May 11 2009

Getting Star Trek Right!

Today’s New York Times (Dave Itzkoff, 5/10/09) waxes philosophical about Star Trek in general and how it relates to the world (and the new movie). Itzkoff gets some of it right but his lack of a long-term perspective is, as usual, the mother of misconceptions. (Happy Mother’s Day, BTW!)

When Spock’s father Mark Lenard heard my personal Star Trek story, he had a decidedly non-Vulcan reaction! Click sarek1.jpg.

Incidentally, when it comes to Star Trek I have obsessive credentials!! After the original TV series went off I decided it would be fun to have my own collection of Star Trek videos. This was long before they were available on VHS so I had to rendezvous with my TV/VCR each Saturday afternoon (when Star Trek came on in San Diego) and edit the commercials as I taped. It took almost two years but I finally got them all!

By this time I had joined General Dynamics, Convair (later Space Systems) and invited all the engineers and scientists to our Star Trek Party where we had the whole collection on display using 3 television/VCR combinations around the house that ran continuous Star Trek episodes all afternoon and evening! It sounds dumb but everybody loved it.

I eventually got to tell this gi-normous story to one of the Star Trek cast members when Spock’s father Mark Lenard (1924-1996) came down to the Reuben Fleet Science Center in 1988 to do narrations on a planetarium show (“Mars!”) I was helping Dennis Mammana with. Mark initially acted like he’d heard them all, but eventually became reasonably wide-eyed about my story of the 2-year video pursuit of Star Trek! At least he gave me an autographed picture…!

Itzkoff in The Times gets it right about the original Star Trek being “the futuristic fulfillment of John F. Kennedy’s inspirational oratory, in which his New Frontier became ‘the final frontier’.”

Of course, Star Trek was part of the affluence-induced ebullience of the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window led by its iconic Camelot-style President, John F. Kennedy. “The budget surpluses and budding space program of the early 1960s gave rise, in the 23rd century, to the utopian United Federation of Planets.” (I still have my UFP T-shirt!)

Actually, I’ve always identified strongly with the Star Trek vision of galactic exploration. In the 1980s I enjoyed attending Star Trek conventions in the LA and San Diego areas but was embarrassed to admit it to my professional colleagues. Unlike most of the fans, it wasn’t the stars of the show that turned me on, it was the wonderful, giddy fantasy of having complete access to the Solar System and being a participant in the interstellar colonization wave!

This weekend, a cable TV show with Leonard Nimoy and several Star Trek cast members, focused on Gene Roddenberry’s enduring “vision” of Star Trek. But the vision itself didn’t begin with Roddenberry; e.g., extraterrestrials were featured in many 1950s movies including “The Day the Earth Stood Still“, and many of the elements of Star Trek appeared first in “Forbidden Planet” and other movies. What Roddenberry did was bring this vision to television on a weekly basis! Many thought it couldn’t succeed, but it’s still gaining momentum 40 years later!

Itzkoff quotes Professor H. Bruce Franklin of Rutgers who suggests that “we’re starting the era of the 1960s in 1967,” presumably in reference to Iraq and Afghanistan and the parallels he sees to Vietnam. “Culturally we’re reinventing the ‘60s, but economically we’re reinventing the ‘30s.” Unfortunately, this misconception is typical of short-term thinking.

First, repetitive patterns in long-term trends in the economy, technology, and exploration – over the last 200 years – indicate we’re entering the 1950s (around 1953 based on the 56 year long wave), not the 1960s as Professor Franklin suggests.

Second, major financial panics are common in the decade just prior to each Maslow Window (except for the post WW II boom near 1949 when there was none), so the Panic of 2008 which gave birth to the current “Great Recession,” should not have been a big surprise.

And third, our current great recession, while severe and painful, is not as dreadful as the Great Depression of the 1930s. Based on the last 200 years of macroeconomic data and historical trends, if we were going to revisit the Great Depression it would have occurred between 1985 and 1987 (based on long wave timing). In fact the Crash of 1987 (“Black Monday”) was the worst crash since 1929 but didn’t lead to a Depression or even a recession because of financial rules adopted during the 1930s.

Finally, Star Trek is unlike a lot of science fiction today because of its optimistic tone. According to Leonard Nimoy, “We need that kind of hope…that kind of confidence in the future.”

He’s right. In fact, Star Trek is a preview of coming attractions. It’s optimism is a prelude to the ebullience that will drive the unprecedented space spectaculars of the 2015 Maslow Window.

We’ve recently suggested that long-term trends in western and science fiction movies point to the the next Space Age. It’s interesting that the new Star Trek movie grossed over $ 72 M this weekend – the first time any Star Trek movie has broken into the Top 30 Opening Weekends of all time. The previous 10 Star Trek movies had opening weekend box offices of only between $ 12 and 30 M.

The new Star Trek movie — after only the first weekend — is already #5 on the Star Trek movie list for total gross; momentarily topped by my favorite one, “Star Trek IV” at nearly $ 110 M. As we approach the 2015 Maslow Window, more major-money Star Trek movies will appear as this trend continues.

One response so far

One Response to “Getting Star Trek Right!”

  1. H. Bruce Franklinon 11 May 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Actually, I never said anything remotely like the quotations attributed to me. If you are interested in my views, check out the chapter on Star Trek in my book VIETNAM AND OTHER AMERICAN FANTASIES.



    Hi Professor Franklin,
    Thanks for your interest in the site.
    Best regards…

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