Long time readers of this blog know that I am no real fan of Star Trek. So, it might surprise people to know that I think that Picard, the most recent entry into this long franchise, may conceptually be the best that has ever hit the screen.
Since its premiere, I have listened to fans of all stripes whinging about various aspects of the show. The two most prominent are the overt criticisms of Trump and Brexit (confirmed by actor Patrick Stewart) and the abandonment of Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic, utopian vision of humanity’s future. Ironically, I think both of these are actually the strengths of the show (although both are probably unintentional). This is why I hedge my praise of the show with the word “conceptually.”
Let me explain. Star Trek was always a humanist propaganda tool. It posited that if we could just adopt the right world view, humanity could overcome all of the basest instincts of human nature and stick a fork in the ideas and conflicts that have plagued humanity since we were self-aware. The problem I have with this is that it is wildly unrealistic. It fails to understand that those base instincts are baked in and that they will destroy every single human endeavor regardless of how noble it may be.
The Mosaic Law proved this reality long before humanism ever became a thing. The Law has no salvific value. Rather, it demonstrates that we are incapable of saving ourselves by strictly following any kind of law or order. We will always fall short and fail. The only hope we have of overcoming evil and sin is God.
So, when Picard tried going after Trump by painting the Federation as a xenophobic fascist state I actually was intrigued. While I think criticisms of Trump as a racist and a tyrant are misplaced, lazy, and get in the way of more constructive criticisms of the man and his policies, I don’t think they are misplaced when it comes to the realities of what the Federation would probably have to look like.
Humanity has tried imposing utopias before. They have always devolved into authoritarianism. As the OT points out, we are incapable of living up to any lofty standard demanded by a utopia. Thus, it requires an iron fist to make people toe the line even in the face of a reality that proves the absurdity of the utopia.
Thus, Picard, rather than being a criticism of current political events, becomes an internal criticism of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision. It transforms the entire canon from a naive but hopeful humanist vision of the future into propaganda films shoved down our throat from an authoritarian regime that wants us to buy the lie that it isn’t a xenophobic dictatorship.
Thus, all of the various inconsistencies with canon that cause cognitive dissonance within the mind of those used to the propaganda are fair game. For example: Romulus was never the massive empire we were led to believe. If it were, they would have had the technology and resources to save themselves without the intervention of the Federation. So Picard’s rescue mission reveals the lie.
I don’t know if this concept will hold true for the rest of the show, but conceptually I think this is the best thing to happen to Star Trek since it got a second pilot.
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