Progressivism Beamed Out

Energizing Box Office Profits

The latest movie in the Star Trek pantheon is a thrilling action adventure in outer space. Cinema audiences will get their adrenaline rush, but action-packed science fiction with laser destruction and theatrical explosions are common fare, and other than directing a box-office hit, the heralded J.J. Abrams has not put his name to a distinguishable film. While following the typicality of so many other action-adventure films, a familiar theme is missing from the movie Star Trek.

In the 1960s, the TV series Star Trek presented viewers a progressivist future wherein humans had overcome poverty, racism, and war. Some progressives even considered Star Trek to be a pareconist future. ((Matt Grinder, “Unofficial Economics of Star Trek.”)) This is, however, decidedly not the case as a starship is a hierarchical and not an egalitarian workplace.

Many of the episodes focused around ethical challenges that confronted space explorers of the twenty-third century. Viewers saw captain James Kirk and Mr. Spock grappling over whether to arm one side in a conflict against another side that were being armed by an enemy race (“A Private Little War”). In “A Taste of Armageddon,” Kirk advocated non-violence:

We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands. But we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers; but we’re not going to kill today. That’s all it takes: knowledge that we’re not going to kill […] today…

Episodes dealing with moral dilemmas continued into the twenty-fourth century. In Star Trek: Voyager’s “Death Wish,” captain Katherine Janeway is asked to consider an individual’s request for asylum so he may commit suicide. In “Scorpion,” weapons of mass destruction are abhorred.

Star Trek: Voyager’s “The 37s” explored solidarity. The crew of Voyager was given the choice of staying on a habitable planet, which appeared much like earth and had, in fact, been “seeded” with humans from Earth. The choice was an important one because if too many crew members elected to stay on the planet and start a new life, then the remaining crew that wished to return home might be insufficient in number to fly Voyager.

During the early voyages of the starship Enterprise, the episode “Bound” explored the issue of obedience on the most recent of the Star Trek TV runs: Star Trek: Enterprise.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s “The Way of the Warrior I” is an antiwar episode. The Klingon warrior Lt. Commander Worf stands by the principle: “Starfleet will not participate in an unprovoked invasion.”

In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Drumhead,” a struggle takes place over protecting human rights in the face of fear.

There is little difference in the substance of the current film Star Trek and the previous film Nemesis. The disappointing Nemesis was directed by Stuart Baird who, like Abrams, was unfamiliar with the Star Trek universe. Nemesis was an action-adventure good guys-bad guys flic with a villain from the Romulan Empire, but it did raise the specter of cloning technology gone awry.

The latest Star Trek is a story of vengeance, of mass murder by the Romulan Nero who searches the stars for Mr. Spock in a spaceship that looks like an agglomeration of bull kelp. The film was replete with typical musical flourishes designed to add oomph, but these were so overbearing that this viewer was irritated and distracted from the on-screen action. The storyline even warped to the extent that Vulcan children revealed racism toward the mixed-blooded Spock — a highly illogical behavior.

So why the absence of a progressivist theme in Star Trek?

Is it just applying a successful money-making formula to draw in fans? Probably.

Has Star Trek departed from its early progressivist visions? With sufficient hype — and, after years of dormancy, Star Trek was ripe for hyping — the storyline of phasers firing, photon torpedoes launching, weapons-of-mass-destruction destroying, and planets exploding is a formulaic box-office draw. Nonetheless, one movie review lamented the “mere 3 explosions, [as] an unconscionably low amount for such a big movie.” ((Kyle Buchanan, “Summer Movie Explosion Preview Spectacular!Movie Line, 13 April 2009.))

Writing and producing a script that appeals to the moviegoer’s intelligence is much more challenging but maybe less lucrative, and it is profit that keeps Hollywood movies being made — not critical accolades.

As a movie franchise, it appears that Star Trek has gone fully for fast-paced thrills to please moviegoers. The numbers indicate the film is a box-office success and has guaranteed a second movie with the same crew.

There is talk also of a Star Trek TV series being revived as well.

