Sunday, July 26, 2015

Strange New World Just Ahead, or: How to Make a Vulcan Feel at Home (Part 3 of 15)

3. A Different Gene




Gene L. Coon had written a couple of novels, some short stories, and the screenplays for The Girl in the Kremlin and The Killers but mostly earned his living from television, where he contributed to a wide variety of shows including Zorro, Maverick, Dragnet, Peter Gunn, Bonanza, McHale's Navy, Wagon Train, Combat, My Favorite Martian, The FBI, and The Lieutenant, the latter produced by Gene Roddenberry. Coon himself produced six episodes of the first season of the proto-steampunk secret-agent western The Wild, Wild, West and had just left that to write screenplays for Warner Brothers when Star Trek called. Roddenberry originally had obtained the service of such well-regarded science fiction and fantasy writers as Richard Matheson and Robert Bloch, and that was certainly a plus, but those fellows weren't necessarily interested in establishing any kind of narrative continuity for Trek. That task fell to new producer Coon.  His reign on the show saw the introduction of Klingons, the Prime Directive, the Organian Peace Treaty, Zefrem Cochrane, and, most significantly, the galactic organization that both Earth and Vulcan belonged to, The United Federation of Planets, and its subsidiary, Starfleet Command. William Shatner once called Coon the "unsung hero of Star Trek". I myself first became aware of Coon about 30 years ago when I saw his writing credit on my all-time favorite Trek episode "The Devil in the Dark", which I'll get to later. Though the first episode he produced was the nerve-racking "Mira" (concerning a planet where all the adults have died of a skin lesion disease), he took the series in a generally more whimsical, more satirical direction. Humor now became a staple of what had been a rather dark show, culminating in the famous "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode (written by Coon protege David Gerrold.) Yet this shouldn't be taken to mean that the series became frivolous. Coon's scripts and those of the writers who worked under him may have been playful, but they were playing with some very sharp objects. If Roddenberry was H.P. Lovecraft, then Coon was Jonathan Swift. Or, given that many of the episodes written and/or produced by him had twist endings, O. Henry.

Before I gush too much over Coon, I'll go over some negatives. Like Roddenberry, Coon sometimes falls into the imperialist trap of having Captain Kirk fix some planet that he finds wanting, e.g."A Taste of Armageddon", "The Apple", and a "A Piece of the Action" I personally like all three of those episodes, and that the Enterprise or its crew members were somewhat in peril in those tales is a mitigating factor, but others have made the criticism and I think it's a fair one, especially considering Vietnam at the time was seen in need of fixing (to disastrous effect as it turned out.) I chalk up this imperialistic tendency to a structural flaw in the show itself. If a Star Trek writer wanted to criticize or highlight some problem on Earth, or, specifically, the United States of America, but had standing orders not to show Earth, and there's only so much you can do on board the Enterprise itself, then you have seemingly no other choice but to come up with an Earth-or-United States-like planet to make your point. To what extent, however, some of these problems needed highlighting is another thing. One reactionary episode made on Coon's watch that does make me wince whenever I view it is "This Side of Paradise". A planet that otherwise looks like one giant meadow has strange spores which, when inhaled, causes a person to turn on, tune in, and drop out, a fate that befalls the crew of the Enterprise. The Establishment, in the person of James T. Kirk, busts up this happy commune and sends everyone scurrying back to their 9-to-5 jobs or whatever hours they keep on a starship. Once everything is back to normal, Kirk waxes poetic: "Maybe we weren't meant for paradise. Maybe we were meant to fight our way through, struggle, claw our way up, scratch for every inch of the way. Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums." The rat race has never been more eloquently put.

However, if you look at the totality of Coon's output--12 scripts he's credited with writing including four third season episodes under the pseudonym Lee Cronin, and as producer overseeing 8 of those plus 22 others, most of which he rewrote without credit--there was much for a counterculture to latch onto, "This Side of Paradise" notwithstanding. Roddenberry may have come up with "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" but it best describes Coon's tenure on the show. Aliens weren't always monsters, though they still often looked the part. Difference wasn't necessary bad. Difference didn't necessarily need to be condemned or destroyed. Just understood. Of the episodes that Roddenberry directly oversaw, only "The Cobermite Maneuver" made the same point (and that, ironically, didn't air until Coon had taken over.)

This is where the twist endings come in. The Coon episodes I like best, whether their ones he wrote himself or merely produced, had Kirk and co. in a situation that either baffled or just plain fooled them until the climax when it all suddenly made sense, sometimes to their delight, sometimes to their chagrin. A planet with an Alice in Wonderland rabbit late for a very important date turns out to be an amusement park in "Shore Leave". An 18th Century rogue is just a naughty little boy alien whose parents are now calling him back inside in "The Squire of Gothos". A group of medieval-looking pushovers turn out to be God-like beings in "Errand of Mercy". And speaking of deities, a Sun God is actually the Son of God in "Breads and Circuses".




An episode where the twist comes more in the middle, followed by another twist at the end, is "Metamorphosis". It's also the Star Trek episode that comes closest to endorsing nontraditional relationships. The shuttlecraft Galileo is ferrying Kirk, Spock, another crew member, and a beautiful but grumpy Federation Commissioner by the name of Nancy Medford to a planet on the verge of war, the idea being to try and talk the inhabitants out of it. However, it's soon discovered the Commissioner's grumpiness is actually the side effect of a fatal disease, and she now needs to get to back to the Enterprise and sick bay. Unfortunately, some odd force has pulled the shuttlecraft down onto an uncharted asteroid, disabling its systems along the way. A young guy is there to greet them who claims to be Zefrem Cochrane, the discoverer of the space warp, and a long-dead historical figure as far as Kirk is concerned. It seems at a very old age Cochrane had taken one last trip into outer space, where he hoped to die. Instead his ship too was pulled down onto the asteroid where Cochrane was met by an electric cloud alien, who decided to keep him as a pet. At least that's how he interpreted the situation, and was fine with such an arrangement if it meant turning back the aging process.  But it's now a century and a half later, and he's become bored with immortality. The electric cloud, dubbed the Companion, has picked up on Cochrane's restlessness and sought out the crew of the Galileo as additional pets to keep him company. Unsurprisingly, Kirk and Spock rather not be thought of as such. With the aid of a large translator machine they find out the Companion is female. It seems Cochrane has misinterpreted the situation. She doesn't regard him as a pet but a boyfriend! Interesting set-up, to say the least. Though both Kirk and Cochrane were born in the future, Cochrane is 150 years closer to 1967, when this episode first aired. And closer to a 1967 point of view. Meaning that, in spite of living with one for a century and a half, he's not quite as used to the idea of aliens as Kirk, nor, obviously, Spock. His immortality notwithstanding, Cochrane now feel he's been violated. Kirk's more concerned with getting his ship off the asteroid than with Cochrane's sense of shame, but realizes that to achieve that goal he needs to end this one-sided love affair. Trying to talk some sense into the Companion, he basically tells her that she and Cochrane's backgrounds are too different, that it could never work out. Meanwhile, Nancy Hedford's illness has taken a turn for the worse. She's close to death, and the earlier grumpiness has given away to sentimentality. Having regrettably sacrificed marriage and domestic bliss for a career (she's kind of close to a 1967 P.O.V. herself) she can't understand why Cochrane should turn his back on love. Just when the situation seems to be at an impasse, the companion herself comes up with a solution. She occupies Hedford's body, thus saving her life, even if it does gives said body two occupants in the process. Sharing the planet with a beautiful young woman now appeals to Cochrane. While the Galileo is free to go, he elects to stay behind. One blogger who wrote about this episode complained that in the end it basically comes out in favor of a "hetero-normative" relationship, but that's Cochrane's own choice, as it should be. Had he chosen differently, I doubt if Kirk and Spock would have minded, as long as they could get their ship off that asteroid.

