Sunday, September 30, 2012

Star Trek: TNG: Liberal or Conservative?

One of the most interesting insights I've read in a while comes in this Grantland celebration of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which points out that the show is simultaneously conservative and liberal:
Conservatives — think in Jonathan Haidt–ish terms here — value tradition, authority, and group identity; liberals value tolerance, fairness, and care. Or whatever; you can draw the distinctions however you'd like. The point is, The Next Generation depicts a strict military hierarchy acting with great moral clarity in the name of civilization, all anti-postmodern, "conservative" stuff — but the values they're so conservatively clear about are ideals like peace and open-mindedness and squishy concern for the perspectives of different cultures. "Liberal" ideals, in other words. You could say, roughly, that the Enterprise crew is conservative as a matter of method and liberal as a matter of goal.
TNG has generally gotten a reputation for political correctness, largely because the very prim and proper Captain Picard cuts a very different figure from the green-space-babe-seducing cowboy that was Captain Kirk.  Yet this analysis rings true for me.  Unlike the later moral ambiguity of Deep Space Nine, the crew of the Enterprise-D were clearly the good guys, and didn't have any reason to be plagued by a guilty conscience.

In many ways, it's a novel solution to our partisan society--achieving liberal goals using conservative methods.

In this reading, Barack Obama is the cautious Picard and Joe Biden is more like the freewheeling Kirk.  I'll leave it to the reader to cast Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.


ranndino said...

That's one thing that amazes me about the modern day Republicans. To anyone who looks at Obama objectively he's a slightly left of center pragmatic, extremely intelligent guy who is pro-regulated capitalism. There are plenty of things to criticize him about, but why the need to make him into some communist, secret Muslim (somehow at the same time), Constitution hating anti-Christ bent on destroying the very principles America stands on? Why all the Armageddon drama? I just can't take Republicans seriously anymore.

Foobarista said...

I'll skip the "current affairs" and argue that Gene Roddenberry was a classic mid 20th century New Dealer, who respected organization and government, while also being American enough that he didn't worship it and was wary of its excesses.

One other mid 20th century element was its optimistic take on the future, which sadly is lacking in much modern SF (which is why I quit reading a lot of it).

Personally, I like TOS and DS9 better than TNG, since it had too many "space bureaucrat" episodes, and was a bit heavy-handed with the "stupid modern people" analogies.

Chris said...


Yes, I do appreciate the optimistic branch of sci-fi far more than the dystopian.

In general, I think that I like TOS the best, but there are some great TNG episodes. TNG also had the best series finale of any of the Treks.