by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
[T]he key to “Star Trek’s” longevity and cultural penetration was its seriousness of purpose, originally inspired by creator Gene Roddenberry’s science-fiction vision. Modeled on “Gulliver’s Travels,” the series was meant as an opportunity for social commentary, and it succeeded ingeniously, with episodes scripted by some of the era’s finest science-fiction writers. Yet the development of “Star Trek’s” moral and political tone over 50 years also traces the strange decline of American liberalism since the Kennedy era.
Roddenberry and his colleagues were World War II veterans, whose country was now fighting the Cold War against a Communist aggressor they regarded with horror. They considered the Western democracies the only force holding back worldwide totalitarian dictatorship. The best expression of their spirit was John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, with its proud promise to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
This could have been declaimed by Captain James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner), of the starship U.S.S. Enterprise, who, as literature professor Paul Cantor observes in his essay “Shakespeare in the Original Klingon,” is “a Cold Warrior very much on the model of JFK.” In episodes like “The Omega Glory,” in which Kirk rapturously quotes the preamble to the Constitution, or “Friday’s Child,” where he struggles to outwit the Klingons (stand-ins for the Soviet menace) in negotiations over the resources of a planet modeled on Middle Eastern petroleum states, Kirk stands fixedly, even obstinately, for the principles of universal freedom and against collectivism, ignorance, and passivity.