The Real Significance of Star Trek - The Star Trek Prophecy

 
StopTheWorldIWannaGetOff
 
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StopTheWorldIWannaGetOff
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14 May 2009 17:11
 

The Star Trek Prophecy

The most obvious appeal of Star Trek lies in its anticipation of human technological advancement and in its ability to entertain the dream that along with phasers and transporter beams, we may eventually acquire the secrets of our universe.

And yet the real seductiveness of Star Trek is tied up not with technology, but with its ability to predict the direction in which a new human ethic might eventually evolve: For on board the star ship Enterprise, the crew have conquered not only science but also their darkest fears, banishing feeble-mindedness, superstition and the politics of difference, in favor of logic, common sense and solidarity.

In our fictional future, human integrity has finally caught up with human technology. And although humans, at the dawn of the twenty-first century have already begun to boldly go where no one has gone before, one thing is painfully clear: while our future aboard some warp-capable star ship is almost certainly assured, our destiny as emotionally competent and worthy crew members is far less certain.

With this in mind, the question that should be occupying the minds of both “Trekkies” and philosophers alike in the second Millennium is this:

Will the Human Race succeed in closing the gap between its technological and its ethical development in time for the two to meet seamlessly, as Captain Kirk would have it?

Right now, things don’t look so good.

In his recent devastating indictment on American society, Chris Hedges notes that a massive chunk of this country has slipped so far into mediocrity that it has literally lost the ability to tell the difference between lies and truth.

“The core values of our open society, the ability to think for oneself, to draw independent conclusions, to express dissent when judgment and common sense indicate something is wrong, to be self-critical, to challenge authority, to understand historical facts, to separate truth from lies, to advocate for change and to acknowledge that there are other views, different ways of being, that are morally and socially acceptable”, are dying, he says.

On almost every subject from global warming to sexual orientation and religion, we are informed by simplistic, childish narratives and cliches that are thrown into confusion by subtelty or the invasion of alternate viewpoints. What’s worse is that even when we recognize the truth, we dare not speak it. We have become an entire nation of people dressed in the Emperor’s New Clothes.

Without clear thinking, the human race is doomed to failure - and the movie Idiocracy hints comically at where our collective future might lay - and it’s not on board the Enterprise.

 
Norbert Cunningham
 
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Norbert Cunningham
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16 May 2009 04:17
 

StopTheWorld:
As I posted elsewhere in a different forum tonight, I’ve very little use or regard for Star Trek (I’d view it as a prime example of the mediocrity and lack of deep thought you cite later on). The solidarity, tolerance etc you mention is fine, but Star Trek is still just another shoot em up, let’s defeat the bad guys hollywood movie—white hats and black hats. And some kind of warring and violence is never far away. Just how good a vision of future humanity is one that hasn’t got beyond tribal warfare?
But never mind all that. I know many Trekkies will disagree and that’s fine. I respect your views.
Better yet, I find the real point and question you raise (will we bridge the gap between technological development and our ethical development before it is too late) to be an excellent one. And your comments re Chris Hedges and mediocrity better yet! Good issues even without the Star Trek clothing.
On the first, that has to a certain extent always been an issue whenever technology gets ahead of laws or appears to present new challenges that we’ve not had to deal with before. It does work out in time, and will, I believe. I also think that while discussing it is entirely worthwhiile, we ought to be careful not to overstate the problem or panicc. Often we think or expect the worst when there is no reason to (recall the scare, now debunked, about nano particals and sludge drowning the world?). I’d suggest that it is in fact time to pay special attention to technology. Not to hinder it, but to think very carefully where it is taking us, or where we are allowing it to take us. After all, the history of technology has shown us over and over again that while it is often beneficial and positive in many ways, it can be a double edged sword. Just think “automobile” and all the issues surrounding them (from drunk driving to global warming).
On mediocrity, I haven’t read Hedges but may well look that book up, thanks for the tip. Also for this wonderful, and I think dead on, paragraph:
On almost every subject from global warming to sexual orientation and religion, we are informed by simplistic, childish narratives and cliches that are thrown into confusion by subtelty or the invasion of alternate viewpoints. What’s worse is that even when we recognize the truth, we dare not speak it. We have become an entire nation of people dressed in the Emperor’s New Clothes.

