star trek: the next generation

  • Someone: why is startrek pandering to sjws now!!
  • Me entering the room with a glass of fresh ice tea: every series in the star trek franchise has embraced radically progressive ideas. its simply that over time, mainstream ideals began to match theirs, until these radical ideas were nothing more than the standard. Every series from TOS to Enterprise has been met with conservative backlash and years from now, the new generation will look back at discovery and think how anyone could have possibly seen it as progressive, if not a little out-dated, the same way we look back at TOS.
  • Me, finishing my ice tea and leaving the room, but i look back and stare directly into the camera: this struggle between old vs. new transcends all barriers and is rooted in the very core of human nature. Shifting new to be our old is part of progress, it is a cycle non of us can escape.
6

It’s like every week something weird happens.

I love the Star Trek trend of characters who present themselves as loyal, exemplary members of their cultures but end up inadvertently or begrudgingly subverting tradition and becoming vanguards of major sociopolitical change.

Like we have Worf, originally introduced as this archetype of Klingon values; the guy who applies his strict honor-and-tradition moral compass to every situation, who has to be talked into bending the rules by both of his captains, whose interior design aesthetic is just knives. And yet everything he does has ripple effects throughout Klingon society. He’s the first Klingon in Starfleet, the traitorous son of Mogh, the reason Gowron has any significance at all, hell, he even becomes the deciding vote on whether to allow a clone of Kahless to become a religious figure on Qo'noS. And yet throughout all that we see him defending tradition to Alexander and butting heads with Odo on the concept of what law enforcement should mean. But when it comes to his actual effect on Klingon society, on the very definition of Klingon-ness, Worf is a revolutionary (as much as that would pain him to admit).

And then there’s Quark. He adheres so strongly to Ferengi customs, and yet he works to change them, sometimes accidentally through association and sometimes actively, through his own doing. He attributes his slip-ups in following the Rules of Acquisition to living on a station full of Federation and Bajoran ideals. But look at his family: he has a liberated feminist mother, his brother is an engineering genius and one-time union man, and his nephew is in (unprofitable) Starfleet. He claims not to respect “females,” but has relationships with Pel, Grilka, and Natima Lang (aka basically the three strongest-minded women he could possibly find) and a long-standing friendship with Dax. He defies the dogma of profit to prevent a genocide and nearly dies on a damn mountain to save a cop. And that’s not even mentioning the tangible impact he has on Ferengi politics and society through Brunt and the Grand Nagus. But every Quark episode basically ends with him shrugging and saying “I did it for the latinum”. Like NO you didn’t, bud, you’re a damn liar and also a revolutionary.

Honestly this trend applies to so many Star Trek characters. Spock (Extremely Vulcan Man feels everything deeply all the time and loves Kirk so much that he becomes a literal ambassador for Kirk’s values) Garak and Damar (spend a ton of time defending the State, then become actual resistance fighters who destroy the State to save Cardassia, as it were), even Seven of Nine could fit in this category (as someone who strives for Borg perfection but consistently undermines that goal by fighting for the individuality of herself and other drones).

This is one of my favorite things about Star Trek, because it’s an inherently complex concept but also one that rings true to anyone who both loves and critiques their home culture. Because you can do both. You can cherish some traditions and break others, because doing the real hard work of changing your society for the better doesn’t defy love for your culture, it requires it. It’s the necessary counterbalance to blind nationalism, the unstoppable force that keeps us moving forward. It’s an immensely positive, rewarding view of culture and I’m so glad that Star Trek has always promoted it.

Okay okay okay. So I’ve seen Star Trek: First Contact about a hundred times and I can’t believe I never noticed this.

So first contact with the Vulcans happens, right? The Vulcan ship lands…

Ooh look an alien. Pointy ears!

He offers what we as Star Trek fans recognize as the traditional Vulcan greeting.

Zefram Cochrane tries to copy…

Haha he can’t do it.

So he of course offers what he knows to be a traditional greeting, namely a handshake.

And ah yes, what a wonderful moment. Two cultures are exchanging greetings, learning about each other. It’s awesome.

Until you remember that Vulcans kiss with their hands.

So basically, this Vulcan offered a nice polite “how do you do” and Zefram Cochrane offered smoochies.

I really hope this came up in conversation later.