From the New Frontier to the Final Frontier: Star Trek From Kennedy To Gorbachev
- 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. 19-35
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Film & History, Vol. XXIV, No's. 1-2, 199419 From the New Frontier to the Final Frontier: Star Trek From Kennedy To Gorbachev Rick Worland In 1962, two weeks before John Glenn orbited the Earth in Friendship Seven, scientist Werner Von Braun was scolded by a woman for his space work: 'You folks ought to stay at home and watch TV like the Lord intended for people to do'.1 Today it seems difficult to imagine life without Star Trek. While the original series continues as a syndication war horse, two spin-off programs, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, prosper in the ratings, six theatrical films have been produced, and Paramount will begin a Next Generation movie series in late 1994, initially uniting the casts of both old and new TV shows. A third series spin-off, Star Trek: Voyager, begins in early 1995. Indeed, Star Trek has become an expanding, freefloating post-modern text that has proliferated simultaneously as original fiction, comic books, computer games, toys, and numerous other licensed products including Christmas tree ornaments, the last very nearly elevating Star Trek to the realm of the sacred. The show's popularity is led by, but is not restricted to, a core of devoted fans whose activities, including writing amateur fiction and organizing conventions, have become the paradigm for "fan culture" which has received intense scrutiny from journalists and academics. Thus the immensely popular text of Star Trek has thrived through nearly thirty years of rapid, often tumultuous changes in the society that originally produced it. As historian Richard"Slotkin and others have argued, the major terms of a coherent mythic system such as the American Frontier Myth-itself highly germane to Star Trekonce , established and disseminated, are varied, even reversible, permitting a wide variety of permutations, uses, and implications.2 The enduring popularity of Star Trek is illuminated through the varied sources of American historical and cultural mythology it evokes and negotiates. Throughout the twentieth century the Frontier Myth and American science fiction have enjoyed a closer ideological kinship than has been generally recognized.3 Star Trek explicitly connected with the Western in the opening title sequence which defined outer space as "the final frontier." The metaphor's attractiveness here is enhanced Rick Worland is an Assistant Professor of cinema at Southern Methodist University. His teaching has included courses on the Hollywood Studio Era, Film Theory, Documentary, Film Genres and the Films of Alfred Hitchcock. His current interests include the relationship between popular media and social history of the Cold War era. 20 Worland / Star Trek From Kennedy to Gorbachev by the limitlessness of this particular frontier, one certain to remain open forever. During Star Trek's original production in the 1960s, more direct impetus for the popular generic shift from the Western to science fiction was provided by the national prestige and public attention devoted to the manned space program that culminated in the first lunar landing in 1969. The conception of Star Trek as a latter day successor to the Western was consciously articulated by Gene Roddenberry who described it to network programmers in 1960 as "Wagon Train To the Stars."4 Yet Roddenberry also acknowledged a debt to CS. Forester's Captain Horatio Hornblower novels, which describe the exploits of the captain and crew of an eighteenth century British naval vessel. "Hornblower In Space" was an alternate designation for the series indicating that, in addition to scientific exploration, starship Enterprise frequently acts as a powerful gunboat in the service of a vast socio-political organization, eventually known as The United Federation of Planets.5 "Wagon Train To the Stars" (the Western) plus "Hornblower In Space" (romantic tales of the British Empire) combined to make Star Trek a distinctly American parable of international politics and domestic social issues of the 1960s. The Cold War Context Originally telecast on NBC from 1966 to 1969 at the height of the Vietnam war, Star Trek allegorized the geo-political Cold War conflict: Captain Kirk and the Federation represent America and "the Free World" locked in Cold War struggle with implacable ideological enemies-the Klingons and Romulans-analogous to the Soviet Union and Maoist...