it should be 1966..

Why the "look” of Star Trek: Discovery was never going to please everyone and why you should get over it

Star Trek debuted on September 8th, 1966 and was widely held as a controversial and progressive series… for its time. I could spend hours dissecting just how racist and sexist The Original Series is, but that’s really not the point of this article.

The point of this story is that trying to keep a fandom going after more than 50 years is bound to get problematic in terms of aesthetics and continuity. Technology, fashion, makeup, and special effects have come a long way since 1966. A chief complaint of Star Trek: Discovery is that it’s supposed to be set 10 years before The Original Series, and therefore, it looks too “edgy” or “out of place” to fit in with the timeline.

I for one would have preferred a series that picked up after the events of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, but that’s not what we’re getting. And as I’m a diehard Trek fan through and through, I approach Star Trek a bit like marriage: I love the good, accept the bad, and understand that no matter how much I wish I could, there’s no changing what is. So here we go… another prequel. I’m keeping an open mind. In regards to what I think it should look like, I’m forced to ask myself: do I want something that looks like it seamlessly fits in with a “historical” account of a made up future, or do I want something that looks good and looks like it was produced in 2017 for an audience in 2017?

Star Trek has always served as a lens for the time in which it was created in terms of fashion and aesthetic. The Original Series looks like it belongs in the late 1960s. That’s because it does

Space hippies. ‘Nuff said. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation looks like a snapshot of the late 1980s and early 1990s. I’m surprised they didn’t have beige carpeting on the ceiling.

Neoprene body suits. Oh, and those leotards. Teeheehee.

Star Trek: Voyager was right at home in the late 1990s. Remember that time Captain Janeway and the gang traveled back to the year 1996 to prevent a temporal explosion in the 29th century that would destroy the entire solar system in the episode “Future’s End?” In commenting on the fashion worn by late 20th century inhabitants of Los Angeles, Tuvok even remarked, “We could’ve worn our Starfleet uniforms. I doubt if anyone would’ve noticed.”

Seriously, it looks like there was a fire sale over in the Seinfeld wardrobe department.

And so where does that leave Star Trek: Discovery? If we were going to follow the route of fitting in with the actual period it airs, it looks like it very much belongs in 2017. 

You know, 2017, where the thought of an Asian woman running shit with a black female sidekick isn’t “silly talk” and the best makeup they can come up with for an alien goes beyond pointy ears. 

But if we’re so hell bent on making it look like it could have been ten years before the beehive hairdos, miniskirts, and Beatles mania we see in The Original Series, it would probably have to look something more like this:

Hey, at least I still left room for two female leads, right? It’s so progressive! [And white]

And to follow the rabbit hole to completion, Star Trek: Enterprise, the other prequel which was set in the middle of the 22nd century, probably should have just looked like this all the time:

Archer and T’Pol: robbing stagecoaches and school marming since 2152. 

I’m 31 years old. I grew up watching The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, and I loved each of them because they spoke to real issues of the day. Each incarnation of the series almost serves as a mile marker, a perfect little time capsule to remind us of what life was like when it aired. 

I watch The Original Series and can see a world that looks like it’s on the verge of being torn apart by racial strife, fears of Communism, and nuclear armageddon. Part of what makes that series so special to me is being able to watch it with a modern eye and know that things got better. I look at The Next Generation and see themes relating to everything from the AIDS crisis to the end of the Cold War, and I think “Hell yeah world! We got through it!” Sort of. We have a long way to go, but the show reminds us how far we’ve come. Star Trek: Enterprise has 9/11 and the Global War on Terror written all over it. How things will end from that fiasco is still sadly yet to be determined.

So as a fan, I want a series that highlights life as we know it and is progressive for our time, not life as we think it should look according to a canonical pretend sci-fi timeline. If we’re really set on the idea that Discovery should literally fit a time just before The Original Series, there would be no female starship captains. In the TOS episode, “Turnabout Intruder,” Janice Lester tells Captain Kirk, "Your world of starship captains doesn’t admit women.“ There probably wouldn’t be women on the bridge at all, given that Captain Pike actually says, “I can’t get used to having a woman on the bridge” in the TOS episode, “The Cage.” It would be nice if we could have a show that both perfectly weaves itself into canon and speaks for the current generation, but if given the choice between the two, I’d take the second one every time. 

