Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Stardate: -716000

Would it make too much mess if I picked apart a sentence?  The theme this week is 'space' and I can't think the word without it being pestered by its fellows, ':' and 'the final frontier'. 

It's quite economic, as sentences go.  And it's a metaphor.  It reminds me of the way Sir David Attenborough describes locations in his voiceovers: The Sahara: a vast swathe of scorching earth.  Or Antarctica: the planet's ice box.  Something like that.  But the Star Trek quote is more evocative than that.

Being an American TV series which started in 1966, Star Trek was riding on the tailcoats of the great Westerns.  Bonanza was the top rating TV series that year, and had been for the two years before.  It was also the year that The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was released in US cinemas. 

The American Frontier, that push westwards, since the 17th century, of Americans as they spread across the continent, was still fresh in the imagination.  New territories, ie farmland as yet unclaimed, became almost impossible to find after the 1890s.  By the 1960s the Americans were reminiscing fondly about the days of outlaws, goldrushes and, before the truth of the Trail of Tears was widely known, their dominance over the American Indians.

In 1966, the US space programme was also at the forefront of imaginations.  They had yet to walk on the moon, but the Project Gemini took astronauts into space for longer and longer periods and Project Apollo was costing the modern equivalent of $205billion with the aim of putting the first men on the moon.  Three years later, it would succeed.

Roddenberry's intentions behind the TV series are crystal clear in those first four words.  He saw space as the new Wild West and Americans as THE human race.  In the future, he imagined, John Wayne would ride through the stars, an outlaw captain writing the rules and disobeying authority, finding love on every planet and outsmarting every menace. 

This concludes my examination of that short metaphor.  And it goes to show just how much cultural punch you can pack into a few carefully chosen words.  Poetry: cultured concentrated.

Captain James T Kirk

John Wayne



Christo said...

It really amuses me that producers of original Westerns and then The Final Frontier copies went for non-actors who just happened to "look right".
Both John Wayne in his many cowboy roles and then Captain Kirk at light speed were amongst the most wooden role-players ever to make it to the screen.
The later Star Treks began to understand that such key roles require actors with gravitas such as Patrick Stewart, from a classical stage background, and to understand too that good character actors were required in supporting roles to manage the quirkiness of crew members from other planets.
I do think that Star Trek was a pioneer in introducing mixed racial casting, and giving women a more prominent role than merely being William Shatner's eye-candy.