Star Trek's new found tolerance toward alien life forms could not but bold well for the character of Spock. Also, Gene L. Coon had never worked for Chief William H. Parker, as had Roddenberry. The Vulcan wasn't a stand-in for some anal boss for whom he had to come up with P.R. blather. Coon could view Spock with fresh eyes. I suspect the new producer saw that the pointy-eared character had a certain relativity about him. On the bridge on the Enterprise surrounded by humans, Spock seemed alien. But put him on an odd planet with even odder inhabitants, and Spock suddenly had much more in common with those humans. Except he wasn't so much afraid of any of the exotic creatures he'd come across as find them "fascinating."

"The Galileo Seven", which I talked about earlier, was made soon after Coon arrived. Spock was the butt of the joke in that one, but at least comes across as likable. For me, the Vulcan's redemption really comes about in "The Devil in the Dark" Though not generally regarded as a Spock-centric episode, it is his point of view that in the end prevails.


The Enterprise receives a distress call from a mining colony with a fatally high accident rate. The planet's foreman suspects foul play, and asks Kirk and Spock to investigate. The latter, however, seems more interested in a silicone sphere sitting on a table, serving no purpose except perhaps as a conversation piece. But the gruff and impatience foreman is in no mood to converse about the piece, and grumpily explains that it's just a useless ball of stone that gets in the way of the pergium--don't look it up, it exists only on Star  Trek--that it's their business to dig out. We soon learn the deaths were caused by a giant monster, one impervious to phasers and that can move through rock as easily as a fish through water. Spock theorizes that it's because the monster is rock, and the phasers need to be adjusted for the creature's stoney flesh. Spock is actually reluctant to make such an adjustment as he'd just as soon study as kill this newly discovered life-form, possibly a one-of-its-kind that might qualify it for an endangered species list. Addressing an Enterprise posse sent down to hunt the beast, which has also knocked out a nuclear reactor, Spock instructs them, if possible, to bring the monster back alive. An annoyed Kirk countermands Spock's order, instead telling the posse to "shoot to kill". The starship captain then pulls the Vulcan aside for a little chat:

KIRK: Mister Spock. I want you to assist Scotty in maintaining that makeshift circulating pump.  
SPOCK: I--I beg your pardon, sir?
KIRK: You heard me. It's vital that we keep that reactor in operation. Your scientific knowledge--
SPOCK: Is not needed there, sir. Mister Scott has far more knowledge of nuclear reactors than I do. You're aware of that.
KIRK: Mister Spock, you are second in command. This will be a dangerous hunt. Either one of us by himself is expendable. Both of us are not.
SPOCK: Captain, there are approximately one hundred of us engaged in this search, against one creature. The odds against you and I both being killed are 2,228.7 to 1.
KIRK: (amused in spite of himself) 2,228.7 to 1? Those are pretty good odds, Mister Spock.
SPOCK: And they are of course accurate, Captain.
KIRK: Of course. Well, I hate to use the word, but logically, with those kind of odds, you might as well stay. But please, stay out of trouble, Mister Spock.
SPOCK: That is always my intention, Captain.

Despite the adjustment, the creature survives a phaser blast, though it's seriously wounded. The beast eventually corners Kirk, and an apparent standoff ensues. However, instead of attacking, the creature turns around and displays its gaping would, earning the starfleet captain's sympathy. Spock shows up and offers to mind meld with the formally fearsome monster. As he does this, Kirk wanders into a nearby tunnel and discovers dozens of cracked silicone spheres. Suddenly, it all comes together. The creature, which has human-level intelligence, calls itself--excuse me, herself, a Horta, and the silicone spheres are actually egg shells! The miners have unknowingly killed her children, and, as a good mother should, she was merely trying to protect them. The Horta's wound is eventually healed thanks to some fast-drying cement. Kirk arranges a deal between the miners and the now benign creature. Leave the eggs alone, and the baby Hortas will use there rock tunneling powers to find new deposits of pergium, and other minerals as well. 


"The Devil in the Dark" established Spock once and for all as the most open-minded member of Enterprise crew, though you could argue the rehabilitation began earlier in Coon's run, and would continue long after he left the series, even winning a convert in Gene Roddenberry (who later had the character wear the IDIC pendant in "Is There in Truth No Beauty?") Spock also became, and I know this sounds odd given his lack of emotion, the most empathetic member of the Enterprise crew. At least he's the one who tries the hardest to understand the other fellow's point-of-view. Logic was no longer a necessary evil, but a force for good, even a form of good in itself, which he never tires of reminding his short-sighted compatriots. In "Errand of Mercy", after Kirk states that they are now in a war that they did not want, Spock replies, "Curious how often you Humans manage to obtain that which you do not want." (He's always a bit hard on humans, but remember, he's outnumbered by them 7 to 1 on the Enterprise, so think of it as a coping device.) Spock never glamorizes war. When in "Space Seed' the crew realizes that none other than the historic warlord (their history, not ours) Singh Khan Noonien is aboard the Enterprise, Kirk, Scott, and another crew member speak admirably of him, until Spock reminds them all he was a dictator who curtailed freedom.  It is Spock who is the most reluctant to cause harm.  Even in "The Galileo Seven", Spock regrets having hurt the furry brutes on the planet they're marooned on, even if their lives are threatened by them. Though he agreed that Kirk had to destroy a computer that had been running an alien world (and had the Enterprise locked in a tractor beam) in "The Apple", thus freeing the inhabitants to think for themselves, Spock nonetheless compares it to letting Adam and Eve eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Spock is so open-minded he even finds in a backhanded sort of way, a good use for emotions when he suggests igniting some in a couple of Adromedian invaders in "By Any Other Name". After helping Kirk steal a cloaking device, Spock agrees with a female Romulan would-be seductress that military secrets are the most fleeting of all. Spock doesn't necessarily agree with a computer-fought war in "A Taste of Armageddon" but at least acknowledges that there's some logic to it. In "Amok Time" Spock even offers wise advice to a lovestruck fellow Vulcan: "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.". Spock has a similar view of his human crew mates on the Enterprise. Kirk's unlikely recovery from an alien femme fatale's mind-control tear in "Elaan of Troyius" is explained by Spock thus: "The antidote to a woman of Elas...is a starship. The Enterprise infected the Captain long before the Dohlman did." Only Spock senses that an artificially created female is in danger as Kirk and the woman's long-lived creator fight over her in "Requiem for Methuselah". Though he's the most rigid-acting--notice how he always stands perfectly erect--character on the show, Spock is the only one that gets what the space hippies are all about in "This Way to Eden".  When the future flower children asks Spock if he's a "Herbert", meaning a square, he assures them he is not, and they believe him, and we believe him. Spock has a bit of the progressive reformer in him, too, correctly predicting labor strife in "The Cloud Minders". It's no exaggeration to say that Spock eventually becomes the moral conscience of Star Trek, and I mean Star Trek right down to the latest J. J. Abrams reboots. We shouldn't be surprised. A guy whose catchphrase is "Live Long and Prosper" can't be all bad.

Of course it matters that Spock has a very important ally most of the time.


