LOOK­ING BACK AT WHERE MAN HAS GONE BE­FORE

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - INTERSECTION -

THE orig­i­nal turned 50 last week. For that kind of mile­stone cel­e­bra­tion, you usu­ally forgo the full slate of can­dles on the cake and make do with one each for past, present and fu­ture. Some­how that seems per­fect for since this iconic TV series is such a time-warp­ing mix of all three.

THE PAST

As a kid I watched Star Trek in syn­di­cated re­runs, which aired five days a week, right af­ter school, for years. (That was about as bingey as you could get in the 1970s.) Since only 79 episodes of the orig­i­nal series were made, they ended up re­peat­ing reg­u­larly. (Yay, Mir­ror, Mir­ror! Oh no, Spock’s Brain!) With­out even try­ing to be a Trekkie, I saw ev­ery episode again and again.

The 1966-69 series has re­cently started stream­ing on Net­flix and CraveTV. Re­turn­ing to the USS En­ter­prise af­ter a decades-long gap, I was struck by how much of the show was im­printed on my con­scious­ness.

Many of the sto­ry­lines came right back, but mostly it was the lit­tle things: the shoosh-shoosh of the doors, the sparkly, spray-painted foam rocks, the jagged, an­gu­lar mu­sic that plays in the scary scenes.

It’s re­as­sur­ingly easy to pick up where I left off in grade school.

There’s a friendly fa­mil­iar­ity to Leonard (Bones) McCoy’s out­raged sput­ter­ing, Mr. Spock’s quizzi­cal raised eye­brow, Capt. James T. Kirk’s habit of tak­ing off his shirt on the flim­si­est of pre­tenses. (“I see you’ve man­aged to get your shirt off,” Dr. Lazarus/Alexan­der Dane says in 1999’s Gal­axy Quest, a deeply af­fec­tion­ate Star Trek spoof.)

THE FU­TURE

In some ways clas­sic Star Trek is hope­lessly, hi­lar­i­ously retro. Cer­tain things that must have seemed trippy and for­ward-look­ing in 1966 now look quaint. Con­sider the tech­nol­ogy — so many blink­ing lights! — and the ridicu­lous women’s out­fits, which are like the “sexy Hal­loween cos­tume” ver­sion of a Starfleet uni­form. (Wear­ing ny­lons in the 23rd cen­tury — now that’s dystopian.)

But the show also built up a com­pelling vi­sion of the fu­ture, com­bin­ing lib­eral ide­al­ism and space-age op­ti­mism with a be­lief in the ba­sic good­ness of hu­mankind. Think of all those episodes in which earth­ling qual­i­ties dis­missed by an­droids, alien over­lords and Mr. Spock as weak­nesses — our ir­ra­tional loy­alty, our stub­born hope­ful­ness — are re­vealed as strengths.

And, sure, the lead char­ac­ters might have been white guys — and, um, a Vul­can — but 50 years ago it meant some­thing to see mul­tira­cial and multi­na­tional crew mem­bers such as Sulu, Uhura and even Chekov. (In the freeze of the Cold War, mak­ing a favourite char­ac­ter a proud Rus­sian was ac­tu­ally a pretty big thing.) It sug­gested big­otry and war would one day be bar­baric his­tor­i­cal relics.

THE PRESENT

In the im­per­fect uni­verse of 2016, Star Trek can come off as corn­ball es­capism.

All that peppy pos­i­tive think­ing looks a lit­tle naïve when stacked against the dis­mal teen-slaugh­ter­ing dystopia of The Hunger Games fran­chise or the bril­liantly dark Black Mir­ror, a Bri­tish sci-fi series whose view of near-fu­ture tech­nol­ogy is so ter­ri­fy­ing you want to throw away all dig­i­tal de­vices and crawl into a cave.

But maybe we need a lit­tle Trekkie boost at a time when the pop-cul­ture di­ver­sity con­fi­dently launched in 1966 re­mains frus­trat­ingly stalled out; when our pub­lic dis­course is so po­lar­ized, ugly and di­vi­sive; when our pol­i­tics are in­creas­ingly driven by hate-mon­ger­ing mega­lo­ma­ni­acs who wouldn’t look out of place as dis­em­bod­ied heads float­ing on the En­ter­prise’s viewscreen.

The orig­i­nal Star Trek cel­e­brated the best of hu­mankind, of­fer­ing 50-minute glimpses of a pos­si­ble fu­ture where we’ve tran­scended our worst in­stincts.

That fu­ture still seems a long way off, but maybe the show’s hu­mane and hope­ful heart can give us some strength to face our present fights.

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