Monday, September 12, 2016

Secret Star Trek Addenda: Programs and Predictions

We'll be returning to Uncle Sam's Secret Sorcerers soon but I wanted to make note of this remarkable video, from the popular Film Theory YouTube channel. It took a while but the message I was trying to put across several years ago seems to have finally sunk in here.

And that is behind the disarming velvet glove of Star Trek's seductive techno-futurism and idealistic multiculturalism is the iron fist of militaristic totalitarianism and expansionist imperialism.

Here's what I wrote back in 2008:
The Federation is ruled by an Assembly and a High Council, a very large number of whom seem to be Starfleet admirals. The Council reminds you not so much of a democratic assembly, but more of the leadership you would see in a rigid, hierarchal organization like the Freemasons or the Jesuits.  
Under the smiley veneer of humanism, politically correct pandering and New Deal-vintage liberalism, the Federation certainly feels like a socialist military dictatorship. At the core of the Federation and at the core of Starfleet is the presence of a expansionist philosophy (the Federation must grow to survive) and a Masonic, heirarchal world view.  
And these stories are all told exculsively from the point of view of elite military officers on spaceships armed with world-destroying arsenals.

Federation Council in Star Trek IV: predominantly Starfleet officers

To be fair, Star Trek writers began to address the Federation's inherent imperialism after Roddenberry died and was no longer around to veto scripts that ventured out of the repressive "Roddenberry Box."

Deep Space Nine, developed over the objections of Roddenberry and his wife Majel, was especially willing to commit grand acts of narrative heresy when dealing with the yawning paradox of a series originally based on an ostensible exploration mission, albeit one undertaken in a warship outfitted with high tech weapons powerful enough to destroy entire planets.

I've been studying the development of Star Trek and its early history in further detail and it's leaving me with more questions than answers. 

According to two of the key players in the show's development, Desilu executive Herb Solow and producer Robert Justman, NBC didn't like Gene Roddenberry's work very much, were deeply uncomfortable with his sexual adventurism (NBC didn't want to cast Barrett as Number One because she was a woman, they didn't want to cast her because they knew she was one of his favorite mistresses) and were stymied by his presentations. 

Sci-fi had no track record in prime time but NBC still were willing to bet on Star Trek, as were Desilu, who invested a lot of money in the pilots.

Yet even after rejecting "The Cage" (which contrary to Trek mythology wasn't rejected for being too cerebral, but was in fact rejected for being too erotic), they still ordered another pilot, practically unheard of in the television business. And despite tumbling in the ratings shortly into its first season it was kept on for three seasons and got all the publicity it needed.

Clearly, someone wanted this show on the air. Someone wanted its message to reach the public. 

Even after failing as an animated series, Paramount (who bought the show when Desilu closed up) continued to push for a new series- with Roddenberry at the helm- largely thanks to the original series' success in reruns.

Roddenberry clashed with nearly everyone he worked with, and caused the first film to go wildly over budget and schedule, but was still handed the keys to the new TV series in 1986, even though he needed to be rehabbed of his drug and drink addictions before he was able to work.

A charmed life, to be sure.

And Deep Space Nine also seemed to prophesy the current nightmare we are living, with tent cities of the homeless popping up in major cities across the country, right on DS9's timeline. 

And as we saw in "Past Tense," the homeless live amongst the wealthy and carefree technocracy of San Francisco, terrorized by goon squads and worse. Yet with automation threatening to put more good-paying jobs on the chopping block, the problem only threatens to get worse.

And of course the Star Trek timeline has it that all of this will be followed by a devastating world war, one that seems to be on the to-do list of the ruling class in Washington.

Of course, we missed the Eugenics Wars in the 1990s, so there's hope for us yet.

I don't know how I missed it- maybe it hadn't been listed on the iMDb page until recently, but Leslie Stevens actually wrote a pilot for Desilu starring one of the Captain candidates, Lloyd Bridges, who would re-enter Stevens' orbit when he guest-starred on Battlestar Galactica in 1978.

This is the smoking gun that nails down Stevens' involvement in developing Star Trek for/with Roddenberry, on top of all the Daystar people who'd go to work on Trek and the eyewitness account that Roddenberry had basically set up an office for himself at Daystar while working on "The Cage."

Stevens- who was running his own production company at the time, mind you- obviously had some kind of deal with Desilu, and helping Roddenberry (a sci-fi novice, despite later claims to the contrary) was part of the package.