Kirk and Spock become more of a team during Gene L. Coon's run. This may seem like an obvious development given that both William Shatner's and Leonard Nimoy's names appear in the first season's opening credits, yet their relationship in the beginning four or five Roddenberry-produced episodes seems to me a bit awkward. I don't get the sense they like or respect each other all that much. Spock may be the second-in-command, but Kirk has a better relationship with Scotty than his First Officer in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (the only episode where the Chief Engineer refers to his commanding officer as "Jim".) Yet by "The City on the Edge of Forever" which aired near the end of the first season, Edith Keeler can say upon meeting Spock, "You? At his [Kirk's] side, as if you've always been there and always will." And Spock always did seem attached to Kirk, only plot machinations kept them apart. Even on the bridge of the Enterprise, instead of sitting on a chair at his own station, Spock would just as soon stand right next to Kirk, who was sitting in his chair, as they together observed what was on that big screen before them. The First Officer wasn't sucking up to the boss, either, as he still challenged him, kept him honest, and always reminded him of the Prime Directive--the rule that prohibits Starfleet personnel from interfering with an alien planet's internal development (a rule Kirk always found a way around anyway.) Yet Spock always had his captain's back, was always on the ready with his Vulcan nerve pinch in case his commanding officer was in danger. He offered his support in other ways as well. When Kirk feels a bit foolish about underestimating the Organians in "An Errand of Mercy", Spock tells him, "Even the gods did not spring into being overnight."  In "The Ultimate Computer" Spock seems pleased when a Nobel-winning scientist comes up with a digital starship captain, but then reassures Kirk he could never be replaced. Spock obviously cares about the guy. The only time he considers killing the Horta in "The Devil in the Dark" is when he think it's about to kill Kirk. Spock himself thinks he killed Kirk in "Amok Time" and is overjoyed when he finds out he hasn't. He also disobeys Starfleet orders and beams down to look for his missing captain in "The Mark of Gideon". When Kirk in "Requiem for Methuselah" is heartbroken over the death of an artificially-created young woman, a death that is partially (if inadvertently) his fault, Spock uses his mind meld abilities to make him forget her (works better than booze, I hear.) Don't think this relationship was one-sided, either. Of course as Captain, Kirk was entrusted with Spock's life and limb no matter what he felt about him personally, but he seems particularly angry when the Vulcan goes blind in "Operation: Annihilate!" Kirk disobeys a direct order so he can take the ailing Spock to his home planet in "Amok Time", and later in that episode allow his second-in-command to believe he's killed him so as not to let the situation get out of hand (you can imagine what that situation must have been like.) In "Journey to Babel" an injured Kirk returns to the bridge when he really shouldn't, so as not to break up Spock and his father's blood transfer/reunion. And Kirk sticks up for Spock when others accuse him of  heartlessness following Chekhov's apparent demise in "Spectre of the Gun".

All well and good, but if Kirk and Spock are best buddies, where's the conflict? Good drama needs conflict. Of course, there was a whole universe of potentially antagonistic aliens at this particular drama's disposal, but Coon, at least initially, seems to have been trying avoid that route, and decided instead that the Enterprise's resident alien, Spock, could use a human antagonist.

Is there a doctor in the house?

 
Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy, so irascibly brought to life by DeForest Kelley.

"I'm a doctor, not an bricklayer!"


MCCOY: What's the matter, Spock?
SPOCK: There's something disquieting about these creatures.
MCCOY: Don't tell me you've got a feeling.
SPOCK: Don't be insulting, Doctor. They remind me of lilies of the field. They toil not, neither do they spin. But they seem to eat a great deal. I see no practical use for them.
MCCOY: Does everything have to have a practical use to you? They're nice, soft, and furry, and they make a pleasant sound.
SPOCK: So would an ermine violin, but I see no advantage in having one.
MCCOY: It's a human characteristic to love little animals, especially if they're attractive in some way.
SPOCK: Doctor, I am well aware of human characteristics. I am frequently inundated by them, but I've trained myself to put up with practically everything.
MCCOY: Spock, I don't know too much about these little tribbles yet, but there's one thing I have discovered.
SPOCK: What is that, Doctor?
MCCOY: I like them better than I like you.
SPOCK: Doctor?
MCCOY: Yes?
SPOCK: They do have one redeeming characteristic.
MCCOY: What's that?
SPOCK: They do not talk too much. If you'll excuse me...

--"The Trouble with Tribbles"





It seems Dr. McCoy was conceived as Captain Kirk's confidant, his sounding board, from the very beginning. Except the confident wasn't called Dr. McCoy any more than the Captain was called Kirk. In the first pilot "The Cage" it's Dr. Philip Boyce who's Captain Pike's confidant. Quite a bit older than Pike, Boyce is perhaps more of a father figure who dispenses such wise advice as: "A man either lives life as it happens to him, meets it head-on, and licks it. Or he turns his back on it and starts to wither away." Nice to know they have Facebook that far into the future. However, it turns out it was Boyce himself who ended up withering away, as Gene Roddenberry decided the actor who portrayed him, John Hoyt, wasn't right for the part. And not only did the Star Trek producer find another actor, he changed the name of the character, as he had done when recasting the Enterprise captain. Dr. Mark Piper, played by an even older actor by the name of Paul Fix, looked so exhausted he could have used a doctor himself. Too much story going on in the second pilot "Where No Man Has Gone Before" for Piper to be much of a confidant for the newly-arrived James Kirk. Nor did he have a chance to be one in any other episode as Roddenberry again decided to recast the part, and again change the character's name. In real life DeForest Kelley was born only a decade before William Shatner, so obviously he couldn't play a father figure. An older brother figure, maybe? Or how about that slightly older guy sitting next to you at the bar who complains loudly to everyone around that he can't convince the Army Corps of Engineers to waterproof his fallout shelter? That's McCoy.

If you were watching these episodes in the order that they were produced, McCoy first pops up in "The Cobermite Maneuver", and his character seems fully realized: mercurial, opinionated, and a bit of a meddler, though he's more Kirk's antagonist than Spock's. In the episode that actually aired first, however, "The Man Trap", McCoy's more a figure of poignancy. Not too surprising as he finds out the woman he loves is a salt sucking monster. In the next few episodes he's back to being the resident cynic, and now truly Kirk's confidant--"In this galaxy, there's a mathematical probability of three million Earth-type planets...and in all the universe, three million million galaxies like this one. And in all of that, and perhaps more, only one of each of us. Don't destroy the one named Kirk."--but really is such a minor character that the starship captain usually has only a few minutes to use him as a sounding board before rushing out of sick bay to battle the latest threat facing the Enterprise. As for Spock, McCoy is somewhat rude to him during a physical in "The Naked Time", and in "Dagger of the Mind" the two have their first true debate on the cultural differences between their home worlds, with the Vulcan getting off one of his best lines concerning human notions of morality ("Interesting. Your Earth people glorify organized violence for forty centuries, but you imprison those who employ it privately.")  Generally, though, the two kind of ignore each other in those first few episodes. McCoy is one of "The Galileo Seven", and is understandably peeved at the Vulcan, but Spock annoys just about everybody in that one. The rivalry really heats up in "Court-Martial" and "The Arena", two episodes where Kirk is in trouble, and stays deliciously hot from there on in.

The dispute between Spock and McCoy is often described as Logic vs Emotion. McCoy is certainly emotional, unusually so, given his chosen profession. In real life, a doctor is never more unemotional then when he tells you that you have three months to live, only two of which is covered by your insurance. Also, like Spock himself in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" McCoy's emotions are mostly on the negative end of the scale. He's either angry, grumpy, or if he's having a really good day, gleefully hostile. At least he argues for the superiority of emotion, even when events prove him wrong. In "Requiem for Methuselah", Kirk and an accomplished scientist (as well as accomplished composer,  accomplished painter, and accomplished psalm-writer) fight over an artificially-created woman. Kirk acts pretty boorish in this episode, is totally unprofessional, and, as he admits himself, is partially responsible when the poor, physically unstable girl drops dead after witnessing the ensuing fisticuffs. So what does McCoy do? He lectures Spock for being insufficiently romantic!


Really, isn't it all a bit too simplistic? In real life people don't walk around saying "I am Emotion!" or "I am Logic!" Also, a person may be emotional but think they're acting logically. It's called rationalization. Conversely, a person may look at a situation logically, i.e. objectively, and still come up with a conclusion that makes them either very happy or very sad. Yet Spock's and McCoy's constant quarreling seem quite real. Partly it's because Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley were simply two very fine actors. They could make Waiting for Godot sound like a conversation you might overhear on the subway. But I also think there was something going on with their characters that was less abstract, more substantial, more about the things that real people really do fight over, than just Head vs Heart.

