Saturday, May 9, 2009

Dissonant Cognitions: Trekkies and Tea


Star Trek, the futuristic myth first spun on 1960s color television, stands in strong competition to The Bible as — as Manohla Dargis puts it in NYTimes.com Movie Reviews[1] — "a source for some of the fundamental stories we tell about ourselves, who we are and where we came from": the latter as myth of where we came from; the former as myth of where we would like to go. (It is also an alternative myth to the one futuristic book of the New Testament, Revelation. However that particular myth is a source of horror movies, not ones of inspiration.)

Star Trek (2009), the movie, really needs no explanation. It rebirths the 40-plus year-old myth with a shot of twenties-something characters playing people old enough (some, sadly, gone) to be their grandparents. We've known them for that long. The myth lives long, and, like biblical epics, prospers.
But what does this myth really tell us about ourselves?


To find that out I turned from NYtimes.com Movie Reviews to NYTimes.com Blogging Heads[2], where "David Corn of Mother Jones and James Pinkerton of Fox News discuss what the new Star Trek film says about American society." Here I found David Corn, the Mother Jones lefty, to be a bit of an agnostic regarding the whole Star Trek religion, while it was Jim Pinkerton, the Fox News righty, who was the true Star Trek born-againer. Jim lamented "how much we've lost since the sixties" when we had a vision of a such a "progressive" future, a loss he blames on "environmentalists" and "nihilists" (i.e. liberals, forgetting, of course, it was John Kennedy who lit the fire under NASA, a government program by the way, to get us to the moon in the first place.)

And it is here, I think, we do begin to learn about ourselves: Pinkerton, representing the Fox News more-or-less Republican view that we need a much smaller government (except for the military sector) while preemptively exerting military power for anything that could be fabricated a threat, is the one on the side of Star Trek and, consequently, the United Federation of Planets, an "interstellar federal republic, composed of planetary governments that agreed to exist semi-autonomously under a single central government based on the principles of universal liberty, rights, and equality, and to share their knowledge and resources in peaceful cooperation and space exploration."[3]

If it is one thing the Pinkertons (speaking generally) of Fox News, Inc. hate more than "big government", it is anything that is an international governing body with any real powers over its members. And who does Jim Pinkerton think funds the whole Starfleet and its Academy? It's the USS Enterprise, not the Pizza Hut Enterprise. And, by the way, who pays Jim Kirk's and Spock's salaries? (And guess what? They happen to have universal health care.)

What we learn is that many Americans (I'll call them the Pinkertons) live in contradiction: They dream the Star Trek myth of the future (and will go to the movie), but go (at least in spirit) to the Tea Parties — the mindset that government is too big, an international entity fostering cooperation and common purpose is "anti-American", and universal health care is "evil socialism" — of the present.

* [1] movies.nytimes.com/2009/05/08/movies/08trek.html
* [2] video.nytimes.com/video/2009/05/08/opinion/1194840097393/bloggingheads-star-trek-and-america.html
* [3] memory-alpha.org/en/wiki/Federation