Cultural influence of Star Trek

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Star Trek is one of the most culturally-influential television shows, and is often regarded as the most influential science fiction TV series in history.

The original series, which aired in the late 1960s, has since spawned five successor series, twelve movies, a plethora of merchandise, and a multi-billion dollar industry collectively known as the Star Trek franchise. The franchise is currently owned by CBS Television Studios, which now owns television properties previously held by Paramount Pictures, the studio that produced Star Trek for many decades; CBS Paramount continues to hold DVD rights to the TV series, and the rights to produce feature films.

Two films have been inspired by the cultural influence of Star Trek: Galaxy Quest, and Free Enterprise.

Star Trek: The Original Series[edit]

Gene Roddenberry sold Star Trek in 1964 to NBC as a classic adventure drama, calling it a "Wagon Train to the Stars". But Roddenberry wanted to tell more sophisticated stories, using futuristic situations as analogies for current problems on Earth and showing how they could be rectified through humanism and optimism. The show's writers frequently addressed moral and social issues such as slavery, warfare, and discrimination. The opening line "to boldly go where no man has gone before" is almost verbatim from a US White House booklet on space produced after the Sputnik flight in 1957.

A major inspiration for Star Trek was the science fiction film Forbidden Planet, whose influence is especially apparent in the pilot episode "The Cage"[2][3] Previous sophisticated science fiction TV shows included anthology series such as The Twilight Zone and the British Quatermass serials, but Star Trek was the first American science fiction series with a continuing cast that was aimed at adults, telling modern morality tales with complex narratives.

Earlier British science fiction shows with marionettes[4] and soap operas[5] had interracial casting, but this was the first American live-action series to do this. At a time when there were few non-white or foreign roles in American television dramas, Roddenberry created a multi-ethnic crew for the Enterprise, including an African woman (Uhura), a Scotsman (Montgomery Scott), a Japanese American (Hikaru Sulu), and—most notably—an alien, the half-Vulcan Spock. In the second season, reflecting the contemporaneous Cold War, Roddenberry added a Russian crew member, (Pavel Chekov). The original series is also credited with American television's first interracial kiss, although this had happened earlier in a British medical soap opera, Emergency – Ward 10 and [6] in the spy show I Spy which featured a scripted, unedited interracial kiss between Robert Culp and France Nuyen in the episode 'The Tiger,' a kiss that wouldn't gain the controversy or attention as the Star Trek kiss.

The series gained multiple Emmy Award nominations during its run, but never won. Despite a restricted budget, the show's special effects were superior to contemporary TV shows, its stories were often written by prominent science fiction authors (though often re-written by the show's regular writers),[7] and many of its production values—such as costuming and set design—were of high caliber for such a low budget. Some of the production staff of The Outer Limits worked on Star Trek and often made creative re-use of props from the earlier series.[3]

During its network run from 1966 to 1969, TOS' ratings were mediocre. A letter-writing campaign by fans, unprecedented in size, contributed to NBC's decision to renew the series for a third season, but the network put the show in a disadvantageous timeslot, and TOS was finally canceled after its third season.

Cancellation and aftermath[edit]

In 1976, a letter-writing campaign compelled NASA to name the inaugural (and test) space shuttle Enterprise after the fictional starship. In this image, Enterprise is rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities with Star Trek television cast members and creator Gene Roddenberry in attendance.

After its cancellation, through reruns Star Trek became more popular and reached a much wider audience than when it had originally aired.[8] Known as "trekkies" or "trekkers", the show's fans formed clubs and organized conventions. In 1976, following another fan-organized letter-writing campaign, NASA named its first space shuttle orbiter, Enterprise (OV-101), after the fictional starship.

NASA also employed actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura to attempt recruiting African-Americans and women to become astronauts. Nichols considered quitting her role on Star Trek during the second season to pursue a different acting job. She was talked out of this decision by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who told her that a show that depicted a black woman working alongside whites in a position of importance helped further the goal of racial equality.