Beyond emotion, I think McCoy represents the conventional wisdom. Ironically, this was Spock's role early on. In "The Cobermite Maneuver" the Vulcan compares the standoff between the Enterprise and a much larger vessel as a chess game. That's a conventional comparison. Kirk, though, takes a leap and comes up with poker. However, that was one of the very last leaps Kirk would take once he had both Spock and McCoy around to debate a particular episode's dilemma. In "The Devil in the Dark" Spock proposes the monster may be silicone-based, and McCoy think he's nuts. Keep in mind that back in the 1960s, folks didn't automatically associate the word "silicone" with breast implants. Though if they had, that would have given McCoy even more reason to think Spock was nuts. Whether we care to admit it or not, McCoy in some ways is a stand-in for the audience. He questions Spock's judgement so we don't have to. Of course, McCoy is wrong so often we eventually just assume Spock is right whether we understand what the hell he is talking about or not. For instance, in "The Gamesters of Triskelion", after Kirk disappears from the transporter, Spock insists on following an ion trail into a whole different part of the galaxy. McCoy claims he's on a wild goose chase, with the Vulcan insisting he's not after "aquatic fowl". Funny comeback, and we're on Spock's side, even if we wouldn't know an ion trail from the Oregon Trail, and of course he turns out to be right. McCoy is also resistant to change, the resident reactionary. The future is no utopia as far as he's concerned. "Crazy way to travel! Spreading a man's molecules all over the universe!" he says about the transporter in "Obsession" (you'd think he'd practice medicine somewhere else other than the Enterprise; Starfleet must have a draft.)

MCCOY: Once, just once, I'd like to be able to land someplace and say, 'Behold, I am the Archangel Gabriel!'
SPOCK: I fail to see the humor in that situation, Doctor.
MCCOY: Naturally. You could hardly claim to be an angel with those pointed ears, Mister Spock. But say you landed someplace with a pitchfork...

--"Breads and Circuses"


McCoy is also quite often that darkest form of reactionary: the racist. Harsh word, I know, and you may wonder why I should say that. After all, the Caucasian doctor seems to have no problem working along side Uhura or Sulu. No, I'm talking about the way he treats Spock. It's not simply that he objects to his logic and lack of emotion. He's often dismissive of the Vulcan's very physiognomy. In an early episode, "The Naked Time", after giving Spock a physical, he remarks: "Your blood pressure is practically nonexistent, assuming you call that green stuff in your veins blood." However, it's the ears that really set McCoy off: "You bet those pointy ears of yours!" "You pointy-eared hobgoblin!" Now suppose after an optical exam McCoy said to Sulu; "Assuming you call those two slanty things eyes" or to Uhura: "You bet your big lips and fuzzy head!" We'd be shocked, but because Spock belongs to a fictitious ethnic group, we give McCoy a pass (I myself kind of made light of Spock's pointy ears in an earlier installment, but I know he's fictional, McCoy doesn't; for that matter, he doesn't even know he himself is fictional!)

 
Now, that doesn't make Star Trek a racist show any more than having a bigot as the main character made All in the Family an endorsement of bigotry. As with Archie Bunker, there's a consider-the-source aspect to McCoy. He's so clownishly wrong about most things most of the time, that his prejudices seems silly, too. And like Archie and his son-in-law Mike (Meathead), McCoy and Spock learn to tolerate one another, even help one another.

In "The Gamesters of Triskelion" when Spock is about to beam down to a mysterious and potentially dangerous planet, McCoy offers to go with him: "Well, Mister Spock, if you're going into the lion's den, you'll need a medical officer," the reply to which is: "Daniel, as I recall, had only his faith. But I welcome your company, Doctor." "Mirror, Mirror" has McCoy saving the life of a parallel universe Spock. Presumably, he'd do the same thing for his own universe's Vulcan. In "The Tholian Web" Kirk is missing and presumed dead. McCoy naturally spends much of the episode giving the commanding officer, Spock, a hard time, but eventually apologizes, an apology that Spock accepts: "I understand, Doctor. I'm sure the Captain would simply have said, 'forget it, Bones.'"  Later in the same episode, McCoy prepares an antidote to a madness that's overtaken many of the crew, but an antidote that in the wrong dose could kill a man. Spock, who sometimes makes fun of McCoy's medical skills, seems reluctant to take it at first until the ship's doctor says: "Well, drink it down, Spock. It's the human thing to do. That's a medical order, Captain" the first time McCoy calls, even honors, him by the title. That this is all shown in a credible, believable manner may provide as much hope for the future of race relations as merely letting Uhuru and Sulu been seen on the bridge of the Enterprise where they're all but forgotten.



It occurs to me that Star Trek may have been as harsh in its portrayal of McCoy as it was to Spock in the very beginning. I doubt it bothered DeForest Kelley too much. He could have ended up like Scotty, a kind of comedy-relief character who basically stays in the background. McCoy, though, ended up very much in the foreground. In time, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy became a trio, and by the third season, Kelley's name was included with Shatner and Nimoy in the opening credits. And then there's the epilogues, where the three would often get together and discuss the episode that had just transpired, such as this exchange following a visit to a Nazi planet in "Patterns of Force":

SPOCK: Captain, I never will understand humans. How could a man as brilliant, a mind as logical as John Gill's, have made such a fatal error?
KIRK: He drew the wrong conclusion from history. The problem with the Nazis wasn't simply that their leaders were evil, psychotic men. They were, but the main problem, I think, was the leader principle.
MCCOY: What he's saying, Spock, is that a man who holds that much power, even with the best intentions, just can't resist the urge to play God.
SPOCK: Thank you, Doctor. I was able to gather the meaning.
MCCOY: It also proves another Earth saying. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Darn clever, these Earthmen, wouldn't you say?
SPOCK: Yes. Earthmen like Ramses, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Lee Kuan. Your whole Earth history is made up of men seeking absolute power.
MCCOY: Spock, you obviously don't understand.
SPOCK: Obviously, Doctor, you fail to accept.
KIRK: Gentlemen, gentlemen, we've just been through one civil war. Let's not start another. Mister Chekov, take us out of orbit. Warp factor two, and hurry.

That exchange is as amusing as anything you'll find on Hogan's Heroes, isn't it? Now here's another from the closing moments of "The Apple":

MCCOY: I don't agree with you at all, Mister Spock.
SPOCK: That's not unusual, Doctor.
MCCOY: Jim, I want you to hear this.
 SPOCK: Captain, I'm not at all certain we did the correct thing on Gamma Trianguli Six.
MCCOY: We put those people back on a normal course of social evolution. I see nothing wrong in that.
KIRK: Well, that's a good object lesson, Mister Spock. It's an example of what can happen when a machine becomes too efficient, does too much work for you.
SPOCK: Captain, are you aware of the biblical story of Genesis?
KIRK: Yes, of course I'm aware of it. Adam and Eve tasted the apple and as a result were driven out of paradise.
SPOCK: Precisely, Captain, and in a manner of speaking, we have given the people of Vaal the apple, the knowledge of good and evil if you will, as a result of which they, too, have been driven out of paradise.
KIRK: Doctor, do I understand him correctly? Are you casting me in the role of Satan?
SPOCK: Not at all, Captain.
KIRK: Is there anyone on this ship who even remotely looks like Satan?
(Kirk and McCoy circle Spock, and carefully examine his ears)
SPOCK (miffed): I am not aware of anyone who fits that description, Captain!
KIRK: No, Mister Spock, I didn't think you would be.

(Hmm...Captain Kirk seems to be the one making fun of Spock's appearance here, but maybe it's just for McCoy's benefit. Casual racism in a casual conversation.)

