Essay on Star Trek: A Chronicle

This essay has a total of 2723 words and 11 pages.

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. An illustration is that of slashzines,
which are pseudo-condescending fanzines (which is a magazine focused solely on a cultural
obsession), which usually includes fictional homoeroticism. The term "slashzines" comes
from the way the stories are classified. For example, K/S (read: "Kirk slash Spock")
stories deal with stories of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock engaging in homosexual sex.


The original television series lasted for about three years, then fizzled out. Until the
early 1980s. Star Trek: The Movie came out at this time, right at the peak of the Star
Wars fame (the second movie of the trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back, was released in 1980,
and the final film of the saga, The Return of the Jedi, came out in 1983.) Any hint of
competition between these two thrillingly entertaining science fiction storylines would
occur at this juncture in time. The sequel to the movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,
enjoyed the same level of success that the first did, and throughout the next ten years
following this film, the Star Trek series would be reborn through the countless movies and
a resurgence of the television series.


The 1980s also saw a rather unusual phenomenon: the Trekkie convention. "Trekkies"are
people obsessed with the show and all of the paraphernalia associated with it. These
people were the true and dedicated fan base; they watched every episode loyally, memorized
whole scripts and show trivia (including personal data of the characters which had to be
fabricated by the writers because of either demand or excess creativity), bought action
figures and countless books on the Starship Enterprise and the crew (one book I recall
seeing gave a complete detail of everything on the ship, from bathrooms to living quarters
to engines to loading bays), and attended lectures and formed their own regional clubs
(also called Starships).


Part of what makes Star Trek a cultural obsession is its alluring, almost mysterious
quality. This quality is inherent in one case, because the base of the show and the
storyline covers a possible solution to the contemporary American's wonder of the great
beyond: is there other intelligent life in the universe? (A bumper sticker parodies this
as well: "Beam me up Scotty: there's no intelligent life down here.") Also, some of the
things that the show's actors do outside the show are of interest. William Shatner, the
actor who played Kirk in the original series and all of the movies, has been stereotyped
as the perennial bad actor, overacting every one of his lines. Many people can imitate and
do an impression of Kirk. Leonard Nimoy, the Mr. Spock on the original series and six
films, turned to directing, and has done quite well; a recent notable achievement was
Three Men and a Baby. (On a brief sidenote, most of the actors on the original series have
made brief cameo appearances either on Star Trek: The Next Generation as their original
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