Answers to my question, "Why do the Enterprise and the Guggenheim look like each other?" are starting to come into focus.
As often happens, once the answers appear, they begin to seem blindingly obvious, and I start to wonder why I should bother to mention them.
But I know this seeming obviousness of answers is a trick of consciousness and must be resisted.
So here's something that's coming together for me:
The clean-lined design of the Enterprise and the Guggenheim both reflect a mid-century design preference for logos (reason and clarity) over eros (passion and messiness).
Further, this kind of design tends to view machines and technology as friendly and helpful--something humans can stay on top of--rather than inherently threatening--something that will destroy or control humanity.
LEFT: "So light they almost fly!" Puffin Biscuits, 1956
From Plan 59: Vintage Ads
I. "Better Things for Better Living . . . Through Chemistry"
It's hard, now, to hear the chemical company DuPont's "better living" slogan the way it was intended: irony-free, with no Orwellian overtones.
DuPont wanted to sell the idea that its science was our salvation;
but in fact, its slogan was part of the company's public relations campaign to turn its image around, because
"by the mid-1930s, public opinion of DuPont had soured due to Depression-era anxiety, anti-big-business sentiment, and congressional hearings into World War I profiteering that tarred DuPont as merchants of death.”
It worked too, and "helped DuPont more effectively manage its World War II activities, including sensitive work on the atomic bomb."
[History from DuPont's site.]
This view of technology generally held through the post-war prosperity and pro-big-business sentiment of 1950s USA.
This ad (below)* from 1955--the same era as the space biscuits above, is meant to be a friendly image:
ABOVE: "The Voice of the Atom", Union Carbide, 1955
My imagination chokes and sputters trying to see this as less than terrifying, made as it was ten years after the atomic bombing of Japan. Then I remember 1955 is the height of the Cold War, and we are afraid.
Scary things are comforting when you think you're the one who controls them, even if that's an illusion.
Of course, not everybody ever subscribed to this "better living" model--and the 50s are full of warnings about the dangers of technology.
And in the 1960s, it all began to break apart.
1962's Silent Spring again turned public opinion against chemical industries--and Dow's manufacture of napalm between 1965 and 1969 increased that.
Nonetheless, Star Trek design is firmly in the camp that believes Technology Will Save Us:
I've been slow to see why people say Star Trek is "optimistic," since I myself don't thrill to the WASP-normative social model it envisions.
(As always, I'm only talking about TOS--the original series, 1966–1969.)
The show's optimism is in its view of technology:
Star Trek posits that in the future technology will not have enslaved or destroyed humanity. Rather, high-tech represents our rational side, which will ultimately triumph over our irrational, emotional impulses.
Einstein supposedly said, "The world we've made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking." [italics mine]
[Or, more reliably: "The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking."]
Star Trek suggests that in the future, we humans will somehow have changed our mode of thinking, so we can solve the problems of technology and harness its powers only for peaceful ends.
(If you look closely at Star Trek, there are lots of things that undercut that philosophy. Still, it is its dominant theoretical framework.)
Talk about optimistic...
Related technology, different ends:
LEFT: USS Enterprise blueprint, from the Star Trek LCARS Blueprints Database
RIGHT: Hydrogen Fusion Bomb Design, first tested in 1952. **
II. Logos vs. Eros
The starship and the museum both come out of a mid-century machine-friendly modernist way of thinking--
--the view that rational, nonemotional, sciency design ("logos") for living is superior to irrational, emotional, animalistic/ organic, chaos ("eros").
Star Trek design--and moderinst architecture-- is stripped-down, clean, and uniform.
Technology was going to save us,
and it wasn't going to have anarchistic frippery hanging off it like Jimi Hendrix. ("Excuse me while I kiss the sky.")
[I don't know where Frank Lloyd Wright stood on this matter. He wrote a lot, so I'm sure I can find out, and will. But at any rate, his architecture has those same clean lines.]
RIGHT: Timothy Leary, a different kind of spaceman, from the Woolamaloo Gazette.
Cathy pointed out to me [thank you, Cat!], for instance, how different this "clean" design is from the psychedelic design (and drugs) of the post-modern Sixties.
Which is why I remember the show in its time being pretty square--nerdy in a non-hip way.
III. The Evolution of Starships
The new Star Trek (2009) stays with the old vision: the interior of the new ship looks like a mix of Apple and Ikea stores and a surgical theater.
Compare it, however, with some of the post-modern imagined spaceships of the 21st century:
bink pointed out to me [thank-you bink!], for instance, that Dr Who's TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space) has gone from having a science-lab-like interior--
LEFT: The Tardis's original control room with console, from 1963;
--to being practically a steampunk mess inside, held together, sometimes literally, with twine.
RIGHT: The new Tardis's control room/console, 2006(?), looks like the inside of a flower or the intestines of an animal.
(Nice to know some things never change: the TARDIS is still a plain old police box on the outside.)
And Serenity, the ship in Joss Whedon's Firefly (2002), is rescued from a junkyard, a pile of parts constantly threatening to fly to pieces.
The almost last lines of Serenity, the Firefly movie, make it perfectly clear that in Whedon's universe, eros trumps logos:
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: "But it [flying the starship] ain't all buttons and charts, little albatross. You know what the first rule of flyin' is? Well I suppose you do, since you already know what I'm about to say."
River Tam: "I do. But I like to hear you say it."
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: "Love. You can know all the math in the 'Verse, but take a boat in the air you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as the turning of worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells ya she's hurtin' 'fore she keens. Makes her home."
The movie's very last line, however, rather undercuts this romantic notion.
The last thing we hear is the captain saying, "What was that?" as a part of the ship tears off and comes flying at the camera.
We live in a broken-up post-modern world, with a zillion high-tech machines.
How do we navigate our way through it?
* Union Carbide ad from Plan 59: THE MUSEUM OF MID-CENTURY ILLUSTRATION, found at Tangerines in a Red Net Bag, whose banner includes this quote from David Mamet:
"In a world we find terrifying, we ratify that which doesn’t threaten us”.
** The hydrogen bomb blueprint on the site Time Travel Research Center comes with a note:
"It is really really hard to make the almost pure plutonium or highly enriched uranium pits for these bombs."
Just so you know not to waste your time making your own.
"The Hydrogen Bomb," from the Encarta Encyclopedia:
"The Hydrogen Bomb or H-bomb, weapon deriving a large portion of its energy from the nuclear fusion of hydrogen isotopes. In an atomic bomb, uranium or plutonium is split into lighter elements that together weigh less than the original atoms, the remainder of the mass appearing as energy.
Unlike this fission bomb, the hydrogen bomb functions by the fusion, or joining together, of lighter elements into heavier elements. The end product again weighs less than its components, the difference once more appearing as energy.
Because extremely high temperatures are required in order to initiate fusion reactions,
the hydrogen bomb is also known as a thermonuclear bomb.
The first thermonuclear bomb was exploded in 1952 at Enewetak by the United States,
the second in 1953 by Russia (then the USSR)."
Found at Rense.com's "Weapons of Mass Destruction"
[The never developed cobalt bomb was called a “doomsday device” by physicist Leo Szilard.]