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February 1999, Week 4


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John Dougill <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 19 Feb 1999 14:21:15 +0900
text/plain (88 lines)
I'm very grateful to the list for the suggestions where to look for ideas
regarding Star Trek.  From what I was able to read, I have put together the
piece below for my course on multiculturalism for Japanese students.  Their
English and background knowledge is limited, so the piece is of necessity
oversimplified.  If anyone has the time or interest, I would appreciate
feedback regarding errors or omissions since I am by no means a Trekkie and
cannot claim expertise.  Thank you in advance....
John Dougill

An ideal future
Star Trek started as a television series in the late 1960s.  It presented
life in the 24th century on a spaceship called the Enterprise.  The ship's
purpose was to explore the universe - 'to boldly go where no one has gone

The Enterprise had a multicultural crew.  Among its members were people
with American, African, Scottish, Japanese, Russian and even alien
backgrounds.  Next to Captain Kirk (William Shatner), the most popular
character was Spock (Leonard Ninoy) with his pointed ears.   He was only
half-human and thought in a purely logical fashion.

The diversity of the crew was an important part of the programme's
philosophy, as its creator Gene Rodenbery made clear.

"Intolerance in the twenty-third century?  Improbable!  If man survives
that long, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential
differences between men and between cultures.  He will learn that
differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting
variety, not something to fear."

Star Trek started during the time of the Vietnam War and explored the
problem of conflict between different cultures.  The policy of the
Enterprise was 'cultural noninterference' - respect for other lifestyles.
Violence was only used when there was no other option.

The show had a sense of optimism about the future.  Life on the Enterprise
is almost utopian - the crew share everything and work as a team.  There is
no money or greed.  Despite their differences, the crew live together
without friction.

Star Trek became a huge success and some of the phrases became well-known
sayings - Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his command 'Beam me up,
Scottie,' for example.  Fans of the series were known as Trekkies and
studied the programmes in depth.

After the original actors retired, a new crew was put together in a series
called The New Generation.  This featured Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart)
and included a blind man who uses a visor to help him see.  There is even a
former enemy from another species, a Klingon.  It shows that the 'inclusive
family' on the spaceship is willing to accept members from all backgrounds.
In this respect it is like an ideal version of a multicultural America.

The first Star Trek film was made in 1979, and over the next twenty years
there were eight more.  They mixed action, humour, imagination and special
effects.  One of the best was Star Trek: First Contact (1998).  This
featured the Borg, part-human and part-machine, who have the ability to
control minds.  They want to take over the universe - 'Resistance is
futile,' says the Borg queen (Alice Krige).

The film highlights the difference of 1990s Star Trek values from those of
the 1960s.  In place of 'cultural relativism' is universalism - the idea
that some things are unacceptable even in a different culture.  For the
moralists of the 1990s there is only one acceptable way of thinking
(sometimes described as 'politically correct').  Prejudice and
discrimination, for instance, are considered bad regardless of the time and

In First Contact the Borg threaten to 'assimilate' all other forms of life
into their own culture.  Their method is like brainwashing.  Should they be
allowed to continue?  The answer for Captain Picard is clearly no.

"They invade our space, and we fall back.  They assimilate entire worlds,
and we fall back.  Not again.  The line must be drawn here.  This far and
no farther."

Respect for other cultures has a limit, it is suggested.  Too much
toleration can lead to the acceptance of evil.  Multiculturalism therefore
reaches an ironical conclusion - those who do not accept differences are
themselves not acceptable.  In First Contact opposition involves the use of
violence, but there is another way too - the power of love.  This can be
seen in next week's film, As Good as it Gets  (1997).

Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite