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Star Trek Morality

An interesting podcast I listened to today was an interview with a person who had been closely associated with Star Trek creator, Gene Roddenberry, for many years. She talked about how influential the original TV series and all its subsequent series and movies have been, but also commented on the many underlying themes of morality and equality which were unusual for the time (at least in the original series).

Some of the themes were disguised because of the political sensitivities of the time. Actually, they weren’t exactly subtle but apparently they were obscure enough to fool the TV executives and allow the program to be shown without interference, although an episode showing a kiss between Kirk and Uhura (she was black) wasn’t shown in the Southern states! But the woman who played the character, Nichelle Nichols, was persuaded to stay on in the role by Martin Luther King (no less) because he thought she was a role model for the black community.

So what other sorts of themes were common in the Star Trek programs? Scientific progress and how it could be used to solve problems was one. No one living in the “civilised” parts of the Universe really lacked much because of unlimited energy supplies and material synthesis technology. So the future achieved through science was positive unlike a lot of other science fiction.

Another obvious theme was the consistent examples of equality and against xenophobia. The crew of the Enterprise came from a variety of backgrounds and Spock was from another planet. Sure it was a bit biased towards males but considering the era it was quite remarkable.

Finally there was the religious stuff – or lack of it. There were gods in Star Trek but they tended to be advanced aliens (often mentally unbalanced ones) or some other natural phenomenon. And the crew didn’t show a lot of superstition or religious belief.

The original series had some other good stuff too. Apparently the “prime directive”, a rule forbidding contact with other civilisations which hadn’t yet joined the galactic community was really a commentary on the US military action in Vietnam!

Yeah sure, some of the acting was pretty atrocious and some of the stories were a bit weak, but Star Trek surely was a very influential program – especially when you understand all the hidden messages of unconventional (at the time) morality!

  1. August 5, 2009 at 11:52 am

    You think that’s good? Check out Star Trek: The Next Generation. All the subversive messages, and much better (generally speaking) acting.

  2. August 5, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Yes, I agree. The impressive thing about the original series though (apart form the fact that it was the original) was the time it was doing all these things. It wasn’t quite so difficult later on when Next Generation was made.

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