A direct follow-on to Nichelle Nichols' inspiration was actress Whoopi Goldberg, as Nichols' role as Uhura was her inspiration to get into acting. Nichelle Nichols has told in multiple interviews[9] that Goldberg told her that as a child seeing Star Trek for the first time, Ms. Goldberg ran around the house screaming "Hey Mom! Look! There's a black woman on the TV and she ain't no maid!" Ms. Goldberg was eventually to portray the recurring El-Aurian female character Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Waxing and waning[edit]

In the mid-1970s, encouraged by the burgeoning fan base for the show, Roddenberry sought to start a second television series (Star Trek: Phase II); this abortive attempt morphed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. The movie did sufficiently well at the box office, grossing more than $80 million in the US and $139 million worldwide,[10] to spawn several more movies during the 1980s. In 1987, Roddenberry created a second TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), which was set aboard the fifth Federation starship Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) more than seventy years after events in the earlier series and related movies. Unlike TOS – which often reflected a bold, interventionist American philosophy — TNG had a less aggressive and more socially liberal message. This show, unlike its progenitor, entered syndicated, rather than a nationwide network, from the beginning, and was sold to individual local TV stations. It became the number one syndicated TV show, lasting seven seasons, spawned two sequels, a prequel, four movies, and a vast marketing franchise.

Star Trek and its spin-offs have proved highly popular in television repeats, shown repeatedly on TV stations in the US and throughout the world. The Star Trek franchise is similarly prolific. Only Star Wars has had as significant an influence as a science fiction and popular culture phenomenon. According to Forbes magazine:[11]


  • the five live-action Star Trek series have garnered 31 Emmy Awards and 140 nominations. At least nine specials have been produced
  • the first eleven movies cumulatively grossed US$2.145 billion at the box office: the most successful movie was Star Trek (2009) grossing $385 million worldwide and after a combined nine nominations for four films, it was the first Star Trek film to win an Oscar. Having been nominated in four categories, it received the award for Best Make-up[12]
  • at least 120 compact discs and 40 video games contain "Star Trek" in their titles; the CDs are mostly soundtracks and audiobooks but also Klingon language instruction
  • about 70 million books are in print
  • the franchise entails a merchandising business with a total lifetime gross of about $4 billion from companies including Playmates Toys, Hallmark Cards and Hasbro
  • resorts include rides and attractions at Paramount-owned amusement parks as well as Star Trek: The Experience formerly at the Las Vegas Hilton

Star Trek conventions have been popular, but are waning[citation needed] and are now often meshed with conventions of other genres. Fans coined the terms "Trekkies" and "Trekkers" to describe themselves, and produce an abundance of material like fanzines with fiction, art and songs.

The show’s cultural influence goes far beyond its longevity and profitability. An entire subculture grew up around the show and, anecdotally, there are indications that Star Trek has influenced many people's lives. Many scientists and engineers claim that their professional and life choices were influenced by Star Trek.[13] An article in Columbia asserted that the starship captains of the Star Trek franchise are consistently among the best father figures on television, inspiring real fathers to embrace their responsibilities and act with "selfless authority".[14] The inventor of the first non-vehicular cell phone, Martin Cooper, states he was motivated to develop it from watching Star Trek.[15] Others have also been inspired by Star Trek when designing new technology, such as Dr. Peter Jansen, who invented a functional tricorder,[16] and several computer scientists at the University of Illinois, who have created a prototypical version of Star Trek's famous Holodeck.[17]

The Harvard Pluralism Project-recognized[18] philosophical society for "pluralistic rationalism," The Circle of Reason, notes similarities between its practiced social philosophy and the fictional Star Trek backstory's Vulcan philosophy of IDIC + logic.[19]

Well-known phrases like "Beam me up, Scotty", "Resistance is futile" (from the Borg), and Treknobabble have also managed to enter the English vernacular. Beyond this, "Trekkie" is the only fan label listed in the Oxford English Dictionary, and words from the show including Klingon have also been added to that dictionary.

Klingon has actually spawned a life of its own, going on to garner its own grammar and vocabulary [20] and dedicated speakers from across the globe.[21]

A broad consensus amongst fans is that the Star Trek franchise became formulaic and mediocre in the 1990s due to over-exploitation of the franchise by Paramount and production of multiple spin-offs and movies, though fans do not necessarily agree as to when this began (some adult viewers of TOS felt it also could be formulaic and repetitive[7]). The release in May 2009 of Star Trek, a reboot involving characters from the original series and set in an alternate timeline, was developed with the partial hope to resurrect the franchise.

Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly, in reviewing the new film states that the Star Trek franchise had "devolved into a near-irrelevant cultural joke, likely to inspire giggles and unprintable curses from even its most ardent supporters."[22] Leonard Nimoy wondered in 2003 whether or not the franchise "had run its course".[23] Director J. J. Abrams argued "people [may not] even understand what Star Trek means anymore", and joked that a parody like Galaxy Quest which "mocks the paradigm" made the task of producing a credible Star Trek film that much more challenging.[24] Even on set, Abrams felt nervous "with all these tattooed faces and pointy ears, bizarre weaponry and Romulan linguists, with dialogue about 'Neutral Zones' and 'Starfleet'".[25] In covering the relaunch film, Jensen remarked the series' optimistic nature ran counter to an increasingly cynical culture, and that the film had been delayed from December 2008 to May 2009 to "rehab" the series' image.[22]

Upon release, the film was a major critical and box office success, sparking comments by fans and critics that the franchise has a bright renewed future.

The music of Star Trek[edit]

The opening fanfare of Star Trek: The Original Series, written by Alexander Courage, is one of the most culturally-recognized musical memes in existence. Also included as the opening fanfare to Star Trek: The Next Generation and the Star Trek film series, it has come to iconically symbolize Star Trek to even the casual viewer. Michael Giacchino has written a well-received distinctive new fanfare for the reboot Star Trek movie and its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness.

Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine received their own distinctive opening fanfares. In a departure from the tradition of sweeping classical themes symbolizing the various incarnations of Star Trek, the opening theme to Star Trek: Enterprise is the (pre-existing) pop song "Faith of the Heart", by Diane Warren (Star Trek: Enterprise episodes close with the more-traditionalized "Archer's Theme" epilogue, as a consolation to disappointed Star Trek music fans).

Some of the most prominent composers of 20th- and 21st-century film music have written film scores and television scores for Star Trek. These include Jay Chattaway, Cliff Eidelman, Michael Giacchino, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Dennis McCarthy and Leonard Rosenman.

A sub-genre of Star Trek fandom has developed, specifically for the music of Star Trek, which includes music lovers who are not otherwise interested in Star Trek fandom. Dozens of commercially-produced musical recordings of performances of Star Trek music exist—unrelated to the performance of screen Star Trek itself—evidencing the intrinsic cultural value and influence of the music of Star Trek.

A concert series, Star Trek: The Music, by Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, played in several U.S. and Canadian cities between 2007 and 2010.

Science-fiction, fantasy and television[edit]

The first television series with comparable story-line and set-up to Star Trek (aside from the genre rival Doctor Who) was the 1990s series Babylon 5. When pitching the series, the producer J. Michael Straczynski had hoped that television executives would think Trek had opened up the market for science-fiction on TV. However, he was told that Star Trek only created a market for more Star Trek and that the prospects for non-Trek related science fiction were seen as bleak. Eventually, Babylon 5 was greenlit. Three script writers who had worked for Trek's original series were to write for Babylon 5 (including D. C. Fontana who had written for three different Trek series), and Star Trek actor Walter Koenig was cast in a recurring role. All this, and the strong similarities of the series' premise to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine invited comparison to Star Trek. In addition, Babylon 5 was the first television series since Star Trek to get nominated for or win the Hugo award for best science fiction drama, which had only recognized feature films in the media category since Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry's widow and Star Trek actress, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, publicly stated that her decision to do a guest star appearance on Babylon 5 was to stop the feuding and bickering among hardline fans of the two series, which broke out occasionally at science fiction conventions. Ultimately, the series ran for its intended length of five seasons, making it the longest running American space oriented futuristic television series outside of the Star Trek franchise.

Star Trek fandom in fiction[edit]

Some television series feature major or supporting characters whose love of Star Trek affects the storyline of the show.

In "The Replacement", Season 5 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, features two versions of the character Xander, a Star Trek fan, which is a simultaneous tribute to the Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within", in which there are two Captain Kirks.

In crossover casting, two other television series have cast actors from Star Trek in shows in which other characters are Star Trek fans who frequently refer to Trek moments or cite Trek storylines. The character Hiro Nakamura on NBC's Heroes likes to describe his ability to teleport as "like Star Trek", and has often performed the Vulcan gesture to "live long and prosper". His father is played by original Star Trek cast member George Takei (Sulu). Additionally, Nichelle Nichols, who portrayed Uhura in The Original Series and also appears on the series.

