Technological Utopias: The Future of the Next Generation
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 24, Numbers 1-2, 1994
- pp. iv-18
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Photograph courtesy of Paramount Communications Inc. AU Rights Reserved. 2 Braine / Technological Utopias Technological Utopias: The Future of the Next Generation F.S. Braine "The Enterprise is...a symbol of the vast promise of technology in the service of humankind. On Star Trek, we've tried to show technology not as important in itself, but as a tool with which we humans can better reach for our dreams." - Gene Roddenberry1 "...technological futurists in the last hundred years have mythologized the future, inventing an America that is harmonious and affluent because of science and technology. This vision of the technological future has resonated in American culture precisely because the actual technological changes of the last century have been accompanied by so much privation, conflict, and dislocation. The future became a fun-house mirror image of what existed in the present." - Joseph J. Corn2 "You're not prepared for what awaits you." - Q to Captain Picard in "Q Who?" on The Next Generation* Introduction By the time of the premiere of the second Star Trek series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, in September 1987, Star Trek had become a certifiable cultural phenomenon, a uniquely American synthesis of popular adventure, enthusiastic futurism, and social commentary. Set 80 years after the voyages of the original Star Trek series (which aired between 1967 and 1969), the new show inhabited the same pleasantly progressive future, with its optimistic view of humanity and its technical prowess, respect for the individual and tolerance for difference, as well as earthling imperatives of expansion and discovery. But the future had been refurbished. Gone were the mini-skirted space stewardesses, the Styrofoamplanets and flimsy props, the overwrought theatrics and stock characters (a sort of commedia dell'arte meets Space Patrol) -that endeared the original Star Trek to millions. The original Enterprise, a spartan ship, had been replaced by the "galaxy-class" Enterprise D, a technological marvel with all the comforts of home. Its 24th century crew, calmer and more professional (both in attire and demeanor), was also a more politically correct mix. The ship's captain, Jean-Luc Picard, a seasoned Starfleet veteran in his fifties, was F.S. Braine is an environmental planner with E.E.A. Inc. in New York who writes on environmental issues and film. Film & History, Vol. XXIV, No's. 1-2, 19943 diplomatic, erudite, and patrician~a far cry from Captain Kirk's younger, more impulsive adventurer. The first Star Trek series is a classic artifact of the 1960s, in political tone, social concerns, sartorial standards, and casual sexism. The show, originally conceived of by Gene Roddenberry as a "Wagon Train to the Stars,"4 was grounded in many of the American myths of that era that were shortly to self-destruct, most notably the Western and the New Frontier. Star Trek also reflected an aspect of America's self-definition that dates back to the 19th century: technological futurism or utopianism, which had been given new life in the Space Age of the 1960s. Drawing from the 18th century ideal of the progressive idea of history,5 this ideology envisioned a "perfect" future made possible by technical invention. While the first series established Roddenberry's prophecy of humanistic technology, it is The Next Generation that refines and elaborates the American fantasy of the technological future, with all its attendant anxieties. (Roddenberry and his associates wrote the "bible" on The Next Generation, but it was younger group of writers and producers that brought the show into the 1990s.6) The first series presented its science as essential, yet secondary in dramatic importance to the Cold War dynamics and social relevance of its plots. The Next Generation, beginning its seven season run (September 1987 to May 1994) at the end of the Reagan era, features a galaxy where the old world order had broken up (the Klingons had become Federation allies), and encounters with the alien typically required the tact and forbearance of UN peacekeepers, not military response. In The Next Generation, technology moves to the fore, reflecting the advances in computers, telecommunications, medicine, etc. that were altering daily life in the 1980s. The show revels in its futuristic...