as well still be headed for that apocalyptic future still imagined in the world of Star Trek. Whether this future history is blurred, fragmented or difficult to piece together from the perspective of the 22nd or 23rd Century, the general idea in the series originally created by Gene Roddenberry, the mid to late 21st Century is a bad place to be. Followers and fans of the series may argue about timelines and historical records, continuities and established functional, yet fictional, realities, the basic idea is there to be explored. Khan Noonien Singh, genetically engineered tyrants, the Eugenics Wars, World War III, the fascist warlord governments, drug-manipulated soldiers, the breakdown of civilization, catastrophic war, the deaths of millions of people, the future of "Star Trek" still holds a caution to our present society, and we have not necessarily moved from our course. I understand that there are those who still believe that 'progress,' even towards the pseudo-utopian world of the Federation of the Planets is moving from here and all the technology we possess without wavering, that since we have cellphones that look like 'Communicators,' and we have drones and the internet and all kinds of technology predicted in Star Trek, that we might as well be on our happy way towards their future. But we most certainly are not. Not yet.
Our civilization is still most certainly headed for the mid-21st Century horrors still suggested by the fictional world of Star Trek, regardless of what kinds of technology we have that comes from Star Trek. We are not moving expediently towards this wonderful more enlightened world of the Federation just because we're experimenting with teleportation, or photon torpedos, genetics, computers or robots. We've spent little energy in the social realm, to develop the 'civilization' necessary that can use all those fabulous toys. We face destruction still.
As I look around, right here in the fictional birthplace of where it all began, where that first Warp Flight took place, I most certainly do not see any better future developing, and I have to ask, because it seems to be that we're no longer interested in getting to any 'better' future, which is what Star Trek was all about. One look at the commercial "reboot" of the Star Trek series, and one can see it is completely devoid of that original sentiment, completely empty of the idea of striving for a better future...for all mankind. Luckily, the original recordings of the original series' and movies still exist to present those ideas, but I'm actually seeing a kind of revulsion towards it, a disavowing, an ignorant estrangement from the positive origins and foundations of this series called Star Trek. These new movies, manufactured entirely for profit have discarded not only the backstory, the background, the details, the narrative, they've discarded the ideas, themes and intentions of that series. Their success suggests to me also that people are no longer interested in those ideas, themes and intentions, what many of us know as the 'foundations' of Star Trek, and why so many of us liked it, and that this abandonment of it is truly evidence of how totally off the track our society has become. We were lucky enough to have something like Star Trek in the first place during the middle of the Vietnam War, and the Cold War, and the cultural struggles for civil rights, a kind of illustration of what could be, asking us to be better than what we are. This new Star Trek seems to magnify, encourage and exemplify the same old 'worst' in us, asks nothing of us, questions nothing about us, nor attempts to point to any kind of future that might be 'better' in any way. Yes, there will always be challenges and conflicts in our future, but Star Trek usually asked us to look to the better part of ourselves, to find ways to better respond and react to things, to reach for something better. Instead it has been transformed into a mainstreaming acceptance of the worst in us, and our technology, not a questioning of it, the 'future' society isn't much different at all than what we have, and in these films it seems people are encouraged to be the same old assholes we have been, it's essentially the same world we have now with better technology.
The shift from a larger narrative into a smaller 'soap-opera' style character focused narrative is indicative of its new foundation, it is not interested in inspiring people, it is not interested in uplifting people, it is interested only in reinforcing within the audience all their own usual desires and feelings, it panders to the worst in us, and in the guise of 'relating to the audience' for the sake of selling tickets, its "Kirk" is not only not the "Kirk" of the original series, its "Kirk" is not a step above what we could be, he's the worst of what we all are, a mainstreamed acceptance of an obnoxious, selfish, idiotic lout who thinks the universe is all about him. He learns only that because he's trapped inside a cinematic formula that he must adhere to certain character arc parameters, having nothing to do with much we actually see on screen, but that there are certain audience expectations and therefore his reactions alter over a 2 hour period but ultimately we all know he will return to the kind of arrogant fool audiences so love to see "kick ass." He's not really even a character but a caricature, but one the audience is familiar with, one that seems to coincide with marketing statistics that show that products featuring such characters sell more tickets.
Aside from the whole subject of how movies are manufactured these days, and these new remakes of Star Trek, the world we see before us is not 'progressing' and things are not becoming more enlightened, and we're not getting any closer to any kind of future society resembling anything like Star Trek whatsoever, but we are quickly heading for that mid-21st Century horror so cautioned by the narrative, in it's backstory, in this series called Star Trek.
The question is, do we want something even like that? Star Trek was nothing but a good start, but a better one than we had before, it asked us not to necessarily build its world, but to keep trying to imagine one something like it, but we've not only stopped imagining Star Trek, we've stopped imagining something even like it. We may not end up exploring space in tin cans, but we might have still found something to explore while advancing society and civilization beyond the horror show we are now currently developing into, where the poor increase, the rich become more corrupt, where war pervades, where civil rights decay, where peace is a bad word. We're not only living in a world where these terrible things seem to be increasing, we're living in a world where Star Trek is reviled and degenerated. Where its ideas about a better future are not simply abandoned but despised. Such feelings could only be the kind of feelings that lead to catastrophe so cautioned by the Star Trek narrative.
Are we really getting that bad? Are we really headed for destruction? Do we really despise Star Trek and the idea of a better future? These are questions I wish to explore in Zefram and Me. Right here, in Bozeman, Montana, in the place where it is all supposed to begin. Can this place really be where it begins? Can it be a place where hope is ignited... for all mankind? Is that too much to attempt? Is that so unlikely a possibility that all I can do is document the absurdity of such contrasting ideals that exist right here? If not the Warp Engine, could there possibly be something else, for the ideal still shines whether we end up following this fictional universe or not. Are we simply just abandoning all that Star Trek was, and shall we just detonate our world, and destroy our children for our own selfish sakes? Are we Warped out of control? Will there come such a pioneer, are there pioneers here now, will we have to wait for World War III? Can we not try something sooner? Will Star Trek be what J.J. Abrams tells us, and will its narrative forever change course? Is anyone left who remembers and tries for that better future?