Over a dozen actors from various Star Trek series have made guest appearances on one or the other of the Stargate series. In those series, Colonel Jack O'Neill makes unsuccessful pitches to name new space vessels after the Enterprise and also gives the Vulcan salute in tribute to Trek. In an earlier episode of Stargate: SG-1, O'Neill travels back in time to the 1960s and during an interrogation by an Air Force officer he refers to himself as "James T. Kirk, captain of the federation starship Enterprise". Another Trek reference is made when a character questions whether or not another team member can be "beamed up". The response is "What am I, Scotty"? Later in the series, advanced alien technology allows team members to "beam" up and down in manner similar to that seen on Star Trek.

In the Cold War submarine film Crimson Tide, in a moment of crisis, the USS Alabama executive officer (played by Denzel Washington) gives a pep talk to his young radioman, urging him to repair the ship's radio by referring to Kirk's telling Scotty they need "more power". The Trek fandom of Noel, a recurring character on the sitcom Frasier, plays a role in several episodes, including one in which he deceives Frasier into believing a speech is written in Hebrew when it is really in the Klingon language.[episode needed]

Parodies and tributes[edit]

Star Trek has been the subject of a large number of parodies and tributes.

Prominent among film parodies is Galaxy Quest, as it parodied the original Star Trek series, elements of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the whole Trekkie phenomenon.

On television, the animated series Futurama makes frequent references to Star Trek and parodies some of its better known plot elements on a regular basis, including the character Zapp Brannigan who is based on a combination of Captain Kirk and William Shatner, and cast members of the original series have taken part in one episode.[26] Prominent examples in other television series include multiple episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy. The children's TV show The Backyardigans has an episode titled "Garbage Trek" that is an homage to the original series. Joss Whedon has cited Star Trek as being the father his cult show Firefly and its film Serenity.

The direct-to-video series VeggieTales features two Star Trek parodies, including "The Gourds Must Be Crazy" (from Are You My Neighbor?) and Veggies In Space: The Fennel Frontier which serves as a sequel to the other. The character Scooter is based on Montgomery Scott.

There are many other parodies in comic strips, music and computer games, such as Eminem's song "We Made You". In the music video, Eminem was dressed as Spock and Dr. Dre as Kirk.

In 1995 MTV's hit series Beavis and Butthead parodied the series with Beavis as Capt. Picard and Butthead as Commander Riker.[27]

An entire Finnish parody series Star Wreck was produced starting in 1992, culminating with Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning in 2005, all available as legal downloads on the web [1]. Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning is a fan-made parody of both Star Trek and Babylon 5.

NASA and other institutions have paid explicit tribute to the series in the use of names of ships and characters from the series. Subtle acknowledgments in media and real life include the use of Star Trek ships' registry numbers, especially the Enterprise's NCC-1701.[citation needed]

Animaniacs has made an obvious parody of Star Trek, calling it Star Truck. Another Star Trek band, Warp 11, has released several studio albums.


Locations[edit]

Replica of a Constitution-class starship in Vulcan, Alberta

Riverside, Iowa has proclaimed itself the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, asserts in the book The Making of Star Trek by Stephen Whitfield, that the character of Kirk had been born in the state of Iowa. In March 1985, when the town was looking for a theme for its annual town festival, Steve Miller, a member of the Riverside City Council who had read Roddenberry's book, suggested to the council that Riverside should proclaim itself to be the future birthplace of Kirk. Miller's motion passed unanimously. The council later wrote to Roddenberry for his permission to be designated as the official birthplace of Kirk, and Roddenberry agreed.

In the 2009 Star Trek reboot, Riverside is depicted as having a Starfleet shipyard on its outskirts, where the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 was built.

Replica of a Sovereign-class starship in Colossus theatre, Langley, British Columbia

The city of Garland, Texas is the first city known to have an official place name based on the television series: "Star Trek Lane", located off of Apollo Road and east of North Jupiter Road (32°57′11″N 96°40′52″W / 32.953°N 96.681°W / 32.953; -96.681).[28] The city of Birmingham, Alabama also boasts a "Star Trek Lane" and "Star Trek Circle", in the Sunrise East subdivision of its Roebuck neighborhood.

An unincorporated area near the Las Vegas Strip contains a residential street named "Roddenberry Avenue". While the mailing address lists the avenue as being located in Las Vegas, Nevada, the physical address is an unincorporated township called "Enterprise". There is no indication that the township's name has any connection with the Star Trek series, and it is unknown whether or not the street name is a deliberate tribute to the Star Trek creator.[29][original research?]

