20th Century Genius Award Paper Gene Roddenberry

20th Century Genius Award Paper – Gene Roddenberry


Michael J Spindler

The authors nomination for the 20th Century Genius Award goes to Gene Roddenberry. Mr. Roddenberry s gift to the world is a message of the human condition and the endless possibilities that the human civilization holds in their own hands. Through the guise of a simple, low budget science fiction program, Roddenberry presented on a weekly basis, morality tales using futuristic situations as analogies for current problems on Earth. (Day, D) In a time when America was under going geopolitical, social, and political turmoil, Roddenberry gave his audience hope for the future and seamless direction on how to get there today.

Measuring the cultural and social impact of a TV show or event is never easy. But there are numerous indications that Star Trek has had an influence on many peoples’ lives. This can be seen in a variety of ways, from the inclusion in mass-market dictionaries of words and phrases originally invented for the show, to the testimonials of people who claim that their career and life choices were influenced by Star Trek. .(Day, D)

The reader does not need to be a connoisseur of science fiction, nor even have an appreciation for the television series Star Trek. Regardless, the readers life has been affected directly and indirectly by Roddenberry s vision. Star Trek also attracts and excites generations of viewers about advanced science and engineering, and it’s almost the only show that depicts scientists and engineers positively, as role models. (Batchelor, 1993) A generation of youth was inspired by the vision of what if? in the worlds of technology, astronomy, physics, engineering, etcetera. This inspiration led to an explosion in technological advances from cell phones to ion drive propulsion, now in use in interplanetary probes. From the 1970s to present, it was almost as if Roddenberry gave a glimpse of future technologies and how technological advances would help to push civilization forward in pursuit of a better world. Now the dream of what if? has become reality and new technologies come easier, faster, and by some coincidence in the direction for use as played out in Roddenberry s television series.

Roddenberry s intention was to use Star Trek as a platform to play out real life issues under the guise of entertainment. Cultural output is thus seen as a mirror of social and political inputs a reflection of sorts of the fears, dreams, and preoccupations of society. (Brynen, 1999) Society as a whole may be unaware of the direction the people are taking in the world. That is until an artist holds a mirror to face of humanity, offering up a chance for self examination and reflection. By presenting this reflection to an audience that is caught up in the story and the interaction of characters, without even being aware of the message, the audience begins to transform ones own thinking about the world around them and their role in the world.

For example, perhaps one of the most carefully orchestrated relationships played out through many incarnations was an alien race known as the Klingons. The introduction of this alien species was an indirect representation of the real life cold war enemy the Russians and the communist fear. The 1960s had been a critical period for the entire world, as a constant nuclear threat was real and always present. Roddenberry s development of the Klingons and the war like society they came from presented the main characters a challenge of tolerance and attempts at finding peaceable solutions to their mutually conflicting backgrounds and cultural mentalities. As in real life, there were the occasional military conflicts, but the continuing message was to continue working through cultural differences for an understanding and peaceful co-existence.

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The author cannot say that Star Trek changed politicians thinking, logic, or motivations, but the impact on the social consciousness is evident as society began to evolve through the 1970s and on through to the collapse of the Soviet government. If the reader was to ask a young person about how the cold war affected his or her life, the author would venture to guess that the respondent would have to ask What was the cold war? . In the years leading to the days of the collapse of the Soviet Union, military tensions remained high between the United States and the Soviet Union, but society s view of the threat diminished slightly over time through the decades that followed the 1960s. Was this because of a shared fear of a mutually assured destruction (MAD) and a developing understanding that the people of the Soviet Union were very much like the Americans in shared hopes and dreams? Could the people of Earth survived without one or the other, MAD or an understanding? In Roddenberry s vision, both opponents, the crew of the Enterprise and the Klingons, were equally capable of destroying the other, possibly with significant losses in the process. But Roddenberry s message was always one of finding a means to peace and celebrating shared commonality.

Prior to the 1960s, in the authors opinion, America might as well have been the poster child of white supremacy and ethnic ignorance. Again Roddenberry pushed for diversity in his vision of the future. A time in which people of all ethnic backgrounds would come together as equals in a pursuit of knowledge and exploration.

Roddenberry envisioned a multi-ethnic crew, including an African-American woman, a Scotsman, a Japanese American, and most notably, an alien, the half-Vulcan Mr. Spock. In the second season Roddenberry added a Russian crewmember at a time when the United States was engaged in a tense cold war with the Soviet Union. Blacks and women were also shown as scientists and doctors on the ship. (Day, n.d.)

A unique characteristic about ignorance; it can be coaxed out of existence through exposure to situations that would normally not be observed in common place. Roddenberry presented to families on a weekly basis, adventures and tales of survival so exciting, that people began to see beyond the ethnic representations of the characters and saw a team of people achieving the unbelievable.

Was this tolerance or acceptance by the common people of other ethnicities? Whatever the first step, society has continued to evolve. The abolishment of ignorance has transformed neighborhoods, the workplace, and every other aspect of life towards pure social integration. Just 25 years earlier, prior to the airing of Star Trek, Japanese Americans were sent to camps with no regard to their innocence or place in society. This action was based purely on a racist preconception by government authorities, who were a representation of the American people.

Perhaps more on the minds of outside observers was that the 1960s represented the birth of civil rights, woman s rights, and other minority concerns at the time. In no other media outlet at the time was there a representation of ethnic diversity sharing equal and esteemed roles such as scientists, officers, doctors, and engineers. Added to the kettle of diversity was the weekly interaction with alien races. At times, there would be conflict or a shared hardship, but in the end, the message was the same, understanding and appreciation of the differences between the various races, could bring peace to what otherwise could have been a volatile situation.

The integration of ethnic and cultural diversity that the world now enjoys could never have been forced upon a society. Roddenberry s genius was in his ability to present to the world a vision for a future based on changing how humans as a society interact today. Gene Roddenberry once noted that his inspiration came from concentrating on something about our world that annoys me so that I get sufficiently moved, so that I want to write about how, in the Star Trek world, it s done differently. (Brynen, 1999) As society continues to grow and celebrates the shared ethnic diversity, perhaps the advances in technology, that sparked the imagination of millions and changed our world, will help to advance the human race to the stars and beyond. But no one is going to the stars until society moves forward as one. At its most basic level, Star Trek had a simple humanistic message: humanity will be okay. (Day, n.d.)

References – Do Not Strip Article References

Batchelor, D. A. (1993). The Science of Star Trek. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://ssdoo.gsfc.nasa.gov/education/just_for_fun/startrek.html

Brynen, R. (1999, February 08;). Mirror, Mirror? The Politics of Television Science Fiction. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://www.arts.mcgill.ca/MEPP/exofile/sftv.html

Day, D. (n.d.). Star Trek as a Cultural Phenomenon. Retrieved January 29, 2008, from http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay

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20th Century Genius Award Paper – Gene Roddenberry