Action films that keep the viewer in perpetual suspense are highly entertaining, but some viewers yearn for more. This writer hopes that any future TV series will preserve the dynamism but also engage its audience with episodes exploring, for example, the depths of humanity, moral dilemmas surrounding the Prime Directive and cherished principles of the Federation, and progress toward egalitarianism in the future. In this way, Star Trek might recapture the progressivist attraction of the earlier series and appeal to the sanguinity of many viewers.

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.

20 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Dawson said on June 15th, 2009 at 10:15am #

    J.J. Abrams is an idiot. Gene Roddenberry’s heirs — as if they aren’t already rich enough — are simply cashing in. This “revival” is all over children’s TV as a toy and fast-food marketing vehicle.

    Did you notice that Spock also yells in this movie? That is simply not something Spock would do, ever.

  2. rg the lg said on June 15th, 2009 at 10:20am #

    [I must be ever so careful. It seems that if my opinions do not match those of some of our readers, they take it upon themselves to point out errors. Maybe I should write the responses, then carefully edit them?]

    My take on Star Trek (not promising spelling or grammar perfection):

    In the empire we like to see good guys (us) against bad guys (them). We like to see a few good guys blown up, that is the way things are … but what we really get our rocks off on is blowing up whole planets of ‘others’ … just like at home …

    The original Star Trek came at a time when it was fashionable to be progressive. Now it is not. That means the Star Trek franchise is ‘a – changing’ with the times.

    Of course there would be racism … it has become fashionable to be, not racist, but to look for evidence of racism. Racism is no longer a ‘bad thing.’ It has become ‘the way we are.’ Thus, to reinforce the American need to feel OK about our imperial selves, the Vulcans had to be ‘superior.’ Thus, mixed race/species Spock was not treated well … which is tacit acceptance our own racism. It is also acceptance of bullying. We, as a nation, are bullies. Our high schools and middle schools are replete with cliques … each with its own mentoring teachers or coaches assuring students that it is OK to put down others (generally based on the cliques within the community). Locally our football program is sacrosanct … students can lie, cheat, steal, drink, use drugs, probably even rape under the guise that ‘boys will be boys.’ Cheerleaders have a cheering function and a ‘ride along to be ridden’ function with the football team. Parents look the other way … some anticipating as early as a girls birth her role in keeping morale (and certain body parts) up and satisfied.

    Ethnic minorities are either good guys, ie, athletes, or subtly encouraged to drop out. Why have ‘those people’ around if they can not perform for the entertainment of the masses. Let them work in the dairies or in the oil fields, or at Wal-Mart!

    Grades are based on the cadre a student is ‘with.’ And that is the way it is.

    Before some sanctimoniously ass decides to degrade the public schools, the private schools have other gateways to assure that they are ‘pure.’ We don’t have a private school locally … we don’t need one … we have a built in system to assuring the separation of the ‘good’ from the … well, you know … those others.

    Of course we appreciate egregious violence as a society … look what we did in Vietnam? I was there. People at home were against the war, not because we were pounding the place unmercifully and murdering Vietnamese, but rather because there were ‘American boys’ dying. Talk about racism? We don’t care about the Iraqis or the Afghans, or the Paks … they can die by the millions … and that is fine … but let just a few of ‘our boys’ die and guess what? We have an anti-war movement!

    Am I cynical? Yeah … and progressivism assumes that things are supposed to ‘get better.’ Well, sometimes getting better means that someone else must suffer … and thus why we, as a society love capitalism and capitalists so long as we, individually are getting better … not because any of us give a rats backside about equality.

    Think about it … we sold a fairly equalitarian Articles of Confederation down the river because it did not protect property … chattel or otherwise … and then bitch, not because capitalism is unfair, only that we are on the wrong side of the wealth equation …


    RG the LG

    I really do not mind criticism of what I say … but niggling about a spelling error or some grammatical snafu is just plain stupid!

  3. Tennessee-Bolivarian-Marxist said on June 15th, 2009 at 10:54am #

    Many Hollywood Movies like Star Trek, Star Wars, first person shooters like Shoot’em up, Libertarian individualist movies like The Brave One, Death Sentence, are a copy of USA society as a whole. And indeed, USA as a whole is a culture of fake-stuff, of lights, action audio and visual stimulus a lot more than printed material. Besides Americans have become so desensitized to every thing that Americans are addicted to this visual and audio oriented society.