A limited number of Famous Players theatres in Canada house large replicas of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A. They can be found in the cities of Thunder Bay, Windsor, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Richmond. In the Greater Toronto Area, replicas can be seen in the Yorkdale Shopping Centre, and in the SilverCity in Richmond Hill. In addition, a replica of the Sovereign-class USS Enterprise NCC-1701-E can be found in Laser Planet in Oakville, Ontario as well as in the Colossus theatres, in Langley, British Columbia and Laval, Québec.

Turlock, California has a subdivision where you can be on Picard Lane and take it up to Warp Drive and down to Impulse Lane.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Poe, Stephen Edward (1998). A Vision of the Future. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-53481-5. :56
  2. ^ Forbidden Planet, Science Fiction Movies, Leslie Neilsen. Scifidimensions.com. Retrieved on 2011-06-15.
  3. ^ a b The Outer Limits Connection – Star Trek Myths Pt.2. Fastcopyinc.com. Retrieved on 2011-06-15.
  4. ^ Cast of Characters: Lieutenant Green. Spectrum-headquarters.com. Retrieved on 2011-06-15.
  5. ^ Stephen Bourne (9 June 2005). Black in the British Frame: The Black Experience in British Film and Television. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 172–. ISBN 978-0-8264-7898-6. Retrieved 15 June 2011. 
  6. ^ Soaps | British. TVARK. Retrieved on 2011-06-15.
  7. ^ a b The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Gen Ed Peter Nichols, Granada 1979, Page570
  8. ^ Shult, Doug (1972-07-03). "Cult Fans, Reruns Give 'Star Trek' an Out of This World Popularity". Milwaukee Journal. Retrieved March 4, 2011. 
  9. ^ both in the film Trekkies and in this BBC interview BBC Interview with Nichelle Nichols
  10. ^ "Star Trek: First Contact — Box Office Data, Movie News, Cast Information – The Numbers". Retrieved 2009-07-21. 
  11. ^ One must click on a web slide-show at this link to glean the statistics David M. Ewalt, (May 18, 2005). "Star Wars Vs. Star Trek". Forbes. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  12. ^ "Star Trek Wins First Oscar". Retrieved 2010-03-08. 
  13. ^ Among many statements to this effect see. Startrek.com. Retrieved on 2011-06-15.
  14. ^ Godin, Jason (June 2013). "Star Trek Fathers". Columbia. p. 7. 
  15. ^ Laytner, Lance. ''Edit International'' Star Trek Tech (2007). Editinternational.com. Retrieved on 2011-06-15.
  16. ^ Puiu, Tibi. "Real-life, working Tricorder developed by Trekkie-scientist and made open source available". Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  17. ^ Sutherland, Scott. "New ‘Holodeck’-like 3D environment will benefit science and entertainment". Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  18. ^ "Promising Practice: Finding Common Ground Through Difference," Harvard Pluralism Project. Retrieved November 02, 2012.
  19. ^ The Circle of Reason. Retrieved November 02, 2012.
  20. ^ Quinion, Michael. "Beam me up, Scotty!". Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  21. ^ "About the Klingon Language Institute". Retrieved 1 November 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Jeff Jensen (2008-10-24). "'Star Trek': New Movie, New Vision". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  23. ^ Star Trek Database. Startrek.com. Retrieved on 2011-06-15.
  24. ^ Geoff Boucher. "‘Star Trek’ director J.J. Abrams on tribbles and the ‘Galaxy Quest’ problem". Hero Complex. Retrieved 8 March 2011. 
  25. ^ CINETOPIA – cinema food wine art – Vancouver's luxury movie theater. Cinetopiatheaters.com. Retrieved on 2011-06-15.
  26. ^ Cook, Lucius (April 26, 2004). Hey Sexy Mama, Wanna Kill All Humans?: Looking Backwards at Futurama, The Greatest SF Show You've Never Seen. Locus Online. Retrieved on July 2, 2007.
  27. ^ http://www.tv.com/shows/beavis-and-butthead/dream-on-58264/
  28. ^ "Yahoo Maps". Retrieved 2007-02-27. 
  29. ^ Google Maps: Roddenberry Ave. Google.com (1970-01-01). Retrieved on 2011-06-15.

Resources[edit]

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