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Star Trek Did Have Real Science Media Essay


When you hear William Shatner split the infamous infinitive: "to boldly go…," the mental image that is conjured up, is that of a middle aged man, in a tight Starfleet uniform, with possibly a girdle in place to keep his profile slimmer!, yet this image is one that many Americans and fans around the world love. If you go to a Trekkie convention you will see fans purchasing copies of hand-phasers, costumes for their pets, children's and mother in laws, while all the time discussing the merits of the recent Klingon translation of Henry the IV or Hamlet . For over 40 years Star Trek has enchanted audiences around the world with over 600 television episodes, , ten full length movies, books , games and computer software applications, and a assortment of merchandise. The winner of several Emmy Awards, Star Trek has enjoyed the status of being one of the most watched shows on American TV. Such is the phenomenon of Star Trek that the International Astronomical Union named a star "Roddenberry" after the show's creator...however the cultural influence of Star Trek far exceeds its ability to duplicate itself and make money for its share holders...

However are there more sinister aspects to Star Trek? There are diverse views on Star trek, and its cultural and scientific significance. It has been referred to as an example of American cultural imperialism and a political vehicle for the right wing -as being evidenced by the American cultural superiority displayed by Captain Kirk. The analogy being quite simply that Kirk is the all American white man (good guy) , the Romulans are the communist Russians ( clever bad guys) and the Klingons are the Vietnamese( subservient bad guys), Roddenberry would disagree.

Gene Roddenberry - stated that he was, influenced scientifically, politically and culturally by his close friend Isaac Asimov, who was a highly regarded Science fiction writer in his own right, as well as a Professor of Biochemistry at Boston University and a believer in socialist politics. Yet Roddenberry clearly had his own agenda, and he wanted to tell more erudite stories, using

innovative circumstances as analogies for current social and cultural issues on Earth. The show's did address the moral and social issues in the episodes, tackling such subjects as inequality, discrimination and highlighting the differences and the similarities between newly discovered species .The opening line "to boldly go where no man has gone before" was taken from a White House paper on space released after the 1957 sputnik flight. Star Trek was alone at this time, in presenting a positive image of the future when the media at this time was consumed by stories of racism, social inequalities and the Cold war. Roddenberry deliberately chose to depict many different races working peacefully together, and although set in the future, at its most fundamental level of communication to the public, the show was projecting an uncomplicated humanistic message: humanity will be okay.

This approach fits with Haynes seven stereotypes; Star Trek can be slotted into a combination of these. We see the adventurer in Kirk and Spock and the mad scientist in many of Captain Kirk's adversaries. The point is that fictional media's purpose is not to create accurate or educational communications about science; their aim is to produce images of science that are entertaining and engaging. For those that are interested Star Trek gave them the ability to further enquire and discover hard science, particularly for those that were enthralled by the idea of space travel and futuristic technology.

Gross and Altman (1993: 5) suggest, that Kirk, Spock and McCoy, the main characters of star trek, are as familiar to most Americans as Washington and Peanut Butter, and that Star Trek has become so entrenched in US culture that the first Space Shuttle was renamed the Enterprise after NASA was 'pressured' by the requests of the American public.

Writer Carl Sagan (who wrote for Star Trek) believed that a better understanding of science by the public could be facilitated through accurate depictions of science in media (Sagan, 1995) There are however various indications that Star Trek has had a lasting impact on culture and language. This can is evidenced in a variety of ways; such as the inclusion in the seminal Oxford English where both words and phrases; which were originally invented for the show are now included - Furthermore we're all quite familiar with the catch phrases from the show: "Beam me up Scottie," "He's dead, Jim," "Its life but not as we know it" "the Prime Directive," "Engage".

Yet critics often fail to recognise that the show was groundbreaking for its time. Critics who call the show naff chose to take no notice of the fact that by the standards of the day, Star Trek effectively set a standard that any new science fiction television shows or movies would have to emulate or surpass to meet the standards of Star Trek, particularly in order to be taken seriously by the ever growing, ever knowledgeable Science fiction fans. Star Trek was the first television series aimed at adults, with the aim of telling social and political morality tales, while depicting a racially equal paramilitary crew on a peaceful mission to explore and discover new life in the galaxy.

When the original series was conceived the use of 'real' scientists as consultants, was not heard off, so the imagination of its creator Gene Roddenberry was the primary source of direction and creativity. Whereas today many filmmakers can make claims of scientific legitimacy for their visions of science, they achieve this by ensuring that when they promote their films the consultant scientists who advised on set and in production are visible to add credibility. The filmmakers' need for "scientific realism" created a new role for scientists to provide scientific verisimilitude in visual fiction - and American scientists, such as Donna Cline and Steven Kutcher, have become scientific consultants to the film industry on a full-time basis.