Next: Gene and Gene

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Strange New World Just Ahead, or: How to Make a Vulcan Feel at Home (Part 2 of 15)

2. The Evolution of Gene Roddenberry



Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek, and was involved in some way in its various TV and movie incarnations right up to his death in 1991 at the age of 70. During that time, he or his creation was often described in the press as "optimistic", a view I'm not sure jibes with his own output on the show. Determining who did what on a TV show can be a bit tricky. Scripts are constantly re-written, and when you have a "producer", an "executive producer", and an "associate producer", anyone of them might have a say on the finished product. Still, going by the names in the credits, I have some idea of who did what.  Roddenberry was the line-producer, or as it's called in the trade, the "showrunner", meaning he made the day-to-day decisions, for the first two pilots and ten subsequent episodes, after which he promoted himself to executive producer, which he remained for the rest series' three-year run. As a writer, his name appears on 11 episodes, including the first pilot, though in some cases he only contributed the story whereas someone else wrote the actual script. Let's see what we have:







Pretty scary stuff, for starters. The first two Star Trek episodes the public-at-large got to see were "The Man Trap" and "Charlie X", the second of which Gene Roddenberry provided the story. These are essentially little horror films. Extremely effective horror, but since when do we look toward that genre for optimism? "The Man Trap" concerns a beautiful woman who is in fact a hideous monster who sucks salt out of humans, the first in a long line of aliens on the show and in future movies that can change their appearance. Doctors looking to encourage their patients to limit their salt intake should prescribe this episode. "Charlie X", like the show's second pilot "Where No Man has Gone Before", again features a human endowed with God-like powers, this time a moody teenager named Charlie who'd been marooned on a planet since age 3. Rescued by the Antares, the crew members of that starship seem all to eager to transfer the lad to the Enterprise, speaking highly of him as they do so. The praise is to no avail, as the Antares blows up soon after. It takes awhile for Kirk and Co. to discover that it's more than hormones bothering this kid. Actually, hormones do play a part, as the teen becomes smitten with Yeoman Janice Rand (Grace Lee Whitney, the show's resident sex symbol for the first half of the first season, until it was decided that a different scantily clad female a week might work better.) He even turns another girl--one closer to his age that Kirk had fixed him up with--into a lizard as a gift for Rand. Possibly expecting flowers and candy instead, she spurns Charlie's advances, and is immediately disintegrated. An angry Charlie then goes on a rampage through the Enterprise, making more people disappear, turning others old, and--this still sends shivers down my spine--completely wiping out a young woman's face! Kirk, meanwhile, is at a loss of what to do, and Spock's no help, as Charlie's got him quoting poetry. The Thalians to the rescue! The ancient alien race had endowed Charlie with the powers as a survival skill. Now they undue all the damage (including re-materializing Rand) and decide to take Charlie back home with them, much to Kirk's protestations, as he still feels the unruly adolescent can be rehabilitated. Good luck finding a social worker willing to take that one on, not if they want to hang on to their eyes, nose, and mouth. Still, it hard not to feel sorry for Charlie as he gradually vanishes, crying out as he leaves:

"Oh, please, don't let them take me. I can't even touch them! Janice, they can't feel. Not like you! They don't love! Please, I..want..to..stay!"

From one kind of horror to another.

The remaining eight episodes Roddenberry directly oversaw in that first season aren't quite that chilling, but only the aforementioned "The Cobermite Maneuver" (not aired, perhaps tellingly, until another line producer took over) treats the Unknown as anything other than a nasty surprise. It's not for nothing you have to boldly go where no man has gone before. Monsters, the criminally insane ('Dagger of the Mind"), mad scientists ("What Are Little Girls Made Of?"), enemy aliens ("Balance of Terror"), and pimps lurk around every asteroid. Actually, "Mudd's Women", the one with the pimp, ends rather sweetly, but as it deals with prostitution, assumes outer space has a seamy as well as a scary side. As for future technology, the transporter malfunctions and we get a good (but wimpy) and evil (but macho) Captain Kirk! All Roddenberry's fatalism, as exciting as it was to watch in the comfort of one's own living room, couldn't help but have a negative impact on the way the character of Spock was written. If aliens couldn't be trusted, why trust him?



Before he became a TV writer, Roddenberry (above, center) was a cop. He worked for the Los Angeles Police Department from 1949 to 1956, around the same time another TV writer-producer (as well as actor) Jack Webb was extolling it as the very finest law enforcement had to offer in the radio and TV versions of Dragnet. Roddenberry, at first a motorcycle cop, was promoted to sergeant in 1951, and eventually became a speech writer for LAPD Chief William H. Parker. A policeman can have a skewed perspective. They deal with criminals much more than the average person (assuming the average person doesn't live in a crime-ridden neighborhood.) As Robert Ryan tells Ida Lupino in the 1951 film On Dangerous Ground: "You get so you don't trust anybody." Cops tend to be conservative in the dictionary sense of the word. Sometimes in the political sense as well.

Though it has fans across the political spectrum, Star Trek has often been described as a "liberal" show, due to such factors as women serving along side men on the Enterprise, a multicultural crew, and that Earth in the future, when it's mentioned at all, is now at peace. I think this is basically true, but it's a highly qualified liberalism.



13 years before Star Trek first went on the air.




Six years before Star Trek first went on the air.




 Three years before Star Trek first went on the air.




Roddenberry indeed may have had an enlightened view toward women. A former secretary of his, D. C. (Dorothy Catherine) Fontana, wrote many episodes, served as story editor for the second season, and was involved with several later Star Trek incarnations, including a Saturday morning animated version. That was behind the scenes. On-screen, the show's famous opening informed us that the Enterprise gang was going "...where no MAN has gone before". Now, you can chalk that up to the times (the same times that led Fontana to use initials and sometimes male aliases, such as Michael Richards), except that Star Trek is often lauded for being ahead of its time. Less than 21 years ahead. That's when Star Trek: The Next Generation changed "man" to "one". It is true that on the original series women were allowed to serve alongside men on the Enterprise, as long as they were beautiful, had great figures, and wore thigh-hugging mini-skirts. You may have objected to me referring to Susan Oliver as a "hot chick" when describing "The Cage" in Part 1 but the show pushed female pulchritude wherever it could, the various women Kirk and crew encountered on alien planets tending to dress like they came right out of a Victoria's Secret catalog. I don't want to make too much a big deal about this. The entertainment industry has always excelled at providing us with an endless parade of beautiful females, and, with less fanfare, handsome males. If we're honest with ourselves, it's one reason why we go to movies and watch TV. And, lest we forget...








...there was a Sexual Revolution going on at the time. A revolution that Star Trek couldn't help but reflect, even if the only thing NBC's Standards and Practices would allow was not the picture immediately above but merely the suggestion that Captain Kirk got some needed satisfaction on a regular basis, and especially during sweeps. I myself think the Sexual Revolution was a good thing, even a progressive thing. However, if you're not careful, the gains of one progressive movement...



 ...can sometimes interfere with those of another. How careful was Star Trek? Read on.







The last original Star Trek episode to air had an arguably anti-feminist slant as well as a "story by Gene Roddenberry" in the credits. Answering a distress signal from an archaeological planet that's been devastated by disease, Kirk beams down and finds that one of three survivors is an old flame from Starfleet Academy days, Dr. Janice Lester. Seems they split up when Kirk got to be a starship captain and she didn't. Trapping Kirk in an alien body-switching machine that she found as part of the dig, he becomes she and she becomes he. A rather radical response to thwarted ambition. Could it be that Lester suffers from gender dysphoria, that she's what was once known as transsexual, now defined as transgendered, à la Chaz (Chastity) Bono, Caitlyn (Bruce) Jenner, or if you go far enough back in time, a Bronx youth named Christine (George) Jorgensen? That Lester's a man trapped in a woman's body, and this is a kind of high tech gender reassignment surgery, once known in the vernacular as a "sex change operation", that she's just performed on herself and an unwilling James T. Kirk? Except that throughout this episode she-as-he acts hysterically, or, in male chauvinist jargon, as "a typical woman", while he-as-she remains calm and resolute, i.e. stereotypically masculine, in the face of mascara-blush-and-lipsticked danger. So, in this episode's rather unique view, is Lester's real problem that she's a woman who wants to be a man but is trapped in a (stereotyped) woman's personality? I'm not even sure what that means. She could be merely a crossdresser, the alien machine the only way to get her hands on Kirk's clothes. Maybe we're better off with thwarted ambition, after all. Of course, an evil male who flunked out of the academy might behave in the same abominable manner. As a woman, however, Lester can always blame sexism. With some justification. The future here is portrayed as being just as disadvantageous toward women as the era in which the episode aired, which contradicts the more feminist view of Star Trek. As Roddenberry only wrote the story and not the actual script, and maybe wasn't around to oversee things, this originally could have had a feminist message, and that message itself got reassigned. The episode as a whole doesn't really tell you if a subservient role for women is a good or  bad thing. Once he's a man's man again, Kirk states, "Her life could have been as rich as any woman's. If only... if only..." If only what? If only Starfleet had been less sexist? Or she had stayed in the kitchen? That's not a force-field but a glass ceiling that's got hold of the Enterprise.



