Sure, it’s campy and cornball sometimes, the uniforms are pure comedy, and Shatner is an epic ham. I actually didn’t like it very much when I was young. I saw Star Wars before I saw Star Trek, and so Trek always seemed kind of boring and talky and cheap looking to my younger self. It wasn’t until I got older – after The Next Generation had run its course – that I was able to appreciate what TOS has accomplished.
It’s smart. (For TV sci-fi of the day.) It’s reasonably grounded in science. (For TV sci-fi of the day.) It’s amazingly tolerant and optimistic and forward-looking. (For almost any Sci-fi. Always with the dystopias, these Sci-fi writers.)
But the one thing that took me a long time to accept about the setting was Roddenberry’s idea that money wouldn’t exist. He insisted on a future where there were no longer haves and have-nots, and as a shortcut to that goal he just waved his author’s wand and said money was no longer a thing. (After all, if money exists then what’s to stop one person from getting a whole bunch of it, or another person from running out? And if that happens, then we lose our quasi-utopian future.)
The problem is that it’s pretty darn hard to imagine a world with no money. We can dream up a world where travel is instant. We just make a cardboard set and write “Transporter” on the side. Boom. Now you go from A to B instantly. Done. But we can’t make a box for the technology that will replace money because we can’t picture how that would work.
To be fair, it’s not Gene’s fault he doesn’t know how to magically solve our arguments over money. He just wanted to show a world where – one way or another – those arguments no longer existed. But it did create this odd effect where we couldn’t talk too much about the day-to-day life of the average Earthling, because we couldn’t ever go into detail about how they pursued their long-term goals.
This was probably for the best. This forced the writers out into space where they wouldn’t stumble over these problems, and kept our focus on the “strange new worlds” thing. For someone who is always nitpicking and demanding explanations for thingsMy constant question of “BUT WHAT DO THEY EAT?!” is nearing catchphrase levels this is occasionally hard for me to accept. But I think it’s a big part of the soul of Trek, and makes for a better show.
When you get right down to it, a lot of stories revolve around acquiring, protecting, and holding resources: Food, bullets, land, gold, medicine, technology, etc. Individual A wants something and B doesn’t want to surrender it, so conflict ensues. It must have been a monumental pain the the ass to keep the writers in line, because “lack of resources” is an easy motivator for a writer to use.
DISCLAIMER: This is not an invitation to talk politics. I know how some of you are really eager to praise or curse capitalism, and you’re just looking to a fig leaf of an excuse to do so. Not here, please. Let’s keep this focused on the problems of writing fiction when you’re not allowed to talk about fundamental aspects of the world.
My favorite bit on the original series is the Tasteful, Understated Nerdrage video where MrBtongue talks about the core of TOS being Spock (pragmatist) Bones (idealist) and Kirk (opportunistOr maybe hedonist.) who formed a three-man decision making team. The “strange new worlds” formula was perfect for a show that wanted to introduce some seemingly intractable problem and have the characters puzzle their way out of it while offering different viewpoints and staying true to their individual values.
MrBtongue claims the show was a good Socratic Exercise. I don’t know if that was always the case (a lot of the episodes were straight-up adventures, and you could even argue those episodes were the best ones) but it’s just the sort of thing I look for in a sci-fi story. You either postulate on some future technology and how that would shape our lives, or you take a modern-day problem (euthanasia, violence as entertainment, political corruption, warfare, colonialism, racism, ugly mass media) and examine it in a personally un-threateningTo the viewer, I mean. We threaten the hell out of the characters. fictional setting. It lets us ask questions and play around with ideas that would be absurd or uncomfortable to consider in the real world.
There are a lot of arguments about the difference between “science fiction” and “science fantasy”. These arguments generally revolve around how well the technology is explained or whether or not they use space-magic. But I find it much more useful to split things up by whether or not it works as a Socratic exercise regarding ourselves or our technologyOf course, the MOST useful distinction to make is between “stuff that sucks” and everything else.. Trek doesn’t always do the Socratic thing, and even when it does it’s sometimes preachy, confused, and ham-fisted in its conclusions. But when it works, it really works, and gives me a kind of show I can’t find anywhere else.
 My constant question of “BUT WHAT DO THEY EAT?!” is nearing catchphrase levels
 Or maybe hedonist.
 To the viewer, I mean. We threaten the hell out of the characters.
 Of course, the MOST useful distinction to make is between “stuff that sucks” and everything else.
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