In my sermons “UU Visions”“ and "So You Want to Save the World,” I say that a vision of how things should be is the starting place for trying to get there. Star Trek, along with entertainment, provides one such vision. The following is an excerpt from Jessica Tozer’s post “The Continuing Scientific Relevance of SciFi” written for the Armed with Science blog.
By the time Star Trek aired its first episode in 1966, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, was already a seasoned military veteran…. He flew planes in World War II, totaling 89 missions until he was honorably discharged at the rank of captain in 1945. During that time he saw people of all types in the military, pulling together for the sake of the mission, patriotism and each other. It was this social foundation upon which he built his future military premise.
“It speaks to some basic human needs that there is a tomorrow, that it’s not all going to be over in a big flash and a bomb, that the human race is improving, that we have things to be proud of as humans. No, ancient astronauts did not build the pyramids. Human beings built them because they’re clever and they work hard. Star Trek is about those things.” – Gene Roddenberry
… Roddenberry believed that the future would have evolved as much in science and technology as it would in social reform (miniskirts and beehives not withstanding).
“If man is to survive, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety, not something to fear.” — Gene Roddenberry
Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura (in TOS), often recalls the story about the time she was thinking of quitting Star Trek to return to Broadway, and how it was Martin Luther King, Jr. who talked her out of it. A fan of Star Trek, MLK Jr. mentioned to Nichelle that her show was one of the few he and his wife would allow their children to watch, and that she was a symbol for reform and change….
So she stayed. I mean, who could say no to that?
As a result, she would go on to film the episode “Plato’s Stepchildren”, the first example of a scripted inter-racial kiss between a white man and black woman on American television.
How’s that for social change?
It was a vision of successful racial integration. Men, women of all races working together as equals….
Whoopi Goldberg asked to have her role as Guinan on Star Trek TNG. She has been quoted as saying that she too, loved Star Trek as a kid, and that the show was the first indication that “black people make it to the future”. Geordi is blind and he flies a spaceship. Worf is an alien race that was once an enemy, serving proudly on the bridge of the Enterprise. Data is an android. I could go on and on.