Star Trek has always been about challenging the notion of right or wrong, not taking a political stance
There’s a narrative that Star Trek has somehow “always been” political but that’s just not true. What it has been is thought-provoking.
The new versions of Star Trek, namely Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery, have rubbed some people the wrong way. That’s not to say all fans have rejected the new shows, but major fans of the franchise have voiced their displeasure with the direction and content. Accusations of the show being “too political” are being thrown around and so many fans are clamoring that Star Trek has always been political.
Except, that’s not true.
Star Trek has never taken a stance of a political party. Nor should it. Star Trek isn’t about supporting a political ideology, it’s about challenging personal ideologies. It’s a show that forces you to see reality in the shades of grey that it is, and not in the tribalistic black and white that so many fans pretend the world is.
Think about the episode “Tuvix” from Star Trek: Voyager. In the episode, Neelix and Tuvok go on an away mission, and upon returning to the ship are caught in a transporter malfunction that blends the DNA of both individuals into a brand new person. The conversation surrounding the crew revolved around whether or not to separate Tuvix back to his original makeup; something Tuvix was totally against. Captain Janeway made the decision to revert Tuvix to his original status as two unique beings instead of one, but it was never a decision that was presented as “the right” decision. Even after, Janeway was plagued by doubt she did the right thing.
A political show would embrace a “right” answer. Star Trek doesn’t do that or didn’t do that.
Another great example is one of the better episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9, “In the Pale Moonlight”. In it, Captain Benjamin Sisko makes a decision to do whatever he could (within reason) to get the Romulans involved in the Dominion War.
In the episode, Sisko enlists the help of a disgraced ex-Cardassian spy, Elim Garak. Garak schemes behinds Sisko’s back to bring the Cardassians in by any means necessary, something Sisko won’t do. In the end, Garak frames the Dominion for the assassination of a high ranking Romulan. Garak goes so far after being found out to blame Sisko, alluding that Sisko knew Garak would go this far, and that’s why he came to him in the first place.
Sisko later admits to his crimes, and admits he might be ok with everything. “…I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. And the most damning thing of all, is I think I can live with it.”
It was not a decision that was painted as right or wrong, just that it carried a toll. The series told you a story and let you decide how to react to it. That was the how Star Trek: Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Star Trek: Voyager all operated. Even Star Trek: Enterprise followed the same suit. There was no heavy-handed narratives, simply situations that caused the fanbase to talk, and listen to one another. Something we as a society seem less likely to want to do.
Star Trek taught us to challenge everything. Be critical, and look at things from multiple perspectives. To respect one another. The show was never political, but it was always meaningful. Perhaps it still is but it’s got a long way to go to get back to the once-vaunted place it so deservingly had in all of our collective hearts.
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