Leslie Stevens, while developing Battlestar and Buck Rogers

To show how different Stevens' sensibility was from Roddenberry's here's the series he was working on while Roddenberry was glorifying the military in The Lieutentant (with future 2001 star Gary Lockwood).

Stoney Burke
starred yet another Captain candidate (Jack Lord) as a rodeo star who finds himself dealing with small-town corruption. It was a remarkable series and featured some truly outstanding writers and actors (like Robert Duvall, who'd also show up on a crucial Outer Limits two-parter with future Trek guest-star Steve Inhat).

This episode features the late, great Diana Hyland- who we'll meet again soon in Uncle Sam's Secret Sorcerers- in a powerful story that gets very dark. Maybe too dark for the time. But damn if it doesn't feel like Gene Roddenberry was watching this particular episode carefully too. 

You'll see what I mean if you stick with it. 

Speaking of sorcery, it's a fair bet Stevens used his Trek payoff to make Incubus with William Shatner, one of the most insane projects (a working, really) ever undertaken by a producer of Stevens' stature (whose hit Broadway plays had just been made into films starring major stars like James Mason and Charlton Heston). 

He'd take a break from his work at Universal to write his book on "electronic social transformation", which feels as much like the creation of cyberpunk as it does 70s SRI/Valley-type techno-Age.

What a fascinatingly strange man.


  1. Did we really miss the eugenics was in the 90s though?

    That was the peak ‘circumstantial evidence for depopulation’ decade: AIDS in southern Africa, global vaccine programmes, the rise of GMO, etc.

    1. I agree. I think we are still fighting it, more or less, behind the scenes anyway. Rather than flare up armed resistance to the issue of population control, the global Elites appear to use subterfuge and propaganda to insulate their movements in only one of the "wars" that are being waged around us in plain site.

    2. Add to that the fact that Khan had his own spaceship - and we're seeing several mega-rich elites running their own ship development programs right now. Might be that Spock had the right stories but go the dates wrong - after all, we were supposed to have gone to Saturn by now, too.

    3. Well...they have sortakinda invented a warp drive. And found all kinds of planets, at least one of them habitable.

    4. Maybe it's a slow-motion war. After all, there's a whole range of Gattaca technologies being developed to grow new and better people in labs. Not to mention all the economic and social engineering pressures on family formation, even in non-Western countries. And now with CRISPR CAS 9 gene editing, some mainstream outlets are beginning to smell the whiff of eugenics in the air.

  2. I always did wonder why the governing body of the Federation, an entity that was supposed to stand for some sort of utopian future world bore more resemblance to the Japanese Diet of the 1930s where a general officers on the active list took a very hands-on approach to republican governance.

    1. I updated the post with a screencap from Star Trek IV, which has the Federation Council predominantly composed of Star leet Admirals. I watched a lot of Trek and was seduced by the fiction and still think a lot of it is great entertainment. But it's not substantively different from Starship Troopers. The military is usually always right, except when they flout the rules. And the troublemakers are invariably enemy military or civilians, who are usually shirkers at best. Unless they work as scientists for StarFleet.

  3. We'd recognize the totalitarian aspect more readily if all those Starfleet officers were wearing green uniforms with ridiculously large hats, something like you might see in several Communist countries, or the Fascist regimes of mid-century South America. The rest of the slots are filled with civilians - doubtless a mix of retired officers and ambassadors, and a handful of top scientists to give it a Technocratic gloss.

    Whatever his level of involvement, it's no surprise to see former military pilot and Los Angeles cop Roddenberry presenting a Federation with strict hierarchical tones. He's working with the structures he knows, and that would be readily accepted by the audience in a time when the draft was active and most men served in some way. I always saw it as reflective of the US Navy.

    The new Trek movies did show a rather fluid and merit-based command structure, especially in the first movie.

    I'm sure that Gene and Majel were greatly displeased with the turn DS9 took, especially with its portrayal of a Federation rife with eugenics programs (of which Dr. Bashir was a result) and black ops (again, Bashir involved). Also, there was a lot of "stoop to conquer" in DS9, such as the ep where Sisko faked intel to bring the Romulans into the war - and when he was found out, went along after the fact with the Romulan ambassador's assassination. Murky stuff, indeed.

