The Star Trek franchise is in a strange place artistically and commercially. With the J.J. Abrams trilogy of films largely falling by the wayside due to financial problems at Paramount Pictures, the only thing fans have been able to enjoy for the past two years has been Star Trek: Discovery. Fans of Star Trek haven’t been happy with this new series. While progressive critics have come to the show’s defense, non-progressive fans of the show have largely disregarded the show, criticized it’s more overtly political elements and ignored it.

Politics in Star Trek

Star Trek has always been a fascinating gage of politics. Starting out as a utopian futurist series, Gene Roddenberry’s vision was always decidedly slightly to the left of wherever society was at any moment. This has brought about good and annoying things alike.

While the show gave us positive societal developments like television’s first interracial kiss, there are many such examples of the series delving into outright progressive activism such as Star Trek IV’s preachy anti-whaling message, Star Trek VI’s globalist themes which directly alluded to the fall of the Soviet Union and Star Trek TNG’s anti-interventionalist themes.

The recent films and TV shows didn’t initially have a consistent ideology given that they were more focused on action and character drama. Considering their violence and content though, they certainly disregarded Gene Roddenberry’s beliefs of peace and hope.

Star Trek: Beyond’s Hopeful Progressivism

Star Trek: Beyond was the first film in the series since Star Trek: TNG that actually bothered to articulate a worldview in between the Fast and Furious style action set pieces. It’s a vision of the future defined by cooperation, multiculturalism and scientism being challenged by a rabid cur resurrected from the past seeking to spark a war with the Federation to end it’s ceaseless utopianism.

This becomes more interesting in context as the film was released in July of 2016, right in the middle of the election between Trump and Clinton. That election cycle was particularly brutal but with this film we see a very clear vision of progressivism’s hopefulness. At this point in the year, the expectation was that Hillary Clinton would be the president and that the legacy of Barrack Obama’s progressive society would continue to evolve unabated into the mythical world “where the rise of the oceans would slow and our planet would begin to heal.”

The left assumed traditional societal standards would continue to break down in the face of post-modernist deconstructionism, capitalism would slowly break down and we’d get to live in the pseudo-socialist world of Star Trek. It’s as though progressivism merely perceived opposition as a gnat that needed to be swatted away to protect the glorious inevitable future.

Then the election happened.

Star Trek: Discovery

The following year, Star Trek: Discovery was released. As a show, it has a very similar setup. A group of highly militaristic combatants shows up at the doorstep of the Federation threatening war to destroy the uniquely progressive world that humanity had built up over centuries. The differences are rather striking, however.

The new show was a radical departure from the tone and style of both the previous movies and TV shows. Instead of stand-alone episodes, the first season was an entire story arc. The tone of the series was also radically altered, as the main story arc dealt with themes of war and military ethics in the face of an existential threat. The color pallet was washed out in favor of blacks hews and darker color contrasts. The story and production design reflected a more dower tone than any of its predecessors.

Among the fanbase, there have been plenty of criticisms for Star Trek: Discovery on numerous aspects of its story and production design. The Klingons look nothing like they do in any other Star Trek series. The technological development in this series doesn’t line up with TOS which is set 10 years later. Setting up a step-sister character for Spock who is never alluded to for the rest of the canon was a strange decision.

These complaints never bothered me. Star Trek has always been janky and has retconned several key story details. Consider that the Klingons got a new makeup job between TOS and The Motion Picture and the fanbase’s response to their change in appearance was to create a convoluted idea about the species developing a degenerative condition during the time jump. The truth is that they had more of a budget for the movies and wanted to improve the costumes.

What I find more interesting is the implicit meaning of the story and how the fanbase has reacted to it. Star Trek has always been liberal but with Star Trek: Discovery, the fanbase had contended that the series has become overtly and radically far left. As a conservative, I’m prone to ignoring progressive pandering in television shows. I wouldn’t have any television if I couldn’t enjoy liberal shows. For many fans however the show is pushing a lot of buttons.

The producers of the show have gone on record to say that the Klingons in this season are representations of white nationalists. With their battle cry of “Remain Klingon”, the combatants of the show are clearly intended as avatars of the most rabid and violent version of Trump supporters.

The Effects of 2016

It’s fascinating just how much the tone changed in the year between Star Trek: Beyond and Star Trek: Discovery. In that time you see the radical change from a movement hopeful about the future, worried that conservative militarism would destroy their utopia, to a bleak vision where the only way to stop that militarism is through drastic violent measures.

The bleak desperation at the heart of the show is what most bothers me about the series. There is something to be said about exploring the moral quandaries of war in the face of Armageddon. The problem is that for the writers of this show they’re already living in Armageddon. They feel like their backs are up against the wall and they have to win by any means necessary.

 

 
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