  4. HR said on June 15th, 2009 at 10:59am #

    Hey, folks, and article writer, Star Trek is a bunch of movies and TV programs, ENTERTAINMENT DESIGNED TO MAKE MONEY, nothing more, nothing less. “Progressives” spend far too much time whining about corporate media and making mountains out of molehills.

  5. rg the lg said on June 15th, 2009 at 12:44pm #

    Have you read Joe Bageant … he refers to our society as a hologram.
    I suspect he is far more correct than not …
    Really? Ya think?
    And how to you make money in our hologram? By reflecting back what people WANT to see of themselves …
    That is why Darth Vader is so popular … he appeals to the imperialist in all of us! The federation be damned!
    That is why we call our system capitalism … it capitalizes on the base … on the worst … not on the best. Sadly you, along with the rest of us, over-simplify!

    RG the LG

    Come to the dark side … we have cookies!

  6. lichen said on June 15th, 2009 at 2:09pm #

    I don’t believe that star trek was ever ‘progressive;’ it presents an emotionless, uncreative, militarized society going around policing outer space in political formations mirroring those on earth at the time, i.e. US and anti-communist allies were ‘good,’ while the soviet union was ‘bad,’ and neither side realized they were both trash…as for there being no racism, that is quite funny. Furthermore, the show was full of irrelevant masturbation, as if people in the 23rd-24th century would still be talking about 1950’s television and shakespeare. Of course I haven’t watched the movie, and I don’t care about star trek, or tv in general.

  7. joed said on June 15th, 2009 at 2:28pm #

    interesting isn’t it, how the newest Star Trek Series “Enterprise” had many years of tv and film experience behind it and could have portrayed the human effort to confront the unknown(space) as a challenge and adventure not unlike the earlier Star Treks. But, what did you end up with in Enterprise? the only moment i tuned in Enterprise the captian was telling some one(an allien?) about torture and how sometimes torture is necessary to get to the truth. well, fortunately for my well being i expected the skipper to say stuff like this. so i just bid good by to the past and realized that the bad guys did indeed win and you amerikans let them win.
    oh, and thanks for the FREE SPEACH ZONE here at DV.

  8. HR said on June 15th, 2009 at 3:43pm #

    rg the lg, thanks for making my point. Progressives waste their time with ridiculous analyses, of nothing, that go nowhere. That’s why no one takes them seriously.

  9. Michael Dawson said on June 15th, 2009 at 4:58pm #

    HR, nobody said Star Trek was anything but an entertainment.

    But we lefties go to the movies, too.

    When we do, often a part of our enjoyment of something like Star Trek at it best (the top original episodes, plus the whole TNG series) comes from its emphasis on the values we like and believe in.

    When pricks like JJ Abrams come along and wreck that, I for one like to hear and talk about it.

    There is a place in the world for left-wing movie reviews.

    If that bugs you, ignore them. As you say, it’s not Earth-shattering material.

  10. joed said on June 15th, 2009 at 5:00pm #

    Mr. HR, I know one Progressive you would be a fool to not take serious. So, your sweeping generality is not to be taken seriously, or are you serious about that. because, relatively speaking, you sir are very very Progressive although you are probably not aware.

  11. HR said on June 15th, 2009 at 7:35pm #

    Oh, joed, please don’t hurt me. And just keep guessing about whether I’m aware or not.

    Michael Dawson, then why an entire article devoted to analyzing it here? A total waste of time. I once considered DV a place to get information that was useful. If I want movie reviews, there are better sources.

  12. joed said on June 15th, 2009 at 7:55pm #

    Mr. HR, sorry if I sent the wrong message–I have no intent to hurt. but, being serious does not always mean someone has to be hurt. being serious sometimes means people suspend their disbelief and enjoy a film or even a live play. now when limbaugh fans listen to limbaugh they don’t suspend disbelief–no they don’t! but if they were critically thinking, aware people they would. and they would see the hate and venom he spews and creates. the suspension of disbelief plays a large part in theatre–in fact if an actor is killed filming a movie it is usually considered an accident. but surely, one doesn’t have to be Progressive to know this. One only has to be willing(and able) to suspend disbelief. go ahead HR try it, it’s easy and you do it all the time anyway.

