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Star Trek: Discovery Shows Us How to Maintain Hope in the Age of Trump

Star Trek: Discovery Shows Us How to Maintain Hope in the Age of Trump

Star Trek Discovery Shows Us How We Earn Hope in the Age of Trump

The new series offers a path toward the utopian future that previous franchise entries have painted as inevitable, writes Jessie Earl.

Every week when I was a child, I would sneak downstairs well past my bedtime and turn on reruns of Star Trek.Watching the voyages of the Enterprise gave me a vision of a the future that was bright and full of hope.

The diversity of the crew as well as their ability to show and stand for the best in humanity made me feel that a future in which humanity had grown into something better and more optimistic was not only achievable but actually inevitable. As a child, I knew for a fact I would live to see a world focused on exploration, curiosity, and the betterment of the human soul.

Yet, living in today's world, that future doesn't seem so clear. Instead of enjoying the unity of the Federation, we seem to be more divided than ever. Instead of dealing with issues with patience and understanding, we seem quick to react out of anger and fear. Instead of Nazis being on a strange, faraway planet, they seem to be a disturbing part of our very own planet. With all this, the utopia of Star Trek seems anything but inevitable.

When I first heard Star Trek:Discovery was coming out, I believed it would be the perfect escape from a bleak outlook on the future. Yet when it premiered, it initially seemed all too interested in reflecting the pessimistic vision of the future that permeates our society.

In Discovery's pilot episode, "The Vulcan Hello," we meet Klingons who refuse to integrate with Starfleet and the Federation. The Klingon commander scoffs at the idea that Starfleet "comes in peace, believing that the multicultural Federation wishes to erase Klingon beliefs and culture in its"idealistic" future. He urges his species to "remain Klingon" and fight back against Starfleet.

Meanwhile, we meet the show's main character, Michael Burnham, a Starfleet officer raised by Vulcans because her family was murdered by Klingons when she was young. When her crew encounters the Klingon vessel, she quickly advocates for violence, eventually committing Starfleet's first mutiny when she attacks her captain for wanting to contact and negotiate with the Klingons.

It all seems to be a cosmic re-creation of events all around the country, most recently epitomized in Charlottesville, Va., a few months ago. Intentional or not, it is eerie to think how closely the inciting incident of Discovery mirrors Charlottesville considering that it was written well before, right down to specifics like the Klingons holding torches while shouting "Remain Klingon." Michael Burnham's character arc also seems to reflect how many are quick to react violently and demonize instead of taking the time to understand.

While this may be interesting allegory, if this were all Discovery had to offer, it wouldn't be a particularly profound show, and it wouldn't be a worthy Star Trek show if hope and optimism for the future wasn't anywhere to be found.

Yet that's what makes Discovery so brilliant. Where earlier Star Trek series took the hope and optimism of the future as a given, Discovery is concerned with how the future of humanity can earn and be worthy of that brighter tomorrow.

As the series progresses, Michael finds herself forced to help stop in the Klingon War that she helped to start. She isashamed to work in Starfleet again, rightly feeling that she betrayed its tenets of understanding and inclusiveness.

Yet,Michael continually has to fight back against a Starfleet slowly forgetting its own ideals. She is the first to recognize that a deadly creature is acting out of self-preservation, not aggression. When her ship's captain desires to use the helpless creature to help run a new technology that will help beat the Klingons, she stands up for the creature's rights. Additionally, Michael's curiosity and sense of wonder at the unknown define her character, a clear echo of Star Trek's ambition"to boldly go where no one has gone before."

Michael Burnham's character arc works toward redeeming her choice of mutiny and reacting with violence and anger -- that, despite her mistake, she can still be a person who believes in a brighter future and fight for it. Isn't that the challenge for so many in today's world? When everything feels so bleak and hard for so many different groups in today's political climate, how can we continue to fight for our souls and reach out to each other with understanding and optimism?

It also helps knowing how Star Trek: Discovery will have to end. Discovery is a prequel, and we see in shows set after Discovery that the Klingons are friends and allies of the Federation. Star Trek's famous Commander Worf is a Klingon who proudly serves in Starfleet. Despite the Klingon War and the voices of Klingons worried about "remaining Klingon," we know that they eventually find a way to reach out in friendship and are able to "live long and prosper" in the multicultural and optimistic future of the Federation. No matter what dark depths Discovery goes to, we always know that that bright and hopeful future is, as that young kid believed while watching Star Trek at night, inevitable.

It's also worth mentioning that Discovery follows in the footsteps of earlier Star Trek shows in diversity. The original show was, for its time, a bastion ofdiversity on TV. Discovery continues this trend in several ways, with a woman of color as its lead, an Asian Starfleet captain in the pilot, the first clearly portrayed gay couple in Star Trek history, and a crew member who shows signs of being on the autism spectrum.

Star Trek has never shied away from overt political and social allegory. Over the franchise's 50-year history, it has tackled issues of bigotry, gender, sexuality, institutional and overt racism, and many others. The movie Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a clear allegory for the fall of the Soviet Union that again used the Klingons as a stand-in for a political group.

Star Trek: Discovery may not at first glance look like it reflects the optimistic future of Gene Roddenberry's original vision. Yet Discovery provides us something even more important. It gives us a sense that as long as we continue to fight, no matter the mistakes we've made or the problems we face, the brighter tomorrow will always be inevitable.

JESSIE EARL is a video producer for The Advocate. Follow her @jessiegender.

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