Forty-five years ago today, Star Trek was broadcast, showing Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future. And it struck a chord with the country and the world. Not just a whimsy byproduct of the space race era, Star Trek left a lasting impact on our culture. Equality, intelligence, and progress were ideas that were celebrated on the show and strived for in reality.
The influence of the series is also clear in a lot the technology we use today. Cell phones, tablet computers, GPS, video communications, computers that recognize and respond to voice commands, and even medical advances such as the MRI. People created these technological marvels in reality after being inspired by a Hollywood prop.
Look at the state of television today. Morally shallow reality shows and mindless procedurals dominate the broadcast airwaves. At best, we’re given something like Dollhouse‘s all-too-possible dystopia where corporations not only buy politicians, they buy people and the advancement of technology is ultimately to create weapons. Self-destruction and the misuse of science is also one of the running themes on Fringe.
Cable gives rise to some of the better shows on television, but these often offer pure escapism, back to America’s glory days in Mad Men or to realms of swords and dragons in Game of Thrones. There’s not much hope. There’s no goal to aspire to. It’s bleak and dark. It should be telling when two of the best shows set in the here-and-now feature a drug kingpin and a serial killer.
With the space program on hold and very little to look forward to elsewhere, optimism is much harder to come by these days. Forty-five years from now, what will anyone point to as their inspiration?