Not so Visionary After All:
Gene Roddenberry's Perspective and Star Trek's Representation of the 1960s


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Introduction
To Boldly Go Where Man Has ALREADY Gone Before

Star Trek that originally aired from 1966 to 1969 was a product of its time. Many episodes were shaped by, and tried to subtly address, controversial issues of that time period which in turn made Star Trek a media reflection of the 1960s. In addition, Star Trek and the name Gene Roddenberry have become synonymous with one another. Contrary to the popular myth that has been created about Gene Roddenberry in that he supposedly had a unique vision of the future which motivated him to create and fashion Star Trek into a hopeful positive depiction of the future was not the case. For the most part, Star Trek, whether speaking about technology, equality, diversity, the Cold War, or Vietnam only reflected what was currently present in society and Gene Roddenberry himself was far from having a visionary enlightened point of view specifically with equality, diversity, and Vietnam.

The moniker "Creator" that Roddenberry gave himself from the very inception of the Star Trek series led some fans to envision him as the sole creative genius behind Star Trek. After the original Star Trek series ended the more zealous fans made a philosophy out of Star Trek and credited Gene Roddenberry as the lead visionary man whose sole motivation for creating the Star Trek series was to depict a positive future to uplift viewers and give them hope for a better tomorrow. Over time this unrealistic characterization of Roddenberry became the general accepted definition and persona of Roddenberry among fans and non-fans alike and is frequently referred to as the Great Bird of the Galaxy.

An intention of the creative team on Star Trek was a Robert Justman associate producer stated, "One of the most important things we have attempted to say in this series is that there is hope for Mankind and that things will be better for humanity in the future." [1] Roddenberry was part of this creative team; however, as far as Roddenberry was concerned, that was not his main motivation with the series. Roddenberry's main motivation was to become successful in the television industry first as a writer and later as a producer. As Herb Solow, the executive in charge of film programming at Desilu studios recalled, "Once he got Star Trek on the air he was anxious to move on to another show and then another and another." [2]

Examples of the Popular Myth of Star Trek

In Gene Roddenberry's words, 1968:
"Intolerance in the 23rd Century? Improbable! If man survives that long, he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences between men and between cultures. He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes are a delight, part of life's exciting variety, not something to fear. It's a manifestation of the greatness that God, or whatever it is, gave us. This is infinite variation and delight, this is part of the optimism we built into Star Trek." [3]

In the Fans Words:
Gregory Newman-"I will always be thankful to Gene Roddenberry, the 1966 cast, and Paramount for creating Star Trek. In 1966 when I and other servicepeople in the armed forces were fighting and dying in Vietnam, while predjudice, poverty, and drug wars raged around us, Star Trek kept alive a dream of a better world. After the war, Star Trek kept Vietnam veterans focused on that possibility." [4]

Kenneth Westfall-"After serving nine months in Vietnam, I was wounded and sent back to the States. As a result of this wound, a plate now replaces a small area of my forehead, which lead [sic] to a disability retirement from the service in May 1968...Four more years went by, during which my opinion of mankind's future was, to say the least, very grim... [When Star Trek and I finally met] it was as if an egotistical door of ignorance, tightly closed mind, was slowly pushed open and the onrush of thousands of dreams, possibilities, probabilities and theories, all mixed with hope, knocked it right off its hinges...To some it is a dream-a hope of an exciting future, and to them I can only say, "Amen." As I see it, the philosophy of Star Trek can be applied to the present, in order to attain this goal." [5]

Quote from Time Magazine Article "Star Trek: Trekking Onward" from 1994:

"Yet Star Trek has legions of more temperate fans too. General Colin Powell is a watcher; so are Robin Williams, Mel Brooks and Stephen Hawking, the best- selling physicist (A Brief History of Time) who made a guest appearance in an episode of The Next Generation, playing poker with holographic re-creations of Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton. Rachelle Chong, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, has decorated her office with Trek paraphernalia and dressed up as Captain Picard for Halloween. "I like the show because it shows me tomorrow," she says. And sometimes today: the cellular phone-like communicators used by the Trek crew back in the 1960s are almost exact precursors of the personal-communication systems the FCC has just begun issuing licenses for." [6]


Examples of Websites Commenting on The Great Bird of the Galaxy


memoryalpha.org, Great Bird of the Galaxy
Full Text

The Great Bird of the Galaxy Remembered by Michael Hinman, October 24, 1999
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The Great Bird of the Galaxy by osopher, May 9, 2009
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The Great Bird of the Galaxy--A Tribute to Gene Roddenberry by Ruby Moon-Houldson, July 1, 2009
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Footnotes