May 11, 2009

Star Trek and humanity

I went to see the new Star Trek film today, which just made a big box office splash. I won’t spoil the details of the plot, but I do think that it is interesting that the “logical” Vulcans are shown to exhibit a deep reverence for their ancient traditions and customs, of whom their elders are privileged repositories.  The Vulcans obviously view themselves as a people tied together by particular folkways, as opposed to deracinated and atomized ratiocination machines (i.e., they are not a race of Mentats). This is natural, science fiction might place more emphasis on plot & world creation than other genres, but at the end of the day the characters need to be deeply human so that those of us living in the present can relate to them. Despite its post-World War II Modernist aesthetic and secular humanist ethos in many ways Star Trek is about stone age minds flying across the universe at warp drive. Additionally, it seems that the non-human species exhibit more cultural “thickness” than humans, perhaps due to the need for viewers to be able to see ourselves in alien flesh. It is perhaps an irony that in the Star Trek universe it is Homo sapiens, who seems to have transformed into a race of altruistic U.N. peacekeepers, are the most alien to moderns in sensibility.

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