"Star Trek": A Chronicle


Space... the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship "Enterprise." Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds... to seek out new life and new civilizations... to boldly go where no one has gone before...

The above blurb has been used to introduce the television show Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show's run has elapsed that of it's predecessor, the original Star Trek. The original spawned six movies and endless conventions, and both have given way to action figures for children, national clubs, and other various paraphernalia. This is the chronicle to end all chronicles: the full analysis and timeline of one of the most popular television programs in contemporary American history.

Americans are fascinated with the possibility of intelligent life somewhere else in the universe; this has been displayed in books and plays and movies too numerous to mention, not to mention the accounts of "everyday people" who say that they have encountered aliens and unidentified flying objects (UFOs). This fascination became so great that in the late 1970s, President Carter decided to launch an investigation within NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) to uncover the mystery of UFOs and intelligent life in the universe.

Science fiction plays upon this obsession. The great science fiction writers have sent our imaginations into overload with scores of stories to tell. The two most popular futuristic science fiction stories, Star Trek and Star Wars, both have similar characteristics. Both involve many different species of life (our nearest equivalent would be "races"). The Ferengi, Vulcans, humans, Betazoids, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, androids, and Bjorans are in the Star Trek series (which includes the original television series, the six movies, the NextGeneration television series, and the television series Deep Space Nine), while the Star Wars movie trilogy includes humans, Wookies, Jawas, Ewoks, droids, Tusken Raiders, and a host of various other strange and exotic looking lifeforms. Each species has its own heritage, customs, beliefs, and socioeconomic status. I am sure that each science fiction storyline has it's own unusual breed of lifeform, but this paper will examine only a particular science fiction storyline which has mushroomed into a cultural obsession. I choose not to focus on the works of Ray Bradbury and the like; I'm sure that they are superb writers. (A fantastic example is Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder," which is the probable predecessor to all of today's hype surrounding the film Jurassic Park and the children's character Barney the dinosaur.) However, I've never heard of a Ray Bradbury convention, or action figures based on characters he's created.

Star Trek appeared in the right place at the right time. It was the middle of the 1960s, an extremely vibrant decade which primarily transformed America from a quiet-yet-strong idealism with do-or-die patriotism to a wild and eccentric liberal age, exhibiting imaginations let loose from the taboos and inhibitions of the era of World War II and the 1950s. The 1960s are difficult to describe briefly; I'd do a better job in another whole paper. However, major contributing factors that made the 1960s what they were included Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, assassinations of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King (among others), the music revolution (which was symbolized and brought to a head at Woodstock), the Vietnam war, and the space program. Not to mention (to quote Dave Barry) 42 hillion jillion other things. But it was the space program (which was President Kennedy's dream), along with American curiosity of UFOs, that gave Star Trek a nearly guaranteed fan base.

Having completed the Mercury 7 shift, NASA was in full gear with the Gemini spaceproject when Star Trek premiered on television sets across the country. It told the tale of a time (nobody knew if it was the future, the present, or the past -- nobody knew exactly when the stories took place in reference to our time here on Earth, because the time sequences were given in a mysterious-sounding five-digit "stardate") in space with a governing body called Starfleet, and the vessel of focus was an exploratory starship named the Enterprise. The characters of the show were the ship's main personnel: Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his crew.

All of the signifiers that these characters displayed in the original series have been distorted to such a degree in certain circles that sometimes they have completely lost the original characterization of the fictional person.