  13. HR said on June 15th, 2009 at 8:39pm #

    joed, gee thanks for the instructions on how to perceive entertainment. I had no idea.

  14. Hue Longer said on June 15th, 2009 at 8:43pm #

    lol…good article Kim

    I can’t let go of NFL football but I should…You can’t let go of Star Trek but you should.

    I don’t watch TV (I watch NFL on-line) and don’t go to movies. I’ll go to the video store once a month to stare at boxes hoping to find something that won’t offend my intelligence and usually walk out with nothing. There are some I DO like (just saw the Pilger doc, “The War on Democracy”)

    In remembering any title of any entertainment (books, movies, TV) I use to enjoy and respect before I changed (I hesitate to say “became aware”…I’m working on it all the time), I mostly find serious fault in the work but more in my thinking they were important to begin with.

  15. Alex said on June 15th, 2009 at 9:17pm #

    It appears as though most of the content on this page is negative. There have been significant advances in human morality over the last 2000 years. For example, I believe that when John Adams took office it was the first time power changed from one party to the other without violence. Furthermore, there are larger and larger zones of peace. It would be unthinkable that war will break out in Western Europe, yet that area has been a conflict zone for almost 2000 years, same with North America.

    Not only that, who said war was a bad thing? Is a wild fire a bad thing? War is the greatest driver of human invention and progress. The fear of death is the greatest motivating factor.

    Not to sound disagreeable, just my two cents.

  16. phuque yew said on June 15th, 2009 at 9:26pm #

    Are you that obtuse? Like Fox, ABC, HBO, NYT, and myriad other “mainstream” and “conservative” media outlets don’t waste our time on drivel? Like the Congress of this country doesn’t waste almost every moment on pomp, ceremony, and absurd circumstance? Why the fuck did you write in here if we’re wasting your time? ASSHOLE!

  17. joed said on June 16th, 2009 at 4:55am #

    yeah! HR, why are you wasting your time with star trek.

    Alex said, “Not only that, who said war was a bad thing? Is a wild fire a bad thing?” pretty obvious that Alex don’t live in Oakland, CA. or Sequoia.

  18. bozh said on June 16th, 2009 at 6:40am #

    so, to you “most of the content on this page is negative”. Why not wrong or right? And if much of what had been said heer is wrong, point to us what is not true.

    comparing fires with wars might be like comparing birth pains with torture at gitmo.
    in short, torture 1=torture 2 or disaster 1 [fire]=disaster 2 [ww2]
    might you not think more about your veiws? tnx

  19. bozh said on June 16th, 2009 at 6:51am #

    for world, one state solution with two cults is better than a two state solution; each with own cult.
    i am aware the nature of cults and how cultists behave. However, islam had been more tolerant of judaism than vice versa.
    The two cults in one state may or may not get along well but one wld balance the othewr out and especially when one cult wld want to nuke s’mone/s’mwhen/s’mwhere.

    however, i can espy that, or have seen for decades, that judeo-christian bloc had occluded any solution save their unstated one: probably much greater israel than even excanaan had been.

    all those people living now in New America are redpeople. tnx

  20. bozh said on June 16th, 2009 at 7:10am #

    why doesn’t US want to solve the israeli-palestinian conflict? I know, this question precedes the conclusions that it can in a blink of an eye and does not want to solve the issue at this time.

    is it because living americans are s’mwhat afraid of being branded perps of a final ‘solution’ and are hoping that in the future palestinians, hezbos, syrians, iranians do s’mthing amers get enraged about and the new generation of amers wld finally end the conflict by using WMD, etc?

    most importantly, amers enjoy peace; so, why rush? Christians support them as well. And it took euros two centuries to solve the problem in americas; so, another century or two to solve ME is just an ephemeral event.