12 years before Star Trek first went on the air.


Three years before Star Trek first went on the air.




 

The show's on firmer ground when it comes to multiculturalism. On board the Enterprise you had a black female communications officer (Lieutenant Uhuru, played by Nichelle Nichols), an Asian senior helmsman (Sulu/George Takei), a Scottish engineer (appropriately named Scotty/James Doohan), starting in the second season, a Russian navigator (Chekov/Walter Koenig), and, of course, a Vulcan First (as well as Science) Officer. That may seem to put the show ahead of its time, until you consider the times. It was the Civil Rights Era, and that was starting to effect what you saw on TV. Bill Cosby may be a controversial figure nowadays, but a year before Star Trek first went on the air, liberals applauded the comedian as the first black man to co-star (opposite Robert Culp) in a dramatic series, I Spy. And while Hogan's Heroes may seem a couple notches below Star Trek on the profundity scale, it premiered the same year as I Spy with its own multicultural cast, which included a Brit, a Frenchman, and an African-American. The last was Ivan Dixon as Kinch,who usually did more in an average episode of his series than did Nichelle Nichol's Uhura in Trek. However, Nichols did have a groundbreaking moment that may have trumped every one of Kinch's espionage missions. She and Shatner shared network television's very first interracial kiss. Not that the characters they played wanted to as they were forced into it by a bunch of telepathic voyeurs. As for a bright future where the different races, and ethnic groups now got along as one, that was true as long as they were races and ethnic groups that had originated on Earth. In outer space they showed the same fears and distrust of the aliens they encountered as a suburban cop does toward a teenager in a hoodie. Nor was the alien they encountered every day on the deck of the Enterprise immune to such xenophobia, as Spock often faced verbal abuse by one character in particular, whom I'll get to in a later installment. This abuse may have been in the interest of good drama (and occasional comedy), which I'll also get to in Part 3, but it did make the future a bit less open-minded (but maybe more believable.) New worlds, new civilizations, new prejudices.




 Four years before Star Trek first went on the air.



Two years before Star Trek first went on the air.








War and Peace. In interviews he gave in the decades after the original Star Trek went off the year, Roddenberry insisted that Starfleet (a subsidiary of the Federation) was not a military organization and the Enterprise was not a military craft, photon bombs and phasers notwithstanding. Except that in "Errand of Mercy" the Federation and the Klingon Empire are on the verge of war, a war only averted when a God-like alien species called the Organians force a peace treaty on the would-be combatants. Despite the treaty, a state of cold war exists between the two sides for the rest of the series, as it also does between the Federation and its other major foe, the Romulans. True, peace on Earth is often alluded to on the show, meaning peace between the nations of the world, but seeing as our small blue planet has given up at least part of its sovereignty to belong to this Federation, and thus its citizens always facing the possibility of some sort of military action, I'm not sure that's something we should get all sentimental over. Not unusual for a man born in the 1920s, Roddenberry had his share of war, namely World War II, flying some 89 army combat missions in the Pacific Theater. Much later, in 1964, when he got a chance to produce his first dramatic series, The Lieutenant, he had it take place in a stateside Marines Corp base. In one episode the title character, William Rice (Gary Lockwood) defend his choice of a career in the military by stating that "as long as there is a need for a cop on the beat there will be a need for what I do."  Despite his protests to the contrary, and I do take those protests seriously, you think maybe military veteran and former cop Roddenberry saw part of the Enterprise's mission as not just exploring but policing outer space, always on alert in case war were to break out? Many episodes would lead you to think so.


In "A Private Little War", (teleplay by Gene Roddenberry) the Enterprise is on a peaceful enough mission to a primitive planet where the people still live in tribes, and the most advanced weapons are bows and arrows, mostly used for hunting. Or so Kirk and co. thought. They discover that one of those tribes now have flintlock rifles, a good thousand years ahead of schedule, and that has put a rival tribe at a disadvantage. The question of how one group of natives obtained such weapons is answered when a Klingon ship is sighted within the planet's solar system. The story then takes a rather bizarre turn as Kirk is chased by a white gorilla with a scaly back and a horn on its head. The good captain eventually dispatches the beast with his phaser, but not before getting bit in the arm. Following this, a sorceress administers a treatment that's in fact a love potion that temporarily robs Kirk of his free will. Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Spock is in sick bay getting slapped silly by a dumbfounded Nurse Chapel, who's only following a substitute doctor's orders. Once all this nonsense is over with, Kirk finds that the Klingons have supplied the one tribe with even more advanced weaponry and he now needs to do the same with the rest of the planet's inhabitants, lest there be a flintlock gap, adding ruefully that they're "serpents for the Garden of Eden. Beam us up, Scotty, we're very tired." Should we interpret Kirk's need for a nap as a pacifist statement? Don Ingall's original story is said to have been a allegory about the Vietnam War, going so far as to describe one character as a "Ho Chi Minh-type". Roddenberry's rewrite downplayed Vietnam (though one character does refer to the 20th century brush wars that "went on year after bloody year."), but kept the emphasis on the arms race, the Klingons a stand-in for the Russians. Ultimately, the message seems to be, if the bad guys do it, then so do we. In 1967, that was a reasonable enough stance to take. It's how the government saw it back then, as well as the mainstream press. So mainstream, in fact, did the message really need to be concealed in a science-fiction allegory so as to dodge network interference, ostensibly the reason Roddenberry created Star Trek in the first place?


If "A Private Little War" is about maintaining a balance of power, then "The Omega Glory"--this time both story and script by Gene Roddenberry--is about an imbalance. Searching for a missing starship, the Enterprise comes across a parallel Earth (one of several during the show's run) in which the Communists have won the Cold War, and the Americans, the "Yangs", are now hunter-gatherers living in the jungle. The victors, the "Kohms", are little better off as they live in a village, albeit one with no electricity or any modern convenience. The Kohms, incidentally, look Asian, an indication that Mao Tse-tung and Ho Chi Mihn may have given Roddenberry more than a few sleepless nights. Except the Cold-War victors are now having sleepless nights themselves, as their modest village is under siege by the Yangs (Yankees). A rogue Starfleet commander (one of several during the show's run), now sides with the Kohms, causing Kirk, somewhat inadvertently, to take up with the white savages, whom are in fact freedom-fighters, except that they're totally clueless about what freedom actually means. It's just a word that's been passed down through the centuries that they unthinkingly revere. Along with an old American flag and a copy of the Declaration of Independence that they ritually brandish while mangling the words to the Pledge of Allegiance ("Ay plegli ianectu flaggen, tupep like for stahn...") Even though time has proven this bit of paranoia wrong in at least one respect--if we Americans end up living in caves in the jungle, it's obviously not the communists that are going to drive us there--I find this episode compelling nonetheless. For all his later reputation as an optimist, Roddenberry knew how to craft one helluva post-apocalyptic dystopia (not for the last time, either--Genesis and Planet Earth, two unsold pilots of his that aired as made-for-TV movies in the 1970s, both took place in the aftermath of a nuclear war.)




When talking about war and peace and Star Trek, we shouldn't overlook this fellow, Captain James Cook (1728-1779). What does a real-life historical figure from the 18th century have to do with the fictional exploits of a bunch of fictional people living in a fictional future? Just this. It's how Gene Roddenberry derived the name "James Kirk". Furthermore, Cook left this entry in his diary: "Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go" which Roddenberry simplified to "where no man has gone before." In 1966, and perhaps these days as well, Cook was best known as an explorer who discovered (i.e. mapped) in whole or in part the Hawaiian Islands, the Southern Sandwich Islands, Australia (the eastern half), New Zealand (he was the first Westerner to circumnavigate it), Southeastern Alaska, the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, and thousands of miles of a then-uncharted South Pacific, along the way making numerous contributions to botany, biology, and anthropology. It's easy to see why Roddenberry might want to model his fictional protagonist on Kirk. However, what Roddenberry may not have known (though I suspect he did) is Cook didn't just discover strange new lands and new peoples, but, acting as a representative of the Royal Navy, claimed them for the British Empire, claims that occasionally came at the end of a musket or cannon. In fact, Cook was killed when he attempted to hold a Hawaiian king hostage. Now, Captain James Kirk never did anything of that sort. Still, like his quasi-namesake, he rarely came across a strange new culture ("The Return of the Archons", "A Taste of Armageddon", "This Side of Paradise", "The Apple", "A Piece of the Action", "A Private Little War", "Patterns of Force", "The Omega Glory", "Spock's Brain", "The Cloud Minders") that he didn't think could use a little improvement.