Roddenberry envisioned a multi-ethnic crew, which was to include an African-American woman, a Japanese American, and most conspicuously, an alien. In the second season Roddenberry added a further important crew member Mr Chekov, who was Russian, this was at the time when the United States was engaged in a tense cold war standoff with the then Soviet Union. Further ethnic minorities such as black people were elevated to be scientists and doctors on the ship for the first time on American prime time.

Such is the uniqueness and cult status of Star Trek that you can switch on your TV and find reruns every day; and Holderness (1994: 15) observed that in the British Daily News papers, over the last 10 years Star Trek was cited 1,299 times, while the catch-phrase 'beam me up' was used 126 times and Captain Kirk garnered 239 mentions. Furthermore, the Internet has played host to a number of very active newsgroups dedicated to the discussion of a great many aspects germane to the Star Trek phenomenon, for example, in April 2009 29,390 messages were posted on the Internet .

Star Trek was the only Science Fiction TV show to refer too, or talk in veiled terms about the contemporary issues such as the Vietnam War; it also tackled ethical and social issues like religious intolerance and race relations. William Marshall, who played cyberneticist Dr. Richard Daystrom in the episode "The Ultimate Computer," said in an interview, "it's impossible to overstate the impact it had in the 1960s when white Captain Kirk referred to the black Daystrom as "Sir." Nor should we forget the cultural significance of the first interracial kiss between Kirk, and Uhura - was it any surprise then, that 20 years later NASA would recruit Michelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura, when they wanted to increase the applications for recruitment from within the black minorities for the role of astronauts... without Star Trek would this ever have happened?. However during her early days on the show Michelle Nichols became frustrated at her lack of lines, and was considering leaving the show. However after talking to the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., she realised that the depiction of a black woman working equally alongside white people in furthered the goal of racial equality.

 There have been many people in the fields of science and engineering that have stated that they were inspired by Star Trek; they considered the representation of science and scientists in a positive light (although the science was rarely accurate). The original Star Trek series could be interoperated as being sexist, until the arrival of Captain Katherine Janeway of the USS Voyager) however the fact that woman, and black woman were included goes some way in removing any deliberate sexist attributes, rather it can be seen as a reflection of the changing cultural and social stratifications of woman and their roles. In fact the actress Whoppi Goldberg stated that she was positively influenced by the show's depiction of women scientists working alongside their male counterparts; and the importance of seeing a black woman as an equal on the bridge of a star ship, inspired her as a young girl to be an actress. Mae Jamison, the first African-American woman to fly in space, has also said that she was fundamentally influenced by the show and the science fiction made her want to learn about space travel. Goldberg went on to have a regular role as Guinan in the Next Generation, and Mae Jamison had a cameo appearance as well. The physicist Stephen Hawking was also a fan of the show.

As an example of the American national interest in science fiction, In an interview with the Daily Mail & Guardian Online, Bobbie Ferguson, a NASA spokesperson, give an explanation why NASA's was seeking to get involved with science based fictional projects, he said... one of the things we do is try to increase awareness of space and spatial exploration . . . Right now there is a lot of interest in a manned mission to Mars. There is no official manned mission listed, but that's not saying there are not a lot of people who aren't very excited about it. I certainly think that participating in films that reach a large number of people, and that are feasibly fictional, increases the awareness of space and the future. (Ferguson cited in Dawson, 2000)

Gene Roddenberry vision was achieved with his team of writers, they started with the premise of "science as we know it", and then stretched it to fit a framework of amazing inventions and adventures creating action-filled and entertaining stories. Roddenberry did know some basic astronomy; he knew that space ships which were unable to go faster than light would take eons to reach the stars and that a situational journey story would not engage the viewing public, so he created warp drives which distorted the space-time continuum. With warp drive the ships could reach far stars in hours or days, and the allowed him the creative licence to realise Star Treks adventures. Roddenberry added pure magic like the transporter (The transporter disassembles the molecules of a person then reconstructs them again in a different location) medical miracles such as limb regeneration, and the holodeck for pure escapism, all of these were conceived and built by human engineers of the future. What these effectively did was release our vision of what might be possible, and that's one reason the shows have been so popular, escapism, and fantasy are a part of the human condition.

So in conclusion Star Trek did have real science ( occasionally) , and many of the star systems that have been mentioned on the show, such as Wolf 359, really do exist. There also have been some superb special effects depicting binary stars and solar flares which were astronomically accurate. Star trek has brought us science, some believable, some not, yet they show and it producers have never stood up and said this is fact... The fact is hard science is seldom exciting or spectacular, it takes a long time to research test, repeat and implement, and the reality of this is that it would not hold enough excitement for a weekly adventure TV show. The show is intelligently written and articulates to the public the "What if". It provides an entertaining combination of imaginary science, with a touch of real science - and is the only science fiction series that shows respect for real science and the role that scientists play in society. It always depicts scientists in a positive light, and provided a window of fantasy and escapism for the public and scientists alike. With strong moral and social overtures, it never shied away from the issues of the day, and has provided inspiration for many.

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