I have worked in the media for 28 years and am far from a media basher, but having said that I also sometimes despair that if our societies are losing their way, so is our media (and I think it particularly bad in television although print media isn’t immune). Childish narratives reign often. And the “invasion of alternate viewpoints” is an epidemic. . . I’d make that “invasion of alternate viewpoints, no matter how patently silly or unsubstantiated.” I’m all for a good intelligent debate! But when TV show routinely include some junk scientist shilling for an industry denying years of truly excellent science, giving the guy equal billing and bending over backwards to present this as a legitimate debate - to the point of stressing who knows who is right and by the way, what do you think? - then the media has lost its way! It’s abdicated its responsibility to check and verify fact, to present “truth” as best it can; to inform people of why some arguments have more weight than others etc. It becomes little more than entertainment. A sad day indeed! We even see it in allegedly serious documentaries on cable channels purporting to be educational. . . shows with titles like “do UFOs exist?” which present both sides as if the evidence for the contentions of both sides is equally valid. It’s all for ratings, of course. . . if you actually informed the many viewers who really really believe in little green men in spaceships visiting us that the evidence is virtually non-existent and here’s what’s going on, well, they’d lose half or more of their audience! It’s pandering. It’s showbiz. It has nothing to do with reality. Alas, it is presented as reality and somehow good journalism. It’s not. It stinks!

 
LiberalAtheistFag
 
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LiberalAtheistFag
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21 May 2009 18:36
 

I would love to respond to the notion of Star Trek being an example of cultural/artistic mediocrity, but in order to achieve a fair understanding of your context, I’d need an example of superior artistic expression in the movies and television, the venue of Star Trek.

 
Norbert Cunningham
 
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Norbert Cunningham
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21 May 2009 21:34
 
LiberalAtheistFag - 21 May 2009 04:36 PM

I would love to respond to the notion of Star Trek being an example of cultural/artistic mediocrity, but in order to achieve a fair understanding of your context, I’d need an example of superior artistic expression in the movies and television, the venue of Star Trek.

Fair enough Liberal!
First, I rather expected a lot of response to that contention (and yeah, I know it is provocative, at least would be to Star Trek fans) and it never materialized. I’m not sure what that means. Perhaps not a lot of Star Trek fans on the site.
Second, I also freely admit that I’ve never been a Star Trek fan (and I’m old enough to remember the original TV series when it first ran) and have seen nor heard nothing since to change my mind. I don’t even think it is particularly good science fiction. Then again, truly good science fiction isn’t really about the science anyway, it’s about that great broad thing we call “the human condition,” just like virtually all great literature (or original movies not based on a pre-existing work). I’ll also admit that while I can enjoy a good action sequence, I’ve no great love or need for action for the sake of action. I find Star Wars almost as simplistic as Star Trek, for example, but would give it higher marks for at least better movie making and acting over all.
Third, while I can enjoy and get into (suspend disbelief) all kinds of movies, it really helps for me if they are at least reaching for some reasonably important point, philosophy or revelation of something about our world. Working with myth, be it vampires, monsters, demons, dragons etc. doesn’t alone do it for me, however neat or good the effects and acting may be. Same for space or science fiction in movies. Something credible somewhere that is a little more than just the trite idea that people (even species) should show tolerance and work towards solidarity. Talk about a cliche! And one so broad that it’s almost meaningless. . . that’s like saying we shouldn’t beat our wives or go about killing others. . . fine, but it hardly explores the real, sometimes difficult and most interesting issues.

So. . . that said, here are some movies (in no particular order) that I think excel in various ways (I find very little in TV to be “superior” and seldom watch it, though I try to keep my eye out on what’s what lest something really good comes along. . . it is perhaps another topic, but I think TV as it exists today is one of the greatest wastes of a technology with tremendous potential that we’ve ever seen):

