Wednesday, January 23, 2008
What Used to Worry Us
I've been cleaning up my messy book- shelves slowly over the past week.
Or, rather, I've been spending a lot of time going through piles of papers and objects, including these pins, from my past, while playing old Star Trek episodes on my laptop in the background.
I imagine people have written Ph.D.s about what the original Star Trek said about American political philosophies during the Cold War.
Watching the show makes me realize that I have lived long enough to see a huge change in the politics of fear.
I was a teenager in the 1970s, when I first encountered ST in syndication on our b&w TV. At that time, my friends and I were afraid of nuclear destruction.
Star Trek and my generation happened at a time when the perceived enemy was Big and Obvious: the USSR --or the Klingons.
We set up Neutral Zones and our clean-cut leaders, like the Iowan Capt. Kirk, kept saying "We come in peace," all the while pumping up our photon torpedos.
Star Trek tried to imagine a different world, socially.
But politically they were pretty entrenched in the military model.
Sometimes the show lets you know that its makers are aware of its limitations.
In "Arena," for instance,--the episode where Kirk is supposed to battle an actor in a lizard suit to the death--fey aliens interfere and tell Kirk his species is savagely primitive.
(That episode in particular provides the attentive viewer with clues, with subversive keys, to decode or unlock Star Trek's otherwise generally imperialistic tone.)
In college in 1978, I joined anti-nuke marches and Peace Camps at nuclear sites. I wore the pins pictured here when I worked at the Student Union on the UW-Madison campus in 1980.
I don't save many things and I'm not sure why I saved these. I guess it was enough that they were small and they took a serious issue humorously, which I appreciate.
Now they are history.
It's mind bending to watch the show now that we are not afraid of one big enemy nation with one giant weapon but of small groups of people with box cutters...
One thing hasn't changed--we still have blustering leaders who insist we and our arsenal come in peace.