The course “Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology” asks me to do a media analysis. Or – write about Star Trek. The latter interpretation is much more interesting 🙂
The question posed is:
“Which pilot, best adresses the contemporary societal issues from when it was produced while taking the most advantage of the television format on which it was shown? Rank the episodes you watch in mumerical order, where 1 is the episode that best answers the question prompt.”
- The episodes are:
- “The Cage” – TOS (first pilot)
- “Where No Man Has Gone Before” – TOS (second pilot)
- “Encounter at Far Point” – TNG
- “Emissary” – DS9
- “Caretaker” – VOY
- “Broken Bow” – ENT
- “The Vulcan Hello” – DIS
Before answering, it might be worth noting, that watching Star Trek from outside the US, actually makes it a bit difficult. What were the contemporary societal issue in the US in 1987? And how does that relate to “Encounter at Far Point”? Those of us living in the rest of the world (96% of it) do have a pretty good idea about the current societal issues in the US. And as a die-hard trekkie, it is pretty easy to figure out what they were. Just look at the issues treated in Star Trek. On the other hand – those are the issues that we notice today, and might reflect the issues that we today think are important, were important, should be important, or should have been important.
Anyway, here goes.
- Discovery. Women, women everywhere! An issue that is clearly perceived as important today is female underrepresentation in media, and other places. The gender-atypical name “Michael” of the protagonist also speaks to the societal issues of trans-rights, and we finally saw a gay couple on-screen in Star Trek.
- TNG. Not quite yet out of the cold war, humanity is on trial for our past transgressions. We are being held accountable for our wrongs, by an omnipotent being. In a post-apocalyptic setting, after a nuclear war. I would say it adresses the fears of war and the growing awareness of environmental disaster.
- DS9. The first black captain! Also religion is treated quite different from what we have previously seen.
- ENT. My best guess is the race-issue. We are confronted with a very different culture, that is, to some extent a threat to humanity. At the same time humanity is put in is place, or rather tried to be put into our place, by a superior race.
- TOS. “Where no man has gone before”. A black woman in command! A person of, probably, japanese descent, presented to an audience that must have grown up learning that Japan was an existential threat to the US. Both on the bridge, in positions of relative authority.
- TOS – especially “The Cage”. To be honest. To cerebral. The only issue I can find is the female number one.
- VOY. A female captain. Feminism takes center stage in Star Trek. But last on my list, because we have already seen strong female characters in all the previous series, at times where these issues were, or perhaps should have been, more pressing.
As to the use of the television format. I do not really see a difference between the series. All of them where first broadcast on a single channel, and then went into syndication. Even Discovery is basically broadcast on a single channel. The main difference is that we do not have to tune in at a certain time, but can watch the episodes at our leasure. That might make it easier to gather new audiences. The main difference is probably that the way the stories are told, streamed or not, has changed. The long story archs gives room for more character development, compared to the more episodic storytelling of previous series. But that change began before streaming. Enterprise has long story archs as well, as do DS9.