Given that there are already so many inconsistencies with canon as it is - the Klingon and Romulan foreheads look a little different with each telling and don’t even get me started on the stardates in The Original Series - can we just try to appreciate Discovery for what it is without dismissing it before it even airs just because it doesn’t fit into an ideal mold of what the year 2255 should theoretically look like according to canon? 

None of us have seen it. It might well end up being terrible. There are horrendous episodes in each series (anyone remember “Spock’s Brain” from TOS or “Angel One” from TNG?), and some series were definitely better than others. But I still appreciate each series for what it tried to accomplish, and good, bad, or ugly, I’ll appreciate Star Trek: Discovery too. I would never say you should automatically love something just because it’s Star Trek, but if you’re truly a fan, you’ll at least give it a chance

Three days after the opening ceremonies of the 1960 Rome Olympics, New York Times reporter William Barry Furlong bemoaned the tendency for female Olympians to destroy “The Image.” According to the author, The Image referred to the innate beauty possessed by petite, aesthetically pleasing, non-muscular women. In a three-page article titled “Venus Wasn’t a Shot-Putter,” Furlong complained that certain sports destroyed this natural feminine appeal, specifically admonishing discus, field hockey, shot put, and snooker pool, because in these activities the athletes’ “force of intellect—if any—was subordinated to harsher disciplines.” However, he noted that a “girl” athlete could maintain The Image if she selected a socially sanctified pastime. “Those that frolic athletically in swim suits or brief tennis skirts find it easy to preserve, not to say enhance, that Image,” Furlong explained. His disdain for women’s sports that required strength and power, such as shot put, and appreciation for those that mandated grace and skirts, such as tennis, mirrored the predominant gender ideology of the West during the onset of the Cold War.

…While the Soviet Union and the United States both propagated athletic victories as signifiers of national prowess, they diverged on the acceptability of women’s involvement in physical contests. Female athletes in the United States remained bounded by Western notions of femininity, but women in the Soviet Union were encouraged to succeed in a variety of sports. This rare promotion of female athleticism extended from the Soviet Union’s egalitarian beliefs in physical labor. Soviet women thus dominated international sport, excelling in the activities that destroyed what Furlong labeled The Image. Notably, Soviet female athletes competed unhindered—and successfully—in track and field. As male sports columnist Shirley Povich noted before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, “The Russian women indeed are favored again over the American women, mostly because they have muscles, big ones, in the places United States gals don’t want ’em.” The USSR women earned first-place finishes in the European Championships, gold medals in the Olympic Games, and condemnation from abroad.

Consequently, the gender anxieties that had previously plagued interwar track and field were amplified during the early phases of the Cold War. After witnessing the Soviet women’s remarkable achievements in athletics, the IAAF decided that all female competitors should verify their womanhood prior to competition. In 1966 the federation introduced a “nude parade,” the first compulsory sex test of modern sport. Although the desire to police womanhood was not entirely sparked by the Soviet Union’s triumphs in international sport—as illustrated by the sporadic interwar-era examinations—the rise of the Cold War allowed many to point to the USSR athletes as the sole reason for the policy’s implementation. “Let’s take a hard look at some facts,” suggested Frank True of the Sarasota Herald Tribune. “If the Commies hadn’t been guilty of substituting men for women in the first place, the new rule of the IAAF wouldn’t have been necessary.” … Encouraged but not caused by the Soviet’s victories, sport authorities grew increasingly worried that powerful female athletes in the 1950s and 1960s were either unnaturally inauthentic women, men posing as women, or dopers. Using the USSR women as scapegoats, the IAAF established tests to eliminate all three categories and delineate “true” womanhood.

Lindsay Parks Pieper, Sex Testing: Gender Policing in Women’s Sports (2016), 35-36

Writing a story set in 1967...

Suddenly remembering Star Trek ran from 1966 to 1969.

“We should go to New York,” Bucky said. “This weekend. Right now. It’ll be safer there.”

“Bucky, the investigation is here, I can’t just…” Tony spread his hands. “I have responsibilities here, as horrifying as it is to say those words out loud.”

“Just for the weekend,” Bucky said. “If we leave now we can be in New York before dinner. Come home on Sunday. I’ll drive.”

Tony stared at him for a second, then sighed.

“If we go to New York, you have to promise me you’ll tell me what this is about.”

“I will. After,” Bucky said.

“After what?” Tony asked, but Bucky was already bounding past Dummy, up the stairs to the second floor to pack. “This better be good if I’m gonna miss Star Trek tonight for it!” Tony yelled after him.