1. Quills - based on the ideas of the Marquis de Sade. . . good story and tremendous acting, even if it at times comes across a bit too much as a stage play rather than a movie. By the end it has you really thinking. . .
2. ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind - Both S. Spielberg pics and neither beyond criticism, but I think they merit note for being the rare space-related science fiction that doesn’t ASSUME many or most aliens are warlike and a threat to us; mere copies of the human race in odd costumes led by egomaniacs bent on universal domination. . . It’s an important point, to my mind. It’s too bad he failed so badly with War of the Worlds, his remake being considerably less than the original.
3. AI - also Spielberg and truly flawed, but I give him great credit again for exploring the issues true artificial intelligence is likely to raise with humans if and when we ever get to that point. Unfortunately, I think the tried to do too much in one movie and it got rather muddled overall, but the seeds of a great movie are there and it has some excellent moments.
4. Batman Begins and Batman, The Dark Knight: two of the best comic book based movies I’ve ever seen. And apart from technical movie making considerations and acting, I think this is so because the director (ironically, perhaps) chose to opt more for realism as much as possible with the character rather than the comic book aspects. He didn’t play it for camp as earlier attempts did and it made for much better movies and exploration of human themes. I think the first one probably did a better job overall, but Ledger’s performance as the joker was so strong and chilling, almost putting you inside the head of a psychopath that it leaves a lasting impression that’s hard to shake. . .I particularly like the fact it brought to the fore that psychopaths are not necessarily pure incarnations of evil, but rather can sound quite reasonable and logical often, before veering off into the twisted. . . they’re not all that far from us, presumably better adjusted people.
5. Phone Booth - twisted, perverted, chilling, revealing of human character and great acting. Also a smart enough director to play it for what it was worth rather than for the standard length of movie (two hours (or more, lately)) that cinemas seem to expect. Any longer and it’d have been probably been seriously weakened, if not ruined.
6. Rabbit Proof Fence—perhaps somewhat predictable, yet wonderfully made and speaking to an important topic with real intelligence. Also, it tells the story and doesn’t descend into preachiness or being didactic.


There are a few off the top of my head. It might give you an idea of where I am coming from.
And by the way. . . one thing that drives puzzles me greatly about many, many space related movies and TV shows, including Star Wars, is the tendency to dress characters up as if they walked right out of the mythical middle ages . . . ragged clothes, armour plate, chain mail, helmets that look closer to knights of old than anything 1000 years or whatever in the future. Here they have incredible technology and weapons and knowledge, and yet half the cast or more is living like it’s the 1400s. . . do the creators of these things have no imagination??? I find it ludicrous! Some of the science is pretty ludicrous too. . . but I could get over that if the stories and other stuff was better.

 
Argo
 
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Argo
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29 May 2009 00:25
 

while our future aboard some warp-capable star ship is almost certainly assured

Really?

 
LiberalAtheistFag
 
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LiberalAtheistFag
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29 May 2009 14:10
 

I haven’t really had time to consider a proper response, except to say that before passing judgment on any artistic endeavor, one must learn to differentiate between the relative merits of the work and one’s personal taste. Matters of subjective aesthetic judgment can’t really be argued, because it’s all opinion. My critique usually comes when people try to pass an opinion off as an objective assessment.

 
Norbert Cunningham
 
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Norbert Cunningham
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29 May 2009 21:01
 
LiberalAtheistFag - 29 May 2009 12:10 PM

I haven’t really had time to consider a proper response, except to say that before passing judgment on any artistic endeavor, one must learn to differentiate between the relative merits of the work and one’s personal taste. Matters of subjective aesthetic judgment can’t really be argued, because it’s all opinion. My critique usually comes when people try to pass an opinion off as an objective assessment.

I don’t argue with most of that. . . I think I indicated from the start it was my preference, opinion etc. . . . of course, there is always the philosophical question of whether objectivity can ever really be attained, but I won’t go there. I know what you mean. If I do have a quibble, it would be that even on the objective grounds, I do think a strong case can be made that Star Trek is inferior to a lot of other science fiction and space-themed movies (and my comments apply especially to the TV shows). . . its production value were low and often hokey; its special effect were rudimentary even by the standards of its day; it’s philosophy was rudimentary and shallow (mind you the early shows were written in an era when millions of people managed to convince themselves that Jonathan Livingstone Seagull was actually good literature and philosophy rather than a slightly extended Hallmark card); its acting veered towards the campy and hammy; and perhaps most telling of all, it wasn’t really as much about the future as it was about the past; and an idealized one at that! Check out those plots. . . on a world with western cowboys; on a world that was shakespearean; on a world with ancient romans or greeks; . . . and on and on it went. And of course there is the thinly veiled cold war mentality of the good federation versus evil forces. All of which is still my opinion, but that kind of stuff, I think, can be reasonably objectively demonstrated by using the generally accepted standards in each of the areas involved and a thus good or reasonably persuasive argument made. I should also note that it really is no skin off my nose if millions love the shows anyway; if it works for them, great. That said, they will get an argument from me if they try to tell me it’s just about the deepest, most significant philosophy or vision of the future or whatever that Hollywood’s ever given us. My response to that is “gosh, must not have seen or read a lot!”