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Star Trek is a multimedia science fiction franchise, best known for a short-lived television series from the sixties (now called Star Trek: The Original Series) and several spinoffs from 1987 to 2005. It was the brainchild of Gene Roddenberry.
Its enormous impact on popular culture has given those who have heard of it, but never seen it themselves, the impression that it's merely another mindless, escapist fantasy (and its weaker moments are perhaps guilty as charged), but there's much more to it than that.
 Star Trek and rationalism
- "Do you realize the number of discoveries lost because of superstition... of ignorance... of a layman's inability to comprehend?"
- — Star Trek: The Original Series, "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" Note: this was in 1966.
Star Trek is perhaps the only major work of popular culture to espouse a blatantly pro-rationalism viewpoint. This is due in no small part to Roddenberry's outspoken atheism, though credit must also be given to studios that have the balls to fund something that could be perceived as anti-Christian. (The fact that so few right-wing Christians speak out against Star Trek, and so many against the comparatively pro-religion Harry Potter, says more about their reading comprehension than about either work. Or because the ending to "Bread and Circuses" placated them.)
Examples abound. In one episode, Captain Picard personally tears down a con artist posing as a manifestation of the Devil; in another, an alien named Neelix discovers that there is no afterlife – and that this life is still worth living. Even in the original series, Spock, the legendary first officer, was constantly searching for scientific explanations for everything the crew discovered, because it was science that had brought them into space in the first place.
 Star Trek and society
- When Patrick Stewart, a bald man, was cast as the captain in Star Trek: The Next Generation, a reporter said to Roddenberry, "Surely they will have cured baldness by the twenty-fourth century!" Roddenberry replied, "By the twenty-fourth century, no one will care."
Star Trek was as progressive socially as it was philosophically. At a time when race and interracial marriage were very contentious issues in the US, Star Trek became the first television series ever to depict an interracial kiss on television. Not long after that came "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," an episode with a species that is half-black and half-white, one on each side of their faces. They fight each other to the point of extinction over the question of whether it's better to be black on the left and white on the right, or vice versa. Later series maintained this devotion to equality by putting first a black man, and then a woman, in the captain's chair.
Roddenberry had hoped to keep Star Trek free of racism and sexism. The original pilot, "The Cage," had a female first officer played by Roddenberry's future wife, Majel Barrett. Roddenberry had intended to have Barrett continue the role in the series, but NBC spiked the idea of a female Number One, as she was called – Roddenberry then tried to have her cast as chief medical officer, but NBC balked at that too. Finally, she was cast as a nurse, but Roddenberry was able to sneak in one little detail. Nurse Chapel was actually Dr. Chapel, a biological research scientist who had signed on as a nurse so she could go into space to find her missing fiancé (Roddenberry got his revenge in Star Trek: The Motion Picture – When somebody called her "Nurse Chapel," she got to snap back that she was Doctor Chapel). The pilot also featured females officers in the same uniforms as their male counterparts. In the rest of the series, female Starfleet officers appear in a variant uniform which is essentially a minidress. Roddenberry would address the sexism at NBC in the series' last episode, "Turnabout Intruder." In that episode, Kirk meets Dr. Janice Lester, yet another woman from his past. She complains that she was rejected as a starship captain because she was a woman, then uses some alien device to trade bodies with Kirk. Unfortunately, Paramount and NBC had relieved Roddenberry of full control of the series by then, so when he turned in the script for the episode, it was rewritten to show Dr. Lester as an unstable, hysterical, whiny bitch.
In speaking of women's rights, the original Star Trek series featured women working in integrated units with men in a military setting in 1966, a full 12 years before the Women's Army Corps in the USA was disbanded and women were allowed to serve alongside men.
Despite this, the show had some noted flaws, especially as concerns LGBT issues. Roddenberry had been slightly homophobic in his youth, and even though he later learned the error of his ways, he rarely led by example in depicting gays or transgender people in a positive light. It is understandable that it would have been impossible to discuss LGBT issues in the 1960s, but the lack of LGBT characters in modern Trek is something of a mystery. Gene Roddenberry had said he intended to introduce an openly gay character on The Next Generation but did not do so at the time of his death. Several early episodes of The Next Generation show background characters with no speaking parts who appear to be men wearing a skirt variant of the uniform. It is unclear if these characters are meant to be transwomen serving openly in Starfleet or simply to show that the skirt variant is as gender-neutral as the standard uniform, thus avoiding the implication that its retention for some female personnel is sexist. The issue is muted when the skirt variant disappears entirely in later seasons. A proposed script for a second season "Next Generation" episode, known as "Blood and Fire," would have included a gay couple on the Enterprise and would have been about AIDS. Nobody knows who killed the episode for certain. One episode of The Next Generation did depict a genderless species which dealt with the treatment of those of different genders and sexualities by the mainstream, but this was a pretty covert treatment of these issues, especially since all of the genderless aliens were played by women. The official line is that this was done because it is allegedly easier to make women appear androgynous. However, it looks almost as if Riker is teaching a member of a species of lesbians how to be straight, not at all what the message was meant to be. Jonathan Frakes is known to have wanted at least the alien he actually kissed to be played by a man. Furthermore, there were only two outright instances of same-sex kissing, and in both cases there was a flimsy excuse for the kiss rather than a fair depiction of a real gay couple (and both cases were women, not men, suggesting the scenes were driven purely by ratings). Speculation as to why there wasn't an openly gay character during that time ranges from objections from executive producer Rick Berman to the studio suits at Paramount. There may be hope for LGBT issues in Star Trek yet: the same series that gave us George Takei also gave us Zachary Quinto, who came out in 2011 and has been a strong advocate of gay rights. If the stars keep speaking out in favor of gays, sooner or later the writers will have to comply.
Yes, the fandom is often outrageous. But what fandom isn't? (At least among those that are this large.) And it's likely that the depth of the show often goes above fans' heads. Still, give them some credit. Any fan willing to embrace a show like this has to have at least some hope for rationality.
 See also
- Star Wars, because we can't love both franchises, apparently.
- ↑ "We must question the story logic of having an all-knowing all-powerful God, who creates faulty Humans, and then blames them for his own mistakes." – The man himself
- ↑ Yes, the names are silly. But that's okay.
- ↑ "This crew has been to many places in the galaxy. They've been witness to many strange events. They are trained to know that what seems to be impossible often is possible given the scientific analysis of the phenomenon." – Spock, "Turnabout Intruder," 1969.
- ↑ Patrick Stewart recounts the story, courtesy of YouTube.
- ↑ The actors were as determined as Roddenberry to do their parts for liberalism. When this episode was being filmed, the network wasn't sure whether to go through with the kiss, so they decided to film the scene twice, one with the kiss and one without. The actors filmed the kiss perfectly, but deliberately screwed up every other take so that the network would have no choice but to air the original.
- ↑ Sure, it makes Avatar look subtle by comparison, but when there are real people being killed purely because of ignorance and hate, and many of the guilty are unintelligent to begin with, subtlety is a liability.
- ↑ See the Wikipedia article on Number One (Star Trek).
- ↑ Which, admittedly, was a perfect match for Shatner's acting talents after they'd switched bodies.
- ↑ 
- ↑ An article in The Huffington Post has the details.