Ten years before Star Trek first went on the air.


 Nine years before Star Trek first went on the air.


Two years before Star Trek first went on the air.



On January 14, 1967--halfway through Star Trek's first season--somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 people showed up for The Human Be-In that was held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, a stone's (or stoner's) throw from the low-rent neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury. What exactly was this Be-In? A few months earlier, California had banned lysergic acid diethylamide, a psychoactive drug better known as LSD that allowed those taking it to visit strange new worlds without having to first book passage on a starship, and so this was a protest of sorts, though pictures of the event shows very few people carrying signs. Mostly they're dancing and appear to be having a very good time. Maybe that was their way of protesting. Whatever they were doing, it caught the attention of the national, and even international, media, which tentatively portrayed the event as a humorous sideshow to the serious issues of the day. There was a problem, though. What to call all these young people? Well, just calling them young people sounds OK to me, but perhaps that wasn't good enough copy. According to the writer Tom Wolfe, who kept close tabs (no pun intended; he was strictly an observer) on this scene, a good many of those young people liked to refer to themselves as acid heads. That wouldn't do for a family publication. Nor would another term they like to use, freaks. Newspaper Readers might get the mistaken impression that 20,000 Siamese twins, hermaphrodites, and bearded ladies had shown up in Golden Gate Park. A 50-years old local columnist by the name of Herb Caen came up with a suitable alternative: hippies, and the term stuck beyond a Madison Avenue copywriter's wildest ad campaign. Within a few weeks, "hippie" had become a household word, even used by those who wouldn't let a hippie in their tool shed much less their house. The only people who weren't using the term were the hippies themselves, and even they eventually had to give in rather than disappoint all those teenage runaways now arriving weekly in Haight-Ashbury by the busloads, thanks to all the publicity the low-rent neighborhood had gotten (indeed, it soon became the most famous low-rent neighborhood on the planet.) Though he certainly helped popularize it, Caen didn't actually invent the term "hippie". The words "hip" and "hep"--both meant you were in the know--had been in use in the African-American community since the early 1900s. White kids were introduced to the terms via swing music during the '30s and '40s. As a minority of those white kids got older, especially if they were artistically inclined, or maybe were just different from anybody else (otherwise, what's the point of a subculture?) they moved to places like Greenwich Village, or North Beach in San Francisco (before rents went up and they all had to relocate to the more affordable Haight-Ashbury) where, since the middle of the 19th century, they were called bohemians. Not that that's what the Bohemians called themselves, at least not in the beginning. Those who didn't like artists, or people who were just different, sarcastically compared such folks to Gypsies, in the mistaken belief that the latter group had originated in Bohemia. Yet that label had gotten old by the middle of the 20th century, and so a few Bohemians took to calling themselves hipsters ("angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection" as one young poet put it.) "Hippie" was coined around the same time, probably by some unsung beatnik. Not that the unsung beatnik would ever have called himself a "beatnik" (at least not until the teenage runaways began arriving in Greenwich Village and North Beach by the busloads.) That term, too, was coined by the enterprising Herb Caen, though a friend of Jack Kerouac's by the name of Harold Huncke had come up with the "beat" part a decade earlier. So many terms, so many ways to attract teenage runaways, so many ways to scare the hell out of Middle America.


However, it wasn't what you called them, or what they called themselves that mattered. It was the sheer visibility that was so unsettling. Sure, there had always been Bohemians, but nobody gave them much mind until their numbers all of a sudden seemed to increase a thousandfold (thanks, no doubt, to post-World War II birth rates.) Difference had never loomed so large. The mainstream media could no longer treat it as a comedy side show. It WAS the serious issue of the day. In one respect, though, it still was a sideshow. They were freaks, as least as far non-freaks were concerned. In fact, some of those guys let hair grow so long they might as well have been bearded ladies. That some of these strange, new people might differ from each other went unnoticed. Eventually, the hippies, Yippies, flower children, folkies, mods, Jesus freaks, back-to-nature hedonists, campus radicals, Weathermen, fugitives, hustlers, rioters, flag burners, bra burners, draft card burners, draft dodgers, doves, panhandlers, dope peddlers, Merry Pranksters, junkies, Transcendentalist Meditationists, Marrakesh backpackers, hitchhikers, organic farmers, communal dwellers, THE END IS NEAR (or NIGH) picketers, rock stars, rock concert promoters, sitar players, groupies, dee-jays, Sunset Strip go-go dancers, exhibitionists, Satanists, underground newspaper publishers, underground cartoonists, health store owners, head shop owners, cellar cafe owners, coffeehouse (but not coffee shop) owners, street performers, Off-Off-Broadway producers, avant-garde stage directors, experimental film directors, free-form poets, cut-up novelists, pop artists, potty-mouth comedians, Marvel superheroes, graffiti artists, New Journalists, public intellectuals (unless your last name happened to be Buckley), vegetarians, American Southwest desert nomads, gay liberationists, Maoists, Che Guevara admirers, Hell's Angels, Black Panthers, Black Muslims, dune buggy drivers, Volkswagen drivers, any Oregonians not employed by the logging industry, and last, but certainly not least, teenagers, were all filed (or lumped together) under a heading fraught with sociological meaning: The Counterculture.
 




Though many of its adherents would find much to like about the show, Star Trek wasn't always kind to the Counterculture. Peacenik  graffiti is one sign of the insanity that's overtaken the crew in "The Naked Time". An extraterrestrial love-in is overtaken by bad vibes in "This Side of Paradise". Much more odious, though, is "The Way to Eden" in which a bunch of hippies led by a defrocked academic (think Timothy Leary) knock out the crew of the Enterprise with a supersonic blast (think "Purple Haze") and hijacks the ship to a supposedly paradisaical planet called Eden (think Haight-Ashbury) where one of the young bohemians succumbs to a poisoned apple (think bad trip.) This episode could have been written by Rush Limbaugh, but it wasn't. He was still in high school. It may not have even been written by someone who thought of themself as conservative. Actually, D.C. Fontana (b.1939) wrote the first draft, but had her name taken off when it was re-written by an older fellow by the name of Arthur Heinemann, who got his start in show business by story-boarding Disney animated features in the 1940s. Roddenberry was phoning in his executive producer duties by this time, so maybe had nothing to do with this one. But I'm not sure he would have had a problem with it, even though he considered himself a liberal.



34 years before Star Trek first went on the air.




You have to remember that in the mid-60s, an over-30 liberal was much  different than a liberal of any age in 2015. There were liberals, including the one that was then in the White House, who supported the Vietnam War. If you associate liberalism with the Democratic Party, as many do, well, it was a Democratic Convention in Chicago that Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and a host of other peace protesters converged on in 1968. And it was the Democratic mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, who sent helmeted police officers to said convention to bust heads. I don't know what Roddenberry thought of that, but many Democrats born the same year as he (1921) would have approved. These Democrats would have come of age during the Great Depression. The New Deal would have been their liberalism. Once all those long-haired, dope-smoking, draft card-burning, loud music-listening radicals showed up, there was suddenly something to fear other than fear itself

 Of course a person can change, their views can evolve. Take a look at this ad that appeared in the back pages of a Star Trek fan magazine. Please read the small print:




Brotherhood of Man? Union of the unlike? Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations? Are you sure this isn't love beads they're selling?

