Part of the reason people love Star Trek is because it gives viewers hope for a better tomorrow. One where humanity has finally shed all the petty biases and prejudices* that hold us back, and then it reaches for the stars to teach others about tolerance. Hell, part of the Trek vs. Wars argument usually involves Trekkies saying it”s the superior series because it deals with hard science and socio-political issues.
*Or at least society gives the appearance of utopia. Plenty of Trek episodes have dealt with the darker side of cultural bias bubbling just under the surface.
Which is why the Internet finds itself scratching its head when Captain Kirk made a bold statement.
Star Trek wasn't political. I'm not political; I can't even vote in the US. So to put a geocentric label on interstellar characters is silly
– William Shatner (@WilliamShatner) July 23, 2015
“I never watched Star Trek […] I don”t watch myself.”
Fair enough, I suppose. But should Mr. Shatner ever decide to break his self-imposed prohibition, here are a couple of episodes from The Original Series that could make him reconsider his “Star Trek is not political” stance.
#1: “A Private Little War” by Gene Roddenberry and Jude Crucis.
Literally an allegory for the Vietnam war, as stated in both “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story” and “The Star Trek Compendium.” The latter even goes so far as to say in Don Ingalls” initial script, the aliens were dressed in Mongolian-style clothing and referred to as “Ho Chi Minh” types.
The plot revolves around the crew of the Enterprise debating on whether or not to arm a primitive alien species with weapons to defend themselves against another tribe of their planet who has been armed by Klingons. McCoy believes arming the tribe is against the Prime Directive and will directly lead to more deaths. Kirk argues the Klingons have upended the order of the planet and the Prime Directive demands they even the playing field to stop more deaths. The episode ends in a quagmire, with an inevitable arms race unfurling.
#2: “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” by Oliver Crawford.
A political refugee from the planet of Cheron requests asylum on board the USS Enterprise. The people of Cheron have black and white faces split perfectly down the middle but opposing patterns (left vs. right) have torn their culture asunder with racism. The political refugee is on the run from the majority group who believe they are the superior race, with the antagonist even says “I am black on the right side […]Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side” as if that should explain everything. In the end, the cycle of hate and racial intolerance leads to literal destruction.
#3: “A Taste of Armageddon” by Robert Hammer and Gene L. Coon.
Two planets, embroiled for years in a civil war, have taken the messiness out by using computer simulations to determine the outcome of each battle. This way buildings aren”t destroyed and culture can continue to flourish. There”s only one catch: if a a person is declared a casualty in battle, they must give themselves up for incineration within 24 hours. The people happily do this to keep a more destructive REAL war from breaking out, but even considering peace might be an option. In the end, with bluffs called, it turns out both planets are terrified of each other”s conventional weapons (weapons of mass mutually assured destruction), neither willing to pull the trigger.
Then there”s the Uhura/Kirk interracial kiss heard round the world, the idea that minorities in the future will be valuable members of a space mission, and dozens of other little moments.
Oh, and this speech given by Kirk about how the Constitution of the United States is for everyone and not just the “chiefs” of a post-apocalyptic society where America lost the war to China.
Mr. Shatner can be as apolitical as he wants. But to say Star Trek is apolitical is just wrong.