    1. Well, that episode was great because it showed the reality of what StarFleet was really involved in. It was an expansionist empire who exercised control over to the Bajoran Wormhole and was making excursions into the Gamma quadrant. Why wouldn't the Dominion view that as a threat? Their intelligence would have reported that StarFleet's true mission was absorbing new planets into the Federation. Even when it became apparent that their warp engines were endangering the existence of an entire inhabited star system all they did was appoint a committee to study the problem. The Enterprise was no science vessel- it was a fully-appointed warbird capable of battle with a Borg cube. And that's what StarFleet sends out as ambassadors to the galaxy? Who wouldn't find that threatening. Classic gunboat diplomacy.

    2. It's worth noting that traditionally Star Trek had difficulty translating into other markets, who were put off by its obvious parallels to American militarism.

    3. That DS9 ep with Sisko going nasty was one of my favorites.

      Also, consider the "mirror" universe, that of the Spock Beard. It purports to show a timeline where the Federation lost its grip, became an Empire, then went soft (thanks, Spock!) and by the time of DS9 was conquered by all the other societies it had pissed off over the centuries. I think the show writers meant to portray how the "prime" Trek universe got it right, possessed of ethics that kept its mighty powers in check - but, we know that was a facade based on the elements described in my prior comment. I think it more shows the reality of such unchecked power and expansionism - sooner or later, you'll over-reach, and in your imbalance be knocked over. Hence, the "mirror" aspect - the brutal truth.

    4. TAS == "Childhood Dreamtime"

      TOS == "Biblical Mythology"

      TNG == "Corporate Training Films"

      DS9 == "Case Studies: Messy Implementation of Principles"

  4. Many of you may take exception to my comment here, but I have always loved the original Star Trek and followed most of the spin-offs later on. That being said, I also always had a prickly feeling about the whole Federation thing. These people, at least on the Enterprise, especially in the Next Generation show, were always about the officers and engineers and the cream-of-the-crop elite. Everyone was a doctor or held some special degree in some specialized field and everyone attends the Federation Academy for Star Fleet. All shiny and the best of the best. Well, what about the other people? The ones who just needed a job or didn't want to be Admiral or Captain? I mean, what does a "regular job" look like in the 22nd + century? Is it really the Utopian society where no kids are left behind and everyone is smart and educated and God Bless Us, everyone? Is that what led to the Neo-fascism we think we see from this Federation of Planets? Did humanity actually settle to a new level of WTF after their eugenics war and everyone crawled out of that time and into an age of enlightenment after the warp drive was discovered and aliens were confirmed? Where all our usual world problems are solved because we can travel with the other galactic civilizations and clean up our act as a human Earth bred species, so I guess now we just have all this extra time on our hands to better ourselves.

    Ok, sure, no one wants to watch a show about the guy who cleans the toilets on the Enterprise. I might, but not everyone. I get it. But since we are discussing the Star Trek Universe here, I just wanted to throw that out there. Maybe everyone in the NWO of Planets feels skippy about their Admiralty Overlords in what looks to be a completely militarized Earth plus a few other planets. Reminds me of the United Nations in our time with the same old earth-based politics kicked up to the next generation of that, if you will.

    Maybe I just don't care for that kind of authority or believe everyone is as shiny as we are led to believe in that century. Alien or otherwise.

    1. There was a ST:TNG ep called "Lower Decks", which followed a group of junior officers (Ensigns and Lt. JGs). Also, we learned in another ep - name escapes me - that Yeomen and other "regular" crew members were like enlisted sailors - they join up, go to basic training and get assigned to a ship for a few years.

      Enterprise-D was a Galaxy-class, which was designed for crew and civilian employees to bring their families along. We see individuals like Mott, the barber, and Guinan, the barkeep, all over the ship, if irregularly. There's also a day care for the kids and a "shop" where personal items are replicated for a credit cost. (We know Starfleet personnel get paid, as Kirk mentions it several times. Even in a cashless society, there's some kind of credit.)

      And, the Promenade on DS9, while possibly atypical of Federation economic zones, showed a number of establishments where food, drink and clothing were sold for a variety of currencies (think the EU before the Euro), including "gold-pressed Latinum".

  5. This is why I was a full-fledged Whovian as a teenager. I could relate way better to an idiosyncratic meddler than an imperial fleet.

    Interestingly, I detected some pro-colonial undertones during the (largely unwatchable) Steven Moffat era.

  6. "Under the smiley veneer of humanism, politically correct pandering and New Deal-vintage liberalism, the Federation certainly feels like a socialist military dictatorship. At the core of the Federation and at the core of Starfleet is the presence of a expansionist philosophy (the Federation must grow to survive) and a Masonic, heirarchal world view."

    Reads like you were predicting the future for the EU back then in 2008 Chris.