Monday, July 11, 2016

Sulu's Dark Side of Half Moon

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” ― John F. Kennedy at Rice University, September 12, 1962

Immortalized as classic TV, Star Trek (1966 - '69) and its optimistic opening phrase “Space: the final frontier...” was a veiled reference to JFK's New Frontier ideals of a fair and inclusive society. It was the definitive sci-fi program (stylistically years ahead of the tastes of its meager original audience). Under the guise of fictional 22nd century space explorers, the show dealt directly (albeit subtly) with highly-charged social issues. Recall that the 1960s was the Civil Rights era. As an example, the program made commentary on evolving race relations with “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” In season three, episode 70, a pair of two-toned, hate-filled humanoid characters are the last survivors of their kind. One is black/white face right/left, the other is the same—colors reversed. For 50,000 years one has relentlessly chased the other. In the story their mutual journey ends in isolation—and certain death on their nuked home planet. (Produced today might the two “space aliens” be portrayed with black and blue color schemes representing Black Lives Matter and the recently slain 5 Dallas police officers?)

As Star Trek traveled the cosmos (the creative landscape of the writers' imaginations) Jack Kennedy made the real-life determination that Americans would be the first to journey to the moon. This 'one great leap for mankind' was accomplished during the Apollo 11 mission when the Eagle lunar module touched desolate terra firma on June 20, 1969. However, Star Trek did not fare so well. Its “five year mission” was cut short after only three seasons (canceled by NBC for low ratings). Synchronistically, Star Trek's TV life span mirrored the brief three years of “Camelot,” the nickname of Mr. Kennedy's presidency (due to his assassination in Dallas on November 22, 1963).

Today, finding universal acceptance of biological differences like skin color and sexual orientation seems more difficult than JFK's realized dream of moon walking. Star Trek, in its own way, was similarly groundbreaking. Specifically, the first interracial kiss on TV occurred between Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and humanitarian lothario Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) modeled on JFK. Let's just say that Captain Kirk seemed to have a comely, scantily dressed new female at every port of call. And related to this “smooch heard 'round the world,” Mr. Shatner rakishly insisted on a script change so the glory would be his rather than Spock's (Leonard Nimoy). Thus, he boldly went (on TV anyway) where no man had gone before.

Warp speed to America of 2016. With interracial marriage commonplace—and gay marriage newly legalized—what's the big deal that one of the signature characters will be openly gay? In the appropriately named “Star Trek: Beyond,” the third installment of the movie franchise (re-imagined with a new cast), doesn't such a thematic change rightfully pay homage to the spirit of creator Gene Roddenberry's original show—and inclusive sensibilities? Isn't this just a simple substitution: sexual orientation for race? Surprisingly, not everyone is creatively on board. Ironically, the person opposed is now openly gay actor George Takei who played navigator Hikaru Sulu in the original series.

Mr. Takei came boldly out of the celluloid closet in real-life in 2005. Why can't today's fictional version of Hikaru Sulu do the same? Played by John Cho, his take: “This movie is going to be coming out on the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the 50th anniversary of paying tribute to Gene Roddenberry, the man whose vision it was that carried us through half a century. Honor him and create a new character. I urged them. He [director Justin Lin] left me feeling that was going to happen.” Well, precisely. How is it that Mr. Takei has gotten everything so entirely backwards when saying, “Unfortunately, it’s a twist of Gene Roddenberry’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.” Sorry Georgie! As a Hollywood veteran, he knows very well there are no creative sacred cows—for better or worse. An example of better was the superior reboot (read: story, acting, special effects) of the brilliant “Battlestar Galactica” (2004-'09). In this update Lt. Kara “Starbuck” Thrace featured a thematically complex female (Katee Sackoff) in place of the unremarkable male version (Dirk Benedict) in the original. On the other hand, inevitably there is worse. Does anyone seriously believe that an all-female team of “Ghostbusters” is really a good idea?

The original Star Trek portrayed a fictional Kennedy-style Utopian society aspired to. Today's Star Trek feature films reflect today's reality of a widely tolerant America that has—in great measure—arrived. On screen, as in real-life, the journey to universal acceptance of difference steadily continues. Notable tragedies like Orlando and Dallas are manipulated and spun by the propagandist MSM as generalized American “intolerance.” Similarly, anarchist movements like Black Lives Matter are wrongly highlighted for a polarizing political effect beneficial to progressives who lead by social division. Yet, to any clearly thinking person, the violence and the killing remain exceptions to the rule. Optimists see the truth: the normalcy of open minds, everyday courtesy—and shared grief in the loss of innocent lives. Ultimately, love overcomes fear in the same way that light overcomes darkness. And as Star Trek aficionados well know resistance to certain things—like reaching for the stars or accepting diversity—is indeed futile.

Twitter: @DavidHunterblog

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