I went to see the new Star Trek movie Into Darkness last night, and whether you love Star Trek or think it’s for detached & delusional weirdo’s, you can’t but acknowledge the enduring allure of the characters that Gene Roddenberry conceived. The basis of Star Trek’s appeal lives in the interplay of logic & emotion as personified by Kirk and Spock, which is something that I wrote about in my book Second That Emotion. Here is a brief extract from the book on this topic:
In Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock was engaged in a continuous joust with William Shatner’s Captain Kirk, who was determined to have him set aside logic and follow an emotional path, exhorting him to use his “human side.” Gene Roddenberry’s Spock—supposedly based on legendary police chief William H. Parker whom he had revered while with the LAPD—was forced at the end of most episodes to accept the emotional nature of humans and simply work around our shortcomings.
The recent success of the 2009 Star Trek movie, starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as the young Kirk and Spock, demonstrates the enduring fascination we have with the characters as well as the central narrative exploring the tension between emotion and logic.
Into Darkness will prove to be a massive success, as predicted no doubt by Epagogix, the data company that most studios use to gauge the appeal of screenplays, in part because it employ’s Star Trek’s lead characters to expand a narrative that is central to the American psyche today.
In a recent talk that Dr. Bob Deutsch, the noted Cognitive Anthropologist gave at Publicis Kaplan Thaler he made an observation which has stayed with me, and which I believe helps to explain the enduring sense of unrest and dissatisfaction which is evident in many parts of U.S. society today. He opined that “America hasn’t recovered yet from 9-11 because at a stroke we went from being on offense, to being on defense….and America doesn’t know how to play defense”.
It is true, the natural condition of America in our folklore is to be the leader, the bold one, the pioneer, and to do so with confidence, certainty and yes swagger. After the previous administration first took the fight to the Al Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, they were then distracted in Iraq. The result has been a gradual resurgence of Taliban influence, not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan where their terrorist campaign undoubtedly had some influence on the recent election.
The Obama administration has felt distinctly ‘Spock-like” in it application of logic & caution, seeming to lack the balancing influence of Kirk’s bravado & swagger. Even the ultimate location and assassination of Osama Bin Laden didn’t provide the feeling of having returned to offense that we hoped it would, while the administration’s response to the almost universally accepted evidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on its own people, has looked at best timid and at worst callous.
As a society we feel frozen, and every time Congress fails to agree to act on something the vast majority of us want, and the country needs: whether it’s investment in infrastructure, incentives for small business, gun control, or immigration reform, we feel stuck in reverse and firmly on defense.
And perhaps the enduring appeal of Star Trek that has been so brilliantly contemporized by director J.J.Abrams, is the picture of two different belief systems acting together with mutual respect and purpose, boldly fighting those things that threaten what they hold most dear. As long a Kirk & Spock are playing offense together we’ll keep watching, and wishing that real life mirrored science fiction.