Et tu, Jean-Luc?
Star Trek: Picard will launch on CBS All Access in a few weeks. And it may very tragically ultimately be the death of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. I will eventually get to why I fear so.
One of my favorite writers is Scottish comic book writer Grant Morrison. He wrote The Multiversity in 2015 for DC Comics and the work touched on topics/themes he’d been writing about since the 1980s. And one of those topics is: the kinds of stories we tell ourselves. He always thought superhero comics were kind of unique because they were positive and inspiring.
The villains in The Multiversity are The Gentry, these primal insidious Lovecraftian interdimensional monsters that seem to be extreme villain archetypes. Morrison said The Multiversity is about our ideas, about: “Be careful what you let into your head.”
Morrison explained, “We allow pretty much anything into our heads. Particularly since the Internet age has really got its teeth in and we’re starting to see some of the effects it’s having on people. . . It has resulted in a kind of sickness in people, exhaustion or resignation. So, ultimately Multiversity is about that, because I like to write stories about stuff that I’m seeing in the world around me, or the stuff I’m feeling. It’s about, are you sure you should be letting all this stuff into your head?” He continued, “The Gentry kind of represent all those things that we just accept. To me, the result I’m actually seeing is a kind of soul weariness, a cynicism, a sickness that permeates culture. I think we’re all fed up with ourselves and we’re just waiting to be destroyed by the other.” Morrison summed it up, “Our imaginative space has become degraded. Where once we had Star Trek now we have The Walking Dead. We see our civilization as something that’s basically, ultimately doomed. And maybe a generation ago we saw our civilization as something that would naturally be carried into the stars, and have this fantastic utopian future. So The Multiversity is all about that.”
And that brings me right back to the subject of Star Trek, specifically Star Trek: Picard, a spinoff series that presents former Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) as a man worn down by tragedy and darkness.
It appears that Sir Patrick Stewart has agreed with and/or pushed for a radical new tone. “In a way, the world of Next Generation had been too perfect and too protected . . . It’s different. Nothing is really safe. Nothing is really secure.” Stewart added. “[Star Trek: Picard] was me responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed?’ Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought.”
The article writer for Gizmodo perfectly reflected my first thought to this, “There’s something tragic in Stewart’s acceptance that, in the lens of the world we live in, there’d be a naiveté in presenting Picard with the same utopian optimism that fueled The Next Generation.”
I hope I am wrong, but I don’t know how this isn’t Star Trek being cannibalized by The Walking Dead, or being beheaded by Game of Thrones or all other dark cynical apocalyptic nihilistic tales the permeate and dominate our culture and entertainment media. Dominate our freakin’ minds, our souls! I love dark stuff. I’m plenty dark and nihilistic. I am down with the sickness (that Morrison mentioned above). But not with Star Trek.
Many Star Trek fans already accuse Star Trek: Discovery of fundamentally betraying the franchise in various ways. Is Star Trek: Picard set to even more prominently betray the fundamentally idealistic optimistic spirit of Star Trek? I’m pretty weary of Star Wars as of late, but I’m pretty sure that would mean Star Trek has turned to the dark side of The Force. Star Trek looks set to fully cave to the rest of entertainment media. The ‘60’s rebel is set to sell out and conform. Dark and edgy sells, so dark and edgy wins. Grant Morrison again: “Our imaginative space has become degraded.” More like infected.
And no, an optimistic ending to Star Trek: Picard won’t necessarily moot or nullify the abject betrayal of the franchise. Game of Thrones and the rest have or will have somewhat positive or optimistic endings, but we all know those endings didn’t represent the spirit or tone or vision of the shows.
It’s not about the ending, it’s about the whole spirit of it all, the vision of mankind it paints us.
Why, why do we tell ourselves such negative bleak stories? What are all these stories doing to our collective health? What does all this say about us?
Constant hate for ever changing Western politics is not the answer. As the end of American History X (1998) reminded us, “Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time.” I wish entertainment media could learn this.
“The world of Next Generation doesn’t exist anymore,” Patrick Stewart said. You know what? It surely didn’t exist between 1987 and 1994 either, but that didn’t stop Roddenberry, TNG’s writers, and its producers from boldly going where few shows went before, by presenting the public an idealistic optimistic spirit that gave everyone hope for the future, a future worth fighting for.