Soon after Star Trek began, Roddenberry and future wife Majel Barrett started a mail order catalog company on the side to market merchandise based on the show, such as toy phasers, toy tricorders, etc. In the case of the IDIC pendant, it's said Roddenberry dreamed that up at least a year before the above ad appeared, and used his executive producer privileges to shoehorn it and the accompanying philosophy into the third season episode "Is There No Truth in Beauty" over the objections of much of the cast and crew who saw it as crass commercialization. Aw, c'mon! A Presidents Day sale is crass. "Infinity Diversity in Infinite Combinations" has resonated with generations of Star Trek fans, and more than anything else is responsible for giving the show its liberal cred.

 Well, maybe there was some commercialism involved. Like any science-fiction series, Star Trek's small but loyal fan base skewed young, and Roddenberry must have intuited that at least some of the young fans were the long-haired types that "The Way to Eden" had warned about.  That episode itself had hedged its bets by having Spock give a closing word of encouragement to the future bohemians ("It is my sincere wish that you do not give up your search for Eden. I have no doubt but that you will find it, or make it yourselves.") With its freaky planets and freakier aliens, Star Trek may have been as close to a psychedelic experience as you could get on network television in 1968 (a psychedelic experience that led to brief recording careers for two of the series star players, neither one of whom ended up at Woodstock, but, hey, it's the mind expansion that counts) I've spent much of this post so far focusing on Trek's reactionary streak, but there was, depending on what producer was calling the shots, an idealistic,  pluralistic streak as well, one that's proved much more enduring, that survives in even the most reactionary of reboots. That idealistic streak isn't really represented in any of the scripts that Roddenberry wrote himself, but in the end he was won over by it. Read these statements he made in the years, decades, after the original series went off the air, and tell me he doesn't come across as some kind of hippie guru:


“Star Trek was an attempt to say that humanity will reach maturity and wisdom on the day that it begins not just to tolerate, but take a special delight in differences in ideas and differences in life forms. […] If we cannot learn to actually enjoy those small differences, to take a positive delight in those small differences between our own kind, here on this planet, then we do not deserve to go out into space and meet the diversity that is almost certainly out there.”

"I'm in a period of growth and expansion. I'm taking long, hard looks at the world and what's happening in it, analyzing and thinking. I'm trying to become acquainted with the universe--with the part of it I occupy--and trying to settle, for myself, what my relationship with it is."

 "Reality is incredibly larger, infinitely more exciting, than the flesh and blood vehicle we travel in here. If you read science fiction, the more you read it the more you realize that you and the universe are part of the same thing. Science knows still practically nothing about the real nature of matter, energy, dimension, or time; and even less about those remarkable things called life and thought. But whatever the meaning and purpose of this universe, you are a legitimate part of it. And since you are part of the all that is, part of its purpose, there is more to you than just this brief speck of existence. You are just a visitor here in this time and this place, a traveler through it.”

Groovy! But back in the '60s, Roddenberry blinked.

Still, I think his transformation from hard hat to flower child  was a sincere one. For one thing, he made some of the above comments during the Reagan Administration. The Star Trek franchise--as it's come to be known--still skewed young, but the young were no longer so much into peace and love. Threats to the American way of life were now to be taken seriously. Also, there was now competition for those young minds from the Star Wars franchise, and as the title indicates, those movies weren't about peace negotiations. Star Trek now had its own movies (of which Roddenberry had minimal involvement) and took note of this cultural shift by replacing  the transcendent opening theme music from the original series with John Philip Sousa-like marches, and the Enterprise crew's pullover shirts and mini-skirts exchanged for Marine Drum and Bugle Corps uniforms. In that more martial atmosphere, Roddenberry could have easily touted the '60s show--with enough episodes to back him up--as a paean to the national security state, but chose not to.



(Then again, Reagan had his own Age of Aquarius moment, didn't he?)



Roddenberry finally got a chance to put his latter day idealism into motion when Star Trek: The Next Generation came along in 1987. Though he doesn't seem to have been involved in the series on a day-to-day basis, as Executive Producer he had a large say over what happened in this new update. He decided this generation's Enterprise should be family-friendly, so he allowed children aboard (fans of TNG--ever notice how the kids disappear whenever the starship's in any real danger?) He also wanted as little violence as possible, never mind the original series rather high mortality rate ("He's dead, Jim.") In fact, Roddenberry now wanted the Federation and Starfleet to be so utopian in nature that he sent memos to showrunner Rick Berman and others forbidding any arguing on the bridge of the Enterprise, never mind that some of the most entertaining moments of the original series had Spock and another character sniping at each other like two plaintiffs standing before Judge Judy. This led to a rather bland first season that often had Captain Picard and his crew sitting around a big table as if they were Board of Directors for a company that manufactures mothballs, calmly discussing various options no matter how dire the threat. The following is a mere approximation (meaning I made it up), but should give you an idea of what I'm talking about. Imagine it's Captain Picard speaking:

"Well, it now appears that the gelatin monster is about to consume this ship whole with us in it. Data, do you have any ideas how best we can extract ourselves from this
predicament?...Hmm...Interesting...Thank you, Data. Now, let's hear from you, Worf...Hmm...That is indeed a novel solution. I will definitely take it under consideration, but first let's hear from Counselor Troi. Oh, I see La Forge has his hand up..."

(No reflection on Patrick Stewart, a wonderful actor. It's just what he had to work with early on.)


Does Star Trek even need to be utopian? Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing against utopias. I wouldn't mind living in one someday.  It's just not all that conducive to drama, that's all. Can't Star Trek have an idealistic point-of-view but at the same time show a warts-and-all future? Most who have seen it would agree the popular '70s sitcom MASH had an anti-war message. Yet it didn't take place in Switzerland, but 1950s Korea . Be it comedy or drama, a utopia shouldn't be an established fact but a goal, one that takes a bit of time to achieve. Five years, say.


Also, if you present the Federation/Starfleet as being utopian in nature, and anything bad or unsettling as coming from the outside, you may end up making a compelling argument in favor of imperialism, whether you meant to or not.




I know I've been kind of hard on Roddenberry, but I actually think he was a very talented guy. Several episodes with his name as writer--"The Cage"/"The Menagerie", "Charlie X", "Mudd's Women", "Breads and Circuses" and--dubious as I am about its politics--"The Omega Glory", as well as an episode he did not write but directly oversaw as line producer, "The Cobermite Maneuver", are among the best the series has to offer. (There's also the somewhat awkwardly constructed "Assignment: Earth", actually an unsold pilot for another series, that had Kirk and Spock along for the ride. I'll talk a little bit about that one in a future installment.)  But in trying to figure out what made Star Trek Star Trek, and, more specifically, what made Spock Spock, how did he go from the vaguely antagonistic character of "Where No Man Has Gone Before" to the more noble figure he eventually became, I feel I have to look elsewhere.  Of course, I do give Roddenberry credit for creating both Star Trek and Spock. I should have mentioned it earlier, but Spock is said to have been based on someone Roddenberry actually knew. No, he was never abducted by Vulcans. The fellow he knew was an Earthling, William H. Parker, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1950 to his death in 1966. Parker was known for his taciturn style, a style that admirer Jack Webb infused into his famous Joe Friday character. Indeed, the program Friday appeared on, Dragnet, which ran first on radio from 1949 to 1957, and then on TV from 1950 to 1959 (there was also a late '60s version), and even made into a movie, was on the whole pretty logical and unemotional. Every character in it, including the guy arrested for disturbing the peace, talked in a flat monotone. Spock seemed like Jerry Lewis by comparison. As his speech writer, however, Roddenberry knew Parker better than Webb did, and seems to have had mixed feelings about him, mixed feelings that could explain his gradual shift from just-the-facts-ma'm-just-the-facts propagandist to New Age philosopher. Remember me telling you in Part 1 that it was a female character played by Majel Barrett in the first Star Trek pilot who was originally supposed to be logical and unemotional? When his time came to immortalize Parker, Roddenberry gave his old boss a sex-change operation. Freud would have had a field day.

Nine episodes into the first season, Roddenberry decided to promote himself to executive producer, relieving him of the day-to-day grind of running the show.  And it was his replacement, an ex-Marine a decade-and-counting past the age of 30, who may have been the true hippie guru of Star Trek.

Next: A Different Gene